History is a fascinating discipline that is usually a member of the faculty of arts in most universities and colleges. The historical method is a collective term for all the formal techniques and procedures through which history scholars research and present accounts of history. The method relies on both primary and secondary sources of information as well as other material evidence such as those found in museums, and archeological sites.
It is important to note that although picking a good topic for your paper is important, the quality of the paper it self is much more important with respect to whether it is a good research paper or not. Therefore, although it is preferable to find interesting history research paper topics, it is even more important that the paper itself is well written and well researched, using reliable sources and following best practices of research writing.
A good historian should display an ability to identify the best sources of information for a particular topic, determine the authoritativeness of such information and then proceed to construct an accurate and reliable analysis of the topic. If you are a history student you’ll be required to craft a research paper now and again. This means that you may be asked to select from any of the abundant history research paper topics available.
Before selecting a history paper topic, however, you should have mastered the rudiments of writing a history research paper.
History research paper writing tips
The following few tips will help you prepare your history research paper after you have selected a topic.
Use both primary and secondary sources
Any source that is a direct participant or witness of the topic you are researching is known as a primary source. Primary sources are important because they provide the historian with a vivid account since they were present as the events surrounding the topic unfolded. But note that this is not to say that a lone primary source is always accurate so you should endeavor to cross-check information provided by lone primary sources, if possible.
In contrast to a primary source, a secondary source is one who was neither an active participant nor a witness to the events surrounding the topic of interest but rather documents later accounts of the events. Secondary sources equip historians with knowledge about how the past have been interpreted by various scholars. In utilizing secondary sources, the researcher should rely more on scholarly rather than non-scholarly accounts because of the several advantages of the former over the latter. Like in primary sources, the researcher should go the extra mile to cross-check the consistency of information obtained from secondary sources.
Formulate a thesis statement
The main goal of a thesis statement is to provide a clear, specific argument or claim that will serve as a guide to the reader so he or she knows what to expect from the paper.
In a nutshell, the thesis statement indicates the purpose of writing the paper, communicates the central idea, and sets the tone for the rest of the paper, including your conclusion(s). The thesis statement is usually captured in one sentence but may sometimes be a bit more. It is the norm to position your thesis statement towards the end of the introduction or introductory paragraph of your paper.
One of the qualities of a good thesis statement is that it must be arguable. Consider the following statements
- The DRC has been at war for many years
- The DRC has been at war for many years but the war was mainly caused by the policies of foreign powers
The first statement is an incontrovertible historical statement that cannot be argued but in the second statement, there can be an argument on whether or not the conflict was instigated from outside of the DRC. So the second statement is more ideal as a thesis statement.
Be sure to analyze
Unless otherwise instructed, merely summarizing or narrating history research papers without analyzing it may not impress your instructor very much. A summary or narration may seem similar to an analysis but the latter differs due to its more rigorous approach. A summary seeks to identify and narrate the important aspects of a paper but an analysis breaks communication down into several components in order to identify and interpret the connections or interrelationships between these components.
Thus, historical analysis goes beyond the surface to identify and explain patterns of interconnectedness or relationships as well as any divergences in historic events. As a more robust intellectual approach, historical analysis, takes cognizance of varying explanations for one event, evaluates such explanations from different perspectives, and tries to determine cause and effect, among other logical deductions in order to ensure plausibility.
In a nutshell, analysis is much more sophisticated than summary when crafting a history research paper and will earn you a higher grade if properly used. This is not to say there will not be portions of the paper where summarizing information will be necessary. But overall, try to ensure your paper is seen to adopt more of an analytical approach.
Provide necessary context
Student historical research paper writers are often advised to narrow down their topic. This is meant to contextualize the analysis so that the student will not have a very broad, complex, and potentially overwhelming topic to deal with. For example rather than research a broad topic such as “World war II” you can narrow it down to: “Pearl Harbor: the day that marked the beginning of World War II for the U.S” The second topic gives you just one day to cope with rather than researching several years of that battle-laden conflict.
One way to expand what may seem like a narrow topic or context is to start with a broad introduction before gradually concentrating on the particular context of the paper. Needless to say that as a historian, your search for materials, interpretation of evidence presentation of findings, etc should reflect a skilled arrangement of text according to the particular context you are working on. This is another way of saying that your research should not deviate from its main focus.
Whether summarizing, describing, or analyzing, historical accounts should be vivid and precise rather than vague and imprecise. Try to show your course instructor that you’ve spent time researching even the minutest detail of the topic by specifically mentioning key information. Rather than say “Japanese forces carried out a surprise attack on American territory that eventually dragged the latter into the second World War” it is better to say that on the 7th of December 1944, Japanese forces under the command of Admiral Yamamoto launched a surprise attack on the US territory of Pearl Harbor which eventually made the latter to enter World War II.
The second statement is more precise because, unlike the first statement, it has provided intimate details such as a date, an individual’s name, and the exact geographical location where the attack took place, But while not suggesting that your paper should be overloaded with precise information from beginning to end, it is better to be over-precise and more in-depth than sound hollow or vague.
How to choose a history research paper topic
- Settle for a broad area that really interests you
- Narrow down the topic to a manageable context
- Make sure it is a topic that has sufficient literature to support new research
- Approach the topic from unique new angles that have not been explored by previous scholars
- Make sure it is a topic that has valuable lessons for readers
Here are some different topics / good history research topics that could be used for history assignments
- The role that colonial powers played in the ongoing Somali conflict
- The role of the Vietnam War in American History
- Reclaiming the lost history of Native Americans
- A glimpse into Colonial America: the life and times of an “average” American
- The Russian revolution and its effects on modern day Russia
- Ancient Greece and its connection to the Islamic Golden Age
- The Great Depression and its effects on modern day economics in the U.S
- Nelson Mandela, the ANC, and freedom for Blacks in South Africa
- The causes and effects of the January 1966 coup in Nigeria
- The political science of the Soviet Union in the 1960s
- Debates surrounding the new deal and its implications for current U.S. economics
- How American revolution battles reshaped military strategy
- Lessons from the fall of George Bush
- A historical analysis of the herder-farmer conflict in Nigeria’s middle belt region
- Has the CIA played a historic role in political instability in Africa?
- How the Cuban missile crises affected U.S and Cuba relations
- The use of agent orange and its relationship with social conflicts in South East Asia
- The contemporary view of Amelia Earhart in the United States
- A look at the consequences of the scramble for Africa by colonial powers
- Martin Luther King, racism, and diaspora Blacks all over the world
- Colonialism and underdevelopment in Africa: the story of “human cost”
- Ancient Rome and its bifurcation into a eastern and western side
- The growth of science and technology in Africa: A historical perspective
- Revisiting the common narrative of the Salem witch trials
- The lindbergh kidnapping and its effects on the U.S. judiciary system
Of course, the list above shows some examples, whatever the chosen subject is, keep in mind that your paper should speak toward the target audience. This differs depending on what type of paper you are writing (research paper vs term paper, for example). Make sure the main ideas are covered regardless of the chosen subject.
History is an exciting and important course because the study of historical events can help leaders make informed decisions that impact society, culture, and the economy. The historical method is a collective term for all the formal techniques and procedures through which history scholars research and present accounts of history. The method relies on both primary and secondary sources of information as well as other material evidence such as those found in museums, and archeological sites. History researchers have a plethora of topics to choose from. However, choice should be premised on a number of factors. For instance, the researcher should select a topic from an area that stimulates his or her interest.