Learning Goal: I’m working on a ethnic studies writing question and need support to help me learn.
Assignment: Read the following primary sources, excerpts from The Travels of John Mandeville Preview the document (read only sections without a line through them) and Hernan Cortes’s Letter to Charles VPreview the document. Preview the documentThen, write a paper (1300-1500 words) with a thesis statement and argument backed up with evidence from both primary sources. Your paper will be a response to one of the questions provided, with your answer serving as your thesis statement.
Find a similarity in these two texts. You can find many—a focus on food and feasting; powerful and rich emperors; crazy architecture, exotic animals, just to name a few—but focus on one. Why might Cortes have borrowed from Mandeville? That is, how does emphasizing this element help Cortez win the king’s favor?
Hint: In the first part of your paper, you will want to demonstrate that there is a similarity. Then, answer the question of what this similarity means.
Europeans, and especially the Spanish, justified conquest in Christian religious terms, arguing that conquest was intended to spread Christianity or unite Christians. Look at how both texts discuss religion and look for similarities and differences. Is religion the primary motivating factor? If not, what is the motivating factor and what role did religion play.
HINT: You may argue that it is, that is was a factor but that something else was the primary factor, that something else far outweighed religion, or any number of things. DO mention religion, and why it was included, but it doesn’t need to be the main focus of the paper if you think something else is more important.
HINT: Keep in mind that interpretations of religion change over time. This is not a question addressing whether or not YOU believe their actions are in line with your definition of Christianity but whether or not there is evidence in the text that religion was a primary motivating factor.
Remember that both texts are substantially imaginary. Mandeville is a work of fiction based on travel accounts of others and Cortes’s letter is meant to impress Charles more than it is meant to accurately describe a place. Both became bestsellers to a general audience in Early Modern Europe. As such, both texts say more about the desires and fears of Europeans than about places beyond Europe.
Citing Evidence: It is important for you to ground your argument in evidence from both primary sources. Incorporate the source material into your own writing by paraphrasing or quoting.
Because your references should be confined to class readings, you may use parenthetical citation, rather than the Chicago style citation historians prefer. That is, cite as follows: (Cortes) or (Mandeville). I discourage you from using sources beyond these two. Instead, concentrate on writing a good argument.
Audience: Assume that you are writing for one of your classmates, who has attended this class and read the book but focused on a different topic.
Resources:Keep in mind that there are several resources available to you as you write:
I am happy to talk with you about ideas or organization. Once you have a draft (even a rough draft), we are also happy to look that offer suggestions on how to make the paper stronger. We do ask for 48 hours turn-around time to get it back to you.
Your writing assistants are here to help you. They can meet online or provide help by email.
The History Writing Tutors (Links to an external site.) are freely available and can help with all aspects of writing. They are working fully online.
Grading Criteria: In this paper, we will be looking especially for:
A clear thesis statement that answers the question.
Good paragraph structure (topic sentences, evidence, and conclusions) as well as analysis in each paragraph, and a logical organization of those paragraphs.
Evidence from both primary sources that is carefully chosen to best support your argument that that comes from throughout the texts.
A good understanding of the historical context. That means that you understand European exploration of the world as we have discussed it in class, define the terms you use, and don’t make historical errors in interpreting the documents.
For more on what we looks for in papers, see the “Writing Hints” handoutPreview the document.
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