Evaluative Critique of a Scholarly Debate Instructions
Scholars often put forward competing interpretations for the same aspect of a primary source (the readings in the anthology) or even for a primary source’s overall theme. These competing interpretations can be thought of as a scholarly debate about a piece of literature.
Your goal for the essay is to conduct research until you find scholars who offer competing interpretations for the same primary source. The primary source must be a selection found in our anthology (American author/published before 1865). Once you find the scholarly debate, you will explain each scholar’s thesis, supporting points, and use of evidence. After, you will make it clear which scholar constructs the stronger argument by evaluating each side’s argument (thesis, use of evidence, appeals to logos, appeals to ethos, etc.). Finally, you will choose a side, apply it to primary textual evidence not covered by the scholar, and show that the scholar you chose is actually the stronger.
This means that your opinions will not be about the primary source but about how well each side in the debate constructs his/her/their argument.
Purpose: As an author, your purpose is twofold: 1) inform your reader about each side of the debate and 2) evaluate each side so your reader understands the strengths and weaknesses of the two competing interpretations.
Audience: Your audience will have read the primary source but not the secondary sources. Consequently, the primary source does not need to be summarized but a thorough summary of each scholar or side of the debate is needed before you can evaluate their arguments.
Genres: Summary, evaluation, and compare/contrast.
Documentation: MLA rules, especially regarding direct and indirect source use. All instances of quotation, paraphrasing, and summarizing must be given in-text credit: attributions and parenthetical references.
Length: A minimum of 1,500 words
Works cited list: Follow the MLA rules for the works cited list; include the primary and secondary sources
Primary source: It must be a selection from the anthology. Consequently, it must be written by an American author and published before 1865. It is preferable if the chosen selection was assigned during the semester so you are not doing additional reading work.
Secondary sources: You must use a minimum of two secondary sources. These must be scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles from either of the academic databases JSTOR or Project Muse. You must access these databases via WC’s library page. (click here). They each must be a minimum of eight pages. They cannot be study guides, reviews, abstracts, or essays from the general internet. If you need them, the library has posted video tutorials for the databases (click here and look at the bottom of the right side column. The last two items are tutorials for JSTOR & Project Muse, out two required databases for the project). However, the example searches they run are not the same keyword searches you should use. Your keyword searches should pertain to the chosen primary source.
**Click here to read three sample papers. **
Prewriting Step One:
This project begins when you choose a primary source from the anthology that may have two or more competing interpretations for some aspect of it. Next, “research is coming.”
While you will not be in the actual library stacks, you will conduct research in the library’s electronic databases (JSTOR or Project Muse) until you find two scholarly articles that offer competing interpretations for some aspect of a primary source or for the work’s theme. This will take some time as you must read the sources until you find two that engage in a conversation about the same aspect of a work. Run searches by using the primary source’s title as your keyword search. Just to clarify, using the two specified databases is a requirement of the essay.
Prewriting Step Two:
Once you find the scholarly articles, annotate them. At a minimum, you should develop an annotation system that allows you to mark each article’s main points, use of evidence, appeals to logos, appeals to ethos, or appeals to pathos. Below is a good system, but rather than use +/- for agreement, use it to note strengths (+) or weaknesses (-).
Annotations as a list rather than a table: number the body paragraphs, underline key words or ideas, double underline the main or central idea (you may need to state this in you own words), use an asterisk for important ideas/points, circle unfamiliar vocabulary so you can look up the definitions, place a question mark in the margin for areas that are confusing so you can study them at length later, place an exclamation mark next to surprising information, use marginal notes to track your thoughts and reactions to the author’s ideas, use + and – to show areas with which you agree (+) or disagree (-). These same notations can be used for areas that you think are well done or poorly done.
If the author states an overt thesis, mark it too. If the author uses an implied thesis, explain it in your own words. As you annotate, you should also mark what you think are the stronger main points and which ones are weaker. When you rough publish, these annotations will guide you as you summarize and evaluate the articles. This should save you time as you write.
Engage the reader, mention the primary source, and end with an explanation of the two sides of the literary debate. This can be framed as a statement or as a question (see the sample essays). Do not yet mention the secondary sources. Save this for the next section.
2nd Paragraph – Summary Skill
Introduce one of the scholarly articles by the author’s full name and title of the article. As you do so, explain the author’s thesis. After the thesis explanation, summarize the article, covering its most important supporting points along with a discussion of its use of evidence. Paraphrase more than direct quote. As you cover these main points, you will find yourself covering the scholar’s use of evidence, both primary and secondary. Remember to use the indirect source parenthetical references as you do so. When explaining the scholar’s ideas or main points, you simply use a normal parenthetical reference with only the page number in it. Use the qtd. in method only when taking ideas that do not belong to the scholar. Do not forget to use attributions in addition to parenthetical references. Quote sequences of words three or more that belong to someone else, and use block quotes when necessary. However, paraphrasing / explaining is the goal, not direct quotations.
3rd Paragraph – Summary Skill
Create a transition that makes it clear you are moving to the other side of the debate. Then, introduce that side’s scholar and do the same thing for this second scholar. Remember, the first time you use a source, the attribution needs to include the author’s first and last name as well as the title of the article. After, the attribution should be only the author’s last name. Always use parenthetical references as you use ideas from the sources.
4th Paragraph – Evaluation
Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of one scholar’s argument and interpretation. Remember, you must still use attributions and parenthetical references as you do so.
5th Paragraph -Evaluation
Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the next scholar’s argument and interpretation. Remember, you must still use attributions and parenthetical references as you do so.
6th and Final Paragraph -Evaluation & Compare/Contrast
Although the paragraphs that critique each side of the debate should hint at which side you think is stronger, this paragraph should make it clear which side is the most plausible and why. It is here that you may want to compare/contrast the two sides as you make your final arguments for why one side is better constructed than the other. Once you choose, apply the argument to textual evidence not covered by the scholar to show that it holds true. This is where you explain why you agree or disagree with an author and prove that your choice is the best one.
Include a Works Cited List
The works cited list needs to include at least three sources: the primary source from the anthology and the two secondary sources from the required databases. Be sure you use the works cited list entry for a selection in an anthology and not the anthology itself.
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