So, are you looking for a topic and you're having a problem picking something that is interesting, needs to be done, isn't too broad or too narrow? Take a look at Future Research Projects.
That's not to say that these topics are equally easy or equally hard. Some may turn out to be impossible due to lack of sources. I thought I had a fantastic topic in a 1904 Jewish Russian immigrant collective farm here in Smith County, but there are no Tyler newspapers that have survived, and the local temples do not have records back that far. The national Jewish archives have been unresponsive, so this topic may just end up a footnote at best. There are other topics not on this list that may appear out of nowhere, such as my program on "Socialists in Smith County, 1905-1912." Who knew, until somebody mentioned it to me, and I started digging. Others are obvious, with perhaps too many sources, and the question may be has someone done this topic already? If not, with so many sources, when do you stop researching and start writing?
If your family is from Smith County, see what sources you can pull out and use. Do you have a set of old letters? A great-grandmother's diary? Items from your grandfather's old business? These are things that nobody else in the class has, probably nobody else in Smith County has. Use them as a core, then build context around them. Take digital images for possible future presentations or publications. Then be sure to donate a copy of your final product to the Smith County Historical Society Archives. Over the years a number of very interesting papers have been written for the graduate Topics in State and Local History course that have just disappeared into closet or a trash can, when they could have been filed for future use at the SCHS Archives.
Here are five key Smith County history sources to get you started:
1) If you know nothing about Smith County and just want an overview, read the article in the Handbook of Texas Online.
It was written by a former faculty member here at UT Tyler and includes a short bibliography. Here's the one on Tyler.
2). If you want a short, predominantly photographic history of Smith County that might suggest an interesting topic, see:
Reed, Robert E. Tyler. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing Co., 2008. F394.T86 R44 2008. It is also available for purchase at the Carnegie History Center and Barnes and Noble for $22.00.
3) If you want the most thorough single source on Smith County, particularly for prior to World War II, see:
Smallwood, James. The History of Smith County, Texas. Austin: Eakin Press, 1999. 2 vols. F392.S55 S63 1999. It is also available for purchase at the Carnegie History Center for $60.00. This was also written by a former history faculty member at UT Tyler.
4) If you want a small chronology that will get you up to about 1980, see:
Whisenhunt, Donald W. A Chronological History of Smith County, Texas. Tyler: Jack T. Greer Memorial Fund of the Smith County Historical Society, 1983. F392.S55 W55. It is also available for purchase at the Carnegie History Center for $15.00. This one was written by a former vice-president of academic affairs of UT Tyler.
5) *THE* journal on Smith County history is Chronicles of Smith County, Texas. It was published between 1962 and 2004 by the Smith County Historical Society. It is not online. The UT Tyler Library has an almost complete set, along with four indexes, on the 4th floor in the periodicals room. Tyler Public Library and the Smith County Historical Archives in the Carnegie History Center have complete runs. Many of the back issues are also available for purchase at the Carnegie History Center. Chronicles articles were written by everyone from well-informed amateurs to faculty members at a variety of Texas universities, including Dr. Gajda. The Historical Society hopes to have a new issue out for fall, 2014, and future issues could be a good publishing opportunity for excellent papers.
The Library has a number of books on "doing local history."
Kammen, Carol. On Doing Local History. 2d ed. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 2003. E180 .K28 2003.
Amato, Joseph Anthony. Rethinking Home: A Case for Writing Local History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. F605.2 .A43 2002.
Kammen, Carol. Encyclopedia of Local History. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 2000. Ref. E180 .K25 2000.
Kyvig, David E. and Myron A. Marty. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You. Walnut Creek, Ca.: AltaMira Press, 2000. E175 .K94 2000. In New Books Shelves until February 1.
Archibald, Robert. A Place to Remember: Using History to Build Community. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 1999. E180.5 .A73 1999.
Aston, Michael. Interpreting the Landscape: Landscape Archaeology and Local History. New York: Routledge, 1997. Ebook.
Stevens, Michael E. Editing Historical Documents: A Handbook of Practice. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 1997. PN162 .S747 1997.
Kammen, Carol. The Pursuit of Local History: Readings on Theory and Practice. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 1996. E160 .P87 1996.
Kammen, Carol. On Doing Local History: Reflections on What Local Historians Do, Why, and What It Means. Walnut Creek, Cal.: AltaMira Press, 1995. E180 .K28 1995.
Kyvig, David E. Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1982. E175 .K94 1982.
Metcalf, Fay D. Using Local History in the Classroom. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1982. E175.8 .M47 1982.
Felt, Thomas Edward. Researching, Writing, and Publishing Local History. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1976. D13 .F387.
Russo, David J. Families and Communities: A New View of American History. Nashville, Tenn.: American Association for State and Local History, 1974. E175 .R87.
See also the books on oral history listed under the People tab.