First Essay

Lying About the Past
First Essay
Due Friday, 9/19/08

For this paper you need to do what we’ve been doing in class for the past couple of weeks…pick a historical hoax, either one in A Treasury of Deception or another one that appeals to you (but clear it with me first) and then analyze it in detail. By “historical” hoax, I mean either a hoax that used history as part of the hoax or one that happened in the past (let’s say, at least five years ago). The questions you should be asking and discussing include:

1.    What is the historical context within which this hoax prospered? This is a question we have touched on a little bit in class, but one that needs more fleshing out here. You’ll need to do some research on exactly what happened (if only to confirm or refute the version you read when you first encountered the hoax). Then you’ll need to do some more on the historical context within which the hoax took place. Why was the environment ripe for that particular hoax? Why did people respond the way that they did and how was their response conditioned by what was happening in the world (or in their community) at that time?

2.    What, specifically, was the structure of the hoax, i.e., how did the creator(s) pull it off? What did they need to do, create, manipulate in order to make the hoax work?

3.    Analyze the response to the hoax in some detail, focusing on specific parts of the structure of the hoax that made it more or less successful.

4.    Why did the hoax succeed? And why did it ultimately collapse (as they almost all do)?

For the paper you need to include specific sources from your research cited as footnotes using Chicago style. You should also include a bibliography (also in Chicago style). Finally, your paper needs a title that is descriptive, i.e., not “First Essay.”

Have some fun with the paper. Don’t feel that you need to write in a stilted “historical analysis” mode that is too formal. It’s okay to be informal. But what’s not okay is to write the paper entirely off the top of your head. Papers that do not show evidence of serious historical research will be graded down (and possibly harshly). One of the best sources of evidence for part one of the paper will be the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database available to you via the Library website. This database includes every word the New York Times, Washington Post, and many other U.S. newspapers have ever written.