University of Maryland at College Park
HIST 402 Instructions for Essay Reviews
Two essay reviews ("Assignment #1" and "Assignment #2") are required.
An essay review is defined, for the purpose of this course, as an essay, about 1500 to 2500 words long. It must be about a specific topic chosen from the list starting on page 4. For Assignment 1, choose from the 22 topics under headings I and II. For Assignment 2 you may choose any topic other than the one you used for Assignment 1.
Each essay review should be based on (a) two of the books listed under that topic (not by the same author), (b) background knowledge in the history of science that you have acquired from the required readings and lectures. For the second essay review you must also use (c) at least one primary (original) source cited by each of the two books (preferably but not necessarily cited by both of them). If possible, use another primary source relevant to the topic even if it is not cited by either author. For the first essay review you may be able to use Einstein's Relativity book which you own. Also, for the purpose of this course, a "primary source" may include an English translation, even though a professional historian of science would be expected to use the source in its original language. Use the primary sources not just for additional information but to evaluate the accuracy of the books you are reviewing. The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein (a multi-volume set) includes English translations of his published articles and unpublished correspondence in separate volumes (paperbacks with white covers); this is an excellent source for any essay review on Einstein's early work.
Grade. Since many students may be unfamiliar with this kind of assignment, note that the first essay review should be considered as a "practice" assignment, which is not weighted heavily (only 10% of course grade). But you will get a critique from the instructor so you can do better on the second assignment (30%).
Audience. You should write your paper as if it would be read by a student with the same level of knowledge in history of science that you have. In fact you are encouraged to ask other students to read your draft, to point out mistakes and unclear phrases, and to comment on general coherence and organization. However, you should carefully avoid using any phrases or sentences suggested by someone else, or found in a published source (including the Internet). That would constitute "unauthorized assistance" (see item 11, Honor Pledge)
The opening paragraph should be interesting enough to make the reader want to continue reading; at the end the reader should think that the time effort spent reading it was worthwhile.
For free assistance visit The Writing Center in TLF 0125 (open M-Th 9-4, F 9-2); call 301-405-4787 for appointment. You are urged to consult the instructor if you have questions.
Examples. Look at the essay reviews on the website.
Before submitting the paper, you should go through the following checklist. Instructor's comments may include notes such as "X3" meaning you did not follow item 3.
1. Choice of topic and books. The essay review should discuss two books on one of the topics listed below; Assignment #1 must be based on a topic from Part I or II of the list, but Assignment #2 may be based on any topic except the one selected for Assignment #1. Only books on the list may be used. Do not select two books by the same author. Do not discuss any articles by your instructor [you would have a "conflict of interest"]. Do not select any book that you used for an essay review in another course (e.g. HIST 174, 401). You should already know how to use the catalog of the University System of Maryland libraries (USMAI). If a book is not in a UMCP library you can easily find out if it is in another USM campus library and request it to be sent to UMCP. Use the "other catalogs" feature to display records for all copies in the system. Don't hesitate to ask a librarian for help in getting a book -- they are all very knowledgeable and eager to help students.
2. Choice of primary sources. See previous page; please consult instructor if you are unsure whether a particular source you have selected is "primary." In general documents available only on the Internet are not primary, except for those explicitly noted below (e.g. under Topics III.3 and VI.11). You may be asked to provide a photocopy of the specific pages you have cited, so you should keep copies with your notes. Having selected a source cited by your author, compare the original text with the summary or interpretation given by the author. This is one way to assess the accuracy and objectivity of the books you are evaluating.
3. Length. The paper should be at least 1500 but no more than 2500 words (not including quotes and references), typed double-spaced or 1˝-spaced. Long quotations (more than 2 sentences) should be avoided or placed in an appendix if necessary.
4. Pages should be numbered and stapled together. A binder or plastic cover is not necessary and will not be returned. Put your own name at the top right corner of each page.
5. At the top right corner of the first page, print your own name clearly. Choose a title for your essay, and put the topic number in parentheses after it. Leave space at the bottom of the first page for the Honor Pledge (see below, item 11).
6. Content. Do not use much space in summarizing the contents of the books. It is more important to give your own analysis, discussion, and comparison of the authors' arguments. It is not necessary to discuss all the topics included in each book; rather, you should focus on the area of overlap between them. Remember, a major purpose of a book review is to help the reader decide whether the book is worth reading -- not to make it unnecessary to do so!
7 Evaluation. You must decide whether, and to what extent, the authors have achieved their purposes: is each book interesting, well-organized, persuasive and properly documented? Do not be intimidated by the expertise of the authors of the books. You may think that as a student you are not qualified to evaluate a book written by a professor, but in fact students in history of science courses form a large part of the audience for which these books are supposed to be written; if their authors can't make their case clearly and persuasively to you, they have failed! Moreover, almost every reviewer of any book knows less about the subject than the book's author (who may have spent 10 years researching the subject), but that does not prevent him/her from writing a critical evaluation. In this assignment, you should be able to check the accuracy of some of the author's statements by comparing them with what the other author says and (especially for Assignment #2) with at least one of the primary sources.
8. Your own thesis. In addition to a critical/comparative evaluation of the two books, you should state and defend your own opinion on the major issues they discussed. Don't just say you agree with one or the other author, or both of them.
9. Spelling, grammar, punctuation, and style do affect your grade.
9a. Use your computer's spell-check feature!
9b. Use American punctuation when a quotation mark comes at the end of a sentence or phrase (.... ." or ...," not ....". or ...",).
9c. Observe the correct usage: it's or its, their or there, principle or principal, lead or led, cite or site or sight, affect or effect, etc.
9d. Don't switch tenses randomly, especially within a paragraph.
10. Citations. At the beginning of your review, give for each book the author's name, full title, number of pages, place of publication, name of publisher, and date. When citing one of these books in the body of the review you may use a short form: Smith, p. 23. (Be sure to give page references for direct quotations or specific statements.) In citing other works you may use endnotes. In general, titles of books and names of journals should be in italics; titles of articles in journals should be in quotation marks (used as noted above, 9b), with inclusive page numbers.
11. Honor Pledge. Students are expected to be familiar with the University's policies on Academic Dishonesty, especially regarding plagiarism. By submitting a paper under your own name, you certify that it is entirely your own work except where facts and quotations are specifically credited to others; and, that the paper has not been submitted for academic credit in any other course. The official UMCP "Honor Pledge," together with the supplement for this course, must be handwritten and signed on the bottom of the first page:
"I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment. I understand that plagiarism or other forms of academic dishonesty may result in suspension or expulsion from the University."
Assignment #1 is due in class April 14
Assignment #2 is due in class May 12
Do not send by email.
Note: you should select your topic and books as soon as possible so you can get the books from the library. Remember that any library user can recall a book charged out to any other user, but it may take 2 or 3 weeks to actually get the book.
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