Focused Topics Support Social Studies Goals & Objectives
Teaching students to develop a specific topic or thesis rather than assigning broad themes stimulates individual creativity and engages all students by offering choices. Also, students might think "Should I pay someone to write my paper"?
Assigning well-focused history research paper topics has distinct advantages. When teachers assign the same, broad paper topic to an entire class, available resources may be limited, particularly if students are using book sources. Additionally, teachers may have to read and grade a multitude of papers on the same topic, a tedious and frequently boring prospect. Assigning topics based on a list of creative historical problems allow students to select what interests them. Further, teachers can better control the topics.
Start with the Purpose of the Research Paper
Research papers should never be assigned just because it is “the thing to do” in a history class. The paper should augment the general goals and objectives established for the course. In many ways, the paper should reinforce learned concepts and methodologies already covered in the history class. These might include:
- Research methodologies
- Differentiating primary and secondary sources
- Note-taking and paper documentation
- Writing about the topic and not around it
- Crafting a solid history thesis
- Source analysis that leads to a viable conclusion
- Bibliographical documentation (possibly annotated)
Broad paper topics overwhelm students, particularly in the lower grades where research maturity has not peaked as per desired high school outcomes. Thus, a paper topic that asks students to compare and contrast the American Revolution with the French Revolution will result in a hopeless endeavor. Teachers contemplating paper assignments should consider that some topics can span entire books: “Causes of the French Revolution,” “Causes of the Hundred Years’ War,” or “Compare and Contrast” problems.
Limiting Topics to Areas Under Study
Developing a list of highly specific paper topics that students can select from will eliminate duplication and may actually become a fun project for students developing personal interests in chosen topics. Naturally, topics should not be so specific as to render appropriate research an impossibility. Thus, a list of World History or Western Civilization topics covering the ancient world might include the following:
- Significance of the Osiris story in Ancient Egypt
- Female deities in the Minoan culture
- The ancient libraries of Alexandria, Ephesus, and Pergamum compared.
- The Rosetta Stone and hieroglyphics
- Was the battle of Salamis decisive in Greek history?
- Pompeii as a mirror of Roman rural life.
- Etruscan influences on Roman society
- The effect of Hammurabi’s Code on Mesopotamian slavery
- Sanitation and water in Roman cities
- Effect of geography on Egyptian prosperity in the Early & Middle Kingdoms
These are a few examples of paper topics that work well with a 7-10 page research paper. Topics can be developed that incorporate social and cultural history, military history, gender studies, religion, art and music, and economic themes. A topic on the poetry of Emperor Nero might interest a student whose strengths lie in that genre. Athletes might wish to explore an aspect of the early Olympic or Pythian games in Greece.
Allowing Students to Select Their Own Topics
Another route teachers may wish to take is allowing students to develop their own topics based on their interests. Care should be given, however, that topics do not end up addressing broad issues. Students may initially present a well-focused thesis or topic for approval, but alter the scope when they encounter difficulty researching. This always happens when students procrastinate. In consequence of this, they may beg a tutor "can you do my homework for money please".
A possible alternative is to distribute or post several dozen topic ideas, phrased as problems (“The Reforms of Diocletian made life worse in the Roman Empire”) as guides for students to get ideas, or to rework a topic based on a different perspective. Students should be given several weeks to gather research in order to avoid topic changes at the last minute. Ideally, teachers should assign papers due at the end of the semester during the first week of school.