LITR 4231 Early American Literature

Research Assignment: 2 Research Posts

(due 19-26 March and 9-16 April)

Models of LITR 4231 Research Posts 2012; Models 2010

Research Posts (2 installments + review in final exam)

  • 1st Research Post due 19-26 March
  • 2nd Research Post  due 9-20 April

ssignment: Write and submit two “adventures / experiments in research.”

Essential information: Research posts are not essays of literary criticism but reports on your research findings on literary criticism or history concerning early American literature and culture.

Sources: At least 4 sources.

Length: 4 paragraphs (though you may add 1-2 more paragraphs if the alternative is "monster paragraphs")

Works Cited / Bibliography? As the models demonstrate, some research posts feature a Works Cited at the end; others provide documentation as they cite in the text; and others do some combination.

Assignment details

  • These exercises must be relevant to our subject matter of American Renaissance literature, culture, and history but should also reflect your personal and professional interests.

  • Posts are reports, not essays. They should be interesting and readable, but NOT analyses of literary texts. Instead, they report and explain your research and findings on a topic of interest. (For instance, you can report on literary criticism you found that analyzes selected texts, but you're reporting on those sources' analysis, not yours—though you may react to or apply what you learn from these sources.)

  • Relate your research to Literature if possible, but content options include history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, women's studies, multicultural studies, other arts including music and visual arts, etc.

  • Your topic may develop from a course text or author, a term or theory in the course objectives, a web review or student-led discussion, or relevant material from other courses, personal reading, or experience, as long as it relates to our course's subject matter.

  • Your second post may continue the same content as your first post, so that your two posts relate to, build on, or vary each other—or they may be distinct subjects.

  • The only absolute stipulation for content is that the subject must have something to do with early American literature, culture, and / or history.
  • Most typical mistake: Students want to write a personal analysis of texts we're studying or might study because that's the kind of writing they're familiar with in a Literature course. That approach is an essay, not a report.

  • Some primary research may be involved, and you may involve your own conclusions and insights, but this report mostly summarizes secondary and background research. (See primary, background, & secondary research.)

  • In brief, Research Posts emphasize gathering and explaining information or knowledge, not reading and interpreting poems or fiction—though your research may apply to poems or fiction.

Length: 4-7 paragraphs, plus or minus bibliographic information

Bibliographic requirements and information: At least 4 sources, at least some of which should be from reputable scholarship and not just stray internet postings. MLA style is expected. Information may be included in text or more completely in listings at end of post.

Published scholarship has the most prestige and professionalism, but for some subjects consider interviews with experts or practitioners. For instance, some teaching issues may offer little research, so interview someone who may have more knowledge, like a former teacher or professor.

Posting to webpage: Email contents to instructor at Instructor will post to webpage and email notification of posting with a brief reaction. This may be all the feedback the student will receive until final grade report, though students may always confer with instructor to review. (See “grading” below.)

Organization, Content, etc.:

Provide a title for your entry to serve as a link. The title should indicate your post's content. The title may take the form of a question.

1st paragraph: Introduce and frame a question you want to answer or a topic you want to know more about.

  • Explain the background or source of your interest; how you were familiar with or already knew on the subject, how or where you learned it or were alerted to it, etc.
  • These backgrounds can be personal as well as educational or professional.
  • At some point in this introductory paragraph, a statement of the question you’re trying to answer should appear.

2nd and 3rd paragraphs: Describe your search for answers to your question or topic.

  • Identify, locate, describe, and evaluate at least two sources.
  • Your sources may be print, Web, or personal (interview, lecture, conversation, or anecdote).
  • If Web, provide links.
  • If print, provide bibliographic information. (MLA style is preferred, but the main point of all documentation is to enable your reader to find the source.)
  • If “personal,” provide as much contextual information as possible; welcome to protect privacy.

4th paragraph: What is the answer to your question?

  • Your “answer” may take a variety of forms, as long as you demonstrate learning.
  • You may find a definite answer to your specific question.
  • Or you may learn that you’ve asked the wrong question, in which case you could conclude by revising your question.
  • Summarize and evaluate what you have learned.
  • Consider what your next step might be if you continued your research along this line.

These paragraph descriptions are only guidelines, not absolute rules.

You may write more than 4 paragraphs, but more than 6 or 7 paragraphs may push the assignment too far.

Grading schedule: Grades for research posts are not returned until the Final Grade Report

Instead of a grade and extended review for your first post, on receipt of your submission instructor sends a brief email summarizing overall impression of your submission + suggestions for next moves.

Your two research posts together receive a single grade, which appears in your Final Grade Report because your final exam will reference one or both of your Research Posts.

This description may sound tricky, and some students like their grade outcomes better than others, but in several semesters of such assignments I've had no direct complaints—only questions, which you're welcome to ask. Overall students appear to find research posts less disruptive than full-fledged term papers.

Grading standards: Research Post grades are based on readability, interest, quality of research, and learning.

  • Readability: quality of reading and writing constitute excellence and competence in Literature courses—not just covering course materials but organizing extended analyses into compelling reading experiences. Competence in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and clarity are taken for granted. Given time pressures, occasional careless errors won't break your grade, but chronic errors must be factored. Thematic unity, continuity, and transitions are essential.
  • Interest: Not whether the instructor would have chosen the topic, but how well the report generates and sustains interest. A personal angle is welcome for starters, but expand to wider appeal. Reinforce why your research matters.
  • Quality of research: Use what you've learned about academic research. Consult with Neumann Library's reference librarians. Take some chances—interview, review a relevant film, magazine, institutional, or commercial site. Scholars in Literature and Humanities combine work and pleasure—honoring what they must do but redeeming what they want to do.
  • Learning: The most consistently redeeming quality in all research is the sense that the author (and at least potentially the audience) has learned something valuable. Emphasize what you wanted to know and why + how your research advanced or changed your knowledge and understanding.

Topic selection:

Your topic may narrow or otherwise transform as you research—OK. Review the change in your post.

Often a student will start a subject that proves too big for the assignment—consider doing it in two parts, or follow where your research leads you and report on your best material.

Possible topics

An author or set of texts associated with Early American Literature

A defining historical event or movement relevant to early American literature or cultural development

Other artistic, literary, or cultural movements associated with early America

Secondary critical research concerning a work, author, or issue related to our subject. (You would find several critical articles or books relevant to your interest, then summarize what you gained or learned from reviewing them.)

Past student work for the course, or theses concerning colonial or postcolonial texts:

Forbidden topic

Edgar Allan Poe—he's after this course.

Topic (Salem witch trials) must contain proviso:

Every semester several students want to research the Salem Witch Trials. No problem except that, no matter how many times our course materials reinforce that there was no witchcraft involved, but only mass hysteria, some students continue to write as though witchcraft and satanism really happened, or that some great mystery remains, when the only definite fact is that 19 innocent people were murdered by the courts of Salem.

Therefore, if you choose to write a research post on the witch trials of Salem, or if you write extensively about this subject in an exam, you must either preface such materials with the following qualifying statement (to appear before the text of your report or essay), or else include similar qualifying statements in your own text:

The reason the Salem Witch Trials should be interesting to later Americans is not because there were evil witches at Salem but because there weren't, yet for a number of reasons—social change, insecurity, childish pranks, adult encouragement, "moral hysteria"—normal people including responsible authorities talked each other into believing that witches were causing the community's problems, resulting in the execution of 19 innocent citizens and the imprisonment, corruption, and misery of many others despite the absence of any evidence that should be legally admissible in a modern court. 

If anyone was evil or wrong, they were not the people who were accused of being witches but those who accused them of being witches, or people who succumbed to social pressure and cooperated with such persecutions. In these regards, the occurrences at Salem in 1692-3 more closely resemble the Day-care Sex-Abuse Hysteria of the 1980s and other moral hysterias here and there throughout human history.

If you have a special reason for asserting that witchcraft and satanism did in fact occur at Salem, such as your own personal practice of witchcraft or satanism, you may do what you can with such material, but respect the historical facts over what you see in movies or on TV.

Response to Research Proposal

  • When email submitting your midterm is received, instructor will directly read your proposal and offer a response.
  • Student does not receive an announced letter grade for the proposal, only a “yes” or instructions for receiving a yes, plus . Students don't lose credit for problems reaching a topic as long as they are working on it.
  • The only way to get in trouble over proposal is if you simply don’t offer much to work with, especially after prompts from instructor. A bad proposal is one sentence starting, “I’m thinking about . . . ” and ending “ . . . something to do with immigration and gender.” Then, “What do you think?” In these cases, a bad grade isn’t recorded, but notes regarding the paper proposal may appear on the Final Grade Report.
  • In other words, a few students obviously don't think about this topic until the last minute when the midterm is due. Instructor can't act like that's cool.