Empathy and War: An assignment

IHON 257: Experience of War

Essay #1 Assignment

Fall 2016


This assignment may seem odd when compared with the kind of paper that one usually writes for a Honors class, but part of this class is to emotively engage the experience of war.

Accordingly, in this paper I will ask you to:

1) reflect on one aspect of the experience of war (up to and including WWI),

2) articulate and analyze your own emotive responses to the experience you have focused on and

3) draw conclusions about the experience of war based upon your reflections.


This paper asks you to take your emotive responses as a starting point and as an object

of intellectual reflection to further reflect on the nature and the experience of war more generally.


            This paper should be a 2500 – 3000 word essay, which follows the appropriate conventions for form, language and citations (e.g. MLA or Chicago, which are standard in the Humanities disciplines.) While the exact formal requirements of the paper will also be, to some extent, dictated by the topic and direction you wish to take, here are some general guidelines to follow (and the order of these is important):

First, you need to carefully define and focus your topicThe most important thing here is NOT to have too broad a focus; it needs to be as concrete and specific as possible. You are looking at the experience of war in microcosm, and then using that to do analysis on a more macro level later in the paper. You should focus on the experience of war in a particular period, from a particular perspective and in light of a particular concern or issue that you want to explore in more detail.  You could use your own questions, issues and disciplinary perspectives as a starting point for coming up with your topic.  Whatever topic you choose you need to carefully define its scope and give a rationale as to why you decided to focus the assignment in that way.

Another important part of defining your topic will be coming up with a thesis (i.e. a claim regarding what you will show/discuss in this paper), which will help us follow the paper, its organization and your orientation.

Finally, I want you to commit and stay committed to your topic – even when things get difficult!

Examples: The slave experience in the Confederate side at the Battle of Vicksburg; experience of American nurses on the Western Front (France) in WWI, experience of Spartan women in period of Peloponnesian War; experience of children during the Children’s Crusade, experience of Aztec religious leaders during Cortez’ invasion etc.

Second, you will need to give some background, exegesis or outline of the relevant issues, sources or concerns that your audience would need to be aware of in order to understand your paper.

The nature of this section will be dictated by your topic and focus, but it could include historical background, an outline and discussion of the relevant experience of war.  What information does your audience need to know to understand this experience of war? (What information is superfluous?)  What did this experience of war look, feel, smell, taste, and sound like from the perspective you are looking at?  What kind of experience was it?  What does your reader need to know to engage this experience of war on a fairly deep level?

M Make sure this part of the paper does not become the whole paper; research is a means, not the end(This section should comprise ABSOLUTELY NO MORE than ½ the paper…)

Third, you need to discuss, in specific terms, your emotive reactions to this aspect of the experience of war.

What are your emotive reactions to this experience?  What in your own experiences do you think led to your reactions?  What emotional issues or ‘baggage’ do you bring to looking at this experience of war? What elements of this experience of war relate to or are at variance with your own experiences?  What tensions or connections do you see between your own experience and this experience?

Fourth, you should take a step back and give some critical analysis of your responses and use them to draw conclusions.

What conclusions we you draw about this experience of war, based upon your emotive reactions?  What do your reactions indicate about the differences between your experience and this experience of war? What do your reactions reveal about your assumptions, perspectives, experiences, commitments, biases etc in relation to warfare? What do your reactions indicate about the similarities or common elements in human experiences?

What conclusions would you draw about the experience of war in general based upon your examination of this experience of war?  Why?  What support or reasoning would you give for your insights and conclusions? (This is not simply your opinion, but your claim about the significance of this experience of war with concrete, specific support for your claims)  This is the part of the paper where I want to know what you think about the experience of war and why.

Finally, you will need a conclusion that summarizes what you have said and/or draws out the implications of your view or concern for a larger context.  What is the Big Picture?  How can you relate what you have been discussing to the larger discussion about war we have been having in this class or things addressed in the readings so far? What questions, concerns, issues or projects has this paper and the issues in this paper raised for you?  How?  Why?


            This paper will be graded on the following criteria, as well as the guidelines I have set out for all papers in this class.  (For additional information, see the Essay Guidelines handout in your syllabus.)

  • Following the directions…did you fulfill all 5 elements in the assignment?
  • How and to what extent did you seriously engage the project of examining a particular experience of war by looking at your own specific emotive responses?
  • How and to what extent did you use the emotive responses to engage in intellectual analysis of your own perspective, its sources and effect on how you see this experience of war?
  • Did you draw conclusions about the experience of war and use those conclusions as a basis for your own claims about war? How and to what extent did you give concrete, specific evidence and support for your claims?
  • Do you use your sources appropriately and give proper documentation for all ideas that are not your own?
  • Does the paper observe and reflect the standard conventions for an academic paper, including (but not limited to) grammar, syntax, voice/tone, paragraphing?
  • Did you effectively convey the nature and kind of experience of war your topic was focused around? Could the reader get a sense of what the experience was like from the inside?

Helpful Hints and Suggestions:

            Start Early!

            Topic: While you will choose your topic, I strongly suggest that you do so in consultation me so that I can make sure you have chosen something manageable for this length of paper, point you towards resources and give you ideas and suggestions on how to approach the topic. Proposals are due (no later than) October 15, 5pm via Sakai.  They should be about 250-500 words and include relevant questions that will orient your scholarship and what sources (with proper bibliographic format) you plan to look at (or have looked at thus far.) 

            Drafts: Since I have high expectations for this paper, I suggest that you submit drafts to me for comment, but that you also share your work with your classmates for comment and ideas – especially if they do not share your topicI will accept and comment on drafts until 9:55a on October 26. You may submit as many drafts as you would like up to that date and time, but after that time I will not have adequate time to respond and for you to make revisions. There will be NO rewrites after the papers have received their final grades, so make sure that you avail yourself of the draft process.  The most efficient way to do this is to send me your draft as an attachment to an email, provided you have MS Word; otherwise, please paste it into the text of the email.


Organization and Thesis:  You need to be well organized and have a clear and understandable point or thesis (the blunter the better) early on.  While we are using emotive responses as one resource, this is still an academic paper so your audience will want to know what your project is and why you are pursuing it; they will also want to be able to follow your line of thought without having to resort to tarot cards.  Be clear and well organized in what you say and why you are saying it!


Evidence: Since you will be making a point, you need to support whatever you say with evidence, reasoning, ideas and/or experience that can be applied and understood by others.  Be very careful about depending on assumptions or conventional wisdom since it is not clear if your audience will share those assumptions. (More than likely NOT!)


Applications and Implications: Make sure that you draw out the implications of your argument or idea for a larger context, answering the all-important question: Who Cares?


Think Creatively: Do not be afraid to take some risks with your ideas and arguments and take them in directions that might seem odd, wacky or unusual.  That is usually how intellectual revolutions happen! (And A papers…)  You may find that a mixed format (part standard academic paper and part some other genre) works best; consider using (at least for the second part of the paper) poetry, 1st person narrative, dialogue or some other genre that is effective at conveying a personal experience of war.  See me if you need guidance or advice on this!

Help:  If at any point in the process, you are having difficulty or simply want to bounce your ideas off me, please do so!  I am happy to work with you (as much or as little as is your preference) to help you succeed on this (or any) paper – you only have to ask!

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