Interpreting Early National Slavery

| November 26, 2014

Interpreting Early National Slavery

Interpreting Early National Slavery:
Using Primary Source Evidence to Make Your Own Argument

I.  The Assignment

Slavery is surely one of the most troubling aspects of American history.  How could such an institution exist and expand in the Early National United States, if the nation was founded on a serious commitment to liberty?  Explain how Henry Brown (Doc 40), Harriet Jacobs (Doc 33), Nat Turner (Doc 37), and Osborne P. Anderson (Doc 41) crafted their personal narratives to communicate their experiences as enslaved people in order to denounce slavery. Your carefully crafted three-page essay should be submitted in hardcopy after lecture on Friday of Week 12.

This assignment requires you to synthesize information from primary sources, secondary sources, as well as from lectures.  Your paper must build on at least one direct quote from three primary source Docs. In addition, the paper must include one direct quote from the Kolchin reading. All quotes must include an exact page citation so that a reader can easily locate your selection.  Carefully choose evidence that directly supports your argument.  I am most interested in your ideas about the evidence that you select.

Please keep in mind that quotations do not “explain themselves.”  You must guide the reader to understand what you think is significant about your evidence.  It is especially important to explain the perspective of the author of all the quotes that you use.  What do you think about his or her point of view?  What does it reveal to you?  Close textual analysis of sources is an essential component of effective historical writing.

A suggestion about organizing your paper:  Most papers should begin with an introductory paragraph and end with a concluding paragraph that announce and summarize your main argument about Early National slavery without using direct quotes.  The internal body of the paper is the best place to present and interpret the evidence that you select.  In general, using just a handful of short direct quotes that you carefully analyze and explain in relationship with one another is the best strategy.

Your own opinion and historical imagination are crucial to an effective paper.  The paper will be assessed in terms of how convincingly you use your specific primary source evidence, the accuracy and insight with which you are able to use primary sources to deepen your own arguments, and your ability to craft a persuasive original argument that is clearly connected to the evidence that you present.

II. Writing Checklist—Consider these points carefully when proofreading.

1)  Does my paper have an effective title that gets to the heart of what matters?

2)  Does my paper start with an introduction that gives the reader a useful overview of what will follow?

3)  Do I state my argument clearly in the first paragraph?  An argument explores an issue that can be debated on more than one side—it is not a true-false fact.  The goal of this paper is to persuade the reader that your interpretation is both insightful and accurate.

4) Although this is not a firm rule, in most cases the first and final paragraphs of your paper should not include direct quotes, save these details for the body of your essay.  The opening and closing paragraphs can often be most helpful to a reader by explaining the issues and themes of the paper at the broad level of overall significance.

5)  Are my quotations short, clear, and effective?  Have I explained why I think each quote is crucial?  Do my citations allow the reader to find my evidence easily?

6) For reading assigned in class you only need to cite the author’s name and the page number of the quote.  If you draw on a source outside of our assigned reading, you are expected to give a complete bibliographic citation.  You must cite all the sources that you rely upon in crafting your own original essay.

7)  Does my evidence support my argument?  How can I improve my argument based on new insights gained while writing?

8)  Is my paper organized in the most effective manner?  Do I make clear transitions from one point to the next that support my overall argument?

9)  Are my paragraphs each organized around one major idea?  Do I have paragraphs that expanded while writing that now should be revised into two (or more) independent paragraphs?

10)  Does my final paragraph draw things together in a conclusion?  Will the reader be convinced by my argument?

III.  Technical Points

1) Use the past tense in a History paper.

2) Never use the first person (e.g., “I”, “me”, “my”).  You are expected to adopt an authoritative tone in this paper.  Do not say “in my opinion.”

3) Avoid colloquial language (i.e., slang) and contractions (e.g., “don’t” can’t”) in formal writing.

4) Underline (or italicize) all book titles, use quotation marks for the titles of documents, book chapters, or articles.

5) Avoid passive construction and the verb “to be” (e.g., is, was, were); they lack descriptive power.  When revising your rough draft look out for repeated use of the verb “to be.”

6) Always have a title that hints at a larger point made in your paper.

7) Using the words or ideas of another without proper citation of your source is a direct violation of the university’s honor code and can have serious consequences including a failing grade in this course.  For more information about academic integrity visit the link below.


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