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Creating Assignments Using Library Resources

A brief list of (modified) sample assignments that have been used in various classes


Select one of the topics we have discussed in class [literature, history, political science, science, etc.] and write a brief literature review of recent scholarly work (at least two books and five journal articles) on that topic. Note that a literature review is more than listing and briefly describing sources. You should analyze the content of the sources and relate their contents to each other. For more on writing a literature review, see For more on finding and evaluating sources for your literature review, see For a librarian’s assistance in finding and analyzing sources, please contact ------- to set up an appointment.



Newspapers, television news shows, magazines, blogs, and other media commonly report scientific findings to a general audience. Pick an example of a popular media report on a scientific finding of interest to you and find one more popular media report of the finding, then locate the original research or actual study published in an academic journal along with a scholarly source discussing the finding.  Write a brief (3-4 page) comparison of how the finding is reported and discussed, considering such matters as authorship, format, content, and conclusions presented, as well as how they cite their sources. On this last point, popular media often mention only that “a recent study shows,” without specifically citing the study. So we will have ------- from the Science Library pay a brief visit to our class to explain effective methods of tracking down “a recent study” and other relevant scholarly sources.



Slavery played a significant role in the development of the United States from colonial times to the Civil War. For this paper, you are to examine some aspect of the relationship between slavery and your home town or state (for international students, you may choose your home town if feasible, or Middletown or some other area of the U.S.). Find at least two primary sources (direct, uninterpreted records documenting the subject of your research) and several academic secondary sources (scholarly analyses of the subject) to base your paper on. To help you find your sources, we will have a librarian visit class to provide a brief demonstration of how to locate and select useful primary source documents and appropriate scholarly secondary sources to use for constructing a framework to interpret those primary sources.



William Julius Wilson’s book The Truly Disadvantaged cites many different sets of statistics (most from U.S. government agencies such as the Census Bureau or Department of Labor). Those statistics are now over 30 years old. For this assignment, select one set of statistics he cites, and find more recent reports of these statistics including the one most recently published. In addition, find at least two recent scholarly articles relating to the statistics. Write a brief (3-4 page) assessment of whether the situation recorded by Wilson’s statistics has changed and the degree to which his analysis still holds. You will be required to attend one of two lunchtime extra sessions in which a librarian will demonstrate resources and techniques for finding and evaluating specific statistical sources and scholarly publications relevant to your topic. If you cannot attend either time, please let me know ahead of time and we can make arrangements to meet with the librarian at another time.



In this assignment, you will have an opportunity to produce your own micro-edition of a Shakespeare play.  Your edition will consist of a single line of the play.  Our class visit to Special Collections & Archives will introduce you to Wesleyan’s rich holdings of Shakespeare editions and other works of the Elizabethan period.  For the assignment, you will first choose one of the textual cruxes in the play.  (A textual “crux” is an instance in which the first quarto [Q1] and the first folio [F1] editions vary.)  Look up the line you have chosen in Q1, F1, F2, and in one pre-1800 and one post-1800 edition in Special Collections of your own choosing, keeping in mind that the line numbers vary from edition to edition, and transcribe the line exactly as it appears in each edition, being careful to reproduce precise punctuation and spelling. Next, look up the line in the Furness Variorum edition (on reserve in Special Collections) and read through the entire commentary on your line.  Now you are ready to produce your own “edition” of the line. First, decide what kind of edition you want to produce. What readership is it aimed at (e.g. elite, popular, scholarly, young adult, family, student, theatrical, etc.)? Will your edition be old-spelling or modernized? How, if at all, will your edition inform your readership about the line’s textual variant(s)? Will you choose between variants, or choose not to choose? If the latter, will you inform your readers of the variants (and of modern editors’ emendations of the line), and how? Will you provide a gloss of difficult words, or supplementary contextualizing materials (e.g. illustrations, relevant historical texts, etc.)? Once you have answered these questions, produce an edition that fulfills the choices you have made. Finally, attach to your edition a 4-6 p. introductory essay in which you explain and justify the choices you have made, based on your own interpretation of the line within the broader context of the play.  This assignment will require thinking about the significance of the variant readings in relation to the play as a whole. To what extent do the editorial choices made by editors of the line (including yourself) reflect  ideologies of the particular historical moment in which they are made, as well as the moral, aesthetic, cultural and political values of the editor who is making them?



For this assignment, you will examine an early modern book from Europe not as a text, but as an object.  In our class visit to Special Collections & Archives, ------- will show examples from Wesleyan’s rich early modern collections, and she will talk about the history and technology of printing, publishing, binding, and other aspects of the physical book.  After the class visit, you will chose a book from a preselected list and write a short paper about it.  In the first paragraph,  give the reader all the necessary bibliographic information:  author, title (full), place and date of publishing, by whom.  If it is a translation, give the translator’s name, too.  Which edition is this?  How many other editions were there?   Then you should discuss all other information about this particular edition: first, things that would be common to all copies (size, format, number of pages, quality of paper, type fonts, illustrations, etc.).  Then move on to discuss whatever is characteristic of the copy Wesleyan University owns (binding, provenance, wear and tear, discoloration, etc.)  Next, discuss other works the author wrote:  were the books issued by the same printer or publisher?  Were they the same format, size, theme?  How does the book you are working with fit in the broader oeuvre of the author?  Was s/he a pamphleteer?  Prolific? Religious writer? (Etc.)  Then discuss the printer, similarly, paying attention to how your book fits with the other books (theme, size, format, etc.).  Later in the semester you will write a second paper that explores your book as a text and a historical document.