Historical Writing Project

History 1012W Preliminary Essay 1: Historical Geography

Instructions: Discuss how the global division of labor for your topic has changed over time in a double-spaced, type-written essay of at least four full pages in length. It is worth 10 percent of your final grade according to the following scale:
            Follows Instructions (50%): This assignment requires you to address both history and geography. For the former, you should attempt to define a periodization of major turning points in the history of your product. In doing so, your focus should be not on superficial changes in product design (say, a history of the tailfins on a Ford Thunderbird). Instead, look at the principle steps in the evolution of technology and supply chains. How has the production process changed over time? Have robots replaced human labor at any stage? Have the social connotations of your product changed, perhaps from rare luxury to everyday item? If you bought your product used (hopefully not in the case of breakfast) have second hand markets for the commodity changed likewise?
            Answering these questions also requires an understanding of the geography of production and consumption. It might be helpful to start this portion of the research by mapping out the contemporary supply chain, including the sources of raw materials, the location of various stages of design and assembly, retailing, and perhaps the post-consumer history as well (where is the product resold, recycled, or junked). Then you can start working backwards in time to see how these markets have also changed over time. Be sure to include a map (even a hand drawn one) indicating the various stages of the supply chain. Keep in mind that the level of detail for your paper will depend on the topic. There are thousands of parts in a car and you cannot provide the source for every single one of them, but you can give an indication of a range of them (rubber for tires, steel for chassis, Corinthian leather for seats, etc.). Remember: Papers that are too short have not followed the instructions.
            Clear Thesis Statement (10% of essay grade): You must write a clear thesis statement for your paper. This one sentence counts for a full letter grade, so spend some time on it. It has to condense the basic argument of your entire essay, encompassing both geography and chronology while at the same time making a significant argument about the global economy. Indicate your thesis by either italicizing or underlining it. Make the thesis the last sentence of your introductory paragraph. Like the punch line of a joke, if you have to explain it, you have a lame thesis.
            Historical Understanding (30%): In this essay, you should demonstrate the basic historical skills of using context, chronology, and causation. Context is needed so that your readers understand the historical evidence, the specific examples you provide to support your conclusions. It is difficult to generalize about what information you need to offer. For starters, be sure to identify people, places, and things the first time you refer to them in the text. More broadly, think about the historical situation. If you try to explain the sugar plantation complex without mentioning slavery, you’ve missed the context.
            Chronology is likewise essential to demonstrate historical change over time. At the most basic level, if you argue that one event caused another, make sure the cause happened before the effect. Whenever possible, give precise dates rather than vague statements about the past. Chronology is equally important in organizing your paper. Your readers will get dizzy if you jump back and forth in time!
            Finally, you need to suggest plausible causation for the historical changes you are describing. Many decisions about production are shaped by economic calculations of cost, but be careful when assuming why workers in one country get paid more or less than those in another. It may be just as difficult to explain why consumers demand a particular item. Think about the physiological and cultural satisfaction people may derive from a product, which leads to the tricky question of whether advertising shapes our personal desires. In short, explain the past, don’t just describe it.
            Format/Grammar/Organization (10%): Type the essay double-spaced, justifying the left side only, and use one-inch margins all around. Do not leave additional blank lines between paragraphs. Use 12-point typeface and pick a proportional font such as Times New Roman rather than Courier. Number the pages, staple them together, and do not fold them in any manner.
Citations should be given in parenthetical form, i.e.: “The average North American consumer never has to think of where their grapes, tomatoes or cornflakes come from, but at the other end of the scale of global power, things look very different” (Wilk 17). Put lecture and discussion materials in your own words. Do not attempt to quote or cite the instructors. Single space and indent block quotes of 40 words or more. Include a bibliography, which does not count toward the four-page minimum, with the same format as assigned for the proposal.
            Pay attention to the following common stylistic mistakes (note the abbreviations, which will be used in grading).
MS       Misspelled words can usually be avoided by using your computer’s spell checker. Be sure to spell out all numbers up to one hundred, including fractions and centuries.
PN       Punctuation mistakes are more difficult to find. If you have problems, get a usage guide.
CP        Capitalization rules can also be found in a manual of English usage.
TN       Tense changes confuse readers. Stick to a single tense, preferably the past tense for a history paper. Avoid constructions using “would,” which put you in the future tense.
PV       Passive Voice. This is a construction using the verb “to be” with the past participle of a verb. Its primary offense is that it lacks clarity because it has no subject.
WW     Wrong Word. The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between “housecat” and “cat house.” Consult a dictionary when in doubt about a definition.
AC       Avoid Contractions in formal writing.
SN       Syntax is the arrangement and interrelationship of words in a sentence. The most common syntax mistake is the failure to make subject and verb agree.
PR        Pronoun References. Make sure that each pronoun has a clear antecedent.
CL       Clarity should always be your primary goal when writing. Colorful details can enliven your prose, but without the proper context they confuse the reader. Address your paper to a general audience.
AU       Article Usage is a frequent source of errors. Consult a guide to English usage if you are unsure of whether to proceed a noun with a definite article (the), an indefinite article (a), or no article at all.
SS        Sentence Structure. Every sentence needs a subject and verb. Avoid fragments and run-ons.
MM     Misplaced Modifiers result in unclear sentences, i.e.: “New York’s first commercial human-sperm bank opened Friday with semen samples from 18 men frozen in a stainless steel tank.”
PD       Paragraph Development is the essence of organized writing. The easiest way to organize a paper into paragraphs is to write two drafts--at least. For the first draft, simply copy down all the ideas you have for the paper. Then read over the draft and pick out the principle themes that support the thesis statement. Organize these themes into separate paragraphs. Then move the paragraphs around into a logical order. Make sure that you have arranged all paragraphs of the paper, and all sentences of each paragraph, in a logical order. In other words, if the reader needs to know x before understanding y, then you need to put the sentence with x before the one with y. Do not write paragraphs with fewer than three sentences.
                        A paragraph should be a fractal image of the entire paper. Each paragraph must have, and should begin with, a topic sentence that works like a thesis statement for that paragraph. All other sentences must support the topic sentence, just as all paragraphs must support the thesis.
RL       Repetitive Language and its co-conspirator, redundancy, often result from poor organization, choppy sentences, and improper pronoun usage. Maintain parallel constructions to assure clarity.
3P        Keep to the third person. Do not use “I” or “you.”
            Assistance. I encourage you to consult with tutors, especially the history specialists, in the University Writing Center. The main office, 306 Lind Hall, is open 9-5:15 Mon-Thurs and 9-2:15 on Friday. For an appointment: http://writing.umn.edu/sws/appointments.htm. The Wilson Library satellite office has drop-in hours from 2-5 Mon-Thurs. These tutors offer invaluable help with basic writing skills and improving the logical clarity of your argument (both of which are graded), but the content of the paper must be entirely your own work.
            Plagiarism, using the words or ideas of others without giving proper credit, will result in a grade of F or N for the entire course. If you are unsure of what constitutes plagiarism, please go to http://writing.umn.edu/tww/plagiarism/definitions.htm or consult with the writing center.

Assignment by Jeffrey Pilcher of University of Minnesota