January 30, 2008

HS 4571

The Civil War and Reconstruction


Paper #1:   The Press and the 1850s



Overview:   In the last few weeks we have discussed two violent events that became the subject of major public discussion and intense media coverge:   Preston Brooks’ caning of Charles Sumner, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.    Your first essay will examine how contemporary newspapers responded to one of these events.   What can we as historians learn by reading a range of these newspapers?


The primary materials for this paper will come from the “Secession Era Editorials Project” which is run by T. Lloyd Benson at Furman University.



Assignment:   Select one of the two episodes for your focus.   Browse the newspaper editorials on the Secession Era Editorials Project and select at least four editorials as the basis for your paper.   You should write your essay like a normal short research paper.   That is, your paper should have an historically interesting question, a thesis, and evidence to support your arguments.


(1) You could write your paper in the voice of an historian who has read these newspapers in a library (i.e. a normal research paper).   If you adopt that perspective you should write your essay in the past tense, evaluating and weighing evidence from the perspective of a modern observer.

(2) You could also adopt the voice of a contemporary observer who has been reading these newspapers.  In this case you should select a particular person (a northern college student, a southern African American etc) and analyze the evidence from a contemporary perspective.

In either case you are free to select your own specific topic. 


Possible Topics:  

Here are some examples of topics you might choose:

** How did newspapers in a particular region (north, south, midwest) agree or disagree about one of these two events?

** Did newspaper editors perceive either event as of huge significance?   Or were they the acts of solitary men?

** What sorts of language did these newspapers use to describe the participants?   Was Brooks described as a “gentleman”?  Was Brown seen as a “madman” or a “martyr”?

** Who did the newspapers blame for these events?

** What did the newspapers predict for the future?   Do they anticipate a sectional crisis?




·       Essays should  be 4-5 pages (1000-1250 words) long.  Do not number the title pagte, but number all other pages.

·       Be sure to include a title page that includes your question/topic and the perspective you are using (ie “The Impact of the Crime Against Sumner” as described in four Southern newspapers),

·       Be sure to cite your sources (even if you do not quote them directly) using complete footnotes or endnotes.  You citations should include the title and date of the document, the full citation to the book, and the page number.

·       Your essay should include a clear introduction, a logical structure, and a strong conclusion.

§         You should consult the Grading Checklist (linked to the syllabus) for more details.



All papers are due on February 7th.    Zombek’s sections should turn their papers in to her in section; Patterson’s students should follow her instructions.     Late papers will be  penalized.