History homework help

The History of Science II



Primary Source Research Paper:


“What Ever Happened to ‘Star Wars’?”


The Speech.  On March 23, 1983, Americans watched one of the most unusual and historic speeches in U.S. history.  Broadcasting from the Oval Office, President Ronald Reagan gave a nationally televised address in which he unveiled a controversial proposal, the Strategic Defense Initiative.  Critics pounced the notion, and they gave it the mocking moniker of “Star Wars.” (What would Luke, Darth, and Yoda think of that?)

What Reagan proposed was a high-tech, super-sophisticated missile defense shield that would use lasers and “particle beams” to shoot down Soviet missiles that were launched to attack the U.S.  The plan seemed far-fetched, the stuff of science fiction, and the speech might not have even received proper vetting at the White House.  Two prominent Cabinet officers, Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, learned about the speech’s contents only two days before Reagan addressed the nation.  Both disagreed with the SDI initiative.  The notion of SDI might have come directly from Reagan’s imagination.  Was it fanciful, dangerous, wise, visionary, or something in-between?  For this paper, you are going to have to reconcile the conflicting views and controversy surrounding “Star Wars” and render a judgment on the program. History homework help


Organization.  Your paper should be shaped along the following framework. 

Introduction.  A short (and I mean short!—no more than three sentences) paragraph that states your thesis.

Reaction.  After Reagan gave the speech, many media outlets and politicians roasted it with ridicule.  Others gave scorching criticism.  Why?  On the face of it, the notion might have seemed intriguing, even sensible—an outer space barrier to protect Americans from annihilation during nuclear attack.  So why did opposition crystallize so fast?  What did critics say?  In particular, can you find scientists who attacked the proposal?

Besides the president, did anyone support the plan?  (Please do not quote from the speech here—that is too obvious.)  How did supporters defend it?  What did they tout as SDI’s virtues?  Did any scientists favor the idea?  What did members of the military say?

1980s Progress and Budget.  Here are questions you should try to answer:  What happened to SDI after Reagan promulgated it?  During the 1980s, what progress did scientists make on SDI?  Within the federal government, what institutional apparatus was established to guide research?  Did the research take place under the Pentagon’s direction?  What was SDI’s annual research budget, and how much money was spent on SDI for the rest of the decade?  Were any eminent scientists involved?  Did SDI research take place at any STEM universities?  Did Reagan ever mention SDI again to the public?  If so, what did he say?  If not, did reporters try to pry information out of the administration?  Did Reagan give updates or explain any progress that was being made?

After Reagan.  President George H.W. Bush continued the SDI initiative during his presidency.  What progress was made during the early 1990s?  What were spending levels?  Compared to Reagan-era spending, did it increase, decrease, or remain the same?

The SDI program ended during Bill Clinton’s presidency.  Why?  What did the administration say in ending it?  Did the program stop because it proved infeasible, did the Cold War’s end make it unnecessary, or did other factors mitigate against it?  Overall, what did the SDI program achieve during its approximately one decade-long run?

The 21st Century.  Nearly forty years after Reagan announced SDI, how do scientists and others (politicians, the media, the military, and more) view it today?  Is it ever mentioned?  What exists to show for the program and all the taxpayer money spent on it?  Is it still science fiction, or has the U.S. made credible strides toward deploying a defense shield of some sort?  History homework help

Conclusion.  What is your evaluation of SDI?  (Please avoid using the first person and keep your paper in the objective third person.)  Was it a boondoggle or a success?  Did the program leave a noteworthy legacy?  Was the federal research money well spent?  Or was the whole thing just a blip on history’s radar screen?

Paper Length2,000-2,250 words (8-9 pages).  You may spill over the limit, but not by more than 100 words.

Structure.  You may structure your paper according to the following model:

Introduction:  one short paragraph.

Reaction:  1-2 pages.

1980s Progress:  2 pages.

After Reagan:  2 pages.

21st Century:  2 pages.

Conclusion:  one paragraph.

How Will You Be Graded?  The grade you earn on this paper will reflect the following:  quantity & quality of your research, use of research, interpretation & analysis of evidence, writing mechanics, writing process (at least one rough draft), Advertisement Page and Anecdote (explained below), footnotes, bibliography.




The emphasis in this paper is on research using primary sources.  You may utilize secondary sources, such as books on the 1980s economy or the Reagan presidency (but no tertiary sources, as explained below).  You may also use primary sources in the form of books, such as memoirs.  This paper requires original primary-source research.  You are all savvy with using the Internet, but you must also be cognizant that some Internet sources are more reliable and authentic than others.  The research for this paper should help you sift through the dross and use accurate sources to construct an original research paper.  In order to enhance the quality of your research and develop appropriate skills, you must learn how to use primary sources–it is a course objective!  To obtain your historical evidence, you must consult three different categories of primary sources.


The Ten Percent Concept (I will explain).  To ensure that you use abundant, diverse sources as historical evidence, you must find the following MINIMUM number of articles and documents in your research.


  1. Magazines. Three articles.  The Economist, Business Week

The Nation

The New Republic

  1. Newspapers. Three articles.  Newspapers to look at include The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor.
  2. “Other” primary sources. Six articles/documents. Please consult “other” primary sources and obtain six total (you certainly may mix and match).  For example, you may look at documents available at:

-Ronald Reagan Presidential Library website

-Defense Department

-University of California-Santa Barbara Presidency Project

-University of Virginia Miller Center’s repository of presidential oral histories

-Vanderbilt University television news archive

-Gallup and other polling websites

Public Papers of the President

-Statistical Abstract of the United States

-speeches, interviews, press conferences, news programs on YouTube

– Memoirs:  many economists and members of the Reagan administration and Congress wrote memoirs, including:  Reagan (both an autobiography and diary entries, the latter published posthumously), Alexander Haig, George Shultz, James Baker, Don Regan, Caspar Weinberger, Michael Deaver, David Stockman, Helene Von Damm, Oliver North, Nancy Reagan.  History homework help


            TOTAL:  12 articles/documents minimum.  That will help to make a well researched paper!  Failure to meet this total will reduce your grade.

Please try to turn in your primary sources with your final paper if you have printed them out or made copies!  This portfolio will give me a better picture of your research. 

Using Your Sources.  You need not use every single primary source that you find in your paper.  But try to employ at least half of them, incorporating their information into your argument and footnoting them.  If you are able to use all ten (or more) sources—fantastic!



Absolutely forbidden are tertiary sources—Wikipedia, encyclopedia articles, textbooks, time lines, general reference works (including those on the presidency or presidential elections), and websites of dubious scholarly merit (e.g., no authors listed).  Be careful and circumspect when you do Internet research!  If you have questions about a source’s suitability, please see me.

More pitfalls to avoid.  This research paper is not a media study.  In your narrative, avoid writing, “In an article appearing on October 1 in the New York Times, Joe Schmoe commented that….”  The reader can find such information in your footnotes/endnotes.  Nor is this project an examination of rhetoric.  While you will find many juicy quotes or presidential speeches while researching, your paper should not be a quilt of quotations stitched together.  Use your course readings as models of how to construct a well-researched historical narrative and analysis.

Be ambitious with your research.  The requirements for primary-source research are not just hurdles to clear.  They represent a starting point and a push in the right direction; they are bare-bones minimums.  Delve deeply into your sources!  Go beyond the requirements!  Seek out many articles from different sources!  Use them extensively in writing your paper and drawing conclusions!  I will consider ambitious research in determining your grade.

Have Fun!  Doing primary-source research can be enormously entertaining.  It is an adventure, involving digging and exploring.  You will transport yourself back to a different era, putting yourself in the place of people who lived through those events, experienced and wrote about them, acting as witnesses to history.  (You will even enjoy looking at advertisements or commercials that you will uncover in your research.)  You should learn a lot and have fun on this historical journey.  History homework help

Advertisement Page.  Be proud of your work.  This assignment is no occasion to be modest.  When you are done, you will have written a well researched paper full of surprising and important information.  You should tout your paper’s merits, and you should make it enticing—a historical work that someone will want to read.  To dangle a lure before your reader, please include an advertising page that hooks anyone who picks up your paper, functioning like a book jacket.  After your title (cover) page and before you begin your paper itself, please have a page with three bulleted items to catch attention (it will not count toward your paper’s page limit).  For the model paper on Jimmy Carter that I am posting on Blackboard, you could write:


“Did you know that President Jimmy Carter:


-performed what amounted to a painful medical procedure on himself when he was a boy

-watched a visiting foreign leader break down and sob uncontrollably just before a major public event

-had a pulse rate while he was president that was probably lower than yours or anybody whom you know?

Carter also signed one of the most controversial diplomatic treaties in modern history—one that remains controversial to this day.  To learn more,  please read on!”

Warning:  Please do not use the Advertisement Page as a trivia dump (“Ronald Reagan liked jelly beans,” “Reagan made 57 films during his acting career”).  It should function as a preview of your paper. 


Anecdote.  A fun part of history is the anecdote, and you should train yourself to tell a good one.  At the end of your paper (after the conclusion), please include one amusing or insightful incident that you came across while conducting research.  Please give a title to your anecdote, and please tell a story that you did not cover elsewhere in your paper.  Your story need not be of earth-shattering significance, but it should be entertaining or dramatic, and it should have a point.  Your anecdote must include a footnote and be double-spaced, just like the rest of your paper.  Please write your anecdote as part of your paper (i.e., do not create a separate document for it) so as to submit one document to Turnitin.com.  Your anecdote does not have to count toward the total word (or page) limit of the paper.

Warning #1:  Do not obtain your anecdotes from anecdotage.com, pawprints.com, or any similar website, or from Paul Boller’s Presidential Anecdotes or other works—although you may use them as models.  Your anecdotes must be original—i.e., your own creations—from your own research.

Warning #2:  Please do not write about well-known events like Reagan’s hospital wisecracks after the March 1981 assassination attempt (“Honey, I forgot to duck,” “I hope you’re all Republicans,” “All in all, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” “Who’s minding the store?”).  Find an original, out-of-the-way story!





Writing counts!  Your writing is important—for this paper, your other classes, and your career.  Take it seriously.  I will pay close attention not only to your argument but also to your paper’s mechanics (spelling, grammar, and punctuation).  In formulating your grade, I will consider all.

The most important part of writing:  rewriting.  Your paper should be a carefully honed and polished work—the “finished product” of your endeavors.  It should not be a rough draft.  You must proofread your paper to vet it for typographical errors, misspellings, and mistakes in punctuation and grammar.  Your paper should be free of such errors.  Careless errors will reduce your grade.  As you find mistakes and correct them, and as you develop better ways of expressing your thoughts, you will rewrite your paper.  Expect to go through this process–the most critical but rewarding aspect of writing–at least a few times before you develop a final version to submit to me.

Bibliography.  Your paper must include a bibliography (works cited page) in correct form.

What about quotations?  While your paper should contain some direct quotations to buttress your argument, do not overdo it.  Excessive quotations will mar the quality of your work and defeat a primary objective of this assignment, to wit, exercising your own writing skills.  As a rule, try to limit quotations to no more than two per paragraph (or less than ten percent of the total writing in your paper).  Two precepts to follow:  1)  Rely on paraphrases (which must also be cited) instead of quotations.  2)  When you do quote, sprinkle rather than saturate.

Avoid block quotations!  Nobody enjoys seeing long, single-spaced, indented quotations.  Readers skip them.  So why include them?  Especially in a paper this short, leave out block quotations.

Footnotes.  Your paper should be chock-full of footnotes, the standard citation device that historians employ.  You may use endnotes, although I prefer footnotes.  Do not use parenthetical citations!  You should cite the following:  quotations, paraphrases, ideas, thoughts, statistics, specific examples, and “uncommon knowledge.” In other words, you need to cite everything except your own original thinking!  Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism.  As a general rule, if you are unsure about whether to cite something—cite it.

You should have at least one footnote (in correct form) per story.  You will be maintaining the intellectual integrity of your work and protecting yourself against plagiarism.  You must take this practice seriously, and your footnotes must be honest and accurate.  Because of footnotes’ importance, papers without footnotes/endnotes on every story will receive zero credit. History homework help

Title and subtitle.  Please give your paper a title that is catchy and a subtitle that captures the essence of your work (your spin on or interpretation of your subject).  Do not turn in a paper with a title such as “History Paper” “Primary Source Research Paper” or “What Ever Happened to ‘Star Wars’?”

Important details.

-Use a cover sheet and display your title and subtitle on it.

-Number your pages at the upper right-hand corner.

-Lines should be double-spaced (not one-and-a-half spaced), and print should be standard 12-point font.  Side and bottom margins should be at least 1 1/4 inches; the top margin should be at least one inch.

If your paper fails to meet these guidelines, I may not read it.

For physical copies, please use paperclips rather than staples, and please print out single-sided.  A paper with loose pages is easier to read than a stapled one!

Your own work.  This paper should assess your understanding of this topic and exercise your writing and analytical skills.  It is an individual assignment.  Undue collaboration, plagiarism, or other forms of academic dishonesty will result in failure for the course.

Turnitin.  You must submit your paper to Turnitin.com.  I will give you instructions later in the course.  The electronic copy you submit MUST match the paper copy you turn in to me or you will receive no credit for the paper.  The deadline for submission to Turnitin will be forty-eight hours after the paper due date.  I will not begin to read your paper until it is placed in Turnitin.

Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Proofread your paper as you continue to rewrite it.  Because of my emphasis on writing mechanics and proofreading, I recommend that you give your paper to as many persons as possible to elicit criticism, comments, and corrections.  You must get used to this process!  Review from a trained eye will help your paper considerably.

Term Paper Checklist.  I will distribute this guide during the Writing Workshop.  You must submit it with your paper—having all items checked off in good faith.  Please sign and date this document.  History homework help





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