Overview: The previous two essays required you to analyze and evaluate stories written by others. Now it’s time to write your own. To do so, you'll use a process known as synthesis, which involves taking information from a number of different sources and integrating it into a single explanation or argument.
Assignment: In the Art of Fact essays we’ve been examining, the authors immerse themselves in the subject matter, using their personal observations and experiences to both inform and engage the reader. You’ll do something similar. For this final essay, you'll have two options.
For either option, your essay should be 1500-2000 words and make use of at least five secondary sources.
For more information on both options see below and please review the Synthetic Essay document.
Option 1 is to examine and explain some expression of local culture that interests you. For example, think about Dennis Covington participating in a snake handling ceremony, or Rosemary Mahoney hanging out at a lesbian bar in Dublin, or Marvel Cooke going undercover as a housekeeper. Your subject can be just about anything—an event, an activity, a community, an enterprise—but you’ll have to do some preliminary research to ensure (A) that it’s accessible to you and (B) that there’s something meaningful to be said about it. Here are some general areas of interest to get you started:
Once you’ve decided on a topic, you’ll begin your primary and secondary research. Your goal is to answer the following question: What is the nature* of your subject, and what might it teach us about ourselves or society at large?
*What is it? What is its purpose? Its history? Its features and characteristics? Who’s involved, and how? Where might it be heading? What are its consequences? Etc.
Option 2 is to explain some aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic—and your experience of it—to someone 50 years in the future. What is this virus, and what does it do? How did it start; how did it spread? When did you become aware of the problem? When and how did you begin to be directly affected by it? As the world has responded to the pandemic, what are some of the interesting things you’ve observed in your neighborhood, at work, among your family and friends, or elsewhere in the community? And where do things currently stand?
Your primary research, then, will involve your own experiences over the past couple years—what you've done and seen, who you've talked to. And ultimately, your essay will tell your (future) reader a story about life amid this historic time. As models, consider Martha Gellhorn's "The Third Winter," John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” George Orwell’s “Marrakech,” or Joan Didion’s “The Los Angeles Notebook.” The difference, of course, is that you’ll need to tie in secondary sources for factual context.