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HIST 2232 - T. Mendoza: Topics & Background Info

A library guide for US History from 1877 to 2000

Choosing a topic

Picking a topic is research! Topics start very broad and then need to be narrowed down to a manageable size. For this class you will write an historical analysis research paper, which is similar to an argumentative essay. The topic should be something you can analyze and prove an idea--do not summarize your topic. Your can choose any topic, idea, or event, that is related to US History after 1877 and before 2001.

Check out this brief tutorial from North Carolina State University

Research Topics

Developing a research question is a process. To help with the process, look through the table of contents of your textbook for ideas. Find a topic that you are interested in learning more about. After you choose a broad topic, narrow it down to a specific group of people, event, or concept. Below are some suggestions:


  • Women
  • African Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Mexican/Hispanic citizens
  • Chinese Immigrants
  • Athletes
  • Farmers, miners, soldiers
  • Presidents


  • Great Migration
  • Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
  • World War, 1914 - 1919
  • Scopes Monkey Trial
  • Scottsboro Boys
  • World War, 1941 - 1945

Economics, Politics, Culture

  • The Middle class
  • The Gilded Age
  • The underground railroad
  • Labor Movements
  • Populists
  • Progressivism
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Suffrage / Anti-Suffrage
  • Jazz Age / Harlem Renaissance
  • Prohibition
  • The California Gold Rush
  • Urbanization
  • Great Depression
  • Dust Bowl
  • New Deal
  • The American Dream
  • Civil Rights

Use the 5 Ws to narrow your topic:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

The Five W criteria can add context to your investigation and turn a topic into a research question.

  • WHO describes an individual or select population you are investigating.
  • WHAT The problem -- describes a specific aspect or element that directly impacts the WHO.
  • WHEN is a time frame in which you might limit your investigation
  • WHERE is a geographical location where you might focus. 
  • WHY is the reason why this investigation is important or meaningful. The WHY is not necessarily a part of the final research question but more informative of the scope of the project in general.


Primary Sources

Primary sources provide first person experiences on your topic. Primary sources include letters, legal documents, interviews, live performances, images, and artifacts. Primary sources can be found in books, newspapers, and journals. They can also help you narrow your topic and discover keywords for further searching. Below are primary sources related to suggested topics: