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Your proposal should be between over 1-1/2, double-spaced pages (although you could really go as long as you want) and should consist of three basic parts. Refer to the instructions for the Final Project before embarking on this proposal.

1. What specific resource (diary or diaries, collection of letters, oral history or oral histories, etc.) are you going to be examining in-depth and what questions do you have about it? What do you expect to find?

2. A working thesis. This does not have to be in a single sentence, but could be a paragraph or two of written explanation as to what your approach is going to be, and what you anticipate you will discover. A good researcher will turn this early working thesis into a more specific and sharper thesis in their final paper.

3. A rough outline. How are you going to organize your paper This should consist of at least five different sections, with the Introduction and Conclusion being the first and fifth (or later.). This will show your expected progression through the essay as you build the case for your thesis.

Final Project: Diaries, Letters, Interviews, Oral Histories, and the Raw Data of History



For your final project (6pp+, 2000+ words) you have relatively simple directions. Your job is to find a particular series of diary entries, letters, oral history interviews, memoirs, etc. written before 1900 and involving the United States. This diary or collection of letters should be available online (preferably transcribed so you don’t have to read other’s handwriting) and so that you can link to them and source them.

It is preferred that the author of this material be someone who is not well-known. If you would like to make an exception to this, just let me know; however, choosing a widely known person will necessitate a narrower and more original thesis and proposal since much has likely been written about this person already.

After you locate your written “archive”, you should examine it with an eye towards answering a question you may have about the archive. Consulting this page about the “Five ‘P’s” of primary sources might be a good way to systematically analyze the material as you look through it.

Once you develop a narrow, specific, and interesting question you want to answer, you should brainstorm all the possible ways that your research can shed light on providing an answer to that question. Do you need to consult other primary source material? Do you need to find other accounts that compare or contrast with the ones you have chosen? What secondary sources (books and articles by historians, etc.) would help you answer your question? What possible answers do you anticipate?

The answer to your question will eventually be your thesis. A good thesis will address a narrow and intriguing historical issue.

For instance, if you chose the diary of an early settler in the West, you could examine how a series of entries sheds light on

a) the hardships settlers faced,

b) their relationship with native Americans,

c) differing expectations of the roles of men and women in moving west,

d) the reasons for their migration,

e) the foods they brought with them or encountered on the way,

f) the clothes they wore

g) how much time in their day they spent at various tasks

etc., etc. The possibilities are endless. Ultimately, the source you choose to use will speak to you in some way and reveal secrets that you won’t know until you spend some time with the source.

Even the smallest bit of detail in a primary source can tell us a great deal about life during the era in which it was written. Remember, though, that the source’s raw material should be significant enough to be able to say something substantial about your topic.

At the bottom of this page are some sample collections you could probe.

The goal of this project is merely to present a simple thesis and then detail through examples from the primary source collection you chose and through secondary source research what you have found.

The paper should be at least 2000 words, consist of multiple paragraphs, have a well-developed thesis, introduction, and conclusion, and should be in 12-point font. Please submit in either PDF or Word format. In citing your sources, and outside research, please do so in either MLA or Chicago format. Chicago is preferred.

Library of Congress Manuscript Collections:

Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936-1938

First Person Narratives of the American South

ThoughtCo Historical Diaries and Journals Online:


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