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Workshop: Strategies for your first assignment Hi, Im Kate Chanock from the Student Learning team.

Our role in the Faculty is to help take the mystery out of reading and writing for uni, so youll find us in your subjects from time to time suggesting strategies to help with your assignments. The aim of this online workshop is to help you work out an approach to your first essay, due on March 28th: This online workshop will help you: To understand what you need from the reading To take notes that will help organise your thoughts for the essay To frame an introduction so you can get started Please click on this link to take you there.

The assignment is:


In her study of the sources available for understanding the motivations of why migrants left their homes in the in the nineteenth century Charlotte Erickson wrote that published migrant letters on the whole were characterised by consistent and blatant bias, whether for or against migration. Erickson argued that to understand migration it was necessary to explore other documents. In an essay of 1000 words, and utilising the secondary sources provided, critically discuss how each of the primary sources below might help us understand and test the push -pull theory. (1) letters from John Fisher in the United States written to his family in England in 1831-33; (2) the evidence of Francis Speight to a select committee on Colonization from Ireland in 1847; and (3) a list of migrants arriving in Melbourne in 1853.

Managing your reading We can foresee both pleasures and problems with approaching this essay, and thats why we think it could be good to offer a little help! The pleasures (we hope) will be in reading the primary documents the records from the 19th century, left behind by people who were directly involved in the events of migration. The problems are likely to arise in reading the secondary sources, so its important to step back and think about what kinds of sources these are. Reading the 33 dense and detailed pages by Charlotte Erikson, you could be forgiven for picturing her as trapped in the pages of a ships passenger list, unable to find her way out. This is the effect that sources have on a historian (I am one, so I know) we get sucked into the detail and dont notice when everyone else has got tired and gone home. Some of you may surrender to the lure of sources and become historians, but just now, youre trying to cope with a heavy reading load, in however many subjects, and wondering what its important to take notes on, and how you will ever know. And to make matters worse, this reading, and the one by Baines, are almost all questions, almost no answers. If youre expecting reading that tells you what happened, or argues for a particular interpretation of events (and why wouldnt you be?), these are quite frustrating. However, theyre also characteristic of academic writing in History, so we need to look at what that kind of writing does. Historians ask what happened and why these are factual and interpretative questions. But they also ask methodological questions about the uses of sources: What can we learn from the available sources? What cant we learn from the available sources? Is there another way to get this information? 2

Both questions and answers change as different sources become available, by discovery and/or technology, so historians are always taking stock as well: What have we asked already? What else should we ask? These are the questions in both secondary sources for this essay, as their focus is not centrally on history, but on the writing of history: not so much what happened and why, but what should we ask, and what can we learn, and how can we learn it? Erikson and Baines both argue that, while the push-pull theory of emigration is generally true, its too general to account for local differences and individual choices. This is one reason why the article by Erikson, in particular, is difficult to read it shows us how intricate and varied emigration was by piling up points of difference in bewildering detail. The other reason is that she seems to conclude that what we can know about any one of these is a tiny fraction of what we wish we knew. This is a conclusion? If youre a historian, it is. But for now, how much bewildering detail can you get into your 1000 words? Not much, and thats the good news. You dont need to take heaps of notes as long as you get what the push-pull theory is, what it can and cant explain, and why the available sources are incomplete and sometimes misleading. But that doesnt mean they are useless, and the focus of this essay is on what we can learn from them or at least, from an example of each of 3 kinds of source. Look again at what this assignment asks you to do: Critically discuss how each of the primary sources might help us understand and test the push-pull theory. In other words, can we see push and pull factors in the evidence of these sources? Who moved? Why? How freely? And were the reasons only economic? A frame for note-taking For any assignment, it can be helpful to break down your question and make a frame, or grid, to organise your notes. It helps you to focus; to be selective in your note-taking; and to think as you go. Every essay will need a different frame, and theres usually more than one way of approaching any topic. A possible frame for this assignment might look like this:

What is the push-pull theory?

Source Letters

Evidence of economic motivation push pull

Other motivation

Evidence to the Select Committee

Passenger list

What limitations does each source have?

Do they support (and/or complicate) the idea that emigrants chose to move to take advantage of better economic opportunities elsewhere?

Introductions Finally, how might you introduce such an essay? Again, theres no formula, but there are some common patterns, because most essay questions are designed to get you to compare a theory (i.e. a general explanation of why or how things happen) with actual cases of the things it tries to explain. This is so you can see how, and how far, it does apply (understand it), and whether there are any problems or limitations with it (test it). Obviously, this essay question is one of those. Here is a general pattern you might draw on when youre introducing an essay of this kind. Different parts will be useful, depending on the nature of the question and what you think the evidence shows.
You might explain a key idea and show how it applies to some example(s) that youve learned about:

Bloggs (2000) suggests that .. This means that .. We see this in the experience of .. Or, you might explain an idea and test it against some example(s):

Bloggs (2000) suggests that .. This means that . While this idea accounts for much of what occurs in the experience of ., some things remain unexplained. Or, you might criticise an idea in the light of evidence that seems to challenge it:

Bloggs (2000) suggests that .. This means that . The experience of ..., however, does not bear this out. Then, you might have a sentence or two outlining why you think this, and a closing sentence that signposts how your essay is going to proceed: This essay will first consider .., and then look at ..

Again, thats a general pattern. Is there anything there that can help you with introducing the essay youre writing in response to this assignment? If you find the note-taking frame suggested above, and the introduction pattern, helpful for this assignment, try designing your own frames for other assignments you are tackling in your other subjects. They can make the task less daunting, because youve reduced what could be a book-length response to something you can do within your word limit!