Book Analysis

One of your responsibilities in this course is to prepare a succinct critical review of an outside scholarly book.

Your scholarly analyses will increase the diversity of historical topics and approaches introduced in class, as well as strengthen the class’ understanding of historiographical debates.  On an individual level, preparing your critique will give you more experience reading and evaluating scholarly texts, and synthesizing their larger take-away messages for an engaged audience. You’ll also get to work as public historians improving the coverage of Brazilian scholarship on Wikipedia.

This assignment has two components: an in-class Pecha Kucha presentation (10%) that presents your critical review of the author’s argument to help increase our class’ understanding of the history and culture of modern Brazil, and the creation of a Wikipedia entry (5%) that outlines the argument, implications, and critical reception of your book for a general audience.

Sign up for your book on Moodle (first come, first served).  Some, but not all of these are available at the COW Library and the others are available through Consort and/or OhioLink. It is your responsibility to check out your book or purchase it online in the weeks before your presentation in order to ensure ample time to read and critically review its contents. Excuses arising from a book not being available in the campus library or not arriving on time through Consort will not be accepted.

Suggestions for approaching the Critical Reviews:

  1. Make sure you check out or order your book several weeks before your presentation. Even though book requests made through Consort usually take less than a week to process, you still cannot wait until the last minute to begin your research.
  2. Read the Meade Brief History of Brazil textbook (on reserve) and Skidmore’s Brazil: Five Centuries of Change for information related to your chosen book.
  3. Read your chosen text carefully, making notes as you go.
  4. Identify the thesis, main point, and purpose of the book (usually found in the introduction.)
  5. Consider the author’s use of sources. What kinds of primary sources did the author employ?  How does the author use these primary sources as evidence to support his/her arguments?
  6. Read the introduction carefully. How does the author think his/her interpretation fits in with those of other historians?  What does he/she argue is his/her historiographical contribution?
  7. From your perspective, what are the major contributions of this book? What weaknesses are there?  How does this case study contribute to our understanding of Brazilian history?
  8. Look for published critical reviews of the book. JStor or Historical Abstracts are a good place to start.  How do your impressions fit with those of other experts in the field? You should consider these outside reviews in your analysis of the book, but you should not abandon your own impressions to adopt the critical interpretation of another author.

Book Presentations (pecha kucha) (10%)

To compose a critical book review, you must apply critical thinking techniques to analyze a text. A critical book review provides a fair evaluation of the contributions of a book. It allows an intelligent reader who has not read the reviewed work to understand the book’s main contributions to the study of a historical topic. Critical book reviews encapsulate thoughtful presentations of the author’s work: the book’s purpose, methodology, sources employed, argument made, and contributions to the historiography. In a critical book review you applaud the author for what you believe they have done well as well as civilly point out shortcomings, oversights, or flaws of argument.

Effective oral communication requires a different approach than written communication.  Successful Pecha Kucha presentations (for our modified version, this will be 15 PowerPoint slides automatically advancing after 20 seconds each) depend on careful use of visual evidence to support your argument.

Approaching your pecha kucha

    • Our course website includes a video introduction to Pecha Kucha and guides to slide design. I’ve posted some examples of past student presentations on Moodle (although they had 20 slides rather than 15).  Take advantage of these resources!
    • For your presentation, you task is to familiarize your colleagues with the argument, approach, and evidence presented in your book.   Remember, there are many different ways of approaching the study of the past.  Be clear and concise.
    • You only have a short time for your presentation (15 slides in 5 minutes).  You are the classroom’s expert on this book.  What are the most important things to communicate to your classmates within the context of this course?  How does your book engage the themes we have been discussing?
    • Start with an overview of your presentation.  It is easier for an audience to follow your argument if they have some indication of what you will be arguing.
    • Use specific examples to support your argument.  You want to persuade your audience.
    • What is the significance of your chosen book?  What is the author’s “take-home message” – the central thing you want your audience to remember?
    • Remember the (mandatory) 1/1/5 Rule: each slide must have one image, you can use each image only once (although you can use a detail from a map to make your point), and no more than five words per slide.  The only exception is your first slide, which can include the author’s name and the full title of the book under review.
    • The ideal image size for projection is 1024 × 768.
    • Practice your presentation in front of a mirror, or better yet, in front of your friends.  Make sure that your images and interpretation are in sync.  This is also a good opportunity to practice answering questions from the audience.  The new CoRE in Andrews Library contains presentation practice spaces.
    • Speak slowly and clearly.  Maintain eye contact with your audience.  You may use notes, but try not to just read from your paper.
    • Consult the grading rubric for presentations.  How do you think your Pecha Kucha rates?
    • I will be recording your presentation and posting it to the course blog.
    • Make sure you take careful notes on your colleagues’ presentations, and ask good questions at the end.
    • All presentation slides must be emailed to me at least an hour before class on your presentation date.

Wikipedia Scholarly Book Entry (5%)

Your entry should demonstrate both your research on your chosen book, and your mastery of the conventions of Wikipedia, including tone, standards of proof, and digital communication.

Each scholarly book entry should include the following sections

  • a detailed lead
  • a complete book infobox (I’ve included the template in your stub article – here are the directions for completing the fields.)
  • author biography (with appropriate contextual details about their training & expertise)
  • synopsis (that includes the book’s approach, argument, and use of evidence)
  • critical reception, with properly introduced and contextualized quotations from at least two book reviews
  • awards (if any)
  • references
  • categories
  • make sure that you link to your book’s page from at least three relevant Wikipedia articles

Completing this information will help you as you’re preparing for your oral presentation.  This work is due at the same time as your oral presentation.