LITR 5731: Seminar in American Multicultural Literature: Minority

Research Assignment (Revised), fall 2007

The assignment below differs from the original syllabus version in the following way only: instead of two options (research or journal), a third option for a conference paper has been added. Any student may continue with either of the first two options as described in the syllabus without bias or penalty, but if you're interested in the third option, this overall revision is provided. Details may continue to be added in response to student input.

If all these descriptions grow wordy and bureaucratic, get a sense of possibilities by reviewing previous projects on our Model Assignments page.

Research project:

Provisional research proposal due by email during week or so following class on 11 October

(Length: 3-4 paragraphs)


Research Project due 29 November

Length: 12-20 pages for essay or journal. Conference presentation plus other materials will total approximately 10-13 pages.

Weight: 35-40% of final grade.


Research Project options: paper, journal, or conference presentation

You have considerable freedom to develop your research project according to your own needs. The standard options for this project are a traditional research or term paper, a research journal, or a conference presentation. All three options will be graded by similar categories, including quality of research and writing, including readability and interest.

Provisional research proposal (due in week following 11 October, ungraded):  Email 3 or 4 paragraphs plus or minus any outlines or bibliographies. Indicate which option—paper or journal—you're choosing. End your proposal by asking me a question or questions about your topic or your plan of action.

  • If the essay option, describe the topic you are planning for your essay. Indicate which texts you will use.  You may indicate two or three topics if you are still trying to make up your mind. 

  • If the journal option, survey the range of possible contents or subjects that you may cover, plus any unifying theme or direction for the journal.

  • If the conference option, identify topic-range, possible conferences (or inquiries), and any existing materials for possible development (such as a pre-existing paper)

  • You may change your option or topic as your research and writing progress. If the change is "natural" and still falls generally within the description of your original proposal, you do not need to submit another proposal. If, however, you change your option or topic completely, please submit another proposal.

  • More details on each option follow below.

Research Essay option (due by email 29 November):

            The paper's assigned length is the equivalent 12 to 20 pages, double-spaced—though it need not be double-spaced when you submit it.  Follow MLA documentation style. You are required to refer to at least three critical, theoretical, or historical (i. e., secondary) sources.  Your paper should center on one or two "primary texts"; usually the primary texts are drawn from the course’s readings, but you may propose an outside text. If you use more than one primary text, you do not have to treat them in perfect balance—that is, you might develop your ideas more from one than from another, using the second text mostly for contrast or relief. The topic is your choice but must have a direct relevance to the course (see below). Texts may be chosen from within or beyond the course readings, but if all the texts are from outside the course, their relevance should be clear.

Essay Topics: In choosing and developing a topic, students generally start either with a text or with an idea. If you find yourself interested in a text but aren't sure how to develop a topic from it, try isolating a problem or issue for minorities or for American culture or literature that the text explores. This problem or issue may be cultural or literary. How is the problem or issue expressed, and in what ways do the text and/or its characters attempt to resolve it, and with what success? What insight into American culture and literature does the text develop? For secondary sources, try to find criticism of the particular texts involved so that you can build on ideas previously established.

            If you are starting with an idea, you may want to find a theoretical text that deals with the idea for the sake of development. Then find texts in or beyond the course that develop the idea.

            As another subject option, review the course objectives. You are not expected to duplicate ideas developed in lecture and discussion as you would for an exam, but you may use them as background or as launching points.

            In some cases students may continue to develop the topics they began in the midterm. The central ideas are expected to demonstrate further development and research.

            For examples of previous research topics, review the Model Assignments on the course webpage.

Research Journal option (due by email 29 November; 40%):

Purpose: Students will extend their range of knowledge or familiarity with the field of minority literature or one of its subject areas. In brief, the journal might answer the question, "What do I want to know about this field of study, and in what types of sources or references do I find this knowledge most accessible?"

Some sample subject areas: The Harlem Renaissance, Native American poetry (or song), Mexican American literature in Texas or Houston, The Arte Publico Press of Houston, African American autobiography, Native American oral traditions, the corridos of the Border country, performance poetry by minority writers (e. g., Sapphire, Sherman Alexie), missionary literature of the American Indians, slave narratives, the Underground Railroad in literature, literature of the Civil Rights Movement, theories of "multicultural literature," literature associated with Martin Luther King, publishing by minorities, the rise of African American popular literature in the 1990s (bestsellers, Oprah's Club, etc.).

Length: Approximately 15-20 pages, though longer submissions are acceptable. Content: Specific suggestions are given below, but overall the journal should demonstrate that you have, however briefly or tentatively, initiated research in several related subjects.

Quality: Be careful not to let the label of "journal" make you lazy. All your writings should be readable and interesting, and none should look like first drafts.

Coherence: A journal provides opportunities for variety in learning, but students should look for opportunities to organize their diverse sources into larger themes according to the purposes of the assignment. The introduction and conclusion provide the primary opportunity for you to generalize on your learning. Also you may make connections between parts of your journal as they appear.

Warning regarding grading: If you choose the journal option, you are not choosing an option that involves less work than the traditional research paper option. You are expected to do just as much work and your writing will be judged by similar standards. However, the writing may be less centrally or consistently focused on one subject. Thus you may pursue several subjects, which may not perfectly cohere, but the journal must be “readable.” That is, your writing should lead the reader and connect from page to page. In brief, the journal I read should not be your first drafts, and it has to be going somewhere. If you drop subjects and introduce new ones without accounting for the shift, this amounts to bad writing in a journal just as it does in an essay. If the progression of the material doesn’t create a desire in your reader to keep reading, this is a problem in a journal just as it is in an essay.


Research journal--suggested contents: (page suggestions are for double-spaced print)

(Except for the introduction and conclusion, all the items and page numbers below are optional or variable according to your interests and findings. In no case should your journal be over 20 pages. Other options besides those listed are possible.)

·        Introduction (required): rationale: what you wanted to learn and how; preview contents, general themes, choices (1-1 & 1/2 pages)

(All the following “body” components are optional for inclusion or variable in length according to your topics and findings)

·        Reviews of two or more secondary sources. What kinds of issues and challenges does the article or book raise? What does the reader leave with, and what remains unresolved? (1 page)

·        Review of 2-3 websites (1-2 paragraphs on each site?)

·        Historical report on a major event or series of events in the cultural history of the minority you're studying. (1-2 pages)

·        Biographical report plus primary and secondary bibliography on a major minority author (2-3 pages)

·        You may suggest other possible items for inclusion in your journal.

·        Conclusion (required): In terms either of variety, priority, or unity, what have you learned from the gathering of your journal? Where might this knowledge take your studies or your teaching? What new issues have been introduced that you might like to study next? (2-3 pages)

Conference Presentation option (due by email 29 November; 40%):

No previous models of this assignment are posted, but conference presentations are a standard and essential activity in graduate and post-graduate research.

Research conferences introduce graduate students to a wider network of scholars and institutions. Presenting at a conference helps scholars focus their research and receive feedback from other interested and informed parties.


1-2 page proposal for an identified conference (e. g., Student Research Arts Conference in April at UHCL)

7-10 page paper for presentation

1-page report on two writing consultations—one with instructor (me); another with Writing Center or some other mentor—and one research consultation with reference librarian William Boatman. Review what these consultations covered plus application to final product.

Content: same range or limits as essay or journal. Not limited to midterm subject.

Minimal research requirements: at least two or three secondary sources; one or more primary sources


Link to Student Conference for Research and Creative Arts