All papers must be five pages, double spaced. This equals about 1200-1500 words. All should have a cover page, with a title, your name, the class name and number, and the semester (e. g. Fall 1998).

The paper should be double spaced so that we can easily write comments between the lines. Handwritten papers are never acceptable.

Your paper should be based almost entirely on the primary sources on reconstruction provided on the web site. You can write it in the character of the senator if you like--that is, you can assume some elements of fiction. But your paper must be based on the historical sources, and you must include citations in the form of foot or endnotes. Any paper without proper citation form will fail. Your five page paper should include quotations from at least eight of the sources of reconstruction we have provided.

Your paper also must have a thesis. A thesis is a claim you are trying to make, a proposition about the past. For example, it might begin "I will vote against this bill, because Americans in this day and age believe private property is sacred." Your thesis in this case would be "Americans in this day and age believed private property was sacred," and your paper would then quote Americans expressing this belief. You would prove your thesis by demonstrating that people believe what you said they believed. Alternatively, you might begin by saying "I support this bill because my fellow citizens recognize that true ownership belongs to those who work the land." In this case, your thesis is "American in those days believed that true ownership belonged to those who worked the land." You would then include quotations demonstrating this position. You can have virtually any thesis, though a five page paper should have only one. The hard part is proving it.

You prove your thesis by giving examples drawn from historical materials. So your paper must quote from the documents provided. A good paper will also acknowledge, and then refute or disprove, the claims made by others. For example, if your thesis is that private property is sacred, you should include some sort of phrase like "Many have argued that to own the land you have to work it. As Baley Wyat, a former slave, put it..."Our wives, our children, our husbands, have been sold over and over again to purchase the lands we now locates upon; for that reason we have a divine right to the land." But then you should refute that argument--show how it is wrong. In general, a good paper will acknowledge opposing points of view. But a good paper must be based on historical evidence.

Students sometimes confuse a thesis and a theme. A theme is a specific kind of subject matter. For example, in this paper your theme could be injustice, but your thesis could be either "it was unjust to give land to former slaves," or "it was unjust not to give land to former slaves." Or your theme could be economics, and your thesis might be either "it was economically foolish not to confiscate land," or "it would have been economically foolish to confiscate land." The overall subject for all of these papers is land confiscation in reconstruction. Your theme--in this case, the economic effects of land confiscation--is one aspect of the overall subject. Your thesis is a specific conclusion about that theme.

If you're worried about your writing pay a vists to GMU's Writing Center, whihc is set up to help students with writing problems. There is nothing more important to your career than good writing.


Guide to Citation
Guide to using Primary Sources
Guide to Writing the Paper

Back to History 122 Syllabus