Paper Assignment
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bulletYou must email your exact choice of topic question to me by Tuesday, January 29th.
bulletI am willing to read and comment on drafts submitted by the end of Sunday, 3rd February.
bulletPapers will be accepted until February 12th. However, for your own sake don't put this off into next semester.

When writing papers for this class there are some conventions of presentation and format that you should use. While this document deals with some specifics, for more general assistance you should visit the Franham Writerís Center and its on-line resources.

Your Argument

1.      Have a thesis, and state it clearly and concisely at the start of the paper. A paper is not a newspaper article, or a book review. The thesis should be the backbone of your paper Ė eliminate material that is not relevant to it. Refer back to the thesis as the paper develops.

2.    Have a conclusion. The paper should not just fizzle out when you run out of ideas Ė finish with something that ties your argument together nicely. Itís often useful to summarize your argument, gathering together the main pieces of evidence and showing that they demonstrate your thesis.

3.   Give supporting evidence. Strengthen your argument by referring directly to the text of the books. Donít just recount what happened in the book, interpret it. Analyze the evidence to show how it supports your thesis. Quoting phrases or single sentences is fine, but donít include large chunks. Give page numbers for specific points, chapter numbers where you are talking more about a general part of the book. Extra credit for using relevant evidence (books, papers, novels) not assigned for this class.

4.    Donít bite off more than you can chew. For a short paper, such as these three page assignments, narrow your focus and choose a thesis that you can support in the space allocated.

5.    Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is a serious offense and is grounds for failure. This includes handing in a paper for which you have received credit in another course (even if it is your work), handing in someone elseís paper or a portion of their paper, or failing to acknowledge (cite) your sources.

6.    Remember your audience. Your paper is not a private communication between you and your professor. You should have in mind an audience of interested historians and history students who are not necessarily experts in the field. Remember also that there are some things that we do in informal writing (contractions, abbreviations, slang) that are not appropriate in formal writing. Your papers should be composed in the formal manner.

Picking a Topic

There are no fixed topics for these papers, although some suggestions are made below. You should devote much of your energy to framing a suitable question, and devising a thesis to answer it. If you are having trouble coming up with a suitable topic, email me or ask me after class. After all the reading and thinking you've done in the past few weeks, you should have no trouble thinking of good paper topics. Here are some guidelines in picking them.


Your topic must relate strongly to at least two of the novels we have read. This allows you to compare and contrast its treatment. Referring to more than two novels, or to material from the short stories and films, is encouraged. However, make sure that you really get to grips with at least two books -- it is better to get fully to grips with a small number of the sources than to pepper your paper with facile references to them all. This lets you intelligently compare the approaches of different authors. You might want to pay most attention to one book, but you should still integrate other readings. For example, if you chose to look at the messiah role of Paul in Dune, you could include comparisons with Ender in Enderís Game, and some discussion of The Matrix as well. These other books could be used so as to shed more light on Paul.


Remember that this is a history of American technology and culture course, not a regular literature one. That doesnít mean that you have to put in the names of Presidents and the dates of battles, but for full credit you must engage constructively with some of the bigger themes raised in the lectures and tie your ideas in with the many broad shifts in American culture and society we have discussed. For example, the concept of technocracy, the technological developments of the 1950s or counter-culture of the 1960s might all be of use in formulating and supporting your ideas. If you know any relevant history, or feel like doing a little research, then you can gain extra credit by using it intelligently.


Read all the relevant SF Encyclopedia entries for your topic. I'm not demanding other outside research, but find out whatever they say and consider using this as a starting point to build from or disagree with.


Try to make the thesis something that is not totally obvious (otherwise the paper is boring). For example, arguing that technology has changed a lot since 1940 and so some ideas are out of date would be a bad thesis. Try to be interesting and original (prerequisites for more than a "B").


On the other hand, the thesis should be supportable. I donít have to agree with you after reading, but I do need to feel that youíve made a strong case and that the argument might be plausible. For example, if you tried to argue that Things to Come is a veiled criticism of technocratic arrogance and has a hidden message about the dangers of rule by elites, you would need to present careful evidence to support this unorthodox reading. You would also have to try to take into account possible objections to this view.

Example Topics

However, I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable diving in and inventing a topic. So here are some example questions to get you going:

bulletCompare and contrast the main female characters in two or more of the novels we read. How do they differ in terms of gender assumptions, roles given within the narrative and characterization? How do these differences relate to broader historical shifts?
bulletMost of the authors (Asimov, Stapledon, Dick, Gibson, Pohl) deal with artificial intelligence. Picking two or three of these, contrast the use made of the theme by different authors. Be sure to address the assumptions they make and the questions they use use the theme to illuminate. Try to relate the differences to the historical circumstances and political or personal views of the authors. (Substitute "drugs", "PSI powers", "nuclear war" above and change the authors to get other possible topics)
bulletA number of the authors deal with the actual or threatened devastation of humanity by war or accident. Selecting two or three authors on which to focus, discuss the different perils they identify. Relate these differences to the times at which they were writing.
bulletHow and why have attitudes toward technology and its relationship to progress shifted over the twentieth-century? Discuss one or two specific topics such as communication, computers, government or transportation. Look closely at how the different authors and films have used these topics, be sure to relate these shifts to broader historical and cultural developments.

If you feel like doing something a little bit more imaginative, it might also be interesting to ask questions that explore the influence of SF and other futuristic thinking on the actual development of areas such as space flight, computing, and so on. This would require either extra research or strong knowledge of the area, so if you have an idea like this then clear it with me first.


1.    Give you paper a title which indicates the subject of the paper and your argument.

2.    Double-space your papers, using a 12 point serif font (Times, Palatino, Garamond, Century Schoolbook, etc.) with margins of at least one inch all around.

3.      On no account should your paper be more than 12 pages. It should not be less than 8 pages. When in doubt, cut rather than pad.

4.     Number the pages.

5.     Staple your papers.

6.     Keep a copy. Donít risk losing it.

7.    Always proof your paper. Read it carefully, from a printout. Reading it out loud is the best way of spotting typos. Not spotting typos is the dumbest way to lose marks. Remember, the spell checker does not know what you actually meant to say.

How to Cite Sources

Historians base their arguments around the careful citation of evidence. Whenever you directly quote someoneís work, report someone elseís ideas, or present facts that are not common knowledge, you should let your readers know your source and give enough information for them to find that source. Even if you use your own words to restate anotherís ideas, failing to cite constitutes plagiarism.

For these papers, it is fine to cite the main novels under discussion at the end, and refer to them by name or by the authorís name in the body of the paper. If you refer to any other books (histories of science fiction, other novels, critical essays) please footnote you first reference to these texts, and give a full citation in the footnote.

As a minimum, you must include the full title of the book, the name of the author, the year and city of publication. If you are citing a paper within a larger volume, then you must give the name of the collection and its editors. The examples below are from an actual history paper.

From a book: Sidney Pollard, The Genesis of Modern Management (Cambridge, Mass., 1963), chap. 7.

From a journal: Clarence H. Danhof, ďThe Farm Enterprise: The Northern United States, 1820-1860,Ē Research in Economic History, 4 (1979), 127-191.

From a collection: Albert Fishlow, ďAntebellum Interregional Trade Reconsidered,Ē in R.L. Anderson, ed., New Views on American Economic Development (Cambridge: Schenkman Publishing Company, 1965) pp. 187-200.

Some of you have asked whether you can cite material from lectures. Remember that the purpose of citation is to allow somebody else to go back to your source. Hence a public source is better than a private one. If you can find the same information in print, then cite this source instead. You could always ask the lecturer where it came from! However, if you are unable to do this then it is better to cite your lecture notes (giving date, lecturer, course number and venue) then to present no source at all.

Everything you could ever want to know about the technicalities of academic writing is contained in the Chicago Manual of Style. However, the book itself may be a little too complete for your current needs.

You will find a more user friendly version of the same material in Kate Turabian. A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses and Dissertations. 6th edition, revised by John Grossman and Alice B. Bennett. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). This is the standard work recommended for student writing.

Page created by Thomas Haigh. Last edited  01/12/2002.