I usually assign research papers in my upper-division (300-level) history courses. I want students to develop research and writing skills, but I also want them to have a substantial, deeply researched, well-written essay that they can use for graduate school writing samples or to present at an undergraduate history conference.
It has been my experience that most students are no longer writing long research papers in high school. As a result, I have to do remedial work with students on how to develop a thesis, structure a historical argument, and when and how to footnote.
It appears that my experience is not unique. Read this New York Times essay on the Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school research papers. Here is a taste:
He (William Fitzhugh, the journal’s editor and publisher) recently asked the head of a history department at a New Jersey high school if he assigned research papers.
“Not anymore,” Mr. Fitzhugh quoted the teacher as saying. “I have my kids do PowerPoint presentations.” Mr. Fitzhugh said he scoffs when some educators argue that research papers have lost relevance because Google has put so much knowledge just keystrokes away.
Researching a history paper, he said, is not just about accumulating facts, but about developing a sense of historical context, synthesizing findings into new ideas, and wrestling with how to communicate them clearly — a challenge for many students, now that many schools do not require students to write more than five-paragraph essays.
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