First Election Narrative

Due Friday, October 2, 2020

By Friday, October 2, students will submit a 6 to 8 page narrative essay that analyzes a significant American election contest between 1776 and 1876.

  • Students don’t need prior approval for their subjects, but they should consult with Prof. Pinsker voluntarily over email.
  • Presidential elections (especially after 1840) are probably the easiest to research, but students may choose earlier or non-presidential (even non-federal) contests if they would like.
  • Make sure to address a question and devise a thesis statement that can be effectively argued in a short paper.  Consult the Methods Center handouts on How to Write a Thesis Statement and How to Frame a Research Question
  • One of the most important choices in selecting a paper topic is about framing or choosing an angle.  A paper entitled “The Election of 1860” is framed more as an encyclopedia article than as a strong analytical undergraduate.  For these election narratives, you will want to find a small window that can help open up broad insights.  You will still always want to cover the basics (in this case, the three C’s = candidates, campaigning, and contest results), but you can do so while focusing from some creative and rewarding angles. Here are examples:
    • Local angles like Carlisle and the 1860 Election
    • Election Day angles like opening with a narrative of voting on November 6, 1860
    • Biographical angles like John Nicolay (Lincoln’s assistant) and the Election of 1860
    • Thematic angles like Wide-Awakes, Popular Enthusiasm and the 1860 Election
    • Methods angles like a study of 1860 campaign biographies 

Each essay should make sure to situate each campaign narrative in the historical context of the time period.  All essays should employ a combination of high quality primary and secondary sources.

  • Explaining context and significance is a critical element of this narrative assignment and will require sophisticated use of secondary sources, especially academic books and articles like Gienapp’s biography of Lincoln or Slonim’s article on the electoral college.  You can find such academic sources via our online library catalog or through database resources such as JSTOR and America: History & Life.
  • Consult our course site web guides for additional help and check out the History research guide from the library

All essays should also be typed and double-spaced as a Word or PDF document while including a title page with descriptive title and Chicago-style footnotes (no bibliography required).

  • 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.
  • Here is a good model paper from the Student Hall of Fame, though it’s longer than your assignment and organized under a slightly different rubric.  Check out Hillary Kativa, Carter’s Playboy Interview in the 1976 Election (Spring 2005)

In addition to the essay, students should also submit a custom-made TimelineJS on their chosen election contest.  Well-designed timelines can receive up to 5 extra-credit points.

  • Student model (TimelineJS) = AEF in WWI (Tom Forte)
  • Student model (TimelineJS) =US-Turkey in Cold War (Roberto Valentino)
  • NOTE:  All timelines should aim for about six (6) entries
  • Make sure to provide proper captions and credits on the images in your timeline.  When it comes to text, you can write your own brief entries or quote from sources –but either way, make sure to acknowledge where you got your information.  Those acknowledgments can be in parenthetical citations or other formats less comprehensive than Chicago-style footnotes.

Both essay and timeline link should be submitted by email to Prof. Pinsker by 5pm on the due date.  Student work will be graded on research effort, depth of analysis and prose quality. Late essays will be penalized up to 5 points per day.