Synthesis – Draft

Feb 9

Columbus and First Contact (Draft)

500 word (2p) First Draft due by class on Tue, Feb 9

This first paper assignment asks you to read, to synthesize, to analyze, and to make an argument in response to writings by and about Christopher Columbus and Spanish colonialism. (Much of the following has been borrowed, with permission, from Prof Underwood.)

Skills You Will Develop and Exercise: Focus on Working with Sources

Writing at the college level doesn’t just mean using more sources; it means using sources in more sophisticated ways. In this assignment you will read sources closely, teasing out the logic of their arguments and making connections between different writers. You will practice the skills of definition, exemplification, summary, paraphrase, and quotation, integrating material from sources into your own argument with signal phrases and correctly formatted citations.

In high school, you likely learned the distinction between primary and secondary sources. In this class we will refine and deepen that distinction by reference to “B.E.A.M.,” a schema for categorizing sources developed by Dean Joseph Bizup, former Director of the CAS Writing Program at B.U. The acronym BEAM highlights four distinct roles that sources often play in academic writing: Background, Exhibit, Argument and Method:

  • Background — materials whose claims a writer accepts as grounding facts and expects readers to accept as grounding facts.
  • Exhibit — materials a writer offers for explication, analysis, or interpretation.
  • Argument — materials whose claims a writer affirms, disputes, refines, or extends in some way.
  • Method (or “Theory”) — materials from which a writer derives a governing concept or a manner of working.

This first assignment challenges you to construct an argument employing sources in all four roles: drawing information from a “Background” source and ideas from an “Argument” source, you will analyze evidence from an “Exhibit” source to answer a question posed by reference to a “Theory” source.

Here’s the theory source and the question: which types of colonialism described by Nancy Shoemaker in her “A Typology of Colonialism” best characterize the colonialism introduced to the New World by Columbus? Note that this does NOT ask you to debate the merits of Columbus’ accomplishments or of the Columbus Day Holiday. Rather, it asks you to classify the colonial system that he set out to create.

You are LIMITED in your choice of sources to the following possibilities (you need at least one in each category):

Background Sources:

  1. “Origins of European exploration in the Americas.” Khan Academy Video and Transcript: link.
  2. “Christopher Columbus.” Khan Academy Video and Transcript: link.
  3. “Consequences of Columbus’s voyage on the Tainos and Europe.” Khan Academy Video and Transcript: link.
  4. Valerie I.J. Flint, University of Hull, England, “Christopher Columbus: Italian Explorer.” Encyclopædia Britannica: link.

Exhibit Source:

  • “Excerpts from Christopher Columbus’s Log, 1492 A.D.”: link.

Argument Sources:

  1. George E. Tinker and Mark Freeland, “Thief, Slave Trader, Murderer: Christopher Columbus and Caribbean Population Decline” (available via the BU Library: link.)
  2. David Armitage, “Christopher Columbus and the Uses of History” History Today (May 1992) 42, 5 (5) : 50-55: link.

Method (Theory) Source:

  • Nancy Shoemaker, “A Typology of Colonialism” Perspectives on History (May 2015): link.

Preparing to Write

Virtually all academic writing begins with critical reading. After reading this assignment in full, read the Background, Exhibit, Argument, and Theory sources with great care. Take notes, not only to find information, ideas and evidence relevant to answering the essay’s central question, but also to help you write the brief summaries that you will use when first introducing some (though not all) of these sources in your essay.

Why Summarize? Somewhere along the line, summary acquired an undeservedly bad reputation. It is true that when summary takes the place of an argument, essays lose momentum. Yet academic writing is distinct from most other genres of writing in that it depends upon reading comprehension that is both accurate and complete. College essays in all fields require their authors to provide their audiences with some kind of summary of the source to be criticized in the essay. There are, then, two critical reasons for requiring first-year writing students to learn how to summarize: (1) to make sure that they understand the arguments made by other writers, and (2) to make their essays accessible to non-experts or general readers.

Beginning your Draft

After reading and taking careful notes on Columbus’s log and several of the other sources listed above, read Elizabeth Abrams’ article on “Summary” (Harvard College Writing Center: link).

Next, try writing:

  1. A one page “true summary” of Nancy Shoemaker’s theory of the different types of colonialism.
  2. A page summarizing competing interpretations of Columbus’s motives in the “New World.”

Next, revise the two summaries you have written so that you incorporate (or artfully combine) both of them into a two-page first draft. Do not simply submit the summaries; instead, use portions of the summaries to develop your first draft. Your essay should begin with a problem statement – i.e., the problem you to introduce an unknown audience to justify an academic essay. (Reminder: a problem statement is not your “thesis statement” or main argument, which will appear later.). Next comes the exciting part of the drafting process: your analysis of the background, exhibit, and argument sources in order to apply the theory source!

You have enough prompting now to write a draft of Essay One. Note that the final version should be four pages in length, but this first draft should only be TWO QUALITY PAGES. This of this as a sketch of the longer argument to follow, and focus on clarity.

Turning in the Draft

Print/Export your draft to .pdf, give the file a meaningful name (“First Name Last Initial.pdf” for example), then turn it in via the comments, below. In the comment body, paste in your favorite sentence or short passage from what you just wrote.

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