Due December 1 (paper)  // December 13 (website)

By Friday, December 1, students will submit by email an 8- to 10-page biographical paper that analyzes a significant diplomatic contribution from an American historical figure (not serving as president) during the period between 1776 and 2000.  Each profile paper should provide background on the person as well as thoughtful context about that period.  All papers should use George Herring’s From Colony to Superpower (2008) as a starting point, but they should also employ a wide-ranging combination of other scholarly sources and relevant primary sources. All essays should be typed and double-spaced as Word or PDF documents with title page and Chicago-style footnotes (no bibliography required).  Papers will receive provisional grades (based on research effort, analysis and prose) that will be updated following submission of the final website project.

  • Students should consult with Prof. Pinsker over email as they make decisions about choosing their diplomatic subjects and also about transforming their profile paper into an effective teaching web exhibit.
  • 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 
  • Research effort is key for this paper.  Make sure to consult a thoughtful array of both primary and secondary sources.  To get started, look carefully at Herring’s book (including his footnotes and bibliographic essay) and academic reference sources, such as American National Biography Online (database finder), Office of the State Department Historian, or Congressional Biographical Directory.  Then turn to academic secondary sources, such as books via our library catalog or Google Books (but note limitations) or academic journals from our database finder, such as available via JSTOR or America: History and Life.
  • Your next research step involves careful primary source research.  Use different types of historical newspaper databases from our college subscription services, such as Historical Newspapers (ProQuest),  19th Century U.S. Newspapers, Accessible Archives, or Chronicling America (Library of Congress).  But also make sure to check relevant government document collections, especially FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE US OR FRUS from the US State Department.  But also consult The Avalon Project at Yale Law School and other collections.  See our course web guide for further details. 
  • Here are three model profile papers culled from the Student Hall of Fame and submitted for previous versions of this course that everyone should try to review before writing: Brian Krussell, Bound by the Numbers: Robert McNamara (Fall 2009); Moyra Schauffler, Madeleine Albright Profile (Fall 2014) and Becca Solnit, Adlai Stevenson at the UN (Fall 2009).
  • Finally, here is a sample outline of a typical short profile paper:
    1. Introduction (1-2 pps)
      1. Striking quotation or narrative vignette + clear thesis statement
      2. Engage readers and provide analytical framework
    2. Background & Context (2-3 pps)
      1. Biographical, chronological and institutional insights
      2. Rely on secondary sources here
    3. Case Study Contribution (2-3 pps)
      1. Focus on decision-making and range of choices in key episode
      2. Show primary source research effort here
    4. Conclusion (1-2 pps)
      1. Return to (and refine) opening analysis
      2. Explain significance


By Wednesday, December 13, students should transform their diplomatic profile papers into a Weebly site.  Students should send Prof. Pinsker their Weebly URL by email. Each website project should be designed as an online teaching exhibit, revised and improved from the originally submitted profile paper, but now focusing on using various multi-media tools to help bring the main historical insights to life for high school and college classrooms.  Students should strive to find ways to highlight primary sources, by providing links to full-text versions of such sources where available)and by including properly captioned and credited images of relevant historical figures, events, and materials.  Each website should also include at least one embedded short video (about 1 to 2 minutes) that provides a biographical overview of the subject. Projects will be graded on depth of analysis, research and design effort, and quality of prose. Late submissions will be penalized 5 points per day.

  • Teaching websites can be organized with an essential question or theme rather than a thesis statement (as in a standard paper). 
    • EXAMPLE THESIS: “Robert Kennedy’s participation in ExComm meetings during the Cuban Missile Crisis went far beyond the customary role of an attorney general, raising profound questions about the Kennedy brothers’ commitment to orderly national security decision-making.”
      EXAMPLE QUESTION: “Who deserved to be ‘in the room’ with President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis?”

Once again, students should employ a variety of primary and secondary sources, but now benefiting from the online platform, they should also strive to find ways for providing full-text access to those primary sources whenever available.

  • Consider using the course web guides as models for sharing access to sources

Most important, students should also strive to engage classroom audiences with a host of visual and multi-media tools such as timelines, maps and podcasts, in addition to the required short video.

Students may also embed and curate multi-media elements from outside sources, but they must take care to credit and caption those sources properly.

  • Credits offer short acknowledgments of sources (Library of Congress) or (House Divided Project at Dickinson College).  Captions provide brief descriptions of images or multi-media.

All text content at the student-produced websites should be original and cited with Chicago-style footnotes.

Students should submit a link to their website by email to Prof. Pinsker.  Late projects will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

Weebly guidance

  • Building websites in Weebly is easy –and free (even though the platform is now part of SQUARE.  Just make sure you sign up for the free version of the site and pick the “subdomain” URL that allows for Weebly branding (e.g. 1876election.weebly.com).  NOTE: sometimes your desired subdomain URL is not available.  Just keep trying.
  • PRIVACY:  Your Weebly sites can be kept essentially private if you change the SEO settings on your web pages to “Discourage Search Engines.”
  • All websites should have at least three main content pages: e.g. Biographical background, Diplomatic Episode or Main Theme, Career Significance.  All sites should also have a separate home page that describes both the nature of the project (biographical subject) and the author (with grad year and major) and a mention of this class and semester.  There is no minimum word count, but most sites should contain the rough equivalent of the 8-10 page profile paper combined with supporting images, one embedded original short video and perhaps some additional multi-media resources (original or external).

Getting Started in Weebly with Five Easy Screenshots

Model Sites

Finally, here are some model student-produced Weebly sites culled from the Student Hall of Fame.  Take special notice of how these students organized their content toward teaching goals.  Also, pay attention to the ways they employed embedded images, multi-media resources, and hypertext links to primary sources.

On Storytelling

Try to surprise your readers.  See this advice on storytelling from documentary filmmaker Ken Burns:

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.


  • Here are some student models to rely upon for the companion short biographical videos: 
  • Another legitimate approach for the video companion is to create a reading from one of your subject’s speeches or writings:
  • For detailed written instructions on producing these videos in the free online platform WeVideo, please see this page.  And below is a short video tutorial on using WeVideo.  Please note that WeVideo has paid options, but anyone in this course can sign up for a free account and have more than enough time (up to 5 minutes per month) for this assignment (which requires about 1 to 2 minutes of video). For those who want to use other video production software, such as iMovie or Windows MovieMaker, please consult those video tutorials at the House Divided YouTube channel –but also please remember that you will have to then post your video at your own YouTube channel before you can embed it at the WordPress course site.  


Other Multi-Media Tutorials