From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Assignments: Writing From Sources III

[a] Icon RF
Japan, East Asia, and the Pacific World
History 210
First Paper Assignment
Writing From Primary and Secondary Sources 

This assignment is broken into three posts. 
Click below for the others (all are part of the assignment; don't skip any of them).
Sources 1               Sources 2               Sources 3
***  ***
Reading the Sources
This assignment is for a source analysis paper, not a traditional persuasive essay.  It is meant to give you a hands-on experience in working with historical sources. It is “artificial” in the sense that you will not be working in an archive, but it is no less serious for that. My best advice is for you to make separate copies (this may cost a few dollars, but will be worth it) of each of the readings you choose. Yes, that means I am encouraging you to go to a copy machine (or a scanner) and make a copy of the poem in McCullough (or the text in Lu) with which you plan to work. It also means that you should make a copy of the three-page section in Varley that you have selected (these are, of course, just examples).
[b] Volk RF

When you have finished your scanning (then printing) or your copying, you will have a bundle of texts in front of you—an artificial and miniature archive. Now is the time to go back through them, underlining and marking key points that will help you to form an argument. This is different from reading in preparation for class, when you should be trying to understand the documents in the wider context of our class discussions. You will now be reading them to help you construct an argument about a theme in Japanese history and culture. As you make your notes on the individual texts (some primary, some secondary), it helps to have a blank sheet close by, on which you can start to sketch an outline for the developing argument.

Writing the Paper
Audience, audience, audience.  As you begin to write your paper, have a clear audience in mind. Think of your essay as a way of both arguing a point and patiently explaining the historical and cultural themes that the texts raise.  The best way to maintain the correct perspective on audience is to imagine a small group of Beloit College professors who know little about Japan (imagine Steve Wright, Jill Budny, Lisl Walsh, Pablo Toral, and Daniel Brückenhaus—or just imagine all of the professors with whom you have studied). They are all very intelligent, and know how to construct a superior argument...but hey need you to teach them about Japan. To the extent that you remember this advice (think of the New York Review of Books), you will excel; to the extent that you fall into the habit of writing just for your professor, you will err. Remember this.
[c] History funtime RF

Your paper should lead the readers through the texts and through an argument about Japanese history and culture. Let us take the following example. You choose to write a paper about women and marriage in Japan, selecting an array of sources that includes The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan, The Confessions of Lady Nijo and several poems from Lu. You also choose a passage each from the book by Varley and my Asia/Pacific lectures (secondary sources of, no more than five pages...or ten minutes of lecture). You read the texts carefully, and, as you begin writing your paper, you maintain a balance between explaining the genres and cultural frameworks of your texts and making your key point (your thesis).  

The thesis remains important. Let us say that your thesis is that women had significant room for creative social and even literary action (agency) within the traditional patriarchal household, and that the Western “narrative” about women’s life in Japan treats them (mistakenly) as merely passive figures—pawns among powerful men. If you were writing a traditional paper, you would state that clearly in the first few paragraphs and then find texts to support your point.  It is an important skill to develop, and an ability to frame a thesis will help in this assignment.
[d] Context RF

A source analysis paper is different, though. Let us say that your thesis statement is the same as above (women have “agency”—they are engaged actors in their social situations, no passive bystanders). Your paper will develop slightly differently as you make your argument. You will give a great deal of context from your sources. Indeed, your sources will figure far more richly in your paper than in most traditional persuasive essays. You will spend time showing, for example, how Lady Nijo’s comments on her cloistered life “work” as a narrative form—how she proceeds in a contrapuntal manner that gives context to her pathos.   

You will break down the verbal (and possibly even rhyme) schemes of the poems you analyze. You will, in short, open the world of the texts to your readers as little worlds unto themselves. This kind of paper argues a context and teaches cultural context. Your mission will be both persuasive and illustrative. You will persuade through your argument about female “agency;” you will illustrate (and instruct) by placing your texts in an interpretive universe that helps your readers—who don’t know Japanese culture well—see how the argument fits Japanese culture.

In short, you will teach your reader how to read your sources...even as you make a powerful (thesis statement) point.

This kind of paper can be a joy to write, at least once you develop familiarity with it. It is a necessary skill, too, because writing for audiences unfamiliar with your topic is central to academic life. The source analysis paper encourages you to take the persuasive essay form you learned in junior high school and high school and give it the kind of cultural and historical nuance that we have developed in our class discussions. You might want to think of your explanations of how the sources “work” as a kind of “thickening” of your argument. We will discuss this in class, but the key ideas to remember are: sources, audience, argument, and context.

This assignment is broken into three posts. 
Click below for the others (all are part of the assignment; don't skip any of them).
Sources 1               Sources 2               Sources 3
[e] Audience + Sources + Ideas + Argument = Asia RF

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