You are invited to devise your own research question in connection with Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods, 1854. Your goal is to develop a paper that explores and thinks through your opening big-picture question. Like the last time, you must make one major claim and develop it through several distinct minor claims, grounding each in vivid and original close-readings of carefully chosen passages.
You must also address yourself to the author’s project; all good writing will. The main difference is that this time you must also bridge into your close-reading analyses interdisciplinary research. Your paper should be interdisciplinary, to the extent that, though the focus is literary, you also incorporate research in at least two other disciplines, religion, and science.
This paper requires research and so it is, in one sense, a research paper, but I call it a discovery paper in order to emphasize how I would like you to approach this assignment. The term “re-search” denotes an activity of looking again or searching again the past.
This is part of your job but it ought not to be mistaken for the main job of doing scholarly, critical work; the main job is the discovery process, that you must aim to discover and find a way of communicating something that you think is worth saying to other readers. Thus, the main job is not looking backward, but looking forward and with your reader in mind. Engaging this discovery process means beginning with sincere curiosity.
What is sincere curiosity? How do I come up with a good research question?
Instead of beginning with a major claim, begin with a sincere question which you genuinely are not sure how to think about. Ask yourself: what sincere questions has the course raised for me? What do I wish to understand more clearly? What patterns do I notice across the texts? What might these patterns suggest about habits or innovations in the American cultural mind? How do these texts appear to be in conversation with one another? Choose one or two texts and really investigate them, reading them closely, aiming to discover how they speak to your question. In this way, aim to treat your text(s) like a strange, foreign object; strange, foreign objects demand close, careful, patient and recursive attention if anything worthwhile about them is to become known. The goal of great writing is not proving that you know but explaining what you know, what you’ve worked so hard to think about more clearly. Your job is to share your process and hard-won perspective with us.