In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Maya Chande pairs mathematical and historical analyses in order to provide a possible explanation for the higher concentrations of yellow in Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. By conducting a cross-disciplinary analysis based on van Gogh’s letters, biography, and a mathematical examination of van Gogh’s use of color, Maya concludes that the higher concentrations of yellow can be attributed to shifts in van Gogh’s personal life. This excerpt highlights the way Maya weaves together scholars from various disciplines in order to create a clear scholarly motive and then skips to Maya’s conclusions. Continue reading
In a Tortoiseshell: In the concluding section of her final project for Cognitive Psychology, Kennedy Casey adeptly discusses her research on generalization during word learning. She clearly summarizes her findings and their limitations, while also defining her contribution to the scholarly conversation and calling attention to her global motive. Continue reading
It was Friday of midterms week, and I was staring at my computer screen. You might expect that, studious Princetonian that I am, I would be reviewing the last answer on my philosophy exam, or perhaps putting the finishing touches on my politics report. Instead, I was smack in the middle of Netflix’s latest reality show: Marriage or Mortgage.
The premise of Marriage or Mortgage is simple. Each episode, wedding planner Sarah Miller and real estate agent Nichole Holmes compete for the business of an engaged couple; the couple must decide whether to spend their savings on their dream wedding or their dream home. Along the way, Sarah and Nichole ply the couple with fairytale carriages and sweeping yards, discounted dresses and free appliances. The show is entertaining and, if you’re a fan of home tours, a bit addictive.
But as I kept watching, I began to feel troubled. Not just because my reality TV binge was keeping me from my midterms, although it was. And not just because the show’s mid-2020 weddings had massive superspreader potential, although they did. Or even just because it was ridiculous that anyone would pick a donut wall over a $20,000 home discount. What bothered me about the show was the way that it presented the choice—marriage or mortgage—as the couples’ only choice.
Imagine, if you will, that you’re writing a paper about what makes a relationship last. One prominent scholar (let’s call her Miller) says that weddings build strong emotional connections, so a couple seeking a stable relationship should go all in on their wedding. But another scholar (let’s call her Holmes) disagrees. Holmes posits that homeownership is an investment in the couple’s financial future, so a couple looking for stability should go all in on buying a house. As the writer, how might you intervene in this conversation? In other words, what’s your scholarly motive?
It’s true that you might choose to take sides. Perhaps you agree with Miller that a wedding sets an emotional foundation for a relationship, and your contribution is to defend her argument against Holmes’s attack. Or perhaps you’re with Holmes, and your intervention is to correct an oversight in her argument. Importantly, though, these scholarly moves are not the only ones you can make. You aren’t limited to supporting Miller to the exclusion of Holmes, or vice versa. What Marriage or Mortgage misses is that, sometimes, a nuanced solution is a better one. As an essay writer, you might agree with Miller that weddings are an emotional investment and with Holmes that buying a house is a financial investment; the key to finding your scholarly motive is just finding the right balance of each.
This kind of balance is not easy in a country where real estate prices are soaring and wedding costs (despite COVID-19) are, too. But I think that a Marriage or Mortgage that acknowledged these difficulties and nevertheless sought compromise would feel more true to our post-pandemic life. Instead of spending $30,000 on their dream wedding and then getting stuck in their parents’ homes, couples could replace the multi-hundred-guest jubilee with a more pared down affair. Or instead of buying a house at the very top of their price range and then waiting years for a wedding, couples could forgo a giant backyard and pay for a small reception. The details aren’t as important as the fact that such a balance can exist. By understanding Marriage or Mortgage as we might a scholarly conversation, we can see possibilities beyond the ones the show presents. Put simply, couples can have their wedding cake and eat it at their own kitchen table.
— Natalia Zorrilla, ’23
Distinguishing between the two types of motive – scholarly and in-text – in an introduction can be a challenge. As an author tries to convey to the reader why their argument matters, they need a strong in-text motive: the answer to the “so what?” question as to why the argument is relevant to the text, event, or other primary source under discussion. The scholarly motive is, however, just as important: since their paper is entering a scholarly conversation on the topic at hand, the author needs to take a clear position within that conversation. This can mean agreeing with a scholar but expanding on their view, knocking down another scholar’s argument and replacing it with a new model, or any other way of engaging with the existing literature.
In this opening passage from the essay “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” Kathleen Parthé articulates both her in-text and scholarly motive from the outset as she analyzes a symbol for death in Tolstoy’s short story “Notes of a Madman” (published posthumously in 1912). She explains how an analysis of the symbol, a square figure, can help the reader to understand and appreciate the story in the context of larger questions of death and fear in Tolstoy’s work (in-text motive). She also points out why her article is necessary to Tolstoy scholarship: although the critical literature has focused on the broad theme of death in Tolstoy, it has neglected the author’s use of symbolism, leaving a gap in the scholarly conversation that Parthé now tries to fill.
—Rosamond van Wingerden ’20
“Tolstoy was repeatedly drawn to the crisis of dying because he felt that the traditional literary perception of death was inadequate, Death for Tolstoy was not just another subject; it was an important personal and aesthetic challenge. The critical literature, however, has treated death in Tolstoy only from the thematic point of view, and the devices the author chose so carefully to signify death have been for the most part unexamined and underestimated. Virtually no attention has been paid to the most unexpected of all devices: the first-person narrator in “Notes of a Madman” (“Zapiski sumasshedshego”) experiences the fear of death as “a horror – red, white, and square” (uzhas krasnyi, belyi, kvadratnyi).
The goal of this article is to demonstrate that this “square” is more than simply another interesting example of the various ways of fearing death that Tolstoy observed in himself and others. I will attempt to show how this seemingly anomalous image is actually related to a series of Tolstoyan linguistic devices for depicting death, and is in fact the ultimate device in that series. Three kinds of evidence will be offered in support of this argument: other examples in Tolstoy’s work, independent observations in linguistic and critical literature, and similar groupings of devices in writers such as Bely and Zamyatin. Finally, the square will be discussed as a type of geometric image, which, along with other mathematical borrowings, enjoyed a rich development among twentieth century artists, especially in Russia.”
(Kathleen Parthé, “Tolstoy and the Geometry of Fear,” in Tolstoy’s Short Fiction [New York: Norton & Co.], 404-5)
In a Tortoiseshell: In Isabella’s fall junior paper for Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, she explores how Caesarean sections can affect offspring immunity such that the offspring may become more susceptible to HPV infection. The introduction of the paper is notable for its clear development of scholarly and popular motive, which helps the reader understand the importance of this research, both to expanding biological knowledge and to helping us understand patterns of disease prevalence.