Writing Center


Tortoise Tuesday: Sources in The History of the Peloponnesian War

Perhaps the most laborious task of any scholarly endeavor is the research process, whereby one scours libraries, archives, or the Internet to find the sources around which they will craft an argument.  But imagine having to hunt for sources in a world without accessible libraries, archives, or even the Internet.  This is the world in which historian Thucydides of Athens lived nearly 2500 years ago.  In this excerpt from The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides describes how he evaluated, corroborated, and analyzed various primary sources to arrive at his thesis regarding the cause of the war.  He acknowledges the gaps and flaws within his own argument, and he warns his readers about contradictory firsthand accounts.  While his explicit and conscious examination of his sources seems like an obvious step of the research process to scholars today, there was little precedent for this method prior to his time.  Nonetheless, the clarity and thoroughness with which Thucydides discusses the treatment of his sources are impressive, and it is no doubt why his method of source use created a lasting legacy within the discipline of history.

—Leina Thurn ’20

“Of the various speeches made either when war was imminent or in the course of the war itself, it has been hard to reproduce the exact words used either when I heard them myself or when they were reported to me by other sources. My method in this book has been to make each speaker say broadly what I supposed would have been needed on any given occasion, while keeping as closely as I could to the overall intent of what was actually said. In recording the events of the war my principle has been not to rely on casual information or my own suppositions, but to apply the greatest possible rigour in pursuing every detail both of what I saw myself and of what I heard from others. It was laborious research, as eyewitnesses on each occasion would give different accounts of the same event, depending on their individual loyalties or memories.” (I.22)

Citation: Thucydides. The Peloponnesian War. Translated by Martin Hammond, Oxford University Press, 2009.


Tortoise Tuesday: Orienting in Barack Obama’s 2004 Keynote Address

Before he was President of the United States, Barack Obama was a little-known junior senator from the state of Illinois. The speech that brought him to national attention and propelled the rest of his political career was his inspiring Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In this speech, he introduced the Democratic Nominee to the 2004 Presidential Election, John Kerry. Before Obama dives into the vision of America that Kerry would offer to its citizens, though, he begins his speech by orienting his audience. He provides background information on his own family and personal history, thereby contextualizing his speech by grounding it in his own experiences. Through doing so, Obama personifies and expounds the definition of the American Dream, which he goes on to expand upon throughout the rest of his speech.

                                                                                                                  —Regina Zeng ’18

“On behalf of the great state of Illinois, crossroads of a nation, land of Lincoln, let me express my deep gratitude for the privilege of addressing this convention. Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father, my grandfather, was a cook, a domestic servant.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place: America, which stood as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before. While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor he signed up for duty, joined Patton’s army and marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the GI Bill, bought a house through FHA, and moved west in search of opportunity.

And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter, a common dream, born of two continents. My parents shared not only an improbable love; they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or “blessed,” believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren’t rich, because in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential. They are both passed away now. Yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with pride.”


Tortoise Tuesday: Motive in Hamilton

One thing I’ve come to realize, as a theater certificate student just starting to think about independent work, is that even creative projects have a motive. There has to be a justification for putting on this play, in this place, at this time, and in this unique way. Rarely does the performance itself present the motive so explicitly as does Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster Broadway musical Hamilton. In “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”, Angelica raps about the musical’s eponymous lead: “Every other founding father’s story gets told/Every other founding father gets to grow old.” In one couplet, she justifies the musical biography of Alexander Hamilton, a founding father whose historical life has failed to capture the public’s imagination, despite the enormous political and economic legacy he left behind. In other words, Hamilton just “doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.”

                                                                                                                  —Annabel Barry ’19

He took our country from bankruptcy to prosperity.
I hate to admit it, but he doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit he gave us.
Who lives
Who dies
Who tells your story?
Every other founding father’s story gets told.
Every other founding father gets to grow old.
But when you’re gone, who remembers your name?
Who keeps your flame?
Who tells your story?