Tag Archives: history

Spring 2020, Starting a Paper

“Pity the Poor Working Girl”: Nylons, Work, Class, Ideology, and Politics in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1945-46

In a Tortoiseshell: Austin Davis’s “Pity the Poor Working Girl” looks into the Pittsburgh Nylon Riots, which rocked the city shortly after the end of WWII, and examines how this event exemplified broader tensions that were at play in the city and nation at large. This excerpt from the first several pages of the essay is a strong introduction that describes the event, clarifies its relevance, and transitions smoothly into Davis’s thesis.

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Conclusion, Spring 2019

Borinqueña Blanca [White Native]: A Racialized Revisiting of Puerto Rican Independence through the Life of Lola Rodríguez de Tió, 1850-1900

In a Tortoiseshell: In his Junior Paper, Lucas René Ramos takes an up-close approach to history by examining the life and work of Lola Rodríguez de Tió, a Puerto Rican poet and political activist, as a case study for larger issues. In the concluding section excerpted below, Lucas paints a picture of Rodríguez de Tió’s later political life before tying his paper together by reminding the reader of his motives and what his intersectional study of Rodríguez de Tió adds to the scholarly conversation. These final takeaways make for a compelling conclusion.

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Structure in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

Many if not most video games have maps.  They help orient players to the world of the game, illustrating the scale and extent of the world while pinpointing specific areas of interest to the player, such as important cities or sites, checkpoints, or fast travel options.  Games can have one or many maps or even discoverable maps, which only reveal certain information once the player has progressed far enough in the story or world. Along with orienting the player to the world of the game, maps help to structure gameplay so that players can reach the intended conclusions set forth by their developers. In this way, video game maps function much like the structures of essays, which lead readers through their authors’ arguments to their intended conclusions.

Take the map of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey as an example.  The game takes place in the world of ancient Greece at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BCE, and the player can travel from Kephallonia to Lesbos to Crete as they please.  Compared to traditional games, whose maps are more restrictive to directly guide the player through certain levels (think classic Super Mario Bros.) or along certain paths (as in many Pokemon games), AC: Odyssey’s map is navigable to its players nearly without limit.  So long as they have a horse and a ship, the player can go anywhere on the map.  It is part of a growing trend of expansive, open-world games that seemingly lack a map structure and thus allow players to do whatever they want, whenever they want.  

However, while AC: Odyssey’s map feels endlessly explorable, it still contains an interlocking set of structures through its many different map markers and symbols, which are themselves inherently tied to certain conclusions or questlines.  One set of markers are the “Quest” diamonds, which appear on the map wherever there is a task for the player to complete. These markers encourage the player to move through the map in order that they may gain experience and items while also advancing various storylines of the game.  Another set of markers is the “Location” markers, some of which show places where Spartan or Athenian soldiers may be targeted. Following these markers compels the player to advance the Peloponnesian War, which was the conflict of Spartan and Athenian forces for supremacy of Greece set forth in Thucydides’ famous history.  A final set of major map markers are the “Mercenary” markers, which show the locations of mercenaries who are and are not being paid to pursue the player.  By tracking down mercenaries using these markers, the player can improve their own status as a mercenary in order to become the most feared assassin of the Aegean.

Although Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is an open-world game without any obvious paths or levels, its map still contains an implicit structure. Like in any piece of good writing, this structure allows the player to follow the game’s storyline—its argument—to its logical conclusion, whether they notice it or not.

–Leina Thurn ’20

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Source Use in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Vimy Ridge Centennial Address

April 9th, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a turning point for the
Allies during World War I and a defining moment for Canada as a nation. When delivering an
address at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France on the day of the anniversary, Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau distinguished himself among other dignitaries by developing a profound
connection with his audience through his primary source use. Recognizing the difficulty that his
audience would have with grasping the true magnitude of statistical figures pertaining to the
Battle, and the inherent power of personal stories to emotionally move individuals, Trudeau
reconstructed the life of a fallen soldier by citing an excerpt from a handwritten letter to build a
rapport with the many attendees. The targeted and concise use of an excerpt whose content is
unrelated to the war and rather mundane in nature serves to facilitate the audience empathizing
with the plight of fallen soldiers and understanding their ultimate sacrifice. In so doing, Trudeau
transcended the temporal barrier between the Canadian citizens in the audience and those
Canadians who fought at Vimy Ridge.

— Nicholas Johnson ’20

Vimy Ridge Centennial Address Excerpt:

Seven thousand and four Canadians were wounded in the battle that began
here, 100 years ago today. Three thousand, five hundred and ninety-eight
Canadians died.
This, from a population, in 1917, of just eight million.
Think of it, for a moment. The enormity of the price they paid.
These were, for the most part, young men in their late teens and early
twenties. Not professional soldiers. But they were superbly trained. And
supported by months of painstaking preparation.
Yet for all that, they still required courage – to a degree that is hard to
fathom.
They weren’t impervious to fear, these men. They were human. Homesick,
tired, footsore and cold.
Yet still, they advanced. Uphill, through mud. Under fire. They advanced,
fighting like lions, moving just behind a devastating allied artillery barrage.
And they did not stop. They did not stop, until they had victory.
There were strategic objectives. Vimy is high ground. It had been
transformed into a fortress.

But if you read the accounts of the men who fought here, you’ll find they
focused on other things.
They wrote to loved ones. They thanked them for parcels and letters. They
asked about brothers and sisters. And they wrote about their fellow soldiers
– those who’d fallen. Those still fighting.
Typical Canadians, they talked about the weather.
“The sun has been shining a couple times this last week,” reads a letter from
William Henry Bell, dated April 7th, 1917. “The sun is a kind of stranger
here. Say, that cake you sent was sure fine.”
William Bell died at Vimy, April 10th, 1917. He was twenty.

–Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Maclean’s, “The Prime Minister’s Vimy Ridge centennial address: Full Text,”
Maclean’s, April 9, 2017, http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/prime-
ministers-statement- at-the- vimy-full- text/.

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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.

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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.