research paper ideas for the American West, 1800 - 1890?I need research paper ideas for the American West, 1800 - 1890, and wanted to do something unique.  Any topic ideas?

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katehackett's profile pic

katehackett | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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research paper ideas for the American West, 1800 - 1890?

I need research paper ideas for the American West, 1800 - 1890, and wanted to do something unique.  Any topic ideas?

Think about what excites you beyond history. Medicine? The arts? Politics? sports?


You can stretch your outside interests to follow your paper: how did moving west change modern medicine? For the better or worse? How did American music change as it merged with Native Americans and African music? Etc. Be creative!

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Environmental history has become the rage in the last decade and a half. You could research the effects westward expansion had on the environment, or how the environment helped shape the lives of the people interacting in the American West. Sometimes the effects are more complex than we might imagine.

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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With respect to the Native Americans topic, I remember seeing pictures of them dressed like white kids to go to school. Their hair was cut and there seemed to be a conscious effort to include them in society. It would be interesting to see how it worked or didn't. Here in the South West, one of the favorite Native American foods is their fry bread! We love to put honey butter on them, but for a meal, we put chili, salsa, cheese, sour cream, chopped lettuce, onions, etc. on top and chow down! When I lived in Minnesota, no one knew about Navajo Tacos, Fry bread or scones in this sense. Native Americans will tell you that they developed this fry bread because the US government would give them lard and flour on their reservations and they had to get creative. So, how food and culture changed during those times for the Native Americans might be a part of the research, too.

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marbar57 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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A good topic to research was the range wars between cattle owners and land/sheep owners.  For years the prairie had been virtually unobstructed and the cattle owners had free range for grazing and cattle drives to market.  Then, along came the settlers and sheep owners, who put up fences and buildings, greatly frustrating and angering the cattle owners.  Lives, property, and animals were lost because of it.  It got so bad in some areas that the U.S. Cavalry had to step in. 

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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I would suggest looking at the oppression faced by those whose lands were taken by Americans during this time. Many Native Americans lost land they had been living on for many years prior to the move west. You could also look at the reduction of the number of native animals (like the buffalo, whose numbers went from the millions to under 1000--if memory serves me right).

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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I love #5's idea and you could continue that on to other types of vices as well for a broader look if necessary.  Gambling wasn't the only socially frowned upon activity in the West. 

National Parks are a great love of my life, and Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 as America's first National Park. 

Additionally, instead of looking at how the values of America, immigrants, or minorities traveled west with the people, you might look at how ideas from the west spread east.  Did the new culture developing in the west have an impact on the people "back home" in the east?  What about people that tried to go west, but didn't make it and came back home... what was that experience like?

Good luck with your paper! 

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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One thing that was pretty common throughout the towns, villages, mining camps and cities of the West was gambling.  How about some research into some of the more colorful gamblers, casino operators and establishments of the time period along with the types of games they wagered on?  Should be fairly easy to research, and interesting as well.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One thing that you could look at would be the extent to which the government was or was not involved in the expansion.  We typically see the expansion as a time of rugged individual pioneers who moved out to the West without any need for help from the government.  You could research the extent to which this is true.  You could also look at the importance of that belief whether it is true or not.

stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Don't forget the possibility of tracing the role of women when you are considering minority groups, as suggested in the previous post.

Another idea might be tracing inventions that impacted the westward expansion. Barbed wire, the steel plow - those kinds of tools made possible the settlement of the Great Plains.

lentzk's profile pic

Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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You might consider at looking at an interesting minority group's perspective on Westward Expansion.  In addition, consider water rights and irrigation.  While not as "sexy" a topic as others in the American West, the ability to find water and utilize it paved the way for settlement in areas that otherwise wouldn't be inhabited today.  Tracking the spread of immigrant cultures as those groups spread west, and their influence might also be interesting.

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mnyancey | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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Indian Wars:


Battle of Little Big Horn

Black Hills Massacre

Trail of Tears

Crazy Horse

George Custer

Sand Creek Massacre

Sitting Bulls

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