Provide a critical review of the article GOVERNMENT AND THE COLONIAL ECONOMIES by BY H.M . BOOT Australian National University. Your paper can and should be critical, but in a reasoned way. Students often think they have to have a PhD to say anything about an academic work. Wrong. You can always ask whether arguments are consistent, data are relevant, etc. Focus on the parts of the argument that you are most comfortable with. • Also if you find that the article does something well, you should say so as well. • On the other hand, there is no expectation that you find the paper good or bad in general. Everything has its strong and weak points. • Make sure you give reasons for what you say. People who say “I just don’t find that persuasive” are not doing anyone a favour. Tell us why you did not find it persuasive. • Because you are trying to explain a single article, it will be especially important to paraphrase and use analogies (it would not make sense to just quote big blocks of the text). This is not just a matter of avoiding plagiarism, although that is something you need to be careful to avoid. The fundamental task here is to enrich my understanding of the paper. It might help to think of the first 1000 words of the paper as a “just the facts” approach, and the rest as explaining your views about it. Some hints: • You may want to read some of the material cited by the journal article. Sometimes this is a good way to figure out the author’s own viewpoint. This is not necessary, however. • Be careful about explaining your points; students often allude to a point rather than explain it. (If I say “the author does not worry about the Martians problem” then I am alluding to a point. If I say “the author does not worry about the Martians problem. This was a mistake, because it is clear that under certain circumstances Martians can cause the Adelaide Crows to lose the Grand Final” then I am explaining the point.) • When you explain data, analytical methods, etc., don’t try to bluster your way through something you do not understand yourself. • It often makes sense to explain the entire paper, but focus your critical reactions on one aspect. For example, you might think that the data used are not really suited to the task, and focus on that problem alone. Focusing on a single problem in a short essay is entirely respectable. Just make sure you signal your strategy in the paper. A good way to do so is a transition sentence that says something like “Although there are several aspects of this article worthy of extended discussion, the rest of my essay focuses on the suitability of the empirical sources.” • Students tend to make vague critiques of papers. For example, a standard claim is that the paper under discussion needs more data. This is absolutely true – virtually all papers could profit from additional data, especially in economic history – but unless you say more, the comment is useless. Say what kind of data would be useful, or what specific aspects of the argument would be more convincing with more data. • Many economic history papers either pose an explicit counter-factual, or should. When writing your essay be careful to say what is factual and what is counter-factual. • Don’t forget your economics. These are papers in Economic History, the consistent use of an economic framework is absolutely relevant. If the paper is about the demand for X, for example, just remember that the demand for X is a function of its price, incomes, and the prices of all substitutes. This can be a big help in structuring a discussion. Forgetting the economics can be a large problem in such papers.
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