Tag Archives: orienting

Orienting, Spring 2018

Modeling the Model Minority: Does the Immigrant Health Paradox Apply to Asian Migrants’ Mental Health?

In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper about the immigrant health paradox, the notion that foreign born, recent arrivals of a given ethnic group typically have better health than their American born counterparts, Diana Chao positions the reader to appreciate the nuances of her argument, that the immigrant health paradox does not apply to Asian migrants, by effectively orienting the reader. After first providing the reader with concise definitions for key terms which are necessary to understand her thesis, Diana proceeds to give a comprehensive outline of the scholarly conversation surrounding her topic, which feeds directly into her motive.

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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.

Methods, Spring 2018

Reducing Invasive Species Establishment in the U.S. Via the Pet and Horticulture Trades

In a Tortoiseshell: In this excerpted introduction from Sonia’s research paper for a Conservation Biology course, she examines the threats posed by invasive species and past approaches taken to combat these threats. Working with an array of sources and studies, she proposes a prevention strategy of her own. This introduction is concise and effective, showcasing the necessary interplay of motive, orienting, and argument.

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Excerpt / Sonia Howlett

With the rise of international trade and commerce, invasive species have become a major global economic and environmental threat. Invasive species are one of the most common causes of species extinctions, second only to habitat degradation, and are a recognized cause of endangerment to approximately 42% of the species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (Wilcove et al. 1998; Clavero & García-Berthou 2005). An estimated 50,000 foreign species have been introduced to the United States and are estimated to cost over $120 billion annually in environmental damages and losses in the US alone (Pimental et al. 2005). Unfortunately, even as scientists and policymakers have begun to recognize the threat of invasive species, augmented globalization and free trade have increased the risk of their introduction (Bright 1999; Mack et al. 2000; Lehtonen 2005).

According to many scientific definitions, “invasive species” are non-native species that overcome the environmental and dispersal barriers to establishment and spread (Fig. 1; Blackburn et al. 2011). Many policy-makers additionally define invasive species as those that also pose an economic or environmental threat (Executive Order No. 13112 1999; Lodge et al. 2006). Therefore, some policy-makers estimate that although one-fifteenth to one-tenth of introduced species overcome establishment barriers, only one-tenth of those become invasive (US Congress OTA 1993). This paper will use the political interpretation of “invasive” and refer to “invasive species” as alien species that are both established and harmful.

Commerce in living organisms via the pet and horticulture trades is a major pathway for the introduction of invasive species (Fig. 2) and also the most ecologically damaging (Lodge et al. 2006). Although transport of pet and horticultural species accidentally introduces a wide variety of unintended “hitchhiker” species such as parasites, diseases, weed seeds, and soil micro-organisms, the majority of currently invasive plants and vertebrates in the US were introduced intentionally, often through trade in exotic plants, seeds, and animals (Mack et al. 2000; Pimental et al. 2005). Over 900 of the 25,000 exotic plants, mostly horticultural ornamentals, that were introduced to Florida have become established in the wild (Frank & McCoy 1995; Simberloff et al. 1997). Around one-third of the world’s worst aquatic invasive species are aquarium or ornamental species (Padilla & Williams 2004). Eighty-four percent of the 149 introductions of non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida occurred via the pet trade and have resulted in the establishment of many highly destructive invasive species including several types of invasive snakes such as the infamous Burmese python (Krysko et al. 2011).

In looking for a way to reduce the rate of establishment of new invasive species in the US, the primary concern should be reducing the threat from the species transported intentionally, with a secondary emphasis on reducing the threat from potential hitchhiker species. Reducing the threat from such intentionally-traded living organisms is less costly and more efficient than addressing accidental introduction (Lodge et al. 2006). This is especially true since the traits that make an organism desirable as an imported planted or pet species, such as hardiness, adaptability, rapid growth, and easy reproduction, are the same traits that make it a particularly successful invader (Bright 1999). Prevention efforts should be particularly emphasized, rather than slow-the-spread or eradication efforts, since management cost increases and effectiveness decreases with increased time since introduction (Simberloff et al. 2013).

Author Commentary / Sonia Howlett

This paper was written as a final paper for my Conservation Biology class with Professor David Wilcove. I chose to write on the prompt of “What realistic but effective steps can be taken to reduce the rate at which new harmful, invasive species become established in the USA via the pet trade and the horticulture trade?” Starting out, I knew that I wanted to structure the paper similarly to the published policy recommendations that we read in class. From having read many such papers, I had observed that most started out with a background or overview of the issue before launching into recommendations. This also appealed to me logically because it makes sense to outline the problem before presenting solutions.

In order to make my argument as coherent as possible, I decided to split the content of my paper into five sections. In the “Introduction,” excerpted here, I introduce the reader to what invasive species are, why they are a problem that needs to be addressed, and how they are coming into the US. I use this to set up the idea that we need recommendations to prevent the introduction of invasive species and to begin to narrow down what particular areas we should focus on in order to implement that. Later, in the “Current Efforts” section, I highlight what systems are currently in place, and then in the “Challenges” section I describe how and why the current efforts are insufficient. This leads me into my four “Recommendations,” which I number and address one by one. Finally, the “Conclusion” briefly summarizes the paper and highlights its importance.

Once I outlined the structure, I wrote bullet points for what I wanted to cover in each section. For the introduction, I often included not only points I wanted to make, but also space for facts and information I didn’t know yet but ultimately wanted to include, such as the role of invasive species in the US economy. Then I researched extensively, looking into all of the questions and relevant facts I had identified while outlining, as well as more that came up over the course of my research. I excerpted key quotes and facts which I copy-pasted into a separate document, organized by section. I then drew these facts and statements together into the bulk of my essay, and finally edited the paper extensively to create more of a cohesive narrative.

Editor Commentary / Myrial Holbrook

Introductions are a lot like dessert—tempting to dig into first, but often best saved for last in the writing process. Similarly, introductions should give us a taste that leaves us hungry for more. In her essay, Sonia has done precisely this: she began drafting her essay with a general outline, building in some flexibility to her argument, then researched and wrote the body of the essay, and, in the end, revisited her initial claims to ensure that they aligned with the evolution of her research. Moreover, Sonia’s introduction, while it gives us a preview of her essay, leaves us expectant as to the more detailed analysis she will undertake in the body of her essay.

What Sonia’s introduction does particularly well is lay out her methodology for her paper. As a Fellow at the Writing Center, I often see two extremes in undergraduate sourcework in papers: students deferring too readily to sources, letting their own voice get drowned out, or students trying to claim authority over sources, oversimplifying them in the process. Sonia, however, strikes a happy balance between these two extremes. In this excerpt, her introduction, for example, she successfully incorporates, via paraphrase, a wide range of sources, while maintaining her own position.

The structure of this introduction is streamlined and precise. The first paragraph motivates the paper, establishing the historical problem of invasive species. The second paragraph offers helpful orienting information by defining invasive species for this particular context. The third paragraph continues the motivating and orienting, this time with a more narrow focus that will culminate in the fourth paragraph as an evidence-based claim. With this structure, Sonia gives us the proper dosage of motive, orienting, and argument. Notably, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, the best papers showcase a similar kind of fluid multi-tasking.

In short, Sonia’s introduction shows her deft maneuvering of a complex issue into the context of a ten-page research paper. With an effective introduction, almost any topic can be made manageable, arguable, and tantalizing to a variety of tastes.

Professor Commentary / David S. Wilcove, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs

For her final paper in EEB 308 (Conservation Biology), Sonia chose to write about an especially tricky problem: How do we reduce the rate at which harmful, invasive species become established in the USA due to importations of foreign plants and animals for the horticulture and pet trades, respectively?  Our collective desire for strange and beautiful plants and animals leads us to import millions of non-native plants and animals every year.  A significant number of these species subsequently escape from captivity and establish flourishing populations in the wild, often to the detriment of native plants and animals.  Some even pose a threat to human health.  The fact that this issue involves ecological questions (which species are likely to escape and become problematic?), economic questions (the pet and horticulture trade is big business), and social questions (people want to own strange, new species) makes it particularly vexing to solve.  Sonia wrote a very thoughtful, well-written assessment of the issue.  She provided a compelling overview of the problem, and she developed a set of well-reasoned, practical recommendations that would, indeed, make a difference.  It was, in all respects, an excellent example of interdisciplinary scholarship.

Works Cited

Blackburn, T. et al. 2011. A proposed unified framework for biological invasions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 26: 333-340.

Bright, C. 1999. Invasive Species: Pathogens of Globalization. Foreign Policy 116: 50-60, 62-64.

Clavero, M. and E. García-Berthou. 2005. Invasive species are a leading cause of animal extinctions. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20: 110.

Corn, M. and R. Johnson. 2013. Invasive Species: Major Laws and the Role of Selected Federal Agencies. Congressional Research Service 7-5700.

Executive Order No. 13112. 1999. Invasive Species. Federal Register 64: 6183-6186.

Executive Order No. 13751. 2016. Safeguarding the Nation From the Impacts of Invasive Species. Federal Register 81: 88609-88614.

Frank, J., and E. McCoy.1995. Introduction to insect behavioral ecology: the good, the bad and the beautiful: non-indigenous species in Florida. The Florida Entomologist 78: 1–15.

Harriger, K. (2016). Written testimony for a House Committee on Agriculture, Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, and Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture hearing titled “Defending American Agriculture Against Foreign Pests and Diseases”.

Jenkins, P. 1996. Free trade and exotic species introductions. Pages 145–147 in O. T. Sandlund, P. J. Schei, and A. Viken, editors. Proceedings, Norway/UN Conference on Alien Species. Directorate for Nature Management and Norwegian Institute for Nature Research, Trondheim, Norway.

Krysko, K. et al. (2011). Verified non-indigenous amphibians and reptiles in Florida from 1863 through 2010: Outlining the invasion process and identifying invasion pathways and stages. Zootaxa 3028: 1-64

Lehtonen, P. 2005. Response to Sarah Reichard’s “The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

Lodge, D. et al. 2006. Biological invasions: recommendations for US policy and management.

Ecological Applications 16: 2035-2052.

Mack R., D. Simberloff, W. Lonsdale, H. Evans, M. Clout, and F. Bazzaz. 2000. Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecological Applications 10: 689–710.

Maki, K. and S. Galatowitsch. 2004. Movement of invasive aquatic plants into Minnesota (USA) through horticultural trade. Biological Conservation 118: 389-396.

Morrison, D. 2005. Response to Sarah Reichard’s “The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

NISC (National Invasive Species Council). 2001. Meeting the invasive species challenge: national invasive species management plan 2001.

NISC (National Invasive Species Council). 2016. 2016 Management Plan: 2016–2018.Washington, D.C.

Padilla, D. and S. Williams. 2004. Beyond ballast water: aquarium and ornamental trades as sources of invasive species in aquatic ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2: 131-138.

Pimental D., R. Zuniga and D. Morrison. 2005. Update on the environmental and economic costs associated with alien-invasive species in the United States. Ecological Economics 52: 273–288.

Reichard, S. 2005. The tragedy of the commons revisited: invasive species. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment Forum. The Ecological Society of America.

Schmitz D. and D. Simberloff. 2001. Needed: a national center for biological invasions. Issues in

Science and Technology 17: 57–62.

Simberloff, D., D. Schmitz and T. Brown. 1997. Strangers in Paradise. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Simberloff et al. 2013. Impacts of biological invasions: what’s what and the way forward. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28: 58-66.

US Congress OTA (Office of Technology Assessment). 1993. Harmful Non-Indigenous Species in the United States. OTA-F-565. U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C.

USDA APHIS (United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service). Strategic Plan 2015-2019.

Wilcove D. et al. 1998. Quantifying threats to imperiled species in the United States. BioScience 607–15.

WTO (World Trade Organization). 1994. Agreement on the application of sanitary and phytosanitary measures. Annex 1. World Trade Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.


FIG. 1. The “Proposed Unified Framework for Biological Invasions” of Blackburn et al illustrates the various barriers organisms have to pass in order to become invasive, and the management options at each stage of biological invasion. (Blackburn et al. 2011)

FIG . 2. Major pathways by which nonindigenous species enter and are transported within the United States. For the right-hand branch of pathways (Commerce in Living Organisms), each pathway also entails the possibility of other species hitchhiking on or in the species that is the focus of trade, or in the medium (e.g., water, soil, nesting material) or food of the focal species. Figure and caption courtesy of Lodge et al. (2006). Highlighting added to mark the pathways for the pet and horticulture trades.


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


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


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/.