Historical Writing Project


You will investigate a topic for historical research and write a prospectus – a.k.a. research proposal – for that project. The highest-order objective is to prepare the groundwork for a research paper, journal article, or MA thesis. The prospectus will represent the beginning, rather than the end, of your research journey. You must: (1) find a suitable topic for historical research, one that is governed by a specific, focused research question; (2) locate original primary sources for that topic that are accessible to you and assess their utility for the research questions you wish to address; (3) survey the relevant historical literature for that topic and argue for the importance of your particular project.

Your prospectus, modeled after a good grant proposal, should be no longer than eight double-spaced pages (excluding bibliography). It should incorporate the following elements, divided according to headings (no heading necessary for title, obviously):

Working Title:

This should describe as precisely and specifically as possible the topic of your paper. If it is constrained chronologically that should be indicated as well.

Examples of topics that are too general might be “The Civil Rights Movement” or “Women in the 1950s.” More focused topics include: “Eisenhower’s Thinking on Nuclear War, 1953-1954” or “The American Legion’s Attack on Comic Books in the Fifties” or “Press Reaction to the Emmett Till Murder of 1955,” etc.


This is a one paragraph summary of the proposed topic. It should answer two key questions: (1) what are your going to investigate? (2) Why is it important?: The “so what” question?

Narrative (Description of the Topic):

Here you will elaborate in a few paragraphs on the topic. For obscure topics, you may need to fill in background information (but minimize this). This is your chance to argue, convincingly, that this is an important topic in need of investigation.

Literature Review (Scholarly Contribution):

Here you will explain, succinctly but thoroughly, how this topic has been treated by other historians, and how your project will make a unique contribution.
If you are investigating a topic that has been neglected, there is still a relevant body of literature that you will address, and here is where you do so.

Sources and Methodology:

Here you will explain what sources you will use and how you propose to use them. For this prospectus, you should also speak to the availability of the sources, demonstrating that the sources are within your grasp and can answer the questions you propose to address. If the sources are at a remote archive, library, or historical society, you should explain how you will fund travel to gain access to them.

Important: you must choose a topic for which you can get access to primary sources, and you must prove to me that the topic is something you can pursue.


This identifies relevant primary and secondary sources, in correct style, and accordingly should be broken into two sections.

The first section should be headed “primary sources,” and should specify specific primary sources you will consult. And I mean specific. So, you wouldn’t say “I will consult newspapers and magazines”; instead you will list the newspapers and magazines you intend to consult. You should also include in parentheses an explanation of the location of this source. (.e.g. available at FAU, or available through ILL from the University of Texas, etc.)

The second section should be headed “secondary sources”, and should identify secondary sources that you will consult. It should be formatted appropriately for a bibliography (according to Turabian and the Chicago Manual of Style).

Developed by Dr. Kenneth Osgood of Florida Atlantic University