Hello, readers, and welcome to Fall Semester 2009 at Shimer. I'm taking Social Sciences 3, which means I will be completing a research paper of 12 to 20 pages in length. It is, I admit, something of a daunting task set down like that in black and white, but in the nerdy recesses of my brain I am fidgeting with the compulsion to do it and do it well.
In my writing courses thus far -- Social Sciences 1 and Humanities 2 -- there has been a requirement to complete four or five papers of 5 to 7 pages over the course of the term. These papers have been entirely different animals from research projects; they are on the texts covered and only the texts covered, and all context is to be derived from the text itself and one's own analysis of it. Outside sources are quite seriously frowned upon.
Spending a semester crafting the bits of a research paper and stitching them together will be entirely novel for me (at Shimer, at least -- at another college I attended in the past, I have done research papers). The syllabus, though it still, fear not, is filled with a hefty amount of reading -- from Hegel to Le Guin -- lays out a timeline for the completion of the research paper, from choosing a topic to compiling an annotated bibliography to the abstract to the product itself.
The research paper gives me an opportunity to spend a semester cozying up to a very specific topic; while each class at Shimer has an over-arching theme, the specificity inherent to a research paper is sort of a scary proposition. Our topics are due next Thursday, and I'm scrambling to settle on something I can live with for the next three months. Shimer-in-general is perfect for the polymath, and it's jarring to whittle something down to the smallest point in that context.
For the curious, the topics can be (as I understand it) generally anything to do with the Social Sciences, specifically those iterations of them covered in Soc 3. I'm wavering between mythology as an inducement to nationalism and the justification of violence in political movements. Basically, it's down to Wagner or Mandela. Wish me luck.