You grade in the COMS 300 history class is based primarily on reading history and taking quizzes and tests. But another component is the history research project. The idea is for you to read and analyze original news articles on a special topic and then write a five to seven page paper (1500 – 2500 words).
The paper should be:
- Five pages minimum, ten pages maximum. MS Word or text file with the title of Yourlastname.COMS300.doc
- Turned in with the 10 pdfs (or more) of the articles you are analyzing.
- Sent via email, or in the D2L dropbox, or on paper through the departmental mailboxes at RU.
Topic areas can be from any period in media history before 1980. Anything after 1980 requires consultation with the instructor.
Survey 10 original articles / videos / audio files from the contemporary* mass media.
* “Contemporary” here means any writing or news articles or broadcasts from the time in question .Let’s say you’re working on the influence that Frederick Douglass had on the British before the US Civil War when they (the British) were wondering whether to get involved. You would search the Times of London, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other library databases for accounts of Douglas in England during the 1840s – 1850s. You would be looking for articles written by or about Douglass.
Sometimes you can find contemporary articles on wikipedia or through a Google search. If the web site has contemporary writing by Douglass or about Douglass, then it is useful for your research because it is contemporaneous with Douglas’ life. But (and I can’t stress this enough) you really need to to use library databases and not just random google searches.
Research papers must be entirely original. (This is easy to check, by the way. )
Research papers must focus on people or events as reported by the media. General descriptions or events, or biographies of people, will not earn any grade at all. Examples:
- Unacceptable: “A short biography of Teddy Roosevelt”
- Good: “Teddy Roosevelt’s libel suit against Joseph Pulitzer as reported in the press in 1906.”
- Unacceptable: “Why Martin Luther King was a great man.”
- Good: “How the press covered MLK in 1964 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
- Unacceptable: Obscenity and indecency on the radio.
- Good: How the press covered the FCC reaction to the Mae West “Garden of Eden” sketch in 1937.
- Unacceptable: Slavery in America before the Civil War.
- Good: How did Niles Register cover slavery in the 1828 -1829 crisis period?
- Detailed Example: You are totally fascinated by the Don Ameche / Mae West controversy over their “Garden of Eden” radio broadcast of 1937. You find the actual broadcast on YouTube (source 1 – authentic contemporary event). You also find a Wikipedia article about Mae West and Don Ameche, and related links, such as an entry in the encyclopedia of broadcasting or encyclopedia of American radio. (These dont count but they help you nail down dates and issues). Using the dates, you find eight articles in the New York Times and Washington Post through ProQuest (sources 2 – 9). You expand the ProQuest search to include magazines and find one more article (10). You save all the articles and reference pdf files and send them in long with your 5 – 10 page research report.
In all these examples, there is a very specific contemporary time frame and also a very narrowly drawn question.
Process: Get familiar with the media related research databases at McConnell Library. Also, there are microfilm versions of some of early newspapers such as the Pennsylvania Gazette and the Richmond Enqirer on microfilm. Browse. Find something interesting. Select a theme.
Next, search for other examples of the theme. You may compare coverage of the theme across time or between publications, but keep your time frame focused within the appropriate parameters.
Turn in: Five to 10 page memo and ten articles you have found as attachments. Be sure your paper has sources cited and listed in a bibliography. A relaxed APA style is preferred.
DATABASES AT RU
- New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal — This is a full text ProQuest database service goes back to when the newspapers were started in the mid 19th century. The hits come up in order of relevance or date and then when you pull up the article it loads in a separate pdf file. You have to “save as” under a new name to keep the articles in order on your own computer. Look under N in the database list.
- Times of London: Under “T” in the database list.
- The Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective: November 1860 – April 1865
- HarpWeek (Harpers Weekly) The Civil War Era and Reconstruction I & II (1857-1877)
- Nation — America’s oldest continuously published weekly magazine since 1865
- Niles Register – Cumulative Index, 1811-1849. Includes over 350,000 listings of people, places, and events
- Other databases can be found through Google searches
No wikipedia articles or google term papers are acceptable for 10 contemporary articles. Only the contemporary news articles themselves count.
Writing the paper
The goal is for you to read, notice, critically think about, describe and compare these articles. In other words, description, comparison, analysis, and reaction.
Describe the way in which the issue, event or person was covered, including what sources had to say, what facts are emphasized, what conclusions are drawn. Is there obvious or perhaps not so obvious bias?
Compare the articles. Perhaps they change over time, or from writer to writer, or perhaps you have articles from more than one newspaper. How are they different in their treatment of sources, facts, conclusions and biases?
Analyze the articles. What is the hidden agenda, if any? What values are served by printing the article — the public interest or a private interest? Why was the article written?
What is your reaction? Did they do a good job or a bad job in reporting? Did they serve the public interest? Were the articles too shallow, just describing events, or did they connect the dots to let you see the whole field of opinion and action at the time?
Yes, your personal opinion is OK, but Im looking for serious thinking not just gut reactions.