Project 2: Hidden Figures


For Project 1, our inquiry-based writing involved primary and secondary research in order to investigate the history of educational desegregation in Virginia. Now, for Project 2, we turn to questions about history, segregation, and education as explored in Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Our focus, like Shetterly’s, will be on what she characterizes as “hidden figures.” Again drawing on both primary and secondary sources, you will each conduct further research on a specific “hidden figure” of your own choosing. Also like Shetterly, you will weave your research findings into a narrative that presents an informed argument to a broad audience.

Assignment [pdf]

Your assignment for Project 2 is to write an essay in which you use primary and secondary research to tell the story of a “hidden figure”—a specific person, organization, law, event, or place mentioned in Hidden Figures. In crafting this story, you will need to engage directly with Shetterly’s concept of “hidden figures,” showing readers how your chosen figure can be understood as fitting, complicating, or expanding her definition of the concept. Essays also need to develop a researched argument (as described in The Craft of Research), establishing for readers the significance of your chosen “hidden figure.”

Minimum Requirements

As detailed in the syllabus, projects are expected to be a minimum of 1200 words and make use of MLA guidelines for citation. In terms of the sources you select for your project, ideally your decisions will be based on which sources allow you to develop a compelling and well-researched argument.

That said, a passing essay for Project 2 will cite and engage with the following, at a minimum:

  • Shetterly’s book (not the young adult version), including her concept of “hidden figures.”
  • A new primary source (in addition to any other primary sources that you locate in Shetterly’s book and its bibliography).
  • A new secondary source that is peer reviewed (again, beyond any other secondary sources you locate through Shetterly).

Helpful Hints

If you would like to research a “hidden figure” not mentioned in Shetterly’s book, you are free to do so. However, your essay would still need to engage directly with Shetterly’s concept. I also encourage you to consider the extra research time that would be involved in going this route.


The in-class deadline for Project 2 is Tuesday, March 28. However, as the syllabus explains, electronic files are due to BB before class, by 12 noon. Then, you will bring 3 hard copies of your project to class. In class, you will meet in small writing groups, reading each other’s work and composing self-reflective cover letters. A hard copy of your project—along with your self-reflective cover letter—will be due in class, in a folder with your name on the outside of it.