The genre: Scholars write research proposals when asking an agency or foundation to help them fund projects or when asking their university for paid sabbatical leave. You will use it to craft your research question and identify a set of sources that will allow you to address that question.
The language of proposals is first-person and prospective. You are positioning yourself as a researcher who has read the current scholarly literature (or at least some significant part of it), discerned some limitation with that literature (a potential counter-claim or an area not yet explored), and identified a set of primary sources that will help you address that limitation and develop your own claim.
Format: For your proposal, complete the following prompts by filling in the blanks. They are bullet points here, but write them simple in paragraph format. Use the numbered headers below (see model). For each point, write as many sentences as you need. You may change as much of the language as you like, but you must address the substance of each template below.
Note: Research projects in this class must pose questions focused on images or other visual media (e.g., performance), or on questions about historical ideologies of visuality (e.g., attitudes towards photography). Your question must require analysis of historical images and/or historical texts documenting those ideologies of visuality. You may step outside of American history if you like. You may include a component that analyzes current issues, but that must be comparative with a strong historical component.
1. Current state of scholarship:
- Scholars of [subject matter] have demonstrated clearly that [current state of knowledge]
Scholars of [subject matter] have debated the question of whether [one thing] or [another]
- For example, [scholar Z] analyzes [subject matter] to demonstrate that [Z’s claim].
- More specifically, [scholar Z] argues [or asserts, or discovers, or shows, etc.] that [something of particular interest to your project]
- You may choose to summarize more than one prior scholar. If there is a current debate, you’ll need to summarize at least two as above.
2. Limitation in that scholarship & your research question
- But what about [some area beyond Scholar Z’s work: e.g., another time period, another set of images, another way of analyzing those images, another aspect of them (e.g., artist intent vs. audience response)]?
- Is it possible that [tentative claim, one that is distinctive in some way from Scholar Z’s claim, a substantive extension or counter-claim, perhaps? or a possible answer to a new question of discovery–what do you think you might find in these new image sources?]
3. Description of primary source images & research method/agenda:
- In order to address this question, I will research [identify your body of primary source images–as appropriate to your project: e.g., by genre, date, location of publication, artist, etc. If it is a large group of them or a long time period, roughly how many will you ultimate hope to look at (though not use all in the paper)?]
- These are particular interest here because [describe specific qualities of the images–how will these particular images (vs. others?) help you address your research questions?]
- To understand (or interpret) these sources, I will [describe your method–e.g., formal visual analysis? iconology?, quantitative content analysis? using textual documents to interpret audience responses or artists’ intent? etc.]
- I will work with [particular concept terms or framework of analysis, which may need to be defined and explained; or perhaps a reiteration of the other scholars’ claims and how you think they might have to change when applied to your image sources?]
- To do this, I will therefore draw on [what other kinds of sources, and for what purposes?–e.g., for artists’ intent, what sources will reveal those intentions? if audience reactions, where were those published?]
- With this research, I should be able to discover whether [list possible alternate claims or ways of interpreting] OR: I hope to answer the question: .
Each citation should be in Chicago Bibliography style. See Lipson, Cite Right, for models and details. See also Wp top menu > Tipsheets > Chicago Citatios: Guidelines & Examples.
You must use the headers below (and in the model). Within each section below, they should be listed alphabetically by author.
Primary sources are the objects of your study. These are the things created by people in the past. They are the things you will describe, analyze, and interpret in order to make claims.
Secondary sources provide you with scholarly interpretative apparatus. They include academic (peer-reviewed) journal articles, anthology chapters, and books (sometimes also masters’ theses, doctoral dissertations, and conference papers). These scholars have conducted original research, analyzed primary sources, and developed interpretative arguments. They are your starting point for asking new questions of the primary sources.
Generally, scholars only trust other scholarly (peer-reviewed) work for this. But in some fields, scholars might also respect intellectual work published in specific non-peer-reviewed magazines, e.g., Foreign Policy in political science, or The Advocate in gender studies. Popular magazines like The Atlantic or The Economist might also provide substantive analytical work scholars would respect. But generally, scholars are not going to consider popular magazines or newspapers as rigorous analytical publications–these may be good primary (evidence) sources, but not secondary (argument or method) sources.
Annotations: For each source, write out one or two sentences (or for larger collections of similar materials, three or four sentences), describing what makes it interesting to you and relevant to the question you pose in your project.
1. Primary sources: Visual
List here all the image-based primary sources you plan to analyze. These may include sources in which images play only a part (e.g., newspapers, magazines, etc.), but you must be focusing on the images to a significant degree (along with the text).
Note: You must seek out images as they appeared in their original primary sources–in newspapers, magazines, old books, government collections, etc.–or, for stand-alone works like posters and paintings, in archives (digital or actual). You cannot simply re-examine the images already selected by other scholars for their analysis–unless you have some compellingly specific reason to do so (but even then, you will probably go beyond just these images).
Your cohort of images must comprise a coherent set of images that provide relevant evidence for your question. You need to have a specific rationale for focusing on this set of images. They should not appear to be randomly associated images you happened to see in a quick internet search.
The number of images will vary depending on your question. E.g., if your question is about one specific artist’s work, you might focus on a small number of works–maybe even just one– but possibly with examples of other artists’ works for sake of comparison/contrast. But if your question is about a larger group of images, e.g., editorial cartoons in a certain decade or photographs commissioned by a particular government agency, then you must look at as many as you reasonably can of that type in order to make generalizations. You may look at dozens or even hundreds in order to categorize them and decide which ones to feature as evidence in your paper, as representing what is typical or idiosyncratic of that type of image.
For your proposal, list primary source images & collections of images you have looked and which seem relevant, even if you are not absolutely sure which images you will look at and later use in your essay.
For individual images, cite them fully, including all original information (e.g. publication info & date), and the archive or database where you found it.
For collections of images (e.g., that LOC collection of that photographer’s life work), cite the collection fully, including the institution/database, & add a note where you indicate: how many images are in the collection, what their date range is, how many you have looked at so far (to get a sense that you know they are relevant to your project), and how many you think you will be able to look at, at least briefly (you will make choices later about which to use as examples).
2. Primary sources: Other
List here all other primary sources you plan to use in some way. These may include letters, diaries, newspapers, books, etc.–anything published in the time you are studying or, in the case of oral history transcripts or memoirs, that pertains to the period under study.
3. Secondary sources: Arguments
List here the major scholarly sources that make an argument relevant to your project. These will include those you name in your proposal above, but perhaps others that are also relevant. The key here is that they matter because they have an argument. Their source material may be different from yours, but their argument relates in some way–you could extend or counter it in some way.
Remember, in most citation systems (including Chicago and MLA): Article and chapter titles are in quotation marks. Journal and book titles are in italics. Always.
“Article Title,” Journal Title.
“Chapter Title,” Book Title.
4. Secondary sources: Methods
List here any scholarly sources whose methods you may be following, no matter what their subject matter or claims. These may repeat any of those under the Argument category.
5. Secondary sources: Background Facts
List here any scholarly sources and reference sources you plan to rely on for factual material. These may include encyclopedias (for history, academic ones are more reliable than Wikipedia), biographies, textbooks, or any relevant history books or articles about the events or time period you are studying. Some of these may also contain relevant arguments, and may therefore be repeated above under Arguments.
The proposal & bibliography will go through a draft and response process. Final grades are on the 4.0 scale, and you earn 1.0 point for each of the following, with an overall +/- for variation in that range.
- Summarizing at least one prior scholarly claim in relevant detail.
- Identifying a limitation with that scholarship and articulates a new research question in response to that limitation. (“But what about . . . ?”)
- Identifying a coherent and robust body of primary source images and other primary sources relevant to answering this question.
- Articulating a method for analyzing these sources.
Note: The source use scheme above is derived in part from Joseph Bizup, “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Research-Based Writing,” Rhetoric Review 27.1 (2008): 72-86.