Example: Assignment 1: Research Questions – athenaaegis

NOTE:  athenaaegis is my blog name for this class.


1. Topic:  I’m interested in researching Galla Placidia.

NOTE: you are not required to explain your topic;  however, I think your fellow students might find lengthier explanations interesting.  Galla Placidia had a very interesting life.  She was the daughter of Theodosius the Great, who was the last Roman emperor to rule a united empire.   She was taken hostage by the Visigoths and then married their king, Ataulf.  At his death, she was returned to her brother, Honorius, then Emperor of the Western Empire, and was married to one of his supporters, with whom she had two children.   When the second husband died, she fled to Constantinople and her nephew, Theodosius II, emperor or the eastern Roman empire, because her brother was “too fond” of her.  When Honorius died, Galla Placidia’s son, Valentinian III, received the title of Emperor of the West in his place and the family moved back to Italy.  Since Valentinian was a minor, Galla Placidia ruled the western Roman Empire for about 12 years as his regent (definition).  She continued to have  significant political influence until she died.

Shortly before Galla Placidia’s death in November of 450 CE,  her  daughter, Honoria, inadvertently saved Constantinople by aiming  Attila the Hun at Italy.  Honoria wrote Attila a letter asking him to get her out of a marriage she didn’t want.  She included her engagement ring in the letter.  Attila came to claim her and suggested that half of the western empire would make a good dowry.  Honoria was quickly married off to a senator and Valentinian disavowed the legitimacy of the offer.  Attila proceeded to ravage Italy anyway, using the letter as an excuse.  These actions did not endear Honoria to her brother, the emperor, and she only escaped execution due to her mother’s intercession.  Honoria disappears from the record a few years later.  Some scholars believe that Valentinian III had her executed  after their mother’s death.  (Want to know more about Galla Placidia?  The Wikipedia article is a good place to begin.)

2.  Core question:  What does Galla Placidia’s life tell us about the role of imperial women in the later Roman Empire?

Remember, your core question should be related to your topic, but be much more focused than the topic.

Why I’m interested in this aspect of the topic

I’m interested in this aspect of the topic because Galla Placidia was a part of many of the important events that took place during the twilight of the western empire.  She also exercised political power to a degree that was unusual  even for the daughter, sister, aunt, and mother of emperors.   If her son by the King of the Visigoths hadn’t died,  she and her husband might have founded a Romano-barbarian dynasty that perhaps could have prevented the fall of the western empire.  As it was, she ruled the Western Roman Empire for over ten yea

Your explanation should be related in some way to your core question.  Don’t tell me that you love Roman history, tell me why you’re interested in the assassination of Julius Caesar or the sewer system of the Indus Valley civilization (much more interesting than you might suspect), etc.

3.  Research Question:  I could use my core question, but more formal, academic language would be better since I need to find scholarly articles.

`How was Galla Placidia a role model for imperial women in the Later Roman Empire?

You will be able to tweak your topic as you begin researching, but you cannot make significant changes without my approval.  Not sure if a change is significant or not?  Convo me.

Keywords and key phrases:  “Galla Placidia”  “imperial women”  “role model”  life  “Later Roman Empire”

Pick your main keywords and key phrases directly from your research question.   

EXCEPTION:  if there is more than one way to say the same thing.  This usually applies to science, technology, health and some social science fields as opposed to history and the arts & humanities, but is possible for those fields as well.   For example, you could call the 1890s part of the Victorian era, the Progressive era or the Gilded Age, etc. depending on your specific topic.

Alternative keywords/phrases:  “royal women”  “Late Antiquity”  biography, “Byzantine Empire”

“Late Antiquity”  is broader than “Later Roman Empire,”  so you would use it only if “Later Roman Empire” was not finding the sources you needed.  “Byzantine Empire” is more specific than “Later Roman Empire.”  Byzantine is the name we use; the people who lived there called it the Roman Empire of the East.  Most of the imperial women come from the Byzantine, or Eastern, Empire, so it might be a useful term.

Always start with the keywords and phrases that are part of your research question.  You can add others as you need to.  If you find yourself needing to add a lot of other keywords/phrases, then you probably need to rewrite the research question.


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