World History Article Reviews
Jonathan Dresner (Spring 2010)
The purpose of a review is a critical reading and analysis which reveals the strengths, weaknesses, usefulness and quality of your subject. Assume your reader is a college student, like yourself, intelligent but with little background in history. The review should give the reader a clear sense of the potential knowledge or enjoyment to be gained. You should always strive for balance, clarity and vigor in your writing. Remember that this is not a simple book report: be both critical and appreciative, but come to your own conclusions. Like a good article, your review should have a thesis and a supporting argument. If you want examples, look at journals in history, or your own field, or even newspaper book and movie reviews.
This is a chance to study what interests you. History includes economics, religion, culture, warfare, politics, science, music, cinema, literature, etc. There are a few limits on your choice, however. The biggest is that the article must be from a scholarly journal or published in an edited scholarly collection. Your best bet for finding something is through the Axe Library: either the physical stacks or the online journal databases.
- Assignments are due in class, in hard copy, unless I specifically request email.
- Only the Complete Review will be given a letter grade, but timely completion of the other assignments will be a factor in the final grade.
- Lateness will be penalized. Serious illness or equivalent excuses will be accepted only in advance (i.e., call or e-mail before class), with documentation; other classes’ assignments, sporting events and recreational travel do not constitute acceptable excuses for lateness.
- Grammar and spelling count: lapses distract the reader from the impact of your argument.
- I know the individual assignments add up to 2500 words, and the complete review is limited to 2000. These are maximums, not targets. In any event, the complete review should be more than just a cut-and-paste of the previous assignments: it should be an essay in its own right, with a thesis, an argument, evidence, all the same things you’re looking for in the article.
|Article Choice||Bibliographic information, by email||2/3 (W)||3/29(M)|
|Summary and Historical Context||500-1000 words||2/10 (W)||4/2 (F)|
|Thesis, Argument and Evidence||500-1000||2/17 (W)||4/9 (F)|
|Criticisms and Recommendation||200-500||2/24 (W)||4/16 (F)|
|Complete Review||1000-2000||3/8 (M)||4/26 (M)|
Your grade will be based on the quality, clarity, completeness and effectiveness of your writing. Most important is the quality of your review: is your analysis of the article thorough, balanced and convincing? Is your analysis presented with sufficient evidence, and with an appropriate structure? Is it pasted together assignments, or is it a coherent essay? Can your reader learn from your review what is in an article and whether it would be worth reading for their purposes?
Article Choice (Due 2/3, 4/1): The article must be from a scholarly journal — not news magazine or newspaper — and include significant historical content. The choice of topic, region, subfield, etc. is up to you, though. If you have a question about whether an article is appropriate, or have trouble finding an article on a topic of interest, let me know. You must email me a full bibliographic citation to the article: author, title, journal title, journal volume/number, date, pages. If you haven’t consulted me on the selection of the article, I reserve the right to reject inappropriate choices, or to suggest alternatives.
“After the collection of facts, the search for causes.” — Hippolyte Taine
Summary and Historical Context (Due 2/10, 4/5): Summary is just what it sounds like: a short description of the article’s subject and main points. This is not the review: your reactions and opinions, etc., should be saved for later. The historical context is about putting the article in perspective: the article itself should discuss the specific historical moment — dates, place, issues — but you also need to do a little reading (through the textbook, or an encyclopedia) on the broader context, so that you have a clear idea of what else is going on at the time, why it matters.
“History does not repeat itself. The historians repeat one another.” — Max Beerbohm
Thesis, Argument and Evidence (2/17, 4/9): It’s important to remember that all history is written as part of an argument, with the intent to prove something and to change readers’ minds. Either it is arguing against historical interpretations of other scholars, or adding new information which other scholars have not (or at least not adequately) considered. Sometimes the author will be up front about who and what they’re arguing with; sometimes it will only be clear from reading other versions of the same subject such as your textbook.
The Thesis statement should be a sentence or short paragraph clearly stating the author’s purpose in writing the article, what they hope to prove by presenting their evidence and argument. Sometimes that thesis will be explicitly laid out by the author in a form you can quote; sometimes it is more work for you to figure it out, from the title, conclusion or by comparison with the textbook version of the same topic. This is quite important: if you don’t know what the author is trying to prove, you can’t evaluate the effectiveness of the argument they make or the necessity and quality of the evidence they present.
The argument and evidence question is about the logic of the article: what steps are necessary to prove the article’s thesis? Does the argument really answer the question set out by the author? What kind of evidence is the author using and why? Is the evidence convincing? Are there unanswered questions, and are they caused by insufficient evidence, or logical gaps?
“History is always written wrong, and so always needs to be rewritten.” — George Santayana
Criticisms and Recommendations (2/24, 4/16): One of the last components of the book review is the criticisms: what’s wrong with your book? Are there sections that are unclear, or topics that should have been covered, or important questions that go unanswered, or below-average writing, or excessive detail, or unhelpful diagrams, or … You get the idea. The tricky bit is that this isn’t just a matter of opinion: you need to be able to back it up. WHY is this a problem? What could the author have done to make it better?
Finally, all reviews have one fundamental purpose: to make a recommendation. It’s not enough to give a summary or context, or even a discussion of the author, or your opinion of the work: you need to make a clear statement (this is your thesis, in case you were wondering) of what audience, and with what interests, would benefit from reading it, and the rest of the review needs to be evidence towards that thesis. The recommendation section you hand in as part of the short assignment doesn’t have to be that elaborate: just a basic description of the reading level, the intended audience, the topics a reader should be interested in (aside from the obvious), as well as what sort of readers should, depending on their interests and abilities, avoid this article despite some obvious reason to consider it worthwhile.
“History is not melodrama, even if it usually reads like that.” — Robert Penn Warren
Full Review (3/5, 4/23): Taking the assignments you’ve written and pasting them together does not constitute writing a review essay, and no matter how good your ideas and readings are, a review written this way will do very poorly, gradewise. The final review should be an essay which explains to your reader the historical (and entertainment) value of the article you read. It should have a thesis, an argument, purposeful paragraphs and carefully chosen and presented evidence, and it should have a clear conclusion. It shouldn’t be more than 1/3rd summary — your description of the article should be directed towards answering the question about it’s usefulness — but there should be enough so that the reader has a good idea what the article is about and how it presents its argument. The word counts for the individual assignments is greater, in total, than the word count for the final assignment: as I said, the final essay should not be the assignments pasted together, but an integrated and fluid argument of its own.
“History, to be above evasion or dispute, must stand on documents, not on opinions.” — Lord Acton
A note on citations:
As you try to summarize and discuss your article, be careful of how you use it and any related sources you may find. Obviously, using the actual words of a source — textbook, internet or otherwise — without quotation marks or other acknowledgement is clearly and blatantly plagiarism. Weak paraphrasing can constitute plagiarism: if you don’t thoroughly alter the language of your source, it is a form of intellectual theft. Even something fully paraphrased in your own words can be considered plagiarism if you don’t acknowledge your source(s) — this is what footnotes, endnotes and parenthetical citations with works cited pages are for.
I don’t insist that you all use the Chicago Manual of Style footnote method for history papers (though it’s a good thing to learn, especially if you’re considering a history major), but if you quote something, then I expect to see a citation including a page number. It can be in parentheses, footnote or endnote, but a quotation without a specific source, including a page number, is a grave error. There should be a full bibliographic entry for everything you cite, as well: it can be in a separate “works cited” list at the end, or in notes — often the first citation of a work is a full one, followed by abbreviated notes after — but I must be able to find what you’ve used as sources and verify that you’ve used them correctly.
“History itself touches only a small part of a nation’s life.
Most of the activities and sufferings of the people …
have been and will remain without written record.”
— E. L. Woodword