Tuesday, January 13.
Tuesday, January 20, at the beginning of class. Initial your submission on the class roster in the presence of the professor or a TA.
Two sentences, typed, double-spaced, printed on 8.5" x 11" paper. Times New Roman 12-point font. Include your name.
Choose a paper topic pertaining to a work of design within the general time period of our course (c. 1700 CE to the present), and state your expected main argument. This assignment requires research. You do not need to list the sources you have examined yet, but in future assignments you will, so keep a running bibliography. Use scholarly sources, and use the library's online search functions. Ask a reference
librarian for assistance (you may have to make an appointment). Librarians are highly educated, usually possessing master's degrees in library science, and highly underutilized resources. You should do more than just Googling around and reading Wikipedia, although these resources can be perfectly legitimate starting points to generate ideas and potential bibliographical references. It will be obvious to us if you have not gone beyond superficial web surfing, and you will be asked to redo the assignment. You are going to be living with this topic all semester, so choose one of genuine personal interest to you.
This assignment is short, but worth three percent of your overall semester grade. We will return it to you as soon as possible. If we find your topic or argument to be infeasible we will ask you to revise it within a few days with no grade penalty.
"Vigorous writing is concise" (Strunk and White, 23). "Few people realize how badly they write" (Zinsser, 18). Read the book excerpts provided with this assignment, and take great care in crafting your writing style in addition to your argument. Contrary to what you may have learned in other classes, in this class we encourage you to write in the first person singular, or, "I" (Zinsser, 21-24). You still need to be concise, however. State your topic and expected main argument, take responsibility for them by using "I," but do not take us on a verbose, personal voyage of discovery—i.e., "...and then I did this...and then I realized that...." You are the author, not the subject of this paper.
Choosing a topic:
Your paper topic must be about design (considered broadly) within the time period noted above. It may address any part of the built environment anywhere in the world (i.e., works of unknown authorship such as factories, gardens, salons, bridges, plazas, roads, barns, defensive structures, neighborhoods, or entire cities; as well as individual works by known designers). You may also choose design theories, or
theoretical works that were never built. For ideas you can peruse the lecture titles and readings in the syllabus, other general textbooks in the library, and other sources. You can choose a topic you are already familiar with and about which you would like to know more, or a topic that is entirely new to you.
Choose an appropriately narrow topic:
You are choosing a topic for a six- to eight page paper. In that amount of space you cannot write about the whole history of world design since 1700, nor can you write about the whole history of Ottoman Architecture. Develop a research question within a broader topic of interest, and propose an argument that you will support with evidence.
Do not propose to argue that a particular work of design is beautiful, magnificent, or spectacular; or even why it might be so. Such proposals are subjective, and would be topics for a class in philosophy or aesthetic theory, not history. Do not argue that a work is "successful" unless you define your criteria and methods for measuring success. Do not provide a merely descriptive argument. Rather, place the topic within the social, cultural, political, and/or economic conditions of the time. Thus, you may write about the transmission of certain design influences through time, such as the uses of the classical orders, but your argument must address the preceding themes in addition to physical characteristics of design. Similarly, papers that focus too much on the biographical aspects of a designer’s life will not be acceptable. Design and designers have meaning only in relation to context.
Make sure sources are available:
If you would like to choose a recent work of design, be sure scholarly sources about them are available. In fact, a good strategy for approaching recent topics would be to look in appropriate journals and books to see what is being written about, and to craft a topic based on available source material. If you cannot come up with an argument about your topic because you cannot find appropriate
sources, you might consider choosing a different topic.
Remain in the past:
You will be analyzing design within the time period of our course. Your argument should not be a work of advocacy, nor should you be looking to the past for solutions to present-day problems. Only focus on the physical condition of your chosen site, and contemporary preservation issues pertaining to it insofar as such matters help you to understand your historical topic.
Choose one topic:
Please do not list two or more possible topics and ask us to choose. If you are having trouble deciding, please see us during office hours.
Possible sample two-sentence responses for this assignment:
1. Elsie de Wolfe was, according to (author of one of your sources, no need for citation yet), the first professional interior designer. I will argue that her status within upper class New York society in the early-twentieth century permitted her to establish interior design as a profession.
2. I would like to investigate EPCOT at Disneyworld. My thesis will be that Walt Disney, rather than creating an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow" as the acronym contends, instead stereotyped global cultures in ways that favored the rich and powerful, and hired his “Imagineers” to create, among other attractions, degraded imitations of the most recognizable world monuments.
3. I plan to analyze Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. This complex—though usually celebrated for its water channel, sense of serenity, and modernist clarity—is fundamentally representative of Kahn’s desire to imagine design as a communal, almost monastic, enterprise, thus tying him more closely to ancient cultures than modernism.
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. 5th ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1999. Pages 2-5 and 28-40.
Strunk Jr., William and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. 3d ed. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979. Pages xi-xvii and 1-33.
Zinsser, William. On Writing Well. 6th ed. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998. Pages 3-33.
Please arrange to have one other student in the class peer review your paper for content (the appropriateness and strength of the proposal) and language (grammar, syntax, and style). At the bottom of the paper include the words: "Peer reviewed by," and enter the peer reviewer's name. While it may seem awkward at first to let someone else read your writing, since writing seems so personal, most writing is in fact both personal and public. Except for writings in a diary, writing is meant to convey your personal thoughts to a reading public, which is the very word at the root of the word "publish." Every work I have ever published has been peer reviewed by multiple reviewers, and every peer review has improved my writing. Often we are our own worst critics because we do not hear our own linguistic errors, and we may not see gaps in our own logic. Allow enough time to make revisions after your peer review. Peer reviewers: don't worry, your grade will not be affected by someone else's writing, however, by allowing your name to be placed on a peer's paper you are affirming that you have made a serious effort to help that person improve his or her writing. The purpose of this requirement is to create a system of cooperative mutual assistance to raise the overall level of writing in the class. No matter how good you are as a writer, there is always room for improvement.
A long text to explain a two-sentence assignment? Yes. The shorter a piece of writing needs to be, the more difficult it is to write. Those two sentences need to contain a lot of thought, and be able to guide a semester's worth of research. Craft them carefully. You might start by writing too much and then gradually shaving off unnecessary words until you arrive at two concise—though not necessarily short—sentences.