Medieval Studies Assignment

Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


The Objective:

One of the goals of this course is that you improve your skills in critical analysis by articulating an original insight and by organizing and polishing a formal presentation of it. This assignment asks you to identify one significant facet you perceive in one particular Medieval work and to explore its implications. Select an excruciatingly focused angle for a five-page manuscript using MLA-style format. You have several options for meeting this objective which can both appeal to your own individual talents and still allow you to package brilliant scholarly analysis in impressive and professional ways.

Finding a Topic:

The rule here is simple: the more particular the better. First, select one work (literary text, artwork, or musical piece). Trying to jam two or more different works into one discussion because you’re thinking of this project in terms of “filling pages” will backfire, because your paper will suck. Instead, treat this one work either as isolated and valuable in its own right or as a chosen representative example of a wider cultural phenomenon. Next, find something original to say about your selected work: a unique perspective on the piece, a specific theme or motif, a striking implication, possibly a detail you think is peculiar (if it does prove to have significance when you think it through). These works, especially the literary pieces, have been discussed for a long time; so ideally you want to find a new angle on them, something unusual and arcane that no one else will think of. Papers lumbering through hackneyed topics will be disappointing — all around! Also, the focus should be on your perceptions rather than your evaluations or on you (e.g., “I feel that Dante is an OK joe”; “I like this poem cuz it was easier to read than those other ones”). A page of possible topics is forthcoming; these will function as prods or catalysts but are not intended to “give” you something to write about. Cleverness and creativity (of an scholarly sort) are most welcome when it comes to crafting the project at this stage.

The Project:

Traditional papers are fine, but so are PowerPoint presentations or web pages. Your revised submitted project must be a minimum of five full, typed, double-spaced pages — or the electronic equivalent — containing a heading, an intriguing title, an original unified thesis, vigorous analytical work, all in a clean, effective, properly documented presentation. (We’ll talk a bit about humanities research in class soon.) Meeting these requirements, on time, assures you of at least a C grade (see grading sheet). Specific quotation from the literature, or descriptive detail from another type of primary source, should help demonstrate the validity of your argument. Your analytical discussion should be persuading readers or viewers of the significance of adopting your unique perspective on the material; it should not be a report of pointless factoids. MLA documentation is required for humanities writing and should be carried out correctly; so stop making me cross out commas, p’s, pg’s, pgs’s, and all other manner of clutter between author and page in parenthetical citations! Also quit with the bastardized Works Cited lists (MLA cross-bred with numbered references, APA corruptions, etc.). Refer to the accompanying MLA-style sheet, or a handbook (MLA, Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, etc.) for correct documentation, or ask me ahead of time.

Alternate Projects:

I welcome other kinds of projects that demonstrate the same objectives: ability to carry out sophisticated research, to discover an original purpose and focus, to write with clarity and influence your audience’s perspective. You may find a way to construct a bibliographical, filmic, pedagogical, or popular culture related project appropriate to Medieval/Renaissance studies which will inspire enthusiasm and break new ground impressively. You may work on a cooperative endeavor with a colleague. There are many possibilities. Think about it.

Doing the Bloody Work:

You are obligated to hand in the project at the beginning of the class period on the designated due date. If you create a web site, give me a copy just of the textual portions and the URL. Truancy is, of course, no excuse (i.e., “I couldn’t get my paper in cuz I cut class”). Fate, as we know, plays amusing tricks. Despite mid-semester miseries, don’t screw around. I tell you right now that Aunt Millie could drop in a flash on October 13th: it is your obligation to anticipate anything like this in your life that could go wrong and to take preventive measures or to develop back-up plans. You also must accept responsibility for being so foolish as to stake your grade on a computer’s or printer’s reliability. And no bitter ironies about roommates and alarm-clocks. No paper submitted means you did not meet the requirements of the course (big F); late papers will not be read but at least you will have met requirements minimally (little F factored in). On a more positive note, I assure you that I am happy to provide advice and help at any stage of the pre-writing and drafting processes, short of giving you a topic and doing the project. And I’ve placed various helpful materials on the web for your consultation, such as examples for the required MLA-style documentation here.

Proposal Paragraph Due: Friday, October 4th.

Renaissance Index