For this course you are required to hand in a term paper, the topic of which is a social history of one of your grandparents (or some relative of that generation or earlier). This does not include your parents, although they will be a valuable resource. If your grandparents etc. are not available you can use the grandparents of a friend, or some unrelated person of that generation. In any event, you should talk with your instructor early in the semester if you have a problem. The focus of your paper should not be a potted biography of dear old granddad (or grandma). The sociologist C. Wright Mills said that the study of society is the interface between biography and history. That is the perspective you are to take.
In writing a social history you are expected to use your chosen relative as a focal point for understanding the society in which they lived. For instance, if your grandparents grew up in Cortland County during the 1950s and were farmers; you will first need to find out what life was like for rural people in the county at that time by asking a lot of questions. How did farming then compare to that of today? What sorts of activities were they involved with? What sort of food did they cook and eat? What was their schooling like? What was the nature of their social life? How many children did they have? What were their political views? How aware were they of what was going on in their neighborhood/town or city? And so forth.
1 Some of you will have an immigration story. Your grandparents may have been born in Ireland or the Dominican Republic, for example. The questions are what was life like growing up in that country? What prompted them to leave and come to the United States (if indeed they did)? and What was life like struggling to make a living in their new home? Your grandparents may have lived their entire lives in their country of birth. In that case, your paper will be about their lives in that country. Remember it is all about history (context) and biography (the events of ones life).
What you are doing is creating a picture of life in a given community at a certain point in time. Be curious and probe the responses you get. If your grandparent says that people had better morals back then, ask for examples. Do not accept what you are told at face value. Most important!!! Your paper must be historical by which you connect certain events and memories to specific dates and places. For instance, you need to explain why life in the 1930s or 1950s was distinctive compared to that of the preceding and following decades. Equally important, you need to show what was unique about that period of time you are studying and not make it merely an extrapolation of present trends and fashions on to the past.
Lets take another example. Suppose you chose to write about a grandparent (or relative of that generation) that was in the army and fought during the Vietnam War. Your first question might be what was it like being a soldier at that time? You would need to trace your family members experience (as far as possible) in Vietnam during the war and also relate it to the home front.
2 Here again you are using the personal experience of a relative to find out about the patterns of life that shaped their lives. How did the war affect their family? Did they have a political viewpoint? How aware were they of events beyond their immediate circumstances? Also, since the war took place during the 1960s, how did the events of this period impact the war and vice versa?
Clearly, in many ways this is an oral history assignment, but you are also expected to use other documents and resources. If you can interview the person you are focusing on so much the better. Recollections from your parents and other relatives would also be most useful. If you do not have a living grandparent, or they are inaccessible, see me and I can modify this assignment for you.
As for mechanics, you must use at least eight sources and at minimum two of them must be primary sources. A primary source is an unpublished document such as a newspaper (an excellent source), letters, diaries, and manuscripts of various kinds, plus interviews with family members. Genealogical records will be helpful. You are limited to only four internet sources and they must be fully documented. An internet source is one that is only found on the internet, (like a blog) and does not exist in printed form. The length of your term paper is six to ten pages. It needs to be bound and stapled with numbered pages, a title page, and bibliography. It must also be double-spaced in 12 pt. type and documented in APA or MLA style. Use the Chicago Manual of Style which is in the library if you need help formatting your paper. This is not a project that can be left to the last minute (or the last week for that matter). Know that you will be graded for mechanics as well as content.
3 This is a semester long project as the research part of it will take some time. If you have any questions or need help, I am happy to be of assistance. An outline of your paper is due on October 11. The final paper is due on November 12. Late papers will be deducted a full grade.
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