American Ethnic Geography

A Cultural Geography of the United States and Canada


The due dates for all of the assignments described below appear on the course schedule.

Book Review

One of your assignments this semester involves preparing a review of the following book:

In preparing this book review, follow these instructions.

When reviewing a book, you should do more than demonstrate that you merely read it; you should also demonstrate that you have thought about it. For this reason, a review is more of a critical assessment of the material in the book than a report on its contents.


Specifically, your review should consist of three major components: a section of general information, a section of content analysis, and a section of evaluation. In addition, your review should begin and end with an opening and a concluding paragraph, respectively.

Introduction: The opening paragraph should be an introduction in which you put the review in an appropriate context and identify the book itself. Do not begin your review with "This book . . . "!

General Information: The section on general information should be brief, containing the who, what, where, when, and how of the book. The following items should be included in this section:

Analysis of Content: In the section on content analysis, your comments should become increasingly specific as you offer a more precise and probing account of how the author dealt with the subject of the book. This section of the review—a bit longer than the first—should address the following items:

As you address these items, remember that this section of the review should concentrate on what the author said in the book. Accordingly, this would be the best section in which to incorporate short quotations or examples from the text to illustrate particular points.

Evaluation: The third major section of the review—that of evaluation—is perhaps the most important. This section is the place for your opinion of the book. That opinion must go beyond a simple statement of whether or not you liked the book. It should instead reflect your serious thought about the substance of what the book presents.

In this section of the review, you should also assess the effectiveness and significance of the book. For example, you might include some, but by no means all, of the following items:

Conclusion: The concluding paragraph should reiterate your main points and your overall impression of the book, perhaps relating it to the purpose of the course or some larger issue.


As you prepare your review, format your paper according to the following guidelines:

  1. The review should be roughly 3-5 pages in length.

  2. The main body of the review should be typed in double space.

  3. Include the name of the author, the book's title, and the facts of publication in a single-spaced bibliographical entry preceding the main body of the review.

  4. Enclose direct quotations from the book with quotation marks and include the appropriate page citations, like this (p. 101).


Finally, pay careful attention to the quality of the writing in your review and to its overall appearance. In other words, pay attention to "craftsmanship." A well-crafted paper is one that is accurate, concise, neat, organized, well-written, and otherwise "polished." A well-crafted paper is also free of typographical errors, misspelled words, incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, and contractions. Crafting a paper instead of merely writing one requires an investment of time, especially for careful editing.

For this essay, you must work with a partner in class, exchanging drafts and providing each other with a short, written review of the essay. As you review your partner’s essay, indicate a) how well he/she followed the instructions for the assignment, b) whether or not the writer avoided the common pitfalls outlined in the writing.doc handout in the course folder on the G: drive, and c) any other recommendations you have for improving the book review. When you submit your final draft to me, you must then include the draft you provided your partner, as well as his/her written feedback.

Your ideas are an important part of the book review. Remember, however, that how you express those ideas and how you present them to the reader are equally important, making craftsmanship vital.

Melting Pot Essay

Like very few countries in the world, the United States has served as a sort of grand cultural experiment in what some have called "nation building." This has involved accepting millions of people from a huge range of cultures, but yet embracing the idea of a national culture focused on liberty, democracy, individuality, and capitalism. Our popular motto, e pluribus unum (out of many, one), attempts to capture this idea. Observers have described the cultural history of the U.S. using a variety of metaphors. Given its history of immigration and ethnic settlement, some have likened the United States to an ethnic salad, quilt, or cultural mosaic in which discrete subcultures survive while still loosely combining to form a broader national culture. The dominant theme in this metaphor is multiculturalism. Others, however, have emphasized the role of assimilation, which has broken down and blended together the ethnic and cultural traits from many immigrant source areas into a distinctively American culture and provided us with a more famous and controversial metaphor—the melting pot.

In a 3-5 page essay each student must assess the value of the melting pot idea. In short, you need to answer a couple of questions. First, is the melting pot a valid way to think about how American society handles new immigrants? Basically, does the melting pot exist, or is it just an ideal that can no longer be realized, if it ever was? If you conclude that the melting pot is a valid summary of American society, you must indicate how and why, using examples. If you conclude that it may be the popular ideal but cannot be attained, you must indicate why and suggest some reasons for our attachment to this metaphor. If you conclude that the melting pot idea is not valid, you must indicate why that is the case and what metaphor better fits the American experience (salad, mosaic, quilt, something else?).

As you consider these questions, you should consult a few basic works, including the following articles:

Another good resource is this recent book, which has chapters on various topics and groups. I have placed it on reserve in the Christopher Center:

Throughout the essay, you need to approach the topic as a geographer would, by incorporating examples of ethnic group settlement patterns, migration, relocation, and segregation. In other words, you need to use geographic evidence to support your answers to the questions outlined in the preceding paragraph. This web site includes an extensive bibliography with books and articles on every major group and topic we’ll consider this semester. The Peach article listed above is also a good resource.

As you prepare your essay, you must reference and cite at least four sources, including books and articles. You must use Internet sources sparingly. Appropriate web sites include those for electronic versions of academic journals and U.S. government agencies, like the Census Bureau. You can cite your sources using any accepted form of referencing, so long as you are consistent. If you have questions about sources, just check with me. Also, concentrate on editing and revising your paper to eliminate spelling and grammatical errors. Though it is not required for this essay, you should consider working with a partner to review each other’s work.

Ethnicity Essay

Each student is responsible for writing a 3-5 page essay examining his/her own ethnic background. You should discuss the following issues related to your ethnicity:

You may explore these issues in many ways; you can ask parents, grandparents, or relatives for their impressions or histories. You can use library research to find out not only about customs, but also about the official responses to your people coming to this country and the reaction of the new arrivals. The deadline date for this assignment appears on the course schedule.

Again, pay careful attention in the essay to style, grammar, and editing. You may, for example, consider taking drafts of your essay to the Writing Center.

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Created by JTK. Last revised August 27, 2008.