Current Monarchies

Current monarchies and french republic

The goal of this essay is twofold. It is designed, first, to align with this course’s Student Learning Outcomes and to provide a product by which I can evaluate your performance in the class as informed by these learning outcomes. More importantly, it is designed to invite you to think deeply and critically about not only the specific aspects of Western cultural history that we are studying in this class, but also about culture, history, and the humanities in the broadest possible sense: this essay will ask you to think about what it means to be a human being living in the world today.

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In order to ensure we meet the first of these goals, it will be useful to review this course’s Student Learning Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

1) Identify the factual details and describe the causes, progress, and consequence of the six major events between 1350 and 1815 that transformed the world: Crises of the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Overseas Expansion, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution.

2) Appreciate the importance of chronology in historical understanding by emphasizing the importance of time order in historical causation.

3) Demonstrate skills in analyzing and evaluating historical evidence from literature, the arts, and both primary and secondary historical texts

4) write essays that enter into the historical conversation by writing clear and coherent essays that rely on primary and secondary evidence
These learning outcomes suggest specific criteria for the essay:

The essay must identify relevant facts, causes, and consequences related to at least one of the major events we’re studying: Crises of the Late Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Overseas Expansion, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution.

2) The essay must demonstrate an awareness of how events in history are connected across time; it should draw connections between distinct historical events and discuss the causal relationship between events.

3) The essay must provide an analysis of cultural artefacts, whether these be from literature, music, the visual arts or other aspects of culture. The essay should specifically engage at least one specific cultural artefact, for example, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Direct engagement of a cultural artefact will satisfy the demand for the engagement of a primary source. Please note that it may be wise to engage and analyze multiple artefacts. “Cultural artefact” should be understood broadly and in line with the notions of culture developed in the lectures: cultural artefacts might include works of art or music or literature, technologies, philosophies and their concepts, theologies and their concepts, medical ideas and practices, scientific ideas and developments, or fashions in clothing or architecture. This list is not exhaustive.

4) The essay should be clear and coherent.

So: those are the specific requirements that follow from the learning outcomes: the essay should discuss the causes, progress, and consequences of at least one of the events we’re looking at; relevant facts about the event need to be identified and included (these can be drawn from the textbook and the lectures as well as from outside sources). It needs to make connections between distinct historical events across time, and it needs to engage in the discussion, analysis, or interpretation of at least one specific cultural artefact from the period we’re studying.

Length Requirement: 8-10 full pages.

Every essay will be different, and thus I will not provide you with a detailed outline. Please use the following guidelines: at least a third of the essay should be devoted to identifying specific and relevant facts, causes, and consequences of the historical event(s) in question; at least a third of the essay should be engaged in direct analysis and discussion of your cultural artefact (s); up to a third of the essay should discuss the ways in which your event(s) and artefact (s) are relevant to the experience of the present.

In order to meet the second goal, we need to talk about the structure of the essay. This is meant to be a personal, reflective essay; you should be thinking about both the material we’re studying in the class and your own experience of living in the world today. Because all of your experiences are different, there are in fact a great number of possibilities for how this essay might develop; all of your experiences are different, and so, all of the essays also ought to be different.
That said, I realize it’s difficult to begin thinking about how to approach an essay when the possibilities of how to develop it are so broad. In order to help you think concretely about the possibilities of the essay, I’m going to sketch out a rough outline of how I might approach writing this essay. You can use this outline to whatever extent you like: you can rely on it completely, you can use it as inspiration for your own approach and adapt it to your own thinking, or you can ignore it and go a different direction. Whatever approach you take, I strongly encourage you to come to office hours and meet with me to discuss your approach.
So, here’s what comes to mind for me, at this moment. If I were writing this essay today, I’d start with the title, and today I like the title “Listening to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the midst of Corona.”

Here’s a sort of off-the-top-of-my-head outline:

Listening to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” in the midst of Corona Intro: I’d probably start by describing something about the music itself. The “Ode to Joy” is from the fourth movement of the symphony and is very well known. I’d start by describing what it’s like to listen to the music, how the rousing and uplifting singing affects me when I hear it, how it swells and recedes, and so forth. I’d try in this opening paragraph to give the reader a sense of the music itself. I’d try to include details that would help the audience to imagine the music.

Transition: I like the idea of an abrupt, disorienting transition. If the first paragraph is simply immersed in the music, with no reference to the world around me, maybe I’d start this next paragraph with the act of pulling out my earbuds. Maybe I was listening to Beethoven in the yard, and suddenly one of the police helicopters that often hovers above my neighbourhood distracts me from the music. This abrupt transition, from immersion in the music to distraction by the world around me, would set up the dynamic that’s implicit in the essay’s title. I could talk about a lot of things in this paragraph (or section; it could be multiple paragraphs): what it’s like to be on lockdown or in quarantine (the hovering helicopter is a good detail there), and how the reality of the world today seems very distant from the joyous, welcoming, human world that the final movement of Beethoven’s symphony suggests. I could even use the material in Foucault’s essay to build the next transition…

Transition: I could transition next to the wave of plague that spread across Europe at the end of the middle ages. Here I would include a fair amount of factual information pulled from the textbook and the lectures. I use this information to paint as accurate a picture as I could of what people might have been experiencing during that time. I would think about how the fear and anxiety of the time affected the course of history.

Transition: It makes sense to me to transition into a sort of compare and contrast mode at this point. What are the similarities and what are the differences between the experience we’re all going through today and the experience people would have gone through then? What are the different ways we experience the world now and how would this change the way the pandemic strikes us? Certainly, both periods are marked by fear and anxiety, but how are fear and anxiety different today than they might have been in, say, 1350?

Transition: It strikes me that the first movement of Beethoven’s symphony is built on musical themes that suggest exactly fear and anxiety. At this point, I’d go back to talking about music. In the first movement (we’ll talk about all of this as the class moves forward), these themes that suggest fear and anxiety are the dominant aspects of the movement, but, as they develop, they have a tendency to transform so that they also suggest something like relief. Beethoven’s symphony seems to suggest that fear and anxiety shape the sort of relief that we might also feel. I’d try to describe these developments in the music. (This would fulfil the interpretation/analysis of a primary artefact requirement, as would other passages.)

Transition: I’d then try to talk about relief. Where do I find it in my life during these times? Baking, gardening, sweeping the floor, walking the dog with my wife, having conversations with my wife: I would think about how, for me anyway, all of these sources of relief are actually also things that would have been available to people in the late middle ages. I would probably ask some questions about this. What does it mean that the experiences of anxiety and fear seem to me to transform pretty radically over time but that (for me at least) the sources of relief seem more stable over time? Does this mean that the positive aspects of being a human are more stable than the negative aspects? (This, among other passages, would fulfil the requirement that the essay makes connections and discuss relationships between distinct historical moments.)

I hope you can see that there’s a sort of pattern here: I have three elements in balance in this essay: the symphony, the plague, and the current pandemic. The essay simply has to move between them and consider them each in relation to the other. If you pay attention to the material, it will suggest relationships between the different elements, and your job as a writer is to follow through on exploring those relationships.

For the essay I outlined above, the opening, for instance, suggests a closing paragraph: to round out the intro, the essay needs to end with me popping my earbuds back in and re-immersing myself in the music. Ideally, I would hear something different in it at the end of the essay than at the beginning: the act of reflecting on the material would transform my understanding of the material, in other words.

Finally, a few notes:

1) Yes, you can (and should) write in the first person.

2) This is a personal essay; personal essays work best when you build distinct scenes within them. You should describe the physical details of the setting that you’re in as you think about the material. Give us a sense of place and time. Don’t just tell us you’re listening to Beethoven, tell us where you are and what it’s like there too. Set a scene. In creative writing workshops, we often say “show, don’t tell,” and that’s good advice here too. For more information on Current Monarchies check on this:

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