Assignment and Course Expectations

Assignment and Course Expectations

Response Papers

Response papers focus on the analysis of one of the assigned primary source documents for a given week. Here are several things to keep in mind when writing one:

1. Analyze only the assigned document.

2. Turn it in to Canvas by the end of the day (11:59 PM) on the due day.

3. Each response paper must have an opening paragraph that discusses the historical context of the document. You must cite specific details (names, dates, events, etc.) from the textbook. You will lose points if I do not see specific details and if I do not see citations from the textbook.

4. The rest of the paper should focus on the document itself. Do not simply summarize what the document says. Choose some aspect of it to analyze, such as the ideas it communicates, the perspective of the author on a person or event, the values/opinions of the author, etc. Consult the syllabus section on analyzing primary sources to get ideas on how to do this.

5. You must cite evidence from the document to support this analysis. You will lose points if I do not see any citations.

6. Make sure that the evidence you cite actually supports what you say. Think about what citations best illustrate your points. Review your whole paper (or have someone else review it) to make sure that it makes sense, that your reader can understand what you are trying to say.

7. I always grade grammar in papers. I will mark poor word choice, typos, misspellings, subject-object disagreement, inconsistent verb tenses, overly long sentences or paragraphs, and all other grammatical mistakes. If I cannot understand what a sentence or a longer passage means, I may just ask “what do you mean?” in the comments.

8. If you have problems with grammar, seek assistance from an English or History tutor here on campus (the tutors can consult online) or at least have someone review your papers before you turn them in. Grammar is the set of rules that make it possible for us to communicate with each other in writing. If I cannot understand what you say due to poor grammar, then I cannot give you due credit for your ideas.

9. Follow the directions in regards to length, formatting, due dates, etc. You will lose points if you do not do this.

10. If unsure about anything, consult the assignment instructions in the syllabus. If still unsure, then ask me! Email me and I will respond within 24 hours on weekdays and 48 hours on the weekend.

Analytical Paper

This is your longest paper. Although you will be analyzing a primary source and using secondary sources to provide context, just like in your response papers, you will need to find the source yourself, using linked databases and archives here on our Canvas site, along with the resources of our library. Here are some tips for succeeding:

1. Once you choose a primary source, remember that this paper is only five to six pages, not a book itself. You will need to make some choices about what you want to focus on.

2. Once you have an idea for a source, start looking for your secondary (scholarly) sources. Do not use any source with the word encyclopedia in its title, do not use websites (if the website includes .com, .org, .net, etc., avoid it), do not use popular magazines, do not use Wikipedia, and avoid published sources without footnotes or endnotes.

3. DO NOT start off intending to prove something. Start with a question or questions that you want to answer. The goal of a history research paper is to analyze the evidence in its context, drawing conclusions about it. Let the primary source guide your conclusions. Be fair to historical people. Judge them by their context. That does not mean you have to agree with their actions or views, but you do need to extend to them the same courtesy that you would want someone to extend to you.

4. Read up on your chosen citation format (MLA or Chicago Style). You will need to follow it when citing evidence in the body of your paper and when putting together your bibliography.

5. Take notes from your sources, whether on notecards or on your computer. Make sure to include complete information on where you got each piece of information or quote. Once you are done taking notes from all of your sources, reread your notes to start forming your conclusions. Organize them into categories. That will help you organize the paper once you start writing.

6. All analytical papers must have an argument or thesis statement. This is the overarching description of your conclusions from your research, usually one or two sentences long. When you give evidence, it should support and explain that argument. If I cannot tell why a piece of evidence is relevant to your argument, it does not do you any good to mention it.

7. Follow all of the assignment instructions in regards to formatting, length, deadlines, etc. Ask me if you do not understand any of them.

8. Remember that producing a research paper is a process. It involves choosing a topic, finding your primary and scholarly sources, taking notes, drawing conclusions, outlining your paper so that it is organized, writing the paper, having someone review it for grammar, formatting, logical progression, to check that you present a clear argument and defend it, etc., and then revising the paper. THIS WILL TAKE TIME, SO PLAN AHEAD!! This is especially true for our compressed time schedule this summer. Do not try to write the paper in the last few days before the due date(s). Pace yourself and schedule regular time to work on each step. Not only will you minimize your stress levels, but that will give you time to deal with any problems that arise.

9. As with the response papers, I will grade for grammar, following the instructions, logical progression, whether or not you support what you say with specific evidence, etc.

For All Papers: The Problem of Opinion & History Writing

First, some explanation: I make a point of discouraging opinionated history writing because it can create bad history. Historians need to understand the context of any historical event or person in order to analyze what happened. Judging people and their actions according to present-day standards does not work very well because the historical people viewed the world through very different lenses than us. Often, what we would consider as “obviously” good or bad would have looked very different to a person raised in a different time, place, and culture. Therefore, we get better mileage by interpreting what happened by examining what they believed or knew, not what we believe or know. This does not mean that you have to like what someone in the past did or thought. You may even find them despicable. However, you will have trouble understanding them unless you keep in mind what they knew and what they believed. 

Second, how does someone avoid making the mistake of opinionated writing? Here are a few ground rules:

  1. Avoid using the first person (I, we, our, us, etc.). Make it about the historical events and people, not about you or us. Let your conclusions stand on their own.

  2. Remember that your job is not to condemn a historical person or to praise them. Your job is to analyze what they did, trying to understand WHY they did or believed certain things.

  3. Avoid emotional or loaded language. Try not to describe things as “horrible”, “wonderful”, “selfish”, “greedy”, “bigoted”, etc. Words like these are based on opinions and personal values. You cannot prove or disprove them by means of historical evidence.

  4. Try not to use absolute words and phrases like “always”, “never”, “everyone”, “all”, since they can be easily disproven. Be more cautious with your language, since you really cannot prove that things always or never happened.

  5. Think about your own beliefs and values and whether they might affect your conclusions when studying the past. Is there something that you believe that might make you a harsher judge or a more lenient judge of certain historical people? I am not judging anyone’s beliefs, just encouraging you to learn more about them and gain understanding as to how they influence your actions.

  6. When in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt to historical people. It may sound strange, but apply the golden rule to your study of them. How would you appreciate a person from another time and/or culture judging you? Consider that while writing.

General Advice for the Course

1. Read the syllabus! Not only will I quiz you on the information found there, but that is where you look first to learn about our semester schedule, assignment instructions, tips for analyzing sources, and the ground rules for the course.

2. If you are confused or unsure about anything, read the syllabus and our Canvas page first. If you are still confused, ask me a question via email. DO NOT WAIT!! Ask the question as soon as it comes up. I promise that I do not bite and I care about your success in the course.

3. You are responsible for knowing the instructions for assignments, due dates, rules for the class, etc. I will try to remind you of relevant information, but that does not change your responsibility.

4. Read all of the assignments, both the textbook selections and the assigned primary source documents. All of them are fair game for the tests and the documents are the basis for your response papers. You will understand lecture videos, exams, and papers much better if you have done the reading ahead of time.

5. This sounds simple, but DO ALL THE WORK!! Almost everyone who has ever failed one of my courses did so because they did not complete one or more assignments. Even if you do not fully understand an assignment, still complete it. Getting even half credit is far better than no credit. As always, if you do not understand something, ask me. Not understanding an assignment is not an excuse for never completing it.

6. Take notes on your reading, to help you review and remember important information.

7. History is a reading and writing discipline. Therefore, if you do not read and do not write, you will miss out on the full benefits of the course. Nothing helps improve your writing like writing, revising your papers, getting help from someone else, and trying again. Pay attention to my comments on your papers and always ask me if you do not understand any comments.

8. Manage your time. Make up a schedule for the semester that includes important due dates and marks out time to work on papers, particularly the various stages of your analytical paper. This will reduce your stress level and give you time to address any problems that arise.

9. If you have a problem completing an assignment, if you cannot make a deadline, if you have a major crisis that will make it difficult to fulfill the course requirements, or any other difficulty, please contact me as soon as possible! I understand that life sometimes gets in the way, emergencies happen, and schedules can conflict, but I cannot help you if I do not know about the problem. Do not wait until the last minute or until weeks after the due date.

10. I record all grades on Canvas, so you can always check there to see what you have so far. Keep on top of your grades. After you complete an assignment, remember that it will take me at least a few days (sometimes a week) to grade it and return it to you. However, if you have not heard from me and/or seen a grade on Canvas after a week (for response papers or exams) or a couple of weeks (for the analytical paper first draft), or if you never see a score for your topic selection or draft bibliography, LET ME KNOW! Perhaps there was a software problem, a computer crash, or maybe I forgot something. Regardless, do not wait. Address the problem right away.