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HIST 2232 - O. Garcia: Choosing a topic

Developing a topic

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 person or group of people, an event, a location, or a time period.


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.

  • The WHO describes an individual or select population you are investigating.
  • The WHAT 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. 
  • The 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.


Possible Topics

  • Reconstruction: The Reconstruction Era ended in 1877 – but was it a success or failure?
  • Disfranchisement: What forms of Disfranchisement affected African Americans in the segregated South? (You can examine this right after Reconstruction in the late 1800s or you can examine it during the mid-1950s, leading to the height of the Civil Rights Movement).
  • Anti-Lynching Movement: Who was Ida B. Wells and why was her crusade against lynching movement so significant?
  • Progressive Era: Was the Progressive Era truly “progressive”? Explain.
  • World War I: Was it a military necessity to relocate Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II?
  • Manifest Destiny: How did Manifest Destiny impact the people of the West?
  • Indian Schools: Were Indian Schools in the late 1800s forced assimilation or meant to help Native American children?
  • Wong Kim Ark: What is significant about the case of Wong Kim Ark, a Chinese American who was denied re-entry back into the United States?
  • Gold Rush: How did the Gold Rush impact the United States?
  • Gilded Age: How did the Gilded Age affect the workers? How did it affect big business?
  • Muckrakers: Who were muckrakers of the early 1900s and what role did they play in the Progressive Era?
  • Social Darwinism: How did the ideas of Social Darwinism and laissez-faire impact Americans during the Gilded Age?
  • Railroads: Railroads grew in power and growth in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s; there were also labor disputes and scandals. How did it impact the United States?
  • Populist Movement: What was the Populist Party and what was their goal? (or) What was the Populist Revolt and what is significant about it?
  • Spanish-American War: The Spanish-American War was a short war yet how did it significantly affect the United States?
  • Yellow Journalism: What was Yellow Journalism and how did it impact the public?
  • Washington vs DuBois: Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois both argued on behalf of African Americans although in significantly different ways. Who was right?
  • World War I: How did World War I affect Americans at home?
  • Mexican Repatriations: What was significant about Mexican Repatriations in the 1930s?
  • Dust Bowl: How did the Dust Bowl impact Americans? Or What caused the Dust Bowl?
  • Suffrage Movement: How did the Suffrage Movement impact states or people in the U.S.?
  • Harlem Renaissance: What was significant about the Harlem Renaissance?
  • New Deal: How did President Roosevelt’s New Deal affect Americans?
  • World War II: What role did Native Americans, African Americans and Mexican Americans play in World War II?
  • World War II: What role did women play during World War II?
  • World Wars: How did World War I or World War II propaganda impact Americans?
  • Cold War: How did the Cold War impact the United States?
  • School segregation: Explore the issues leading to Brown vs Board of Education. Or explore school segregation in the United States and its effect on Americans. i.e. Brown vs Board of Education, Mendez vs Westminster, and Lemon Grove school board case in California.
  • Red Scare: What is significant about the Red Scare in the United States?
  • Braceros: What role did the Braceros program play in the United States?
  • Consumerism: How did the consumer culture impact Americans in the 1950s?
  • Civil Rights: Examine the roots and role of one of the counterculture movements (i.e. Chicano movement, Feminist Movement, Black Power, Gay Rights, American Indian Movement, Student Movemet, Anti-War Movement) during the Civil Rights Era.
  • Great Society: President Lyndon B. Johnson envisioned a “great society” for the U.S. but what did that mean?
  • Watts Riot: Examine the roots and role of the Watts Riot.
  • Farm Labor: What role did the United Farm Workers play in the 50s and 60s?
  • Law: How did the Warren Court (the era in which Earl Warren serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) impact Americans?
  • Civil Rights: What is significant about the Freedom Riders?

Choosing a topic

This brief tutorial will show you how to pick your topic and narrow it down so you can find relevant sources.