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5.9 End-of-Chapter Assessment

Key Takeaways

  • Just as literature reflects history, literature also reflects the cultural assumptions shared by the society in which it was produced. Often works from the Western canon view nonwhite characters in prejudiced ways that justify Western imperialism.
  • You can understand a text’s racial, ethnic, or cultural messages by paying particular attention to the way that groups of people are described, particularly in contrast to other groups.
  • When writing about race, ethnicity, and colonialism, utilize both primary and secondary sources to fully engage with the text’s historical context. Using a mix of primary and secondary sources will be key to writing through the lens of New Historicism, a literary theory that we explore in Chapter 7 "Writing about History and Culture from a New Historical Perspective".
  • When writing about literature, you can modify, extend, dispute, or challenge the opinions of other scholars. By demonstrating how your ideas differ from theirs, you demonstrate your maturity as a thinker and writer.

Writing Exercises

  1. Freewriting exercise. Choose a work you’ve read that includes characters from distinct racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. Next, draw a line down the center of a sheet of blank paper. On each side of the paper, compile a list of words that could be used to describe the text’s depiction of characters from a particular group in the novel. Don’t worry about whether you like or agree with those descriptions—your goal right now is to understand how the text depicts each group. Next, use the second side of the paper to compile words that describe the text’s approach to another group. After creating these lists, compare them. Do you notice any interesting convergences, divergences, or tensions between the two lists? Now you’re ready to start researching further.
  2. As you research secondary sources for your paper, keep a list of all the ideas in the articles you read that you disagree with. Remember that you needn’t disagree with the entire article. You may decide that the author misreads a particular quote, takes part of her argument too far, or draws a wrong conclusion from particular secondary sources. As you compile this list, think about how you might incorporate your disagreement into your argument—where can you insert your opinion into the scholarly conversations you are reading?

Instructor Supplement: Class Exercises

  1. The Heart of Darkness paper offers a solid analysis of the text’s relationship to colonialism, but the argument is not particularly surprising. In some ways the paper simply brings together a range of critics and amplifies their arguments about the novella. In your class, distribute photocopies of the paper (or, if you meet in a computer lab, e-mail the file) to the class. Divide the class into groups of three to four students. Ask each group to develop three recommendations that would help make the paper’s argument more surprising. You might ask them the following questions: What small aspects of this argument might the author further develop? Were there any claims or reasons that surprised you? If so, how might those be expanded and perhaps incorporated into the paper’s introduction?
  2. Schedule a visit to the computer lab with your students. Have your students visit a digital project focused on racial, ethnic, or postcolonial issues. You might consider Adeline Koh’s Digitizing “Chinese Englishmen” (http://chineseenglishmen.adelinekoh.org), Angel David Nieves’s Soweto ’76 (http://www.soweto76archive.org), or the University of Richmond’s Visualizing Emancipation project (http://dsl.richmond.edu/emancipation), depending on your course topic.Adeline Koh, “Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen’: Representations of Race and Empire in the Nineteenth Century,” http://chineseenglishmen.adelinekoh.org; Angel David Nieves, “Soweto ’76,” http://www.soweto76archive.org; “Visualizing Emancipation,” National Endowment for the Humanities and University of Richmond, http://dsl.richmond.edu/emancipation. Give students twenty minutes to explore the resource, letting them know that you will expect each group to “report out” at the end of their time. By the end of twenty minutes, each group should have developed (a) at least one new claim about the literary work or time period you are studying and (b) at least two research questions prompted by the project they explored. If time allows after all groups report out, you might choose one of the proposed research questions and begin exploring its answer(s) as a class.

Instructor Supplement: Class Peer Review

  1. Have students conduct peer review on one of the sample papers using the organizational peer-review guide found in Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.4 "Chapter 5: Race and Ethnicity":

    1. Place students in groups of three to four and have them reread the paper for peer review and fill out the guide sheet.
    2. Have students discuss their feedback responses to the sample paper.
    3. Have students list the major feedback they discussed.
    4. Put the major issues on the blackboard or whiteboard.
    5. Discuss these responses. Make certain that you let students know that any paper can be improved.
  2. Plan to have your students conduct peer review on the drafts of their essays that they are writing in your class. Use the peer-review guide from Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.4 "Chapter 5: Race and Ethnicity" and have them work in groups of three and do the following:

    1. Bring two hard copies of their essay so that each member can read the paper, OR work in a computer lab where students can share their papers online. You may want to use the educational software that your campus supports—for example, Blackboard or Moodle—or you can have students use Google Drive to set up their peer-review groups.
    2. Have two students focus on the first paper in the group. While these students are reading, have the other student read the other two student papers.
    3. The two students should quickly fill out the peer-review sheet and then have a brief conversation about the strengths of the paper and ways the paper could be improved.
    4. Move to the next student and follow the same process. Depending on the length of your class, you may have to reduce the peer-review groups to two students.
    5. If time permits, ask the students to provide general comments—or ask questions—about the specific papers or the assignment overall.
    6. You may want to use peer review for each paper in your class.