Historical / Cultural Context Research Essay

Historical / Cultural Context Research Essay

Many of the works we’ve read for class this semester were written decades, or even centuries, before any of us were born, which can make it difficult for us as modern

readers to fully appreciate the work. Likewise, even in cases when works were written fairly recently, if they were written by a member of a culture that is very

different from our own, we may also miss important facets of the work. Therefore, the more we can learn about the time period or cultural surroundings in which an

author was writing, the better we can understand his or her themes and intentions for the literature s/he produced.
To that end, our final major paper assignment of the semester asks that you do an in depth study of one short story, poem, or play of your choice by examining its

place in the time period or culture in which it was written. To do this, you will need to research that time or culture, then discuss how the literary work is

influenced by the conditions of the time period or culture.
Alternately, you may examine the biography or other relevant information about a particular author and discuss how certain aspects of the author’s life, writing style,

political beliefs, philosophy of the writing, etc effect a particular story/poem/play.
Note: your primary objective remains a careful literary analysis of your primary story/poem/play; the historical/cultural/biographical research will simply supplement

your reading of the primary text.
At the bottom of this page, I have listed several possible topic choices, but you may come up with one of your own, provided that it involves studying a literary work

from our textbook. However, because I will give you a sample historical context paper as a model for this assignment on Louise Erdrich’s poem “Indian Boarding School:

The Runaways,” you may not write your paper about that poem.

Length and format
Paper should be between 8 and 12 full pages, double spaced, in 12 point Times New Roman font, with 1” margins all around. Use standard MLA formatting, no cover page.

You are required to include a Works Cited page.

Source Requirements
You must cite a minimum of five sources in your paper, and those sources must include the following:
1. Your primary text (in other words, the story, poem, or play you are studying)
2. Minimum of one article from a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal
3. Minimum of one book in addition to your textbook
4. Maximum of two web sites, and any web sites cited must be reputable, credible research sites – The lecture notes and textbook readings on research discuss this idea

in-depth, but as a quick note I’ll emphasize here that Wikipedia, or any other site which allows user posting, is not a site you may reference in your paper, although

it might be used unofficially in order to point you toward other, more credible resources. Though they may be good places to start, sources like ask.com, about.com, or

Encyclopedia Brittanica are not appropriate for a research paper.
The paper should be written for an academic audience. You may assume your audience is at least somewhat familiar with your primary story/poem/play, though they may

need a short reminder of the relevant plot and other details.

A successful paper will do the following:
1. Make a central claim about the work which relates the work to its historical or cultural context.
2. Have an interesting title as well as an effective introduction that not only names the author and the work being explored, but that also engages the reader and sets

up your intended focus.
3. Have well-structured body paragraphs which make points that support your thesis.
4. Have a stylistically effective conclusion that moves beyond mere summary of previous points.
5. Make use of evidence, both from your secondary sources and your primary source, to support all claims.
6. Avoid the use of “I,” “you,” and other first- or second-person pronouns, except when quoting directly from the literary work.
7. Be organized logically so your reader is able to easily follow your argument. This includes the use of a clear topic sentence in each paragraph and the use of

transitions to help guide the reader from point to point.
8. Cite the text properly according to MLA format, including MLA-style parenthetical citations and a Works Cited page.
9. Use a style appropriate to the given audience.
10. Be free of mechanical errors, such as incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Topic Suggestions
Below is a list of possible topic ideas,** You are not required to choose from this list; you may choose any literary work from our textbook (with the exception of

Louise Erdrich’s poem “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways”) as long as the work provides the opportunity for cultural or historical study as defined in this

“I Stand Here Ironing” (the Great Depression’s effect on families; the changing role of women in 1930-1960s)
“The Story of an Hour” (marriage, women’s roles in the 19th century)
“The Lottery” (human tendency to status quo, rural America, uproar caused by story)
“The Lesson” (issues of race and class in America in the mid-1900s)
“The Things They Carried” (Vietnam War)
“Geraldo No Last Name” (immigrants, Latino issues)
“The Red Convertible” (Native American issues, Vietnam war’s effects on minorities, mental health and Vietnam War/ war in general)
“Eveline” (19th century Ireland; role of women)
“Ballad of Birmingham” (Civil Rights movement)
“For Malcolm, a Year After” (Malcolm X, civil rights movement)
“American Haiku” (the Beat Generation)
“Barbie Doll” (women’s issues; beauty)
“For the Union Dead” (African-American soldiers in the Civil War)
“Facing It” (Vietnam War; African-Americans in Vietnam)
“Trifles” (women’s role society in early 20th century)
“A Doll’s House” (women’s roles in marriage and society, 19th century)
“A Raisin in the Sun” (early civil rights era, African-Americans)
12 Years a Slave (slavery, North / South in United States)
American Sniper (Iraq war)
The Fault in Our Stars (childhood cancer)
and many, many more.  If you select a movie, just be sure you have access to the film, otherwise it makes quoting and writing a paper very difficult. (Imagine writing

a paper about a book, without having a copy of the book . . .)


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