How about a comparison of the Gilded Age of the late 19th century with certain trends in income disparity and corruption in modern times. It would be hard to argue we have returned to the Gilded Age completely, but discussing the similarities and differences would demonstrate an understanding of both times, and provide for interesting comparisons.
I agree with #8 that a kind of "crossover" approach might be quite interesting. What about the art, music, and literature of the day? Because they generally--and accurately--portray the period, they are a valid source of study. It would certainly take some critical thinking to connect these elements to the idea of "gilded."
You might think about the contributions of writers and artists to our knowledge and perceptions of the topic "Gilded Age." The first name that comes to my mind is always Edith Wharton; her commentary on upper crust New York society during the Gilded Age is probably unmatched in literature. I think of The Age of Innocence being her greatest work because it not only gives us insight into the Gilded Age and New York society, but it raises issues that still challenge human beings today. Does one marry for love or money? Is the grass always greener on the other side? How important should it be to a person to please those around you? How important should it be to fit into one's particular social class? Is anyone strong enough to go against what he or she has been raised to do and follow his or her heart, and what happens when one does so?
One suggestion I have which will definitely incorporate the 'critically thinking' aspect of your paper would be to approach it from specific compnents of The Guilded Age itself.
1. Define The Gilded Age from the perspective of the person who coined the phrase (it was Mark Twain)
2. Explore his reasoning by applying it the specific individuals he was referring to, among them Carnegie, Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan. He used the literary technique of satire, to enhance his discontent with the industrial era.
3. Discuss whether not Twain's label was merited by taking a position...Were these men Captians of Industry or Robberbarons.
Good Luck !!!
You could also explore the connotation of word "gilded." What does it mean that something is gilded? Why did the age get that name? Is the name of the age supposed be positive or negative? Then your essay could discuss some of the other issues as suggested in the previous posts.
A good paper usually begins with an interesting question that you then research to answer, using your critical thinking skills to interpret the information you discover. These two questions might be interesting to explore:
- What were the social, political, and economic forces that coalesced to create the Gilded Age?
- Did the Gilded Age reflect the most commonly accepted American values of the era, or did it develop in defiance of them?
Good luck with your paper!
I think #2 gives a number of excellent ideas for you to focus on, but as a teacher and an exam marker I always think that taking a title like the "gilded age" and exploring why this title is not necessarily accurate and arguing against it shows originality of thought and an ability to not accept things at face value.
You could also analyze the inventions during the Gilded Age and argue that the US would or would not have been able to advance to superpower level without these inventions (telephone, telegraph, electric lighting, etc.)
I assume that you are asking for possible paper topics. Here are a few ideas:
- You could ask why the Gilded Age happened; why it was "gilded." In other words, how come the wealth was so badly distributed. You could compare the distribution of wealth from those days to today's distribution and ask why the differences exist.
- You could ask how "gilded" the Gilded Age was. There are those who argue that it acutually was quite possible during that time for the poor to climb the economic ladder.
- You could ask if the Gilded Age was necessary. Could the US have developed without such an age?