Course Expectations

In order to have the best possible experience in this course, please make sure that you’re familiar with my expectations for participation, writing, and speaking.


First, that you be present at F2F sessions. Each unexcused absence past the first will lower your participation grade by 10% — as will persistent lateness.

Second, that you prepare for discussions by completing assigned readings, following posts at our course blog, and watching webisodes. This should be apparent from response papers and contributions to seminar discussion, but I also reserve the right to check your level of preparation with unscheduled quizzes or short in-class writing assignments.

Third, that you contribute to discussion, both F2F (Mondays and Fridays) and online (by commenting on blog posts the weeks that we have them).

You’ll have at least one opportunity to boost your participation grade: if you attend the 2017 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium at Univ. of Northwestern – St. Paul (4/22) and write a short reflection on what you heard, I’ll award up to ten points of extra credit.

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Although I will provide detailed guidelines for your short response papers and for each essay, I have some basic expectations of students for any written work. How well you meet those expectations will largely determine your grade. Grading is based on the following categories. They are roughly listed from most to least important, but all will be considered in grading, unless otherwise noted.

Original Thought and Analysis

Above all, any essay must reflect your own work. So, #1, do not plagiarize or commit other forms of academic dishonesty (see the Bethel policy on this, linked on Moodle). But also, do not simply try to summarize what you’ve read or heard from others. While I do expect you to provide illustrative details, your own voice must come through in any writing.

Be General and Specific

Perhaps more than anything else, this separates A’s from B’s and C’s. It is not hard to assert generalizations and opinions, and even to write them in a persuasive style, all the while failing to provide any supporting evidence.

It is also easy simply to string together detail after detail and overwhelm the reader with the weight of evidence, while never stepping back to explain why all of that matters. This may reflect more work than gross generalization, but it’s hardly effective.

The best historical writing balances the General and the Specific.

Use and Citation of Sources

Your writing should reflect your reading (or, in the case of video clips I share, listening) and research. Still, while quotations are often necessary to support your argument (or to add a distinctive voice from a primary or secondary source), a little goes a long way. Do not use quotations to provide basic information. Do not use them to say something that you yourself could say just as well and with just as much authority. (Even when the author is making an original point, you can probably paraphrase her or his words.) And do not drop a quotation into a paragraph and expect me to interpret why it’s there; give context.

I also expect you to be able to identify the difference between primary and secondary sources (we’ll talk about this in class), and to recognize if books and articles are intended for scholarly audiences.

Most prosaically, but not to be overlooked: attribute your sources. If you quote (or paraphrase) someone else’s words or original research, you must cite that source in your paper (including the specific page number).

Among historians the dominant citation style is the one used by the University of Chicago Press and summarized by the late Kate Turabian in one of your required texts, and I will expect you to use it for this course. Unless otherwise directed, use the footnote/ bibliography format, not the parenthetical note/reference list version. (You may use endnotes instead of footnotes; they have the same format in Turabian.)

Write with a tone and structure appropriate to the genre

Your essays will not look exactly like your response papers, as each genre has its own style and purpose. Academic essays will make more frequent reference to the work of other scholars, defend a thesis of some kind, and even anticipate other arguments. They are longer because the reader is more knowledgeable about the topic and expects you to engage in significant depth and sophistication with a complicated idea; they follow an introduction-body-conclusion structure, with each paragraph well-developed and elaborating on a single topic sentence.

The response papers, on the other hand, may be more personal and informal in tone, less settled in their conclusions, and (since they may appear on our blog) intended for a more general audience. (Your Christian vocation essay will be more like this as well, since it’s less like a review or report than an autobiographical reflection.) At the same time, the response papers are not necessarily easier to write or less polished. Because they are shorter, you must be concise with your words and economical in your structure. Because they may be published in a public forum (the blog), you’ll want to make sure you’ve written clearly and proofread.


Good writing requires rewriting. Do not expect to dash off even 300 words and get it exactly right the first time through. Plan to take time to edit and make sure of the following:

  • That your first and last paragraphs are compelling. Whatever the type of writing, you need to make a good first impression and hook the reader for the remainder of what you’ve written, and then leave them feeling like they’ve reached the end of an argument rather than that you simply ran out of things to say.
  • That your writing flows: true both within paragraphs (so that one sentence naturally builds upon another) and as they fit together. Be sure to think through the sequence in which paragraphs are ordered and how you make transitions.
  • That your writing is both concise and precise. Concise: don’t use six words when three will do; don’t repeat the same idea two sentences later; don’t use a twelve-letter long word unless that particular word perfectly captures what you mean to say. Precise: say exactly what you mean as clearly as you can and choose your words carefully. Be leery of using multiple pronouns in a single sentence or pair of sentences. In most situations, avoid the passive voice, since such sentences have no definite subject.
  • That you’ve caught spelling and grammatical mistakes. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suits, have someone else read your paper (always a good idea anyway) or make an appointment at the Writing Center (also a good idea for lots of reasons). Errors here distract the reader from the line of argument and convey an impression of sloppiness, that you didn’t care to take the time to read through your own work before turning it in

Before turning in any essay, make sure that it has each of the following:

o Your name     o Your PO box     o A title     o Page numbers
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Much of what makes for good written communication also pertains to effective oral presentation: original thought; balancing the general and specific; having clear, flowing structure; using sources (quotations, images, etc.) effectively; starting and ending well; being concise and precise; and understanding the genre of the presentation.

In addition, I will look for the following qualities when you make your group presentations:

  • Preparation: you should have a good sense of how long your talk will be (in total, and each section); you should be familiar with any technology you’ll use to supplement your speaking; you shouldn’t need to rely entirely on notes or a PowerPoint to let you know what point is coming next. It should be evident to your audience that what they’re hearing isn’t the first time you’ve given this talk.
  • Command: you should come off as being knowledgeable about your topic (both specific details and the bigger picture), not needing to rely on written notes and able to handle appropriate questions. (Not that you’ll have an answer to all queries — sometimes command means being able to acknowledge that you’re not sure how to answer.)
  • Delivery: more than occasional eye contact; delivered at the right pace and volume for listeners to understand without straining.
  • Use of Multiple Media: use images, audio, or video as relevant — but not in place of your own voice. Use PowerPoint or Prezy if it enhances the presentation — but do not simply read off the computer screen.
  • Collaboration: It should be clear that you can work well with others in the group. (This dovetails with preparedness in many ways.)

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