Data: A Social History | 512:237
Midterm Exam Essay Assignment Description
VALUE: 20% of course grade
LENGTH: 4 pages, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12-point font, 1-inch margins.
Please note that 4 pages is the maximum allowable page length.
TOPIC: Comparative analysis of Red Record and W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits
*Please note that collaboration is not permitted on this assignment.
Write a 4-page comparative analysis of Ida B. Wells’s Red Record (1895) and W. E. B. Du
Bois’s Data Portraits (data visualizations from the Paris Expo of 1900). Compare and
contrast how Du Bois and Wells use data to make arguments about racial justice. In
your essay, make sure to address the following questions:
• How does the visual presentation of data on the page (whether in chart, graph, or
textual form) relate to the arguments that Wells and Du Bois are making?
• How do Wells and Du Bois use the rhetorical power and authority of statistics in
• What is the relationship between qualitative and quantitative information, between
words and numbers, in the work of Wells and Du Bois?
You are required to use and cite the following sources in your essay:
• Ida B. Wells, Red Record
• The data visualizations in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits
• Prof. Pietruska’s video lecture and/or Joanna Paxton Federico’s video lecture for
• One of the introductory essays in Data Portraits by Aldon Morris or Silas Munro
No additional sources may be used or cited. Your primary focus in this essay should be on
your comparative analysis of Wells and Du Bois. Incorporate a video lecture and an
introductory essay from Data Portraits for historical context. We are much more interested
in what you have to say about Wells and Du Bois than what others have said.
How your paper will be evaluated
In general, your paper will be graded on argument, evidence, and clarity. Most
importantly, you need to make an argument (in a thesis statement and then in a sequence of
topic sentences that organize your essay). But an argument is only as good as the evidence
it rests on. You need to incorporate a lot of specific evidence—details and quotations—
from your sources in support of your ideas. All quotations must be cited correctly
according to the conventions of the Chicago Manual of Style (see below for sample footnotes).
Finally, your prose should be clear, direct, and free of distracting grammatical and
How to get started
• Start by reading and taking notes on the sources with the above list of questions in
• Then take some time to think, making notes or using other prewriting strategies to
arrive at a main idea that will be your overarching argument. The one- or twosentence version of your argument will be your thesis statement, which should
appear in your introduction.
• Once you have formulated your thesis statement, make a list of topic sentences (not
just topics) that will form the outline of your paper. Topic sentences should be ideas
(not facts or quotations).
• When writing a comparative essay, you will have a much stronger argument if you
organize your essay by points of comparison (rather than source by source). For
example, if you are comparing apples and oranges, do not write two pages on apples
and then two pages on oranges. Instead, write one page on aesthetic appeal
(comparing apples and oranges), then one page on taste (comparing apples and
oranges), then one page on price (comparing apples and oranges).
• You are writing an analytical essay, which means that you are making an argument
based on evidence. (This is not an opinion piece, so please do not focus on which
source you liked better.)
• Writing is a process with many steps (that is impossible to do well if you start at the
last minute!) I would recommend starting this assignment as early as possible so that
your thinking can develop over a series of drafts. We are happy to discuss your ideas
during office hours, and the Rutgers Learning Center Writing Coaches are available
to help as well.
How to do footnotes
Make sure to use the footnote function on your word processing application (rather than
attempting to format footnotes manually!) For example, in MS Word, go to Insert >
Footnote; other applications are similar. The word processing application will
automatically number your footnotes sequentially. Every single time you include a
quotation, you need a new footnote with a new number.
I have formatted sample footnotes for you; just cut and paste the citations below into
your paper (of course changing the page or chapter number as needed).
Ida B. Wells, Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States,
1892-1893-1894 (Chicago, 1895), ch. 1.
Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert, eds., W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing
Black America (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018), 100.
Aldon Morris, “American Negro at Paris, 1900,” in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits:
Visualizing Black America, ed. Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert (Princeton
Architectural Press, 2018), 24.
Silas Munro, “Introduction to the Plates,” in W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing
Black America, ed. Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert (Princeton Architectural Press,
Pietruska, Module 7.2 video lecture.
Federico, Module 7.2 video lecture.
Guide to writing historical analysis
• For more on how to write historical essays, see the Rutgers History Department
guide to Writing Historical Essays.
• The History Writing Tutors’ webpage has a series of very helpful writing guides that
cover everything from thesis statements to active verbs to comma usage.
• Please note that the History Department does not have History Writing Tutors in
Fall 2020. The Rutgers Learning Center does offer online appointments with their
• Make sure that you know what you are going to argue in your paper before you start
writing it. I recommend making some kind of outline that includes your thesis
statement and your topic sentences (essentially the skeleton of your argument) before
you start writing. It is impossible to sit down in front of a blank screen with no clear
idea of your thesis statement, start typing, and end up with a cogent argument.
• Your thesis statement (a precise one- or two-sentence statement of your paper’s
main idea) should appear somewhere in your introduction. Your reader should not
have to read several paragraphs before she discovers what your paper will argue.
(Only mystery novelists should keep their readers guessing!)
o Lack of a thesis statement or a very weak thesis statement will undermine the
rest of the paper.
o Weak thesis statements leave the critical points of your argument undefined
and will allow readers to come to their own conclusions about your material.
o Strong thesis statements will unify the rest of your argument. With your
strong thesis in mind from the outset, readers will interpret your material just
as you want them to: as evidence for your main idea.
• Your paragraph order should reflect a logical sequence of ideas, and each paragraph
should have a specific place in the overall organization of your paper. In other
words, you should not be able to switch around your paragraphs without disrupting
the logic of your argument.
• Ideally, think of each paragraph as a stage of your argument—a subtopic that
requires its own substantiation. The topic sentence, which usually is the first
sentence in the paragraph, should present the idea that you will develop and support
in the rest of the paragraph. (When you have finished writing your paper, you
should be able to cut and paste your topic sentences into a separate document and
then read them together as a single paragraph. If the paragraph makes sense, then
you have a logical sequence of ideas in your paragraph structure. If the paragraph
doesn’t make sense, then you should revise your topic sentences so that they fill in
any gaps in your logic.)
• In an analytical essay, topic sentences should be ideas, not facts, questions, or
• An argument is only as strong as the foundation it rests on—the sources that you use
to support your ideas. Remember that the success of your paper ultimately rests on
your sources and how effectively you marshal evidence to make your case. You may
have an argument that sounds innovative and exciting, but if you don’t cite sources
to back up your claims, your argument won’t be convincing.
• Most of your evidence will come from your primary sources (the two almanacs). In
your paper, you should incorporate direct quotations from your sources, and you
should also paraphrase and refer to specific ideas from your sources. Remember that
you need to provide complete and accurate citations every time you quote or
paraphrase another person’s words. If your paper includes phrases or sentences
directly taken from another source, and you do not have quotation marks around
them, then you are plagiarizing.
• You are responsible for adhering to the Rutgers academic integrity policy.
• Writing vague prose will weaken your argument, so it is important to pay attention
to how you are presenting your ideas.
• To avoid vague prose, make sure that your sentences make precise statements of
who is doing what to whom, and when. Identify your historical actors specifically.
And historical essays should definitely have dates in them.
• Use active voice, not passive, so that you will clearly convey the action of a
sentence. The passive voice is designed to obscure the actor and deemphasize the
action of the sentence (e.g., “The window was broken.”)
• Do not begin a sentence with “This” unless it is followed by a noun. (“This is an
example of” is not a good way to begin a sentence because it is not clear to your
reader exactly what part of the previous sentence “this” is referring to. “This
amendment granted…” is a perfectly fine way to begin a sentence.)
• Try reading your paper aloud, slowly and clearly, to listen for awkward sentence
constructions or errors. (Don’t rely on your word processing application to
proofread your paper.)
We look forward to reading your essays!