Category Archives: News


Tortoise Tuesday: Thesis in American Historical Scholarship

In this final paragraph of his introduction, historian Alan Taylor masterfully articulates what sets this book apart from other works on the War of 1812. Employing the Gaipa strategy of “dropping out,” Taylor proposes to tell a new story of this forgotten conflict, one which focuses on the hotly contested border region between the United States and Canada. By presenting the war as an ideological showdown between two fraternal peoples rather than an extension of the Napoleonic Wars, he reframes the scholarly conversation. Carefully choosing his key terms: Republican, Loyalist, Empire, and Revolution, Taylor sets the stage for his narrative history while highlighting the more abstract elements of his argument. He also provides us with an endpoint which peaks our curiosity. Having introduced the war as an ideological blood feud, Taylor’s thesis (excerpted below) alerts us to the fact that the conflict’s outcome compelled both sides to find common ground. With the book’s central questions concisely presented, we can dive into the book’s remaining 446 pages eager for answers.

— Ian Iverson ’18

“By telling the story of the borderland war, I seek to illuminate the contrast and the contest between the republic and the empire in the wake of the revolution. Both Republicans and Loyalists suspected that the continent was not big enough for their rival systems; republic and mixed constitution. One or the other would have to prevail in the house divided. Like the revolution, the War of 1812 was a civil war between competing visions of America: one still loyal to the empire and the other defined by its republican revolution against that empire. But neither side would reap what it expected from the war. Frustrated in their fantasies of smashing the other, the Loyalist and the Republican Americans had to learn how to share the continent and to call coexistence victory.”

Alan Taylor, PhD
Professor of History, University of Virginia

Citation: Alan Taylor, The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies, (New York: Vintage Books, 2010), 12.


Tortoise Tuesday: Roadmapping in Tristan

In Gottfried von Strassburg’s medieval German version of the story of Tristan and Isolde, names are important – so important that the meaning of Tristan’s name is a summary of his whole life. Early on, Gottfried explains the name and its significance: the word “triste,” “sad,” which forms part of the name, will be a defining theme in Tristan’s life. In his explanation, Gottfried sketches the outline of his story. This roadmap does more than just tell the reader what’s coming. It also shows why everything that’s going to be included is relevant and introduces a broader theme that will recur throughout the story: the importance of names in general. This passage combines several aspects of a good introduction: it roadmaps, introduces a “key term” of sorts, and sets up expectations for what will follow, all without lengthy summary or extensive analysis that would be better off in the body of the text. The roadmap says what’s going to happen just as a paper’s roadmap indicates what the final thesis will be, but leaves the reader curious as to how Gottfried will arrive at this conclusion.

                                                                                                                  —Rosamond van Wingerden ’20

“Now ‘triste’ stands for sorrow, and because of all these happenings the child was named ‘Tristan’ and christened ‘Tristan’ at once.

His name came from ‘triste.’ The name was well suited to him and in every way appropriate. Let us test it by the story, let us see how full of sorrow it was when his mother was delivered of him, see what a sorrowful life he was given to live, see the sorrowful death that brought his anguish to a close with an end beyond the comparison of all deaths, more bitter than all sorrow. All who have read this tale know that the name accorded with the life: he was the man that his name said he was, and his name of Tristan said what he was.”

— Gottfried von Strassburg, Tristan (tr. A. T. Hatto), pp. 66-7


Tortoise Tuesday: The New York Times’ Morning Briefing

The New York Times’ Morning Briefing succeeds thanks to its writers’ deft skill with the art of introduction. Moreover, the briefing might be best described as a series of introductions, each leading the reader to one or more articles on a particular topic. Each section does what the best introductions do: presents the reader with a roadmap of the most important points in the overall news story. Furthermore, while the thesis is not always explicitly present in the Briefing section, unifying motives for all the links in each section usually are. They can be found in the titles of each section.

As an example, take one section from the Briefing published on Friday, November 3rd. Its title, “A Contradiction on Russia”, presents a contradiction, an excellent motivating move. From there the author hits on a series of key points that further elaborate on the motive. Within this framework the links embedded within the text of that section, read in the order presented, can be thought of as the body of the work.

The Morning Briefing’s tagline is “what you need to start your day.” Writers may find the same inspiration in the Briefing to discern what a reader needs to start their paper.

— Natalie Collina ’19

A contradiction on Russia.

• President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both said that they didn’t know of anybody in the Trump campaign who had been in contact with Russians. Court documents unsealed this week suggest otherwise.

The documents also mentioned Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign aide who was in the running for a senior position at the Department of Agriculture. On Thursday, he dropped out.

Today, Mr. Trump renewed his request that the Justice Department investigate the Democrats’ activity during the 2016 campaign, saying the American public “deserves it.”


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?