Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Seminar Paper Guidelines (May 2010)

FON American Literature Seminar Paper Guidelines for Students in AJ484 and those of Other Professors
Special Version 26 May 2010
Gerald Siegel, Ph.D. (Visiting Professor, Spring 2010)

I have been asked by several students, both those in my classes and those whom I’ve never seen before, to serve as a reader for their “seminar papers” topics that relate to American Literature. I will certainly consider doing this for qualified students during my stay at FON as a visiting professor. There are some guidelines for this. These remarks pertain specifically to seminar papers and only partly to the critical essay project for the second half of the semester. See the separate instructions for that assignment if you’re one of the students in my classes doing that assignment instead.

The deadline for submission of seminar papers (electronic submissions only, please) is 27 May 2010. I am happy to confer with people about plans and rough drafts before that; since I am not on campus, either in Skopje or Struga, on a regular basis, these conferences are usually by e-mail. If you are unfamiliar with the notions of drafts and the process of writing, you may find the booklet Writing Process Overview useful. It is posted at my web site,

Do not assume that just because you e-mail or submit a paper to me that I will either accept or read it. The paper must follow these guidelines to be considered. If it does not, please revise it or rewrite it entirely before submitting it.

An obvious guideline. I leave and return to York College at the end of the semester, and I expect to be quite busy for various reasons during the month before I leave. So any requests, especially those by students from previous semesters and previously resident professors, must be made by the last day of classes in May, or I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to read your paper. It’s best to start work at least a month in advance, so that I can review your proposal and research question, look at your preliminary bibliography, and comment about rough drafts.

My expectations for an acceptable paper: a research-supported study of a literary topic in American Literature using a primary source (and primary and secondary analysis). The topic should be focused and based upon a clear research question. The discussion questions I provide in my classes can often be a starting point for research topics. In most cases, the primary sources plus 2 or three reputable secondary sources used correctly will suffice, although you may go beyond this. You can find a list of Research Sources that contains a number of free online reference sources on my web site at You’re demonstrating your ability to use research to support a critical analysis—and, of course, your ability to write in English.

It will normally be 5-10 pages long, but I’m more concerned about quality and original work than I am about specific length. You’ll find information about writing techniques and research practices at my web site at, where I’ve also posted an extensive list of free online research and reference sources, most of at least minimal quality and some quite good. I am also providing some instruction on writing literary papers and avoiding plagiarism during my American Literature classes and will distribute a small booklet on the subject at those sessions. This booklet, entitled Writing, Research, and Documentation: A Simplified Guide, is also available at my web site,

I expect papers to be printed out in 11 or 12 point type, double spaced, or submitted to me electronically (after I have agreed to read them) in the same format, as MSWord files. Please use security software on your computer so that you send me virus-free files.

Because these papers are being done in English and on American Literature topics, I expect you to follow American research ethics and practices, including complete, correct documentation for borrowed information (using MLA or APA format) and use of quotation marks to identify any words taken from any source. If the ideas or the words aren’t yours credit them. Be especially careful to follow these practices if you are not my student and have not had me explain these practices to you. Perhaps you have not had to follow them during your academic career so far. If you want me to read your paper, you do need to follow them now. Mainly, I’ll look for an honest attempt to follow those practices. They can be complicated, and small errors that don’t affect a paper’s meaning aren’t a significant concern for me. The most important documentation responsibility is giving credit where it’s due; clearly identify the words and ideas of others and you’ve done the most important part of documentation.

I take plagiarism and academic dishonesty very seriously. Please be sure any work you give me is original and uses correct documentation practices. “Writing, Research, and Documentation: A Simplified Guide” (mentioned above) explains research writing and documentation. If you don’t already have a copy or were unable to download it from the web site and need guidance in these skills, send me an e-mail at and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the file. Don’t insult me and embarrass yourself by turning in a paper that you have purchased from a print shop, another student, or an internet source. Don’t waste my time and yours by turning in as original work and your own words blocks of material entirely or mainly cut and pasted from internet resources or term paper mills and printed out under your name. As Andrea Lunsford observes in The Everyday Writer, , “deliberate plagiarism . . . is particularly troubling because it represents dishonesty and deception: those who intentionally plagiarize present the hard thinking and hard work of someone else as their own, and they claim knowledge they really don’t have, thus deceiving their readers.” (206) I do check for this, I’m pretty good at spotting it, and it’s easy to find with some internet searching.

Apart from academic integrity issues, student research can be interesting to read; student critical writing can open up and support new insights that may differ from those in traditional scholarship. Student writers who do honest research work hard and learn from the experience. They deserve the approbation and thoughtful responses of their colleagues, and I hope that those of you choosing to do American Literature seminar papers take time to share what you’ve learned with others in your classes.

You are free to develop your own research topics, although I must approve both your general subject area and your restricted topic, which I must have in writing or email by 15 May. You need my approval before going on. You’ll find a list of useful free online research sources at my web page, . Be sure you don’t pick too big a topic, and don’t even think about using other people’s papers, whether bought, borrowed, or cut and pasted from websites and study guides. You could just develop a workable topic from some of my study guide questions. I’m also listing a few possibilities below. These are just preliminary ideas.

Develop a seminar paper topic from any of our guide questions. For students not in my classes: you will find these questions under the names of the authors or in the American :Literature category on
Discuss Bradstreet’s incorporation into her poetry of the imagery of her everyday life.
How does Franklin’s Autobiography demonstrate his importance as an international figure?
How does the America shown in Sarah Kemble Knight's The Journal of Madame Knight reveal the culture of her day?
What were the sources and applications of Washington Irving's use of myth and legend in 2 specific works?
How did Puritanism have specific impacts upon two or more specific Hawthorne short stories?
Compare Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” with Thomas Morton’s account of these events.
Explain Poe’s critical theories an explained in any two works besides “The Philosophy of Composition.”
Explain Poe's views of the theory and practice of fiction as expressed in two works of his own critical writing?
What relationships between individual and society does Melville present in Benito Cereno?
How does Melville use history in Billy Budd?
In what ways did Walden or Civil Disobedience function as social criticism?
How did Whitman change and develop Leaves of Grass over its various editions?
Discuss the notion that Whitman’s poetry is not devoid of any structure or shape, supporting your answer by specific references to two or more poems of at least 20 lines each.
An overview of Some Contemporary (19th century) Responses to The Awakening
What varying interpretations exist for the character of Mrs. Mallard in Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour”?
Is Frost’s work that of a cheerful New England poet who creates pleasant regional images, one who creates a troubling, frightening world bordered by anxiety, anguish, doubts, and darkness, or both? (Discuss at least two poems.)
Discuss the attitudes toward religion expressed in Stevens’ “Sunday Morning”
Discuss Hughes’ use of rhyme, rhythm, meter, and musical elements in at least three poems.
Discuss conflict in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” “That Evening Sun” or “The Bear.”
Discuss Faulkner’s use of innovative and specialized narrative methods in “Barn Burning.”
Characteristics and origins of Imagism
Faulkner's Use of Yoknapatawpha in two Stories
To what extent do the concepts of honor and tradition influence the action in “A Rose for Emily”?
Compare and contrast Faulkner’s characterizations (especially how he builds sympathy for the characters) of Emily in “A Rose for Emily” and Abner Snopes in “Barn Burning.”
Discuss the attitudes toward honor and patriotism implicit within “Soldier’s Home.”
Examine how a specific work uses, changes, and fictionalizes history of some sort.
Examine how an extended poetic work demonstrates the unique characteristics of the poet.
Develop comparisons and contrasts between two works of fiction that deal with similar themes.

Some vary narrowed topic drawn from one of these subject areas might also work.
Relate multiple works by an author to specific biographical backgrounds. (Many possible topics)
Feminism in American Literature (various aspects)
Literary Responses to War
The Harlem Renaissance (an aspect not covered in class)
A study of one of the following as regional or local color fiction:
• Jewett, “The Revolt of Mother”;
• Chesnutt, “The Sheriff’s Children”;
• Paul Dunbar, “The Lynching of Jube Benson;
• Alice Dunbar-Nelson, “The Goodness of St. Rocque”;
• Zona Gale, “Nobody Rich, Nobody Poor,”
• Bret Harte, “The Luck of Roaring Camp,”
A study of one of the following as naturalist fiction:
• Sinclair, The Jungle;
• London, The Call of the Wild;
• Crane: Maggie, A Girl of the Streets;
• Dreiser, Sister Carrie;
• Norris, McTeague;
• Garland, “Under the Lion’s Paw”

How can I find and use minimal research in my paper?

You may decide to do a paper which reflects mainly your own critical analysis of material. Still, research is part of the seminar paper, so choosing this approach means that you’ll need to find some relevant way to demonstrate your ability to use research as part of the paper. Remember that even two or three references are enough to show that you know how to use and credit sources. Writing, Research, and Documentation: A Simplified Guide, available at my web site,, can show you how to document and use secondary sources. One useful approach: formulate some questions that you haven’t been able to answer as you wrote the paper, but which would add depth or support.

For example, while general biographical facts may not be particularly relevant, it’s often useful to know if specific events the writer experienced or knew about add information that clarifies or extends what you’ve written. Knowing that Twain grew up by the Mississippi and was a riverboat pilot there can help explain why he uses that setting, information useful to know if you decided to write about the role of the river in Huckleberry Finn.

A second way to use research is to test your judgment in your own critical analysis. Do any sites, even general ones, contain information that supports or disagrees with what you said? Support can add strength to your argument; disagreement may mean simply that you acknowledge a counter-argument and go ahead with your own interpretation. The following four sites are easy to use, and you’ll find others on my web site. For URLs and other contact details, see the “Research Sources (revised edition)” posting at my web site,

Free Online Reference Sources. This is a list of reference lists. I liked the Internet Public Library’s list of resources by subject.

The Oxford Companion to American Literature
lists a variety of sources, although some are quite brief. Just enter your search terms—such as “Hemingway + Soldier’s Home”—in the “Search” box, and you’ll find several possible articles.

PAL: Perspectives in American Literature: A Research and Reference Guide
by Paul P. Reuben, includes many useful links and even brief student written biographies including the correct documentation. It’s important not to copy from this site without giving credit and using quotation marks for borrowed words, but the site can lead to easily accessible useful information.

Virtual Learning Resource Center
has many useful links, including biographies and even a Cliffsnotes for 20th century poetry. The index is set up by author birthdates; to get information about William Carlos Williams, for example, you need to know that he was born between 1880 and 1890 (actually, 1883). You may need to install plug-ins to access all of the media at this site. The general site is http:://; you’ll find literature sources at http:://

Last updated 26 May 2010

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