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Note: This information is for the second paper assignment. Information for the first paper has been archived here. In addition, details on the possible makeup exercise to boost your class participation score are now on-line.

Papers should be about six pages long, and dropped in the box outside my office by 5pm on the 20th of May. Short extensions may be available by ADVANCE request for students who are not seniors.

Select a topic you find interesting. Sample topics are given below -- however these are for example only. While you can choose to use one of them, it will not guarantee a better grade.

Topic Selection

Pick a topic that will let you meet the following requirements

  1. It must relate meaningfully to issues covered in two of the sessions in the second half of the course (session 13 onward).
  2. You must find some kind of historical dimension to incorporate in the paper. The paper does not have to be primarily historical, but pick something that lets you cite and explore some of the ideas explored in the historical articles. Many of these are very general and can be related to almost anything -- for example horizontal and vertical integration, economies of scale, relationship of businesses to consumers, mass production versus customization, difficulty in making IT investments pay off, symbolic role of technology, clash between financial and managerial uses of accounting information, etc. History is the study of change over time, so a good question to ask is always "what's changed, what hasn't, and why."
  3. You should bring in some external sources. At least two, preferably more. I'm happy to advise about these -- depending on the topic, suitable sources might be articles from Business Week, CIO.com, the Harvard Business Review, the New York Times, etc. They don't have to be scholarly or theoretical.

Important note: It is fine to "bring in" readings by just mentioning them in a citation and referencing in the text a key idea. You don't have to write whole paragraphs summarizing the entire argument. For example, if you find Chandler's concept of "economies of scope" useful then just mention in, maybe with a brief definition like "efficiencies produced as a result of the joint production or distribution of several products using the same facilities" and go on with applying it to your argument. I'm more interested in novel use, application and combination of these ideas than in seeing you do a précis of the whole chapter. We have the exam to test for that.

Example Topics

  1. The relationship between information technologies and corporate organizational structure.
  2. What challenges face today's CIOs (Chief Information Officers)? How do these differ, and how are they similar, to those facing the office managers of the 1920s, the data processing managers of the 1950s and the MIS enthusiasts of the late-1960s?
  3. Many promising attempts to deliver improved business performance through information technology have proved disappointing. Select a recent approach such as knowledge management, ERP or CRM and contrast it with an older one such as MIS, EDP or early office technology.
  4. What does the internet mean for the way that corporations are structured, managed, or relate to their customers? Pick a specific industry, and examine how it gained its current structure and what the net is likely to alter.
  5. Parallels between the technology boom of the late-90s, the railroad boom, the stock boom of the 1920s and any other booms you happen to know about.
  6. Is the Internet to the 21st century what the railroad was the 19th century?
  7. The meaning of "information" -- lots of topics here -- what it means to different people, how it changed over time, can there be an "information specialist" in charge of it. Also the concept of an "information technology."
  8. How recent technological change has altered the experience of work -- comparison of current developments with earlier technologies such as the assembly line.

Have a Thesis!!

As well as a topic, you will need a thesis. The topic is the question you propose to answer in your paper -- for example, in one of my papers it was the relationship of scientific office management and office technology during the 1930s. (Your topics will be a bit broader than this, because you are not doing any specialized research). The thesis is a succinct statement of your answer. All the rest of the paper should be structured to support and elaborate on this thesis. In my paper, the thesis was something like: "Although scientific office management and office machinery have been viewed by many as complementary, in fact most firms used technology as a symbolic alternative to the more fundamental reorganizations demanded by proponents of scientific office management."

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  Have a thesis, and state it clearly and concisely at the start of the paper. Do it in two or three sentences and make sure I know which ones they are. A paper is not a newspaper article, or a book review. The thesis should be the backbone of your paper – eliminate material that is not relevant to it. Refer back to the thesis as the paper develops.

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Try to make the thesis something that is not totally obvious (otherwise the paper is boring). For example, arguing that technology has changed a lot since 1940 and so some ideas are out of date would be a bad thesis. Try to be interesting and original (prerequisites for more than a "B").

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On the other hand, the thesis should be supportable. I don’t have to agree with you after reading, but I do need to feel that you’ve made a strong case and that the argument might be plausible. The best papers try to take into account possible objections to the argument presented, and admit areas where the idea might not apply or where evidence is lacking.

Other Hints

1.    Remember your audience. Your paper is not a private communication between you and your professor. You should have in mind an audience of interested historians and history students who are not necessarily experts in the field. Remember also that there are some things that we do in informal writing (contractions, abbreviations, slang) that are not appropriate in formal writing. Your papers should be composed in the formal manner.

2.    Have a conclusion. The paper should not just fizzle out when you run out of ideas – finish with something that ties your argument together nicely. It’s often useful to summarize your argument, gathering together the main pieces of evidence and showing that they demonstrate your thesis.

3.   Give supporting evidence. Strengthen your argument by referring directly to the text of the books. Don’t just recount what happened in the book, interpret it. Analyze the evidence to show how it supports your thesis. Quoting phrases or single sentences is fine, but don’t include large chunks. Give page numbers for specific points, chapter numbers where you are talking more about a general part of the book. Extra credit for using relevant evidence (books, papers, novels) not assigned for this class.

4.    Don’t bite off more than you can chew. For a short paper, such as these three page assignments, narrow your focus and choose a thesis that you can support in the space allocated.

5.    Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is a serious offense and is grounds for failure. This includes handing in a paper for which you have received credit in another course (even if it is your work), handing in someone else’s paper or a portion of their paper, or failing to acknowledge (cite) your sources.

Mechanics

1.    Give you paper a title which indicates the subject of the paper and your argument.

2.    Double-space your papers, using a 12 point serif font (Times, Palatino, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, etc.) with margins of at least one inch all around.

3.      On no account should your paper be more than 8 pages. It should not be less than 5 pages. When in doubt, cut rather than pad.

4.     Number the pages.

5.     Staple your papers.

6.     Keep a copy. Don’t risk losing it.

7.    Always proof your paper. Read it carefully, from a printout. Reading it out loud is the best way of spotting typos. Not spotting typos is the dumbest way to lose marks. Remember, the spell checker does not know what you actually meant to say.

How to Cite Sources

Historians base their arguments around the careful citation of evidence. Whenever you directly quote someone’s work, report someone else’s ideas, or present facts that are not common knowledge, you should let your readers know your source and give enough information for them to find that source. Even if you use your own words to restate another’s ideas, failing to cite constitutes plagiarism.

For these papers, it is fine to cite the main novels under discussion at the end, and refer to them by name or by the author’s name in the body of the paper. If you refer to any other books (histories of science fiction, other novels, critical essays) please footnote you first reference to these texts, and give a full citation in the footnote.

As a minimum, you must include the full title of the book, the name of the author, the year and city of publication. If you are citing a paper within a larger volume, then you must give the name of the collection and its editors. The examples below are from an actual history paper.

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From a book: Sidney Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), chap. 7.

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From a journal: Clarence H. Danhof, “The Farm Enterprise: The Northern United States, 1820-1860,” Research in Economic History, 4 (1979), 127-191.

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From a collection: Albert Fishlow, “Antebellum Interregional Trade Reconsidered,” in R.L. Anderson, ed., New Views on American Economic Development (Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1965) pp. 187-200.

Students sometime ask whether they can cite material from lectures. Remember that the purpose of citation is to allow somebody else to go back to your source. Hence a public source is better than a private one. If you can find the same information in print, then cite this source instead. You could always ask the lecturer where it came from! However, if you are unable to do this then it is better to cite your lecture notes (giving date, lecturer, course number and venue) then to present no source at all.

Everything you could ever want to know about the technicalities of academic writing is contained in the Chicago Manual of Style. However, the book itself may be a little too complete for your current needs.

You will find a more user friendly version of the same material in Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. 6th edition, revised by John Grossman and Alice B. Bennett. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). This is the standard work recommended for student writing.


©
Thomas Haigh -- email tdhaigh@colby.edu.    Home: www.tomandmaria.com/tom. Updated 04/21/2002.