Essay #3 report

The grade distribution for this assignment was a noticeable improvement overall: roughly equal numbers of every grade from F to C+, and a few more B-level grades. It wasn’t good for everyone, of course, but the median was at the bottom of the C range instead of borderline C-/D! Lots more people taking the textbook as a second source, using historical context more carefully, and a lot more people addressing a specific question, instead of doing a summary.

Some thoughts on improvements yet to come:

  • The comment I’m writing most frequently is some variation on “good start, but you need more evidence and more thought before you’re done.” In other words, you seem to be getting the idea of the assignment down, but you need to go well beyond the minimum word count for it to be an effective essay.
  • The grammatical problem I’m seeing most frequently (and I don’t grade on these, but it is coming up a lot) is the their/there/they’re problem.
    • “There” is a place, and goes with “here and there.”
    • “Their” is a possessive plural, “his, hers, theirs”; or you can think of it as the possessive form of “them”, just as “his” is the possessive of “he” and “hers” is the possessive of “her.”
    • And “they’re” is the contraction of “they are”

I will include the best essay of the batch below the jump as soon as I get home and scan it in, so look for an update sometime tonight. It’s an interesting paper: very short, actually, but extremely effective; more importantly, the author takes a very specific position on the document and the history it represents, and draws on a solid body of evidence to prove the elements of that position. My most obvious criticism of it was that the thesis isn’t as strongly or clearly stated as it deserves, but it’s definitely there and the argument is strongly focused on proving it. It could also have been longer, more detailed and thoughtful, but it’s very good as it is, and very nicely demonstrates how you can use a document without summarizing or quoting from it extensively. (Of course, quotation and summary have their place, depending on what case you’re trying to make!)


The 17th century was a time of expansion in the Japanese empire, as well as a time of developing their culture with the avoidance of western influence. During this time the government was very controlling in almost all aspects of people’s lives. Japan had had a dualistic government for centuries, where there was a shogun sharing leadership with the emperor. The shogun typically had a strong authoritarian military rule over the country. “The Laws for the Military House,” from 1615, give an example for the type of rule that was held. These laws show incredible restrictions and forced separation between the social classes.

The “Laws for the Barons (5th August, 1635)” focus on the Daimyos and Shomyos. The Daimyos are the greater barons, and because of this they are controlled stronger, with more laws directed specifically for them. However the lesser barons, known as the Shomyos, have no laws directed specifically to them.

These laws show separation by income of the social classes in other ways several times, often seeming to disregard those with an income of less then 10,000 koku (about 417 bushels of rice). These laws show many restrictions upon the barons that seem to limit their individual power. Some examples of this include limitations on the number of horsemen that may accompany them, forbidding building castles and scheming innovations. Basically the government trying to assure no uprising would happen from those people that would have the money to fund such a thing.

The laws even control such details as the differing clothing based on ranks, each rank having different restrictions put on them. The lower ranks (retainers, henchmen, and man-at-arm) are not even allowed to wear silks and ornamental clothing. These rules have forced a greater social divide between the classes.

Though class systems were very prominent throughout many parts of the world during this time period, we can see in this case that the laws were forcing it to become even stronger. These laws took some power from the barons to give it to the central government, but with the same set of laws the barons received more power over the rest of the population. Although the laws were certainly not the only reason for the class divide, they did have a significantly large effect on the different treatment received by each rank of the Japanese population.