“What are the historical roots of my contemporary issue?”


Welcome to the Research Assignment for HIST 305: Roots of Contemporary Issues. This set of assignments includes 4 research/analysis components completed over the course of the semester that will culminate in a minimum 1250-word (five page) research essay in which you examine the historical roots of a contemporary issue of interest to you. In these four research assignments, you will use WSU Libraries’ resources to:

  1. Identify a case study of contemporary significance of which you intend to explore the historical roots – at least before 1990 – and global dimensions.
  2. Gather appropriate sources for your chosen topic and learn how to differentiate kinds of sources.
  3. Develop an initial thesis statement for your research essay (a hypothesis about the potential historical roots of your contemporary issue) and revise it in light of new sources and analysis.
  4. Critically analyze the sources that you gather and identify useful passages and information within.
  5. Connect newly found sources to those you’ve previously located.
  6. Learn how to cite sources correctly according to historical disciplinary standards.

Research Assignment #1 – Defining Your Topic & Analyzing Contemporary Newspapers


In Research Assignment #1 you will explore contemporary newspaper sources in order to identify a contemporary issue and its historical roots for study throughout the semester. Your contemporary issue should be of interest and importance to you, have historical dimensions – at least before 1990 – you can analyze, and should also connect to one or more of the broader themes of this course (globalization, humans and the environment, inequality, diverse ways of thinking, and/or the roots of contemporary conflicts). You will conclude part one by developing 1-2 preliminary research questions based on the initial source that you gather. After you’ve completed part one, you will receive feedback on the viability of your chosen topic, your selection of contemporary newspaper sources, and your research questions.

Library Help

Each database search in the assignment (e.g., Lexis-Nexis) is demonstrated for you in a short video tutorial on the Roots of Contemporary Issues Libguide. Review the tutorials before trying your search. If you have still have questions, or need help, contact a librarian:

Library Contact information: WSU Pullman | WSU Global and NPS Everett | WSU Vancouver | WSU Tri-Cities

Question 1 – Statement of Research Topic (5/25 pts)

Create a new Word document and start with the heading “Q1 – Research Topic.”

Write no more than 2 sentences about the contemporary topic you are interested in learning more about. This topic is going to evolve as you learn more about it, but right now you want to find something that is happening today that is interesting to you. As you think about a topic, remember you will be exploring its historical roots, so you’ll want to think about your topic in a way that can be traced back through history.

For example, if you are interested in the impact of genetically modified crops on the environment, you may want to phrase this in terms of how humans have used technology to increase access to food or how poor resource management has led to decreased food production.

Tip: Avoid vagueness. For example, don’t say that you want to write about the “history of inequality.” That’s an impossible task. Rather, you might propose to make an argument about a very specific historical example of inequality, like the role of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in creating a South African movement against racial inequality that continues to work for racial justice today.

Question 2 – Locate and analyze a Contemporary Newspaper Article (10/25 pts)

Start a new heading: “Q2 – Contemporary Newspaper Analysis.”

Using the Newspapers LibGuide hyperlinked below, perform a keyword search for a newspaper article published within the last three years on a topic of contemporary relevance and interest to you.

For example, if you’re interested in the role of racism and/or the country of Guatemala and want to know more about the historical intersection of the two, a search using the terms “racism” AND “Guatemala” and limited to articles published after January 1, 2015 turns up over 400 articles (some of which are more relevant to the search terms than others).

Read and analyze a relevant article (also download it for quick reference later), and then write a 5-7 sentence narrative that introduces the event(s) covered in the article. With revisions, this paragraph may well serve as the first paragraph of your final project: a hook that draws your reader’s attention and that introduces the contemporary issue before turning to its historical roots. See the sample RA 1 provided here in the folder.

Newspapers LibGuide = Scan the tabs to see how information about newspapers is divided in this guide, look at the Newspaper Databases box in the middle of the screen, click on Nexis Uni (the Libraries’ most comprehensive newspaper source). Next, search for newspaper articles by opening the “Search the News” search box (and limiting by source type to newspapers). [see Part I:Database Specific Video Tutorials]

Question 3 – Cite Your Contemporary Newspaper Article (5/25 pts)

Start a new heading: “Q3 – Contemporary Newspaper Citation.”

All researchers must cite their sources so that their readership has the opportunity to check their analysis if desired. Using Chicago Style, type the bibliographic citation of one newspaper article (must be less than three years old) under the Question 3 – Contemporary Newspaper Citation” heading.  Bookmark this RCI Chicago-style page for quick reference. Unless otherwise directed, use only this page and the Purdue OWL site (introduced later) for this series of research assignments. If you go elsewhere, you may get information that is not from the latest edition of the Chicago Manual or in other ways is inaccurate.

Question 4 – Ask an Initial Research Question (5/25 pts)

Typically, once researchers have read and analyzed an initial source or sources (like you’ve just done), they formulate a set of preliminary research questions that they hope to answer by the end of their research. Often research questions change, and almost always new questions arise.

Read the Part I: Writing Research Questions and Part I: Roots Research Question Example research guides to aid you in the process of writing your research questions.

Start a new heading: “Q4 – Research Question.”

Formulate one (or up to two) clear and concise research question(s) based on your analysis of your contemporary newspaper article, Do not be vague by saying something like: “What are the historical roots of my contemporary issue?” Remember that you need not yet know the answer to your question (it’s actually better that you don’t). This frees you up to then begin seeking the answers through the course of your research.

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