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Writing Assignments

Remember that, as always, I am looking for your opinion and how well you support it with evidence; these essays are less about “right answers” than they are about well-supported ideas.

Important: Requirements and Grading for all Papers PDF HTML
Writing a Position Paper PDF HTML


Due Monday, May 6  Write a 6–8 page position paper in which you express an opinion about a topic, 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 that pertains to that topic.
  • You can choose something that the people at the time might have debated — e.g., “Should we expand into the east?” as a question arising around 200 BCE, or a question arising now among historians — e.g., “When did the Republic end?” 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.
  • You must use at least three sources. Ideally you should have a mix of primary and secondary sources.
  • Finally, 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 submit a proposal by March 11 with a provisional topic and thesis. (See below for more.)

Position Paper Proposal

Due Monday, March 11  The proposal is just a brief one-pager 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.
  • These first two items are essentially the model for your introduction, as you can see from this sample intro:
    Hannibal Barca, the great Carthaginian general, brought 37 war elephants with him over the Alps into Italy, and at the climactic Battle of Zama he had a front line that included 80 elephants. Did Hannibal’s elephants really make a difference? Some say that Hannibal’s elephants were crucial in establishing the morale of his troops against the legendary Roman legions and in intimidating other armies along the way into alliances; but others say that Hannibal’s elephants did the Carthaginian side more harm than good in their fight with Rome. I believe that Hannibal’s use of elephants was a mistake, not because war elephants were a dumb idea in general, but because Roman adaptability meant that the Romans would inevitably find a way around them.
  • In addition, you should outline any thoughts you have so far on what kinds of evidence you think will help you make your case in the final paper.
  • I’ll respond to the proposal with feedback and suggestions to help you map out your research and writing.


Due Monday, April 8  Write a 3 page essay that takes a position based on ONE of the following questions:

  1. Visit any museum exhibition or collection of art, architecture, or other artifacts of the ancient world. Choose two or three comparable artworks from different eras, from different places, or both.
    The question: 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?
    • For example: a statue of a young man from Rome and another from Roman Spain, or a decorated vase from the Republican period and one from the principate or dominate period.
    • You must describe in detail how what you see leads you to concrete conclusions about these ancient peoples. Be bold, be provocative, and be specific.
    • Possible venues:
      • Metropolitan Museum: Greek and Roman Art
      • You are, of course, not limited to these venues, and you are not limited to New York. If you happen to travel during the semester, say on spring break, you can write about works you see on exhibition while you’re there.
    • 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 Google Images search.
  2. Watch any feature-length film that seriously depicts the ancient world and compare it with a primary source—written evidence about that society or those events.
    The question: Both the movie and the written evidence are artistic interpretations of reality. 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?
    • Some possibilities (not exhaustive; I will give you specifics on where to look in the primary sources on request):
    • Film   Possible Primary Sources to Compare
      Caligula (1980) [warning: explicit sex] Suetonius; Cassius Dio
      Cleopatra (1963) Plutarch: Caesar and Antony.
      Gladiator (2000) Cassius Dio, Herodian, Historia Augusta
      I, Claudius (1976) [1-2 episodes] Tacitus: Annals (or Suetonius)
      Rome (2005–2007) [1-2 episodes] Various
      Spartacus (1960) Livy; Appian; Plutarch
      The Eagle (2011) Tacitus: Agricola
    • 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.


Due at the class meeting after your presentation  Write a 2–3 page essay that does the following:

  • Briefly summarizes what the document says and, more importantly, discusses 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.