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
Illinois History Expo Topic is Very Important!
your topic one that interests you?
you locate good source material to support your thesis statement?
the topic important and interesting to others?
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?
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
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
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
This is a way to take a broad topic and narrow the focus and
come up with a thesis statement.
Theme------------------Individual in History
in Illinois History
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
Material and Organizing Information
Historians break the research process into two parts:
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
Starting your bibliography
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
Howard, Robert P. Illinois: A History of the Prairie State.
William B. Eerdmans Publishing
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
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
“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
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:
written or produced during the time period of your topic
an eyewitness account to the event you are researching
later recollections of witnesses to the event or time period you are studying
Examples of primary sources:
written at the time of the event
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:
- Books about the topic
- Articles about the topic
- History textbooks
- Movies & Media documentaries
- Interviews with scholars who were not present at the event
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
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
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:
Addams’s Fights for Illinois Children:
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
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).