Full Title: People of the Land: A Look at Arkansas’s Plain Folk Through a Toponym Lens, 1800-1860
Context: This project was an assignment in The Historian’s Craft (HIST 4309) – a history minor course I completed while on the Professional and Technical Writing major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Department of Rhetoric and Writing.
Audience: Course professor.
Development: This proposal began with my interest in maps,1 toponyms (place names), and Arkansas history. A preliminary search of JSTOR for the term toponym soon made me realize I needed to narrow my focus. I wondered if place name meanings might tell us anything about the early settlers of Arkansas. After another survey of the scholarship, it became apparent that I needed to qualify what I meant by early settlers. I knew I didn’t mean the very early French settlers and that I was more interested in the early territorial Arkansas through the late antebellum period.
Interrogating the database further introduced me to the term plain folk, a term I wasn’t familiar with, but intrigued by. I downloaded several relevant articles to get myself up to speed. Per the assignment, I knew I needed to identify a research question which was debatable, narrow, significant, and researchable. I also knew I wasn’t there yet, which required more reading and more synthesizing of the scholarship. I eventually narrowed my topic down to a specific question: Can we learn anything about the plain folk class of early Arkansas by looking at them through a toponym lens? I went with this and began drafting my proposal. I also had to create an annotated bibliography and consider how my thesis fit within the existing historiography.
Reflection: This was a complex project to complete. It involved quickly bringing myself up to speed on several topics I knew little or nothing about – toponyms, the plain folk class, and ethnohistory. I only had two weeks to complete the assignment and, not only did I have to learn about my subject, I had to learn how to put together a research proposal.
It is difficult enough to organize one’s thoughts on a complex historical topic; during the course of this project, however, I also learned that navigating footnotes, endnotes, reference lists, annotated bibliographies, and the like can be mind-boggling for the uninitiated.2 To see this through, I had to be researcher, writer, document designer, and editor: Because of time constraints, I had no choice but to wear all these hats at the same time.
Despite the challenges, my paper made it in on time; and I’m happy with the results. I’m excited about the important research and writing processes I developed while working on the research and drafting the proposal, as I can apply these to future work.
- Created: November 14, 2018
- Latest updated: November 17, 2018
- Tools Used: Microsoft Word 2010
- Keywords: History, Proposal, Research Proposal
1. In the course of my research I discovered the David Rumsey Map Collection: Anyone interested in historical maps will want to visit this website.
2. Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations and The Chicago Manual of Style were invaluable resources for this project. See Kate L. Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students & Researchers, 8th ed. (Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 2013); The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th ed. (Chicago: The Chicago University Press, 2017).