Student Historian Handbook, Part I

Research (noun. Scholarly investigation or research.)
After the very important decision of selecting your topic, the research phase of Illinois History Expo begins! Students will become historians looking for the best information to tell their stories. Like a detective, you will be expected to investigate in the right locations (libraries, historic sites, talking to an expert) to find the clues necessary to support your thesis statement. The best part is you get to choose an Illinois-related history topic that you find interesting and want to research.

Topic Selection Comes First 

Choosing your Illinois History Expo Topic is Very Important!
  • Is your topic one that interests you?
  • Can you locate good source material to support your thesis statement?
  • Is the topic important and interesting to others?
  • If you are planning to also enter your Illinois History Expo project in National History Day competition, does your topic strongly relate to this year’s theme?
  • Illinois History Expo students who choose not to participate in NHD may pick any topic on any theme. The only requirement is that your topic must have a connection to Illinois history
Focusing and Narrowing Your Topic into a Thesis Statement
One of the best ways to pick a topic is to think about what you find interesting in your own life that can relate to history. Think about how your interests may have an historic past that is interesting to you as well as others.
It may be family history or a local history story that you find intriguing. A period of history in your textbook that you found exciting and important could be a starting point for topic selection. Maybe a conversation with an older family member or neighbor might help stimulate an interest in a family or local history topic.  
For example, if the NHD topic theme was the “Individual in History” and you were interested in women’s history, you may come across the reformer Jane Addams story.
The Jane Addams biography still needs to be focused on a more narrow aspect of her long and broad career. Because you are in junior high school, you may have an interest in history that impacted kids your own age. This could sharpen your focus on the social reformer’s work with children.
To sharpen the focus even tighter you might wish to examine her work on behalf of dependent children in Illinois and the effort to move children out of institutional housing and into foster homes. Addams impact on getting kids out of orphanages and into homes is an important part of state and national history.
This is a way to take a broad topic and narrow the focus and come up with a thesis statement.
Theme------------------Individual in History
General Interest………….Women in Illinois History
Broad Topic……………………………Jane Addams
Narrow Topic………………………..Addams and orphaned children
Thesis Statement……Addams helped pass laws to move children out of large orphanages and into foster homes                                                               
Figure 1:  topic narrowing

Researching Your Topic: Finding and Organizing Information

Locating Source Material and Organizing Information
Historians break the research process into two parts:
1.  Finding sources of information
Starting your search for information using textbooks, the Internet, encyclopedias, and books in the school library are good places to stating looking and learning about your topic. The next step is to visit a city library or a college library. Student researchers can also search special collections at a library that deals with your subject or visit a historic site. Historical societies and national or state archives are good places to look for details. Interviewing an expert on the topic is another good source of information.
2.  Starting your bibliography and notes
Keeping a record of the sources you will use to support your thesis is collectively called a bibliography. This list of sources will show the depth of your research efforts and exploration into your subject. One set of cards should be used to record the information on the source. This will be used later to compile your annotated bibliography. Another set of cards will be used to write the information you find in the source. These are called note cards. It doesn’t make any sense to read information and not record it for later use when putting your presentation together. Writing on your note cards the most important facts and quotes will help reassemble the pieces of the story at a later date.
Index cards can be purchased at an office supply or “big box” store.  Look to use the larger sized cards (5 inches x 8 inches) that have lines. Different color note cards may be used to help organize your information.
Sample Note Cards
Check out these index cards for a bibliography entry and research notes about social reformer Jane Addams, founder of Chicago’s Hull House.
Bibliography                                       Secondary Source                               Book
Howard, Robert P.      Illinois: A History of the Prairie State.
                                    William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972
This book has good information about Jane Addams and her efforts to work with Chicago city leaders and the Illinois legislature to provide foster care for orphans as an alternative to living in large institutional orphanages. It also contains a whole chapter devoted to Jane Addams life and Hull House in general. There is a good picture of Addams.
Important Pages: 399-402
Figure 2:  Bibliography Card
Now that you have finished writing down the general information that can be used for supporting your thesis, it is time to take more in-depth notes for your history fair research. On a new note card, record a brief description of the information, the source, and page number. When you start to fill out the note card with the author’s research, make sure to paraphrase (short summary of the author’s ideas in your own words) the information to avoid plagiarism. If you are directly transcribing the text you MUST make note that this is an exact quote taken from the book and make sure you cite the quote in your end notes.
Jane Addams early life in Cedarville & move to Chicago                           Howard, P. 399
Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois, a small community near Rockford. Her father was well to do. Jane had five brothers and sisters; her mother died when Jane was two. Jane was extremely close to her father who remarried and now Jane had two step-brothers. Her father encouraged Jane to pursue an education and she attended the Rockford Seminary for young ladies where she excelled in her studies.
“Jane wished to continue her education in the Medical field. This was however not acceptable to her parents who felt she had received enough education and it was time to get married and start a family” (Howard)
“My life in Cederville set the foundation on which I build the rest of my career” (Jane Addams)
Figure 3: Note Card
Research Sources     
The most important elements to building a comprehensive research project are the sources that historians use to analyze the story. It is important to gather and study a wide variety of sources. A good historian is like a detective who examines clues to solve a case; historians gathers and sources for information to understand their topic.
There are two types of sources: Primary and Secondary.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Primary sources are accounts taken at the time of the event or accounts taken after the event but by a person who was a witness to the historic event. These sources are related to the history by time or participation because they:
  • Were written or produced during the time period of your topic
  • Are an eyewitness account to the event you are researching
  • Are later recollections of witnesses to the event or time period you are studying

Examples of primary sources:
  • Diaries
  • Manuscripts
  • Interviews with participants
  • Autobiographies
  • Newspapers written at the time of the event
  • Photographs
  • Letters & postcards
  • Historic objects
  • Music
  • Government records
Secondary sources are usually published in a book or article by the writer who has made a personal interpretation based on the use of primary sources. The author of a secondary source is not an eyewitness or a participant to the historic event but rather has learned about the event from the accounts of others. Most books in libraries are secondary sources and are valuable for providing background on your topic. Footnotes and bibliographies in secondary sources can lead you to strong primary sources.
Remember that history can be subjective, and differing interpretations of an important event can easily be found in a variety of secondary accounts. You must rely on your individual research to come up with your personal analysis of the event.
Examples of Secondary Sources:
  • Biographies                          
  • Books about the topic
  • Encyclopedias 
  • Articles about the topic
  • History textbooks
  • Movies & Media documentaries
  • Interviews with scholars who were not present at the event
  • Teachers
Locating Sources
Start your search in your school library and then visit the local city library. An encyclopedia can be a good place to get background information for your history fair topic. The Internet is also a good place to look for sources and can lead you to some credible sources and some questionable ones, too, so be careful. Don’t be afraid to ask a professional librarian for help it locating source material.  A good project will have a variety of sources from a variety of places.
The first few books you locate on your topic can lead you to additional sources. Look at the footnotes or bibliography and notes section for listings of both primary and secondary sources. Write these sources down in a notebook so you can search for them later. Using interlibrary loans will increase your access to books unavailable at the local library. If being a good historian means working like a detective, then you must find where the clues may be hidden. Here are some places to look for primary sources:
City, County or College Libraries
These libraries will have more good primary sources for you to examine. You can usually find newspapers on microfilm to research. Many libraries will have a vertical file available on your topic. A special collections section will be a great help if you are working on a local history topic. You may not be permitted to check out books, so bring some cash to pay for photocopying.   
Historical Societies and Historic Sites
Other places to look for primary source material are at a county historical society, or to visit an historic site associated with your topic or time period. This is especially true if you are studying state and local history. Here you may find letters, diaries, photographs and artifacts. Call ahead for hours of operation and to find out if there are materials of use to you and if there are any special rules for using the collections. You may also learn of a local expert or participant that you could interview for your project.
If you are able to locate a participant to your topic, and he or she is willing, conducting an oral interview is a very insightful way to learn firsthand about the historic event. After contacting the subject and setting a time and place for the interview you should write out questions. Use a tape or video recorder when conducting the interview. If a face-to-face interview is not possible you may do the interview by e-mail, snail mail, or phone.
Using the Internet for Research
The Internet has become an incredibly useful tool for researchers of history as well as other subjects. A good place to look for links to Illinois history is by visiting the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency web site and linking to history fair. Visiting credible web sites is a valuable tool for those who do not have easy access to libraries. The Internet can get you inside the collections of many prestigious institutions to examine primary source documents on your computer screen.
How to take advantage of the Internet:
  • Use the Internet along with the books you found in the school library to get some general background information on your topic
  • Use the Internet to look at on-line catalogs at libraries before you visit. This will save you time.
  • Many libraries are now posting primary sources on-line. If you can locate sources that pertain to your topic you should download these for your research. Being able to get access to libraries hundreds or thousands or miles from your home is a wonderful advantage for modern day historians and researcher of all types!
Internet pitfalls to avoid:     
  • Be careful of researching on questionable sites. Web sites hosted by educational institutions, government agencies, and municipal libraries are trustworthy sites. Sites hosted by individuals can be credible.  However, the author could have a particular agenda he is interested in promoting and this may cloud his judgment.
  • Because only a small amount of information is available on the Internet, it is important to locate and use other sources.  This means you must leave your computer and visit libraries!

Summary Statement and Bibliography

Title Page
The title page must have your project title, school, student name, and division. It is important to create a good title for your project or paper. The title should clearly introduce your topic as well as offer the reader insight into your point of view on the topic.
Here is a title that could be used to quickly introduce the focus of the subject and topic:
Jane Addams’s Fights for Illinois Children:
 The Legislative efforts against Warehousing Parentless Children
This title offers the reader an idea about the specific type of social reform advocated by Jane Addams and how Progressive Era leaders used the legislative process to pass laws favorable to the causes of children
Summary Statement Questions
A summary statement form answering the following questions must be filled out and accompany all projects at the regional and Illinois History Expo. This is not an essay on your project but rather a series of questions describing topic selection, the connection to Illinois history, and process of how you developed the entry. You will not be interviewed by the judges; so this gives them an idea of the reasons you selected the topic and how you developed your entry. Here is the Summary Statement Form.

All projects must include a bibliography with an alphabetized list of sources used in researching the history fair entry. Research papers must have an Annotated Bibliography that lists the source and provide a short description of it and how you used the source in your research paper. National History Day entries should separate primary and secondary sources. For guidelines on bibliographies refer to A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, or the style guide of the Modern Language Associations of America (MLA).