History is a highly analytical subject focused on using research and evidence to construct events and verify narratives. It has a lot of intersections with different fields (such as art history, anthropology and political science - to name a few). Whether you are targeting a history major or not, if you like the subject then doing some research in the field can be an excellent way to build a deeper understanding that’ll come handy throughout life. For instance, history can form an excellent base for studying law or politics. This is because piecing together what happened in the past requires processing vast amounts of information, comparing sources of information and evidence. A study of history also involves studying trends, and that’s handy in every subject!
In this blog, we'll cover 25+ research ideas across fields like art history, film studies, gender and sexuality studies, as well as studies on colonialism.
The research question will set the tone for the output.
What are the elements of a good research idea/research question?
The first thing you should look at while finalizing a research problem is relevancy. You should pick an idea that aims to fill an existing knowledge gap in the field or proposes solutions to a problem. Be as original as possible.
You should also ensure that the research you choose to undertake is feasible in terms of resources, time, effort, and complexity. While it may be tempting to choose an extremely challenging research question, know the sweet spot between being comfortable enough to conduct the research, and challenging yourself.
Additionally, make sure you understand the fundamentals of independent research.
Once you have a clear research question, you would have addressed relevance, innovation, feasibility, and significance. Then, it’s time to think through the methodology, ethics, and reporting style.
How Can Research Help With Your College Admissions?
College admissions officers are looking for students that demonstrate critical thinking skills, problem identification and solving skills, sound academic writing, as well as a mature eye for gaps in a field that they aim to solve with research.
Working on a research project helps you check all of the boxes above and boosts your profile. It also shows that you are curious and have the ability to create opportunities for yourself.
Ambitious high school students who are selected for the Lumiere Research Scholar Programs work on a research area of their interest and receive 1-1 mentorship by top Ph.D. scholars. Below, we share some of the research ideas that have been proposed by our research mentors – we hope they inspire you!
25 Research Ideas in History
Topic #1: Art History
Scholars in art history study the way in which art and society originate and develop across timelines all over the world. Art historians use the same tools as sociologists, anthropologists, and historians; but use these tools through the perspective of art. You can pursue the following research ideas in the field of art history as a sociology, art, or even history student!
the history of art and visual culture of Europe and the United States in the early modern, modern, and contemporary periods.
The depictions of female nudity in Renaissance art and their impact on society.
The Influence of African art on Western modernism in the 20th century.
The portrayal of mental illness in art throughout history.
Idea contributed by Lumiere mentor from Harvard University.
Topic #2: Film and Media Studies through a Historical Lens
In a fresh and fast-moving field, film history is taken up by more and more students and scholars each year due to the vast variety one can find in terms of genre, language, theme, audience, and style. As a researcher in film and visual media history, one idea you can explore is how films and their messages have evolved, as well as the tools used by filmmakers to express certain views and opinions shared by a community/group. Here are a few ideas for research in film history and the study of visual/art-based media -
5. The evolution of film censorship and its impact on the film industry.
6. Analyze the representation of race and ethnicity in Hollywood films throughout history.
7. Explore the impact of new technologies on the film industry, such as the introduction of sound, color, and digital technology.
8. Study the impact of the Hollywood blacklist on the careers of film industry professionals during the Cold War era.
9. Examine how spiritual motivations shaped not only the sphere of modern art in America, based at the time on immigrant/first-generation American artists, critics, and curators.
Idea by Lumiere Mentor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Topic #3: Gender and Sexuality Studies through a Historical Lens
As a researcher in gender and sexuality studies, you have the chance to engage with ideas concerning women's studies, women, feminism, gender, and politics, as well as men's and queer studies. The growing awareness of the need for a more inclusive society is an area where you can conduct unique, engaging, and powerful research. You could study the portrayal of homosexuality in ancient Greek society, analyzing Greek texts such as Plato's Symposium and Aristophanes' Clouds to understand how same-sex relationships were understood and depicted in ancient Greek culture. Here are a few more interesting research ideas that you can pursue in the field of gender and sexuality studies, all placed in a historical context.
10. How traditional gender roles were reinforced and portrayed in the 1950s.
11. Analyze the history of transgender rights in the United States and analyze key court cases and legislation.
12. The intersection of race and sexuality in the Civil Rights Movement.
13. Explore how the criminal justice system affects individuals across factors like gender, sexuality, and culture.
Idea contributed by Lumiere mentor from the University of California, Berkeley.
Colonialism has impacted multiple aspects of large populations around the world, including the way they responded to the political, economic, and social structures that were put in place during colonial rule, as well as the cultural and psychological effects of colonialism. If you're looking for a college career focused on the dynamics of power within communities, as well as inequality across caste, race, and culture, conducting independent research in colonialism can be a great way to get started, all while in high school. For your primary research, you can seek out the unique experiences of individuals from underrepresented/colonized communities to build a strong, sound narrative in your findings.
Here are a few ideas you can work on:
14. Explore research as a way to challenge canonical discourses, and apply non-Western theories to Western environments.
15. Investigate how colonial powers used education as a tool for control and assimilation, and study this history in contemporary educational systems.
16. Explore the impact of colonialism on the cultural heritage of a particular region or community, including the destruction and appropriation of cultural artifacts and practices, as well as how these communities are now striving to reclaim their heritage.
Idea contributed by Lumiere Mentor from the University of Chicago.
Topic #5: Cultural History and Anthropology
This field of research is a fascinating one for any student interested in exploring the complex and dynamic relationships between culture, society, and history. As a cultural history/anthropology researcher, you would be required to use both primary and secondary research that would mostly be qualitative, with a few quantitative elements in terms of sample-based research, etc. Cultural history examines how cultural practices, beliefs, and values shape historical events and processes, while anthropology is related to the diversity of human cultures and societies across the globe.
Here are a few research ideas you can explore -
17. Study the psychological health dynamics of migration and refugee crises
18. Examine the complex organizational politics of social movements for human rights
19. Study the expert cultures of developing political and legal institutions.
Ideas contributed by Lumiere Mentor from Northwestern University.
Topic #6: Modern Day Applications in the Field of Digital Humanities
With the rise of technologies that help us study disciplines such as arts, music, literature, and history, research in this field is an attractive idea to pursue in high school.Digital humanities is an extremely unique and innovative field, and borrows from fields such as computer science, architecture, and design. As part of your research, you can explore ideas such as digital annotation of ancient texts,digital mapping of areas of cultural or historical significance for VR/remote experiences, as well as build and plan entire cities. A few existing applications of Digital Humanities include - Pelagios Commons, Mapping Jewish LA, and Visual Librarian. You can also work on the following ideas -
20. Map the spread of diseases such as the Great Plague, cholera, sleeping sickness, or malaria throughout centuries in a particular region.
21. Analyze the language used in letters between soldiers during a war to understand their emotional experiences.
22. Create a virtual exhibit of a historical building, such as the Athena Parthenos, or create a multimedia timeline of a historical event, such as the invasion of Tenochtitlan.
Idea proposed by Lumiere mentor from the University of Vienna.
Topic #7: History of Science
One of the most engaging interdisciplinary research subjects on the list, the history of science offers the perfect valley of research between the fields of STEM and humanities. As a researcher studying the history of science, you get to ask and answer questions about the history of medicine, biology, physics, or other scientific fields that you may be interested in.
Here are a few research ideas you can work on -
23. Study ethical problems in science, technology, and medicine.
24. Examine the origin of 0
25. Conduct research on why alchemy is not considered science.
Ideas contributed by Lumiere mentors from Harvard University, and the University of Chicago.
Topic #8: East Asian History and Culture
East Asia is a culturally, ethnically, and linguistically diverse region, with a rich history. You can conduct thorough research on topics related to language, food culture, and psychosocial impact of immigration to other non-Asian countries, to name a few. What's more, you can carry forward your high-school research in college, if your university has a department dedicated to Asian Studies. Here are a few interesting ideas you can pick up -
26. Research the history and practice of traditional medicine in China or India.
27. Learn the development of woman-warrior narratives through late imperial China, and also explore the political, social and gender issues behind the popularity of this genre.
28. Explore the philosophy and impact of Confucianism in China and other Asian cultures.
Idea contributed by Lumiere Mentor from the University of Cambridge.
If you are interested in doing university-level research in biology, then you could also consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students that I founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 2100 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.
Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.
Image source: Lumiere Research Program logo