First Essay –19th Century

Due February 26, 2021

On Friday, February 26, students will submit a 3-5 page typed, double-spaced essay on a nineteenth-century topic provided to them near the beginning of that week.

  • Prof. Pinsker will distribute and discuss the topic on Tuesday, February 23, 2021 during the class Zoom session

Please choose ONE of the follow essay topics:

  • Describe one of the most revolutionary social or economic changes which occurred in the United States between the Civil War and World I.


  • The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) promises both equality and fairness (due process) to everyone in the United States –not just citizens. Describe one of the most glaring examples of how that promise remained unfulfilled for some Americans during the period between the Civil War and World War I.


Please open your paper with a descriptive title and your byline.  Then when explaining the reasons for your answer, please make sure to mention or briefly describe two or three other leading possibilities. Spend about 3 to 5 pages (typed, double-spaced) in total, employing information and details from BOTH primary and secondary source material in our weekly reading assignments and from any resources located at the course site.  You may also incorporate some of your own previously submitted email reflections if they seem relevant. You do not have to cite yourself, but please use Chicago-style footnotes for all quotations and any other specific information, such as statistics. But perhaps most important, make sure to punctuate your arguments with examples of specific historical figures and to do so in ways that help make the chronology of the period clear.

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.


All essays much include both primary and secondary source material from the assigned readings properly cited using Chicago-style footnotes. Outside research is allowed but not required.

  • Relevant reading assignments for this essay include several chapters from American Yawp, an article by David Blight, various House Divided Project exhibits and a selection of student website projects
  • 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 
  • Make sure you are formatting your footnotes correctly.  See 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.

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.

  • 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]