Essay Assignment


Formatting: regular size paper (8.5×11), 1.5 spacing (i.e., half way between single and double-spaced), 1” inch margins, and 11-12 point font. Print on ONE SIDE of the paper only. Put your name, class, title etc on a separate cover page (not included in the page count). Staple in top left hand corner. No plastic cover sheets or any of that stuff. Length 7-10 pp. Any and all references should be listed starting on a separate page at the end or immediately below your concluding (last) paragraph. I have included some reference and citation help at the end of this document for your use, if needed.

Assignment: Your overall task (big picture): Find some area of interest to you with respect to technology and environment (or both) and consider that as it relates to one of more cultures.

Part of this is descriptive (the technology and/or environmental topic you are examining) but part of it is also analytical, meaning that you will look at other institutions of the culture you are examining—how they are affected by or shaped by the technology/environmental issues you are examining. Are they affected? Changed? If so, how? Why? Think of these things as interrelated, because they always are. This is adaptation in a cultural sense.

Obviously, you have a lot of latitude here. YOU can choose any topic you want so long as it’s in keeping with this overall scope. You’re interested in cars, you say? That’s technology. So you could look at the affect cars had on American culture before and after their mass production. Think of the affect car had on social, political, economic (and so on) life in America. Profound. GMOs are something your interested in? Look into them! What are they? How prevalent are they? And then, once the basic descriptive stuff is understood, consider the interrelationships between GMOs and other aspects (institutional things) in America or Canada, or several cultures. I could go on and on; the topics are infinite. The point being you can research whatever you want so long as basic criteria are met. More on that in a minute…

Note: this is NOT about a sub-culture (Goths in Los Angeles), but rather a culture. Also, we are discussing (and will discuss more) various approaches and terms, and concepts (etc.) in class—from your textbook. Know those, their purpose and explanatory power, and think that way when examining your case study and writing your essay. This is why we are reading about concepts. Use them!

One way (not the only way, but a highly manageable one) to do this assignment is to seek out a “classic” ethnography and use the subsistence (food acquisition/generation by a culture) section in it as a starting point (subsistence involves both technology and human-environment relationships). Ethnographies are books that pertain to a SINGLE culture…a complete study of the overall culture including various aspects like economy, along with other institutional things (e.g., kinship, politics, religion, and so on). Most often these are arranged as separate chapters in an ethnographic book. Ethnographies are inherently “holistic” in nature: the goal being to consider how various institutions of a specific culture are related to each other. How does subsistence affect or structure kinship? Politics? And so on. For this reason, using a good ethnography may be an ideal way to approach your term paper. You do not have to do this, though, if you don’t want to.

If you do, ask yourself what kind of cultural adaptation are YOU interested in? Perhaps it’s animal herding (pastoralist)? Tribal societies? What area of the world? Pick something that you will enjoy learning about.

One way to get started on this is to Google things (“classic ethnographies, best ethnographic books,” cultural ecology ethnography” etc.). Spend a bit of time doing that and it will help. The library here also has an extensive collection of ethnographies, especially examples form the 50s through the 1980s, which would be a great place to start as well. There are humanities librarians at your disposal too; why not talk to them?

Topic Statement: A one or two paragraph summary of what you will do. Also write out (in a bibliographic format) your sources at the bottom of the page after your topic statement (note that your sources may change as your research progresses). Everyone gets 100% on this part of the assignment because it needs to be approved by me; if it falls short you simply retool and hand back in. When you get your topic statement back from me keep it! You will need to attach it to the back of your final essay.

Topic Statement: Supremely Critical
Summary Here………. Your topic statement needs to clearly state your (1) TOPIC, the (2) CULTURE or CULTURES you will be looking at, the (3) QUESTION or QUESTIONS that will guide what you do, and (4) list one or more (2-3 is ideal at this point) applicable REFERENCES. Any topic statement that lacks these critical things
will be returned to you with my handwriting stating, “redo.” Note that, when
written, questions always end with one of these: (?) a question mark! No question
mark means you have no question/s.

This is a course about culture, environment & technology, so your topic must be related somehow to environment or technology (or both). And the topic must be considered with respect to OTHER CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS. This means that you must go beyond description; you must consider your topic as it (or how it) relates to (shapes, etc.) other aspects of the culture or cultures you are looking at. All of the above, of course, needs to be integrated into your final essay.
The following (which I just made up) consists of two topic statement examples containing the required things listed above. Note that these are only examples; yours may end up looking longer (or whatever), but the components mentioned above are present in both of these off-hand examples (with the exception of references).

Example #1: For this essay, I will examine the domestication of dogs and the effect that dogs may have had on human subsistence (food acquisition practices/economy, diet, social structure, and so on). Where and when did dogs first become domesticated? Can we see a difference in human adaptation to the environment and subsistence practices (hunting tools, technology etc.) before and after the domestication of dogs? These and most likely other questions will be addressed once I look at the literature in more depth. The precise culture in which this occurred is beyond the scope of this essay, since it occurred in Eastern Europe around 28,000 years ago, but I will note the places and archaeological terminology for the peoples in question, where I can.

Example #2: Video gaming in the Western cultures has accelerated dramatically over the past two decades with increasingly advanced computer technology, platforms (including telephones), and graphics. It is now a multi billion-dollar industry worldwide. While an enjoyable occasional activity for many, such technology has not come without social damage, according to most social scientists. For this essay, I will look at the negative effects of computer gaming in the United States. What are the social impacts of excessive gaming? Is there a correlation between the increasing number of “vidiots” (aka gamers) and the breakdown of other social norms? After describing gaming technology and trends over the past 1-2 decades, I will consider the affects it has had in other areas of American culture and institutions: for example, mental and physical health, socialization (peer and mate bonding, etc.) and probably other things I have yet to recognize.

Again, these are just a couple of examples. You can pick any topic you wish so long as it meets the basic requirements. Have some fun with this!

The Essay: This is the actual paper due the last formal day of class lecture (see formatting, above). The overall goal of the paper is to sharpen critical thinking skills. This is NOT an exercise in descriptive repetition. Don’t loose sight of this basic point. You are thinking through the various aspects of a culture with respect to the technology and/or environment/subsistence. If I do not see critical and analytical work, the best grade you will achieve is a C.

Note that any well-written work (well, most written works, and certainly all academic/scientific works) contains a clear statement of purpose and is organized accordingly. You should have an introduction in which you state (1) the purpose of your work [the topic], (2) the question or questions being asked, and (3) how you will go about addressing the questions you will ask [methodology]. A well organized introduction not only aids the reader, it guides your thinking and presentation. Internal subdivision (subtitles) is also a good idea to guide the reader and organize your thoughts and presentation.

Good luck and please see/contact me if you have any issues/questions


Research Paper — Bibliography and Citation

Bibliography: Your essay MUST have a bibliography at the end of your paper, beginning on a new page with the title “Bibliography” or “References Cited” at the top of the page. The works cited in the body of your research paper—and ONLY those works—are then listed below in alphabetical order (by author surname). In cases where there is more than one entry for the same author (i.e., more than one work cited), enter the earliest one first, followed below by later works. Examples:

journal article:
James, Jessie
1885 The Art of Being Bad and other Stories of Ugliness While I was Drunk. Journal of Western Nonsense 22(3):56-78.
(in this case, the journal title is underlined, the journal volume number is listed [no 22], the issue within the volume is listed [no 3], and the page spread is listed [56-78])

Beiber, Justin
2005 If Only I Could Sing and Wasn’t Exceedingly Annoying. Putnam Publishing, New York.
(in this case the book title is underlined, the publisher is named, and the location of the publisher is named)

Book Chapter:
Piggy, Horacio
1955 There’s a Nasty Yellow Stain at the Bottom of My Sink. In Bathroom Cleanliness: The Do’s and Don’ts, by Betty Scrubs-Bright, pp. 100-120. Irrelevant Publishing, Chicago.
(in this case the chapter title comes first, followed by the book title [underlined], the book author [editor] name, the page spread, and the publisher and location)

In-text Citation: There are various ways to cite the works. At the most fundamental level—this should be obvious—do not use other people’s ideas and not give them credit via citation. This is called plagiarism (when done verbatim [using the same text]) or academic theft / dishonesty (in the case of paraphrasing another’s ideas). The following is a sample sentence in which I gave you two fundamental ways to cite:

– According to Jones (1998:23) the Maya were a peaceful series of chiefdoms.

– The Maya have been described as a peaceful series of chiefdoms (Jones 1998:23).

Here we have the same author being cited, the only difference being that in one sentence I use the name in the text (and hence the actual citation is just the year and page number), and the other sentence is crafted in a way that omits the person’s name (thus, it has to be included in the parenthesis with the year and page number. Note that a semicolon separates the year and page number.

In cases where multiple authors wrote a paper you are citing, it would go like this:

– According to Jones et al. (1998:23) the Maya were a peaceful series of chiefdoms.

– The Maya have been described as a peaceful series of chiefdoms (Jones et al. 1998:23).

The letters “et al.” at Latin for “and others.” So if you have three or more authors this format should be used. If there are only two authors, both would be named:

– According to Jones and Harmon (1998:23), the Maya were a peaceful series of chiefdoms.

– The Maya have been described as a peaceful series of chiefdoms (Jones and Harmon 1998:23).

These are the basic ways of citing. Of course, in some cases you may wish to cite several works pertaining to a particular point. For example:

– According to Jones (1998:23), the Maya were a peaceful series of chiefdoms.

– It is widely recognized that the Classic Maya were a peaceful series of chiefdoms (Abrams 1986:23; Coe 1998:34; Jones 1998:23: Zachery 2000:23).

In this case several works are cited. Note that they are listed in alphabetical order, not by date.

Direct Quotation: Can be problematic in the sense that some students, if not told otherwise, will insert huge block quotes in their paper, filling up otherwise empty pages to get to the “magic number.” Use quotation sparingly, if at all. And NEVER use block quotes (i.e., several sentences of text that are set apart from everything else in an indented manner). YOU should condense and put into YOUR OWN WORDS what is being said by another person. That said, if someone has a catchy word or some very brief thing that merits quotation, feel free to use it. But if you do, it should be clearly set in quotation marks. For example,

– To some scholars, the evolution of early hominids is “exceedingly rapid” (Muller 2003:32).

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