Category Archives: Spring 2018

Motive, Spring 2018

A Dangerous Affair: Lady Susan’s Seductive Power in Love & Friendship

In a Tortoiseshell: In this junior paper on Love & Friendship, a film adaptation of Lady Susan by Jane Austen, Megan Laubach’s motive is multi-faceted. Her introduction begins with in-text motive as Megan notices that Love & Friendship, despite being narrative in form, feels like an authentic adaptation of a novella written as a collection of letters. Then, Megan situates her in-text motive in a larger scholarly debate within film criticism about narration, leapfrogging from scholar to scholar in order to both disagree with them and insert her own voice into the conversation: this is scholarly motive. Taken together, Megan’s introduction is an excellent example of how to motivate a larger research paper topic on the orders of both primary and secondary sources.

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Methods, Spring 2018

Light and Fire in August: Violence, Body, and the Dichotomy between Spiritual and Savage

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper on Light in August by William Faulkner, Nina Wang argues for a new reading of Christmas’s character that focuses on the dichotomy between the spiritual and savage. The strength of Nina’s argument lies in its effective structure, as she uses clear topic sentences to ensure that each body paragraph only argues one idea at a time, but links them together in an effective way that allows her to move through three complex sub-arguments in a short six-page essay.

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Conclusion, Spring 2018


After spending so much time refining our essay’s introduction and body paragraphs, we finally arrive at the concluding paragraph. But what should we even put in a concluding paragraph? Is it simply a re-hash of all that has already come before? In that case, why not just restate the topic sentences of each body paragraph? An effective conclusion is not just a simple restatement of the argument which you have just taken the reader through, but also a way for you to argue for the broader significance of your argument.

The concluding paragraph allows you to call back to the original motivating question  that you developed in the first few paragraphs of your paper, where you discussed why your argument was going to be new and intriguing. This year’s pieces use different but effective approaches to tie up their arguments.

Example 1: Balance of Legal and Personal Influences on Constitutional Judgments: Reversals and Redefinition of Precedent
by Katja Stroke-Adolphe

Example 2: Donelle Woolford: The Politics of Appropriative Parafiction An Analysis of Craftsmanship and Collaborative Structure by Heather Grace

Conclusion, Spring 2018

Donelle Woolford: The Politics of Appropriative Parafiction – An Analysis of Craftsmanship and Collaborative Structure

In a Tortoiseshell: In this junior paper, Heather explores the multifaceted components of the Donelle Woolford project to interrogate the implications of race, authorship and ownership, and performance on the viewer’s experience of the artworks. This excerpt demonstrates a sophisticated, antithetical approach to effectively concluding a long research paper by wrapping up previous analyses and integrating a new theoretical concept.

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Literature Review, Spring 2018

Lit Review

What makes for a good literature review? The literature review section is an opportunity for students to show their understanding of the research that they have undertaken. However, it’s also an opportunity to enter the scholarly conversation. A paper’s literature review is a way for a writer to craft the ballroom of conversation that they are entering. What existing scholars are talking? Who agrees with who? Where are the disagreements? By establishing what dynamics exist in the ballroom, the writer can then establish how they are going to enter this conversation.

The possibilities for entering the conversation are endless. The writer can piggyback off of existing academic arguments by extending them and examining them in a new context. Or the writer can enter an argument between two scholars, taking sides with one of the scholars or acting as a mediator. The possibilities are endless, but the direction that the argument will be taking is dictated entirely by how the writer depicts these scholars interacting with one another in the lit review.

Example: Student Reflections in Service: Cultural and Socioeconomic Variations in Motivations for and Valuation of Volunteering by Rebecca Kahn

Motive, Spring 2018


Motive begins with a question or a problem. This can be in the form of a gap in the evidence, a puzzling passage, or a new phenomenon. Thus, motive is the driving force behind an essay’s line of inquiry or argument. It is the question to which the author hopes to provide an answer.

Without a strong motive, it is difficult for readers to grasp the reason for a certain paper’s existence. Even the most brilliant points can seem meaningless without an understanding of the posed question. Even then, motive must extend beyond just this initial question. The motive of a paper has to be compelling enough to imbue readers with a sense of that paper’s significance. It ultimately helps answer the question, “Why does it all matter?” It helps readers understand not only why a paper was written but also why they should care that the paper was written at all.

Example 1: Boys Beyond Binary: An Exploration of the Non-Identitarian Nature of Relationships in Umberto Saba’s “Ernesto” and Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name” by Bes Arnaout

Example 2: A Dangerous Affair: Lady Susan’s Seductive Power in Love & Friendship by Megan Laubach

Close Reading, Spring 2018

Close Reading

It’s not unusual during one’s academic career to be assigned a close reading of a passage from a novel, story, poem, or even a song. But what exactly does “close” mean? What distinguishes a close reading pedagogically from other types of reading?

To answer this question, let’s briefly consider what a close reading is not: musing on an idea for a couple of pages, comparing a passage of one author to what another author said (or might have said), or even critiquing the author’s idea from your own perspective. These are all important tasks, no doubt, but ones for later occasions.

Essentially, what a close reading aims is is isolating the nuts and bolts of the passage selected. In order to reconstruct what the author is saying, we must first look at how the author says what they say. It is important to note, however, that—while a close reading creates real opportunities to experiment and play with different interpretations of the text—a close reading is no excuse to merely list one’s observations about as they occur in real-time; it will not be untethered to a thesis. Instead, close-reading means going back and filing each the recognition of each new detail as another installment in a cumulative story about the text. The thesis of a close reading, therefore, must be capable of housing a claim that evolves based on details which meaningfully accrete.

Methods, Spring 2018


Method refers broadly to the system of principles, ideas, and theories that undergird any substantive scholarly project. Academics often refer to a set of methods as a methodology, which refers more specifically to any number of research conventions typical of a particular field or discipline. For instance, under this framework, the close reading of written texts, the distinction between primary and secondary sources, and the use of archives for the discovery of primary documents all comprise distinct methods. Taken together, they represent part of the methodology of history as a field of study.

Method is thus crucial to most scholarly works because it allows readers to position the papers that they read in a recognized category. In humanistic disciplines, methodology often manifests as an analytical framework for the understanding of evidence. In the social and natural sciences, methodology enables authors to provide strategies for reproducible results.

Though methodology is often bound by understood conventions and systemic methods familiar to academics within a certain field, it is also possible to discern a range of methodologies in scholarly projects that adopt interdisciplinary approaches to answer their research questions. By employing the analytical frameworks from a range of disciplines, these projects can propose bold arguments with unexpected implications. The papers excerpted in this section are emblematic of this approach.

Example 1: Light and Fire in August: Violence, Body, and the Dichotomy between Spiritual and Savage by Nina Wang

Example 2: Reducing Invasive Species Establishment in the U.S. via the Pet and Horticulture Trades by Sonia Howlett

Orienting, Spring 2018


Everyone wants to make an argument that matters—literarily, artistically, historically, politically, socially, culturally… the list goes on and on. For undergraduates just beginning their academic career, however, this is no easy task. The “so what?” factor is always looming over us, whether we’re writing a ten- to twelve-page research paper during freshman year or a several hundred-page thesis.

What’s the significance of my argument? What does it add to the scholarly conversation? How is what I’m saying new and exciting, not just to a scholarly audience, but also to the world? Orienting tackles all these questions. It’s the art of contextualizing your argument in some broader sense that makes it fresh, meaningful, and perhaps even vital. But orienting, although its proportions can be gigantic—in some cases changing the world and our understanding of it—is actually a very delicate process. Orienting pervades almost every aspect of the well-written essay. Some common aspects include the orienting of key terms and context, the motive of the argument, and an extension of the thesis. But for all this theoretical ideating on what framing is and where it surfaces, it’s easiest to see how and where orienting works when it’s in action.

Example 1: Modeling the Model Minority: Does the Immigrant Health Paradox Apply to Asian Migrants’ Mental Health?  by Diana Chao

Example 2: Thaw-Era Portrayals of Mental Illness: Realist or Socialist? by Leora Eisenberg

Orienting, Spring 2018

Thaw-Era Portrayals of Mental Illness: Realist or Socialist?

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpt, author Leora Eisenberg concisely introduces and connects three disparate topics. In addition to providing the necessary background for a nonspecialist reader, she also artfully orients her reader to the arguments she will later make in her close-reading and analysis sections.

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Excerpt / Leora Eisenberg

There seems to be no academic conversation on mental illness in Soviet socialist realist film, particularly with regard to the Thaw. With that in mind, I have used the scholarly discourse on socialist realism, particularly the definitional work of scholar Katerina Clark, mental health in the Soviet Union as described by Mark Field and Jason Aronson, and a 1969 NIH report as a lens with which to analyze Beware of the Automobile and Cranes Are Flying. Hopefully, this analytical work will spark a scholarly conversation on the intersection of socialist realism, film, and mental health.

According to scholar Katerina Clark, the function of socialist realism “was to serve the ideological position and policies of the Bolshevik Party” (Clark 421). This meant that the genre had to “provide legitimizing myths for the state” and create “an emblematic figure whose biography was to function as a model for readers to emulate” (Clark 422). The decisions made at the All-Union Writers’ Conference reached the Union of Soviet Writers as well as the Artists’ Union of the USSR, meaning that the “ideological goals” of Soviet socialist realist literature applied to Soviet socialist realist cinema as well. Clark posits that “the socialist realist [work] is a kind of Bildungsroman with the Bildung, or formation of character, having more to do with public values than individual development” (426). The genre concerns itself primarily with the inculcation of socialist values in the masses who consumed it. The films in this paper, however, complicate that notion; they concern themselves with the “individual development” of a character with mental illness instead of with public values (Clark 426). Mental illness is portrayed as part of an individual’s story (which did not function as a model tale of a dedicated socialist in either case) and a frame for their interaction with the Soviet labor collective rather than a cinematic tool in building “the great and glorious future” (Clark 426).

Socialist realism was most strongly observed during Stalin’s lifetime, but after his death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev ushered in the Thaw, a period of liberalization in art, culture, and policy to such an extent that the USSR “emerging out of the Thaw was quite different from the one that entered it. Many people differed greatly in 1966 from what they had been in 1946 — in the… books they read, conversations they held… music, songs and dances they enjoyed” (Kozlov and Gilburd 484). The period is named after Ilya Ehrenburg’s The Thaw, a book famous for being the first to loosen socialist realist literary guidelines. Other authors and filmmakers followed suit, which gave rise to films like Cranes Are Flying and Beware of the Automobile. Where previous films glorified war and collective farms, the former showed the realities of battle and the latter, the neuroses of everyday life. They were not anti-Soviet; on the contrary, these films were State-sanctioned, meaning that they had to meet the criteria for socialist realism that allowed for their production during the Thaw.

Treatment of mental illness, just like socialist realism, was “made to fit, like all other organized activities in Soviet Russia, within the overall plans the regime elaborate[d] in the pursuit of its own ends of national power and self-sufficiency” (“Institutional Framework” 307). Like socialist realism, mental health care played a role in the regime’s plans, which the two scholars later list as “industrialization” and “the collectivization of agriculture,” two activities which require working in the “collective.” These goals are no different than those of socialist realism. Treatment of mental illness returned the individual to their work; the literary genre inspired them to do it.

The Soviet Union’s attitude toward each individual was that she was useful to the State as long as she could contribute to it through labor; the goal of mental health treatment was to return the individual to their function within the collective. When discussing patient care, Aronson and Field write that “medical (and psychiatric) treatment alone [were] not conceived as sufficient to restore the individual to a place of usefulness in society” (“Mental Health Programming” 921). If the duty of each citizen was to work, and he could not work, he was not being useful and could not benefit the work collective. There was no commitment to helping the worker reach his/her full potential, as in the American approach to psychology. Harold Berman substantiates the point when he says, “The purpose [of treatment of mental illness] is not to promote the welfare of the individual… but to maintain his social productivity” (315).  Aronson and Field make this particularly telling when speaking to a Soviet psychiatrist in “Mental Health Programming in the Soviet Union”: “In the Soviet Union, the goal of psychotherapy is for the individual to work within his collective” (917).

If the goal of both socialist realism and mental health treatment was to advance the State’s goals, they both had to uphold the same, official Party line that was necessary to ensure their success. This meant that mental illness had to be portrayed in cinema just as it was diagnosed in hospitals: as an individual’s inability to “work within his collective” (“Mental Health Programming” 917). Rather than preaching socialist values and focusing on mentally ill characters’ lack of productivity within the “collective,” Cranes Are Flying and Beware of the Automobile focus on characters’ development, which does not serve as a “model” for future socialists, and on their mental illness as it relates to the collective. Although all the films are socialist realist, they show flawed human beings who still work in and contribute to Soviet society, in spite of (and perhaps even thanks to) their struggles. This complication in Soviet film has not yet been discussed, and will hopefully shed some light on how the socialist realist norms of mental illness were complicated during the Thaw.

Author Commentary / Leora Eisenberg

Perhaps the most difficult part about writing this piece was tying together four seemingly unrelated things: socialist realism, Soviet film, Soviet mental healthcare, and the Thaw. It’s not intuitive to put them together, and even though I, as a student of Soviet history, might understand the connections between them, I can’t expect the same of my readers, meaning that I had to define my terms extremely clearly.

The foremost scholar of socialist realism is Katerina Clarke, whose work I happened to be quite familiar with. Her work more or less defined the term, and gave me a strong reference point throughout the entire essay.  To define the Thaw, I did use a few expert citations, but for the most part I described the time period using my prior knowledge. Within discussion of the time period, I could easily transition into era-specific Soviet film. Last but not least, I included an overview of Soviet mental healthcare, the hardest piece to relate to the other three. Once I had laid the definitional groundwork, however, it was relatively easy: the work done by Aronson and Field, among the best works on the subject, provided me with enough material to prove that the goals of socialist realism and mental healthcare were one and the same, allowing me to later effectively show that some Thaw-era films strayed from the norms I derived through Clarke’s, Aronson’s, and Field’s work.

On a somewhat different note, it’s worth mentioning how much fun this paper was to write. As a lover of Soviet film, I had the opportunity to look at it from a wholly new perspective in this paper, all while tying it back to something I had examined in class (socialist realism). Defining my terms was obviously beneficial to my reader, but it also tested my knowledge of what I had been studying for so long, as if to see if I could make a broader claim about it. 

Editor Commentary / Ian Iverson

Leora creates a daunting task for herself at the outset of this paper. Writing for a non-specialist audience, she must reconcile three disparate topics while still leaving herself plenty of space for the close-reading and analysis which will form the heart of her argument.

It was after reading the first paragraph of this excerpt (the second paragraph in her paper), that I knew she would succeed. In three short sentences, Leora concisely outlines everything we need to know moving forward. First, she reveals her motive by identifying a gap in the scholarship. In the Writing Program, we refer to this maneuver as “dropping out.” Leora is focusing on an issue on the margins of two existing scholarly conversations and employing elements of both to break new intellectual ground. Next, we get an outline of the sources she will be discussing, both primary and secondary. It is always helpful to know what we will be analyzing up front. Her third sentence outlines the goal of the paper, her thesis. One almost misses the argument at first glance, because Leora employs such diplomatic language. But this subtly lends to the power of her statement: this subfield (“the intersection of socialist realism, film, and mental health”) exists and is worth engaging. You may disagree, but you will have to contend with all of what follows  to prove her wrong.

Moving into the heart of her orienting section, Leora selects powerful quotes from a leading scholar of socialist realism to explain to a general audience what this movement hoped to accomplish. Immediately tying the broader artistic movement to the specific medium of film, Leora then clarifies how incorporating a discussion of mental illness complicates the existing conversation. This detail enhances the background information that we just received by directly injecting it into her broader argument. Next, Leora introduces The Thaw and its significance within the world of Soviet art and culture. Returning our attention to the films mentioned in the first paragraph, she details how these works, and others like them, broke new artistic ground while remaining within the confines of Soviet ideology.

In a powerful transition to her next topic, Leora draws a parallel between socialist realism and Soviet perceptions of mental illness. Once again, in three short sentences, Leora effortlessly connects two topics which appeared discrete, if not dissimilar, at the paper’s outset. Framing her discussion within the existing literature on Soviet approaches to mental healthcare, Leora primes her reader for her final orienting paragraph. Having reconciled socialist realism, The Thaw, and Soviet conceptions of mental illness to one another, she employs this passage to detail why these particular films proved so innovative. Intrigued, we enter her paper’s close-reading and analytical sections eager for the evidence that will support these provocative claims.

Works Cited

Aronson, J., & Field, M. G. (1964). Mental Health Programming in the Soviet Union. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 34(5), 913-924.

Clark, K. (2012). Socialist Realism in Soviet Literature. In From Symbolism to Socialist Realism (pp. 419-432). Brighton, MA: Academic Studies Press.

Field, M. G., & Aronson, J. (1964). The Institutional Framework Of Soviet Psychiatry. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease,138(4), 305-322.

Kozlov, Denis, & Gilburd, Eleanory. (2013). The Thaw as an Event in Russian History. In The Thaw: Soviet Society and Culture During the 950s (pp. 18-81). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Rollins, Nancy. (1972). Child Psychiatry in the Soviet Union: Preliminary Observations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Zhdanov, Andrei. (1934). Soviet Literature — The Richest in Ideas. Speech presented at All-Union Writers’ Congress, Moscow.