Document Report Assignment
"To see a world in a grain of sand…." is how the poet William Blake began one of his most famous poems. This assignment asks you to "see" MIT in a single work. On the surface it is very simple. Pick a single document or artifact that relates to some aspect of MIT history from 1846 to 1909 (1920 if the subject is athletics) that interests you; learn everything you can about it; and tell a good—but short—story that reveals something new and compelling about the Institute.
- Finding A Document
- Report Requirements
You have had the opportunity to visit the Institute Archives, a key repository for MIT history, but there is material everywhere from sheet music in the Lewis Library to the reference files of the MIT Museum. From your study of the MIT150 Exhibition, it should be clear that you can tell a broad range of stories about MIT from the most unusual artifacts. (One of the best displays I have ever seen about the Civil War involved uniform buttons!)
Your first step is to consider what topics interest you. Maybe you want to learn about some aspect of student life (a dorm, fraternity, sports team, The Tech). Maybe you like biography and want to learn more about one of MIT's faculty members or a student like Katherine Dexter McCormick. Maybe you want to know about admission requirements, tuition costs or budgets? Do you want to know what mechanical engineering was like in 1900? Or what experiments did first year Physics students conduct? Are you curious about what others thought of MIT? Truly, anything you have read or heard or interests you about MIT should be what you decide to explore.
When you have a general idea, you need to explore. You can do that online, but also by asking. You don't need to find the "perfect" document to tell a great story. Just find something that gets you started.
There is one exception to this: You should not choose a President's Report, The Tech, Technique, and Course Catalogs, because you will be expected to consult these as sources.
When you identify your document, please take a picture(s), scan or download a copy to include with your report.
There are three parts to this assignment:
- Part I: The first 2–3 pages of this report will entail answering questions very similar to the ones that were on the worksheets you used at the Archives and Museum. This is a formulaic exercise but essential to determining what you can learn from this source.
- Part II: You will need to do a fair amount of creative research to dig up good sources—books, articles, websites, videos—that relate to your document and a brief note about these sources.
- Part III: Write a 500–750 word (maximum) essay that tells an important story about MIT through the lens of your document or artifact.
Part I: Questions to answer about your artifact or document. Just cut and paste this list and type your answers to each question. Your answers should be brief, accurate, and neatly presented. Be intelligent in your responses but do not guess or speculate.
- Please identify the document.
- Please indicate where you found the document. If you are using a digital surrogate (aka: Digital scan of an original online), please provide the URL but also indicate where the original is located. Often archives or museums will provide information about collections, box, folder or object numbers. Please record these.
- Please prepare a proper bibliography (any style, Chicago, MLA is acceptable) citation for your document.
- Briefly, in no more than 3 sentences, describe this document. What is it?
- Please provide a short physical description. Include measurements if possible.
- How was this document made?
- Who are the people represented in these materials? (Some suggestions for what to report: Names, titles, and positions.)
- What events or activities are documented?
- What are the dates of the materials? When was it created, circulated, annotated, altered? (Give a reasoned guess if it's not clearly indicated.)
- Which geographic places or locations are represented in the item?
- What do you think was the purpose of the item? Why was it created? What did its creators want to achieve?
- Who was the intended audience of the item? Who might have seen it? Was it for private or public consumption?
- What does this item tell you and what does it leave out? What would you like to ask about it?
- What other kinds of information can you derive from your materials?
- Do you think your materials are authentic? Why or Why not?
- Other important observations? Please note anything that you feel is critical to know about your document or object but not recorded elsewhere.
Part II: Sources to learn more about and from your document and object.
You should have no fewer than 7 unique items (more than 15 would be excessive). By "unique" we mean type of source. In other words, you might consult 10 course catalogs but that only counts as one source. You need to indicate what you learned from these sources.
For example, you have selected an early chemistry examination as your document and consulted the course catalog to figure out who taught the course and what subjects it covered. Then, you might look up Eliot and Storer's textbook or come across this fantastic book: Chemistry in America, 1876–1976, which is filled with all kinds of statistical information. Maybe the Chemical Heritage Foundation or the MIT Museum's collections databases might have provided some photographs of students in chemistry labs. You might write a short note for each source or a single "essay" about your sources. It is up to you.
Bottom line, this is your bibliography for this project. Historians usually follow the Chicago style but pick any style you like. Just be consistent and make it easy to find your sources. (We will check.)
Part III: Essay
Everything you have done so far should enable you to figure out a smart angle on the "big picture." Every historical investigation must have an element of originality to it. You are not writing a research paper but rather a short essay that teaches your reader something important about MIT. 500 words minimum, 750 words maximum.
Some of you have prepared "elevator speeches". The 150 Exhibition labels averaged 150 words. Your essay needs to be excellent in exactly the same way: Short and smart. It should reveal the extent of depth and breadth of your investigation without hitting the reader over the head. Use footnotes if you make a direct quote, but fundamentally this essay should be all yours. Don't borrow the organization or style from someone else.
Want to know if it is an outstanding essay? Read it to your friends and roommates. If they're bored; chances are we will be too. Be interesting. Make us feel like this document or object is incredibly special. In other words, make us feel like you can "see a world in a grain sand."
Make sure you have a title page with your name on it. Put all the parts together in sequence and include a copy of your document or object. Feel free to include additional illustrations. The completed package should be between 7 and 8 pages (not including your document).
Early submission with option to revise:
You have the option of submitting your completed report early. Reports submitted by Class 9 will be graded by Class 11 (end of the day). You have the option to revise and resubmit your report by the final due date, Class 12. While there is no guarantee of a higher grade, you cannot receive a lower one.
Final Due Date Class 12
Expectations: Students often wonder how much time it should take to do an assignment. In general, this project should take 8–10 hours to complete (including time in the archives finding a document, looking up sources, drafting your responses and essay).