Prompt and Guidelines

Prompt and Guidelines:

HIST1320 Liberty and Sovereignty Synthesis Essay

You have TWO COMPONENTS to this assignment:

The main essay (see the information below)

The History Department short essay (information coming by next class)


You can do an additional reflection on who and what America is today based upon what we have studied about the nation’s past as well as how you would have understood key moments if you had been alive at the time. See the end of this resource for more information. This section will be turned in separately in Canvas assignments.

***Reminder: you cannot use contractions (like can’t!) in your essay since it is formal writing. I use them in this resource to make it a little more user friendly. You also have to spell out one or two-word numbers (like fourteen or twenty-one). Be fancy in your actual essay! ????

Your Page Length Requirement for the Main Essay

Minimum of 4 pages (not including title page and Works Cited page)

Note: 3 and 1/3 pages are NOT equivalent to 4 pages!

Maximum of 6 pages (you can have spill over onto the next page without penalty)

You will have to use footnotes to cite the class materials from which you pull your evidence! (A specific resource that tells you have to cite a reading, a documentary, and a lecture will be provided.)

Your Prompt for the Main Essay:

What do the points of view and experiences of different groups in the United States, discussed in the readings, documentaries, and lectures presented or assigned for this class, show about the ways in which LIBERTY and SOVEREIGNTY (rights and authority) have been contested in American history?

To do this assignment, you will have to choose examples of people, groups, or ideologies that provide particular insight into what that person or group thought about their own place or standing in American society (the rights or authority they had) AS WELL AS the authority or power of other groups or individuals.

Which people or groups shared the same feelings / goals / concerns? (Note they do not have to be contemporaries of each other (living at the exact same time)

Which people or groups held views that were opposite or hostile?

(I’ll help you pick out your groups / people to talk about and break down their points of view and experiences. Look for a resource on that topic!)

Which Class Materials You Need to Analyze and Use in this Essay:

When you “Synthesize” something, you are putting together different ideas/points/pieces of evidence from our class materials in order to advance a larger point (your thesis) that answers the question posed in the prompt.

You are required to REVIEW ALL of our class material to formulate your answer to the prompt. That way you can figure out where you want to go with your labels (your thesis will articulate your labels and try to capture the analysis each label represents) AND pull out the very best evidence to back up your analytical points. While you need to review everything from class, you WILL NOT USE everything from class. Instead, you have to be selective and strategic in identifying which evidence is most relevant to the points you plan to drive home when you elaborate in your body paragraphs.

A reminder about what I mean by “evidence”: quotations / ideas / statistics / examples / events / details and information that you can pull from a source.

Here is the MINIMUM number of sources that you need to use. Keep in mind that you MAY use a source more than once, AND you are always invited to go beyond the minimum of 7 specific class materials.

3 different assigned primary source readings

2 different assigned videos

2 class lectures

You should be pulling more than just one small bit of evidence from each source. Finding nuance and writing about complex things requires you to really dig into the sources you choose.

Also keep in mind that these are overall requirements. The one thing to watch out for is having an unbalanced discussion. You don’t want to use 5 sources on one point and just 2 on another. Shoot for as much balance as possible!

You also need to use multiple sources from earlier in the semester. Make sure to look back over our materials!

Keys to Impressing Me with The Sources You Use

45720038671500Put related information from different sources together in your discussions. Doing this is what SYNTHESIS actually is. The metaphor I like to use is a slot machine. To hit the jackpot, you want to see cherries line up across the screen. If you can find interrelated evidence from different sources that all fit together to drive home the analytical point that you’re making in that particular body paragraph, then you’re in great shape. So, think of a piece of evidence (or multiple pieces!) from a video as the cherry on the far left. A related piece of evidence from a reading might be in the middle. Then you might have another piece of evidence from a different reading or a lecture on the far-right slot. The jackpot is finding different evidence from different sources that all line up to help you elaborate on a particular point in EACH paragraph. YOU HAVE TO DISCUSS MORE THAN JUST ONE PIECE OF EVIDENCE IN EACH OF YOUR BODY PARAGRAPHS. ONE LITTLE THING IS NOT CONVINCING.

Here’s a pretty easy example: tying evidence from the documentary on Cesar Chavez to evidence from the Dolores Huerta (or Cesar Chavez) primary source reading to information in Dr. Law’s lecture on the discrimination faced by Latinos. That would be a jackpot WITHIN ONE BODY PARAGRAPH!

Look for the juiciest evidence. Often a single quotation can contain ideas or information that can elicit commentary of great depth. Or you might find information on a profoundly impactful event.

Look to use strategic sources from throughout the semester. If you only use readings from just one day, you’ll make me think that you didn’t do any of the other readings. If there’s an obvious source that matches up perfectly with your point and you don’t use it, I’ll wonder why. Don’t give me anything to wonder about!

Use what you need and what fits best. The numbers and types of sources listed above are the minimum to use. Don’t treat them like the maximum! If you do a great job at looking at even more than the minimum, you can max out your score!

Where Students often Go Wrong in this Assignment

They don’t closely analyze the primary source readings. Some students treat this like a research paper and do a report on someone like MLK. That’s NOT what this assignment is!

They wait until the last minute and then have to cut corners (many of the things below). You have to give yourself enough time to find the evidence, synthesize it in your writing, and then get your footnotes in.

They use the internet as a substitute for analyzing our class materials. This is not an exercise in using Google. The essay requires you to evaluate our CLASS MATERIALS and develop your own, original thesis. If instead of doing that hard work you use the internet, you will fail this assignment.

They focus extensively on just the most recent class material. If all you talk about are the last two videos / readings we looked at, you’ll make me think that you didn’t do the necessary reading or watching from earlier in the semester.

OR they focus exclusively on one type of source. If all you use are videos, you’ll make me think you never read anything.

They just retell the sources one at a time. DON’T JUST EXPLAIN THE OVERALL IDEAS IN THE SOURCE. WEAVE THE MOST RELEVANT EVIDENCE INTO YOUR ANALYSIS. This essay is not a report on the main ideas of the sources. If you take that summary approach, the best that you could score on the paper would be a low C or a high D. To do better, you have to synthesize information and piece those different sources and pieces of evidence together in order to make a point.

OR they tell me everything they remember from the semester (this essay hopefully is not long enough for that!) instead of focusing on what the prompt asks. You DO want to figure out what evidence helps to illustrate the point(s) you are trying to make to support your thesis. Remember to be SELECTIVE and STRATEGIC in terms of picking the ABSOLUTE BEST EVIDENCE to prove your points. If you just riff on what you remember, you will not do well.

OR they wander away from a focus on our class’s time period and/or content. Do not wander off topic to discuss an issue from before Reconstruction and that is outside of our materials. You have to show that you understand the materials that we have looked at for this class.

They use token evidence from sources. I can tell when you’re just trying to check off the box on required sources. I can also tell when you’re trying to force something in. Please give yourself enough time to genuinely use your sources and evidence.

They essentially recycle their previous writing. You run the risk of plagiarism with that approach. Do not just repurpose your research paper as a shortcut. However, if you ended up discussing a reading in your research, you can still discuss it in this essay. You just need to make sure that your writing is original with this new, specific focus and that you are showing a command of materials outside of your research paper focus.

Things to Consider in Formulating Your Thesis

If you have a great idea but want to run it by me before working on your assignment, talk with me during office hours or send me an email of your idea!

There is not a single, correct answer to the prompt. What stood out to you from our discussions, my lectures, the videos, and the readings will shape your unique take on the that contest between Liberty and Sovereignty (rights and power) in the American experience. Look back over EVERYTHING—your lecture notes, your video notes, and the annotations or notes that you made for each of the readings on your own or during discussion in class—and then figure out what YOU think is the best way to take your answer to the prompt. Your answer WILL NOT BE something that you can just take word from word from any of our sources. You have to come up with your own way of answering the prompt. Then you have to back up your answer(s) / labels—AKA your thesis—with strong evidence from those class materials.

You’ll pick and choose which examples you want to use in your analysis based on what direction(s) you go with your thesis and points of analysis. Think deeply and be confident in your analysis. Then prove it in how you explain and develop those points of analysis.

Look for opportunities to show nuance…do whatever you think helps you show your most sophisticated take on the material as you develop your points. Don’t force complex issues into either/or paradigms like for or against. You can qualify statements, use subtleties to differentiate between your points, and flesh out the complexity of whatever you’re discussing. Societies are complex. Throwing power into the mix typically makes things even messier or contentious. Any time that you can dig deeper into an issue, point, or source, BE CONFIDENT AND GO FOR IT! As long as you can back it up with evidence, you’re good.

Key Information on Citing Your Class Sources:

You are STILL required to use Chicago-style footnotes and a Works Cited page to cite the class sources that you use in your essay. I will provide a new resource since some of the three types of sources required for this assignment—primary source readings, documentaries, and lectures—are done differently than the kinds of sources you were required to use in your research paper. However, you will still be expected to use footnotes correctly and follow the formatting expectations of your previous essay writing.

Note: I will expect you to work to address any key issues that we note in our feedback on your previous work. If you have any questions on what you need to do, just reach out to me.

What to Do if You Run out of Time Citing Your Sources before the Deadline:


Worst-case scenario: you don’t give yourself enough time and the Canvas deadline hits before you have your footnotes and bibliography done. What you need to do:

You still need to turn into Canvas whatever you have done at the time of the deadline.

Do NOT share a link to your file where I would have any editing privileges.

Do NOT alter that file that you submitted into Canvas after the deadline has passed. You have to be able to show me that file if there’s any issue with Canvas or my computer being able to read it. Instead, save a copy of your file (or just copy all of it and paste it into a blank document…but sometimes formatting gets wonky when you do that) and then work on that copy.

Do NOT alter any of your actual essay content (your ideas and sentences in your intro, body paragraphs, conclusion).

You ONLY fix your citing issues. Fix any footnote or bibliography issues in that second file. Include your name and something like Citation Fix in the title of your file.

Email me your corrected file. MAKE SURE TO TELL ME IN YOUR EMAIL EXACTLY WHAT YOU FIXED. For example, tell me that you fixed footnotes 14-17 and your bib page.

Warning: do not consider running out of time as a strategic move on your part! You still have to turn in what you have at the time of the deadline, so I’ll see if you dogged it before then.

Good luck with your analysis and synthesis!

Drop by my office hours (in person or in Zoom) if you have any questions or want to bounce ideas or get feedback.


A thoughtful reflection on who and what America is today based upon what we have studied about the nation’s past as well as how you would have understood key moments if you had been alive at the time.

What you need to engage with in your reflection:

Your take on / analysis of what has defined human interaction (IOW people dealing with people) in America from 1877 (the end of Reconstruction and the starting date for this course) to today? Which characteristic do you see as THE theme of how people have treated each other?

How did this past shape the society in which we live right now?

In those pivotal moments that we’ve studied, how do you think you would have reacted? Would you have joined Dr. King, the Black Panthers, the KKK? Joined NOW or followed Phyllis Schlafly’s lead? Or would you have kept your head down and laid low? Would you have told Native Americans to speak English or maintain their ways? Would you have supported shutting down legal access to immigration? Would you have burned your bra (or for you guys, would you have wanted the women in your life to) or considered feminists to be society-destroying she-men? 😉 Do you think that you would have had the courage to risk physical or social injury to speak out?

Based on your (hopefully) deepened understanding of our past, where do you think we go from here? What do you want to see happen in our future as a people? What do you plan on doing—if anything—to bring about that future?

Information on How to Do this Component of the EssayDo not just treat this writing as an opportunity to rant. In order to earn extra credit, you have to genuinely engage with what we’ve studied. You do NOT need footnotes here, but you do need to clearly identify what information you are discussing. We have to be able to see what from class you’re commenting on. We have to see what YOU think of what we saw in class rather than simply you repeating an ideological stance. You still need to clearly articulate your points and engage with specific evidence from this semester. You have to be organized in your thoughts and elaboration.

Note: you need to go beyond “racist people suck.” Think deep thoughts. Write meaningful sentences. If you stay very general and basic in what you talk about, you will earn very little—if any—extra credit. I want to see that you have truly grappled with this nation’s past in terms of rights and power and human interaction.

Be truthful about yourself. When I was your age, I was a rule follower. Plus, I was (an am) white and raised by a man and family with racist beliefs. If I’m being honest, I might have been conditioned to respond like Hazel Bryan did when she was screaming hateful things at Elizabeth Eckford in Little Rock. I would like to see you genuinely contemplate your upbring and your personality traits (your nurture and nature to borrow those terms).