Literature 563

Fall 2008

Research Essay (45% of total grade)

The primary goal of the research essay is to offer a convincing, compelling, and innovative interpretation of one of the literary texts that we have covered in the course.  You can approach that text by emphasizing an important theoretical issue (e.g. the inscription of the female body by colonial discourse in The History of Mary Prince), by highlighting the relationship between the text and its cultural or historical context (e.g. how the slave trade or marriage market informs “Inkle and Yarico”), or by analyzing the various aesthetic qualities that construct—or deconstruct—its structure and form (symbols, images, motifs, irony, personification, generic conventions, etc.). 

In short, you can take almost any literary critical approach to the fiction that you find most helpful or appealing, from the most formalist to the most historicist, so long as that approach results in an interpretation of the literary text that is both unique to yourself and informed by previous scholarship. 

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

Required Sources:

Altogether, you need to engage with—and directly quoteeight sources from each of the following categories to support your argument, with multiple examples of some of these sources as warranted by your particular approach:

·        One article or book chapter of literary criticism directly focusing on the literary text that you are interpreting found in the MLA Bibliography (if the link doesn’t work, see the Databases in the Halle Catalogue and go to “M”);

·        One theoretical work covered in class (optional or otherwise) that principally influences the direction of your argument (if only by way of contrast) and from which you will engage with least two key concepts in depth (e.g. Edward Said’s “orientalism,” Mary Louise Pratt’s “contact zone,” William Warner’s “overwriting,” Fabian’s “denial of coevalness,” or Ella Shohat’s “tropes”);

·        A second article or book chapter by the same theorist, by a scholar directly responding to that theorist, or by a scholar taking one of the key concepts in a new direction, such as a chapter from Said’s Orientalism together with his Culture and Imperialism, Lisa Lowe’s Critical Terrains, or Nancy Armstrong’s “Occidental Alice.(The second book critiques and redeploys Orientalism, while the third expands it to foreground the interrelation of orientalism and occidentalism, not just orientalism alone).  If you are unsure which source to use for this requirement, I will give you plenty of feedback on your research proposal before the paper itself is due;

·        One primary text, such as another work by the author of your literary text, another work directly influencing or influenced by that text (e.g. an adaptation or parody), or some other cultural document written during the long eighteenth century and pertinent in some fashion to your topic (e.g. conduct manuals, philosophical treatises, political pamphlets, contemporary literary criticism, accounts of historical events, the author’s correspondence).  See the cultural documents in the Broadview edition of The Simple Story for inspiration in selecting these sources, but find the materials on your own, perhaps by paying attention to the primary sources that other literary critics use in their examinations of the literary text or by reviewing the contextual sources covered in class;

·        One article, book, or book chapter discussing some aspect of the cultural or historical context relating to your argument, written by a scholar outside the discipline of literature (a historian, anthropologist, sociologist, political scientist, linguist, etc), and focusing on the socio-political context of your literary text, not on literature or the text itself (search Halle databases, especially JSTOR, checking only “history,” “sociology,” or other non-literary disciplines in the “Advanced Search” options to limit the results).

For your research proposal, you need to gather and read FIVE sources from four of the categories above, excluding any one category of your choice so long as you include two sources from another category.  For the research paper, you need at least three additional sources for a minimum of EIGHT sources altogether (not including the literary text) with at least one source counting towards each of the five categories.

Only sources that you actually quote in the paper count towards the minimum source requirements (these alone are listed on the Works Cited page, as befits its name), so make sure to engage directly with at least one passage from each rather than alluding indirectly to the ideas found within them.

Individual Conference and Research Proposal (10%):

You will have plenty of feedback for your essay before it is due: first from the comments on your research proposal and then during the conference, when we will converse one-on-one about the status of your project.  Conferences will be held on December 8 in lieu of the regularly scheduled class, ten days before the paper is due.  In the research proposal, you will identify the approach which you plan to take to your literary text, the main topic on which you will be focusing, and five of the eight sources which you will be using to support your claims.  The proposal is less a formal written assignment than a way to guide your research and the overall conceptualization of your paper—keeping your focus clear, consistent, and manageable throughout.  The proposal likewise assists in getting useful feedback for your paper well in advance of the actual due date, so the more that you prepare for the essay in advance by working on the steps below, the better you will do in the paper itself.  As with the homework assignments, you can reuse portions of the proposal in the essay, so long as you integrate that material smoothly and appropriately into the flow of the essay.  All in all, the proposal will include the following:

1.      A paragraph clarifying your topic, its scope, and its significance in the world in general and in the specific literary text that you will be examining (if you like, you can write this item as if an introductory paragraph to be used in the actual essay);

2.      A clear, sentence-length articulation of your provisional thesis or, in other words, your main argument about the topic (all good theses are subject to revision as you consider the issues in more depth, so express this argument in a nutshell as best you can based on your current knowledge without fretting about wedding yourself to that particular position forever);

3.      An brief outline that indicates the way in which you will organize the essay by identifying in complete sentences the focus and main arguments of at least 3 to 4 sections of the essay and the order which you will discuss them;

4.      A paragraph-long account of how you will use the two concepts of your main theorist, including a) a survey of how you understand these concepts in your own words, b) clarification of how these concepts relate to your literary text and inform your argument about the text and topic, and c) a discussion of how these concepts might be remodeled for your own purposes, whether simply in applying them to the new context or by outright critiquing them in some fashion;

5.      A paragraph-long account of how you will use the arguments or findings from one of the literary critical source(s), including the same three items above (#4a-c);

6.      A synopsis of two of the three remaining minimum sources (the other literary criticism or theory, the primary text, or the socio-historical scholarship), concisely explaining in 1 to 2 sentences the main concepts, arguments, or findings from these sources that you will use for clarification or support (or simply to exemplify a position with which you take issue);

7.      A list (or, if you prefer, a synopsis) of the remaining source(s) that you are considering using, including the final required source for the proposal.  Also indicate which additional sources, if any, you plan to use, which you are still in search of, or which you would like to have recommended to you;

8.      Note down at least one concern that you have about the research paper, especially any confusions that you have about the theory, the historical context, the sources, or the requirements or any questions that you have about the potential (perhaps conflicting) directions which your paper may take;

9.      Append a Works Cited page listing all five of the required sources, as well as any additional sources mentioned in the proposal.

Formatting the Proposal and Seminar Paper

See the Researching Literature handout ( for basic guidelines on research, as well as the MLA handout in the Electronic Reserves.  You must make a decent attempt to format the paper according to MLA conventions—not obsessively so but generally so.  For example, when you quote, provide parenthetical citations at the end of sentences with the page number and author’s last name, e.g. (Marx 55).  You will also need to provide a Works Cited page that specifies the sources that you quote (and only those sources). You can model your citations on the hypothetical ones that follow, just make sure to remove the headings, alphabetize the citations, and retain the same 12-pt. font and double spacing as the rest of the essay:


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

Chapters from an Anthology 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.

Freud, Sigmund.  “Medusa’s Head.”  Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends Ed. David Richter.  Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 20071109-11.

Websites such as the Electronic Reserves:

Felluga, Dino.  Undergraduate Guide to Literary Theory.  17 Dec. 1999.  Purdue University. 15 Nov. 2000 <>. 

McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather.  Electronic Reserves.  12 Oct. 2008. <>.


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.  <>.


Research Presentation (5%)

On the last day of the term, December 15, you will give a conference-style presentation drawn from your research paper.  You will have only 10-12 minutes to present, which is equivalent to 5-6 pages of text (2 minutes per page is the golden rule).  After the presentation, you will have additional time to answer the questions of at least one respondent.

Academic Integrity

Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty is imperative.  Copying the writing of peers, taking credit for works found on the internet, or recycling your own essays for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.  Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.

Plagiarism, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  It does not matter whether you are drawing on Wikipedia for mundane information or channeling the most holy of books for heavenly inspiration, you must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts or expressions of other people under any circumstances.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to state as such (So and so says X ... ); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (So and so says, “X”).  Writing that lacks such acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.

Important Specifications for the Proposal and Paper:

¬    Use 12-point font, either Times or Times New Roman

¬    Use the standard 1-inch margins, not 1¼- or 1½-inch margins default for some word processing programs, which greatly distort the length

¬    Make the proposal at least 4 pages (and more if you like), not including the Works Cited page

¬    Make the paper between 16 and 20 pages in length, not including the Works Cited page

¬    Insert page numbers within the 1-inch header of each page, if only by hand  

¬    Email the proposal as a properly formatted MS Word attachment by November 25 at 9:15 PM

¬    Email the essay as a properly formatted MS Word attachment by December 18 at 12:00 PM