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Think of it as a freewrite/rough draft of the First Thematic Essay (you’ll find the materials, explanation, and samples for this assignment under the “Assignments” link and within the content page). To begin, please review/watch the narrated Powerpoint materials and review the sample essays.  This effort should provide you with an overview of the essay’s goals and requirements.  

For starters:  let’s review the key aspects of this assignment:

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· The materials–handout, explanatory powerpoint, and sample essays are available on the content page, under Assignments and also within the weekly schedule.

· Primary focus must relate to one of the assigned authors and readings; the more specific focus (relationship, experience, relevant context or detail, etc.), the better

· 2-3 pages, typed and double-spaced (a bit more is permissible but don’t make it a novel)

· Provide a “context” that gives the work additional meaning/significance (see handout)

· Quotes from two outside sources

· Quotes from primary text

· Proper MLA Documentation, including Works Cited Page

To begin:  identify the writer who you’ve found most interesting and describe the aspects of his/her writing that you find interesting or engaging.  In short, why have you chosen this writer as opposed to the others we’ve considered so far?  

Next, describe the context you’ll bring to a discussion of this writer’s work:  what context (historical or biographical detail, impact, influence, or other association) shapes your reading and is worth conveying to others?  Develop this idea in the space of about a paragraph.

Finally, develop your ideas over the course of 2-3 detailed paragraphs, explaining basically how you’ll approach this assignment (up to 15 pts.).  You are more than welcome to include additional research if you so choose. In your replies (up to 5 points each), see if you can pose specific questions or offer any clarification that helps a classmate define his/her topic more fully.  

After you post your thread please respond on two of your classmates threads.

Note: This essay is much like the Thematic Essay I’m asking your to write. This work was composed by a student in my English 2020 (Science Literature) course. I’ve included some comments below to highlight the kind of features that make for an effective essay.

Student X

Dr. Tormey

English 2020

Thematic Essay II

Sir Joseph Banks

Sir Joseph Banks was a great botanist who was truly admired and dedicated to his discoveries. Banks was born to William and Sarah Banks in Westminster, England. He was the only son and had been well educated in his youth. Banks was schooled at home before attending Harrow in April 1752, later moving to Eton, and finally in 1760 he attended Christ Church, Oxford. Being that Banks received a good education and came from a wealthy family he was given the opportunity to meet people who would later give him a platform to share his work. Thus enabled in his scientific advantages by his fortunes, Banks made his name as a chronicler and interpreter of the exotic Otahati (Tahati) peoples and culture in the south pacific. Later, he became president of the Royal Society for 42 years of his life, where he made a few scientific contributions but never wrote the definitive chronicle of his south sea adventures. Even so, he is remembered probably more than anything for his advocacy for science, botany, and ethnology, contributions that were essential to the development of these sciences as we know them today (Lotha). Comment by Warren Tormey: Notice how the student has included a workable thesis to “frame” the discussion that follows. More development is probably possible, but we can consider this a pretty good opening paragraph.

It was during his attendance at Eton where Banks began taking an interest in Botany (Shortland and Yeo). This interest would take him literally around the world later in life. When looking to expand his knowledge in higher education Banks was unable to find a botanist at his university who would do lectures. He then searched for a botanist who would teach him. It was at this time when we begin to see the advantage Banks had within the world due to his financial standing (Lotha). Most people would not have the means to seek out education if it was not directly available, but Banks had access to mentors who could help with his botanical studies. The turning point within his career happened when he went on his first expedition with Captain James Cook around the South Pacific. When he returned home he experienced immediate fame as a chronicler of an exotic island culture. Today he is largely credited with beginning the steps that later resulted sciences of anthropology and ethnobotany. Comment by Warren Tormey: Here the student provides an important insight. Beyond his access to wealth, the essay also explains his emergence as a scientific figure.

Captain Cook brought Banks along on the expedition in order that the latter might serve as the botanist on the trip. Yet again we see that Banks having financial advantages uses it to expand what he is able to learn on the expedition. He had the financial means to hire people to help him collect and paint detailed illustrations of flowers, plants, and people that were discovered throughout different regions on the trip (Banks and Chambers). In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, L.A. Gilbert says this of Banks’ crew hired for the expedition, “Banks ensured that his party was well equipped for collecting, studying, and preserving natural history specimens. Solander asserted that Banks’ contribution to the expedition would amount to £10,000” (Gilbert). According to an article written in BBC History, Sydney Parkinson completed 264 drawings of 900, while Alexander Buchan and Herman Sporing made huge illustrative contributions as well (Cafferty). The extensive work done on these expeditions would not have been possible for Banks to accomplish alone and thus required the hiring of gifted artists and scientists.

With the help of the previously mentioned men along with Daniel Solander over 3,000 plant specimens were collected on the three year voyage. Just prior to their voyage, Carl Linnaeus had created a method for plant classification which Banks and Solander used to identify and reexamine new and recognizable plant life. When we observe what Banks contributed to science, it becomes apparent that he is not as influential as other scientists within the Royal Society such as Francis Bacon or Robert Hooke. Even so, he did have the means to do a lot financially and because of his status within the Royal Society the botanical work done was able to get a lot of exposure. Though technically a scientist, Banks’ standing as a collector and wealthy advocate enabled his true contributions to the growing science of botany. His work contributed to our understanding of diverse plant species and social customs, and our having records of the numerous plant species found all over the world, which opened up access to discovering medicines and environmental issues and cultures. Artists and chroniclers in his hire left records of his discoveries, which exist today as beautiful illustrations. More importantly, he established that by meeting, recording, and interacting with a native culture with respect and curiosity, a record of “first contact” that culture would survive as a model for subsequent explorations. With Banks’ time, resources and dedication he contributed largely to laying the ground work of identifying hundreds of botanical species, and opened up an era of exploration that allowed for the discovery of new and diverse cultures. Comment by Warren Tormey: The essay represents some solid work overall, which supplies needed insight on Banks’ true contributions to botany. Some additional development would be welcome, as would some additional quotes from the resources the student has accessed. but on the whole the student introduce a clear context for understanding Banks’ impact. On that basis, it was graded in the “A-/B+” territory.

Work Cited Comment by Warren Tormey: Very important point: don’t’ forget the Works Cited page in proper MLA format, which the student has largely observed here. Although the student is required only to include two outside sources, here we see five. It is certainly permissible to include more information as needed. You might notice that the student could have included more quotes and discussion from these sources, but it is evident that each is represented within the discussion.

L. A. Gilbert, ‘Banks, Sir Joseph (1743–1820)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/banks-sir-joseph-1737/text1917, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 29 November 2017.

Lotha, Gloria. “Sir Joseph Banks.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 16 Mar. 2017, com/biography/Joseph-Banks“>www.britannica.com/biography/Joseph-Banks.

Banks, Joseph, and Neil Chambers. The Letters of Sir Joseph Banks: a Selection, 1768-1820. Imperial College Press, 2000.

Cafferty, Steve. “History – British History in Depth: Endeavour’s Scientific Impact (1768 – 1771).” BBC, BBC, 17 Feb. 2011, www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/endeavour_voyage_01.shtml.

Shortland, Michael, and Richard R. Yeo. Telling Lives in Science: Essays on Scientific Biography. Cambridge University Press, 2008.

The Thematic Essays

Points and Guidelines

This short powerpoint accompanies the Thematic Essay handout and should be viewed with the Sample Essays also open (if possible). Here I will be going over the key aspects to the assignment in hopes that you are able to understand the expectations, goals, requirements, and protocols for your Thematic Essay Assignments.


What am I being asked to accomplish in this assignment?

In this assignment you are asked to do additional research in order to “read” the significance of any one of the works and/or authors you encountered over the course of the semester.

After doing some fairly intensive initial research, I’d like each of you to produce two additional sources that help to shed further light on the importance and/or lasting influence on any one of the modern authors we’ve read.

You may consult a field of book and/or web sources, but consider building your essay around any studies which present useful information about:

The author’s biography, focusing on significant experiences, relationships, causes, associations, etc. that shaped the author’s viewpoint.

The context for the work—what prompted it and how it was received.

The work’s continuing influence—who still reads this work, and (why) is it still read?

Here are the basic expectations for the assignment. You should choose a topic, and you should sharpen your focus on that topic as your research proceeds in stages. The research should go beyond a basic survey of web-based information resources, and you should ideally consult information databases (through the MTSU Library’s webpage) and actual books. Please pause and take a moment to review the points on this slide.


What is the Goal of this assignment?

The two key words for this assignment: “focus” and “context.” And the key question you should ask yourself: Is my topic sufficiently focused and am I supplying sufficient context for it?

The goal is to supply additional information about the author, the time and place, and the significance of the work. What shaped the work’s creation, and what shaped the work/author’s legacy?

If asked to boil this assignment down to a single sentence, it would be something like ”this information allows readers to understand the author and the work in greater detail because…” So a sentence like that should appear in the paper’s early stages, and you should take steps to develop this idea with quotes you’ve gathered in research.

Ultimately, I’d like to see if you can provide additional context for understanding one of our authors and his/her readings. Put simply, you should try to provide some sort of context for the author work you’re considering: “what events or experiences explain why this author wrote this work?”

You might try to explain what the work does, what it shows, what it is, or what it has become in light of some biographical, critical, or historical context that you’ve provided.

I’ve provided a pair of sample essays (in the A-  middle B range) as models. I’ve included some instructional comment on both for your inspection.

The first goal of the essay is to identify a topic that is sufficiently focused, and to supply insightful context for that topic so that a reader of your essay can understand it more fully. I’ve included some additional suggestions to hopefully guide you toward that goal; also, please review the sample essays, which show how students in my Science Literature class have also achieved that goal, with reasonable success. Please pause and take a moment to review the points on this slide.


Some Words about sources:

Many websites provide useful contextual information, and you should start with these. But the better material might come from a search on a more formal database like GoogleScholar. Other useful databases are accessible through the MTSU Library “Databases” link: Some of my favorites are JSTOR, Project Muse, and OneFile.

Likewise, going to the library’s homepage and researching a work on the MLA bibliography or the Literature Criticism Online or Literature Resource Center (Under “M” and “L,” respectively, in the “Databases A to Z link”) might prove fruitful as well.

You should remember, from English 1020, the reliable Lexis Nexis, OneFile, and Academic Search Primer databases under the “Articles””popular databases” links on the library’s homepage.

We also have the “Virtual Librarian” discussion board available for anyone with questions about where to get good sources, how to judge the quality of your sources, or how to document them accurately. Please supply some lead time with your questions to this board, as the Walker librarians are typically quite busy serving in their live and virtual roles.

Here are some pointers about sources. Please recognize that the Walker Library’s virtual resources provide a number of options, and that the bookshelves will also provide you with some good sources to use as well. Keep in mind that the best research proceeds in phases and is recursive—you do it in cycles and good sources lead you to other good sources by suggesting new search terms and other clues to enhance your focus. So please do plan your time accordingly. Please also recognize the “Virtual Librarian” resource that is available should you have questions. Please pause and take a moment to review the points on this slide.


What Am I Not Supposed to Do with this assignment?

The biggest sins is to oversimplify and merely summarize. These can take some different forms:

  1. Assume that you’re simply rehashing the author’s biography: summarizing events from rachelcarson.com or edwardabbey.com. Resources like these should be considered as starting points, and an oversimplified essay seldom shows evidence of going beyond any introductory research.
  2. Assume that you’re simply summarizing a text or argument: “In “Down the River,” a chapter in his book Desert Solitarie, Abbey goes to live in the Utah Desert for a year and he writes about his experiences there.”
  3. Assume that you can overgeneralize about a single experience in light of an author’s full life’s work: Rachel Carson lived near a glue factory as a kid so it makes sense that she wrote Silent Spring.
  4. Oversimplify the relevance of a work in light of current events: instead of saying that “Down the River” or Silent Spring are visionary works that have meaning in contemporary times, explain (with quotes) how they have meaning for today’s readers in light of specific problems .

Here are some common traps that you are encouraged to avoid. Put simply, the most common lapses happen first when students lack sufficient focus with a topic, and oversimplify their approach to it. One common consequence of having an oversimplified topic is that students tend to summarize their material, rather than providing true insight on it. Try to avoid stating the obvious and make it a goal to provide deliberate analysis and real insight on the topic you’ve chosen. Please pause and take a moment to review the points on this slide.


What are the other formal “Nuts and bolts” requirements for this assignment?

This report should be between two and three typed, double spaced pages (1” margins, 12 point font).

You should quote and cite your sources according to proper MLA protocols, and should take care to include a Works Cited page that lists your sources.

As far as due dates: these are indicated on the syllabus. There are two due dates listed for each of the thematic essays. Please submit your essay as a Word document, so I can grade using Word’s “Markup” and “Add Comment” functions.

You will have the option to revise ONE of your two Thematic Essays by term’s end to improve its grade, provided that you approach the revision effort with requisite care. Beyond the requisite correcting of mistakes, a revised essay should be substantially modified and reworked according to editing commentary (as is the case with professional and academic writers working through multiple drafts toward eventual publication). Please see the “Revision Contract,” which I’ll ask you to submit with your revised essay, for additional clarification and guidelines.

Here are some additional protocols to observe as you work on your essay. Please observe the length requirement (an effective essay is usually in the range of about three pages). An effective essay also includes well-chosen quotes, is documented in proper MLA format, and includes a Works Cited page, also observing MLA protocols. When grading I will use Word’s “Markup” and “Add Comment” functions, and will grade with suggestions to encourage revision. I will offer each student the option to revise ONE of your two essays by term’s end to improve the grade, provided that you resubmit the revised essay along with a “signed” Revision Contract that assures that you understand what effective revision requires. Please pause and take a moment to review the points on this slide.


And Finally…

There are plenty of resources to research each work and author, so do spend some time to find the most interesting sources that amplify your understanding of a given work. Keep in mind that you’re after some fairly specific material, and a fairly high level of analysis will be evident in a successful essay.

Do take steps to use and document your sources responsibly. I have the plagiarism detection system from turnitin.com activated in each dropbox, and will ask you to rewrite any essay that makes excessive use of undocumented material.

Otherwise…Good Luck!

Here are some final thoughts. Best of luck with this assignment—I hope it proves to be as rewarding as a college writing assignment can manageably be. Thanks for listening.


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