There are two purposes in assigning a paper: first, to lead you to a deeper understanding in your own mind of some particular episode (i.e., some event, conflict, or problem) in world history; and second, to develop skills in expressing that understanding, through your own words, in a succinct, lucid, and persuasive essay.
Generally, the most successful papers deal with an explicitly-defined subject and try to resolve some apparent contradiction (or, show how some real-life contradiction was not resolved), rather than attempting a comprehensive narrative history (such as "Buddhism in Japan" or "Reunification in the 16th Century"). In other words, try to focus in on some very narrowly-defined event or decision and use that to illuminate some larger issue (rather than tackling the whole larger issue itself). Exercises in "counterfactual" history (i.e., what if X had -- or had not -- happened...?) almost invariably fall flat. Also, avoid "straw-man" arguments (i.e., stating a position in an extreme or unrealistic form, solely for the purpose of demolishing it).
Your paper should be focused in a manner you have designed yourself, and you have a good deal of latitude in deciding the scope which its content will encompass. The subjects suggested at the end of this hand-out are by no means exclusive and are meant only to provoke your imagination; each of them is stated in "topic" form and must be focused much more narrowly onto a specific problem. Also, most of these suggestions pose "what"-type questions; having answered that question through your initial reading, you should go on to analyze the underlying "why." The only restriction (other than your own imagination) is that your subject must take Japan as its basic focal point and must fall within the timeframe covered during the current semester (i.e., up to the collapse of the Tokugawa Bakufu in 1868).
At this introductory level, I do not expect you to be doing original research. If you can handle sources in a foreign language, so much the better, but I realize that most of you will be working mostly with English-language sources. But don't handicap yourself any further by using only books that rely completely on English sources; instead, check the notes and bibliography of your readings to see if the author has gone back to original-language documents. In this sense, you will be highly dependent on others to dig up data. Likewise, your conclusions do not have to be completely original, but they should be stated in your own words. More than likely, you will find that an author has assembled a pile of data in order to support a particular argument; you can use the same data as a basis for supporting a different argument.Deadlines and Requirements:
(1) Due dates for all three parts of your paper assignment are indicated on your syllabus. Also, note well the section on "due dates" in the Class Protocols.
(2) Statement of Topic: This should give a tentative title for your paper and a few lines describing the problem you want to investigate, and then a list of your preliminary bibliography (in proper format). This list should make a clear distinction among:
ii. books which you have obtained but not yet consulted, and
iii. books which you have identified, but have not yet obtained or consulted.
(3) The prospectus:
ii. a draft of your introductory paragraph, setting forth your thesis -- i.e., a proposed answer to your "animating question"
iv. a working bibliography, alphabetized by author
v. all of your previous submissions and my comments, stapled
your prospectus; this helps me keep track of your progress
Your instructor/s is/are available for consultation, guidance, explication, and encouragement whenever you need it. In particular, although you are not required to get your subject pre-approved before turning in your Statement of Topic, you may want to get some preliminary feed-back on the feasibility of your chosen focus. For help in organizing your research and polishing your writing-style, you should also feel free to take advantage of the services offered by the Georgetown Writing Center in Lauinger 217-A (687-4246).
Suggested Areas for Research: