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Greece, Rome, and The American Experience (Hist 4325): Selecting a Topic

This guide supports Dr. Ronald J. Weber's junior-senior seminar on Roman Culture in American History.

This page has some tips on choosing a topic and some ideas to get you started thinking about a good topic.

What makes a good topic?

A good research topic will be

  • Specific: you can deal with it in the short space of your paper
  • Researchable: there are primary sources, books, and scholarly articles on the topic
  • Factual, not depending on personal opinion: you can demonstrate the correctness of your thesis

Examples of a broad topic narrowed to a specific one:

Architecture -- Influence of Roman architecture in the United States -- Influence of the Pantheon on some specific buildings in the United States

Government -- Influence of Roman form of government on the Founding Fathers and the shapers of the American Congress -- What does the Bill of Rights owe to Roman political philosophy or practice?

American visitors to Rome in the 19th century -- Did American attitudes change? -- Compare the writing of a visitor to Rome in the early 19th century with Mark Twain's writing about Rome later in the century





Research Topic Ideas

Art & Architecture:

  • How did Roman architecture influence the design of American public buildings?
  • How did Roman architecture or the imagined idea of Roman architecture influence American domestic architecture and gardens?
  • Did Roman portraiture have any influence on American portrait painting?
  • Did American landscape painting incorporate classical elements?
  • Did women's fashions and hairstyles imitate classical forms or imagined classical forms, and if so, did those elements from from knowledge of Rome or from European classicizing styles?


  • Which Roman authors were cited or quoted regularly in public writing? (Select a year or a topic and read newspaper articles and other writings on it. List and analyze the classical authors quoted or referred to).
  • In public writings, was the influence of Roman writers the same in the northern and southern colonies? (Select a year or a topic and read newspaper articles and other writings on it. List and analyze the classical authors quoted or referred to and compare articles from the North and South.)
  • Travel writing:
    • Select one writer who wrote more than one book about his/her travels in Italy. Analyze and compare the treatment of classical themes.
    • Select two or three writers who wrote books or articles about Rome [or another specific place]. Analyze and compare their treatment of places and classical themes.
  • Edward Gibbon:
    • Select a particular place or theme in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Analyze it in detail, incorporating ancient writers and monuments into the analysis.
    • Investigate the influence of Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on American writers.
  • Cicero: Read a selection of Cicero's works and a selection of American political writings. How did Cicero influence American ideas?


  • Trace the influence of Roman political writing on one or more American political documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, state constitutions, etc.)
  • Trace the influence of Roman political forms on the development of the Congress and electoral laws.
  • Select a political leader and examine the influence of Roman political thinking on him (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are the most obvious, but there are many possibilities.)
  • Was there any classical influence in regard to citizenship, race, or ethnicity in the American colonies or states?
  • Did American relations with American Indians owe any ideas to Roman relations with conquered peoples or barbarians?


  • Did agricultural manuals in the early American colonies or states owe any debt to Roman agricultural writers such as Cato the Elder?
  • Did American attitudes to the value and status of farming as an occupation owe anything to Roman attitudes?


  • What was the influence of Roman educational ideals on the development of the American education system?
    • Who should be educated?
    • What subjects were necessary for a leader (or a worker, or a woman) to study?
    • Why were the classics valued and what made them fall from popularity?

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