Skip to content

Published Date

February 10, 2021

Resource Type

For the Classroom

AHA Topics

Career Paths, Graduate Education

This resource was developed as part of the AHA’s Career Diversity for Historians initiative.

By Courtney E. Thompson
Mississippi State Univ.

Using This Guide: This assignment structure provides faculty with a framework for developing assignment paths that build on historical research skills while allowing students to choose the assignments that will allow them to build other historical skills.

Purpose of this Assignment Structure: This assignment structure allows graduate students to consider their potential career paths in history.

Skills It Addresses: Intellectual Self-Confidence, Communication

For more about this assignment: see Prof. Thompson’s February 2021 article, found here, in Perspectives on History. 

Choose Your Path Assignment Structure

Choose Your Path Assignment Structure by Courtney E. Thompson

This semester, you will use your own interests in the history of the body to structure your assignments, and you will choose a path to pursue for two of the three major assignments that aligns with your professional goals.

All students will complete the first assignment, the annotated bibliography. After completing your annotated bibliography, you will pick one of the following paths, which will determine your other two assignments for the course. You should build on the research you have already completed in your annotated bibliography to complete the other two assignments.

Annotated Bibliography (25%)

Assignment 1: Annotated bibliography (25%):

You will identify a significant theme within the subfield of the history of the body and prepared a detailed annotated bibliography exploring this mini-field of roughly ten books and/or articles that are significant to this theme.

The annotated bibliography will contain the following components, all of which will be assessed:

  • A selection of ~10 of the most notable, interesting, or recent works (books and articles) on the given theme. The list should include both foundational texts and authors and some examples of recent scholarship. You will be evaluated on the texts you have chosen and whether you have identified appropriate key texts and recent works. All texts must be scholarly in nature, unless a significant foundational text was not originally intended for a scholarly audience. Most of the works should be by academic historians, but for some topics, you may include works by academics in other related fields.
  • For each book/essay, you will produce a short summary of each work and its significance. Your annotation should clearly indicate the book’s topic, scope, methodology and sources, argument, intervention, and relation to the broader sub-field.
  • At the head of your document, before the annotation of the individual works, you should provide a synthetic summary of the big trends, developments, questions, approaches, etc., within the history of the theme. This mini historiographic essay should not summarize all of the books again, but should instead provide a big-picture overview of the development of your chosen subfield.

The theme you choose may be a theme we will address in class (like eugenics), or you may choose a theme that we are not covering in our major works (like sex work). These bibliographies will be shared with the entire class as a collection of references for the history of the body.

Assignment 2 Guidelines

Assignment #2 is due on October 16 via Canvas. You must pick one of the following to pursue.

Pedagogy Path:

New Course Proposal and Draft Syllabus

For this assignment, you will propose a “new” course. You may design and propose a course at any level and on any topic, but you must incorporate the history of the body into your chosen subject. This assignment will have the following components:

  1. A “course proposal.” This should include the course title, level, est. enrollment, and a short catalog description.
  2. You will also prepare a brief a historiographic rationale (250-500 words, or more as needed) as to how to integrate the history of the body into your chosen survey course. You should have a clear justification as to why the history of the body should be incorporated into this course and how you plan to do that. Specific examples of where and when in the semester you would include history of the body content should be included in your rationale. This is a component of your “course proposal.”
  3. You will develop a syllabus for a survey course on any topic. Your syllabus must be complete, including lecture titles and specific readings and assignments. You may not use whatever textbook(s) are currently assigned for the comparable course here at Mississippi State. The syllabus should be lightly annotated to explain or justify the choices you are making.

For this project, you will have to closely investigate syllabi written by instructors at MSU and at other institutions, but your syllabus should be entirely your own design. You must carefully choose appropriate readings and assignments, and you must also consider how to incorporate the history of the body into your course. You must justify and explain all of the choices that you make in the rationale and annotations.

Research Path:

Fellowship or Grant Application

For this assignment, you will either prepare a draft application for a fellowship of your choice or apply for the Thompson Research Fellowship for archival research and travel to [Archive of your choice]. The Thompson fellowship application requires the following components:

  1. Title and abstract of 150 words.
  2. Project proposal/description, ~1500 words. This should include your research questions, a brief overview of the historiography, your research plans and how the archive ties to them, and your goals for the final project.
  3. Bibliography, for both primary and secondary sources. You should select one archive and its holdings to be the focus on your proposed research trip. Some light annotations of your archive materials should be included.

For this project, you will have to closely investigate the finding aids and catalog of the archive and write a project proposal which must include a detailed account of why you are embarking on a specific project, which specific questions you intend to respond to, and details how your project engages with the history and historiography of the body.

Public Scholarship Path:

Pitch and Op-Ed

For this assignment, you will pitch an op-ed piece to Internet Magazine. You may propose an op-ed on any topic, provided it is clearly tied to both the history of the body and some aspect of modern culture, society, and/or politics. This assignment will have the following components:

  1. The pitch. You will write, in the form of an email/letter a brief pitch to the editor of Internet Magazine pitching your story. A pitch summarizes the approach you will take and sells its relation to the broader event. Samples of pitches will be available.
  2. Op-ed. Assuming that your pitch was accepted, you will draft an op-ed essay of roughly 1500-2000 words. Your op-ed should be tonally appropriate for public scholarship. It should have a clever title. Citations should be used, but this should not be written like a research essay.

For this project, you will have to read op-ed essays and other examples of public scholarship published on the internet. I recommend essays by historians for The Atlantic, Slate, and other news magazines, as well as public-facing history blogs like Nursing Clio. You should model your approach off the work of other public-facing scholars. Your essay must engage both the history of the body and some event of current interest, and it should be written for a general reader.

Assignment 3 Guidelines

Assignment #3 is due on November 22 via Canvas. You must pick one of the following to pursue.

Pedagogy Track:

Lecture Draft and Presentation

You will draft one sample lecture based on your previously submitted syllabus demonstrating the integration of the history of the body with your field of interest. While you may partially rely on course texts in developing your syllabus, your lecture must be substantially based in both primary and secondary sources that you identify yourself.

This assignment has three components:

  1. Your draft lecture should be in prose format (not bullet points!) and should include appropriate Chicago Style footnotes of the relevant sources that you are drawing on. It should be of an appropriate length to reflect a standard 50-minute lecture; you may find that you need to edit your lecture for length once you record it.
  2. You will provide slides for this lecture.
  3. You will provide a recording of you giving the lecture. You should NOT read the lecture word-for-word; give your presentation as you would in a class.

Research Track:

Annotated Document and Primary Source Analysis

You will select one primary source or small set of related primary sources (e.g., a set of public health posters; a diary; etc.). This assignment is intended to serve as a step towards a research paper; you may discuss a source you will further examine in a planned research paper, or you can use this exercise to explore the process of historical analysis. You cannot recycle previously submitted work; this should reflect new writing and research. Your primary source(s) should ideally be archival, manuscript, or ephemeral in nature; if you plan to use a published source, you should check in with me first. The history of the body and its historiography should influence your analysis.

This assignment has two components:

  1. The source itself should be submitted in some format. It should be lightly annotated to allow me to read/interpret it. Imagine what information you would include in annotations for a first-year student; what basic info would you provide, and what aspects of the source would you highlight?

You will also create a more in-depth primary source analysis (~2500 words). While this is a short assignment, you should still have a conventional structure, clear argument, and appropriate, Chicago-style citations. You should have a nuanced, complex argument based on your close analysis of your source(s). You should make use of appropriate contextualization and engagement with the historiography. The “Lost & Found” series of essays in Endeavour is a good example of how to do a focused analysis of a single primary source or small set of sources.

Public Scholarship Track:

Exhibition Proposal and Design 

You will develop a concept for an exhibit, which may be conceived of as a virtual or physical exhibition. Your exhibit plan should communicate to both the imagined museum administrator and the public some aspect of the history of the body in addition to your subject of interest. The exhibit can be as large or small as you imagine; it might help to imagine a specific space with which you are familiar to help you visualize the size and organization of the exhibit.

This assignment has three components:

  1. Your proposal should have a prose overview of the exhibition’s goals, themes, and main organizational principles.
  2. You will provide an annotated list of the objects, documents, etc., that would be included in your exhibitions; you should explain why these objects were selected and how they will be displayed and provide some basic context or other relevant info about these objects. This is a fantasy exhibition, so you can pull objects and artifacts from any collections you want, but you must provide clear citations for them. You should organize this list according to how the objects would be displayed together.
  3. You should include one sample object—an artifact or document that would appear in the exhibit, with an accompanying label.

Optional: if you wish to include diagrams/mock-ups/visualizations of what your exhibit might look like, or how a case might be organized, or how the web site would look, you are very welcome to do so!

Scroll To Top

Content Warning

This page contains words or ideas that might be offensive to modern readers. To maintain the accuracy of historical documentation, the content is reprinted in its entirety as it was originally published. This accurate reproduction of original historical texts therefore contains words and ideas that do not reflect the editorial decisions or views of the American Historical Association.