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Writing a Fellowship Proposal or Statement of Purpose [cont]

Paradigm One:

The project is a research topic that never has been done before. Almost by definition it will contribute to the field. The burden in this argument, however, is to show that the topic is indeed significant despite its neglect by scholars. Perhaps it has only recently acquired significance through scholarly developments, or perhaps there are other factors that have been overlooked that explain its importance. The main point in this paradigm is to show that the topic no longer should be neglected.

Sample Argument, Paradigm One:

"While thirteenth-century Venetian art has been studied in depth, the story of the fourteenth century remains to be written. Not only was this a period of extraordinary political and economic expansion and turning westward, but it was also a period matched by artistic transition, moving away from the prevalent use of Byzantine cultural models—once again in the direction of the West."

Paradigm Two:

(This argument is the opposite of paradigm one.) The project will study well known material that has been examined many times before, but you are making a reassessment of that material by looking at it in a new way, which will be your contribution. The challenge in this paradigm is to make a strong argument for the need for reassessment, but without denigrating all previous work. (Your readers may well include an author of one of those previous works.) The wisest approach is to stress that you are adding a new dimension, thanks to the work that has already been done.

Sample Argument, Paradigm Two:

"The rapid turnover in population in 19-century cities and the chaotic ordering of their neighborhoods has led many historians to focus almost exclusively on the social dislocation and uprootedness that they felt urban life brought. This dissertation seeks to re-examine these assumptions . . . ."

Paradigm Three:

(This argument logically falls between paradigms one and two; it is where most research projects fall as well.) In this case, the project will contribute by exposing some new material which in turn will call for some reassessment of what has already been done.

Sample Argument, Paradigm Three:

"While there have been some studies done on the Alliance's activities in North Africa, there have been none on its work in the Ottoman Empire where most of its schools were located . . . . By studying the activities of an organization which channelled Western values directly to a broad mass of young students, I hope to shed some new light on the process of Westernization at the local level."

Discussion of the Scholarly Literature and Incorporating It into Your Contribution Argument: Should You Include Foot-notes and a Bibliography?

You will note that all three paradigms have the advantage of allowing you to discuss the scholarly literature in the field, which is an essential part of a fellowship proposal. However, it avoids the potential monotony of simply describing a long list of works; instead it makes the discussion of literature an integral part of your contribution argument. When you discuss the literature, the general practice is to keep the scholarly apparatus at a minimum within the proposal. Cited works can be presented in abbreviated form—author's last name and date of publication—and placed within the text in parentheses, rather than in foot-notes. This is especially recommended when only a brief fellowship statement is required (of no more than six double spaced pages). The proposal can be accompanied by a bibliography even if one is not required, but it should be limited to /selected works/, presenting only those items that are central to the proposal.

In some competitions, usually when a longer and more elaborate proposal is required (around ten double-spaced pages), you will be expected to have references and a bibliography. Cited works can still be presented in abbreviated form within the text, or you may use foot-notes. In either case, this type of proposal should be accompanied by a bibliography, but once again, the bibliography should be limited to selected works that are central to the proposal.

Writing a Concise Introduction to the Proposal

Your contribution argument will have more meaning if the reader first has a grasp of the overall purpose of your project. An ideal way to begin a proposal is with an introductory paragraph that presents a clear and concise statement of the major goals of the project as a whole. If your topic concerns a particular time period and a particular location, this information should be included in the introduction. Similarly, if you are relying on a specific method or a specific kind of data, this too should be specified at the outset. The following are two examples of opening statements, with the first and longer example serving as an introduction to a longer a more complex proposal and research project:

  1. "The purpose of my proposed research is to explore the transformation of Mexican rural social relations from 1940 to 1958 by examining the increasingly dominant role of business in agriculture. I will focus on the Gulf state of Veracruz, known for a wide range of soils, climates, food crops, and social relations of production, as well as for the strength of its peasant leagues since the 1920s. My preliminary work indicates that the study of business interests and networks is the most effective way of understanding the nature and pace of change in rural social relations in modern Mexico. In this context " business" may be broadly defined as the profit-oriented activities of individuals or companies with an interest in rural production—e.g., machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, seed, credit, and marketing." The main sources for my research would be company and private papers, business publications, local newspapers, community records, government and diplomatic documents, agricultural manuals and other specialized publications, and oral history or field interviews."
  2. "I plan to study archival materials in Norway relevant to my doctoral dissertation. I hope to demonstrate through an examination of his personal papers, music, and publications that Grieg developed a unique style of composition based upon a personal aesthetic outlook."