Eng 500: Introduction to the Profession
The Research Paper on A. S. Byatt's Possession
The following directions will lead you through the process of conceiving,
proposing, composing, and presenting a mock "conference" paper on Byatt's
novel and then submitting your work to me in the form of a finished journal
One of the most important ways in which new scholarship is disseminated
is the conference paper. Your term paper for ENG 500 will give you
the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the process of writing and
delivering such an essay. The first step in doing this is usually
to respond to a "Call for Papers," an invitation, in the form of a more
or less organized set of topics, sent out by conference organizers in the
hope of generating a bunch of related papers that will benefit from being
shared--the word for what is being sought, I suppose, is "synergy."
Our conference is dedicated to the study of A. S. Byatt's novel Possession,
and your paper should relate the novel to some topic we have covered in
class, which you will further research for the paper.
Some general topics as suggestions:
Possession and the Nature of English Studies.
Cooperation and competition, old scholarship vs. new scholarship
The politics of nation and literary culture
Scholars as detectives
Academia and capitalist society
The parody of scholarly discourse
Possession and the Canon Debates
The politics of literary reputation and the relativity of value
The woman poet and women's writing, the politics of feminism, writing the
female body, masculine authority/feminine subversions, gender and genre
Possession and History--Literary and Otherwise.
The parody of Victorian writers (Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, Christina
Rossetti, Emily Dickinson) and literary forms (fairy tale, epic, lyric,
dramatic monologue, letters), the novel as postmodern pastiche of such
Victorian genres as the novel (romance vs. novel)
The representation of Victorian culture: science (mesmerism, geology, phrenology
and other forms of proto-psychology, Darwinism), marriage and sexuality,
daily life, etc.
Possession and Interpretation.
The novel as hermeneutic play or epistemological critique. The quest
for (and anxiety over) knowledge
Intertextuality and signs of the past: The Victorians and the Twentieth
The semiotics of myth
Once you have identified a focused topic of interest to you, write a proposal
for the conference paper of approximately 500 words. The proposal
should be double-spaced, with your name, affiliation (Department of English,
West Chester University), date, and title of paper in the upper-left hand
corner. Include a "Works Cited" list, if necessary. The
proposal will be due on Friday, November 12 and may be submitted in
electronic form (preferrably through email).
The purpose of a scholarly proposal is twofold. First, it should
help the writer focus on a specific subject or topic to be investigated.
Second, it should serve as a basic guide to facilitate the writer's progress.
Your proposal should include the following components, though ideally
it will be an integrated text, not a series of responses to the following
Problem statement. Clear brief description of the problem to be explored.
Background. Brief description of the sources and contexts relevant
to the inquiry or interpretation.
Significance. How and why this inquiry might expand our understanding
of the text under consideration and/or the context(s) in which it will
Tentative thesis. State your hypothesis, your provisional
answer to the interpretive problem you have identified. Basically,
set forth what you think you will argue.
Development. Explain how you intend to develop your argument: what
sources (or kinds of sources) you intend to consult; what shape your argument
might take. Give your audience the impression (however shaky this
may be in reality) that you know where you are going.
The Annotated Bibliography
You will next do the necessary research to construct an annotated bibliography
of sources useful in writing your paper. These sources may be literary
criticism appropriate to the subject, works of theory that will guide you,
historical scholarship relevant to your investigation, or anything else
that will help you make your argument. Study the
excerpt from James Harner's
On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography
(password required for access) that I have made available to you, but do
note that Harner is specifically addressing the task of creating a comprehensive
author bibliography, which is a more daunting task than yours of constructing
a selected bibliography for a conference paper.
The entries should be made in MLA style, and there must be a minimum
of ten sources (excluding the novel). This bibliography is due
on Wednesday, December 1, whether or not you are delivering your paper
Mock Conference Presentation
Your next use of your research on and analysis of Possession will
be a "conference" paper delivered to the class. After receiving all
class members' topics, I will organize them into related "panels" of papers,
which will be presented during our final two class meetings. Everyone
should strive to be ready to present on the first of the two nights, because
circumstances may demand a last-minute shuffle of papers.
Plan for a twenty-minute presentation, which works out
to be a ten-page paper (because no one can read out loud intelligibly
at a rate greater than two minutes per page). We will have a ten-minute
Q&A session after each panel of two or three papers. This is
the time when audience and presenters get a chance to synthesize what they've
heard and try to relate papers one to another, thus extending the conversation
commenced with the papers themselves. Hopefully, this discussion
will reveal new insights and inspire the paper writers to develop their
arguments yet further before turning in the term paper.
For some common-sense advice about presenting papers in academic settings,
Radel's "Preparing an Oral Presentation." This tutorial was written
specifically with science presentations in mind, but most of its advice
is applicable to presentations in the humanities as well.
The Term Paper
After delivering your paper to the class and possibly receiving some feedback
in the form of questions and comments, you will develop and revise your
paper further (to a length of 12-15 pages), turning it into a polished
academic essay, which you might submit to a journal. In fact, I will
ask that you determine an appropriate journal for the prospective article
and prepare your manuscript as if you were submitting it for publication.
Review and follow the directions in the MLA Style Manual section
on placing a manuscript for a journal article (1.4), being sure that
the manuscript conforms to the style and format requested by the journal
and that you include a cover letter. You will, however, turn the
prepared manuscript in to me rather than mailing it off to the journal.
This carefully-written, well-researched, cogently-argued piece of criticism
is due on December 15, the date of our final exam.
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