First Essay –Reconstructing America

Due February 20, 2023

On Monday, February 20, students will submit a 3-5 page typed, double-spaced essay essay on a topic covering post-Civil War American life that will be provided to them in class on Thursday, February 16.

Please choose ONE of the questions below and submit a 3-5 page typed, double-spaced essay by email to Prof. Pinsker by Monday, February 20, at 5PM (via Word doc or PDF attachment)
  1. Was Reconstruction a failure?  Please answer this question by defining what the term should mean in the context of post-Civil War America and by considering which leading experiences or perspectives might matter most when assessing this particular historical outcome.
  1. The “second founding”‘ of the US Constitution (13th, 14th, and 15th amendments) focused on protecting the rights of formerly enslaved people, but it also had vast implications for other Americans.  Identify two or three groups of people besides ex-slaves affected by the Reconstruction-era amendments during the period from 1865 to 1900 and explain how they benefitted (or not) from this new constitutional era.
  • Relevant reading assignments for this essay include several chapters from American Yawp, the Gerstle article, and various House Divided Project exhibits.
  • Please open your paper with a descriptive title and your name (byline).
  • Make sure to address a question and devise a thesis statement that can be effectively argued in a short paper.  Consult the Methods Center handout on How to Write a Thesis Statement 
  • Be specific.  Use examples, dates, statistics and snippets of quotation to support your claims.
  • Make sure you are using and formatting your footnotes correctly.  Provide footnotes for all quotations and highly specific information (such as statistics). See the models below as well as this methods handout on How to Use Footnotes and consult as needed with the library’s Chicago-style guide, but make sure to use sample footnote models for formatting and NOT bibliography examples.
  • Prof. Pinsker will comment on full or partial drafts over email until Sunday evening.  You may also consult with the Writing Center for help with your essay.  Do not work with other students in the course on your answer.

Sample Footnotes

According to the editors of the American Yawp textbook, “reform became the word of the age.”[1]  Any subsequent citation to Yawp can be abbreviated with only chapter and section number.[2]

[1] Mary Anne Henderson, ed., “The Progressive Era,” in The American Yawp, eds. Joseph Locke and Ben Wright (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).

[2] Yawp, 20: IV.

Essays will be graded on depth of analysis, use of evidence, and quality of prose. Late essays will be penalized up to 5 points each day.

  • Organize your essay in a way that respects chronology and historical context.
  • Use past tense except when describing modern scholarship
  • Avoid first person pronouns, including “our”
  • Take to care to evaluate your sources as you deploy them in your essay.  See this methods post on Evaluating Sources for a helpful overall framework.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of integrating your quoted evidence with some degree of fluidity.  Awkwardly inserting quotations is one of the hallmarks of mediocre undergraduate essays.  Consult this handout from the methods center for a range of good tips.
  • Also, please guard against plagiarism.  Remember our discussion from the very first day of the semester.  Never write your own words while looking directly at your sources, especially secondary sources –unless you are quoting them.
  • And finally, always remember to proofread your work by printing it out and reading it aloud, slowly. See our methods handout on How to Proofreed [sic]