The Vietnam War is living history. Throughout this class, we have engaged a variety of different types of sources, including oral histories, documentaries, music, podcasts, and videos, in addition to scholarly books and novels. In the same way that I have not assigned a traditional textbook, your final project will not be a traditional research essay. Although the research process is similarly rigorous, the creation and presentation of your historical knowledge will be more creative.
An “un-essay” is “any form or media that helps you make a compelling and effective argument that uses textual evidence,” according to Daniel O’Donnell. Students who choose to submit an “un-essay” as their final assignment will choose their own topic and decide the best way to present it. Students will be evaluated on how compelling and effective the overall project presentation is. Be creative! Come up with alternative ways to explain a specific topic or theme related to the history of the Vietnam War. Consider your strengths, talents, skills, intellectual or career interests, and think about how to apply them.
Un-essays will include a short abstract or summary of the project that explains the content, the goals, and its significance. It will also include a bibliography of sources that informed the un-essay. Topics and formats will be proposed in journal form by Mar. 18. You will present your un-essays in class during the final exam on May 6.
You are limited only by your creative energy. Consider what types of media you most enjoy learning and viewing. You might create a podcast episode with a dynamic conversation on the lessons of the Vietnam War. Maybe you’re an artist, musician, or poet. You could create a series of Tik-Toks, or perform through spoken-word or dance. If you plan to go into the national security, perhaps you might create a policy briefing on lessons from the Vietnam War. Perhaps you’re interested in the culture of soldiers; you could come up with a creative expression of soldiers’ points of views (imaginative letters to home, decorated helmets, or “things they carried”). Perhaps you want to imagine the war from the perspective of American or Vietnamese civilians, protesters, families, nurses, policy-makers; consider the best media to express these ideas: signs, clothing, official documents, graphic novels or comics, speeches, songs, 3-D printed items or models—there is a world of possibility. Check out some of these amazing examples from Dr. Aparna Nair, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich, and Dr. Hilary Green.
Criteria for evaluation: compelling and effective
Un-essays are compelling when they achieve the following, in as much as the topic and approach allows:
- Complete (doesn’t leave the audience thinking that important points are skipped or ignored)
- Truthful (supported by historical evidence)
- Argumentative: it makes a point based on the research or course materials
Un-essays are effective when they achieve the following, in as much as the topic and approach allows:
- Understandable, accessible: the production value is appropriate
- Well-crafted, thoughtfully organized, and stylistic (not rushed or un-edited)
- Appropriate: the genre, media, or form are appropriate to the content
- High quality/attractive: presented in way that audience believes arguments, examples, and conclusions
Show the Evidence
3 Primary sources: consult a minimum of three primary sources (oral histories, memoir/autobiographies, newspapers, photos, films, historical/government documents pamphlets). I have shared a list of resources, archives, and databases to locate sources on the Canvas page, including the Vietnam Center at Texas Tech, the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, and the National Archives, but feel free to ask me for more ideas.
2 Secondary sources: consult a minimumof two scholarly sources (historical books or articles). Please consult the list of library resources and databases provided on the Canvas page.
Proposal: 10 points (journal), due March 18
Include details about your topic, how you intend to present the project (medium), and at least two sources that inform your project.
Abstract: 50 points, due May 6
500 words which explains the content and significance of your project and connects it to the sources.
Bibliography or Works Cited page: 25 points, due May 6
Must cite at least five primary and secondary sources
Presentation: 25 points, due May 6
Un-Essay Submission: 100 points, due May 6
Un-Essay Assignment Total: 200 points
 This Un-Essay assignment prompt was inspired by the work of Dr. Aparna Nair, Dr. Jacqueline Antonovich, Dr. Hilary Green, and Dr. Jennifer Vannette, who generously shared her prompt with me.
This assignment is from Dr. Jason A. Higgins’s History 3254: The Vietnam War. See the full syllabus and course schedule here.
Featured images: Original artwork by Leena Alsayab, a student in History 3254, for unessay assignment in the Spring of 2022, a portrayal of the My Lai Massacre, May 16, 1968.; Photograph 111-SC-647323; Vietnam….A Sky Trooper from the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) keeps track of the time he has left on his “short time” helmet, while participating in Operation Pershing, near Bong Son; 1968; Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918 – ca. 1981; Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, Record Group 111; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version, https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/time-left-helmet, June 6, 2022]