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Topic: Research essay social issues story “Bertha” by Lee Maracle

Choose two literary texts and analyze how the texts examine, question and/or illuminate a key social or political issue. You will research the social issue chosen from the list below, and incorporate that research into a formal essay of approximately 1500-1800 words. This essay is worth 20% of your final grade.
1. Texts. You will choose two texts. At least one of the texts must be a story covered in this Unit, Boyden’s Three Day Road, or “Bertha” from Unit 2. The second text can come from that group or can be a story of your choice from the anthology.
2. Social Issue. Choose one of the issues listed below and do some research to understand how that issue has been discussed and made significant in Canadian society. You will incorporate this research into your final paper.
3. The Essay. Based on the two texts, your goal is to analyze the broad social issue that you have chosen from the list below. Your essay can take any approach that you like. You might compare how this issue is represented, argued about and/or resolved in the two texts. Do the literary texts tell us something new or different about the issue from what is presented in the social commentary? In what ways are literary features of the texts—including imagery, narrative structure, and characterization—employed to develop a discussion or representation of this issue in the texts?
You don’t have to agree with how the texts address the issue, necessarily. This assignment gives you the opportunity to engage in discussion of a larger social issue, using the literary texts as well as information from your more general research into events and social and cultural debates. You can debate with the literary texts if you like!
The scope for this essay is quite broad. You are encouraged to take time to plan your essay, decide early on a specific question or focus, and use your skills in outlining and drafting.
Social Issues – Preparing for Research
In this assignment, you will read about events and debates which contributed to discussion around multiculturalism and identity politics in Canada in the 1990s. As Kamboureli notes, much of this discussion was based in concerns around the politics of representation and echoes issues we have examined in the fiction. You will also be encouraged to consider, as Kamboureli does, how these discussions have shifted today. In this assignment, you will study in detail a particular issue as it is explored in this historical material.
In her introduction to the anthology, Kamboureli argues that “the period between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s was intensely characterized by specific manifestations of that trait Canadians want to believe is peculiar to them, anxiety about identity. Anxiety about the tensions between the dominant and the minority cultures was hardly a new development at that time, but a certain confluence of events and circumstances marked the era in ways that continue to resonate today”. The following research will help you to become knowledgeable of these events and circumstances and to engage critically with the issues and debates that were raised. Before engaging with the questions below, take a moment to reread Kamboureli’s summary of these events in her introduction to the second edition; this summary is in the first 2 paragraphs of the section entitled “Canlit and Its Trauma of Belatedness.”
Choose 1 of the following issues as a focus. Then, as you research the historical events and debates listed below, consider how they express, develop and comment on this focus issue. Remember that this research and reflection will, together with your analysis of this issue in two literary texts, form the basis of your essay.
Broad Social Issues:
● Socially-constructed positions of identity. How are different positions constructed in society (what images are used, what power is associated)? How are conflicts between these positions negotiated?
● The relationship between cultural identity, history and memory.
● Authority and Authenticity. Who can speak? Who should speak? Questions of Power.
● Balancing identities based on nation, religion, culture, sexuality, and gender, and the question of freedom. What happens when freedoms conflict?
● Experiences of Immigration and Multiculturalism
Research Tips
Use Library Databases to find information on the following events and documents. For this research you may find the Canadian newsstand database, CBCA Reference and Current Events particularly useful, as well as government documents. Finally, make use of the sources listed in the back of Kamboureli’s anthology to guide you. Based on one of the broad issues listed above, explore several of the topics and events below, looking at how the issue or debate is defined and articulated. You will then combine this information with your analysis of that issue in the fiction.
As you look for information, you will find essays and arguments, news reports, debates between writers in newspapers and possibly some government documents. Your goal is to get a sense of the large issue being addressed. Many of these events happened over 20 years ago; to place them in context, you may also want to do some research on how similar issues are addressed in the media and in cultural commentary today.
Possible Topics and events to research:
1980s and 90s
● The Canadian Act of Multiculturalism (1988)
● Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982)
● Third International Feminist Book Fair in Montreal (1988) in which Lee Maracle argues for white writers to back away from Aboriginal subjects.
● Racial Minority Writers’ Committee of the Writers’ Union of Canada (formed in 1992) and chaired by Lenore Keeshig-Tobias.
● PEN Conference (1989) dispute between Marlene Nourbese Philip and June Callwood about the representation of minority writers.
● Royal Ontario Museum’s exhibit “Into the Heart of Africa’ (1989-90). Susan Crean has written an excellent essay on this entitled “Taking the Missionary Position.”
● Writing Thru Race Conference (1994) and Roy Miki’s commentary.
Since 2000 (dates and some links are provided below. More information can be found through an internet search.)
● Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2009-2012)
● Statement of Apology—to former students of Indian Residential Schools (June 11, 2008)
● Globe and Mail series “Our Time to Lead: Immigration” (May 2012) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/
● Globe and Mail series “Multiculturalism: Best of the series” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/time-to-lead/multiculturalism-best-of-the-series/article582445/
● Debate in Quebec over Niqab
○ CBC news “6 niqab legal controversies in Canada” http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/12/19/f-niqab-list.html
● RCMP and Sikh uniform requirements http://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP17CH2PA3LE.html


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