There are two graded assignments: participation in discussion, and the term paper.
To get a passing grade, you must post a minimum of three messages a week. The week extends from Monday morning to Sunday midnight.
Discussion is semester-long, with the exception of Spring Break. This means I expect you to be posting messages from the very first week of class through the very last week.
There is no way to make up for missed weeks. The discussion is an ongoing process and you cannot go back in time. If you were to come an hour late to a party, you would not make up for it by talking twice as much as everyone else; more or less the same logic applies here.
The minimum is a minimum. Post fewer than three messages a week and I won't even bother to grade—it's a D or an F. If you clear the minimum, then I start evaluating the quality of the messages. For details on how I grade discussion, consult the Study Guide.
The discussion is the heart of the class, so I insist on the parameters laid out here and in the Study Guide. Good discussion makes this a good class.
Discussion is the "classroom" work; the term paper is your "home" work. This is your opportunity to engage in historical research and writing—the actual practice of history. Several sections of the Study Guide are relevant to writing a successful term paper.
I have broken the term paper into separately-graded steps. This will help you focus your work and will help you avoid investing weeks of work in writing something that's completely off base.
- Topic and Bibliography
- Thesis Statement and Synopsis
- Term Paper
- Term Paper Revision
Topic and Bibliography
The first step is to choose a topic. You are free to choose your own topic, but it has to be approved by me. I realize that it can be difficult to choose a topic when you don't know much about the general subject, so I have provided a list of possible topics. This list is not exhaustive but only indicative. Note that, at the end, I provide some topics that would not be acceptable, along with some reasons why. This may also help you with your own choosing.
Your topic must fall within the parameters of the course. This means it cannot begin prior to 1300 nor go beyond 1500. The topic must be located geographically within Europe. I'm willing to bend ever so slightly, but you have to make the case.
You also need to find out whether you can find enough books and articles to support the topic. Requiring the two together lets me see that you have not only thought about the paper, but have done the library work necessary to see that the paper is possible.
Your list must have a minimum of five works. At least one of these must be taken from a scholarly journal, and at least one must be a monograph (scholarly book). The remainder can be either. You are welcome to use non-scholarly works (which means pretty much everything on the Internet), but they will not be counted as part of the requirements.
The format of the bibliography is not important and I will accept any style, so long as you follow it consistently. I do ask that you provide footnotes or endnotes rather than in-line notes.
I will evaluate your first step and will give you feedback within three days. If I advise that you need to change your topic, you will have a week to come back with a new one. Grading on this step is simply a check-off; you either have your topic and bibliography or you don't.
Thesis Statement and Synopsis
The second assignment has you turn your topic into a thesis. This means you move from having something you intend to write about, to having a specific position that you are going to defend. Having a topic is like being a lawyer. Having a thesis is that lawyer saying this defendant is innocent and here are the reasons why.
So, for example, you might say that your topic is going to be the great famine of 1314-1315. That's a topic, but it's not a thesis. A thesis might be that the great famine was the most important factor in the economic recession of the 14th century. That is a proposition that can be defended (or attacked).
Your thesis statement should be one sentence and it should answer a question. A thesis statement is not merely a statement of intent. While a good thesis statement doesn't guarantee a good paper, a poor thesis statement guarantees a poor paper.
In the synopsis you lay out in broad form the shape of the paper you are going to write. It's the evidence that the attorney lays before the jury to back up her claim that the defendant is innocent. It's not enough merely to assert; she has to prove. That proof is not a narrative and it's not a jumble of ideas, and it's not a shopping list of everything the attorney could possibly find. Instead, it's an orderly and persuasive presentation of key points. Often, it's three or four really big points, supported by lesser points. A good attorney will also be aware of the weaknesses of her case, and will address these one by one, showing why each one can be disregarded or is wrong.
Your synopsis should follow that model. It does not need to be detailed, but the points you list should bear some clear relationship to your thesis statement.
This assignment, thesis and synopsis together, should be able to fit on one page (250-300 words), though it can run longer if necessary. This assignment will receive a letter grade.
The next step is to turn what you have into an essay. If, for example, you have five main points, then you are going to have at least seven paragraphs: an introduction, one paragraph for each point, and a conclusion. In reality, of course, you will have several sub-points for each main point, so each main point will make up a whole section of your paper, several paragraphs each.
Note that this is your term paper. It is not a draft. This should represent your best work, carefully edited for spelling and grammar, proofread for mistakes in structure and logic, and read aloud at least once to check for clarity and persuasiveness (again, consult the Study Guide). You will never have a better chance than now to do your best,and I will grade it as such.
Term Paper Revision
The most important learning comes from re-writing.Detailed comments from your teacher are rather wasted when you can't do anything about them. This assignment gives you the chance to take my critiques and suggestions and do your best to improve your paper: to correct errors, to sharpen your argument, to make your writing more persuasive. I take considerable time in writing comments on your essay; in the revision I expect to see those comments addressed.
The finished paper will be 4000 to 5000 words. Both the maximum and the minimum lengths are a requirement. Going either over or under will cause you to drop a grade. This applies both to the paper and to the revision.
The word count is exclusive of end matter. That is to say, title, footnotes and bibliography don't count when considering length.
Make sure you put your name in the paper, and put your first and last name in the file name.
Grammar and spelling count. Your word processor will help you check both, plus there are numerous resources online. Remember that you are trying to prove your thesis, to persuade the reader to your point of view. Clumsy writing gets in the way of that.
Use endnotes or footnotes. Do not embed notes in the paper itself [Smith: 1908] like this. It's worse than useless. I know that this is a common scholarly style for notes, but not in history and this is a history course. Remember the basic rule that a footnote exists to enable the critical to check your work and the curious to explore further. It should provide enough information to allow for both.
In general, everything in the Study Guide applies. Make sure you have read all of it. Seriously. Do not make mistakes that you could have avoided by following the Study Guide!
If you have any questions, make sure you ask them. I recommend students as their questions in the Study Lounge; that way, when I reply, the entire class can benefit. If, however, you prefer to correspond in private, you are welcome to do that via email.