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 13, 2018

HIST 294—Chinese Gazetteers Letter Assignment (Spring 2018)

On this date on Round and Square's History 
12 February 2012—Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin': Cultural Memory

[a] Text and illustration RF
Chinese Gazetteers
History 294
Spring 2018
Preliminary Writing Assigment
Chinese Gazetteers Explained to Outsiders
By choosing the letter format for your preliminary writing assignment, I am asking you to build upon the skills you have already developed this term in analyzing (and providing examples for) Chinese gazetteers. While you have only just begun your work, I want you to write a letter to a real person (it will be sent, with the aid of the history department) about gazetteers, and their uses for writing history and ethnography. Write the letter, and you will have a leg up, so to speak, on your semester's work.
[b] Reaching, teaching RF

Teach it, really (think of the New York Review).

Letters from “the field” (or our modified “archive” of sinology) are a good way to refine your own approach to historical rigor and imagination. The letter writing exercise is especially useful as a way to refine your thinking at the (relative) beginning of our course.

The nonfiction writer John McPhee explains to his Princeton students that a letter is often precisely the solution to challenges of interpretation or clarity—when in doubt, write to mother, he says. In this case, it is not a plea of “send money” that the letter contains, but a reworking, rethinking, and contextualization of your work. You need not limit yourself to kinfolk, but you need to think about who the recipient will be (ideally someone who will welcome a letter about Chinese gazetteers).

You owe it to yourself to listen to this long interview with McPhee (but I know that you are pressed for time). At the very least, though, listen to the first few minutes. It is the very purpose that lies behind this assignment.

John McPhee NPR (1978) 22:40
Click on the second blue circle on the right side of the page (it is worth it)

Now start writing. Toward that end, you should pay attention to the following issues.

1. The letter needs to be “long enough” to get you deeply into several issues regarding Chinese gazetteers, including particular approaches to the sources (think about pages 38-46 of Joseph Dennis's book. There is no absolute upper limit, but I am going to make an absolute lower limit of 2,000 words (about six pages). Realistically, your letter should probably be somewhere in the 3,000 word range (about ten pages). 2,000 words is the bare minimum. Do not turn in an assignment shorter than that.
2. I am asking you to connect with a very specific reader, and to explain Chinese gazetteers in a level of detail that she (or he, or they) will find satisfying. You are the expert, and your “audience” is the person who will be reading your letter (think of my evaluative role as reading over a shoulder). I have found that this kind of assignment helps students to explain even abstruse and technical matters, because the personal relationship they already have with their readers demands an attention to patient explanation that is often lacking in more “academic” forms of writing, in which students often assume that a professor "already knows what they are writing about."

Your reader probably doesn't, and this letter really will be sent.

Make it make sense.

3. You may approach your materials from any angle that you like, but you will need to “cover” at least the following items, no matter what order you choose.

          a. You must discuss “what is/was a gazetteer” (define it/them—or give it a start). 
               Provide your reader with at least a few ways of thinking about gazetteers.

          b. Give your reader a sense of what you have learned so far in your various books
              for this course. Use examples from your studies.
          c. Tell your reader what is in a gazetteer. What are the contents?

          d. Give your reader some sense what your final project will look like. Explain it
              in brief-form for your reader (and some of the sources you might use). In
              particular, describe the mountain you have chosen, and describe what you can
              of the province, major city, mountain "village," temple, and mountain that you 
              will study. You do not have to be an "expert" here. Just give your reader a 
              sense of what you will do.

          e. You must have at least one illustration. Think about "the rhetorical role of 
               illustrations" in the New York Review of Books. Since there are no copyright
               issues (only your reader and I will be reading it) this illustration can come 
               from anywhere (online, your drawing, whatever you want).

          f. Your letter should have citations. If you cite something, make a footnote for it
               (Chicago-style, of course). You will actually send the letter later in the term.
                At that point, you may remove the citations if you wish.
4. The best way to approach the writing process is in three parts (this is a friendly suggestion). First, jot down some notes for each of the “sections” of your letter. Second, using those notes as a guide, write a rough draft of the whole letter. Third, revise, polish, and refine.  

Voilà you will have something not unlike what Alexis de Tocqueville might have written about understanding a complex, foreign culture that baffled and enticed him 180 years ago. While your letter won’t be as long as Democracy in America, it is likely—if it is done well—to be much like Tocqueville’s rich and evocative letters back to his family about encountering people, texts, and institutions in a strange land called the United States. 

You get the idea. If you don't, just send me an e-mail message). I'll be happy to help.
***  ***
Letters are Due (as a hard copy outside my office door)
by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 25.

Add the word count and your box number to all papers!
[e] And then you may rest RF

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