Writing Resources

"17 Tips for Writing Papers." (PDF) (Courtesy of Nora Delaney. Used with permission.)

"Guidelines for Peer Review." GMU Writing Across the Curriculum, 2010. (This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.PDF)

"Resources for Writers." MIT Writing and Communication Center, 2010.

Essay 1 (PDF)

Due: Session #5 in class.

Length: 7-9 pages, typed, double-spaced.

Format: MLA; consult the Purdue Online Writing Lab for details.

Choose one of the following topics to address:

  1. After Jude's affair with Sula, Nel comes to the following conclusion: "Hell ain't things lasting forever. Hell is change." How does temporality (or time) function in the novel? For example, what does an enigmatic pronouncement such as Shadrack's whispering of the word "Always" to Sula mean to her development as a character? Why are the chapters of the novel organized according to a different year spanning from 1919 to 1965? Does time's changing always imply progress? How is Morrison encouraging us to challenge or question the promise and fantasy of eternity and continuity (i.e., "always") while also asserting its palpable influence on the lives of her characters? How is time simultaneously the bane and the delight of her characters' existence?
  2. What question still nags at you after finishing Sula? Answer that question using evidence from the text to make your case. You can use secondary sources too, if you like. But this first paper is not meant to be a research paper. What interested you most about the novel? Make an argument based on that interest. In other words, turn that interest into a point that you can argue in 7-9 pages.

Each paper will be judged according to the following criteria:

  1. It demonstrates clarity, depth, and complexity of thought.
  2. It should be focused and coherent with transitions that help to unify, link, and guide your paragraphs.
  3. It should demonstrate ease with language.
  4. Its major ideas should be substantially developed.
  5. It should make a cogent and persuasive argument. In other words, it should have a specific thesis - i.e., the answer to the main question that you're hoping to raise, which you're posing of the text, which you think remains to be answered.
  6. It should offer ample and solid evidence to support your claims.
  7. It should include a title and a conclusion that not only summarizes your argument in one or two sentences but also offers me a sense of what work still remains to be done in light of the work that your essay itself has begun.
  8. It should not be plagiarized! Plagiarism is cause for expulsion!

Essay 2 (PDF)

Due: Session #12 in class.

Length: 7-9 pages, typed, double-spaced.

Format: Proper academic citation is required, but you may use whichever standard style you know best.

This essay has three goals. First, you should reflect on the meaning of the early slave trade—to the people involved, to scholars who have interpreted it, and to you. Second, you should think critically about how historians make judgments about events in the past. Third, you should use specific evidence from historical sources to develop an argument. In your finished essay, be clear in your view on the theme you choose, state it clearly in the opening paragraph, and use direct quotations from the original works to demonstrate your points. (The assigned readings for this course should be sufficient for building a good argument; don't feel you need to do additional research.)

Choose one of the following topics to address:

  1. Is Stephanie Smallwood correct to argue that as "[a] product of violence, the slave cargo constituted the antithesis of community" (p. 101)?

    Answering this question will require thinking hard about the meaning(s) of community. Don't just use the dictionary: what would constitute a meaningful definition of community to you? What is the opposite of "community"? How can the evidence that remains to us allow us to see community, or prevent us from seeing it?

  2. When was the Middle Passage over?

    Answering this question will require thinking hard about the meaning(s) of the Middle Passage, and of what historians call periodization: what were the features of the Middle Passage that make it a distinctive moment? What were its continuities with what came before and after, and what were the ruptures and endpoints? Does the answer to this question vary depending on who you are talking about?

  3. Design your own topic.

    If there's something else you'd like to write about, you are free to do so, but be sure to contact us ahead of time to work out the precise features of a topic that you can answer in the length this essay provides, and the time you have to write it.

For class in Session #10, you do not have to write a finished paper. You do not even have to write a complete rough draft. What you should do is write the first paragraph of what would be an essay, and then, in outline form, give examples or quotes that support the argument that you have laid out in the first paragraph. (If you are inspired to write a full draft, you can do that, but you do not have to.) Bring two copies of the beginning work with you. We will spend part of Session #10 on peer editing.

At the beginning of Session #12, you should hand in a finished essay of 7 to 9 pages. You should also hand in your original paragraph and any peer editing materials from the class the previous week. We won't grade those, but they can be really helpful in helping us understand how you write, and giving feedback if you choose to revise this essay.

Group Presentations (PDF)

Due: Sessions #25 and 26, in class.

Length: No more than 15 minutes; rehearse carefully! 5 minutes of questions and comments will follow each presentation.

Format: Multimedia.

Suggested Presentation Topics (PDF)

Criteria for Presentation Evaluation (PDF)

Working in groups of four, students in the class will assemble a fifteen-minute presentation on a topic from those above. The presentation should reflect an understanding of key concepts proposed by the readings and lectures that we have enjoyed together and build on those concepts, either in consent or dissent, with additional researched materials. Each presentation must include a mediated object as a trace of its event - a slide show, a short video, an audio file, etc. Performance is welcome! The most successful presentations will include critical analysis, supporting materials, media examples drawn from beyond the course syllabus, as well as a performance of some sort.

Before the presentation, the group should meet often to create a pathway through the material. On the day of the presentation, each student must email the faculty individual research notes for the presentation. These notes should detail the individual contribution to the group presentation; they should also provide documentation of the point of view pursued by the individual in the presentation. Your notes should document what you chose to present, and more importantly, why. You should account for the choices in the presentation and offer some context for the presentation from your point of view as one of the discussion leaders.