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: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610

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.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

HIST 150: Confucius and the World Letter Assignment, Spring 2019


[a] Text and illustration RF
Confucius and the World
History 150
Spring 2019

Preliminary Writing Assignment 
Confucius and Historical Thinking
By choosing the letter format for your first writing assignment, I am asking you to build upon the skills you have already begun to develop in analyzing (and providing examples for) key elements of Confucius's Analects. You have already reached a point where you have some experience with "Confucius, his students, and the text we call (in English) The Analects. Your job now will be to explain it to an intelligent non-specialist.
[b] Reaching, teaching RF

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

Letters from “the field” (or our modified “archive” of works on the syllabus) are a good way to refine your thoughts about ethnographic and historical study, and they are a useful medium for beginning the intellectual “framing process” that will accelerate as we move through the next two-thirds of the course. The letter writing exercise is especially useful for giving you an early sense of solidity in your studies.

The nonfiction writer John McPhee explains to his Princeton students that a letter is often precisely the solution to problems 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 Confucius and this thought).

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)

1. The letter needs to be “long enough” to get you deeply into several issues regarding Confucius and social theory, including particular approaches and a few examples.  There is no absolute upper limit, but I am going to make a lower limit of 2,000 words (about six pages). Even if you are a very efficient writer (2,000 words is barely adequate), you will need this much “space” to give your reader a good picture of your work. 3,000 words (or about ten pages) is just about right. Include a word count at the end of our paper (e.g. “3,245 words” or Word Count: 3,245).
2. Just in case you think that writing 6-10 pages is a matter of spilling your random thoughts onto the page and turning it in, pay very close attention to my writing guide and our class discussions. I expect this to be a well-written essay in letter form (we'll discuss the genre in class).

3. I am asking you to connect with a very specific reader, and to explain “Confucius and the Analects” in a level of detail that she will find satisfying. You are the expert, and your “audience” is the person who will be reading your letter (I will, of course, be reading over her shoulder). I have found that this kind of assignment helps students to explain even abstruse matters, because the personal relationship they have with their readers demands an attention to patient explanation that is often lacking in more “academic” forms of writing, in which they assume that a professor already knows what they are writing about.

Your reader doesn't. 

Make it make sense.

4. 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 the “who was Confucius and what are the Analects” question 
               at the heart of our course. Provide your reader with at least a few ways of 
               thinking about it (use your readings and the Great Courses lectures).

          b. Give your reader a sense of what you have learned up to this point about 
              Confucius and the Analects. Use specific examples from your studies.

          c. Finally, give your reader some sense of what it is like to “think historically" while
              thinking about a classic text from China. Think back to your first essay and the 
              readings from Week I. How do they relate to Confucius and the Analects

          d. You must have at least one illustration. Think about "the rhetorical role of 
               illustrations" in the New York Review of Books.
5. he best way to approach the writing process is in three parts (this is a friendly suggestion). First, create a structure (we'll discuss this in class), and 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 raise your hand and ask me (or send me an e-mail message). I'll be happy to help.
***  ***
Letters are due (in hard copy form) outside my door (MI 206)
by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 24.

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


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