History of Utah

I use the book, Utah:The Right Place by Thomas Alexander. Here is the Prompt for the Essay!


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This is an exercise in historical research, analysis, and writing, designed to confront you with the raw materials historians use to reconstruct the past; to force you to analyze and extract meaning from those sources; and then to let you express your findings—your interpretation—in writing. This is the essence of social history—the search for the everyday lives of ordinary people, and the attempt to give them meaning and integrate their experiences into a larger historical context.


You will select a specific journal or diary. Most will be available in electronic format; some will also be available in hard copy; some will only be available for use in Special Collections, Merrill-Cazier Library. Find the journal/diary and begin reading it as soon as possible. You may find it necessary to read the journal more than once to identify both obvious and more subtle themes and messages. GET STARTED EARLY! Many of these journals are over 200 pages long, handwritten, or poorly preserved. Those using sources in USU Special Collections will have to work around their limited reading room hours.

Read your document paying particular attention to:

(a) its description of the everyday life of the individual or family.

(b) both the usual and the unusual experiences recorded. What gets mentioned again and again? What is

“special” or important to that individual or their family? Do NOT expect lots of excitement. Watch for the

common, the mundane, the “ordinary everyday” in life.

(c) prominent topics, problems, or situations encountered.

(d) repeated attitudes, beliefs, or similar expressions.

(e) descriptions of people, places, or events that are of larger historical importance.

Be sure to ask yourself:

(a) Why is he/she writing this diary/journal? Who is she/he writing it for, or who do they expect to read it after they

are gone? How might that affect what they write (or what they choose to ignore and don’t write)?

(b) Is this a daily diary/journal or does it also contain a reminiscence? Does it begin as reminiscence/autobiography

and then become a daily journal? Has time colored the writer’s recollection of past events? How?

(c) What things or topics are important enough to that individual to record on a regular basis?

Why? Does that change over time or in different places? Do any patterns emerge?

NOTE: Some of these diaries are published and editors have constructed introductions with footnotes that tell you who the person was and something about their life. Other diarists start by writing their own autobiography up to that point and then begin their daily diary. You can read and use these in framing the overview portion of your paper (their background), but DO NOT focus on them in the body of your paper. Focus on the DIARY to develop your themes.

For more info on using such primary sources see: Steven Stow, “Making Sense of Letters and Diaries,” History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/letters/, July 2002.

TAKE NOTES ON YOUR READING, complete with page number or date locations in your document so that you can cite them properly. Be careful and accurate in transcribing exact quotes. Do not correct or clean up their grammar or spelling, etc. Those oddities are part of the “flavor” of the document and can tell you something about the individual (ie. education level or native language). Direct quotes MUST be cited with page or date references.

Note-taking Suggestion: One note-taking method that may help you organize your material later is to use 5″x7″ note cards [you can do the same with certain computer programs like Zotero]. As you read along, take notes on separate topics, using a new card for each important quotation or topic. Be sure to include the page numbers or dates where that material appears in your journal. Copy interesting or insightful quotations for inclusion in your paper—these can add authenticity and color to your narrative, giving the reader a sense of the writer’s language and intelligence as well. Sometimes your subject will say it better than you ever can. By using this card system (paper or electronic), you can easily “shuffle” your notes before writing—organizing them physically by topic to fit your writing outline.


In FIVE double-spaced, typewritten pages (1250 words minimum), tell me what you have discovered about this individual’s everyday life and the world they inhabit from their diary entries (not their autobios or reminiscences).

— Identify two (or three) of the most important themes or issues that appear in your diary/journal—things that the author mentions again and again. Try to “lump” similar topics together to create a larger theme [eg. theme=WORK: topics= daily work, seasonal work, different jobs over time, impact of weather, trading labor, household tasks, church work, etc.]. Watch for things that are important to him/her, that give their life structure and meaning, that shape their world. Consider what the writer leaves unsaid and why.

— Give specific details, situational examples, and use short quotations as evidence to illustrate each topic within each theme. Consider how and why your writer frames these issues the way they do, and how or if their expression of these themes/topics changes over time or space. Provide specific examples (evidence) that clearly illustrate the theme.

— When possible, describe each theme in the context of the larger diary/journal. How does this specific theme fit in the larger life you’re reading about? What does it tell us about the writer, their family, their community, their world, Utah history? In other words, why is this theme significant?

I am looking for your analysis of this individual and document, not simply a narrative regurgitation of the person’s life. They’ve already done that. You tell me what is important in this particular life and why by extracting meaning from their narrative—that is “analysis.” When you can, let the people speak for themselves in their own words (direct quotes as evidence), but then explain why this particular quote is important, what it means, and why it is significant to the point you want to make. Don’t simply string series of quotes together without introduction, context, or analysis. Use quotes judiciously, in small bits as evidence, to illustrate your point and support your generalization.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of seeing these documents as simply “faith promoting” sources. Faith is an important part of many of these documents, and the writers often attribute a great deal of influence to their faith, but do not dwell on that as the ONLY theme. Every document contains much more information, especially if you watch for the ordinary, for descriptions of everyday life in Utah.


*CONSULT YOUR WRITING GUIDE: Lewis’s Guide to Fame and Royalties, available on Canvas under FILES.

*MAKE AN OUTLINE before you begin writing. This “roadmap” will help you order your material and its presentation. Here’s a sample outline:


–Thesis statement: what this paper is about; the themes you are going to explore.

–Brief overview of: (1) the source itself [it’s a daily diary or a monthly journal; it’s handwritten, a typescript, or

published, etc.] and (2) what you know about the individual’s life as a whole [quick biography].


In this detailed body, consider and explain the themes or issues you selected using specific examples to

illustrate your interpretation and the significance of those themes/issues as they change over time.

–Theme 1

Topic A (example 1&2), Topic B (example 1), Topic C (example 1,2&3), Topic D (example 1&2)

–Theme 2

Topic E (example 1,2&3), Topic F (example 1), Topic G (example 1,2,3&4)


–Offer a conclusion about the significance of the themes to this this life, and of this life to the study of Utah history.

*PROVIDE A FULL CITATION to your source, either at the head of your paper or in endnotes/footnotes.

*PROVIDE CITATIONS FOR QUOTES or the important passages you use/describe as examples. For the purposes of this assignment, citations can be as simple as inserting a date or page number in parentheses at the end of the quote or passage [eg. (Parker, p.3) or (pp.56-65) or (3 September 1889)]. Or you can use full footnote or endnote citations.

*APPLY WHAT YOU HAVE READ, what you have heard in lectures, and what you might have discovered in outside readings to the topics developed in your journal.

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