Surprise and Inform
A large part of the mission of this class is to look at early American history from a nontraditional perspective which seeks to correct historical myths and misconceptions. You may have already been surprised by something you have learned while listening, watching, reading, or writing. What material have you encountered that has challenged some of your assumptions about the dominant narrative of our nation? Have you heard some new or different voices from the margins of that story? Have you discovered that you knew only part of the story? Have you seen how a painting can not only be an artistic object but an argument?
For your first essay, you will be asked to write an informative essay that questions a common assumption about an aspect of early American history that we have covered in class. Imagine an audience of general readers who hold a common view of your topic. Your purpose is to give them a new, surprising view. Pose a problem or question, provide the commonly accepted view, and then give your own new interpretation, based on information you’ve learned in this course.
Additionally, your new view doesn’t necessarily have to diametrically opposed to the common view. Perhaps you’ve discovered that the common view is incomplete or insufficient rather than dead wrong. Instead of saying, “View X is wrong, whereas my view, Y, is correct,” you can say, “View X is correct and good as far as it goes, but my view, Y, adds a new perspective.” In other words, you can also create interest and surprise by going a step beyond the common view to show the reader something new. You can advance the conversation in new and interesting ways.
Your essay should begin with an introduction that includes a clear thesis, or “road map.” You should outline what you intend to do in the essay and then follow through. Carefully include in-text parenthetical citations for any material you either quote directly or paraphrase. Conclude your essay with a separate Works Cited page in which you arrange your sources, including the sources for your images, alphabetically according to MLA standards.
Your essay should be 750-1000 words in length. Include 2 images in your paper to illustrate your position. Remember to cite the sources for images.
Each week the list of possible topics will grow longer. Students in the afternoon interdisciplinary class should feel free to write on any topic that arises from the studies in that class.
For the Vanderlyn painting of Columbus’ landing in the Americas and the Rivera painting of Cortes at Vera Cruz:
For the Columbus Doors:
You can probably find many more examples.
In his message to Congress in December 1833, Andrew Jackson defended the Removal Act and made the following comments about Native Americans:
They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear. (“Andrew Jackson”)
George Catlin wanted to be the historian and biographer of Native Americans who had no voice of their own. Look at some of his work and decide how he counters Jackson’s claim of “inferiority” with his art. Look at the information on George Catlin in the Handbook of Texas Online, The Smithsonian’s Campfire Stories with George Catlin,
or The Museum of the American West:
http://museumoftheamericanwest.org/explore/exhibits/catlin/ (This has reproductions of the handwritten pages from his notebooks.)
or The Smithsonian Institution’s collection of American Art:
http://americanart.si.edu/collections/exhibits/catlin/highlights.html (This is the virtual tour of the exhibit we will see here in Houston.)
or another authoritative website, and read about how he made the portrayal of Native Americans his life’s work. Could you pick two of his paintings and argue how they debunk the distorted view of Native Americans that was held for much too long in America?
In order to make an “A” on this essay, you must either have a one-on-one writing consultation with Nicole, Ms. Kamrath, or one of the writing consultants in the Writing Center, Agnes Arnold 214, or attend one of the workshops for this essay. You are welcome to do both or to work with a writing consultant as much as you wish.
Paper typed in standard 12 point font, stapled in the left-hand corner
750 - 1000 words in length
Original title that catches the reader’s interest
Introduction with clear thesis statement
Paragraphs that support the thesis
A separate Works Cited page acknowledging sources for text and images in MLA format
Attend a workshop or meet with Nicole, Ms. Kamrath, or another writing consultant
Essay due – beginning of class October 23
Andrew Jackson Speaks: The Indian Removal. The eJournal Website. 2 Feb. 2004. <http://www.synaptic.bc.ca/ejournal/jackson.htm>
Additional material for this assignment drawn from John D. Ramage and John Bean, The Allyn & Bacon Guide to Writing. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.