Construct a good argument that proves your thesis

The Essay is your chance to explore a topic from class in greater depth and allows you to demonstrate your curiosity, generate independent work, and show your mastery of the basics of analytical academic writing. Your Essay is worth 20% of your overall course grade. The grading guidelines for the Essay are explained in the “Rough Grading Rubric” that is available in the “Essay” folder on the course Blackboard page.
The primary goal of the Essay assignment is to help you become more accomplished and capable academic writers. Through this assignment, you should learn that writing is always a process of many discrete steps as well as how to conduct research, structure an argument, respond to feedback, and revise your own writing. To complete this assignment successfully, you will have to:
Decide on a research topic
Propose a worthwhile research question on that topic
Perform independent academic research to answer your question
Create a cogent and analytical thesis that answers your research question
Construct a good argument that proves your thesis; this should involve claims and evidence
Write an excellent introduction that includes your research topic, research question, thesis, and, usually, a list of the claims you will use
Write well-structured body paragraphs that utilize evidence from your research in order to prove your claims and your thesis
Use Chicago-style footnotes or endnotes to cite your research in an organized manner
The most important element of your essay is that it should be analytical and argumentative, rather than purely descriptive and summarizing. Here is what this means: you should not tell me the who/what/when of an historical event but rather the how or why. When you formulate your research question, make sure that it is a why or how question. A good research question is more likely to lead you to formulate an analytical thesis rather than a descriptive one. If you are unsure about how to structure an academic argument in your essay, please consult the optional lecture “Academic Writing,” which is included in a subfolder called “Bonus Lectures for Essay” in the Essay folder on Blackboard. This lecture is completely optional, but is recommended.
Because the thesis is the most important element in any good research paper, you will be required to formulate your thesis and turn it in to me two weeks prior to the Essay due date—this will fall in Week Twelve of our semester. This requirement has several positive consequences. First, it allows you to get early feedback on your Essay to ensure that you are on the right track before you have started the drafting stage of the writing process. Second, it allows me to speak to each student about the Essay and offer additional instruction. Third and finally, it keeps both of us accountable by having you work on your Essay at least two weeks prior to the due date and by putting me into contact with you about your Essay.
Because one key goal of this course is to help students become more accomplished academic writers, I will accept early versions of your essay to provide feedback and pointers. At any stage of the writing process, please send me questions about or drafts of your essay and I will happily read through them and provide instruction for improving your writing. There is no limit to the number of drafts that I will read from each student, but do be reasonable and understand that I have a limited amount of time for the course and several hundred students in my classes this semester. I will decide whether to read or not read a draft and I will decide the extent of the comments that I will provide.
There are two options available for you to complete the Essay. Below, I explain each option in greater detail. Regardless of which option you select, the Essay should be 5-7 pages in length in standard format—12-point, Times New Roman font, double spacing, one-inch page margins—and should employ Chicago-style footnotes or endnotes for all citations. You must cite at least three academic sources you used for your research.
The Essay is due at midnight on 1 May. You must also turn in your thesis two weeks prior to this deadline, so your Thesis is due at midnight on 15 April.
Essay Topic Option One:
Very little physical evidence from the ancient and medieval periods remain in the world today. Among the most dramatic and historically useful of these remains are defensive fortifications such as walls, forts, and castles. This topic option asks you to investigate defensive fortifications. There are several possibilities for creating your Essay. You may: research a specific castle, such as Urquhart Castle in Scotland; research a specific element of defensive fortifications, such as arrow slits; research a specific type of defensive fortification, such as Irish ringforts; research the role of fortifications in a specific battle or war, such as Caesar’s magnificent fort in the Battle of Alesia; research why some areas (such as Wales) have several spectacular castles or why some areas (such as Ireland) have few (and small) castles; or a range of other potential topics.
To help students get started, I have recorded an optional lecture titled “Castles and Defensive Architecture,” which is included in a subfolder called “Bonus Lectures for Essay” in the Essay folder on Blackboard. This lecture is completely optional, but is recommended. This lecture presents several examples of various castles and defensive fortifications and places them in historical context.
Remember to follow the steps laid out above: begin with a how/why research question, then conduct your research, and then formulate an analytical thesis.
Essay Topic Option Two:
This topic is for students who either have a very sharp interest in one specific topic or who have very little interest at all in defensive fortifications. This topic option is open, with a few caveats. In other words, you can write about any topic within the scope of our class, within a few guidelines.
First, you cannot write about a topic that we cover in great detail in the course lectures. For example, you cannot write about the Battle of Thermopylae between the Persians and Greeks in 480BCE. You can, however, still write about the Greeks, the Persians, the Greco-Persian rivalry, or other related topics, just not the Battle of Thermopylae specifically. For a second example, you cannot write about what made the Pax Romana an important period in Roman history, but you can still write about the emperorship of Nero specifically or the Germanic wars fought by Marcus Aurelius, both of which took place during the Pax Romana.
Second, your topic must be within the ancient or medieval periods. This means that you cannot write about events that took place after the Ottoman sack of the city of Constantinople in 1453. You certainly can write about a topic or geographical area that we do not cover much in the lectures, such as Southeast Asia or East Africa. It is recommended that you select a topic that happened after the invention of writing, but this is not required.
Third, your topic must be approved by me. If you do not ask me to approve a topic before 12 April, I will assume that you have selected Essay Topic Option One and are writing about something related to castles and defensive fortifications.
Remember to follow the steps laid out above: begin with a how/why research question, then conduct your research, and then formulate an analytical thesis.

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