In the second semester of U.S. History, students in Class III hone in on their research skills and take a deeper look into a range of topics including the impact of security threats on major national and international events; the United States’ role as a global peacekeeper in Vietnam and Iraqi wars; and the effects of the current Great Recession. Learn more about the major assignment in a Q&A with history faculty member Oris Bryant. 

Class III students completed a substantial project in U.S. History. Can you talk more about the assignment?

Oris Bryant: All Class III students spent five weeks working on a major research paper. Students formed a research question that became the focus of their assignment. After becoming more familiarized with the specific topic, they worked to iterate and support a thesis argument and produce a 10- to 15-paged final paper.

What are some of the topics students pursue?

OB: There is a range of topics. Below are a few from by my class this year:

  • Challenging the historiography and recording of the Civil Rights Movement
  • The effect of U.S. Covert affairs in the Middle East on modern-day foreign relations
  • Impact of September 11 on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East
  • McCarythism and the Cold War
  • Vietnam and the draft 

How is the assignment structured and how are students graded?

OB: Given the nature and the scope of the project, the research paper is split into two equally weighted grades—a process grade and a product grade.

The process grade is an evaluation of several intermediary steps. This includes the initial research question, an annotated bibliography of initial sources, two major outlines, evidence of research notes, a working bibliography and a rough draft. Students spend class time working on the research paper. They have one-on-one conferences each week to review various components of the process and to discuss challenges that they might experience. The process is structured to coerce them to be organized, diligent and thorough in their research and in meeting weekly deadlines. Students are expected to use 20 to 25 different sources to reflect the exhaustive and thorough nature of the research. 

The final product receives a separate grade that focuses on the finished product, the final bibliography and the overall project design.

This is an opportunity for students to work independently, what skills did they take away from this assignment?

OB: Time-management and overall organization are the biggest skills and challenges inherent in the project. Throughout the year, students write several four- to six-paged papers. Here, they learn to structure and support an argument on a much grander scale. Students develop the ability to critique the validity and strength of their research sources. This is one of the skills that students don’t fully recognize or appreciate until they have practically completed the project.

For almost every student, when they begin writing the rough draft, they realize that they are well-versed on their topics—effectively, they have become historians. The subsequent related challenge is to produce their unique argument in a critical manner (and not simply a book report).

Why is a project of this scale intentionally assigned to students in Class III?

OB: The research project is specifically given during the Class III years for two primary reasons. Developmentally, Class III students are intellectually and developmentally ready to tackle this kind of project. Specifically, the entire course, because it is thematic, really pushes students to move from the more concrete surface level of history to a much more in-depth, critical view of history through the analytical lens of historiography.

Secondly, as a matter of logistics, Class III is the final year of required history although more than 80 percent of students still take some form of history [beyond the requirement]—either AP European history or an elective. The research project is a culminating universal experience for all students at Nobles. Many students return to Nobles and comment that the research paper specifically prepared them for college writing.

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