History 2425 -- Medieval England
Journal Writing Guidelines
Revised Oct. 30, 2000
Correction: The fifth journal will be due Mar. 5 and the sixth,
Rather than try to assess your "participation" in HIST 2425, I propose
replacing the participation mark with a journal writing mark worth 10%
of your final grade. I have found over the last few years that
student journals encourage (in some students at least) original thinking.
They also provide a better way of showing me your level of involvement
in the subject of the course than how often you ask questions or make comments
in class, or simple attendance.
If the class approves my grading scheme, you will be expected to write
a critical journal through the course, in which you comment on and explore
the lecture material, the books (especially The Anglo-Saxons), the
primary sources, and any other material you think is relevant.
Here are some questions you might have about how this scheme would work.
1. What is a critical journal?
Here are some things a critical journal is not:
Instead, a journal is a collection of thoughtful pieces of writing on various
aspects of the course. I am setting some requirements (see below), but
within them you have the freedom -- and the necessity -- to find aspects
of medieval English history that are important, interesting, or puzzling
to you. When you find one, you will write a piece of appropriate length
expressing why you find it interesting. A number of such pieces taken together
will form your journal.
it is not a diary
it is not a piece of stream-of-consciousness writing
it is not an excuse to write badly, sloppily, or ungrammatically
it is not something you can fake up just before the due date (and do well)
it is not an easy way to get a grade.
Vague? Keep reading.
2. What are the requirements for journals in HIST 2425?
Here they are:
That is the minimum. To get a good grade, I want you to do the following:
You will submit at six different dates (Oct. 4, Nov. 8, Nov. 29; Jan.
29, Mar. 5, Mar. 28) a section of your journal. Unless you have a documented
excuse you will lose 10% for lateness. (Each section will be graded separately,
1/6 of 10% of course grade.)
Each journal section will have at least a page worth of writing for each
week (think typed, double-spaced, though I don't require typing).
The journal pages will be bound together so I don't have to worry about
losing them, and so I can compare your older journal assignments with the
most recent submission.
Each journal section will discuss at least three different pieces of material
-- source readings, parts of the books, lectures, pieces of additional
reading of your own choice, or material from the internet. Note: A
journal section does not have to be a single, unified essay.
3. How on earth am I going to do this?
Write grammatically, spell correctly, and avoid typographical errors. Errors
of this sort will count against you.
Write in paragraphs with topic sentences.
When you quote material, quote it accurately and footnote it.
Avoid writing just from your opinions or prejudices.
A journal is much more personal than an essay, and you are free to take
a stand, or refer to your own experience. But you are writing as a historian,
therefore you should use and evaluate evidence from your reading and the
lectures where appropriate to make your point or answer a question you
have raised. Tell your reader where the evidence comes from.
Be specific and concrete instead of vague.
Be original. Don't summarize my lectures or your books.
Avoid getting sidetracked and writing about irrelevant matters (you
have to show me that what you are writing is relevant).
Write more than a page a week.
It's simpler than you think, as long as you are willing to work systematically.
First, write something every week. There's no way
I can enforce this, of course, but the whole point of the journal is to
encourage you to do something active with the course material
every single week.
Second, remember that your main raw materials are the lectures (and
lecture notes on the NU web site), the source readings, and the books (especially
The Anglo-Saxons in the first term). Come to class, listen to the
lectures, and read. Ask questions about the lectures and readings. Find
something you are interested in reacting to. Read more about it. Ask more
Third, when you stumble across interesting material, write something
down immediately. Get that idea or reaction in black and white.
Fourth, sit down later and develop the idea. More reading, in the course
materials, in the library, on the net, may help.
Fifth, before you submit the journal, take what you have written, select
the pieces you think are best, and rewrite. Give yourself enough time to
That's all there is to it, but it does require you to be thinking
about and working on the course on a regular basis. The more you read
and write and think on a week-by-week basis, the more raw material you
will have to work with. The more carefully you re-write, the better the
final product will be.
4. What's the point of doing this (especially for a mere 10%)?
5. What if the class decides against a journal writing requirement?
You will learn more about medieval English history as a whole, and especially
the parts that interest you..
The skill that humanities students most need to practice is writing.
When it comes to exam time, or essay writing time, you will have had a
lot of practice writing short essays about the important issues raised
in the class. And there will be short essays on those exams.
In other words, journal writing may help you improve the other 90%
of your grade.
At least some students find journals fun. You might be one
That will depend in part on the class, but I would propose making the
second paper worth 30% instead of 20% of your course grade.