Writing a Proposal

Proposing a research topic for HIST 490 History Majors, Class of 2021
Due Friday, April 17, 5:00 pm
Proposal Outline – 3 paragraphs + bibliography
  1. Tell us what topic you want to explore and why. Within this first brief paragraph be sure you include a “rough draft” thesis question. What specific critical question will you aim to answer?
  2. Indicate what primary sources are available to you to answer the question. Talk to us and your advisor about this.
  3. Suggest a blueprint for your research plans and show how you will approach the question through primary source research.
  4. Bibliography in Chicago Manual Style of secondary sources, including scholarly journal articles. List at least six books or articles (list at least one article from a scholarly journal. Use library databases to search journals.
Further Advice on the Three-Paragraph Proposal
Part 1

It is best to get right to the point, avoiding large generalizations about human nature. One strategy is to use an anecdote: “When Frederick Douglass spoke at the Worcester Lyceum in 1847, he expressed his surprise at the absence of women in the audience.” This might be a great way to open up a specific question about women and abolitionism. An effective first paragraph can get the reader’s attention by presenting a mystery, a puzzle, or a discrepancy. Why was Douglass surprised? “A decade earlier, Douglass had mounted the exact same podium and looked out at an overwhelming female audience.” How does his surprise inform yours? “The demise of women abolitionists between 1837 and 1847 seems strange, especially considering that women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton were enunciating a broader vision of female political participation during that decade. The following year, Stanton would assemble a group of feminist men and women in Seneca Falls to proclaim women’s equality.” And now you offer your topic and the specific questions that frame your project: “My project explores the simultaneous rise of women’s political organizing and decline of female abolitionism. Did changes in the rhetoric and tactics of antislavery at the end of the 1830s force abolitionist women to see themselves as having a distinct political identity? Did the experiences of women as abolitionists in the 1830s provide them with the organizational skills and rhetorical tools to mobilize as feminists in the 1840s?

Part 2

The primary source paragraph. Here you need to convince your advisor that you have an accessible and sufficiently full body of primary sources that corresponds to your research question. You should also tell us where you will access these sources. “The weekly minutes of over thirty women’s antislavery societies have been republished as Female Abolitionists of the 1840s, edited by Joanne Schmidt. This six volume set, available in the Herstory Archives, excludes the speeches of prominent women, but instead contains over 50 speeches by obscure women at local meetings in towns like Utica, Worcester, and Pawtucket. Additionally, women in Rochester published a monthly newsletter, The Gazetteer (available on microfilm) between 1843 and 1846, which contains letters from rank-and-file women. Many male abolitionists commented on women abolitionists in the 1840s, and Oxy owns the published papers of Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, and Theodore Weld. Oxy also owns the reports of every American Antislavery Society annual meeting from 1835 through 1850. Because each of these reports lists the names of female delegates, it will be possible to gauge changes in the rate of women’s attendance.

Part 3

Your strategy. You will want to spell out your research plan. This plan may also include key secondary readings listed in your bibliography. You can be specific. “To complete this project, my first goal is to read Frank Schmidt’s new book Women Abolitionists and the Men who Loved Them (Harvard U. Press, 2003), especially the chapter on the Rochester women who published the Gazetteer. I then plan on compiling the names of all women participants in the Antislavery Society annual meetings between 1835 and 1850. I can then see if any of these women published autobiographies or whether any of their letters have been published. I can also check the names of these female abolitionists against the list of attendees of 1840s women’s rights conventions to see if there was much overlap. Finally, I am going to systematically read the fifty speeches in Female Abolitionists to see if there are any common patterns of experience among politicized women in the 1840s.

Friday, April 17, 5:00pm: Proposal plus bibliography due. Please email as an electronic attachment to your thesis advisor, Prof. Puerto and Prof. Fett. Group email to all three of us, please (or two if Puerto or Fett happens to be your advisor)!