HUM 103, 2018: Project #1
Analyze closely your assigned passage* of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The project should explain how the passage is composed and why the way the passage is composed matters for the entire “Letter.”
Start by asking as many questions as possible about your passage and noticing as many details as possible in your passage. For instance, suppose that your passage includes this sentence from the “Letter”:
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church.
Early notes on this sentence might be a list of questions and observations:
- why the passive voice? “I was . . . catapulted.”
- is MLK being modest? is he downplaying his own freedom of choice?
- who catapulted him / chose him for leadership? why doesn’t he say?
- why “suddenly catapulted”? is there any other way to be catapulted?
- what was the “bus protest”? would the clergyman know about it? why call it a “bus protest,” as if the buses themselves were marching in the streets? how much does MLK want to skim over those events and how much does he want to be associated with them?
- why “felt”? how would it be different to claim “I thought” or “I believed”? “felt” seems to me a squishier word. is he suggesting that “a few years ago” he had feelings that he had not yet thought through? what is the status of feelings in the “Letter”? trustworthy or not?
- “we would be supported by the white church”—more passive voice. why? why not the active voice of “the white church would support us”? passive voice allows the sentence to end with “the white church”—giving them an important place that they fumble.
- who is “we” in this sentence? is that group formed by race (we African Americans) or politics (we protesters) or something else? how many different ways does MLK use “we” in the “Letter”? how many different groups does it name?
- does he view all of the predominately white churches as linked together to form “the white church,” as a single powerful collective? where else does MLK make big claims and assumptions about groups in the “Letter”?
And so on.
No brief essay could analyze all of the details of an assigned passage, but full lists like this one will allow you to write an essay that packs lots of analysis into a few pages.
The first draft of Project #1 is due on Sunday, September 9 at 5:00 PM. That draft will takes the place of the weekly post on the course blog. Put your draft into this dropbox folder before 5:00pm. Use this naming protocol:
LastnameFirstnameProject1Draft.docx (or .pdf)
You’ll see all the papers in that folder. Remember our course ethos: open, collaborative, transparent. (More on this below.)
The final version of Project #1 is due on Friday, September 14 at 5:00 PM. Put that one in this dropbox folder.
Each draft of your project should contain 1000-1200 words. Please include a word count at the end of your paper on a new line in [square brackets]. Include your passage at the top of your paper, but do not include it in the word count.
Format your project using Chicago style. You can find guidelines for that in our resources page, here. That is: twelve-point font, one-inch margins, numbered pages (bottom right), and on the first page, your name, the date, the course number (HUM 103), the name of the professor of your section. If Chicago style is new to you, go to the Purdue University OWL site (also linked in our resources page). Document all external sources (there shouldn’t be any beyond Rieder and your peers; this is not a research essay), including conversations that shape your drafts, according to The Chicago Manual of Style.
You will discuss the first draft with fellows, with professors, and, ideally, with HUM 103 students in other sections who are analyzing the same passages, like this:
- Write your draft by Friday or Saturday.
- If you would like, and we encourage this, share your drafts with the three other Humesters in the other sections who have the same passage and meet to discuss your drafts. This of course has to happen before you upload your draft on Sunday the 9th. So this would probably be Friday or Saturday the 7th or 8th.
If you incorporate the ideas from one of your peers, acknowledge that in a footnote! Say thank you! (CMS documentation format for the “personal communication” footnote is here.)
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday of week 3 (10-12 September) you will meet one-on-one with one of the fellows in the writing center. You will be able to schedule that 30-minute meeting online beginning Sunday after your drafts are in. These meetings are required.
- You will meet with your section professor after your meeting with a fellows in the writing center. So these teacher meetings will happen throughout the week, before the end of the day Thursday 9/13. You will need to schedule that 15-20 minute meeting with your teacher. These meetings are required.
We’re excited to see your close reading skills on the page. We will all learn so much more about King’s “Letter” throughout this process. Dig in!
* passages randomly assigned: