Literature 561

Winter 2008

Research Essay (45%)

You can recycle any of the work that you have generated through the homework assignments in the seminar paper itself; e.g. by expanding one of your responses into a more formal (and more organized) essay, by incorporating literary criticism or theory that you covered for outside research into your essay, or by using the discussion questions as a basis for further in-depth analysis and investigation. 

The research essay must offer a convincing and compelling interpretation of one of the literary texts that we have covered in the course.  You can approach that literary text by emphasizing an important theoretical issue (e.g. the inscription of the female body by colonial discourse), highlighting the relationship between the text and its cultural and/or historical context (e.g. how the slave trade or the marriage market inform Steele’s “Inkle and Yarico”), or analyzing the various aesthetic elements that together construct—or deconstruct—its structure and form (symbols, images, motifs, irony, setting, etc.). 

In short, you can take almost any critical approach to the literature that you wish, so long as that approach results in an interpretation of the literary text that is unique to yourself as well as grounded in and informed by previous scholarship. 

Required Sources:

Altogether, you will need some combination of each of the following to support your argument, with multiple examples of some of these sources depending on your particular approach:

  1. Two articles or book chapters of literary criticism directly focusing on the literary text that you are interpreting, each found in the MLA Bibliography (see the Databases link in the online Halle Catalogue and go to “M”);
  2. One theoretical work covered in class that primarily influences the direction of your argument and from which you discuss at least one key concept in depth (e.g. Edward Said’s “orientalism,” Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact zone,” William Warner’s “overwriting,” or Ruth Perry’s “colonization” of maternity);
  3. A second article or book chapter either by the same literary critic or by the same theorist, or a chapter-length work by the author of your literary text, that you use to ground your analysis of the concept and to reinforce your own argument;
  4. An article, book, or book chapter discussing some aspect of the cultural or historical context directly relating to the literary text, written by a scholar from outside the discipline of literature, and focusing on the material context of literature not on literature itself (search the Halle databases, especially JSTOR, checking only “history” and/or “sociology” as possible disciplines).

For your research proposal, you will need the five minimum sources listed above; however, for the research essay itself, you will need three additional sources from any of the four categories for a total of eight sources, not including the literary text itself.

The only sources that you can list on a Works Cited page are those that you actually quote, so make sure to engage directly with at least one passage from each of your sources rather than alluding to the arguments found within them indirectly or loosely.

Research Proposal (15%)

In the research proposal (4 pages minimum, due April 5 by 6PM), you will identify the literary text that you will be interpreting, the main theoretical concept that you will be using to approach the text, and the additional sources that you will be citing to support your claims.  All in all, the proposal must include the following:

  1. An introductory paragraph clarifying your focus, topic, its scope, and its significance;
  2. A clear, sentence-length articulation of your provisional thesis;
  3. An outline for your paper indicating the way in which you will organize the presentation of the argument (that is, identifying the focus of 3 to 4 subcomponents of the argument, or sub-arguments, and the order in which they will be discussed);
  4. A brief synopsis of the two articles of literary criticism and the historical or cultural source (concisely explain in 1 to 2 sentences at least one of the author’s findings or arguments that will help to support your argument, providing at least one quote by way of example);
  5. A paragraph-long survey of the main theoretical concept that you will use to inform your approach to the literary text, not only putting that concept into your own words and expressions to show how well you understand it, but also illustrating the connections between that concept and your literary text and illuminating the ways in which you will be adapting or even critiquing it for the purposes of your own argument;
  6. A second paragraph-long survey of a concept in the second work that you using from either the literary critic or theorist, explaining that concept and its relationship to your interpretation of the literary text as above.

The research proposal is meant to assist in writing the paper and in keeping your focus unified throughout.  It will certainly assist me in giving you the best feedback possible for in organizing, supporting, and conceptualizing the essay.   You can employ language from the research proposal within the research essay itself, albeit with the caveat that you must integrate those expressions smoothly and appropriately into the flow of the essay.

Research Presentation (15%)

On the last day of the term, April 23, you will give a conference-style presentation drawn from your seminar paper.  After the presentation, you will respond to questions from a respondent.  You will only have 14-15 minutes to present, which is equivalent to 6-7 pages of text (2 minutes per page is the golden rule).


Important Reminders:

¬   The papers must have the standard 12-point font and 1-inch margins. 

¬   They need to be 16-20 pages in length. 

¬   Put page numbers on your essay, preferably with your last name inside the top margin as required for MLA formatting.  

¬   Papers are due April 26 (12 PM).

Research and Formatting Guidelines for the Paper

See the Researching Literature handout ( for basic guidelines on research, as well as the handout on MLA documentation in the Electronic Reserves.  You must make at least a decent attempt to format the paper according to MLA conventions—not obsessively so but generally so.  For example, provide parenthetical citations at the end of sentences with the page number and author’s last name when necessary—(Marx 55)—and provide a Works Cited page that includes the sources which you have cited directly in the paper (and only those sources). You can model your citations on the hypothetical ones that follow, just make sure to alphabetize and double-space them:



Gillespie, Paula.  The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring.  Boston: Allyn Press, 2000.

Anthology or Collection:

Richter, David H., ed. Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2007.

Chapters from a Book or Collection:

Harris, Muriel.  “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.”  A Tutor's Guide: Helping Writers One to One.  Ed. Ben Rafoth.  New York: Heinemann, 2000.  24-34.


Duvall, John N.  “The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise.”  Arizona Quarterly 50.3 (1994): 127-53.

Journals Found through an Online Database:

Johnson, Kirk.  “The Mountain Lions of Michigan.”  Endangered Species Update 19.2 (2002): 27-45.  Expanded Academic Index.  Halle Lib., Ypsilanti, MI. 26 Nov. 2002.