Tag Archives: preface

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.

Risk-taking, Spring 2017


In the context of writing, risk-taking is about going against the established methods of writing. It’s about trying something new at the risk of falling flat. It’s about the freedom of going your own way with the threat of no return.

Before I spout another platitude not unlike one delivered by Matthew McConaughey at the wheel of a Lincoln Town Car, I want to emphasize that risk-taking in writing may strike some as cliché, but it’s absolutely necessary to change the game of the writing form and create new, useful paradigms for organizing prose. What would fiction look like without Ernest Hemingway, who dared to write more by writing less, thereby advocating the “tip of the iceberg” approach to spare prose? What would the world be like without the writing of Princeton’s own John McPhee, whose meandering nonfiction has opened up an entire field to literary journalists, as well as given us more than enough information on the geologic history of North America in the volumes that make up his Annals of the Former World? Who knows who will follow the poet Anne Carson, who has created her own genre of classical meta-prose poems through works such as Nox and Autobiography of Red?

It takes guts to change the way people think and write about things. While this whole issue is full of essays that strive to do just that, in this special “Risk-Taking” section of Tortoise, we spotlight the pieces that best embody the elements of risk-taking, which in this sense means works of academic writing that engage with the scholarly conversation in unconventional and surprising ways.

In Noah Hastings’s “How intentional anachronism changes identity processing via history in Assassin’s Creed,” the author takes an unconventional approach to the popular video game by interrogating the conflicting imposed cultural identities on the game’s protagonist, Altaïr. Not only does the piece take risks in its analysis of a traditionally nonacademic genre, the video game, Hastings’s analysis of the protagonist’s stereotypically “American” features is compelling as much as it risks stereotyping itself.

On the other hand, Hayley Roth’s journalism feature, “The Classroom Cure: Greece Struggles to Educate a New Generation of Refugees,” takes excellent fieldwork collected in Greece and tells a compelling news story. It does so through the employment of creative nonfiction techniques, which, although going against some of the genre’s conventions, creates a more powerful story, better capable of conveying the gravity of the refugee crisis in Greece.

Next, we feature a critical essay called “Volcanoes and Detectives,” which discusses the techniques of some of my own more off-the-wall essays that I’ve composed over my four years at Princeton. Through a critical reading of some of their components, we can see what aspects of them worked more effectively than others.

Lastly, in “Dead end or Dividend,” editor Myrial Holbrook considers an essay in which she attempted to analyze a passage from Cicero, an effort that fell victim to the intentional fallacy. Again, here is a moment when risks overwhelmed the risk-taker.

So, buckle up and enjoy the ride. In the next few pages, dart across rooftops with Altaïr, witness the sobering scenes of the refugee crisis, and then read about some of my more bizarre (and not very successful) academic essays. It will all be in good fun.

Abstract, Spring 2017


An abstract is more than just a summary of key points and ideas. While an abstract certainly does touch upon key takeaways, it essentially functions as a condensed account of a paper. Moreover, an effective abstract’s key concepts are carefully structured to capture the essence of the paper.

So what does this ideal abstract structure look like? An abstract should first clearly outline the problem the author is trying to solve. To borrow the terminology of the Writing Program’s Lexicon, this would mean that the abstract establishes the motive. This is essential for establishing the relevancy and necessity of one’s paper; in reading the abstract the reader should immediately be able to identify the problem at hand. From there, the abstract should present the author’s thesis as a response to this problem so that the reader can immediately grasp the author’s approach to the issue. This is not only accomplished through the succinct presentation of the thesis but can also consist of a short discussion of the methodology employed and the initial results and conclusions arrived at from such an investigation. As a result, the author not only presents readers with the problem, the respective solution, and the approaches to rationalizing this solution, but also establishes the relevancy and importance of the paper for the target audience.

Motive, Spring 2017


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.

In this section of 2017’s issue of Tortoise, we learn that, in asking the right questions and providing the necessary context, Sam Rob ’18’s paper about farming at Princeton brings to light larger environmental issues at work in the world. Similarly, Pragya Malik ’19’s paper demonstrates broader societal trends that could influence elections beyond the tumultuous 2016 cycle through her discussion of the generational divide governing the demographics of Hillary Clinton’s supporters. These compelling ideas and their implications ultimately owe their existence to motive.

Methods, Spring 2017


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. Both papers feature authors who make risky moves. In the context of method, this risk involves the interlacement of a variety of disciplines to craft a new and unique analytical framework.

Abigail Denton’s paper, which analyzes the popular Great British Baking Show, uses theories and concepts from media studies, sociology, and history to propose a fascinating interpretation of the television program as a site for national cohesion. Abigail relies on a vast assortment of diverse sources to build her argument. In doing so, she refrains from swallowing her own voice. Instead, the remarkable clarity of her paper allows her to distinguish her own opinions and arguments from those of the secondary authors, a tricky move to pull off in a paper as interdisciplinary and ambitious as this one.

Lavinia Liang’s paper is inherently risky because of the nature of the prompt, which asks the writer to perform an ethnography of a university dance group. As demonstrated in her excerpt, Lavinia is more than up to the task. Her paper entwines observations from her anthropological fieldnotes with relevant and often surprising insights from a range of other disciplines. The excerpt here demonstrates this effective method, pairing together primary evidence with a sociological key term to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of performance and performativity.

These excerpts provide readers with noteworthy examples of risky, cross-disciplinary methods that unite to form a unique and cogent argument. The accompanying commentaries, supplied by the authors and Tortoise editors, furnish readers with additional insights that explain why the excerpts are exemplary.

Against-the-grain arguments, Spring 2017

Against-the-grain arguments

Frequently within the Writing Seminars and introductory college courses, students are asked to do the seemingly impossible: to make compelling, original arguments about classic texts, ideas, and phenomena that have been written on extensively for decades or even thousands of years, from Homer’s Odyssey to Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity.

More specifically, these students must attempt to articulate (and then answer!) questions that could be considered equally puzzling, interesting, and urgent to expert scholars in the field, often with only partial or vague knowledge of the secondary literature these experts have produced and proliferated. These questions are the beginning of what the Princeton Writing Lexicon more concisely calls “motive”—that is, the paper’s purpose, which can also be defined as the intrinsic why necessitating both the student’s thesis argument and the reason(s) that such an argument must be made in the first place.

This is no small order, especially when the scholarship surrounding what a student is writing on might be vast enough to fill a thesis or doctoral dissertation. However, some of the best student writing often results when a student placed in this situation ultimately uses to her advantage 1) her limited tools and 2) the intimidating establishment of scholarship around the paper’s topic.

Instead of claiming authority on the big picture of a text or theory, the student has several options: for example, she can disagree with or qualify the dominant approach used by existing scholarship to explore that text of theory, substituting instead her own ideas and/or the approaches of a discipline with which she is more familiar.

These are exactly the kind of against-the-grain arguments we are featuring and celebrating in this issue of Tortoise, although each argument and author accomplishes such an approach in their own way.

The first excerpt, by Julia Schorn, similarly presents a new take on an old, much-beloved work, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Unlike Carolyn’s argument, which succeeds in suggesting an alternative approach to complement existing scholarship, Julia directly attacks the establishment surrounding Alice to argue that feminist praise for the titular heroine’s curiosity and agency in Wonderland is actually unsupported by several details in the text, details which she addresses in her paper in order to argue that Wonderland is perhaps more static and less wonderful than we may have thought it to be.

The second excerpt, by Carolyn Kelly, demonstrates the value of approaching a classic work such as Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse by studying not the most obvious symbolism and imagery in the novel—the sea, for example—but instead the recurring instances of a smaller body of water, pools, in order to show through close-reading how, taken together, the seemingly insignificant cumulatively speaks to the larger introspection of Woolf’s work. Carolyn successfully showcases how an in-text motive and roadmap thesis can be developed by first rejecting (or, rather, innovating upon) traditional approaches to how literature is typically analyzed.

Finally, my “works in progress” excerpt ending the section showcases how motive can come from an interdisciplinary place: in this case, the application of literary close-reading techniques to the postwar writings of John Maynard Keynes, an economist. Even with its flaws, this excerpt—much like Julia’s and Carolyn’s work—attempts to approach a work that seems untouchable and over-studied in an entirely new light, demonstrating that sometimes the most interesting arguments begin as radical, risky ideas, counter to the consensus and seen out thoroughly to their ends.

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.