People of the Land

Full Title: People of the Land: A Look at Arkansas’s Plain Folk Through a Toponym Lens, 1800-1860

Context: This project began as a research proposal I submitted in The Historian’s Craft (HIST 4309), a course I completed while on the Professional and Technical Writing major at the University of Arkansas at Little RockDepartment of Rhetoric and Writing. The artifacts in this project evidence research, content development, formatting, organization, voice/style, and copyediting skills.

Project Artifacts:

  1. Research proposal (deliverable) <View pdf>
  2. Historiography: Toponyms <View pdf>
  3. Historiography: Plain folk <View pdf>

Purpose: The purpose of this proposal is to persuade my professor that I have a worthwhile research project and that I have the competence and the work-plan to complete it.

Audience: Course professor, website visitors.

Development: This proposal began with my interest in maps,1 toponyms (place names), and Arkansas history. A preliminary search for the term toponym on JSTOR made it apparent that 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 project remit, 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 created an annotated bibliography and considered how my thesis fit within the existing historiography.

Image attribution: Annie Hatley, Depiction of Arkansas Post in 1689, Arkansas State Archives, 1904. Public Domain.

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
  • Last update: March 5, 2019
  • 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).