Advice (updated 5/6/08) [back to top]
I will include here my answers to e-mails that I've received about various events and topics.
For my answers the last time I taught this course, see my 2006 2c Events Page.
- Here I offer some generic advice on how to write this paper:
- Main Goals of 2nd paper assignment are to learn and develop skills in:
- Research: Get to the bottom of "the facts"--collect information, assess its validity. Who created the information? Is it reliable? To the extent that a range of possible truth is possible, is this purported information inside or outside of that range?
- Analysis and Interpretation of Data. Use theory--concepts and framework from the course (paradigms, including Nietzsche's categories of doing history, EIEIO, a world-historical perspective) to make sense of and derive meaning from your research.
- Present your results clearly and convincingly in writing.
- Four pieces of advice to produce a good paper:
- Keep your topic focused. It should be narrow enough to be manageable in 4 pages! Don't overdo the event description--it is just a lead-in to your paper, not the main thing. It should merely show where you got the idea to do this topic.
- DO NOT EDITORIALIZE! You are NOT trying to "prove" that a certain position or strategy is "right," you are trying to weigh the "truth value" of a factual question.
- Different topics will require different approaches. Some topics (about which little is known) will need more background information, while other (more controversial) issues will require detailed assessment of information. For example, on the numbers of illegal immigrants in the US today, while many sites merely present (widely varying) numbers, the FAIR organization discusses at length where the data comes from and how it is used to create those estimates. POINT: don't just cite a number and blindly trust that source, but examine various sources and argue which one has the most plausible estimate.
- Keep your questions narrow and focused on factual issues that you can resolve.
- Example 1: do NOT ask "Is illegal immigration good or bad?" NOR "What is the best solution to the high rate of illegal immigration?" BUT "Does illegal immigration reduce wages for high school dropouts? For skilled workers? You might ask: What net effect does it have on the standards of living of various groups in the US? But that may already be beyond the scope of the paper--if you are really examining various primary data on that question.
- Example 2: do NOT ask whether raising taxes is good or bad, BUT (for example) how much will raising taxes cost in lost production, in administrative overhead, over what period of time.
- E-mail sent May 16:
- After visiting several discussion sections this week, I think the vast majority of you are well on the way to writing good papers. You have grasped the fact that the authors of events, even those that at first seem purely factual, actually have one or more theses/arguments underlying what they present. And I think/hope that you understand what I said in lecture yesterday, that applying some of the course concepts is NOT the main point of the paper, but merely a means to help you come up with a question to ask about what that author presented. For example: Are they missing or ignoring an important potential cause? If they are presenting a "monumental" history, what facts are they ignoring? Or what alternative explanations can account for the same developments? If they are taking a "Western" perspective, does looking at their event from a "World" point of view open up hitherto unseen causes or effects?
- Once you have found such questions, I think at this point the main stumbling block is understanding what "research" is, and then what conducting research entails.
- For example, I talked with a "Nueva Linda" (the film about Guatemala) group. After describing the film and event, here are some questions we came up with: What was the nature of the 1996 peace accord? Between whom was it made? What did it say about rural "squatters" on privately owned land? Did "peace" ever ensue from it, or was there always a level of violence between 1996 and the Nueva Linda massacre in 2004? What sparked that incident? Was it reported in the press at all? In the US? Mexico? Rest of the world?
- Once you have such questions, you would turn to the internet, databases on the internet, and the library. Here I want to point out to some powerful internet databases that you can access through the UCSB library. (If you want to access them from off campus, you need to set up your browser as a proxy server--instructions are on the library website.)
- These are the newspaper and news media databases for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times (both since the 1880s), and Lexis-Nexis Academic (with various international news sources, but not going back as far), and for academic articles Expanded Academic ASAP. For some questions, the Latin America Data Base, or the English-language China People's Daily (since 1946), or PAIS Public Affairs, as well as many others, may be relevant (ask at the reference desk, or browse the list, reading the descriptions in the right frame, to find pertinent ones). You go to:
and scroll down, or click on the first letter of the database name (if you know it) to jump down.
- Then you need to think of some keywords relevant to your topic to search for. If you come up with results that help to answer your question(s), those are your outside sources. By the way, if you are using newspaper articles as sources, it might be that several short articles from the same paper would count as "one" outside source.
- Finally, regarding the "Wikipedia issue" and using web pages as sources, you need to evaluate the validity of the information you find there. There are many helpful guides on how to do this. The Berkeley library has one of the best. See:
- Good luck--I hope you write informative and insightful papers, teaching us something new while learning!
- PS. Several people have been e-mailing me asking about topics because they have not attended an event yet. My suggestion at this point would be to get a book in the current titles section of the UCen bookstore--straight ahead on the entry level, then to the right. The are many books on relevant current topics there, and you can browse to select one in your interest, length and price range. Once you figure out the overall argument of the book (reviews and jacket blurbs help with that), you can probably focus on one chapter or issue it raises. A book with notes in the back will guide you quickly to the "outside sources" you need for the paper.