Writing Assignments HIA 321
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.
- For your topic, choose one of the 13 meeting topics for the course and decide on a controversy or debate pertaining to that topic.
- You can choose something that the people at the time might have debated — e.g., “Is Greek culture degrading Roman virtue and old-fashioned values?” as a question arising in the late Republic, or a question arising among modern historians — e.g., “Did the Roman empire arise through conscious imperialism or ad hoc reactions to events?” In each case you need to outline both sides of the question in your paper and then provide evidence why you think one side was right.
- Choose a topic you’re interested in and have fun with it. Make it wacky, make it provocative — anything is fine as long as you make an argument regarding your chosen topic and support it with facts.
- You must use at least three sources. Ideally you should have a mix of primary and secondary sources.
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:
- The topic you think you’ll want to write about and the problem you’re interested in addressing. You should be able to delineate the problem by describing the opposing views people might take. To make sure you have two clear opposing opinions, you might want to express them in the form “Some say… . Others say… .”
- Your preliminary thesis statement—in other words, what you think you might be arguing in your paper.
- Your thesis statement, both here and in the final paper, should be a statement of opinion that someone could disagree with. It can take the form of following up the description of the opposing opinions with your own: “I believe… .”
- Remember that your thesis is provisional. You can change anything about your approach and interpretation after the proposal; in fact, uncovering information as you do your research makes refining or changing your initial assessments very likely.
Write a 2–3 page essay that does the following:
- Briefly summarizes what the document says and, more importantly, analyzes what the author is trying to say about the subject at hand. In other words, you need to identify and discuss what you believe is the author’s interpretation, bias, and point of view and how it affected the author’s treatment of the topic. Give examples from the document that illustrate your assessment of the author’s spin.
- Provides perspective by relating the material in the document, and the author’s bias on it, to the bigger picture—the material being discussed in class.
- Incorporates any responses that came up in class after your presentation, and your own reactions to them.
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:
- 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?
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?
- 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.
- 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
OPTION 1 POSSIBILITIES
Possible venues for the artifacts comparison option include:
- Metropolitan Museum: Greek and Roman Art
- Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Art
You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York.
OPTION 2 POSSIBILITIES
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):
|FILM||POSSIBLE PRIMARY SOURCES TO COMPARE|
|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.