Over-Arching Questions for the PSP – a few examples

A good over-arching question for the PSP will have a little “tension” to it — indicating something to PROVE. But it sets forth an exploration such that the writer will eventually develop a “claim” that she then has to “support with evidence.”

  1. How might the increase in isolation felt by many adults in American society be linked to innovations in communications systems?
  2. To what extent might state taxes in Virginia make it a favorable location to be an entrepreneur (as compared to ___ state?)
  3. To what extent might increases in screen time benefit learners who experience poverty?
  4. How did the pattern of post-Civil War black migration in the United States contribute to the increasing success of the Democratic Party in certain locations within the US?
  5. How have social factors influenced the evolution of the Republican Party’s campaign messages since 1982?
  6. Which forces were more impactful in reshaping lifestyles of Americans during the Great Depression: advertising or radio programming?
  7. How did the AIDS crisis of the late 19th century provide a catalyst for the Gay Rights movement?
  8. To what extent might the development of medical insurance in the US have resulted in better health among employed individuals compared to people without jobs?
  9. To what extent is psychological stress a factor in inhibiting learning?
  10. How did the entertainment industry enhance political protest and ultimately bring an end to the Vietnam War?
  11. To what extent has the increase in power of the pharmaceutical industry affected American politics?
  12. To what extent might opportunities for women in sports since 1970 have impacted their participation in higher education?
  13. To what extent did immigration to America favor Northern Europeans over people from other parts of the world in ( _#__ decade)?
  14. How have the patterns of immigration to the United States from Asia differed from patterns from other parts of the world in the 20th century?
  15. To what extent did European artistic thought re-shape American art in the early 20th century?
  16. To what extent did Cold War tensions lead to the “Red Scare” and curtailment of American liberties in Hollywood in the 1950s?
  17. To what extent did drug use lead to alternative and non-traditional forms of artistic expression in the 1960s?
  18. To what extent is early 21st century mass incarceration shaping African-American communities and the expectations for successful futures of African-American children?
  19. How has the Right to Life Movement succeeded to affect laws about abortion since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case?
  20. How did racist laws related to housing establish ghettos and institutionalize segregation in Chicago in the 20th century?
  21. To what extent have untreated mental health issues contributed to gun violence and school shootings, and politics/legislation surrounding gun control?
  22. Given a particularly famous trial or crime (you name it– OJ Simpson trial???) exposed defects in the country’s system of justice?
  23. How have criminal investigations been made more successful by improved scientific understanding?

Real authors asked these questions. Answering them resulted in important books:

Ann Kramer asked: OAQ: How did Nelson Mandela shape South Africa’s history?  FQ1: How did Nelson Mandela’s life change South Africa’s economy?   FQ2: How did Nelson Mandela’s leadership affect the social structure of South Africa?  FQ3:  How did Nelson Mandela change the political structure of South Africa?  Result: Ann Kramer wrote Mandela: The Rebel who led his Nation to Freedom.

Clint Smith asked:  OAQ: How might today’s racial tensions have been impacted by the ways the history of slavery has been taught from generation to generation?

  1. FQ1:  How “complete, unbiased and truthful” can the recording of history ever be?
  2. FQ2:  How (and how thoroughly) has the experience of black people in American History been generally explained in mainstream historical accounts?
  3. FQ3:  With a focus outside of schools, how might there be strengths and weaknesses in the way slavery’s impact on history has been recorded in such examples of our museums, national celebrations, landmarks, evolving neighborhoods?
  4. FQ4: How might restrictions on Blacks’ access to government have resulted in a narrow or biased understanding of the role of Black people in America’s accomplishments?
  5. FQ5: How might nostalgia or patriotism or politics and growing a positive national identity have impacted how accurately remembered and recorded are our darker historical realities like slavery?
  6. FQ6: How did power-brokers such as government and educational leaders help or hurt an understanding of slavery’s impact on American society?
  7. FQ7: How might today’s racial tensions be alleviated by a more thorough telling of the history of all of America’s peoples, especially folks who faced discrimination?

Result: Clint Smith wrote his answers in How the Word is Passed.

Aziz Ansari askedOAQ: To what extent has dating changed since the beginning of widespread internet use?  FQ1: How did dating happen before the digital age? FQ2: How did the internet change meeting and dating?  FQ3: How has cell phone use changed interactions such as meeting and communicating and self-confidence?  Result: Aziz Ansari wrote Modern Romance.

Katherine S. Newman and Hella Winston asked, OAQ: To what extent do K-12 public schools need to change in order to provide enough “vocational training” for manual labor and machine jobs of the 21st century?   FQ1: How did US education develop to respond to economic and social factors across the past two centuries? FQ2: To what extent has trending away from vocational training failed US citizens (resulting in a mis-match of students who try to attend college but eventually fail out after accruing large debt, or because of unemployment, and added burden to taxpayers?  FQ3: How do European countries such as Germany prepare more of their work force for good jobs (that don’t require a 4-year college degree?)  FQ4: How do some of our exceptional vocational tech high schools and CTE providers in the US provide models that school districts around the country could follow in order to train more American teenagers for great jobs in manufacturing?  Result: They wrote Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the Twenty-First Century.

Michael Cohen focused on one election during the tumultuous1960’s and asked,  OAQ: How did the US Presidential Election of 1968 establish a division between liberals vs.conservatives for the next 50 years of US politics?  FQ1: To what extent did the Vietnam War divide Americans? FQ2: How did certain Republican figures emerge to channel concerns of some Americans?  FQ3: How did specific Democratic leaders emerge to voice various “liberal” sentiments?  FQ4: How did the Civil Rights Movement polarize Americans and alight people with specific party agendas?  Result:  Michael Cohen wrote: American Maelstrom: The 1968 Election and the Politics of Division.

Hanna Rosen asked,  To what extent are men no longer “useful” in a modern woman’s life?  FQ1: How important to woman’s survival were men in the American society before 1975? FQ2: How have women’s opportunities expanded since 1975?  FQ3: To what extent do men play a positive role in women’s lives since 1975?  FQ 4 To what extent do men play a negative role in women’s lives since 1975?  Result:  Hanna Rosen wrote The End of Men.


Richard Rothstein asked, OAQ:  To what extent did US governmental action segregate Blacks from whites after slavery ended in 1865?   FQ1: How did laws affecting employment help white American sbut leave out black Americans? FQ2: How did funding and policy help whites beome homeowners while excluding people of color?  FQ3:  Why has segregation persisted in localities even when federal action against discrimination took place? FQ4: How does history show how segregation may e reversed by laws and agencies?

Pamela Hoag asked, OAQ: How has profit by gun manufacturers helped shape attitudes toward guns in American 21st century?  FQ1:  How did certain American gun manyfacturers grow and develop large markets for guns?  FQ2: How does gun ownership influence politics in the US? FQ3: How have interests in gun ownership clashed with gun control interests  21st century US politics?  Result: Pamela Hoag wrote The Gunning of America.

John Markoff asked,  OAQ: Which will happen: will we controlm machines, or will machines control humans?  FQ1: How is technology developing to make people feel less in control? FQ2: How is modern technology use giving humans more options and control over their lives?  FQ3: To what extent can huans shaper their relationship to technology?

A word about these examples:

  • If a student’s OAQ starts out too broad, it can be narrowed in the course of the research.  For example, if you support your initial question with several focus questions that also start with prime questions (How, Why, Which… To What extent…) then you might abandon the OAQ and adopt one of your FQ’s as a new and sufficiently broad OAQ.  That’s why a researcher should always begin researching with her favorite FQ!
  • Some examples above discuss an entire century of history.  It might be more focused to select an important decade or a transitional few years within a century for your PSP.  You can learn about important periods of transition when you read an overview of your topic in a REFERENCE source. One of the best things students can do to find FASCINATING focus of their research topic is to see what authors of books in our library have done to narrow their study to particular cases and events in history.  Head to the shelves!
  • Instead of researching an entire country, explore the development of a region.  Instead of researching an entire citizenry, focus in on one gender, one social class, one age group (possibly in comparison to others.)  Instead of researching a long event in history (for example, the Civil War period, research a pivotal event within that time period.
  • As you embark on your PSP, you should begin to imagine what might be the *PERFECT primary sources* to locate as evidence for your understandings.  Some topics are well resourced with primary sources; other topics can be just too tough to tackle while you are still in high school.  Discuss your resource needs with the librarian as early as possible.  She knows about collections of primary sources that are available online and has listed “goldmines” at the bottom of your research guide.