the Roman Colosseum

Choose any building made before 1500 CE which either remains standing or whose construction and design are well understood––preferably in one of the civilizations we have considered in this course. Write a paper about your building, focusing on a set of important question (please do not try to answer each of the questions I pose below… take them, rather, as a guide for how to think about your paper topic):

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Describe how your building was constructed—in terms of materials, engineering considerations, features of design, etc.  What was its primary purpose?  Did it serve other purposes as well? For how long a period was it used?  What happened to it in later eras?  At least half of your paper should focus on the following questions:  How, precisely, does the building you’ve chosen reflect different aspects of the civilization that produced it? What does the building tell us about this earlier world—about the people; the technology; the economy; the ritual activities? What parts of the civilization does it seem to speak to most clearly?


You can choose a building with religious significance; with political significance; with social significance.  Your building might be huge and complex, or it might be simple, but it must consist of built space that either provided living space, or space for the dead, or space for other human activities.


You must write your paper using one of the following voices:


  1. The building’s architect, explaining the design to the people who have commissioned the building.
  2. A modern tour guide, leading a group around the building.
  3. A preservationist, defending the building against plans to destroy it.
  4. An alien reporting back your mother-ship.


More Ground Rules


  1. You need to do some research about your building, and there is plenty of information on the web.  Your sources need to be legitimate secondary-level sources.  You can use “Wikipedia” or “Brittanica Online” to get initial information, but these sources are tertiary—at a third level of remove from the original facts.  You should have at least four separate secondary level sources in your paper, ideally a combination of good books and journal articles and .edu/.org based websites.  Those of you who have access to written texts are encouraged to explore libraries and their collections.  Those of you who have limited access to written texts will need to make sure that your web-based resources are strong.  You should include Google Books and JStor in your search for material.
  2. Don’t waste our time with an extended introduction that describes general components and historical periods of the civilization involved in your paper.
  3. Spend a paragraph or two describing your building with some good and careful precision—itemize the key details on which you will focus your subsequent discussion.
  4. Support your general statements about your building and its civilization with precise observations and details.


Just for the record, understand that we are very good at sniffing out material that is lifted/copied from elsewhere, and that nothing is more offensive and culpable in the academic world than plagiarism. You are welcome to read and think about and use other people’s interpretations of your material, but give them credit where you use them. Your own views and writing should dominate your paper.  Language lifted from other sites/sources/students is unacceptable.  The penalty for plagiarism is a course grade of F.

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