For your first paper of the semester, you should use your reading of Worse than Slavery as a jumping-off point to explore some of the deeper issues surrounding the evolution of the system of Jim Crow in the American South. Oshinsky’s account of the development of the post-Civil War convict lease system shows one of the most brutal ways in which post-Reconstruction governments sought to re-establish slavery by selectively imprisoning freedpeople and their descendants.
In a 1500-word essay, you should delve more deeply into one of the subjects Oshinsky covers in the book. You should take what you now know about Mississippi under Jim Crow and/or Parchman Prison and compare it to conditions in another state affected by Jim Crow. You may do this by comparing conditions in Mississippi broadly against another state, or you can choose an industry, politician, prison, etc., that appears in Worse than Slavery and then discover through research a comparable industry, politician, prison, etc. in a different location in the South.
For instance, Oshinsky writes extensively about the rise of James K. Vardaman to power in Mississippi by crafting virulently racist appeals to poor whites in order to get elected. One possible approach to the paper would be to examine another Southern populist politician in a different state (e.g. Texas, Arkansas, Florida) and compare and contrast that politician’s rise to power.
Not only may you, and should you, use Worse than Slavery as a source for this exploration, but you should also use the book as a window into the wider world of sources Oshinsky uses in constructing his narrative.
Other possible approaches to this compare/contrast paper include (but are by no means limited to)
Jim Crow prisons in ________ and Mississippi
Black Codes in _________ and Mississippi
Women prisoners in ________ and Mississippi
Lynching in _________ and Mississippi
The Great Migration and its social effect in _______ and Mississippi
Sharecropping in _________ and Mississippi
Since this is only a 1500-word paper, you should endeavor to isolate just a handful (three is a good number) of ways in which to compare and contrast your two examples. For instance, using the Vardaman example above, you could examine his 1) rise to power, 2) use of racist speech and rhetoric, and 3) policies as they compare to the other politician you have chosen.
1) A requirement of the paper is that you use, not including Worse than Slavery, at least two primary sources, and at least two secondary academic sources, in the preparation of your paper. Handouts detailing the difference between primary and secondary sources are available in the course shell. Worse than Slavery cannot be one of the two required secondary sources (although it can certainly be used as a third secondary source.)
All of the topics suggested above are mentioned somewhere in the text, so you may want to follow the footnotes for those subtopics to guide you to appropriate primary and secondary sources. (The endnotes are in the rear of the book.)
The databases accessible through the Mercy Library online interface — JStor in particular — contain hundreds of possible secondary sources on the above and related topics. They are an excellent place to discover secondary sources, but reading papers such as this will also acquaint you with how a professional historian approaches these topics.
2) The essay you prepare should contain a narrow and manageable thesis statement, which outlines exactly the point you are going to make in the essay, and then introduce in one or two sentences how you are going to go about proving it. Handouts detailing how to structure an essay are also posted in the course shell.
3) All sources should be appropriately cited using MLA or Chicago as a style. Information on appropriately citing sources in a historical essay is also posted in the course shell.
4) Your paper will be graded using the attached rubric. In order to complete the paper successively, not only must you read the entire book, but you must also focus on crafting a well-structured essay with a clear thesis, several points backed by evidence that prove your thesis, and a clear conclusion.
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