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Paper Prompts

Paper 2

This paper should be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, in a normal-sized font. A few reminders:

• Your paper must have an interpretive thesis and well-organized paragraphs that support your argument.
• You need to draw evidence from specific observation of the primary document(s) you consider.
• The prompts below are just prompts to help you start thinking. You don’t need to address every question in them.

DUE DATE: by 4pm, Friday, 11/7 in the box in Axinn
1) Look through the three accounts of executions collected by Mather in Pillars of Salt. What are the conventions of the form? Looking specifically at the account of James Morgan, ask yourself what Mather meant to communicate to readers. What is Morgan’s relationship to God, his community, and the minister himself? Be specific about the sorts of language Mather uses and the social purposes that the execution narratives were meant to have.

2) Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative stands at the head of a long tradition of tales centered on the captive American. Compare a more recent story of captivity that you may have seen to Rowlandson’s. What has changed? What remains the same? What do the continuities and changes tell you about the meaning of captivity in the United States?

3) We’ve discussed in some detail the journals of Samuel Sewall and William Byrd. You have also read Edwards’s “Personal Narrative.” The Norton anthology also includes about 10 pages from the private journal of Sarah Kemble Knight (379-390). How is her journal like or unlike those of Sewall and/or Bird? How are these differences informed by her social position and gender? Does she use the same or different actions and beliefs to define herself? How is her voice as a diarist different from one or all of the others we have read? Be detailed in your observations about her language as well as her general areas of concern.

5) Examine in detail one or two of the John Singleton Copley portraits from Week 8 that we did NOT discuss in class. What do the sitters want you to know about them? How do the portraits use consumer goods to define themselves? Is it possible to discern the place of the sitter in a larger social order? It will no doubt help to do some research on the person or people in the portrait you choose. Almost of Copley’s subjects were sufficiently prominent that information about them isn’t too hard to find. There are also, of course, many resources on Copley himself that often provide this information.


Paper Prompts

The prompts below do not give you a thesis and you need not answer the precise questions posed in your essay.  The prompts provide points of departure.  You should, though, be sure that you have an interpretive point to make about the sources you examine. Also be certain that you ground your argument with specific references to the texts or images in question. Spell names and titles correctly.  Be sure you have solid paragraphs with topic sentences.  All writers need to be reminded of such matters occasionally.

The paper should be 4-5 pages and is due in our turn-in box in Axinn no later than 4 pm on Friday, Oct 3.

1) Look at the visual images of Columbus attached to the website (Thurs, Week 1). They were produced in different media, for different purposes, in different locations over a long period of time.  Pick two or three images and describe the differences and continuities among them.  How do the various artists understand Columbus’s arrival in the new world?  Is he heroic, threatening, divine, human, or something else? How do the images you chose convey these ideas about Columbus?  Think of his posture, the position of other figures and objects, the use of color or lines, and more.  Could you make any reasonable arguments about the changing perception of Columbus from the period of his first discovery to the 19th and 20th centuries based on your analysis?


2) In class, we discussed at some length the ways that Michel de Cuneo’s and Castillo’s stories of battle address Spanish ideals of military gallantry and brotherhood. How does the work of Bartolomé de las Casas or Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca treat these same conventions? Do they define ideal masculinity through the virtues of military conquest and Spanish brotherhood? Might there be something to learn from natives about manhood? What seem to be the idealized conventions of masculinity for de las Casas and Cabeza de Vaca?

3) Accompanying Thomas Hariot to Virginia in 1585, John White mad water color images of the natives and scenery he saw that were not widely published until the 20th century. Obviously, though, Theodor de Bry saw them. When de Bry collected Harriot’s A Brief and True Report for inclusion in his Grands Voyages, he included engravings based on Hariot’s work. Look at two or three sets of images by White and de Bry. What did de Bry change and why is it important? What are the different ideas about the natives likely to emerge from these pictures? Why would de Bry make the changes he did?

To see more of White’s water colors and de Bry’s prints made from them, try this link.


4) Below you’ll see Hernán Cortés’s account of entering the city of Tenochtitlan at the end of months of siege. It was addressed to King Charles.  The entire letter is dozens of pages long, narrating much of Cortes’s time in Mexico.  In your anthology (54-59) you’ll find Cortés’s description of the city before its destruction. Judging from these passages, how would you compare Cortés’s accounts of Tenochtitlan and its conquest to that of Bernal Diaz del Castillo? Formulate a thesis explaining what the differences and similarities between the two letters might tell us about the Spanish conquistadors’ understanding of their conquest.



The people of the city had to walk upon their dead while others swam or drowned in the waters of that wide lake where they had their canoes; indeed, so great was their suffering that it was beyond our understanding how they could endure it. Countless numbers of men, women and children came out toward us, and in their eagerness to escape many were pushed into the water and they drowned amid that multitude of corpses; and it seemed that more than fifty thousand had perished from the salt water they had drunk [Cortés had cut off the pipes taking fresh water to the city], their hunger and the vile stench. So that we should not discover the plight in which they were in, they dared neither throw these bodies into the water . . . nor throw them beyond their boundaries where the soldiers might see them; and so in those streets where they were we came across such piles of the dead that we were forced to walk upon them. I had posted Spaniards in every street, so that when the people began to come out they might prevent our allies [natives hostile to the Aztecs] from killing those wretched people, whose number was uncountable. I also told the captains of our allies that on no account should any of those people be slain; but the were so many that we could not prevent more than 15,000 being killed and sacrificed that day. But still their warriors and chieftans were hiding in corners, on roof tops, in their houses or in canoes on the lake. . . . When I saw that it was growing late and that they were not going to surrender or attack I ordered the . . . guns to be fired at them, for although these did some harm it was less than our allies would have done had I granted them license to attack. . . . .
On the day that Guatimucin [the leader of the Aztec resistance] was captured and the city taken, we gathered up all the spoils we could find and returned to our camp, giving thanks to Our Lord for such a favor and the much desired victory which he had granted us.

From Hernán Cortés, “Third Letter to King Charles I,” in Letters From Mexico, ed Anthony Pagden, Yale University Press, 1986.

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