Tag Archives: evidence/analysis


Tortoise Tuesday: From Evidence to Argument in Haircutting

One unexpected perk of quarantine is that I’ve been able to live my alternative career fantasy of cutting hair. It started sometime in October when my bangs grew past my eyes and I decided I was less afraid of trimming them myself than of going to a hair salon in the middle of a pandemic. I studied a series of online how-to articles, picked up the right kind of scissors from CVS, and gingerly set to work over the bathroom sink. A few weeks after the (relative) success of this endeavor, one of my housemates asked if I would cut her hair, too. We set up shop in the kitchen (the plastic bar stool we picked up on the side of the road made an excellent impromptu salon chair!) Thirty minutes of careful cutting later, my housemate had a perfectly acceptable bob. 

I’ve always thought that if I were to decide against higher education and take my life in a completely different direction, I would want to be a hairdresser. Maybe it’s the attention to detail that appeals to me, or maybe it’s the idea of getting to share brief but meaningful moments of connection with so many people, and to watch them leave feeling even just a little bit more confident. More than anything, though, I think it’s this idea I have that hairdressers have vision, and that they get to realize that vision on a daily basis.

Of course, my current skills are nothing like this romantic fantasy I have of what haircutting could be— I’m just happy if I manage to get a relatively straight line.  But when I imagine how a master stylist gets from before to after, I wonder if it’s similar to the way I get from evidence to argument when writing a paper. Looking at a mountain of evidence with all its tensions and contradictions can be overwhelming, as can looking at a head of hair filled with tangles and split ends. But a good stylist like a good writer can also discern potential within all the messiness.

For anyone who’s ever watched Queer Eye, there’s something distinctly satisfying about watching Jonathan Van Ness come up with the perfect haircut for each episode’s hero. In creating a style for someone, he always takes into consideration their own preferences and comfort, the amount of time they want or are able to spend on grooming, how they want their appearance to help them meet their goals in life (whether that be by boosting their confidence or helping them look professional for job interviews), etc. As a result, it seems that Jonathan manages to find a style that not only looks fantastic, but that genuinely suits and feels authentic to that particular person. Even better than seeing the dramatic difference in their hairstyle is seeing the difference in the way they look at themselves in the mirror. It’s like Jonathan can see something in them that the rest of us can’t— and oftentimes that they can’t even see in themselves— and bring it to light.

I think a strong argument in an academic paper does something quite similar. To write a strong argument, you need to start by carefully examining the source texts, taking the time and care to get to know them and understand what they want to say rather than forcing your own interpretation of what they “should” say.  In writing as in haircutting, it’s not about making something up; it’s about seeing something in what’s already there and presenting it in such a way that everyone else can see it too.

— Meigan Clark ’23

Close Looking, Spring 2020

Circles, Movement, and Temporality: (Re)Animating the Past in Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

In a Tortoiseshell: In her Junior Paper for the English Department, Liana Cohen interweaves analysis and evidence in her writing through the utilization of eloquent close reading of the films Vertigo and Spirited Away. Indeed, placing her exercises of close-reading alongside richly contextualized analysis of film theorists and Freudian psychoanalysis, Liana crafts a compelling prose that explores how both films attempt to reanimate the past.

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Evidence and Analysis, Spring 2020

The Invisible Man: Distribution of Blame for the Spread of HIV in African American Communities

In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Debby Cheng utilizes her thesis to roadmap her text to explore the nuances surrounding the distribution of blame within the black community during the AIDS epidemic prior to the introduction of an effective treatment. Using enriching and creative sources to provide evidence to her claims, Debby efficiently asks the reader to question, just as she does, the role of the heterosexual black man as the “invisible” force that perpetuated the spread of HIV in the United States during the last two decades of the 20th century.

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Tortoise Tuesday: The Evidence-Based Argument in Salt Fat Acid Heat

            Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat is just one of many cooking shows available for binge watching on Netflix’s online streaming platform. Nosrat’s approach, however, stands out—unlike many shows, which simply display certain recipes or exotic cuisines, Salt Fat Acid Heat aims to teach viewers the basic principles of cooking. Based on Nosrat’s cookbook of the same name, Salt Fat Acid Heat is a cooking show with a methodology, evidence-based approach, and thesis, which shines through in the title of the show itself. Nosrat claims that by understanding these four basic elements of food, viewers will not only gain an intuitive sense of good cooking, but they will know a bit more about what makes cuisines from around the world so delicious.

            At first glance, Nosrat’s methodology appears very similar to other travel-based cooking shows. She visits one country in each episode, focusing on a specific element of cuisine: “Salt” brings her to Japan, “Fat” to Italy, and “Acid” to Mexico. Along the way, however, Nosrat’s approach is uniquely shaped by her thoughtful accumulation of evidence. In Japan, she visits a salt vendor, a traditional soy sauce manufacturer, and a woman who makes her own miso at home. She explains to her viewers how the differences between types of salt can make certain dishes, flavors, or types of seafood shine in Japanese cooking. When discussing how fat is an essential component of good food, Nosrat focuses on how olive oil shapes Italian cuisine. She briefly mentions, however, how different choices have shaped other cuisines—food in the American South uses a lot of animal fat, for instance, while French food is defined by the flavor of butter. Her discussion of acid is particularly illuminating, because this is an element of cooking that’s particularly hard for most people to pinpoint. Nosrat starts the episode in a fruit market in Mexico. She shops for different types of citrus, which is the most immediate association people have with acidity. Over the course of the episode, however, Nosrat shows how other elements of Mexican food like sour cream, vinegary salsa, and honey also provide a delicious acidic zing that can transform a dish. Nosrat’s evidence-based approach allows her viewers to follow her reasoning and intuitively understand her claims.

            In the final installment of the show, “Heat,” Nosrat develops the evidence she’s accumulated in her travels into her final thesis about intuitive and informed cooking. She returns home to California in this episode, combining her travel experiences with her Iranian roots and time spent as a chef at Chez Panisse. Nosrat cooks a variety of dishes, including short ribs, steak, fava bean and roasted vegetable salad, and tag dig rice. Each of these meals combines her learnings about salt, fat, and acid with her final element of applying heat—the very essence of cooking. This episode serves as Nosrat’s thesis, demonstrating that with an intuitive sense of these flavors and elements, anyone can learn to be a great cook. Her argument brings simplicity and elegance to the often-intimidating realm of gourmet food.

— Caroline Bailey ’20

Source Use, Spring 2019

Breathing Life into Intangible Cultural Heritage: Wŏnhyŏng in Korea’s Poyuja Lineage System and its Implications for UNESCO

In a Tortoiseshell: Pulling from a diverse set of sources in terms of region, discipline, and medium, Haeley’s essay exemplifies not only how to pull from a wide array of sources but how to do so in a motivated, thoughtful way that skillfully identifies and develops meaningful connections between unconventionally connected source material. Throughout her piece, Haeley carefully incorporates a philosophical lens to reinterpret her visual source material and is able to transition between and bring together both Korean and American scholarship. In this excerpt, Haeley navigates central challenges that often arise for students in source use.

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Tortoise Tuesday: Evidence/Analysis in Project Runway

Believe it or not, even unscripted competition shows can be understood through writing lexicon terms!

Project Runway: All Stars is a fashion face-off show where seasoned designers compete in weekly challenges for a grand prize of $100,000. Despite being unscripted, All Stars still successfully develops an argument in each episode regarding who wins and loses each challenge by providing evidence and analysis through the structure of the show. The evidence is presented in the first half of the show, as viewers watch designers go through the process of creating their looks. Through a carefully edited mixture of primary sources—like design sketches, footage of the designers working, and interviews with designers about their looks (excerpted below from episode 10 of season 5; spoiler warning!)—and secondary sources—like workroom advice from their mentor Anne Fulenwider and interviews with designers about their competitors’ looks—the audience is able to see what design choices and fashion contexts direct the analysis provided in the second half of the show. This analysis comes in the form of comments and deliberations from judges, some of which are excerpted below. The judges, who are iconic fashion designers or models themselves, discuss which elements of the designs worked and which did not. Viewers follow the logic of these critiques as they ultimately culminate in the thesis of each episode, that is, whose design was the most successful and whose was the least.

By the end of each challenge, viewers remain either convinced or unconvinced by the evidence and analysis Project Runway: All Stars presents to support each outcome. Regardless of whether they agree or not, viewers still find themselves entertained by the structure of the show’s evidence and analysis, and they inevitably find themselves tuning in week after week to experience it all over again.

— Leina Thurn ’20


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.

Analyzing a medium, Spring 2017

‘Entombment’: Moretto da Brescia’s Command of Obedience

In a Tortoiseshell: In this essay on Moretto da Brescia’s painting ‘Entombment,’ the author transitions seamlessly between descriptive orienting and insightful analysis. Using evidence in the form of the painting’s scenery, figures, and lighting, she argues for the nuanced depiction of instantaneous and eternal anguish in the representation of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

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Analyzing a medium, Spring 2017

What is Truth? The Relationship between J.S. Bach and Arvo Pärt Considered from their Respective Versions of the Johannes-Passion

In a Tortoiseshell: This excerpt exemplifies a successful attempt to find an appropriate language to analyze a medium that might at first seem resistant to description — music. The author is able to justify his unusual method, describe and problematize the melodic lines of two very different pieces of music, and use that analysis to argue about the pieces’ respective influences.

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Analyzing a medium, Spring 2017

Analyzing a medium

Often in academic writing, the sources we use are written down. While this poses unique difficulties in terms of analysis and tone, the “meta” act of writing about writing itself allows the writer to use the same rhetorical devices that composed the evidence as tools for analysis. However, when the primary sources of an academic study are not written—in the case of art, architecture, music, and more—what strategies are possible to create a language that is not only descriptive (painting a word image of a source outside of the reader’s knowledge), but also argumentative? The pieces in this section are but two examples of academic writing that manage to find an appropriate language for analyzing a specific medium.

In her essay on Moretto da Brescia’s painting Entombment, Sandy Carpenter transitions seamlessly between descriptive orienting and insightful analysis. Using as evidence the scenery, figures, and lighting, she argues for the nuanced depiction of instantaneous and eternal anguish in the representation of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

The excerpt from Ming Wilson’s “What is Truth?: The Relationship between J.S. Bach and Arvo Pärt Considered from their Respective Versions of the Johannes-Passion” exemplifies a successful attempt to find an appropriate language to analyze a medium that might at first seem resistant to description—music. In the text below, Wilson justifies his unusual method while describing and problematizing the melodic lines of two very different pieces of music. Thus, he uses that analysis to argue about the pieces’ respective influences.

Lastly, editor Natalie Berkman’s “Works in Progress: writing about a nontraditional topic for a traditional audience” concerns her own challenges writing about 20th century French math for readers in the humanities.