AMERG002: Researching the Americas: The United States

Course convenor: Dr Nick Witham

This is a core course for students taking the M.A. in US Studies: History and Politics.

Its primary purpose is to provide a foundation for undertaking the research dissertation required by the programme in term 3 (or its p/t equivalent).  It also provides students intending to undertake a research degree with some of the fundamentals of research skills.

The course introduces students to the conceptual and practical tools needed to undertake research in modern US history and/or political studies, and examines the ways that these disciplines address the core academic questions of what and how to study.  To this end it provides an introduction to the research methods of both disciplines and the nature of the evidence utilized by each. 

It also gives practical guidance on how to identify a research topic, how to choose an appropriate methodology, and how to locate and evaluate sources. 

The assessment is based on a presentation (20%) and a research proposal (80%).  Drawing on the knowledge they have gained in the course about sources, methods, and design, students produce a research proposal that is the basis for their dissertation study.

20 contact hours
15 credits

Weekly syllabus

The module runs fortnightly during Terms 1 (Thursdays 2pm) and 2 (Mondays 2pm).

Introduction Thursday 8th October 2015
The Literature Review
Thursday 22nd October 2015
Referencing and Plagiarism*
Thursday 29th October 2015
Research Design: (i) The Research Question
Thursday 5th November 2015
Research Design: (ii) The Research Proposal
Thursday 19th November 2015
Primary sources: unpublished and published documents
Thursday 3rd December 2015
Primary sources: memoirs
Thursday 17th December 2015
British Library Visit: Using the BL to Research the US
Monday 11th January 2016
Primary sources: newspapers and other media
Monday 25th January 2016
Primary sources: oral sources
Monday 8th February 2016
Primary sources: quantitative data
Monday 22nd February 2016
Individual Presentations
Friday 11th March 2016

*Plagiarism is a very serious academic offence that carries severe penalties. It can be avoided by careful note taking and proper referencing. This session is compulsory and is designed to ensure that all of the Institute's students are fully aware of UCL's plagiarism policy, how plagiarism is detected and how it can be avoided by employing appropriate referencing and citation conventions. The session is scheduled prior to the submission deadline for your first assessed assignments. Failure to attend a Referencing and Plagiarism Session will not be accepted as an excuse for breaching UCL Examination Irregularities (Plagiarism) regulations.

Aims and Learning Objectives

•    To provide a practical introduction to the types of evidence used in the study of US history and politics
•    To exemplify through case studies different research approached of history and political studies
•    To provide guidance and practical experience of research proposal design.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this course students should be able to:

•    Distinguish between different types of evidence used in research of US modern history and politics
•    Understand how to apply different methods of research to the study of the US modern history and politics
•    Understand how to plan and execute independent research based on primary and secondary materials
•    Teaching and Learning Methods
•    The course consists of ten weekly classes of 2 hours. Each class will commence with a brief lecture and the remainder of the time will be spent on group discussion and practical work based on set preparation. 


Assessment is on the basis of a 3000-word dissertation proposal (80 percent of the final mark) and an oral presentation (20 percent). The oral presentation must be passed in order to pass the module as a whole. Both of these assessments will take place in Term 2; the oral presentations will take place on Friday 11th March and the proposal is due on Monday 21st March.

Students will also submit the following non-assessed pieces of work:

a) a literature review (Monday 16th November)
b) a dissertation proposal form (Monday 22nd February)
c) site-specific risk assessment where applicable (Monday 9th May)

All assignments must be uploaded to the module’s page in Moodle.


You will receive instruction in fieldwork ethics and risk assessment as part of this module. Please view your Student Handbook on Moodle for further details.