Past presentation experience

I misread this week’s blogging assignment, so you get two Emile blogs this week! Lucky you!

Okay, so my experiences with formal presentations are fairly minimal. I talk, nay, pontificate in front of large groups nearly every day, but those talks are extremely informal and are thus filled with all manner of profanity and colloquialisms. I’m surprisingly eloquent on these occasions, and I usually only stutter or falter when I’ve forgotten a word.

My issues come up when I start making mistakes. I can move on past a few little errors, but larger errors seem to snowball until my presentation risks derailment.

Now, I have discovered that I am actually a fairly talented actor; more specifically, I find dropping into and out of roles and personas incredibly easy, even though I find memorizing scripts and lines very challenging. I have found that I become less nervous if I adopt a more confident ‘persona’ before appearing before an audience. The challenge, therefore, lies in crafting a ‘role’ that is both confident and professional.

I’m also unaccustomed to using visual aids in a presentation. Because I would like to avoid reading points off of a screen, I’m building a PowerPoint with minimal text to go alongside my presentation. I hope that it isn’t too flashy or distracting.

I’m going to be practicing this sucker as much as I can until Wednesday’s presentation. I hope that I do well, and I hope that you all do well also.

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Update on Research Paper: The Final Draft Cometh!

First of all, sorry for my lack of updates recently. You’d be amazed how things pile up after a while.

Anywho, before the Thanksgiving break really builds up momentum, I thought that this would be a good time to post an update on my final draft.

For the most part, I have a pretty clear idea of what I need to work on, thanks to Joanna and Amanda’s excellent suggestions. My big issues right now:
* Making my intro a little less… huge. I feel it necessary to convey how my topic fits into the larger historical context, but this larger context generally takes some time to fully elucidate. I do, however, need to figure out how to convey this scale without taking far too much space to do so. Reconciling my personal need to relate to the bigger picture while still being fairly direct will probably be my biggest challenge for the final copy.
* I have a long section (~2 pages) describing the organization and social stratification in both Temujin and Jamuqa’s armies. This, I feel, is an incredibly important topic that needs to be addressed in order to fully understand the conflict between the two Mongol leaders, but– as Joanna points out– this topic is not directly connected to my thesis statement; it is indirectly connected, but not immediately so. It is too important to leave out, but too extensive to demote to an endnote. I’m sure that I’ll figure out a way to work this issue out, but if anyone can think of any tips, that would be swell.
** Issues like this one are why I tend to be somewhat skeptical over the idea of basing everything in a paper around a single thesis. There is, of course, always a solution to any hurdle, thankfully.
* I directly reference one or two works that are neither historical nor academic in nature (a novel and a website), because they provide some excellent terms that get certain points across very concisely. Because they are not historical references and merely sources for phrases and terms, I am somewhat unsure how I should cite them. I was thinking of adding a third section to my ‘works cited,’ explicitly to denote these non-scholarly sources. I could simply not use these references, but I really like what they add to the paper. I suppose I’ll come to a verdict as I’m rewriting the paper.
* I will be the first to admit that my academic prose is… whimsical. This is my ‘voice’ as a writer and therefore not an element that I am ever going to willingly remove. With that said, I understand that I both can and have overdone the whimsy in my writing. One of the advantages of re-writing from scratch during the final paper is in catching these sorts of phrases before they get too out of hand. I don’t feel comfortable writing anything ‘sans whimsy’ (Indeed, the whimsical writing is often my little way of communicating to the readers just how much I am connecting with/enjoying the material. Topics that I find really stimulating tend to attract more enjoyable prose, while boring topics lend themselves to papers that are drier than a placeholder metaphor. In my experience, the latter papers tend to get worse grades than the former), but I know that there are times to moderate it. So, we’ll see where this goes in the final.

In the end, I’m probably not going to focus as much on my final draft over this break as I will on my presentation and a few other assignments for other classes. I’m certainly going to do SOME work on this paper, but since we have a week’s extension, I figure that I can take advantage of the extra time by using this break to knock out every other assignment.

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Research update!

Due to my distinct lack of computer for a good portion of the last week, I haven’t been able to maintain as comprehensive a series of notes as I would have liked (not could I access any of my articles).  This is regrettable, but not crippling.  I have re-read The Secret History (or rather, read a different translation for the first time and found to my delighted surprise that it was a significantly more approachable and less mind-breaking dull text than my first translation) and compared it to some of my secondary readings.  Because it is something of a difficult book to read regardless, I took the liberty of writing out a brief summary of the events depicted in the book (by hand).  The translator already had summaries for every chapter of the text in his prologue, but I abridged those further in the interest of isolating the sections of the text that best suited my developing thesis.  Since The Secret History applies numbers to each individual section (in much the same fashion that the Bible does for its passages, though the Mongol text’s sections are several paragraphs in length unlike the Bible’s verses), I also included the relevant numbers next to my notes; this should make cross-referencing between the different translations far easier than bothering with page numbers for now.

I’m actually quite surprised at how (hopefully) efficient this has turned out.  Even without access to most of my usual resources over  much of the last several days, I have been able to establish an effective base from which to launch into the actual written assignment.

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Meeting schedule

Hey, I seem to have misplaced my meeting schedule.  I thought I wrote a hard copy of it last week, but it has decided that existing is too mainstream for its exacting tastes.  If I had written in down on my computer, it would have been one of the many files that got forever sealed away when my personal account was ‘corrupted’ by malware recently.  If my meeting is supposed to be tomorrow, please let me know!

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Re-introducing The Secret History of the Mongols

So, the main primary source for my research paper is a book entitled The Secret History of the Mongols.  Composed at an unknown date after the death of Chinggis Khan (but apparently within living memory) by an unnamed scribe (it may have been written by more than one author; the last section of the book might even have been written by Chinggis’ son Ogedei), The Secret History is a biographical account of Chinggis’ life.

The first section of the book is less useful historically, but is an important cultural reference all the same.  This opening section is a semi-mythical account of the origins of the Mongol people.  From there, the text becomes more ‘realistic’ gradually, until finally Chinggis himself is born, whereupon the book takes on a more grounded approach.  With that in mind, however, there are still slightly mythologized elements throughout the book, and there are certain sections in the more ‘realistic’ portions of the text that are still rather questionable.

The Secret History is ultimately a work of propaganda.  Its primary function is to provide a suitably heroic origin for the then-new Mongol Empire, and to legitimize its creation.  Despite this potential shortcoming, it is nevertheless an incredibly useful work.  First of all, unlike many works of propaganda literature, it does actually highlight Chinggis’ flaws and mistakes.  I am going to return more to this theme in my final paper.  Secondly– and more importantly as an historical document–, while The Secret History‘s rather fluid mixture of reality and folklore can sometimes make it somewhat unreliable as a resource for finding out exactly what occurred, the mythic distortions tell a far larger story.  By recasting the historical events within in a mythical light, the authors highlight numerous aspects of Mongol culture– beliefs, traditions, values, etc.  Indeed, even though The Secret History‘s account of how Chinggis succeeded in ‘X Incident’ may not actually be entirely accurate, the book’s account can tell us why Chinggis did ‘Y Action’, and more importantly, what example that Chinggis (and his heirs) wanted to teach their descendants.  Chinggis (or his scribes, anyway) was keenly aware that the founder of an empire is often looked upon as a model ruler for that civilization, so the actions depicted in this propaganda piece can be looked at as expressions of Chinggis’ ideals for leadership.

Anyway, I hope that this gives a good background on this primary source.  Actually, brainstorming for this summary has helped me re-evaluate what I’ve been reading in The Secret History, and now I think I’m very close to figuring out my actual thesis.

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Primary and Secondary Material

With my project being what it is, primary sources are fairly sparse (as I’ve mentioned before, there are really only three good literary sources available).  This has, however, worked quite well to my advantage, both for my actual research and for the way that I can connect my research to what has already been accomplished in my secondary sources.  Because of the small pool of data to draw upon, there is a large amount of concordance between secondary research into my field and, as I have said before, this has led to many secondary authors using each others’ work as ‘building blocks’ to base their own from.  While this is a common practice in all forms of research, the small number of primary sources has encouraged cooperation over competition among most of the historians whose works I have encountered.  While there are some differences in interpretation, there do not seem to be any major arguments or factionalism among these scholars, which really makes my life a hell of a lot easier, if I might be so blunt.

On a more research-minded note, the limited primary data helps me out because fact-checking against secondary material is rendered significantly easier.  In a field with countless primary sources, it can be difficult to compare later interpretations with the original documents.  Thankfully, I have access to the majority of sources that my secondary writers had, so this sort of scrutiny is quite simple.

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Research Papers: The Unofficial Soundtrack

After a few comments exchanged with Professor Fernsebner last week, I thought it would be funny to put up a mock soundtrack designed to highlight the emotional states of those writing research papers. Though I’m writing with history in mind, this should be applicable to any field.

Topic is assigned-

Finding out how long the paper needs to be-

Finally narrowing down your topic-

Looking for sources-


Writing the introduction-

Seeing how much there is left to do-

That rush of invincibility when you hammer out a great paragraph in nothing flat-

That feeling, after spending too much time indoors working, that the sun is trying to kill you-

Writer’s block-

Deadline approaches-

Realizing that you’re taking the wrong approach and need to re-write half of it-

Figuring out that perfect solution to your stumbling block- (note: this is my favorite song ever!)

Starting the conclusion-

Finishing the conclusion-


Getting your grade (poor-to-average grade)- (hey, at least you aren’t dead, right?)

Getting your grade (good grade)-

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Secondary Source Review

I thought I put this up yesterday, but I guess it didn’t save or something.  Time to start from scratch!

Anywho, I cannot truly declare any of my secondaries to be the ‘most useful’.  They have all been quite helpful thus far.  Instead, I will review the first one the I read in depth (and which inspired the line of thought that led to my deciding on my actual topic): Paul Lococo’s short biography Genghis Khan: History’s Greatest Empire Builder.

Overall, Lococo’s book is an immensely useful resource.  For one thing, it is concise enough to be read in a single sitting; I read it first for precisely this reason, so that I could take in a quick overview of my topic to get myself started on thinking about narrowing my line of inquiry.  Despite its limited length, the book is also detailed enough to tell Genghis’ life story without ever feeling like it is skimming past anything important.

The book’s largest issue is its citation.  The author does in fact name all of his sources, both primary and secondary, but he does not cite them throughout the text, choosing instead to list them at the end.  As such, it is difficult to pinpoint which sources any particular piece of information comes from, unless it is explicitly mentioned in the text.

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A couple funny things for my comrades in 299

Okay, this isn’t exactly the most scholarly of posts.  I had a couple of images in my voluminous wallpaper folder that I thought might be appropriate for our class.  If these are deemed too silly, please remove this post from the main course blog site (or tell me to do it).  These are all from a Tumblr meme entitled ‘History Major Heraldic Beast,’ which was part of a wave of memes following the pattern of ‘[subject] Major [animal]‘.  I’m not sure if the blog is still up, but it amuses me all the same.

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Note Taking Stuff

I believe we are supposed to be blogging about our note-taking methods, correct?  Well, to be honest, I’m not really one for notes from reading.  Oh, I take notes from lectures, but I usually find it more difficult to recall audial information than visual.  On the rare occasions when I do write notes from reading, those notes will probably consist of little more than a couple words of a topic and a page number.  By my own admission, it is not the most thorough system of notation.  I am just not very fond of halting during reading to jot down a note.  Much like writing, I find that reading is very dependent on momentum.  I can retain more information the better my momentum is.  So, my reading notes tend to be minimal at best.

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