Paper Assignment 2008
GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS: Students will write one 6- to 10-page paper in this course on ONE of the topics below, with pages defined as double-spaced, one-inch margins, in 12 pt. Times New Roman or similar type.  The idea here is not to pack in as much information as you can, but instead to present a thoughtful and clearly-written analysis that is supported by specific evidence from the course materials. The best essays will have a clear argument, and support the author's point of view with specific factual or textual evidence drawn from a wide variety of materials. For your information, rely on the course readings (textbooks and web readings) and your lecture notes, plus whatever additional readings may be specified in the question. You may also use --and the best papers undoubtedly will use -- some additional documents from the Internet resources listed on the links page of the course web site.  Please DO NOT bring in any outside secondary works without permission from Prof. Pasley. 
Papers will be due at the beginning of class on Thursday, May 1, 2008. Late papers will graded down 10% (one full letter grade) for every weekday they are late.
  1. Write a paper critiquing the general approach that historians and other scholars have taken in interpreting conspiracy theories and political paranoia in American life. Do this by comparing, contrasting and critiquing at least TWO of the following books, focusing on the substance rather than the writing style or format, and emphasizing your criticisms of the books' arguments and evidence. Since most of these books are (or contain) general statements on the role of conspiracy theory in American life, you should pay particular attention to evaluating the author's ideas on that subject. They are available in Ellis Library and/or through MERLIN and MOBIUS systems and they can all be purchased through as well:
    bulletJodi Dean, Aliens in America : Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace 
    bulletMark Fenster, Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999)
    bulletDavid Frankfurter, Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)
    bulletRichard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979) -- the whole book
    bulletPeter Knight, Conspiracy Culture: From Kennedy to "The X-Files"
    bulletSeymour Martin Lipset and Earl Raab, The Politics of Unreason: Right-Wing Extremism in America, 1790-1970 (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)
    bulletTimothy Melley, Empire of Conspiracy: The Culture of Paranoia in Postwar America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000)
    bulletDaniel Pipes, Conspiracy: How the Paranoid Style Flourishes and Where It Comes from
    bulletRay Pratt, Projecting Paranoia : Conspiratorial Visions in American Film
    bulletCorey Robin, Fear: The History of a Political Idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004)
    bulletRobert Robins and Jerrold Post, Political Paranoia: The Psychopolitics of Hatred
    bulletJeffrey Burton Russell, Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World
    bulletElaine Showalter, Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997)
  2. Evaluate and analyze a particular conspiracy theory other than the ones surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination. (The Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations are fair game, however.) You may use anything from the course lectures and readings as source material, but for most topics you will need to employ additional sources from the C.T. links page or the library. (For example, there are several pro- and anti-c.t. books on the RFK and MLK assassinations, including Gerald Posner's Killing the Dream debunking King assassination c.t.'s.). Be sure to use not just materials outlining conspiracy beliefs but also either primary documents through which the conspiracy beliefs can be evaluated, or skeptical sources, such as CSICOP or the "debunking" section of Crank dot net, which has skeptical sites under many subjects clearly labeled . You are REQUIRED to get Prof. Pasley's approval of the particular theory and sources you plan to use in writing on this topic. Send me an email or come by office hours on Friday afternoons to obtain this approval. I am also usually available to talk after class, but please set that up in advance to avoid a long line of people.

    Remember that this is not to be used as your opportunity to make up the wildest theories that you can. This paper should be highly factual and analytical. Three questions should organize your paper if you choose this topic:
    bulletWho (especially what group of people) seems attracted to a particular theory 
    (or to a particular type of theory) and what political and/or or religious beliefs  seem to be associated with it? 
    bulletIs this theory plausible and logical in terms of the motivations, methods,
    and goals of the conspiracy that it posits?
    bulletWhat real-world concerns or fears, if any, seem to be embodied or projected in this this set of beliefs?
    bulletWhat ideological work (or function) does this belief play for those who hold it?
    bulletAnd, lastly, what, if any, actual evidence supports this theory? (This should not be your sole focus.)