Pick 2 out of 3 topics

1page or two

To help you to write a better essay, we are giving you these in advance so that you can spend some time:

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a. thinking about them

b. doing a little background research (from your lecture notes, the textbook, the library, and the internet)

c. making a rough outline to give you a general sense of what you want to say for each

Our rough guidelines for doing well are the following:

1. a C (passing—but we know that you can do better) essay—presents the basic facts in an organized fashion—but that’s all

2. a B (better—but we know that you can do better) essay—begins with the basic facts, but attempts to turn the essay into a kind of short story, using at least material from lecture and textbook, in which you give your character/characters a little life

3. an A (and that’s what we want you all to do) essay—shows a combination of more extensive research (you’ve really spent some time on this, including some serious google-work) plus a detailed attempt to bring this topic to life

We do not expect you to be Charles Dickens or Shakespeare here, but we very much encourage you to take the time beforehand to prepare background materials so that you can show your reader a picture drawn from research and your imagination.

Essay Topic 1

     1492.  You are sitting in your mom’s house in Genoa, just about to give up.  For the last few years, you’ve been traveling around Europe, trying to sell monarchs and merchants on this really great idea you have:  instead of traveling all the way around Africa to get to the Fabled (and Incredibly Wealthy) East, you can sail straight west and, in a month’s time, you can challenge those nobody Portuguese when it comes to exotic trade.  You’re convinced that this is a really good idea:  you’ve researched it thoroughly and know, just as you know that the earth is round, that nothing lies between Europe and the Fabled (and Incredibly Wealthy) East but some scattered islands and things to the far north (sailors have been going there for years to fish for cod—fish—big deal!).  Nobody seems interested, however:  the King of England is too busy building his economy and his navy, the King of France is planning a new war in Italy, the Austrian emperor has his hands full with Ottoman Turkey—but then comes word that Isabella and Ferdinand, the rulers of Spain, have just struck it rich by seizing the property of the Moors they’ve finally driven out of Spain, as well as that of the Jews whom they’ve just expelled.  And they are interested in expanding their power (and treasury) through trade—but they’ll need persuading.  While your mom packs you a bag, you write down a speech, which you intend to give in the Spanish court.  In it, you’ll talk about the recent history of trade with the East—what desirable things they have to offer, the effect of middlemen, the difficulties of the Crusades and (now) Ottoman control.  As well, you want to explain about the Portuguese—how, through most of the 15th century, they have slowly and methodically worked out a route to the Far East—and why it’s a bad idea for Spain to try to imitate them—especially when you have a much better idea.

Essay Topic 2  

    Oh dear!  The heresy trial is not going well for you, Galileo.  The Church’s prosecutor, Fra Diavolo, is moving towards his closing argument—which will, in turn, move you to the stake, where you will be toast—literally!  There’s only one thing to do:  confess, completely and wholeheartedly.  You grab a quill and start outlining a detailed speech in which you explain how you were misled by the mistaken theories of Copernicus, Brahe (and what about that pet elk—how crazy was that guy?), and Kepler, in turn, as they tried so hard not only to disprove Church doctrine on the universe, but also to substitute a completely fake view of its structure, denying, as you know so well, the true structure, with its Great Chain of Being, its see-through spheres, its angels, and its earth (as every sane person and faithful son and daughter of the Church knows, the center of everything).  As for your invention—the telescope—perhaps there is a military or naval use you could suggest for it, instead of its current devilish employment, helping to deny the Truth?        

Essay Topic 3

     You are Louis XIV, retiring to bed after an absolutely exhausting day ruling France.  You’ve kicked off your little red heels and hung up your latest wig and are about to hop into bed next to your latest (snoring) mistress, when you spot a sealed letter on your nightstand.  “Now what?” you asked yourself.  “Is Colbert nagging me again about standing armies?”  But that’s not Colbert’s seal:  it’s foreign and you have a vague memory of seeing it before.  You break it, unfold the letter, and see it’s from James, the Duke of York, brother of Charles II, King of England.  In a few lines, he explains that, since his brother has no legal heir, the throne will come to him, James, and, as his brother has finally partied a little too heartily recently, that may happen very soon.  The problem is, in his view, his brother had been much too easygoing when it comes to ruling and James thinks that it’s time for a change—from Merry Monarch to Absolute Monarch—to be like you, in fact.  And he’d like your advice.  You sigh—it has been a very long day—terrorizing Protestants and planning to steal the Netherlands—but you can’t resist this flattering request.  You get up, then, go to your dressing table, pull out a fresh sheet of parchment, and write.  You have two choices:  either you can explain to him 1. how you became an absolute monarch, or 2. why he shouldn’t.  If you choose 1., you’ll need to talk about your family’s history of gaining more and more power over the state and its people, from Henry IV to the present (not forgetting those “assistant kings”, like Sully and Richelieu and your own—annoying but practical—Colbert—and also don’t forget how Mazarin’s policies caused civil war and almost ruined your monarchy).  What are the advantages you have as absolute?  And how do you stay one?  And how do you afford being one?  If you choose 2., you’ll need to discuss the English monarchy’s disadvantages—a country smaller and poorer than France, a tiny royal budget, and those appalling elected Parliamentarians—how dare they question the king?  You know how you’d deal with them in France (you glance at the stack of blank lettres de cachet in your open dresser drawer).  Enjoy your work!  (And don’t forget to send your reply by secret messenger—you don’t want some Parliamentary spy to intercept it and publish it on Louisleaks!)

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