University of Vermont

The Honors College

HCOL 085 - Summer 2013 Assignment

Your assignment this summer for HCOL 085 is to read Stephen Johnson's The Ghost Map (a copy of which will be given to you at Orientation in June) and to write a paper in response to the following question:

In The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson represents John Snow as a "consilient" thinker: Snow, he writes, was "not interested in individual, isolated phenomena; he was interested in chains and networks, in the movement from scale to scale.  His mind tripped happily from molecules to cells to brains to machines, and it was precisely that consilient study that helped Snow uncover so much about this nascent field in such a shockingly short amount of time" (68).  For this essay, you will consider how The Ghost Map itself is a consilient book.

Although you will want to ground your paper in a clear definition of consilience--a definition you won't take from Webster's or the internet but should instead discern from Snow's story (and please do not simply repeat the quotation above)--your primary purpose will not be to re-present Snow's story but instead to use his example of consilient thinking to shine a light on Johnson's own text.  Note that just as Johnson worked to avoid the trap of writing in broad terms of praise (for John Snow) and blame (for Victorian London's public health and medical establishment), your challenge in this essay will be to avoid broad platitudes about The Ghost Map.  Aim instead to hone in on specific, varied, and compelling examples that suggest how The Ghost Map is itself the result of consilient thinking. 

As you examine multiple examples from the text and ponder the importance of consilience in Johnson's approach as a researcher and writer, you will likely need to write at least one rough draft of this essay, giving yourself plenty of room to explore so you can then select the very best examples and ideas for the finished essay that you will bring to the first class of HCOL 085.  Your finished paper should be no more than 750 words (or about three pages double spaced).  It should be titled, marked with page numbers, and your name and the date should appear in the top right-hand corner of the first page.

Last modified May 29 2013 04:22 PM