Final project- 1: Pitch a topic


Table of contents:

Topic selection

Selecting a topic for a final project may seem a daunting task, especially if I tell you: it can be a topic we haven’t covered yet, or don’t cover in this course, as long as you tell me what it is, I think it’s ok, and we can make it work. (And of course: it is connected to a tangible, physical object you can illustrate with materials from North American collections.)

Which topics are ok? Your starting point should be a tangible “thing” or “stuff”: “music” is not ok, but “musical instruments” are, for instance.

Based on your initial idea, I will help you turn your idea into a suitable topic for the size of the project. Finding the right size of topic is probably the most difficult part of the whole project, but I’m here to help!

“Help! I have no clue what to write about!”

Here are some exercises you can do to get the creative juices flowing:

1. Speed-dating

Set a timer for five minutes, pick a topic, and go surfing on the internet, or dive into Credo Reference and decide if you’d like to spend more with this topic, or a related topic, or if it’s a “left swipe”. Great for topics we haven’t covered yet!

Examples of a similar exercise we did previously: (Add the word “China” or the name of a specific dynasty in your search)

  • shadow puppets
  • architecture: specific buildings (incl. temple sites, Forbidden City,…)
  • oracle bones (Shang dynasty divination)
  • bronzes (e.g. Zhou period)
  • tombs (different Chinese periods)
  • books
  • excavated manuscripts
  • entombed epitaphs (muzhiming)
  • Buddhist sculpture
  • Terra cotta warriors and mausoleum of the first emperor
  • Paintings
  • furniture
  • the four treasures of the scholar (paper, ink, inkstone, brush)
  • porcelain
  • weapons
  • gunpowder
  • compass

2. “Minute thesis”

Take a look at this page

  1. Refresh your mind on the topics/objects from column B. Note that some of these were in options that you may not have chosen for your readings, and you can of course rephrase them or add more.
  2. Use this chart and randomly pick (or ask a family member) 1 item from column A and 2 from column B. Set your timer for a minute (ok… 90 seconds) and try to come up with a connection between all of them.
  • continuity across time
  • difference and change
  • break with the past
  • use of material
  • types of questions we can ask

You will likely not end up with the perfect topic at this stage, but you end up with new ideas and new perspectives on the course materials we covered already. And that in turn may spark the idea for a topic. Give it a go!

What do I submit?

  • “My idea for the final project”: write a brief blog post with your ideas and the reasons why you are in a particular topic for your part of the final project.
    • Dig a bit deeper than for instance “oracle bones are cool” (they are, I agree!): what in (or outside of) the course has guided you to this topic? what in the readings or class materials has sparked your curiosity? What would you like to know, what questions do you have, and why do you think other people should know or care about this topic?
    • The more detailed, the better!
    • Have a look for sources, in addition to what we covered in class. At first glance, do you find the types of scholarly, reliable materials we can use for an academic project? Tweak your search terms (e.g. convert from Wade Giles to pinyin or vice versa for Chinese terms; zoom out to more general level or zoom in to more specific objects,…). This will help you decide if your project is feasible, or how you have to reframe it to make it work.
    • Useful starting points for materials: our course’s subject guide in the library; check the bibliography of Credo reference or if you use Wikipedia, check the “References/Works Cited” section rather than the Wikipedia page itself. We want the source, not the second hand information. We’re historians, after all!
  • Note: this exercise does not mean you are locked into this project; likely the topic will change a bit as you find out in later stages what materials are available, and what objects you can use to illustrate the story you want to share with us about China’s material culture. Such changes are a natural part of the research process.
  • Remember I am also a resource to help you frame a project or find a different focus, and to point you to further materials. It is my job, I get paid to do this. And I really love helping students with fine-tuning their projects!

When do I submit it?

Due by Feb. 13, 11.59 PM

How do I submit it?

Submit a link to your blog post on Canvas in this assignment. This is a graded assignment, and is worth 10 points.

Everybody will also give feedback on classmates’ proposals. Although everybody works individually, there will likely be topics that come close to overlapping and coordination will be useful in those cases. And it’s just plain fun to see what everybody else is working on!

Why do I need to do this?

A good final project cannot be rushed, and you need to give yourself time to make sure it’s feasible. I have seen students create amazing projects, without knowing the first thing about Chinese history when they first started the course. But they all had two things in common: they did not rush their projects, worked on them steadily over the course of a semester, and incorporated feedback every step of the way. And they also picked a topic they were genuinely interested in and curious about, so they wanted to spend time with it.

If you want an A in this course, your final project is critical, and you can’t rush it.

What’s next?

Finding sources: creating an annotated bibliography. You will put to work the knowledge you gained from the two library sessions we did with Kelly Cannon.

Due date for “annotated bibliography” will be Feb. 24.

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