Irish Studies concentrators must write a 35-40 page research paper as the ‘capstone’ of their concentration. The essay should be based upon or stimulated by the Irish studies courses the concentrator has already taken. It is a research-based essay that tackles a question, problem or issue important in the field of Irish studies and is analytical rather than merely descriptive—in other words, the paper should make an argument and not merely present information. The essay must draw on both primary and secondary sources, all of which must be cited in the text and listed in a bibliography in accordance with the guidelines set out in the MLA style manual.
Developing a Topic
Your topic should be generated from material on which you have already taken classes. In general, the best way to come up with an essay topic is to go over coursework you have already done and think about which questions, issues, themes, etc. you were most interested in. Once you have chosen a topic that you think you can remain excited about over the course of two semesters, you will then think about how to develop that topic into a research paper. At this point it will probably be helpful for you to meet with a member of the Irish Studies faculty and work with him/her to craft a topic that will be both broad and narrow enough to be dealt with successfully in a 40-page paper.
What kind of research you will do for your essay depends on the discipline you are working within and on the topic you choose. For a history essay, for instance, you will be expected to do a certain amount of archival research, or looking at primary historical sources such as newspapers, government records, and so forth. For an English essay, you will be expected to familiarize yourself with the criticism relating to the literary works you choose, and to define and justify your particular critical methodology. These expectations will change depending on what you work on or who you work with; but in all cases you will be expected to use both primary texts and secondary sources.