Assignments and Evaluation

Participation: This seminar places emphasis on active and thoughtful discussion, both in class and on the course website. Students are expected to attend each class, arrive on time, and contribute to class and the course website. Your participation grade will be judged on the basis of your grasp of the key arguments of the assigned texts, including the films, your respect for other class members’ and my points of view (as shown in the way you respond to others’ ideas in class and on the website), and your attentiveness to the discussions.

Course Website Entries: By midnight each Sunday, you are to post an analytical response of at least 250-300 words (equals 1 typed double-spaced page) on the reading assignment for Tuesday’s class. You are also required to read each other’s entries and comment in response to some of them prior to class. In addition, the website is a good place to alert us to articles and other information on doomsday themes.

Formal Essay: This 12 to 14 page analytical essay is to focus on the 2012 Doomsday phenomenon in American culture, taking into account our texts and discussions while also conducting further research into the topic. Your specific focus might include analysis of 2012 films (dramatic and/or documentary), literature, non-fiction texts, or websites. Be sure that the overall essay has a clear thesis and bibliography of references, including 3-4 course sources and 3-4 outside sources. Please see the recommended reading list for the latter and this website:

Creative Project: Suggestions include but are not limited to: a documentary interview, short story, or work of visual art. Include a 1-page Project Statement that indicates your analytic objectives and creative choices.


In-class participation—20%

Course website entries—30%

Formal Essay—25%

Creative Project—25%


Evaluation criteria for written work:

From a list by Lewis Hyde, edited by Sue Lonoff, with thanks to Richard Marius’s writing handbook.

The following remarks are intended to give you a sense of criteria for grading papers. Note that four topics recur: thesis, use of evidence, design (organization), and basic  writing skills (grammar, mechanics, spelling).

The Unsatisfactory Paper.

The D or F paper either has no thesis or else it has one that is strikingly vague, broad, or uninteresting. There is little indication that the writer understands the material being presented. The paragraphs do not hold together; ideas do not develop from sentence to sentence. This paper usually repeats the same thoughts again and again, perhaps in slightly different language but often in the same words. The D or F paper is filled with mechanical faults, errors in grammar, and errors in spelling.

The C Paper.

The C paper has a thesis, but it is vague and broad, or else it is uninteresting or obvious. It does not advance an argument that anyone might care to debate. “Henry James wrote some interesting novels.” “Modern cities are interesting places.”

The thesis in the C paper often hangs on some personal opinion. If the writer is a recognized authority, such an expression of personal taste may be noteworthy, but writers gain authority not merely by expressing their tastes but by justifying them. Personal opinion is often the engine that drives an argument, but opinion by itself is never sufficient. It must be defended.

The C paper rarely uses evidence well; sometimes it does not use evidence at all. Even if it has a clear and interesting thesis, a paper with insufficient supporting evidence is a C paper.

The C paper often has mechanical faults, errors in grammar and spelling, but please note: a paper without such flaws may still be a C paper.

The B Paper.

The reader of a B paper knows exactly what the author wants to say. It is well organized, it presents a worthwhile and interesting idea, and the idea is supported by sound evidence presented in a neat and orderly way. Some of the sentences may not be elegant, but they are clear, and in them thought follows naturally on thought. The paragraphs may be unwieldy now and then, but they are organized around one main idea. The reader does not have to read a paragraph two or three times to get the thought that the writer is trying to convey.

The B paper is always mechanically correct. The spelling is good, and the punctuation is accurate. Above all, the paper makes sense throughout. It has a thesis that is limited and worth arguing. It does not contain unexpected digressions, and it ends by keeping the promise to argue and inform that the writer makes in the beginning.

The A Paper.

The A paper has all the good qualities of the B paper, but in addition it is lively, well paced, interesting, even exciting. The paper has style. Everything in it seems to fit the thesis exactly. It may have a proofreading error or two, or even a misspelled word, but the reader feels that these errors are the consequence of the normal accidents all good writers encounter. Reading the paper, we can feel a mind at work. We are convinced that the writer cares for his or her ideas, and about the language that carries them.

Copyright © 2002, 2003 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Permission is granted to non-profit educational institutions to reproduce this document for internal use provided that the Bok Center’s authorship and copyright are acknowledged.