Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is likely to be your first task, unless someone assigns you a topic. What should you write about? The possibilities are almost endless, which is both a good and a bad thing. Often, you will have a general idea and then modify or focus as you get more involved in your research.

Some Strategies

1. Historical research is a lot more fun when you choose a topic in which you're interested. That might sound obvious, but many students don't know what they might find interesting in history. Think about what you are interested in your real life, and there is very likely some historical angle you can explore. Is it computers? chocolate? clothing or fashion? religion? international trade and finance? bananas, apples, or oranges? disease? architecture and construction? bridges, trains, or automobiles? musical styles, performers, or instruments? tax law? African-American entrepreneurs? immigrant experiences? farmers, lawyers, or other occupations? vacationing, camping, or sunbathing on the beach? oil drilling? Argentinean cowboys? Saharan camels? parking meters? fraud, bootlegging, or other crime; perhaps a particular trial? executive v. judicial v. legislative powers? labor abuses? rich people? weather events? science?

2. You can also take a somewhat opposite approach, which is to look for source material first and then see what looks interesting to you. Particularly if you will be working in an archives for the first time and you know you have a limited amount of time (say, 10 weeks max), you might choose an archival institution and see what collections they have that seem appealing to you. Philadelphia happens to have an exceptional number of first-rate institutions in which you can find historical collections. Pick one and see what it offers.

  • Drexel University College of Arts & Sciences History & Politics Prof. Steen

  • Department of History & Politics, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-2875