Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Essay 1 Description

English 101 Fall 2007

Essay 1: Why Now?

In a 3-5 page essay, explain the similarities between the Dust Bowl era and our time.

Rough Draft Due: Wednesday October 10th

Bring 4 copies.

This will be graded for completion, not quality.

However, it's worth 20 points and part of your 60% grade.

Final Draft Due: Monday October 15th.

Bring two copies.

100 points, graded using the rubric. Also part of your 60% grade.

Timothy Egan's book, The Worst Hard Time won the national book award in 2005. He's big time on the lecture circuit and in book clubs around the country. It's a book lots of people have read and recommended to their friends. Our question is Why Now? Why are people interested in this subject again?

Double spaced. 12 point font. MLA paper format and citations.

Your primary source on the Dust Bowl will be The Worst Hard Time, but there are others, lots of them.

Your primary source for our era will probably be newspaper reports from the NYTimes, The Times-Picayune and possibly library databases such as Proquest. Google might help, but beware bogus science, conspiracy theories, crackpots etc. There are enough credible sources available that you shouldn't need to stretch to find support. I'd suggest at least two sources outside WHT.

For a description of what I'm looking for in excellent papers (and what to avoid) refer to the rubric in your class syllabus.

Your organization should be something like:

  • Intro—Hook, background, title of book, author's name, brief summary, thesis
  • Body paragraphs—each dealing with a single idea, in this case, a similarity.
  • Conclusion

Egan gives us the thesis. You can go your own way, too.

We've got to connect the dots and find support.

You may also consider a short "digression" into the differences between now and then. This can be done within paragraphs, or could be a separate section.

We did a pretty good job yesterday with the broad areas of similarity, but you'll want to get more specific.

Here's what Egan said in an interview. He's handing us a thesis statement. We have to connect the dots and fill in the support.

Why a book on the Dust Bowl now?

The story of the people who lived through the nation's hardest economic depression and its worst weather event is one of the great untold stories of the Greatest Generation. To me, there was an urgency to get this story now because the last of the people who lived through those dark years are in their final days. It's their story, and I didn't want them to take this narrative of horror and persistence to the grave. At the same time, this part of America — the rural counties of the Great Plains — looks like it's dying. Our rural past seems so distant, like Dorothy's Kansas in the Wizard of Oz. Yet it was within the lifetime of people living today that nearly one in three Americans worked on a farm. Now, the site of the old Dust Bowl — which covers parts of five states — is largely devoid of young families and emptying out by the day. It's flyover country to most Americans. But it holds this remarkable tale that should be a larger part of our shared national story.

Do you see any parallels between the Dust Bowl and Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster of our time?

There are so many echoes of what happened in the 1930s and the hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast in the summer of 2005. For starters, there were ample warnings that a large part of the United States could be rendered uninhabitable if people continued to live as they did — in this case, ripping up all the grass that held the earth in place. In one sense, the prairie grass was like the levees around New Orleans; the grass protected the land against ferocious winds, cycles of drought, and storms. Then after the big dusters hit, you had a massive exodus: more than a quarter million people left their homes and fled. Never before or since had so many Americans been on the move because of a single weather event — until Hurricane Katrina. And finally there was the whole restoration effort: President Franklin Roosevelt thought he could restore the land to grass, plant trees, and maybe bring it back.

Beyond the hurricane, what is the relevance of the Dust Bowl to our times?

Remember what Lincoln said: We cannot escape history. That goes for the natural world as well. The Dust Bowl story is a parable, in a way, about what happens when people push the limits of the land. Many people think what happened in the 1930s — with drought, endless hot days, white skies, plants dying and the earth blowing — is a precursor to what could happen as the climate continues to change and the earth heats up.

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