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Assignment 3: Research Project

The third (and most heavily weighted) of the assignments for Europe in the Making is a 3000 word research project, presented in essay-style format (ie in continuous prose, with footnotes and bibliography).


What distinguishes this from the earlier essay is that the research project is intended to be a critical engagement with primary sources, and the emphasis is placed on the analysis of the primary sources used. The expectation is that you will engage with up to three primary sources, to be found either in edited and printed editions/sourcebooks, or in an online set of resources or database. (Each seminar page on the website includes recommendations for electronic resources).


Identifying appropriate material for analysis may take a bit of time, and indeed is an integral part of the exercise itself. Your seminar tutor will also be available to offer advice about this. It is good to be ambitious but at the same time it is important to be realistic about what is feasible and manageable. Your project might be – these are indicative examples only – an evaluative discussion of the court documents relating to two or three witchcraft cases; a close analysis of three visual propaganda prints from the era of the Reformation; a cultural ‘reading’ of an early modern recipe book, almanac or political pamphlet; a comparative analysis of selected parts of a couple of European and indigenous accounts of the conquest of the Americas. There are very many possibilities. The important thing is to have an idea of what you think the source/s may be able to tell us, of how they ‘open up’ larger issues of interpretation of the period. The regular collective work that seminar groups will have done with primary texts will have helped orientate you in how to approach early modern sources of diverse kinds.


The research project should follow the following format:


  • a title – this can take the form of an essay-style question, though does not necessarily have to do so.
  • a project outline (maximum 500 words) that discusses the project’s intellectual aims, the historical and historiographical contexts, and the methodological issues involved (‘methodological’ refers to specific requirements or problems of interpretation and procedure that using this kind of source throws up).
  • the main body of the project, describing and analysing the source/s themselves, with specific examples and explanations, and contextualisation of the material with respect to existing scholarly literature and interpretations
  • a (preferably short) concluding section, underlining the key findings, and also reflecting critically on the various challenges you encountered undertaking the project. Note that the real point of the research project is ‘critical reflection’, so it might well be appropriate (and not a sign of failure) if you conclude that the sources are intrinsically ambiguous, that they are not fully able to answer the questions you wished to put to them, or that additional or different sources, methods or techniques would be necessary to address the questions more effectively.
  • (optional): an appendix or appendices, in which key parts of the sources are reproduced. This is often most appropriate in the case of visual or pictorial sources, though it is also permissible to insert visual reproductions into the main text itself. Material in appendices does not form part of the word-count for the project.
  • bibliography, divided into sections for primary sources and secondary sources. The expectation is that you should consult at least five items of secondary literature relevant to your sources and the interpretative approach of your project.