Have a good idea of what your thesis will be. You may need to tweak your thesis as you go along, but when you do your proposal, you should have a fairly specific question to ask and an idea of what you think the answer might be. For example:
Did the American Founding Fathers favor Roman architecture for public buildings, and if so, why? American Founding Fathers favored Roman architectural style because it represented the ideals of Republicanism to the American public.
For the sample proposal below, the question and answer are:
At the time of the controversy over the Jay Treaty, were the classical pseudonyms used by political writers chosen at random or deliberately? The pseudonyms were deliberately chosen to evoke Roman ideals and authority.
Gather your sources. This is an historiographical paper. That means you can't only tell the story or recount the facts; you have to look at how your sources treat the question. What primary sources will you use? Why are they the best ones? What secondary sources ABOUT the primary sources have you found? You need a biography and critique of each of your primary authors or works. What sources have you found to explain the general topic? By the time you present your proposal, you should have compiled at least a partial bibliography.
Classical Pseudonyms as Rhetorical Devices: An Examination of Some Pseudonymous Works on American Relations with Great Britain in the Early Republican Era
Between the 1760s and 1820s, many American leaders wrote political and social commentary under pseudonyms, many of them taken from figures in classical history. Eran Shalev examines this practice and shows that particular pseudonyms were chosen to enhance the rhetorical weight of the author’s argument. That is, a pseudonym would be carefully chosen to link the modern writer with a classical figure whose writings, deeds, or policies supported the ideas advocated by the modern writer. This paper proposes to examine pseudonymous works written to support or criticize the Jay Treaty of 1795 and to link them to the ideas or actions of the eponymous classical persons, showing how the pseudonyms themselves were intended to reinforce the writer’s authority and position.
A model of this project is found in an anonymous article on the pseudonyms of Alexander Hamilton. Shalev mentions this article, noting that little further work has been done along these lines to shed light on the pseudonyms of other leaders from the American Revolution and early Republic. This paper takes a different approach, since we will examine various authors’ writings on a particular issue, but the methodology is similar.
There are many reference works that list pseudonyms of famous people, but they tend to concentrate on literary and popular figures rather than political writers. Such information on the American Revolutionary and Early Republican periods are hard to find. Thus, Gaines’ Political Works of Concealed Authorship during the Administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, 1789-1809 With Attributions is an excellent source, since it lists not only the works, pseudonyms, and real authors, but the bibliographic citations. William Cushing’s Initials and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises also links many early writers with their pseudonyms. I have used these compendia to identify authors and a selection of works on the Jay Treaty that were written under classical pseudonyms.
Locating the actual works is another challenge. Using the databases Sabin Americana and Early American Newspapers, I have been able to access the full text of a number of works that discuss the Jay Treaty pseudonymously. Before reading the actual works, I will need to find a book or substantial article that gives me some background information on American-British relations in this period and the Jay Treaty in particular so that I can follow the arguments of the various authors.
The next step will be to link the pseudonyms with the eponymous classical personages and examine their actions, writings, or influence on matters relating to the topic under discussion. This will show why each modern writer chose a particular pseudonym. All or most of the classical models are treated in Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, and I can get further information from classical encyclopedias. Information about the American writers will be available in the authoritative Dictionary of American Biography.
I expect to find that each pseudonym was chosen deliberately to lend weight to an argument, since contemporary readers would have recognized the famous Roman or Greek commemorated.
Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World: Antiquity. Hubert Cancik and Helmuth Schneider, eds. English ed. Leiden: Brill, 2002-2010.
Cushing, William. Initialisms and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises. New York: Crowell, 1885. GoogleBooks.
Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1932-1958.
“First Congress.” Landmark Legislation, 1774-2003: Major U.S. Acts and Treaties. Stephen W. Stathis. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2003. 10-13. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
Gaines, Pierce Welch. Political Works of Concealed Authorship during the Administrations of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, 1789-1809 With Attributions. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Library, 1959.
Gasque, Thomas J. The Power of Naming. Vermillion, S.D.: College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Dakota, 2001.
“A Note on Certain of Hamilton’s Pseudonyms,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third series 12, no. 2 (April 1955): 282-297. JSTOR.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Plutarch. Lives [of the Noble Grecians and Romans]. Arthur Hugh Clough, transl. B&R Samizdat Press. E-book.
Sabin Americana: 1500-1926. Gale Group. [Database].
Shalev, Eran. “Ancient Masks, American Fathers: Classical Pseudonyms during the American Revolution and Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 151-172. JSTOR.
Shalev, Eran. Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic. Charlottesville, Va.: University of Virginia Press, 2009.
 Eran Shalev, “Ancient Masks, American Fathers: Classical Pseudonyms during the American Revolution and Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic 23, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 151-172.
 “A Note on Certain of Hamilton’s Pseudonyms,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third series 12, no. 2 (April 1955): 282-297.
 William Crowell, Initialisms and Pseudonyms: A Dictionary of Literary Disguises (New York: Crowell, 1885), GoogleBooks.