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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.”

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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Framing, Spring 2017

A Curious Case of Political Critique: The Detective Genre in Rodolfo Walsh’s ‘Operation Massacre’

In a Tortoiseshell: In this essay, Lara Norgaard engages in a close reading of Rodolfo Walsh’s Operation Massacre. She argues that this story reworks the detective genre by enlisting the active participation of the reader and serving as a critical form for its contemporary context. Her orienting to the genre and this work allows her to build a progressive argument and conclude with its broader implications.

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Framing, Spring 2017

Framing

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? Framing 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 framing, although its proportions can be gigantic—in some cases changing the world and our understanding of it—is actually a very delicate process. Framing 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 framing works when it’s in action. We’ve selected three essays that, in addition to developing a specific and refined argument, take their arguments to the next level by framing them within appropriate contexts—film, literature, philosophy, politics, and urban planning, to name a few.

In “Media Mediation in 1990s Slacker Comedies,” Sam Bollen ‘18 adeptly orients the reader to the scholarly and colloquial concept of “slacker,” applies this definition and its implications to the genre of slacker comedies, and undertakes a close reading of exemplars of the film genre with substantial explorations of outside sources. He thus turns a seemingly trendy and one-dimensional topic into a captivating and nuanced argument worthy of debate.

In “The Filtration Metaphor: An Analysis of Delays in New York’s Line Extension,” Jonah Hyman ’19 uses a case study of delays on the 7 line extension to present a new model to describe “megaproject forecasting and communication.” Jonah immerses himself into the case study, maintaining a focused objective of extrapolating the specifics of the study to future applicability.

Lastly, in “A Curious Case of Political Critique: The Detective Genre in Rodolfo Wash’s Operation Massacre,” Lara Norgaard ’17 engages in a close reading of Operation Massacre. But she goes beyond a close reading as well, investigating the surrounding political context of Argentina in the 1950s to ultimately classify the novel as a literary innovation and a critical form.

Against-the-grain arguments, Spring 2017

A Pool of Thought: Modest Water’s Mighty Work in ‘To the Lighthouse’

In a Tortoiseshell: In this paper about introspection in To The Lighthouse, Carolyn Kelly’s against-the-grain approach to Woolf’s novel examines the significance of smaller, less obvious details as they recur throughout the text. In the first paragraph of her introduction, Kelly constructs motive by orienting readers to how water imagery in To the Lighthouse is typically read. She then disrupts this context in the following paragraphs, illustrating why and how her close reading of overlooked bodies of water in the text can shed light on Woolf’s large project.

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Orienting, Spring 2016

Orienting

Bits of information, explanation, and summary that orient the reader.

Orienting is all about context. Depending on the discipline, the assignment, and the expected expertise of one’s audience, a writer will naturally pepper her words with varying tidbits of explanation and information. Regardless of the specificities of the assignment, however, the goal is always clear: you want to hold your readers’ hands and guide them by providing necessary, illuminating facts, but you don’t want to insult the reader’s intelligence with excess repetition and fruitless oversimplification.

While a good essay needs to have a compelling motive and thesis, it is imperative that the author accompanies those elements with sufficient orienting so the reader can understand the underlying concepts and ideas of the argument. To do so, the author oftentimes will define and contextualize key terms, explaining what the terms mean and how they will be used in that particular paper. Depending on the discipline or genre, orienting can also include providing background information on a novel’s plot, the current scholarly conversation on a certain topic, or the data available in a given field. Well-oriented papers employ these techniques throughout the entire work to produce a clear and cohesive piece of writing.  

The papers we have chosen to showcase are exemplary models of orienting done well. Alexandra Marino’s “A Nation of Maniacs” is good at orienting because it explains both key primary texts and the key terms that form the scaffolding of the paper’s analytical lens. In Benjamin Gallo’s excerpt, he provides an excellent example of orienting both key terms and plot points simultaneously in order to prove how “risk factors” affect Tracy’s school and family life in the movie Thirteen.

For more details, refer to the Orienting Preface from our 2014 issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/orienting-14/.

Orienting

Tracy From Thirteen: A Case Study As A Reality Check On The Role Of Contextual Variables In The Development Of Psychopathology In Children And Adolescents

In a Tortoiseshell: In this essay, Benjamin tracks the psychological development of the protagonist Tracy from the movie Thirteen, focusing in particular on how her family and school environments influence her later problematic behavior. This excerpt demonstrates Benjamin’s skilled use of orienting to situate the reader in both the storyline of the film and the psychological theories behind Tracy’s actions, allowing the reader to understand both elements simultaneously.

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Orienting, Spring 2016

A Nation of Maniacs: Understanding Commodified Mania Through Bipolar Narratives

In a Tortoiseshell:  Alexandra Marino’s “A Nation of Maniacs: Understanding Commodified Mania Through Bipolar Narratives” uses sociological and medical analysis to explore the commodification of mental illness.  Her ability to artfully explain sociological theory in the context of illness narrative makes the beginning of her paper a compelling example of stellar orienting.

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Orienting

Orienting: Works in Progress

Excerpt

…There is a key difference in the circumstances of Roxie’s status when she is a free woman and when she is a prisoner. While free, Roxie is a definite member of larger society and, consequently, she lives with the perpetual accompaniment of a surrounding community. While she is in prison, Roxie has removed herself from civilized society, creating a formidable void within her person that craves acceptance by the masses. As a result, Roxie’s wish for fame transforms from a want for recognition into a want of the recognition she’s lost by becoming a nameless prisoner.

        The transition from insider to outsider is crucial in regards to Roxie’s desire for renown. Friedrich Nietzsche argues that humans possess a “mysterious drive for truth” out of a necessity “to live in societies and herds” (143). While she’s a free woman, Roxie does not entangle herself in a different identity or proclaim any lies. On the contrary, she’s quite gullible, believing the words of Fred Casely, who promises to help her become a performer through a connection at a local nightclub. After murdering Fred, however, Roxie breaks free of the societal chains imposed on the truth. She asks Amos to lie on her behalf and take responsibility for the murder, even lying to him about the nature of the lie she’s asking him to tell.

Commentary

This paper analyzes the character of Roxie Hart in the 2002 musical film Chicago.  I claim that it is easy to dismiss Roxie as a simpleminded woman in search of celebrity status; instead, by understanding how her circumstances change when she’s incarcerated, viewers of the film recognize that Roxie is not motivated by a desire for fame but by a desire to avert loneliness.

Unfortunately, despite the centrality of loneliness in the body and title of my essay, the word “loneliness” itself makes no appearance in the introduction excerpted here, not even in the thesis sentence at the end of the first paragraph, which vaguely and confusedly contrasts the notion of a want of something with a want for something. A better-oriented paper would underscore loneliness as a key concept by strategically inserting it somewhere in the introduction in order to alert readers to its importance. In a revision, I could also further elucidate my meaning about “want for” and “want of,” either by rewriting the sentence outright, rephrasing it in simpler terms, or by providing an example that clarifies the contrast. Additionally, the current draft of this paper does not make adequate use of set-up phrases that properly introduce key figures. I don’t explain who Fred Casely or Amos are when I first introduce them, even though the inclusion of phrases like “her lover, Fred Casely,” or “her husband, Amos” would be simple and effective. Likewise, I could better introduce Nietzsche by listing the name of the essay from which the quote is derived or by hinting at his relevance to the argument. In its current form, this draft inserts Nietzsche without properly explaining why he’s here, producing a rather jarring effect for unprepared readers.

Well-oriented papers employ brief but graceful set-up phrases that properly introduce characters and scholars. Such papers also clarify confusing concepts, often with edifying examples or informatively rephrased sentences. Making use of these strategies would allow me to strengthen my argument and clear up ambiguity in meaning.

Body

Characterization of the Pathogenicity of the MSH2 P640T Mutation in Saccharomyces cerevisiae

In a Tortoiseshell: The discussion, done as well as it is in Ramie’s Molecular Biology Core Lab paper, is a very exciting part of the scientific manuscript because it weaves together specific results into a model with broad implications and opportunities for future research. A logical structure and informative subheadings make the discussion easy to follow, while grounding in published literature gives credibility to Ramie’s explanations.

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