Critical Summary Essay – The 1619 Project

For this Critical Summary Essay, we will expand on the summarizing we did in the History Lesson Essay by critically examining an essay from The 1619 Project. Through this critical examination, we will look at the way the authors construct their text and how that construction helps them make their point. You will choose one essay or one episode to focus on for this Critical Summary. You can choose which essay or episode to write about, but I encourage you to use a different one than you wrote about for your first essay. However, if you connected strongly with a particular text, you may use that one again for this assignment.

The ability to summarize effectively and critically is a crucial part of academic writing. In order to place an argument of your own in conversation with writing that has already been done on a particular subject, you will frequently need to summarize the ideas and arguments of other writers, as well as to simply summarize information in a clear and accessible way.

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However, a “critical” summary is not just a reiteration of information and arguments. In addition to identifying one of the main points of an essay from The 1619 Project, your essay should reflect your own “critical” reading of the text. I am asking you to read closely, interpretively, and analytically.

To perform this kind of critical examination, we need to understand some key elements of texts, whether they be academic essays, social media posts, or anything in between. Here are the key elements I want you to discuss, and here are some questions you can use to build your discussion of how the key element shows up in the text:

Purpose: The reason for communicating; the expected or intended outcome.
What is the author trying to accomplish with this text? What is their goal or outcome? How do they want their readers’ perspective to change after reading this text?
Audience: The spectator, listeners, and/or readers of a performance, speech, reading, or printed material.
Who is the author trying to communicate with? Who are they trying to convince or inform? We want to identify a specific group and not just “everyone” or “a general audience.” Writers usually write with specific people in mind. Who do you think this text is meant to influence?
Message: The information the author wants to communicate. This is the content of their text. It will be aligned to their purpose and targeted to their audience.
What exactly is the author saying? This is where your summary skills from the first essay come into play. Identify the main point and show the evidence and examples used to get the message across. To help you think about the Message, start by using Option 1 from the Reading Journal Instructions to look at the text you choose.
Appeals: There are three types of Appeals, or persuasive strategies, used in arguments to support claims and respond to opposing arguments. We sometimes call these pathos, ethos, and logos. A good argument will generally use more than one of these appeals to make its case.
Does the text use pathos, ethos, and/or logos? How does the writer utilize one or more of these appeals? Which of these appeals is most present and why do you think the author chose to use that appeal the most? In your essay, you can focus solely on one of these appeals or look at two or all three. See below for more info on the appeals pathos, ethos, and logos

Here are expanded definitions of the three Appeals, which we call pathos, ethos, and logos:

Pathos appeals to the emotions of the audience.
How does the author evoke emotions of pity, sympathy, anger, courage, happiness, sorrow, etc. in the audience? How does the author establish a bond with the audience? What kinds of images, colors, words, sounds does the author use to evoke these feelings?
Ethos appeals to the audience by establishing the credibility and expertise of the author.
How does the author convince the audience of their credibility, authority, or trustworthiness? What qualifications do they have to address this topic? How does the author demonstrate shared values with the audience?
Logos appeals to the audience with reason, using facts and figures.
What evidence and types of reasoning does the author use? Does the author use lots of facts and statistics? Do they address alternative arguments or viewpoints?


Steps for writing:


Start with a brief paragraph introducing the text you will be critically summarizing. If you’re writing about an essay from The 1619 Project, you should tell us a little about the project as a whole and mention the title of the essay, who wrote it, when it was written, and where it was published (Note: I know the titles of these essays can be hard to find. Here’s a list of titles for the essays we’re reading from The 1619 Project this semester).


Then you should compose at least two body paragraphs that discuss all four of the key elements mentioned above: Purpose, Audience, Message, and Appeals. You need to decide how to organize this information and how many paragraphs that requires. It could work to have four body paragraphs: one for each key element. It could work to have two body paragraphs: one for the first three elements and one separate paragraph for the Appeals. It could work to have one paragraph for the first three elements and multiple paragraphs that focus on the different kinds of Appeals with each Appeal getting its own paragraph. You decide how many body paragraphs makes the most sense for your essay, but be sure to write about all four of the key elements: Purpose, Audience, Message, and Appeals.

For the Appeals portion of your essay, you can focus solely on one Appeal, you can focus on two, or you can focus on all three. But you must write about at least one Appeal: pathos, ethos, or logos.

Finally, you should conclude by telling us whether you think the text you chose effectively accomplishes its purpose and effectively delivers its message. In other words, you should evaluate whether the author is effectively persuasive and/or informative. This will likely be a short paragraph.

The tone of this essay should be more formal and academic than the History Lesson Essay. The only place you should use “I statements” is in the conclusion. Otherwise, refrain from using “I,” “me,” or “my” throughout the introduction and body paragraphs.

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