Introduction to American Studies 10: Culture Wars Professor Michael Cohen Instructions for Paper Assignments and Some Advice

on How to Write Good Papers.
Simple Instructions: Each student will write two five-page analytic papers, each based upon a document of your choosing. The document can be a work of fiction, a film, an essay, a photograph, an advertisement, a piece of sheet music, a recorded song, and work of journalism, any variety of art, and old family photograph, a piece of jewelry, etc. Your task is to describe and analyze this document as a work of cultural history, encompassing both a detailed, close reading of the object itself as well as a discussion of how it expresses the cultural context of its creation. The first paper must explore a text or object that was made before the end of World War II in August 1945; the second paper must consider a cultural text made after. Your two papers must analyze different kinds of texts. You must submit a copy of the document with your paper (except for larger and more widely available documents like novels or films). Please be careful to avoid confusion as to what your object is. For example, are you analyzing a sculpture that you’ve seen or a photograph of a statue? This difference is not unimportant. When constructing your paper, follow these basic steps: 1.Your Document. Choose wisely. Choose something that you find interesting, something unique, and something that you have something to say about. Do not pick something too famous, popular or obvious. Consider choosing several documents of various types (a photograph, a song, and a poem) and talk to the professor or GSI about your choices. 2. Research. Your first step in learning more about your document is to read it, watch it, look at it, or listen to it. Then, read it or watch it or look at it or listen to it again, and still again. Your next step in research should be to do some quick searching about the “who, what, where, and when” of your document. Gather up all the basic facts about it: names, dates, locations, materials, etc. From there, take what you have learned from class lectures and readings and begin to build a cultural context around your document (the Jim Crow south, World War I era, the Cold War, Postmodernism). Remember, this is NOT a research paper. The research component of your paper should provide no more than the first paragraph of your essay. So don’t spend too much time on this part. 3. Description. Then move to working up a description of your document. This description should be no more than a page in your final draft, so concision and precision in your choice of words are important. Choose descriptive words (adjectives) that are forceful, evocative and creative. Words like “interesting,” “cheesy,” “realistic,” “depressing,” “brilliant,” “boring,” or “cool” are completely devoid of descriptive content and you should avoid such vacant and informal emotionalisms like this in any analytic paper. If you are dealing with a narrative, strip it down to its basic structural elements and describe its style. If it is a piece of non-fiction, simplify and list its basic points while also describing its basic tone. If it is trafficking in stereotypes, name the stereotype. You need to learn to name explicitly what it is your document is doing; let nothing implied, assumed or implicit go unexamined and unstated. Wrestle with “the obvious” and render it legible. At this step, the handout “What to Ask of a Document” should be very useful. 4. Interpretation. A simple description is not a close reading, so once you have described your document, you need to think about what it means. In order to do this, you will need to build upon your description to consider questions of form, content and context. Separate the form from the content: consider what is represented (content) and how it is represented (form). Then bring them back together, and think about how form and content speak to one another. Consider things like audience expectations (context); areas of emphasis and silence; consider what are its implicit proscriptions in terms of race, class, gender and politics (ideology), and where this document can be situated in terms of the struggle for hegemony. For these questions the first week’s readings in cultural theory should prove a very helpful box of intellectual tools.

not from your research. Good luck! . Regardless of what you are arguing. Begin with an introduction that sets up the historical context and the “who. and take off at a full sprint to class and turn your paper in on time. and you need to choose your evidence carefully. stabs at humor. Be careful to avoid repeating yourself. your effort will be wasted. awkward phrasings. start each paragraph with topic sentences. 8. forceful and clear. and bad writing in general. Then take your draft back to your computer. After one last read through. Evidence. Therefore. so select a scene that demonstrates your reading most clearly. where and when” of your document. Your thesis should not take the form of an evaluation or judgment: you are not giving your document a thumbs up or thumbs down vote. good writing and good sentences usually gets good grades. simplistic denunciations or celebrations (“Birth of a Nation is a racist film”). staple it together. the entire text is going to be too much to work with. and ends with a solid. and read your paper . Five pages is not a lot of space to do what is asked of you. reasserts the historical context and reassemble these parts back into a coherent whole. Finish. repetitive points and sentences. 7. print it out. A basic 5 paragraph or step essay style could suit you well here. if your paper is sloppy and poorly written. Select three or four pieces of evidence—themes. Proofread. 10. Do not make false assumptions about your reader and avoid the use of irony. Follow this with three clearly organized paragraphs in which you present your evidence. the first line of every paragraph should clearly state what the paragraph is going to be about. Now you need to develop a thesis. 9. And end with a conclusion that recaps the argument. Late papers loose a full grade per day. Organize. so keep things formal and analytic. This should help you maintain your focus within each paragraph. papers that say the same thing over and over again get below average grades. elements. one sentence thesis statement which establishes your argument. I don’t care how brilliant your ideas are. Before your start writing. or aspects of the document—that advance your argument. make the necessary editorial changes to correct and improve the paper. Write. If you are writing on a film or a novel. and no paper will be accepted after the last day of class. sarcasm. personal asides and informal language – all of which are more than likely to backfire. write DRAFT at the top in a red pen. This is the best way to catch simple typos. I want to know what you think your document is doing. saying that something is sexist or racist (or not) is not a thesis in and of itself. Avoid vapid generalizations (“The 19th century was a time of great conflict”). Now. motifs. when you think you are done writing take the following steps: print out the document. On the same tip. collect up all your notes and start to write the paper. it may merely be a point of departure.out loud . Your evidence should be derived entirely from your interpretation and description of the document yourself. and unsubstantiated claims (“The author intends for us to believe ______”). and why. how it is doing it. Thesis. make yourself an outline of how the paper will be organized. enabling you to stage your argument one step at a time. Striking the proper tone is important in writing academic papers. colloquial terms. so make each sentence distinct.5. facilitate transitions from one paragraph to the next. Why is this document important? Why should we care? 6. and avoid repetitive sentences. what. Arguments require evidence. When writing. the succinct statement of your interpretive argument.