Essay Assignment

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Martin, GWRTC 103
Fall 2009

Cycle #2

Context Readings:

9/28       Ian Mortimer, “Revisionism Revisited”
9/30       Jane Tompkins, “’Indians’: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History”
10/2       Edward Said, “States”

History is the byproduct of contact zones, “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power . . . .”. Yet as Ian Mortimer observes, history is often written with inattention to these power struggles, depicting the point of view of the victor and thus silencing marginal perspectives. Jane Tompkins reiterates this view, adding that the historian’s perspective will always be influenced by his or her respective culture and its values:

And what [the historians] saw was not an illusion, was not determined by selfish motives in any narrow sense, but was there by virtue of a way of seeing which they could no more consciously manipulate than they could choose not to have been born (114).  

Counter narratives are subversive responses to these "master narratives"; they offer alternative (but credible) histories. We’ve seen several examples of counter narratives in this writing cycle.  Edward Said, for example, counters common understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by privileging the Palestinian point of view. Ultimately, he seeks to gain his readers’ understanding of how the conflict has adversely affected the Palestinian people. Likewise, Ian Mortimer’s piece is a counter narrative, offering an alternative viewpoint to counter common understandings of revisionist histories.

For this writing assignment, you are to construct an essay that seeks to give a voice to a marginalized perspective of history, a current event, or some otherwise marginalized point of view in your local community. To begin this assignment, you should select a contact zone (historical or current, global or local) and research the histories, accounts, and/or news articles that have been written about it. As you conduct your research, you should look for gaps and silenced perspectives.  

In your paper, you should offer a perspective with which your audience may not be familiar or which it might have dismissed; ultimately, you need to persuade your audience of your perspective’s relevance and viability. As you plan and write, you should keep in mind the lessons we have learned from Mortimer. In other words, you are not writing a conspiracy theory. Too, it would be helpful to your audience to discuss, perhaps at length, problems of representation in current popular histories. Point out how they were crafted through a cultural lens. And, to be fair, you should also acknowledge your own cultural lens. 

This kind of assignment invites creativity. You can certainly write a traditional essay that argues against a misrepresentation of the contact zone, its people, or its conflicts. But you can also construct a visual essay, infusing images into your paper in the style of Said’s States. Alternatively, you could write a narrative, in the first or third person point of view, that tells the story of a person’s or group’s struggle. You could even mix genres, framing your essay with a personal narrative . . . or framing a narrative with an academic essay. The choice is yours!

  • 1000 word minimum, not including titles, headings, or works cited/bibliography pages
  • Cite in your paper at least four sources (primary or secondary) . . . but you’ll likely find you need more.
  • Document all research, whether it is directly quoted, paraphrased, or summarized.
  • Use either MLA, APA, or Chicago styles of documentation.
  • Include a visual—either graphic, photograph or some kind of illustration.
  • Number pages and provide a title for your essay.

Conference Drafts will be due by 8 pm the evening before your scheduled conference.


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