Humanities Research Essay

On April 23, 1994, as Barbara Schoener was jogging in the Sierra foothills of California, she was pounced on from behind by a mountain lion. After an apparent struggle with her attacker, Schoener was killed by bites to her neck and head (Rychnovsky 39). In 1996, because of Schoener’s death and other highly publicized attacks, California politicians presented voters with Proposition 197, which contained provisions repealing much of a 1990 law enacted to protect the lions. The 1990 law outlawed sport hunting of mountain lions and even prevented the Department of Fish and Game from thinning the lion population.

Proposition 197 was rejected by a large margin, probably because the debate turned into a struggle between hunting and antihunting factions. When California politicians revisit the mountain lion question, they should frame the issue in a new way. A future proposition should retain the ban on sport hunting but allow the Department of Fish and Game to control the population. Wildlife management would reduce the number of lion attacks on humans and in the long run would also protect the lions.

Note: these recommendations are geared toward researchers in the arts or humanities.


Developing a research topic is an iterative process, even for a short paper. This is a process that emerges in stages, and one which requires critical (but not criticizing) engagement with the evidence. The evidence can be an object, an artifact, a historic event, an idea, a theoretical framework, or existing interpretations.

Ultimately, you want to be able to pose a research question that you will then investigate in your paper.

If you are writing a paper for a course, the initial critical ideas and theoretical frameworks may come from your course readings. Pay attention to footnotes and bibliographies in your readings, because they can help you identify other potential sources of information.

As you are thinking about your topic, consider what, if anything, has already been written. If a lot of literature exists on your topic, you will need to narrow your topic down, and decide how to make it interesting for your reader. Regurgitating or synthesizing what has already been said is very unlikely to be exciting both for you and for those who will be reading your wok. If there is little or no literature on your topic, you will need to think how to frame it so as to take advantage of existing theories in the discipline. You may also be able to take advantage of existing scholarship on related topics.

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