Term Essay = 30%
The essay is due at the beginning of tutorial on Thursday, 28 November and should be 2000 words long. I will not read beyond 2000 words. Review the guidelines for writing essays on pp. 3-4 of the syllabus.
The essay is due at the beginning of tutorial on Thursday, 28 November and should be 2000 words long. I will not read beyond 2000 words.
You will write a critical evaluation of either James B. Collins, The State in Early Modern France or Dale K. Van Kley, The Religious Origins of the French Revolution: From Calvin to the Civil Constitution, 1560-1791.
Your evaluation must take into consideration two or three book reviews published in academic journals found in the SFU library. Avoid popular journals such as History Today. Concentrate on reviews that devote substantial and meaningful attention to the book that you have chosen. You may find a review of your book embedded in a discussion of a series of books on a common theme.
The easiest way to find book reviews is through the Humanities and Social Sciences Index database available via the SFU Library Home Page. Look under "Research Tools." Once at the HSSI, perform an author search, where the author is the author of the book that you have chosen.
You may also, if you wish, incorporate material from other assigned readings in History 318 to assist you in critically evaluating the book that you have chosen.
Your essay must use proper footnote and bibliographic form. Consult the most recent edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, available in the reference section of the Bennett Library. I have summarized essential aspects of format here.
A critical evaluation is a response or reaction, based on intelligent judgment, to a piece of writing. It is not a summary of the contents of a book. Essays that limit themselves to a summary of one of the books will not fulfill the requirement of the assignment.
As you prepare your essay, ask yourself questions such as: What are the strengths and/or weaknesses of the book? Does the book have a thesis? What is it and how well does the author prove it? Does the author provide convincing evidence or a compelling analysis of relevant primary and/or secondary sources? Do you think the book makes an important contribution to its subject? Why or why not?
Your essential evaluation of the book should be your thesis, the basic point you wish to prove. State your thesis in the introduction of your essay and devote your essay to proving the thesis through an analysis of the book in question as well as of the book reviews. One approach that recommends itself is to consider one central theme in your essay, a theme that will provide your essay with conceptual unity. A "scatter-gun" approach of making several observations that are at best tenuously linked will likely not produce a successful essay.
Please note that a critical evaluation is not necessarily a negative evaluation.
Your essay should avoid banalities. Do not comment on minor problems, such as typographical errors, or on standard expectations of published historical monographs, i.e. do not praise a book for its bibliography. Historians are supposed to base their books on thorough research. Only when they neglect this duty ought we to comment.
Furthermore, refrain from caviling at writing style. You may presume that Collins and Van Kley write grammatically correct and thus intelligible sentences. If you do not understand any words they use, look up their meaning in a dictionary. Do not fault authors for their wide-ranging vocabulary or for their intellectual sophistication. Anti-intellectualism has no place in critical evaluations, which are exercises of the application of reason and intellect.
How to incorporate the book reviews into your essay: Read the reviews carefully. Are they critical evaluations or merely summaries of the book? If they do make judgments, what do they praise and/or criticize about the book. Do they evaluate substantive matters or matters of secondary importance? On what grounds do they praise and/or criticize the book? Do you agree with the evaluations in the reviews? Why or why not?
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