Paper Assignment

Using an argument that is either raised in Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom or that you have come up with after reading the book, you will be creating a thesis and using specific examples from both his autobiography and the other course materials to support your argument. A big part of the challenge in this assignment is coming up with a strong, thoughtful and engaging thesis. A classic example here of a poor thesis, is after having read My Bondage and My Freedom; the reader comes to the inescapable conclusion that “slavery is bad!” If one was writing in 1855, that might be a challenging argument to make and would have vocal opponents. However, in 2019 saying “slavery is bad” is like saying “Hitler was not a nice person.” It is an argument that is so banal and obvious that most people would not bother to read a paper that came to such a conclusion.

The more successful and engaging papers will focus on Douglass’ comments about certain aspects of the institution of slavery or on taking his social comments about life in the north and south and integrating them with other examples drawn from The American Yawp and primary source documents.  To provide you with a framework or staring point, I have included some passages and possible topics that I have drawn from My Bondage and My Freedom that might help you think about lines of inquiry. This list is by no means exhaustive and you should use this paper as a chance to explore topics or parts of Douglass’ argument that you find persuasive or interesting.

Paper requirements

When starting your assignment please note that the following are requirements for completing a successful paper.

  1. In your paper, you must make extensive use of arguments and evidence drawn from Douglass’ My Bondage and My Freedom. If you have two pages of autobiographical background on Douglass drawn from the web, two brief quotes selected from the book and a material drawn from class lectures and the main course text on slavery this is not going to meet the minimum requirements for the assignment. I will be looking for evidence that you have not only read My Bondage and My Freedom, but have also thought about and understood the arguments in the book.
  2. You need to construct your paper around a clear thesis. A well written seven page paper that simply describes Douglass’ life as a slave in the south is not really getting into the assignment. Similarly part of the challenge in coming up with a thesis is the question of is it manageable. One can write a good paper looking at Douglass’ views on how religion was used by southern slave owners and their supporters to justify the institution of slavery in five pages. Other much broader topics however, may take considerably more time to adequately discuss and should be pared down.
  3. For this paper I expect everyone to be able to use proper citations. If you are unsure of how to cite sources please see me before the due date and I would be happy to go over when and where you should use end and footnotes in your assignment.
  4. In terms of length this paper should be between four and five pages long.
  5. Paper should include a title that reflects the theme of your essay. “My paper on Douglass” is not such a great title. Please do not include a separate title page.
  6. All papers should have a clear thesis, sound argumentation and analysis, good organization, proper writing (diction, grammar, spelling etc.). Papers should be double spaced and not be printed in a font larger than 12-point.
  7. Two documents a “Common Mistakes and Style Guide” and “How to Cite Sources” are available on Desire2Learn in the folder Paper Assignment. You should at least look over both of them as you work on your paper.

Questions or topics

What is the importance of education in the slave system? How do slaves use education to try to empower themselves and why are masters and other southern whites so fearful of educated slaves. What methods to slave owners use to restrict access to education or use their own warped systems of education to maintain control over slaves?

How do questions of faith and religion impact Douglass’ narrative?

when we think about slavery we often focus on the master/slave relationship, but, as Douglass points out repeatedly in his autobiography, it is much more complicated than that. How are other Americans (Non-slaveholding southerners, northerners, freed blacks, women, laborers) impacted by the institution of slavery?

Looking Douglass’ description of slavery how does such a brutal and degrading system survive for so long in a country that prides itself on the high ideals of liberty and personal freedom? To explore topics such as this you will have to take Douglass’ experiences and integrate them with the events that lead up to the Civil War.

After reading My Bondage and My Freedom how does Douglass” compare life in the north and the south? In the main course text there are references to the cultural differences that developed between the two regions does Douglass see the same trends?

In one of his most famous and insightful quotes Douglass remarks “The slaveholder, as well as the slave, is the victim of the slave system. A man’s character greatly takes its hue and shape from the form of color and things about him. Under the whole heavens there is no relation more unfavorable to the development of honorable character, than that sustained by the slaveholder to the slave.” What does Douglass mean by this and how is this argument supported in his accounts of his life as a slave?

Notes on Writing

1) Choose a Topic: Start by picking a reading that you are interested in or feel strongly about. If you choose a topic that you do not understand or that bores you the writing process will be extremely tedious.

2) Think about your evidence. Much of the challenge involved in writing a good paper comes in this step. Can you place the material you selected in context? What background will you need to provide to your reader about the time period? How much detail is necessary?

3) Organization: Take the time to make a list of the class materials that are connected with the topic you are going to discuss and then put them into an outline. This process will help you determine what texts relate to the topic and possible arguments you might want to consider.

5) Write the Paper

6) Revisions: When you have finished your paper set it down, do not think about it for a while and then later read your paper out loud. When you are revising the paper always keep in mind: is my thesis clearly stated, do I do a good job supporting my argument, does my evidence fit the argument and does the paper flow? When you have finished the final revisions go back and check the grammar, spelling and citations one last time.

7) Avoid the use of the word I or we. You are composing a piece of formal academic writing about historical events that you were not directly involved in. There are many other ways to build an argument that do not involve the construction of awkward sentences that start with “I think” or “I feel.”