Module 4 Discussion: Historical Arguments and Current Events

In this module, we learned about historical arguments and how people use historical sources to construct arguments, or hypotheses, about why things happened. JSTOR Daily is a website that posts short summaries about current events and modern happenings within the context of history and research. Each article links to a JSTOR Research paper. For example, this article called “The Hellfire Preacher Who Promoted Inoculation” describes the paper called “Boston’s Historic Smallpox Epidemic” by Amalie M. Kass that was published by the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Part 1: For this discussion, pick one of the articles from the JSTOR Daily website related to American history or politics (during any time period). Paste the link to your article into the discussion forum and first summarize the article in a paragraph.

Part 2: Next, open the link contained within the JSTOR Daily article to the actual research paper. Find the paragraphs that explain the main idea of the paper. Use this to help you identify the thesis statement of the research paper. You can find this by thinking about which sentence best summarizes the entire paper—what is the main point of the paper? What is the author trying to convey? What is the argument that they make? Write a short paragraph explaining why you identified this as the thesis.

Part 3: Read and respond to TWO or more of your classmates’ posts (in at least 4-5 sentences). Be sure to make substantive and constructive comments (just posting “nice post” doesn’t count). Expand on a classmate’s comments in a value-adding, topic-related way. For example, add something from your own experience, something you’ve read or seen, or more supporting details to their post. Remember to always be respectful of others.

Worked Example

Part 1: JSTOR Daily Summary:

This JSTOR Daily article ( explains that the concept of inoculating against diseases is nothing new today, but it was new to the people in Boston in 1721. With smallpox spreading through their communities, Reverend Cotton Mather shared information (that he originally learned from an African man he enslaved, Onesimus) about how the disease could be prevented by intentionally giving it to some healthy individuals. This idea was so radical, however, that when Reverend Mather convinced local doctor Zabdiel Boylston to start inoculating people, others became enraged, including Benjamin Franklin’s older brother James. James Franklin wrote about his opposition to inoculation, Mather publically disagreed, community leaders forced Boylston to stop, but he continued, and eventually, the arguing became so intense that someone threw a bomb into Mather’s house.

Part 2: Research article:

The research article is found here ( The second and third paragraphs of the article best encapsulate the main idea of the paper:

“The introduction of inoculation was an event that rocked Boston and nearby towns to their core. Clergymen and physicians argued for and against the procedure, government officials were beset by citizens demanding it cease, newspapers took sides, and pamphlets appeared one after another condemning those who favored it or those who opposed it. Violence was threatened and tempers ran short. Unfounded rumors, ad hominem attacks, and public disrespect for traditional leaders of the community made the controversy exceedingly distasteful.

Any smallpox epidemic can be dramatic, but the events of 1721 were particularly tumultuous because of four men at the center of the drama—four men whose words and deeds were known throughout the town and who epitomized the dilemma facing its inhabitants. Cotton Mather, the most prominent puritan minister in late-seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century Boston, was the first and most vociferous advocate of inoculation. Dr. William Douglass, a Scot recently arrived in town, became the leader of the opposition. Zabdiel Boylston, hitherto a surgeon and apothecary of no particular importance, dared to administer inoculations and emerged as the real hero of the story. James Franklin, radical editor of the New England Courant, used his newspaper—and his vituperative prose—to support the anti-inoculators and to criticize those who favored it. None of these men could have foreseen that the success of inoculation in Boston signified the beginnings of modern preventive medicine.”

I think the statement bolded above is the thesis statement of the research because the rest of the paper is organized around the idea that these four men played a large role in the drama surrounding the Boston smallpox epidemic. The author takes a stance in this sentence by saying that the epidemic was “particularly tumultuous” because of the four men, and she uses the body paragraphs to support her stance. There are headings within the article for each of the four men, and the content explains their unique roles and contributions to the drama.

Kass, Amalie M. “Boston’s Historic Smallpox Epidemic.” Massachusetts Historical Review 14 (2012): 1-51. Accessed March 7, 2021. doi:10.5224/masshistrevi.14.1.0001.

Discussion Grading Rubric:

Criteria Poor Good Excellent  Points
JSTOR Daily Summary The summary is incomplete, off-topic, or superficial. Does not provide a detailed summary or the popular news article or does not demonstrate understanding of the article. Finds an appropriate article and summarizes the popular source, demonstrating understanding and application. __/4
JSTOR Research Article Does not identify the thesis statement or defend the selected statement. Slightly off in the identification of the thesis statement or in the defense of the statement. Reads the scholarly JSTOR article and successfully identifies the thesis statement. Writes a paragraph defending this choice as the thesis statement. __/2
Comments and participation Provides brief responses or shows little effort to participate in the learning community. Responds kindly and builds upon the comments from others, but may lack depth, detail, and/or explanation. Kindly and thoroughly extend discussions already taking place or poses new possibilities or opinions not previously voiced. Response is substantive and constructive. __/4
Total __/10