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Interesting Topics for History Research Papers in College

written by: Pam Tews•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/8/2011

Often, writing the perfect paper in college is all about finding an interesting topic. Many times, especially in history, it is hard to find an interesting topic. Each one of the topics for college history research papers below has information that is current and readily available.

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    Each of the topics below are divided into five sections. The first four sections will take a look at different time periods in United States history. More attention will be paid to United States history topics simply because primary sources are readily available. The last section will cover a few topics in world history that are quite popular in college history classes.

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    18th Century

    A new country is born!

    One of the most popular topics of this time period would have to be The Boston Tea Party. While you may remember it from high school United States history, now is the time to put your own spin on the event. The reason this is such an interesting topic is because it greatly shaped the revolution that America was forging. This is a topic where you can take a side in an argument and play with whether it was right or wrong for the tea to be dumped. There are also smaller details, that if you are adventurous you can work on, one topic you could investigate was the revolutionaries dressing as Native Americans.

    If you are more of a political scientist and less of a history person, a topic that you can look into is the creation of the Bill of Rights. The Constitution is regarded as the highest form of law in the United States and, as originally written, it dealt only with what the government could do, it did not outline what they could not do. With the addition of the Bill of Rights, people in the United States gained freedoms. This is a topic that can not only stay with the general history of the Bill of Rights but can take a few variations such as how it works in the 21st century, or even something just about one of the Amendments.

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    19th Century

    The 19th Century is filled with many interest topics that you could choose for your history research paper. By this time America had been born and the country was older. Many of the events in American history that are still talked about today happened during this time period.

    One event that many Americans debate greatly is The Civil War. For anyone looking for an interesting topic, the great American war is a definite. It is a topic that has many subtopics and small intricacies that can produce research papers. While you can write a general paper about the war or a paper about a more precise topic, the sources you can use are readily available at almost every college or public library. A few topics that come out of the general topic of the Civil War are causes of the war, The 54th Massachusetts (the first and most famous all black regiment in the North), or even slavery and the effects of the war on slaves. Two other subtopics of the Civil War could be Reconstruction and the KKK.

    Two other heavily debated topics from this era that many Americans are still fighting over are the Trail of Tears and The Indian Removal Act. Both of these papers are excellent choices if Native American history or rights is something you have a great interest in. Both topics have an excellent amount of primary sources and if you want to go the extra mile, there are many people today who have ancestors that walked the Trail of Tears that you can interview.

    The 19th Century was one that saw the assassinations of two presidents. One being James Garfield, which if you like lesser known Presidents of the United States, you can do a research paper on his assassination. However, Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is probably a much more interesting and easy topic. By easy, it is not meant that it will not be challenging but the information may be more available and definitely in greater supply. The assassination of President Lincoln is interesting because there are many angles that could spawn a deep and rich paper. While you can do a general paper on the topic, you could also look further into it. Some topics that are interesting within the assassination are the conspiracy to kill Lincoln, whether Andrew Johnson had any involvement, or possible reasons he was assassinated. Another interesting topic that could come out of this was that the trial of the conspirators saw a first in American law. One of the conspirators, Mary Surrat was the first woman sentenced to death in the United States, her story would make for an interesting paper.

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    This section takes a look at interesting topics for a college research paper based off subjects in world history. World history is much more vast and broad than United States history since many of the world countries have been established my longer than the United States. Mainly this article contains ways to choose a topic in world history - The 20th century was plagued by war and tragedy but also filled with growth and prosperity. The 21st century continued the patterns of war, tragedy, and growth.
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    20th Century

    For many college history classes, the 20th century is generally the area where they want you to kind of stop. Many professors will not ask you to pick a topic passed a certain year. Some professors might stop at the President prior to the current one. For example they would allow you to use topics up to George W. Bush.

    The 20th century was filled with a substantial amount of topics that can be used for an interesting research paper. These topics also can be easily broken down, although some are very specific. Five very interesting and very different topics from the 20th century are the five wars that occurred. Each one has very intricate details that can draw out their own papers. World War I as a whole is a very interesting war. It was one that is best remembered for a fighting style known as trench warfare, where large trenches were dug and soldiers barricaded themselves in. Aside from trench warfare there is also the topic of what caused the war, if it was Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s death or something else. Something comparative that comes out of this subject is the United States entered into the 1920s in an economic boom, but much of the world was already in a recession. In a very short time frame America would enter World War II.

    In regards to American history, World War II is a very interesting research topic especially at the college level. In college level history courses many times we are witness to a much more detailed version of World War II. While it is easy to write a paper about the war as a whole, there are many topics within the war that can be looked at. Some interesting World War II subtopics include the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment, or the bombing of Hiroshima. Three other wars Korea, Vietnam, and The Gulf War occurred during the 20th century. They too would make excellent paper topics. Also, especially in regards to Vietnam, there are many subtopics such as the anti-war movement that could be written about.

    Outside of the wars in this century there are many other interesting topics. Many of them caused a great stir in the folds or American history. One large topic that can be broken down into subtopics if need be is The Great Depression. It is one of the most memorable and trying times in America. Some subtopics that can be written about are public works projects, tent cities, and deficit spending for all you economics majors. Another topic that can be looked at is McCarthyism. This topic can readily be referred to as a second great witch hunt in America. It can be tied into many aspects of the Cold War, which in itself has many great subtopics. Other great 20th century topics include the Civil Rights Movement, which has many subtopics. Watergate, the great Nixon controversy, and the May 4th, 1970 Kent State shootings in which the National Guard unleashed gunfire upon protesting students at Kent State in Ohio.

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    21st Century

    As stated before not many history professors will be willing to accept a paper on 21st century history. However, if by some chance you have a nice professor who is teaching a modern United States history class there are a few topics that you can look at. Some are the war on terrorism, the current war in the Middle East, or the Virginia Tech shooting. While they are all good, two that you will find a wealth of information on, and which allow for some arguing room, are September 11th and Hurricane Katrina. Both topics are open to interpretation and can generate very good arguments in a paper.

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    World History

    World history topics might be a little harder to use in classes especially if your professor is looking for primary source material. While you may be able to find articles from the time period or some journals, some topics in world history may be rather difficult. With that said, there are many different events in world history and topics that make for wonderful and interesting history papers. What is always best when looking for a world history topic is to narrow it down by country and then by time period. Here are a few examples from different areas of the world.

    First, let us choose the country of China. China has throughout time had many ups and downs. The Chinese have experienced almost chameleon like changes where they almost seamlessly adapt to the ever changing ways of the country. Just a few topics that can be pulled out from Chinese history would be the Terracotta army that Qin Shi Huang was buried with, Mao Tse-tung’s Long March, or even the Opium Wars.

    A second country that is often very easy to work with is Russia. This is another country of ups and downs. Some interesting topics that can come from Russian history would be Grigory Rasputin and The Romanovs, The Russian Revolution, or communism in Russia. Russia can also be tied into the Cold War, so maybe instead of looking at the Cold War from the very typical American side, an interesting paper could be formed from the Russian side.

    In addition to history in countries around the world, some things that can be looked at historically are religions, people, tragedies, and disease. One of the biggest topics that you can do is world religions. You can do a general overview or break it down into the three Abrahamic religions or get very narrow and do a paper on one specific world religion. Some people that you could form an interesting college history research paper on would be Eva Peron, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, or almost any famed world leader. Tragedies that you can write an interesting paper on would include events like the Holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda, or Chernobyl. Now there are many diseases that can be looked at but the one that is the best for a paper topic would be the global spread of AIDS.

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    World History Topics-

    The Boston Tea Party-

    The Bill of Rights-

    Civil War-

    Trail of Tears and Indian Removal Act-

    The Assassination of President Garfield-

    The Assassination of President Lincoln-

    World War I-

    World War II-

    Korean War-

    Vietnam War-

    The Gulf War-

    The Great Depression-

    The Cold War-

    The Civil Rights Movement-


    Kent State Shootings-

    September 11th-

    Hurricane Katrina-


    Grigory Rasputin-