12 February 2012—Hurtin', Leavin', and Longin': Cultural Memory
|[a] Text and illustration RF|
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 the two autobiographies that you have read this term. 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 John King Fairbank and Edwin Reischauer, and the ways in which they "built" Asian Studies in the United States. 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).
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 the development of Asian Studies in the United States).
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.
Click on the second blue circle on the right side of the page (it is worth it)
3. I am asking you to connect with a very specific reader, and to explain Fairbank and Reischauer 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.
careers they had. Provide your reader with at least a few ways of thinking
about them and what they "created."
are created (the relationship between an individual's talents and the creation
of "institutions" such as academic departments, the Association of Asian
Studies," and even ambassadorial offices (in the case of Reischauer)).
c. Tell your reader a little bit about how you would like to shape your own
future in Asian Studies.
d. 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).
e. 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.
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.
|[e] And then you may rest RF|