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General Feedback: Pre-Class Responses

All in all, things are looking pretty good on the pre-class responses! I've added specific and hopefully useful feedback to each of your responses.

I also thought it might be helpful to provide a summary of the most common feedback I gave:

On Content:

The best posts so far have included some combo of the following in the post:

  1. Original insights/analysis - i.e., not summaries or repetitions from class or from the notes in the reading
  2. Quotes from the passage chosen - Usually short phrases to emphasize and give evidence for a key point. 
  3. Context information - typically from class or the Crash Course, occasionally from cited online sources too

Also. Do stay focused! Remember the goal of the assignment is to explain the importance of your chosen passage rather than the text as a whole.

On How to Read the Sources:

Awareness of Perspective

It's easy to assume that what's normal for me is normal for everybody. That's rarely the case though. Ideally, reading the primary sources pushes us to recognize the diversity of perspectives that exist in the past and present. 

So, while we can never set aside our own beliefs and values (nor should we), we do want to practice self-awareness about our perspectives. To do this, it's often helpful to start with this question: "I think x about this. Would the people I'm reading about share my opinion?" Or, put another way, "I think this is normal. Would it have been normal for the time period I'm reading about too?"

Obviously we can't know for sure what people in the past really thought (no time-traveling, alas). But we can arrive at conclusions based on the evidence available to us (including the readings assigned for class).

Dealing with Contradictions:

This is sort of a continuation of awareness of perspective. Typically, people don't contradict intentionally contradict themselves. So, for historians, the question is often this: How would the author/composer or original readers have resolved this contradiction? Or why wouldn't this have seemed like a contradiction to them?

We try to answer this question based on context. Sometimes, the issue is that we're watching a belief system in transition and people hold two seemingly contradictory ideas at once as they try to make sense of the world. Other times, it's a contradiction on our end - but would have seemed reasonable to them.

On Writing:

This isn't the main concern, but it's helpful to figure out how to write both clearly and concisely given the limited writing space of these responses. I mostly gave feedback on word choice and structure.

For word choice:

No need for academic-y language! Blog posts are an informal medium. Feel free to write like you're having a conversation with someone.

For structure:

  • Choose a single main point.
  • Start your post with that point.
  • Then use the rest of your sentences to explain your idea.
  • Emphasize the important points by referring back to specific portions of your chosen quote.

Heather Bennett

Professor, feminist, sci-fi geek. Historian interested in pedagogy, technology, gender/sexuality, archives, pop culture, medicine, intellectual history, world history.