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PAPER ASSIGNMENT: Definition or Biography Length: 1500-1750 words (ca.

4-5 pages), in MLA format (including a Works Cited page) Due: Draft before class on Wed. Feb. 26; please post to the dropbox, and bring one for peer review. Due: Final version: by 11:59 p.m. (Pacific) on Fri., Mar. 7; please post to the dropbox.

**The Blue Pill, or the Red Pill? Definition or Biography**
For this essay, you have two options, which are quite different from one another. The first takes longer to explain than the second, but that doesn’t mean that one is more or less difficult, so give both a fair hearing before you choose. There’s extra guidance specific to Option 1 at the end of this document. For Option 1, you will explore a term for which the definition is 1) a matter of contention and/or 2) changing importantly over time. Your term may be a single word (e.g., “phone”), or a very short phrase (e.g., “cruel and unusual punishment”). You may consider your essay an extended definition (e.g., five pages on “What is a Boy Scout?”), or as an exploration of one particular element of a larger definition (e.g., “What ‘Reality’ Means in Reality Television”). You should first choose some topic—almost anything, really—that you’d like to spend a couple weeks researching, and then ask yourself where within that topic there’s a term that’s up for grabs. For Option 2, you will focus on one term: “biography.” With Johnson’s Rambler No. 60 and Idler No. 84 as resources—though you need not agree with them—present your own argument as to what biography ought to be and do. In making your argument, use MAUS to work through and explain what’s at stake in your definition. That is, argue how MAUS fulfills or does not fulfill the criteria of a biography (as you’ve defined it), and what’s at stake in its either doing so or failing to do so. You may focus on a single character (Art, Vladek, or Anja) if you want. Refer to Johnson at least three times, and MAUS as much as you feel necessary. Caveat scriptor—some apply more to one option than another: • MLA formatting, people. • When you refer to a term as a term, put it in quotation marks. E.g., • The meaning of “additive” in the food industry has changed over time. • “Environmentalism” and “conservationism” may seem to mean the same, but in practice they’re very different. • Scale is important here. You could extend either option to book length, were there world enough and time. Remember to set limits for yourself so that it doesn’t spiral out of control. • Some definitions will be next-to-worthless to you. Dictionary.com, Wiktionary, MerriamWebster, and the like are general-purpose dictionaries and not likely to be of use, unless you’re just looking for the etymology. • Don’t be intimidated by specialist or historical dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which shows the development of a definition over time, including illustrative quotations; Johnson’s Dictionary, on which the OED was modeled; or dictionaries that are specific to fields, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which defines psychological pathologies (e.g., the fact that homosexuality was defined as pathological in the DSM-I [1952] but not the DMS-II [1973] was a big deal).

but is almost always useful. though.• Have fun with this assignment. say. It’s not my business to tell you what to believe regarding a particular issue. it can be hard to see those with whom you disagree as anything other than benighted and/or malicious. and make sure they don’t weaken your argument. you’re not going to write a good argument. More guidance re: Option 1 Individual students’ papers may be quite different in terms of scale. If “phone” means something different in 2013 from what it meant in 1983.” what are they and why are they worth talking about?] Suggestions for choosing a term: • Don’t shy away from potentially (or inevitably) controversial terms. or fencing that is worth exploring? .” &c. Is there a term in. Be aware. If you feel very. or same-sex marriage. such as “marriage. you’re not writing a polemic. and in what circumstance? • Do different users of the term have different definitions? • Does the term mean different things in different contexts? • Has the definition of the term changed over time? Why? • Why does the definition of the term—and. very strongly about. “God.” Exploring the evolving meaning of “personal foul” in American football can make for a dandy paper. don’t be afraid to explore a term that doesn’t have broad societal or philosophical implications. • Be wary. though. You might. that the danger in writing about highly charged topics is that you might become highly charged yourself. say. but it is my job to help you construct an argument.g. or between contemporary and earlier definitions—matter? [E. depending on what term you choose. you absolutely don’t have to avoid controversial issues. ballet. Be careful. Here are some guiding questions: • What’s the etymology of the term? [This will be more important for some terms than others. and structure.” “Catholic.] • Who uses the term. robotics. It can be difficult. if different groups have different notions of what it means to be a “citizen. to give a fair hearing to the other side. of course. equestrianism. why does that matter? What does it say about our lives now? Or. Think about what interests you. For this paper. So. tackle some (much much) smaller element of them. if relevant.” “America.. • Don’t be afraid to “go small. though. • Likewise. but you should caution yourself to be aware of your own biases.” “militia. gun control.” “combat. but there’s no need for this to be bloodless and cold. Pursue what interests you. of choosing terms that are so big and/or amorphous that there’s no way you can tackle them meaningfully in a five-page paper. abortion. If you can’t give the other side a fair hearing. strategy. the difference between competing definitions.” “truth. when writing about an issue that evokes strong feelings in you.” “love”—it would be hard to write a coherent short essay about one of those.

the point of the essay wouldn’t be to offer a history of the company. click “Research support” > “Databases” > Search for “Oxford English Dictionary. [No paper could do nearly all this.” You might then look at how marriage law has changed over the course of American history. of course. how it was different based on social class. or even live vocals? Is the Presidential Inauguration diminished when the Marine Band and the featured singer are miming and lipsynching? Why? Is it fraudulent for pop stars to lip-synch in concert? Your challenge is to make your essay something other than an expression of personal preference. You might look at how marriage operated under slavery. • “Live. then offer competing definitions drawn from textbooks (or not). what key issues separate the notion of liberalism in the US and UK. and how the growth in public support for same-sex marriage is changing the definition. take these to be the only way to approach these terms. How did this happen? You might begin by exploring the etymology. For the OED. what about pitch-correcting devices like Auto-Tune? What about pre-recorded instrumental tracks.” with regard to music: The etymology might or might not be interesting. films and the era of Pixar. but there are lots of interesting questions you can ask: Is electrically amplified music less live than acoustic? If so. and also read the historical definitions and illustrative quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).” More on these later. and “Dictionary of the English Language. how it worked on the frontier in the 19th century. after “Databases” search for “ECCO” (Eighteenth-Century Collections Online). you might explore how marriage was conceived differently in Puritan New England than in the Mid-Atlantic and the South in the Colonial Period and Early Republic. Here are a couple of examples. as laws are one way a culture defines things. backing vocals. and explain when and how the definitions diverged. it often means the opposite.How it might work: • As I note above. of course. Both are accessible via the Stanford Libraries website. but rather to look at the emergence and meaning of “friend” on Facebook. .] • “Liberal”: The term means very different things in Great Britain and the US. *Or* you might do something completely different. you *might* look briefly at the history of Facebook. how it changed with the rise of feminism. and explain why it matters. What constitutes friendship on Facebook? What rules govern the “friend” function on the site? What does it mean for someone to have 500 “friends”? What does it mean to turn “friend” into a verb? How do these things represent a different conception of the term from the earlier. or you might not —in either case. In doing so. • “Organic” food: Have at it. [You shouldn’t. mind you—just modeling the way an argument might proceed. different terms—and the interests of individual writers—will result in different approaches. and to explore why it’s important.] You might look up definitions in Johnson’s Dictionary. why? If not. there might be very different papers addressing the same term. • “Friend”: You might explore how Facebook is changing our conception of this term.” For Johnson. You might do a five-page exploration of how technique has changed between the early Disney and Warner Bros. • “Arms”: Does the difference in what “arms” meant in 1787 as opposed to 2013 change the way we regard the Second Amendment to the US Constitution? [I’m not saying it does or doesn’t. In fact. does it matter? And if so. • “Animation”: Technology has changed this utterly. looking just at how the women’s. more standard one? In exploring this. and read the illustrative quotations there.] • “Marriage”: You might start by exploring the etymology of the word “marriage.and/or gayrights movements have changed the definition.