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Writing Assignments HIA 321

Position Paper

Write a 6–8 page position paper in which you express an opinion about a topic related to Roman history, and use evidence to back up that opinion. In other words, you’re taking a side on some question or controversy, and you use reasoning and research to support your side of the argument.

Proposal: You must submit a proposal by March 19 with a provisional topic and thesis. (See next section for more.)

Optional draft: You may submit an optional draft by April 23. It should include most of your paper (at least two thirds of the final content, with sections to be written described in square brackets). I’ll give feedback, but not a grade, to help you refine your final paper. Because I accept optional drafts, I do not accept revisions of content after the final paper has been submitted and graded—though some formatting and citations errors can be corrected and resubmitted. (See “Requirements for All Papers” handout for more.)

Position Paper Proposal

The proposal is just a brief one-page preview of your position paper that includes the following:

Presentation Write-Ups

Write a 2–3 page essay that does the following:

Due at the class meeting after your presentation.

Representations and Images Essay

Write a 3 page essay based on ONE of the two following topics:

  1. Visit any museum exhibition or collection of art, architecture, or other artifacts of the ancient Roman world. Choose two or three comparable artworks from different eras, from different places, or both. If art is an expression of cultural values, what do the differences between these works tell you about the respective cultures they come from? What do their similarities tell you about what these ancient societies have in common?
    • Make sure to look for items with the same, or comparable, subjects, that come from different times or from different places. For example: a Roman statue of a young man and a statue of a young man from a Roman province, or a decorated vase from the Republican period and one from the Principate.
    • Describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.
    • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of each work, the artist, the approximate date it was created, and the name of the museum gallery where the work can be found.
    • Also on the “Works Discussed” page, paste in photographs of the items. If it’s permitted at the museum, take a picture of the items while you’re there. If it’s not, find pictures of them on the museum’s web site or via a Google Images search.
  2. Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient Roman world and compare it with a primary source—ancient written evidence about that society or those events. Both the movie AND the written source are artistic interpretations of an event. Use at least two specific events or characters to compare the filmmakers’ intent and message with that of the writers of the source material. What do they want you to believe? What conclusions can you draw about how these stories were being used to shape culture and society?
    • Important: On a separate “Works Discussed” page after your essay, list the title of film, year, director, stars and studio. Then list the book or books you drew your written evidence from, using standard citation style.
    • You may also employ secondary sources to help you interpret the film, the primary source, or both.

Whichever option you choose, the purpose of this essay is NOT to describe the works in question, but to interpret their meaning and discuss analytically what they tell us about how different kinds of artists and creators represent the ancient peoples and their world.

For some suggested possibilities for both options, see the next page.

Some possibilities for Essay #3


Possible venues for the artifacts comparison option include:

You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York.


Some possibilities for the film and sources option include (this list is not exhaustive; I can give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):

Boudica (2003)Tacitus, Annals 14.29–39, Agricola; Cassius Dio Roman History 62
Caligula (1980) [warning: explicit sex]Suetonius, Caligula; Cassius Dio, Roman History 59
The Centurion (1961)Polybius, The Histories book 38
Cleopatra (1963)Plutarch, Caesar and Antony
Gladiator (2000)Cassius Dio, Roman History 73; Herodian History 1.15; Historia Augusta, “Commodus”
I, Claudius (1976) [1-2 episodes]Tacitus, Annals books 11–12; Suetonius, Claudius
Masada (1981)Josephus, The Jewish War book 1
Pompeii: The Last Day (2003) [or other Pompeii films]Pliny the Younger’s letter to Tacitus
Quo Vadis? (1951) Tacitus, Annals 13–16; Suetonius, Nero; Cassius Dio, Roman History 61–63
Rome (2005–2007) [use 1-2 episodes]Various (see me)
Spartacus (1960)Appian, Roman History 116–120; Plutarch, Crassus 8–11
The Eagle (2011)Tacitus, Agricola

Many of these primary sources are available through the list of ancient sources and translations on my website (http://markbwilson.com/) via the “Ancient Texts” link at the top of the page.