Campaign Papers

Proposals due by 11/21; Papers due by 12/14 (via email)


By Wednesday, December 14, students will be required to submit a 15- to 17-page paper (typed, double-spaced) providing a narrative analysis of a pivotal election campaign in American political history prior to the election of 2000.  Students must receive approval for their topics following submission of an emailed proposal on or around Monday, November 21.


  • Paper topics may build on previously submitted Election Day posts.
  • Proposals may be short and informal, but should not only identify a campaign topic, but also explain what types of primary and secondary sources are available for exploring that topic. In particular, students should first seek out some good academic books or articles about their chosen campaign, and then figure out if they can obtain access to any important published letters or diaries from the participants, historical media coverage of the contest (either newspaper or video), and/or some recollections or memoirs by relevant figures.

How to Frame A Question

  • Thesis statements for these papers should explain a key aspect of historical significance, concerning subjects or themes like changes in participation, partisanship, campaign methods, communication technology or another major component of the evolving American political culture. Students should try to select campaigns that allow them to explore a subject or theme that interests them in the context of a pivotal election.

How to Write a Thesis Statement

  • The best campaign papers usually find a key figure or figures behind the candidates who can help provide a compelling and revealing window into the subject –such as John Hay for the 1864 election or Charles Michelson for the 1932 election.

–Don’t forget to use high-quality reference sources to obtain good biographical details:  American National Biography Online (Library databases), Biographical Directory of Congress, Elections A-Z (Library databases) Historical Newspaper obituaries (Library databases), and US Presidents from UVA Miller Center can help get the process started, but then be prepared to shift gears to deeper, more comprehensive secondary sources, available through the online Library Catalog, JSTOR (databases), America: History and Life (databases), or America History in Video (databases).

  • Sample outline:

I.  Introduction  (striking quotation or short narrative vignette followed by thesis statement)

II.  Background  (key elements, including candidates, campaign staff & political events, but also more broadly on rules, process and culture, using sources like Keyssar)

III.  Narrative (strong chronological storytelling featuring good use of primary sources)

IV.  Analysis (focused analysis using mix of primary and secondary sources that helps explain significance)

V.  Conclusion (return and expand upon opening with elegant summary of insights)

  • All papers should be submitted by email as an attached Word file, and should include a title page (with descriptive title) and Chicago-style footnotes. No bibliography is required, but students may choose to include appendixes with charts, graphs or images.

How To Use Footnotes with long form Chicago guide via Library

–Remember:  if you indicate digital sources like [Google Books] or [JSTOR] in brackets after citation –no link required

  • All papers should include a diverse mix of relevant primary and secondary sources demonstrating a sophisticated sense of historical analysis.

–Model Paper:  Carter’s 1976 Playboy Interview (Kativa)

  • Papers will be judged on research effort, analytical effectiveness, and prose quality. Late papers will be penalized 5 points per day. Anyone submitting late should communicate with Prof. Pinsker in advance of the deadline.

Exam week office hours:  Mon 12-12 / Tue 12-13 / Wed 12-14  10am-noon (61 N. West St.)