Study Guide

This Page has been REVISED for the Second Midterm: See especially the new list of readings and lectures and the new course themes added since the first midterm.

This page is designed to help you study for the Midterm Exams. Our second midterm exam is coming up soon and will consist of two parts:

  • An in-class, short-answer portion on March 27
  • A two-hour-only take-home essay, released on March 24 and due by 5 p.m. on April 1

Reviewing the tips on this page carefully will be essential for both of these sections, and we will also be preparing in class in the days leading up to the exam. If you have any questions, feel free to .

Preparing for the In-Class Exam

The in-class exam will require you to analyze a group of historical documents that you have not seen before and answer some questions about them. The format will be roughly the same as the Wednesday Reports prompts, except for the fact that I will ask you more directed questions about the sources.

For example:

  • Instead of asking you to do research on an unfamiliar concept in the readings, an exam version of this prompt might read: “If you were to use this reading to answer Question Y, which fact or piece of information would you most need to research or understand first?”
  • Instead of asking you which Old Question this reading best answers, an exam version of this prompt might give you a specific question and ask you to explain whether and how these readings help to answer it.

The best way to prepare for this section is to review the feedback I have given you on your Wednesday Reports and your first midterm. If you don’t understand your grades on these assignments or some comment I have made on them, read back over the grading guidelines. It is your responsibility to meet with me in office hours (Friday, 2 to 4 p.m.) or to contact me for clarification.

Other good ways to review for the in-class section:

  • Make sure you understand the rubric used to grade Wednesday Reports.
  • Review notes from Week 1 about the “Five C’s of Historical Thinking,” what makes a good historical question, and the recursive process of using answers to improve questions. (Slides from this discussion.)
  • Review the polls we took in class and make sure you understand why the questions that received the most votes better demonstrated historical thinking.
  • Look over our Questions page, which provides good models of historical questions.
  • Review your class notes or the online discussions from our Wednesday Workshops.

Preparing for the Take-Home Essay

For the take-home essay, you will only have two hours to write an essay in response to a prompt that I will give to you. But let me be clear that it will be nearly impossible for you to write a good essay if you do not engage in significant preparation and study before that two-hour window.

The essay will be open-note and open-book, but I strongly advise you to use the days leading up to the essay to prepare your notes, organize your thoughts, and practice writing essays. The study tips below will guide you through that preparation process.

Review Major Course Themes

As the Questions page and our Wednesday discussions reveal, a lot of topics have come up so far in our lectures and readings. But by following up on the questions you’ve raised, we’ve ended up focusing most of our attention in class on a few major themes:

Before the First Midterm

  • Social and political conservatism before and after Reagan
  • Twentieth-century social movements for equal rights (for women, African Americans, and gays and lesbians)
  • Changing ideas about race and attempts to redress racial injustice
  • Changing ideas about women and their roles in society and politics
  • The media and debates about what it should cover or contain
  • Contests over the role of the United States in the world

Since the First Midterm

  • The changes associated with industrialization and their multiple effects on different groups of Americans, as well as the organization of new labor movements
  • The experiences of new immigrant groups from Asia and Eastern Europe
  • Changing ideas about race and attempts to redress racial injustice
  • The political gains made by African Americans in the South after the Civil War, as well as the differing approaches of DuBois and Washington for dealing with setbacks to those gains like Jim Crow laws, lynching, and disfranchisement
  • Changing ideas about women, sexuality, and their roles in society and politics

For your essay exam, you will be given two historical questions, each of which will address one of these themes, and asked to write an essay responding to one. So as you study, you’ll want to focus on course material that relates to these themes.

Tag Your Lecture Notes and Readings

To support your answer, your essay must cite specific relevant evidence gleaned from lectures and readings. If you’ve been keeping up in class, however, you’ll know that many of the lectures and class readings have contained information pertaining to the above themes. It goes without saying that if you have fallen behind on the reading, you should begin your preparation by completing any reading that you have left undone. If you missed class lectures, it is your responsibility to find out from a classmate what you missed.

To organize your notes and thoughts, I recommend that you go systematically through your lecture notes and “tag” any notes that relate to major course themes. (For example, you could put marks for “industrialization” or “women” in the margins of your notes whenever those topics come up.)

Because these themes have come up recurrently in class, our discussion of them has not been confined to any one lecture or set of readings. For example, even in a reading ostensibly about protective labor laws, we’ve seen information relating to industrialization. A lecture about the new laboring conditions in cities caused by industrialization could well include evidence of ideas about women’s roles in society. And so on. That’s why, rather than thinking of a lecture as only about one of the themes, you would be best served by going through your notes and identifying all the relevant notes about each theme.

Once you have tagged your lecture notes, do the same thing with the various readings you have been assigned—including both primary historical documents (assigned on Wednesdays) and articles by historians (usually assigned on Mondays). By “tagging” these readings with the major topics and themes, you will be able to readily turn to relevant material when writing your timed essay. In fact, in addition to tagging the margins of your notes or readings, you may find it useful to compile annotated lists of what you tagged for each theme, making it even easier to access relevant material quickly during the exam.

At the end of this guide, I have included an annotated list of links to material available on this website to help you find your way back to old readings.

Practice Writing Some Essays

Before starting your exam essay, you are advised to write some short practice essays. Go back to our Questions page and identify questions related to some of the major themes we’ve discussed. If you can’t seem to find a question that you feel comfortable asking, see if you can turn one of the major themes above into a historical question of your own. Then imagine writing an essay in response to that question using readings and evidence from class, considering prompts like the following:

  • What would your answer to the question be?
  • What alternative answers might an historian give?
  • What specific evidence would you cite to support your answer?
  • Is there any evidence in the readings or lectures that challenges your answer?

You might even want to spend an hour or so sketching out practice answers to some of the Questions you’ve found. This will help you practice developing an answer from the evidence you have assembled in your notes and readings. If you practice answering several different questions before you start the exam, the odds are also good that you will produce paragraphs and text that you could ultimately incorporate into your timed essay.

Important Note

To write your essay, you will not need to do any additional research beyond what we have learned in class. But you will be expected to draw on the lectures and assigned readings in your essay; your essay should incorporate as much of the relevant information and evidence from class as possible. If your essay ignores major pieces of information from the lectures or readings that are relevant to the question at hand, your answer will be less persuasive. So be sure to be as comprehensive as possible in your review of course material; following these tips will help ensure that nothing falls through the cracks that might be useful for your essay.

List of Readings and Lectures

Here is a list of all the class material available to you so far this semester since the first midterm.

The Announcements page contained both links and some answers to questions raised in class. If you haven’t kept up with them, make sure you read the announcements.


  • March 4: New Deal and responses to the Great Depression
  • March 8: Industrialization, labor, and women
  • March 18 and March 20: Reconstruction, African American political gains, and reasons for federal retreat from Reconstruction
  • March 22: Reasons for Chinese exclusion in the 1880s and 1890s

Historical Documents

Articles by Historians

Extracurricular Stuff

While the material accessible through the above links is most important to review, you may also find useful information in the reports created by students for our Wednesday workshops, or in the links that I tweeted.

You are not required to have read these extra links and research reports but they may nonetheless be useful to you, particularly if you’re having trouble remembering something or want additional information to supplement your readings and lectures.

Student Research

  • Information from the [@Readings for March 6]( discussion page
  • Information from the [@Readings for March 13]( discussion page