Friday, September 5, 2014

Week 3. Whether Weather [Hw]

I. Assignment

This week your homework assignment is to find, explain, and connect four different quotations. These must be drawn from four different texts, one of which should not be an assigned reading. For this exercise, I ask that you choose a non-academic source for the fourth quotation and treat it as a historical artifact or clue about X. In this case, X will be an original argument about the relationship between the model of climatic causality à la Hippocrates or Montesquieu and current public discussion on the relationship between suicide, weather, nature and the sublime at Cornell.  

To be clear, the goal of this exercise is not to answer the question, 'Do climatic differences explain cultural differences?'. I'm not asking you to tell me if you agree or disagree that culture is best understood as an epiphenomenon of weather, or if you think variations in geography are the ultimate secret to understanding human depression. Instead, what I want you to do is to develop an original argument that ties together the historical formulation of a particular model of causality (in this case, we might agree to call it 'climate determinism') and more recent examples of public thinking on the topic. 

II. Rationale

Part of learning to become an effective academic writer is learning how to make non-obvious connections between different ideas and types of evidence. Behind the curtain of knowledge production, one discovers nothing more than the art of juxtaposing and interpreting connections with the aim of threading some larger point or analytical concept with the cloth of recorded evidence and one's own commentary and departure from the received wisdom on the subject or phenomenon in question. Therefore, in order to select quotations or determine what evidence is significant, you will have to have some inkling of why and to what end you shall be marshaling the quotation as evidence. In this way, finding the right quotation ends up being only half the job; the more important task remains of adequately unpacking and analyzing a quotation in a way that encourages your reader to agree with the non-obvious claim you have proposed.  

In college there is an additional burden of expectation: a thesis argument (and the chain of references through which it is quilted) must be at once concrete (quoted directly rather than paraphrased), original (or what amounts to surprising and amusing), and nuanced (attending to complexity and possible objections). In anthropology, this often takes the form of what is sometimes called 'contrarianism' --a strategy of argumentation that sounds a lot like, 'Everything you know about X is wrong'. 

Anthropological critique, however, should not be confused with naive skepticism, or more pejoratively, and in the context of climate discussions, with so-called "denialism". Thus, to be clear, in this course I will not be asking you to prove whether or not X exists. Our goal will be different, albeit no less ambitious: to deploy evidence in a way that raises questions and locates thought around points of paradox and ambiguity of X that are otherwise shielded from collective speculation. 

III. Additional Readings

To reiterate the instructions; you will need to use quotations from at least three assigned readings (and one from below or elsewhere) in order to assess how the act of suicide and more generally the riddle of student psychology is framed via an appeal to some causal relationship between climate and human culture. 

Some additional sources, among others not named, that you may draw upon include:

- Ginsburg v. City of Ithaca et al (Everyone should at least skim this!)

- Gannet's definition of Winter (blues)'Means Restriction Resources' (many interesting links here)

- Student blog entries or discussion board comments (for example, No Sunshine; 'A Few Thoughts on the recent Cornell Suicides')

- Radio shows on the theme (see, 'Cure Winter Blues with Light Therapy')

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