Essay 1: A Midwife’s Tale
Due Thursday, October 21, 2020
One of the major themes of the course is reading texts and evaluating them, thinking about sources the way a historian might. For this assignment, you write a book review, a way to reflect on what a book (a prevalent secondary source) says and how / why it says what it does. If you wrote book reviews in high school, this might be a bit different than you are used to because you need to evaluate the book, not just recite it back to the reader. In this case you will be reviewing our first book, A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Your essay must summarize the content, lay out the thesis (argument), and appraise how successful the book was at making its arguments. Though you need to recap the book, most of your review should be a critique or argument; your assessment is essentially your thesis statement. Critiques should not be all negative, but weigh the positive and negatives of the book, providing your own reaction to the text.
A note on argument: Finding and relaying the argument of a book can be one of the hardest parts of reviewing it. Often, the argument is summarized in the introduction, where the author lays out what the book is and what the set out to do in their writing. One way to figure it out is to think about what questions the writer wants to answer and then work out what their answer (or argument) is. Sometimes, the author neatly summarizes their argument in one sentence, while in other instances they take multiple paragraphs to give the full breadth. Some books have a big argument that is supported by smaller arguments. And in some cases it would be fair to say the author does not make a clear argument at all, though if that is the case your job is to say what the argument appears to be and why it was difficult to be sure.
Major items of note:
• Do not spend more than a third of the review summarizing the book
• Do not go through the book chapter-by-chapter. Think of the book as a whole or in large chunks of themes, ideas, and sub-arguments.
• Though you may lightly cite from the book, do not make quotes most of your summary. Use your own words.
• Your claims must be supported. If you feel the book needs to talk more about x, explain why.
The forums and my inbox are always open for questions if you need clarity. Also, many professors have written some helpful guides to writing book reviews beyond what is written here, a few of which are listed below.
Note: If you read any recommendations of how to write a review online and it contradicts these instructions, you should follow the instructions.
Kent also has an excellent writing center on campus, which you can contact for help in improving your writing. You can find more information here.
• Must upload word doc or equivalent on Bb by clicking the assignment title and uploading a file
• Standard font (Times New Romans, Calibri, Arial, etc.), size 10-12
• 1 inch margins, double spacing
• Title at the top, page numbers in top right corner
• Note: I prefer to grade anonymously (i.e. so I do not know who the students are) so please do not place your name on the essay
• Between 900 and 1200 words. The word count listed must be listed at the end
• Any quotes must have a parenthetical citation of the page number. You do not need any other sources, but if you do you must cite them according to the style of your choice (MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.) and include a bibliography.
• Since part of this paper includes your own reflections, feel free to use first person (I, me) if appropriate
• Must include:
o Summary of text (no more than a third of the review)
o The book’s thesis
o Your own personal assessment of the book, which must consider how well the text uses evidence to make the case for its thesis
▪ Note: This is technically your own thesis or argument for this essay
▪ Considering the use of evidence is the minimum. Better arguments will consider other issues as well. The “additional evaluations” below are great things to add weight to your argument.
• An “A” essay must include at least 3 of the following additional evaluations. A “B” essay must include at least 2, and a “C” paper must include at least 1 of the following. You must list which of the below you included in the text box of the submission page:
• How clear the book was and if it was well-written
• The author’s state goals and how well they achieved those goals
• The structure of the book and how it helps or hurts the argument
• The sources they use and how effectively they use them (this would require you to look at the footnotes in the back)
• The kind of history the author seems to focus on (gender, class, race, politics, etc.), how it might affect their argument, and how their argument might change if they changed their focus
• How fair or accurate the author seems to be, any biases you perceive, and how those biases influence / detract from / enhance the book
• What historical knowledge do you feel a reader would need to fully understand the book and how that affects the experience of reading the book
• The best audience for the book and why
• How the book fits within other historical writing you have encountered (including things you have read both in and out of the course) and how the book compliments or argues against those other pieces.
• Note: the above does not guarantee you the equivalent grade, since the quality of what you include matters. It is the minimum needed.
• Papers should be free from major grammatical and spelling mistakes. They should be edited for clarity and argument.
• For further clarification, a rubric has been created and listed in the submission page.
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