Gen Ed Photo Essay Assignment


Photography grew up hand-in-hand with the modern city. One of the first pictures ever taken was Louis Daguerre's scene of the Boulevard du Temple, in Paris, in 1839. Jacob Riis's images of New York's down-trodden in his work How the Other Half Lives (1890) created searing images of poverty and over-crowding that drove progressive era urban reform efforts and continue to shape our visions of slum life to this day. The power of these and other photographs of the city was to create a picture of place; to localize and personalize and literally ground our experience of other cities; to convert the abstractions of statistics and theories and models and diagrams to a human scale experience; to bring to bear upon the urban experience that most powerful of all analytical tools, the eye.

The goal of this assignment is to give you practice in translating the theories and historical trends we examine in this course to the events and places of our local community, and to visualize these stories through map-based photo essays. Through your own reading of primary materials from Greenville and writing about their significance, and then your own mapping of their place and context in geo-photo essays, you will have a chance to sharpen your skills in perception, analysis, and synthesis. Our hope is that in your roles as creators of place-based historical narratives you will become better consumers and interpreters of primary sources, history, and maps in other communities as well.

Assignment Stages

This is a staged assignment with a series of components that combine into the final project. There will also be an element on the final exam based on the results of the projects as a whole. You are encouraged at intermediate stages to seek feedback about the content you have generated and the research that you have accomplished along the way. Since most of these assignments will be shared and will have a public outcome, it is possible to see the kind of work investment and quality of expression your peers are doing. You can use this to benchmark your own progress and skill level. The major stages of the project are as follows:

Archival Episodes

Please go register at the History Engine collaborative essay collection hosted at the University of Richmond right away.

The code you will need to upload your episodes is -?TLOn. Note and use the leading special characters or cut and paste the code.

You will be looking for primary materials from Greenville that are rich in spatial place detail. You will then be writing episodes about these for the History Engine. For the assignment, you will pick out three separate primary documents and write one separate History Engine episode about each document. These episodes will, in turn, become the catalyst for your geo-photo essay that you will complete in the next phase. Each episode will be about 350 words, ±30 words. Each episode will summarize the basic contents of the primary source as if you were describing it to someone who cannot see the original, and then place it into the context of relevant secondary scholarship. See the History Engine'sFor Students section, particularly the subsections on "Your Goal," "Research," and "Writing." These will help answer questions such as:

  • What is an episode? How is an episode different from a term paper?
  • What are primary and secondary sources? How do I pick a primary source? How do I take notes on it? How do I pick my secondary sources?
  • What are the style and citation guidelines? How do I start an episode? How do I work in my sources? What information and bibliographic facts will I need?

There is a libguide for this course showing an array of possible sources. A focal theme for this term will be "urban pathways." This might involve, for example, the concept of the "journey to work," or city pilgrimages, or an examination of historic travel narratives, tourism, processes of migration, or the spatial aspects of upward or downward mobility. A search for documents that address questions of residence, work, and urban transportation should be especially promising. In addition to postcards, photographs, travel narratives and personal papers in Furman's special collections, newspapers, public documents and materials in the Library of Congress American Memory Collection and in similar repositories may be valuable to your quest. Greenville provides the most flexible access for your on the ground field essays, but you may propose another location if you are able to gather appropriate primary materials and can photograph the locations in person.

Episodes will be evaluated in a series of steps. At any point in this process, you may find it useful to consult with the Furman Writing and Media Lab for advice and suggestions. In an initial phase, your episodes will be peer-reviewed by two other participants in the class. There is a peer review worksheet [PDF] on the History Engine website that we will use for this process. There is a list of peer reviewer assignments showing who should receive copies of your episodes for review. Using their comments and suggestions you will make revisions to your draft.

Peer Review Partners

Episodes Written By:Reviewed By:Reviewed By:
Jose BaileyJoost KamerCallan Wettach
Katie Gray BrammerSteven MitchellDominick Rens
Joost KamerMariah MorganJ.R. Walker
Steven MitchellMark MulhallJoost Kamer
Mariah MorganDominick RensJose Bailey
Mark MulhallJ.R. WalkerKatie Gray Brammer
Dominick RensCallan WettachMariah Morgan
J.R. WalkerJose BaileyMark Mulhall
Callan WettachKatie Gray BrammerSteven Mitchell

Here are the peer review steps:

  1. After class, please make any final revisions to your episodes. Many students have found the Northwestern University writing center's Performing a Writing Self-Assessment checklist to be helpful for this. Save all changes in draft form to the History Engine. These should be as close to final quality as you can get them, including complete footnote references in correct format. Do not use parenthetical footnotes in the body of your episode.
  2. Create a document file (word, ODF, text, PDF) that contains all three episodes.
  3. Share this electronic copy of your episodes with your two peer reviewers (see list above) no later than Tuesday morning. Note that the instructor will not be reviewing your documents at this stage.
  4. You will receive complete episodes from your peer partners. Please alert me if you are still waiting for documents by the deadline.
  5. For each author, complete the peer review worksheet. You can either put comments for all three episodes together, or you can prepare separate sheets for each episode, your choice.
  6. Scan or make copies of your peer review sheet(s). Each author should get peer review sheets for their own episodes, but only their own episodes. Do not share comments for one author with the other author.
  7. Please make one copy or scan of your reviews to give to the instructor. The quality of your peer review comments will be an important component in your overall assignment grade, though they will not receive a separate score from the instructor.

In the next step these revised files will be submitted to the instructor for greenlighting review. (Since the episodes are stored on the History Engine, just send an e-mail when you are ready for your episode to be greenlight reviewed.) Your term grade for the episodes will be assigned based on the version submitted for greenlighting. In the final phase you will be given a list of greenlighting revisions by the instructor. Assignments revised according to those suggestions may earn up to two additional points (out of one hundred). Assignments with grades of B- or better will be given approval for final submission to the History Engine in final form, pending final review by the instructor. Episodes will be evaluated according to criteria similar to those applied to first year writing seminars and the History Department's Assessment Guidelines for Research Essays. Generally speaking, essays which capture the full flavor of the original primary sources and richly link each document to the theoretical literature we have seen in the course and to historiographical insights about how we interpret the past will get the most praise.

Geo-Photo Essay

The second major component of the term project is what we are calling a geo-photo essay. This will be similar in some ways to the Greenville Tour Essay you completed at the beginning of the term. Your goal in this phase is to provide an historical photo essay of the places in Greenville that you documented in your archival episodes. If, for example, your episodes involved the journey to work between mill and mill village, then your geo-photo essay will document the physical sites where this journey took place, as they exist in the present day. As with the archival episodes, you will analyze the evidence provided by the photographs you take, and then place them into a theoretical and historical context.

You will go out in Greenville to take geo-tagged photographs "on-site" that are related to your archival episodes in some way. From this pool you will select five to eight for your final essay. In addition to these photographs of your own creation, you may also optionally include historic photographs, images, and maps if it will help your argument. These images should have a cohesive research question or puzzle tying them all together that your essay will answer. Your essay will have an overview introduction of at least 300 words in which you frame the historical context and pose a question to be explored. It will need a commentary for each individual photograph of at least 80 words. It will need a concluding review section of at least 300 words in which you answer your initial question and provide an explanatory thesis about what the pictures tell us as a group that no single picture was able to capture. You will need a works cited section providing references in Chicago Style bibliography format. Finally, a map showing the location of each individual photograph will need to be provided. There is no upper word limit for the essay, but the more a contribution exceeds 1,500 words the more it will need to be devoid of any fluff, excess baggage, or disorganization to be assessed positively. See below for academic integrity guidelines and writing style hints. Assessment criteria will be similar to those listed above for the archival episodes. On balance, concise essays which probe deeply into the visual evidence and which connect a sense of place in sophisticated ways to the documentary record and available secondary sources and scholarly theories will be recognized as better than those which are oversimplified or inattentive to the details and connections. As with all other assignments in this course, you should strive for analytical complexity and cross-concept integration. I welcome the opportunity to look over drafts and exchange preliminary ideas with you as you develop your themes.

The essay should be typed and 1.5 or double spaced. It should use at least a 12 point font and 1.25 minimum margins, but no separate title page or cover sheet. The essay should be at least 1,500 words long, or roughly 5-6 pages, plus illustrations. Electronic versions should be in .doc, .docx, .odf, or .pdf formats. Documents in Pages format or other mobile word processing file types are not acceptable -- please convert or "save as" or "export" these to one of the acceptable types. You will need to turn in a printed version and also e-mail an electronic version. You will need to turn in either the printed or the e-version by class time, and both will need to be in by no later than the next class meeting.

The photographs, essays, and maps will be shared on our course Geoblog. These essays will be public and shared with students and faculty on other Associated Colleges of the South Campuses. Pictures will need to be taken with a geo-tagging camera which records GPS information in the photograph file. Your Iphone, Ipad, or Android phone will do this, as will some specially equipped digital cameras. We can loan you an Ipad for the assignment if you plan in advance. You may find it helpful to upload to Flickr or Picassaweb in advance to see if your photos have the required geographic coordinate information. Our whole class will also be using these essays in one component of the final exam.

Peer review pairings will be the same as for the archival episodes (see above). For this stage of the assignment you will use this Geophoto Essay Peer Review Worksheet. It will probably work best if you copy and paste the questions into a new document. Share your review with the author and with the instructor via e-mail.

Academic Integrity

You should be especially conscious to avoid plagiarism on these assignments. Please review the plagiarism guidelines on the course website. It is presumed that you understand these policies and the relevant guidelines in the university's plagiarism handbook. For more technical issues you will find it helpful to browse the History Engine Citation Guide as early as possible. You may also find it useful to look at the Chicago Manual Quick Guide or Barzun & Graff, The Modern Researcher or Kate L. Turabian, A manual for writers of term papers, theses, and dissertations for suggestions about proper research methods and attributions. In general, you should cite any idea in the paper that is not your own and that is not "common knowledge" that a typical undergraduate would be expected to know when they entered college. If in doubt, include the reference or check with me. Ignorance of Furman's plagiarism policy or of documentation requirements will not be considered a legitimate excuse for improperly cited papers.

In cases of academic dishonesty, the instructor reserves the right to impose any appropriate penalty, including reduced grades or failure on the assignment or some sort of additional essay of atonement. Bold cases of plagiarism may lead to failure of the course. But don't let it get to that. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the assignment, I would rather that you get in contact with me to talk about what we can do to relieve the stress, than go through the horrors of an academic integrity complaint. I'm here to help in any way I can to get you through the assignment with a pattern of success. I am forgiving of panic, but much less so after something has been turned in as honest when it is not. Talk with me early and often, particularly if you are unsure about things, and you will avoid any problems.

Stylistic Hints and Suggestions

Below I have listed a few of my personal peccadilloes about style and grammar. You are advised to double-check your papers for such things and remove them, lest red ink flow like water.

  1. A clear thesis and logical organization are essential.
  2. Write concisely.
  3. Avoid passive constructions such as "it was," and "it has been." You must tell who is doing the thing you describe.
  4. Like strong seasonings, quotations should be used sparingly.
  5. Do not use "I" in formal writing. Declarative sentences are more effective. It is generally understood from the essay format that this is your own viewpoint. Indiscriminate use of "I" is at once a sign of vanity and of poor confidence.
  6. Sentences that combine commentary with descriptive information are a plus. (For example: "The author effectively describes Calhoun's position in the Southern Address of 1849.")
  7. Strive for gender-neutral phrasing.
  8. Do not start sentences with the word "however."
  9. The following words or phrases are powerless and inaccurate. Do not use them:
    1. obviously
    2. in terms of
    3. certain, certainly
    4. basically,
    5. "on a ____ basis"
    6. feels, felt
    7. in-depth
    8. deals with, dealt with
    9. succession (when you mean secession)
    10. dominate (when you mean dominant)
    11. Negro, when you mean "African-American" or "Black."
  10. Avoid qualifiers. Words such as "somewhat," "literally," and "definitely." are right out.
  11. Centuries ("the 1700s") are plural, not possessive. Do not use an apostrophe.
  12. Always use the past tense when describing events in the past.

Many resources will not meet the requirements of the assignment.

  • Classroom lectures are not an acceptable source.
  • You may not use any textbook as a final footnoted source. Consult its notes, bibliographies, or further readings sections for appropriate monographs to use. No encyclopedia entry qualifies as either a book or as an article.
  • No generic popular encyclopedias (i.e. Encarta or World Book qualify as scholarly sources. Nor does Wikipedia, There are, however, specialized scholarly reference sources such as the American National Biography or the Dictionary of American Biography will be a valuable tool for most papers. Talk with me if you are not sure.
  • Most websites are not sufficiently stable or substantive to be legitimate as authoritative final sources. There are a few important exceptions such as the Library of Congress's American Memory Database and the University of Michigan's Making of America project. Ask me for advice before assuming you can use a site.
  • Most popular magazines and newspapers are inappropriate for documentation except when used as primary source evidence in an appropriate context. This exclusion extends to history-related popular magazines such as American Heritage and the Civil War Times Illustrated.

Even some articles available on JSTOR, First Search or Infotrac may not be scholarly enough, authoritative in the particular area you are discussing or appropriate to your topic. Consult with me if you have doubts about the validity of your information.


Research Journal and Research Goals

You will be required to keep an itemized research journal for the final city project. You will need to record information as you do your research. The final journal must be submitted along with your final paper. As a minimum in this diary you will need to list

  1. The date of each research session
  2. The specific items you found, including author, title, year, volume, and page
  3. The means you used to find each source (i.e.: "looked in Alcuin," or "consulted the JSTOR database")
  4. A brief comment or two about the material's value as a source your topic. (i.e. "Too old," "not relevant," "Not a scholarly source," "Very useful for its coverage of ...")

Perhaps the easiest way to keep this journal is by creating a web-based Google Docs spreadsheet (or an open-source equivalent), using the following column names as headers. (You can even cut and paste the example text below if you want and work from there.) Please share a link to this document with the instructor as soon as it is created and at the end of the term.
Research DateSource CitationMeans Found/DatabaseRelevance / Scholarly QualityOther Comments
(example) 10/12/2012(example citation) William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), 341-345.Located by reading suggested readings bibliography in Corey and BoehmVery relevant to my question; top pressGreat book; great big book


The History Engine will automatically format your citations.  For the Geo-Photo essay you will be using the Chicago notes style. These notes may be located either at page bottom or at the end of the essay.  If you use this style there will be no need for a separate works cited or bibliography page. 

For this type:Use the Footnote Citation Form in this column:
Book1Michael D. Thompson, Working on the Dock of the Bay: Labor and Enterprise in an Antebellum Southern Port, (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2015), 72-73.
Same book, next footnote2Ibid., 77-82.
Same book, later note, not immediately following (the short book or article title is mandatory)13Brown, Working on the Dock of the Bay, 154.
Scholarly Article4Louis Wirth, "The City as a Way of Life," American Journal of Sociology 44 (July 1938), 1-24.
Primary source, in collected letters or papers5Abraham Lincoln, Speech in United States House of Representatives on Internal Improvements, 20 June 1848, in Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (11 vols., New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 1: 480-490.
Primary source, accessed from a digital collection or database6"Nineteen's Engine, By the Bowery Boy," Library of Congress, American Memory: America Singing: Nineteenth Century Song Sheets, digital ID: as109700.
Primary source, accessed from a digital collection or database (example #2)7Sam Aleckson, Before the War, and After the Union. An Autobiography (Boston: Gold Mind, 1929), 34-56. (digital version at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Documenting the American South).
Newspaper8Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury, 17 March 1857.
Source quoted in another source9Edgefield, South Carolina, Advertiser, 28 May 1856, quoted in Elizabeth Varon, Disunion!: The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 270.
Author's PhotographAsheville Highway at Tigerville Road, 8 September 2015, photograph by the author.
Internet10Smithsonian Institution, "1846: Portrait of the Nation,"; accessed 24 January 2013.
(The date should be the date you consulted the source. Use your browser's information function to determine this. Because sites change frequently this date is mandatory.)
Multiple references
combined (typically
for a note at the end of a paragraph.)
11Ibid.; Wirth, "City as a Way of Life," 22; Brown, Working on the Dock of the Bay, 45-56; Charleston, South Carolina, Mercury, 17 March 1857.
12"Stevens, Thaddeus," s.v., Biographical Directory of the United States Congress,, accessed 16 April 2015.
(Note that Wikipedia is not normally an acceptable source. Where possible and appropriate, you should consult the sources the encyclopedia writer used, rather than relying on these third-hand sources.)

Note: The instructor reserves the right to change any provisions, due dates, grading percentages, or any other items without prior notice. All assignments on this schedule are covered under the university's policy on plagiarism and academic integrity. See the syllabus statement for further details. This page was last updated on 09/2/2012.

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