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Welcome

Thinking and Writing is an introduction to college-level reading, thinking, and writing. As a student in this course you can expect to spend a good deal of your semester wrestling with the thoughts and words of others, building your own point of view, and learning to make use of feedback to improve your writing.

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“Every tree sends its fibers forth in search of the Wild,” Henry David Thoreau (Pune, India, March 2008)

This Thinking and Writing course is organized around the concept of wildness. The term wildness encompasses most everything in the physical universe—from the teeming microorganisms in our bodies to the unfolding realm of the cosmos. It is the real world, the world to which we belong. The phrase “search for wildness” describes the act of seeking awareness of this world–of seeking an understanding of the expression of the wild in nature and in culture.

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Community space and garden, Brooklyn, New York, summer 2012

The search for wildness takes many forms: it takes shape in individual questions about the meaning and purpose of human life; it gives rise to collective stories, myths, and purpose; it is organized in the cultural activities of natural history, spirituality, science and mathematics; it is pursued through historical and comparative studies of nature and/or culture; and it generates utopian and post-apocalyptic fictions about the ways human technologies are transforming the world.

The poet Gary Snyder defines the search for wildness as a practice: a deliberate sustained and conscious effort to become more aware of yourself and the world. Who am I? What am I doing here? What is going on?

Photo Mark C. Long, near Juneau, Alaska, Summer 2006

Above Juneau, Alaska, summer 2006

From the pursuit of a more “authentic” life by Chris McCandless to scientists building our understanding of the human biome, the search for wildness is the conversation of our time.

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006, photo Mark C. Long

Fireweed and glacier melt, near Haines, Alaska, summer 2006

I am confident that this course will challenge you in new ways. My work will be supporting you as you meet these challenges. I am looking forward to working with you.

The Question of the Opportunities

First Year Research & Writing Award

This Award honors excellence in research and writing of first year students at Keene State College.  First-year students are invited to submit papers that represent their best research and writing from any 100 level Integrative Studies Program course, including ITW. 

If you would like to submit your essay for this award, please let me know and I will give you the Application Cover Sheet, and I will work with you to submit the essay. The instructions are below. As you will see, the submission process includes a 750 – 1000 word essay in which the author reflects on and describes their research and writing process. This reflection could be readily derived from (or be a version of) your portfolio cover letter.

Information about the First Year Research & Writing Award

Papers may be on any topic but must include the use of information sources to support the author’s main ideas.  Papers must be a minimum of 2,500 words and include a bibliography or works cited page. In addition, submissions must include a 750 – 1000 word essay in which the author reflects on and describes their research and writing process. Submissions will also include a statement of support from a faculty member that directly addresses the quality of research and writing demonstrated in the paper.

Submissions will be judged by a panel of four faculty including two library faculty.  One first-place prize of $400 and two $50 honorable mentions will be awarded at the Opening Convocation in August 2019.

This award is generously funded by Credo Reference, a research database company that promotes knowledge building, problem solving and critical thinking to give people the information skills necessary for success throughout their academic, professional and personal lives.  The three winning papers and reflective essays will be shared with Credo Reference so that they may evaluate them to better understand the research processes of first-year students who are effective.

In addition, the three winning papers and essays will be published and made available in the Keene State College digital archive, The KSC Commons

The Writing Portfolio

The Writing Portfolio

The portfolio will include 1) a cover letter that describes what you have learned in this course and 2) all of the writing (with my comments and feedback) listed in the sequence below.

Cover Letter

A reflection essay on the work that you have accomplished this semester. This reflective cover letter will 1) explain your strengths and weaknesses as a writer coming into the course; 2) describe what you have learned in the course, about the course theme, writing, and yourself as a writer; and 3) consider the relevance and applicability of what you have learned in the course.

The Writing Project 

  • Final Version of the Essay will move a reader from a simple to a more complex understanding of your subject will require you to get a reader interested in your perspective.
  • Second Version of Essay will demonstrate your thinking has moved from a more simple to a more complex understanding of your subject.
  • First Version of Essay will answer the following question: How does what we know about this subject help us better understand the fullness and complexity of our place in the world?
  • Research Installments There are two research installments. Each of the written research installments has two parts: 1) a narrative summary of what you have read and how that reading has furthered your thinking and writing and 2) an annotated works cited page (in a sentence or two, summarize the argument or purpose of each piece of writing) with at least five entries.
  • Statement of Purpose and Motivation This statement of intent will be two single-spaced pages in length and will answer the following questions: In what ways has the book you read inspired your area of interest? What specifically are you planning to investigate? Do you have one or more questions you hope to answer in your research? What is motivating your inquiry?

Reading as a Writer 

Include the title of your book and a one-paragraph summary of what you learned in reading the book. Consider both what you learned about your yourself as well as what you learned about the world

  • Rationale: a one-page single-spaced essay that explains why you chose the book. 
  • Quotations: two pages of single spaced quotations that demonstrate your ability to choose significant passages from an extended narrative or sequence of essays
  • Page About a Page: one-page description that addresses what is being said and how it is being said.
  • Summary: a two-page single-spaced essay that offers an accurate and detailed summary of the salient themes, content threads, argument(s), conclusion(s) in the book
  • Commentary: a two-page single-spaced description of something in the book that you find of interest that includes analysis (textual and contextual) to explain why it might be of interest to others
  • Book Review (Optional) 3-5 page review of the book to complete sequence

Narrative Essay about your experiences writing in school

The first piece of writing you composed in this class

**

The description of Thinking and Writing, and the learning outcomes in writing, reading, critical thinking and information literacy, will likely be useful for composing the cover letter.

Thinking and Writing offers students the opportunity to explore how critical and creative thinking, researching, writing and evaluating quantitative information inform scholarly endeavors. The learning outcomes for this foundational course in the Integrative Studies Program (ISP) are for students to 1) demonstrate skills and ways of thinking that are essential for all students as they move through the academic curriculum and 2) write about an issue of special interest by focusing on a creative and complex question, investigating the question with critical analysis of readings, research and data, and using appropriate research techniques in documentation. More information about the ISP is available at the Keene State College Integrative Studies Program.

Thinking and Writing is organized around the following list of learning outcomes in writing, reading, critical thinking and information literacy:

Writing Outcomes

  • Use writing for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating.
  • Understand writing as a process that requires sustained thought over time and permits writers to use later invention and re-thinking to revise their work.
  • Formulate an original, complex and debatable claim, thesis, or hypothesis relating to the course theme or topic and develop that claim, thesis, or hypothesis in a semester-long researched writing project.
  • Cultivate disciplinary and interdisciplinary expertise necessary to question sources, develop ideas, and offer interpretations.
  • Incorporate sources appropriately.
  • Write with syntactical and grammatical competence (syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling).

Reading Outcomes

  • Use reading for inquiry, learning, thinking, and communicating
  • Analyze and evaluate the rhetorical features of peer and published texts (audience, thesis or main argument, quality of evidence, structure)
  • Understand the importance of reading in academic inquiry and research

Critical Thinking Outcomes

  • Move beyond initial reactions to an issue, topic, or idea toward a deeper understanding of the complexity of the issue.
  • Examine an issue, topic, or idea within a broader context, (for example, where does this issue sit within a larger social, political, or historical framework?).
  • Examine an issue, topic, or idea from more than one perspective (for example, reading not just those authors who support the writer’s position or viewpoint).

Information Literacy Outcome

  • Understand research as a multi-stage, recursive process that includes finding, evaluating, analyzing, reflecting on and synthesizing appropriate primary and secondary sources.

Nuts and Bolts: A Review

In our writing workshops we have reviewed titles, introductions, claims, organization, and conclusions. Below are a series of questions and examples to summarize these workshops. You might use these questions during your revision process in the next week.

Titles: How do I write an effective title?

An effective title will most often have these elements:

  • Will grab the attention of a reader
  • Will interest potential readers in what you have to say
  • Will provide a clear sense of the subject and context (authors, key terms, books)

Here are examples:

Satrapi, Spiegelman, and Sacco: Confronting Cultural Crisis Through the Art of Comics

A Blog of One’s Own: Women and Authorship in the Digital Revolution

Dramas of Solitude: Narratives of Retreat in American Nature Writing

Songs of Ourselves: The Use of Poetry in America

The World is Blue: How are Fate and the Oceans are One

A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation

Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit

Introductions: Where do I begin?

Here are a few considerations to begin talking about where to begin:

  • Define Context: Describe a general understanding of the idea/topic (“a recognizable intellectual context”)
  • Create a disruption of that general understanding (will usually involve a word such as “however,” “yet,” “but”): this is where you come in, and is the path from what “they say” to “I say.”
  • Follow the disruption with a clear and specific claim that will organize the content and guide the reader through the remainder of the essay

Here are two examples from early versions of ITW essays:

When you listen to people talk about science and religion you are likely to hear that they are incompatible. People will say “the two contradict each other” or “science is based merely on fact while religion is based in belief or fiction.” However, this common belief that science and religion are incompatible is fueled by the lack of knowledge and understanding of a complex relationship between two ways of thinking about the world. The purpose of this paper is to argue that science and religion are harmonious rather than antagonistic. I will use Richard Dawkin’s outlook on religion to clarify what I take to be a fundamental misunderstanding of doubt and faith.

Increasing evidence of what we call today the Ice Age changed the nineteenth-century world view of nature: it modified scientific assumptions, challenged religious beliefs, and stimulated the popular imagination. However, the most significant change was how people thought about time. An increasing attention to mountains as alluring places, and the new idea of attaining the summit as a significant achievement, brought the human imagination closer to nature’s timeline than ever before. This gap between nature and culture re-established itself in the twentieth century. Technological innovation improved people’s lives at the same time it obscured the growing gap between the “deliberate pace of nature” and the “impetuous and heedless pace of man” (7). Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring urges its readers to reconsider their lives as a part of the natural world by re-examining the pace of modern life.

Claims: What is n effective claim? Consider “They Say, I Say”

Consider these elements of an effective claim:

  • Your take on the subject
  • Debatable (not both sides but rather acknowledge multiple sides of an issue)
  • Complex
  • Justifies what you are doing (significance of what you are doing)
  • Visible and well deliberately placed in the essay
  • Well constructed sentence or sentences (clarity)

Here are two examples from ITW papers:

From Social Networking to Productive Classroom Work: Special Technology for Special Children

Of course, with every technological advancement there are downfalls, but I think it is of the utmost importance for people to understand what technology is doing for these children. The positive benefits outweigh the negative when it comes to technology in special education classrooms.

The purpose of my paper is to inform people of the more positive, unknown, benefits to technology and its advancement. Acknowledging the fact that there are negative affects such as distraction and decreasing social skills when it comes to technology, I try to show how the positives outweigh the negative. Exploring many different kinds of assistive technologies and their purposes, I hope to help the readers become more optimistic. My paper is essentially an informative essay, but still touching on the opposing arguments.

Overuse Injuries in Youth Sports

Youth sports can be damaging to children (Counter: Youth sports are valuable in many ways; Counter to counter: Youth sports can be made more valuable if necessary precautions are taken) My research paper is written on the rising epidemic of overuse injuries in youth sports.  My paper is not written to undermine youth sports programs in the United States, but it is instead written to enhance the program.  The point of my paper is to emphasis the importance of educating the young athletes, parents, and coaches.  While there are many positive rewards and benefits to youth sports, there is definitely room for growth in the programs and improvement of the safety of the programs.  With more than half of the youth sport injuries being in the category of overuse injuries, there needs to be more education available to prevent these statistics from growing.  My paper also discusses treatment for already sustained overuse injuries. Youth sports could be made safer and the programs better if there is more knowledge.  There should be more knowledge and more education available for parents, players, and coaches.  While programs today do have education and certification programs, not all sports have these requirements, and ones that do have certification program requirements could be more in depth.

Organization and Transitions: How to Move from One Place to Another

Every piece of writing has a beginning, a middle, and  an end. But how does your writing move from one place to another? Following the steps below will help you 1) “see” the structure of your essay, 2) determine whether or not your thinking is actually going somewhere (“developing”) and 3) build in steps that move your argument (and your reader) to a different place from where you started. If step three proves difficult, then you may want to return to the all-important questions: Where am I going? Where do I want to take the reader?

1. Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph in your essay.

Example:

1. Introduction to concept of deviance and the use of deviance to understand acts of nonconformity.

2. Discussion of the idea that deviance is part of human development and achievement

3. The importance of looking at deviance from a neutral rather than a biased point of view.

2. Break your one-sentence summary outline into parts or sections.

Example:

  1. Introduction to subject of paper and inquiry, outline of key questions and debates, importance and consequences of observing deviance differently (paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  1. Examples of scholarly thinking that links deviance and creativity, examples of creative persons who have also spent time “behind bars” (paragraphs on Socrates, Galileo, Thoreau, King, Mandela)
  1. Deviance and the scapegoat figure, Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold and the music of Marilyn Manson.

Write a transition from each part of the paper to the next.

Examples:

“So while we see that Manson belongs to the Church of Satan, we must also note his Episcopalian membership as well, which is something very few of us take the time to discover” (Lowry 54).

“After laying the foundation of seemingly negative deviant contexts, we can turn the tables in hopes to better understand the other half, the positive effects of deviation.”

Examples taken from sample essay “Positive Deviance: Unmasking a Common Phenomenon,” Think, Write, Learn: A User’s Guide to Sustained Writing Projects, Phyllis Benay, Kirsti Sandy and Collie Fulford, eds., Littleton, MA: Tapestry, 2008. 92-100.

Conclusions: How do I end my paper?

Here are a few suggested ways to conclude:

  • Summary (more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question.
  • Revisit claim (more than restate, as your reader is more informed about the subject)
  • Relate to your reader (“Now it is up to you,” With this information, consider. . . “)
  • Say something new: point to broader implications, further lines of research or inquiry, unanswered questions, actions to take based on information provided in the essay

 Here is an example:

From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, nature for John McPhee is a place where people are. McPhee’s documentation of the ways humans carry out their lives has broadened our thinking about nature and the role of humans in the more-than-human world. His portraits and place-based profiles of people will consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; his astonishing number of regional studies, moreover, will continue to offer readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural environment. The more recent books about geology, finally, will continue to invite readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar, if potentially enabling ways. For Bailey, McPhee’s later work is most importantly “about nature seen as completely as we can see it.” The consequences of McPhee’s project as a nature writer, from this point of view, are significant. McPhee’s essential lesson as a nature writer is that our understanding of the natural world is something we must continue to shape as we broaden and deepen our inherently limited human perspectives.

How do I end my paper?

1. Consider a conclusion that

  • leaves the reader with a memorable restatement or an explanation of why the argument matters
  • places the claim or purpose in a larger context

2.  Here are a few ways to conclude:

  • Summary (but more than restatement): take on the “so what?” question
  • Revisit claim (that is, do more than restate, as your reader is now more informed about the paper’s subject)
  • Relate to your reader (“Now it is up to you,” With this information, consider. . .”)
  • Use one of your sources, whether primary or secondary, or even turn to a new source, to capture the main point or nail down its significance
  • Say something new: point to broader implications, further lines of research or inquiry, unanswered questions, actions to take based on information provided in the essay

3. Some Examples

The purpose of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writing is not to convince a reader of anything. If there is one lesson to be learned from studying Emerson it is to never be definite about anything. Complacency in thought leads to limitations. Conformity attempts to suppress the individual. Emerson himself is never settled in his reasoning:

The deeper he went and the more he tried to grapple with fundamental conceptions, the vaguer and more elusive they became in his hands. Did he know what he meant by Spirit or “Over-Soul”? Could he say what he understood by the terms, so constantly on his lips, Nature, Law, God, Benefit, or Beauty? He could not, and the consciousness of the incapacity was so lively within him that he never attempted to give articulation to his own philosophy. His finer instinct kept him from doing that violence to his inspiration. (633)

With respect to social reform, Emerson knows that his greatest contribution is never to be settled in his own beliefs, and never to aspire to be settled. He will not tell his audience what to think. Telling people what they want to hear is never his purpose. The true action of Emerson’s life lies in his ability to provoke individual thought and action in others. One can only act off of one’s own convictions, and Emerson’s convictions are found in his beliefs that language grabs hold of interest, and inspires a person to think.

*

Longfellow’s attention to the aspects of fatherhood, and the roles that the father plays in society and in the home, are important in the changing culture of the family in nineteenth-century America. Longfellow was not afraid to show the development of the paternal figure during his time—even including in his poems flawed fathers and fathers managing households. In the nineteenth century, writers gave little attention to fathers or fatherhood, and there was a relative decline in the significance of fatherhood as well (Griswold 13). Longfellow’s contribution was to break out of these barriers and offer his readers poems that speak to fathers and the paternal roles that were being disregarded by so many.

*

From the beginning of his career to this most recent work, John McPhee defines nature as a place where people are. His portraits and place-based profiles of people consistently challenge the reader to think in regional terms; and his regional perspective offers readers an indispensable repository of human attitudes toward the natural world. In his more recent books about geology, he invites readers to think about the natural world in unfamiliar ways. For Bailey, McPhee’s later work is most importantly “about nature seen as completely as we can see it.” The consequences of McPhee’s project as a nature writer, from this point of view, are significant. For McPhee’s essential lesson as a nature writer is that our understanding of the natural world is something we must continue to shape as we broaden and deepen our inherently limited human perspectives.

*

A.R. Ammons insisted that the earth is not damaged and does not need to be saved. “If we would get off, it would recover itself beautifully in 25,000 years,” he explained in his interview with Schneider. He concluded that there is therefore really no reason to be concerned about the planet, “It can recover, but what we’ve done to it may cause us to eliminate ourselves.” His point is not that we should abandon responsible conduct as members of an ecological community. Rather he underscores that we know very little about the climate and the possibilities of the earth as a total complex. “It would be foolish of us to say definitively. We might even be doing some good and not know it. We may be stalling off the next ice age by raising the temperature a half a degree. Who knows? We don’t know.” For Ammons it is impossible to think nostalgically about the natural world. “I don’t think you can go back at all. I think that the only way to go is forward.”

When Ammons died from complications of cancer on February 25, 2001, he left behind a body of work that speaks to the distinctive role of poetry in a culture of entertainment, and information. Ammons believed that poetic discourse was a source for clarifying the possibilities of human life. As he explained to William Walsh, the poem “is a verbal construct that we encounter, learn from, make value judgments with, and go to sort out possibilities in relation to our own lives in order to try to learn how to live.” Ammons’s poetics accepts our desire for a more intimate and responsive relationship with the world in a more encompassing, if less certain, definition of what it might mean to live in the world on which our own existence depends.

Moving from One Place to Another

Every piece of writing has a beginning, middle and end. But how does your writing move from one place to another? Following the steps below will help you 1) “see” the structure of your essay, 2) determine whether or not your thinking is actually going somewhere (“developing”) and 3) build in steps that move your argument (and your reader) to a different place from where you started. If step three proves difficult, then you may want to return to the all-important questions: Where am I going? Where do I want to take the reader?

Write a one-sentence summary of each paragraph in your essay.

Example:

  1. Introduction to concept of deviance and the use of deviance to understand acts of nonconformity.
  1. Discussion of the idea that deviance is part of human development and achievement
  1. The importance of looking at deviance from a neutral rather than a biased point of view.

Break your one-sentence summary outline into parts or sections.

Example:

  1. Introduction to subject of paper and inquiry, outline of key questions and debates, importance and consequences of observing deviance differently (paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
  1. Examples of scholarly thinking that links deviance and creativity, examples of creative persons who have also spent time “behind bars” (paragraphs on Socrates, Galileo, Thoreau, King, Mandela)
  1. Deviance and the scapegoat figure, Columbine, Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold and the music of Marilyn Manson.
  1. Write a transition from each part of the paper to the next.

Examples:

“So while we see that Manson belongs to the Church of Satan, we must also note his Episcopalian membership as well, which is something very few of us take the time to discover” (Lowry 54).

“After laying the foundation of seemingly negative deviant contexts, we can turn the tables in hopes to better understand the other half, the positive effects of deviation.”

Examples taken from sample essay “Positive Deviance: Unmasking a Common Phenomenon,” Think, Write, Learn: A User’s Guide to Sustained Writing Projects, Phyllis Benay, Kirsti Sandy and Collie Fulford, eds., Littleton, MA: Tapestry, 2008. 92-100.

Writing with Sources: A Primer

Here are notes from Tuesday’s class, our workshop on writing with sources:

Quote only when absolutely necessary. Make sure, too, that a reader understands why the quotation is relevant, and don’t count on a quote to make a point for you

Identify the speaker or writer of the quotation. Usually precedes the quoted material. (“Showalter says, . . ). Also include who the person is (role, position, expertise, qualifications) to indicate the reliability of the source you are citing

When you introduce a quotation, consider using verbs other than “says”: “Argues,” “adds,” “contends,” “points out,” “admits,” “comments,” “insists.” Or, with just the right verb, consider the use of a transitional phrase: “In an apparent contradiction, Showalter goes on to argue. . . .

Distinguish between short and long quotations. Enclose short quotations (fewer than four lines of type) in quotation marks. Set off long quotations (more than four lines of type). On block quotes, do not use quotation marks. To set off a long quotation, begin a new line, indent from the left margin, and double space throughout. Note well that block quotations need adequate introduction and are most often immediately preceded by a full sentence ending in a colon

Embedded quotations (that is, a quotation embedded into a sentence of your own) must fit grammatically into the sentence of which it is a part. Also develop your repertoire of sites to embed quotations: epigraphs, at the beginning of paragraphs, as transitions, in the middle of paragraphs in a sequence of sentences, at the end of paragraphs

Quote accurately. Check your quotation for accuracy at least twice. If you intend to add or substitute a word in the quotation, enclose the words in square brackets. Indicate omissions of material with an ellipses (three periods, with a space between each period). If you omit words at the end of sentence, indicate the omission with three periods (an ellipses) and end punctuation (a period).

Use punctuation correctly. Commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Semicolons and colons go outside quotation marks. Question marks, exclamation points and dashes go inside if they are part of the quotation, outside if they are your own

Use single quotation marks for a quotation within a quotation. “Listening to the conversation following Bradley’s speech, I overheard an audience member say that she had ‘never encountered such a frank and honest politician.’ She went on to say, ‘I don’t know what to make of him. But I like him.’”

Enclose titles of short works in quotation marks. Longer works should be underlined or italicized.

 

Having an Idea: Claims to Fame

Writing Projects Update: Most of you are struggling. Many of you are stuck. These difficulties are expected.

There are ways to begin moving through the challenges you are facing. First and foremost be clear that this course requires thinking and writing. And that is exactly what you are being asked to do.

Below you will find 1) a reminder about the area of inquiry in which all of your projects are developing: the search for wildness. While we spent most of the first weeks of the class exploring this term and concept, it is important that you have wrestled with this concept and come to terms with the presence of this search in our lives. I also include below 2) a framework for moving from a topic to a question. As you continue your process of seeking information you will be refining your area of interest. Remember that your area of interest is precisely that: what you are interested in. Without a genuine interest and motivation you are going to have a very, very difficult time with the work you are doing in this class.

Searching for Wildness: The search is to demystify the world as it is.

Enacting a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The acceptance of the place where we are: what we know, and what we can know, is never certain and always provisional, no matter how persuaded we and others might be by common understanding of certain phenomena.

This course web site has numerous explanations of wildness and resources for you to consult. Here is another, from a now familiar writer, Gary Snyder, from the “Preface” to his collection of poems No Nature:

No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no singular set ‘nature’ either as ‘the natural world’ or ‘the nature of things.’ The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is fluid, open, and conditional. (v)

We have also talked about E.O. Wilson’s concept of “biophilia” and here are two provocative comments from his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014):

“We are self-made, independent, alone, fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world” (26)

We exist as a result of millions of years of biological evolution: “For the real human story, history must comprise both the biological and the cultural” (28).

We have also talked about, with the help of others, the intellectual history of oppositions between nature and culture, nature and nurture, primitive and civilized, raw and cooked, and so on. You can continue thinking about wildness as well. Please, take advantage of the resources I have compiled for you on the course web site. You may also want to become familiar with the recent writing by professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Marc Bekoff, on “rewilding.” His application of a practice in wildlife conservation to human life is potentially very useful for some of your projects. Need to talk? Set up an appointment with me.

Moving From a Topic to a Question

In class we will use the first two steps in an Argument Template (adapted from Booth, Columb, and Williams, The Craft of Research). Name your topic and then see if you can articulate the question you are hoping to answer.

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about _____

I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about human intuition (or direct or unmediated experience/consciousness of the world) and its relationship to belief

Question: I want to understand

I want to find out why people continue to believe in creation stories to explain the origin of and their place in the world

Below are two examples of projects that are on the move. In each of these cases the project is explicitly aligned with the larger questions about wildness and has moved from a general area of interest to a more specific question the student has defined and is trying to answer.

Area of Interest: “Industrial Tourism”

from Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968), Chapter 5: “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Park”:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

“Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!  Why not?  Jesus Christ… roll that window down!  You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it….  Turn that motor off.  Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!”

“Why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate…the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about what Edward Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

Question: I want to find out how tourism has diminished the deeper (and more transformative?) experience offered by places we designate as wild areas or wilderness

Sources: Books: Daniel C. Knudsen, Landscape, Tourism and Meaning; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind; Essay: Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”

Area of Interest: Loss of Wildness

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about the problem of losing wildness in our lives

Question: I want to find out why young people appear to be unaware of the consequences of losing touch with themselves and the world around them

Sources: Books: Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild; John Krakauer, Into the Wild (Christopher McCandless); Film: Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (Timothy Treadwell); Poem/Performance: Buddy Wakefield, “My Town”; Article: Standardized Testing; Report: Study of media use by 8-18 year old children in US.

So what?

Open the Google Doc. 

Write your name

Compose a one or two sentence idea that is motivating the thinking and writing of your essay. You may use a sentence (or sentences) you have already written, or you may compose a new sentence or sentences.

Do do this, you may want to go back to last week when I asked you 1) to write out one paragraph that describes in the most specific way possible what you have learned so far about your subject and to 2) use what you have learned about your subject and ask yourself, what can you now say that is less familiar, less obvious, less known, about your subject?

More on McCandless

In an essay published on a New Yorker blog Jon Krakauer returns to the question about the death of Chris McCandless. In How Chris McCandless Died he writes the following:

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, when I stumbled upon Ronald Hamilton’s paper The Silent Fire: ODAP and the Death of Christopher McCandless, which Hamilton had posted on a Web site that publishes essays and papers about McCandless. Hamilton’s essay offered persuasive new evidence that the wild-potato plant is highly toxic in and of itself, contrary to the assurances of Thomas Clausen and every other expert who has ever weighed in on the subject. The toxic agent in Hedysarum alpinum turns out not to be an alkaloid but, rather, an amino acid, and according to Hamilton it was the chief cause of McCandless’s death. His theory validates my conviction that McCandless wasn’t as clueless and incompetent as his detractors have made him out to be.

The comments that follow Karakauer’s most recent New Yorker piece are another indicator of how this story remains alive in people’s lives. Hamilton’s essay is of interest as well.

Research: Places to Go

Literature Reviews – Getting Started

“Literature review,” “research installment,” “works cited,” “bibliography”—these terms all name a common element in what we call research which is, in every case, collaboration. The common concept of research as an organized social activity is what you need to understand. The conventions and differences will vary in various academic disciplines as well as in research communities beyond educational institutions

Looking for resources to identify and search for peer-reviewed articles? Use the Guide Searching for Peer Reviewed Articles (and what is peer-review?) 

Peer-review refers to a specific publishing process where an article is reviewed prior to publication by scholars who study in the same field as the author(s) of the article.  These scholars judge how valuable the research is to the field (is it saying anything new? controversial? substantiating findings of previous research?) as well as the quality and validity of the research process used (are the methods appropriate or valid?).  They decide if the article should be published in the journal or not.  The peer-review process is often “blind” – meaning the reviewers do not know who the author(s) of the article are at the time of the review.  This is an effort to prevent reviewers from favoring individuals they may know or being biased against the research.  However, the peer-review process is only one way to judge the quality of information.  The validity of the peer-review process itself is debated by scholars across most all fields of study.

You can access these Guides and others from the “Databases & Guides” tab on the Mason Library’s website OR from the Portal for Research & Writing               

Peer-to-peer Research & Writing Help

 Drop-in at the Library’s Research & Writing Help Desk (1st floor Mason Library):

  • Sunday 4:00 – 9:00 pm
  • Monday – Wednesday 10:00 – 9:00pm 
  • Thursday 10:00 – 4:00pm

Or at the Center for Writing (81 Blake Street)

  • Sunday 6 pm – 9 pm
  • Monday 10 am – 9 pm
  • Tuesday 10 am – 9 pm
  • Wednesday 10 am -5 pm & 7 – 9 pm
  • Thursday 10 am – 5 pm
  • Friday 10 am – 1 pm

Or make an appointment!

Poking and Prying with a Purpose

Sample Entries on the Annotated Bibliography

Halpern, John A. 2004. “Hallucinogens and dissociative agents naturally growing in the United States.” Pharmacology & therapeutics 102 (2): 131–38. Web.

The author, an assistant professor of Psychiatry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, describes a series of Hallucinogens and dissociative agents found in plants and fungi—whether native or cultivated in gardens. The purpose of the article is to provide readers with a general overview of the geographical range, drug content, preparation, intoxication, and the special health risks associated with some of these plants. Although there is some discussion of the use of mescaline-containing cacti, psilocybin/psilocin-containing mushrooms, and the Amanita muscaria and Amanita pantherina mushrooms that contain muscimol and ibotenic acid, there is not enough information on what I am hoping to find: the religious use of these plants by indigenous peoples. The article includes a very useful bibliography, however, with three books on the subject I am researching.

Richet, Paul. A Natural History of Time. Trans. John Venerella. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2007. Print.

This book by the geophysicist Paul Richet was originally published as L’âge du monde: À la découverte de l’immensité de temps in 1999. Richet traces how the study of nature has shaped human perceptions of time and durations of time—from the cyclical mythological traditions through the linear history in Judaism to the dramatic changes in the eighteenth century ushered in my revolutions in the natural and physical sciences. The final three chapters will be useful for me as I plan to recount the story of how physics (in particular, the study of the cathode rays and X-rays, and later radiometric dating) impacted the history of how the scale of time expanded in such a way that even science had trouble defining.

Writing the narrative that describes how the sources you are reading have confirmed or challenged your thinking.

Each of the two written research installments has two parts: 1) a narrative summary of what you have read and how that reading has furthered your thinking and writing and 2) an annotated works cited page (in a sentence or two, summarize the argument or purpose of each piece of writing) with at least five entries organized by author’s last name, just as you would a bibliography or works cited page.

Be specific about what you have learned and consider how what you have learned is expanding (or changing) what you set out to understand. Remember that what you are learning is most likely moving you from a more simple to a more complex understanding of your subject. Include a general idea of where you think you’re headed. Has your project expanded? Are you narrowing your focus? Is your research changing where you thought you might be going in your investigation?

If you are doing sufficient research, the second installment will demonstrate substantial progress—both in your ability to talk about your writing project and in the relevance and quality of your sources.