CCR 733: Rhetoric, Composition, & Digital Humanities

Course Expectations


I have structured this course a little differently from the typical graduate seminar, with an eye towards its methodological orientation and accounting for the fact that there may be a broad range of technical experience and expertise. While many graduate courses ask you to simply read for the semester and write a 20-25 page paper at the end, that is not going to be our approach. There will be significant reading, but we will also be looking at DH projects and familiarizing ourselves with a variety of tools and platforms. You should not be focusing solely on learning "content," therefore, but also thinking about application and production. The assignments listed here are meant to help you think in these terms.

As someone who maintained a weblog for years, and who's fairly active on social media more generally, I believe strongly that the "read and read and read and binge-write model" of graduate coursework is a custom worth resisting--it is not how healthy writers write:

All the research on writing productivity tells us this: To be productive, writers need frequent, low-stress contact with a project that interests them, in a supportive environment. When I say this to colleagues, their response is usually stunned silence, then rueful laughter. Their experience, and mine too, has been just the opposite--infrequent, high-stress contact with projects that feel like albatrosses. (Joli Jensen, The Road to Scholarly-Writing Utopia)

And it is not how we are asked to write MA theses, PhD dissertations, articles, or books. If there's a principle, then, behind my course design, it's that I would rather have you spread your production over the course of the semester than save it up for the end. But this will take self-discipline on your part--you should be able to begin each of the following requirements after the first couple of weeks. There are still semester's-end deadlines, it is true, but it is up to you whether or not to treat them as albatrosses.

Here are the course requirements:

Participation - 20% of course grade


Needless to say, I expect each of you to have read the required texts for each week, to make a good faith effort to (at least) skim any recommended texts, and to explore the online projects/archives that will be part of our weekly readings. You should come to class prepared not only to demonstrate your knowledge of these various texts, but to speak intelligently and constructively about them. You will need to think not only about the individual readings, but about the connections among them, their implications and applications, etc.

Additionally, I'm going to ask each of you to maintain some sort of weblog--my own preferred platform is Wordpress, but there are many others. Each week, I'd like you to identify an issue or idea you find particularly compelling, and to write informally about it. You should feel free to write more often in this space, to use it for multiple courses, or to blog about other things entirely, but you should post an entry once a week about that week's readings, no later than the Saturday prior to our course meeting. I expect the equivalent of 1-2 pages, either in a single entry or distributed across multiple posts.

As you come across quotes in the readings that you find compelling, provocative, or otherwise noteworthy, or as you find resources/sites online, I'm going to ask you to contribute them to our course Tumblr page. There is no limit to the number of posts you can add there on a weekly basis, but you should post there at least 2-3 times a week. You can also set this up so that posting to Tumblr triggers activity on your blog (or other social media accounts) through IFTTT.com--we'll discuss how to do this during the first night of class.

Finally, I'm going to ask each of you to create a Twitter account if you don't already have one, and to follow the DH conversations that happen there. As you'll soon learn, there is a lot of DH activity, shared resources, blog posts, and community discussion that happens primarily on that platform. We will start with a basic list of follows, and it is up to you from there to expand your feed to include the scholars and practitioners whose work interests you. As issues arise in that community, we may spend time in class discussing them, so it is up to you to be aware of what's happening and to share what you find with the rest of the class. (use #rcdh14)

"Roleplay" - 20% of course grade


I'm going to try something a little unusual for a graduate course, and ask you to assume various roles over the course of the semester with respect to our class. Each of you will occupy each role at least once--we will have a signup sheet that I will post here once we've filled it. The idea here is that, as we rotate through these different roles, we can aggregate our efforts as a group and accomplish more as a result.

Chronicle - One person per week will be responsible for generating detailed, polished reading notes for that week's readings, in a format that we will agree upon as a group. That person should post those notes as links appended to the syllabus on this site, no later than the night before our class meeting.

Catalyst - Each week, one person will write a blog post synthesizing the other posts from that week, highlighting issues of interest and concern, posing discussion questions, etc., in time for us to read it prior to our meeting. That week, the Catalyst is not responsible for a separate blog post on the readings.

Ampersand - One person per week will focus their efforts on tracking down additional links for the syllabus and posting them to the wiki: authors' homepages, twitter accounts, other relevant articles or projects, etc.

Builder - One person per week will be responsible for adding pages and content to the wiki (and/or editing existing content) -- this could take the form of vocabulary, resources, key figures or ideas, for instance. This activity can't be strictly measured in page count, but you should plan to spend 1-2 hours during that week on this work.

Inventor - Each week, one of you will come to class with at least 2 ideas for projects (1 small-scale or article sized, 1 large-scale or dissertation-sized) based upon the readings that we've done that week.

Antithesis - During class each week, one person will be responsible for playing "devil's advocate." This is not license for rude behavior, obviously; your goal is to think against the grain of our conversation and our readings, and to ask questions or offer observations that help us to challenge our assumptions.

I have a couple of other ideas in mind, and we can talk about these in more detail when we meet. In an idealized course, one without any sort of time, energy or attention conflicts, I would ask each of you to do all of these things every week. But that's obviously not realistic. My hope is that, if we rotate them, we can accomplish more as a group than any one of us could individually. We'll see how this goes--think of it as an experiment in course dynamics...

DH Portfolio - 30% of course grade


This project will be due towards the end of the semester, and it is something that is intended to be accomplished gradually, as we look at various DH projects and each of you cycles through the role of Inventor.

Each of you should choose a general topic of interest. You may have to experiment a bit with the scope of the topic you choose, but I'm willing to be pretty flexible. Over the course of the semester, I want you to design 5-7 projects that draw on various DH methods and perspectives that tackle that particular topic. Your portfolio will be a collection of 1-2 page project proposals--the general topic should be consistent across all of them, but the materials, methods, and tools should be varied. I would also like a brief essay that synthesizes the projects in an overview--2-3 pages should be sufficient.

Each proposal should include a paragraph explaining the Context of the your project, including your research question, hypothesis, and/or statement of purpose. It should account for the various Materials that you would need to execute the project, including Tools or Platforms. There should be some discussion of Method as well. Finally, you should include 3-5 References, and these may be theoretical or analogous (i.e., similar projects), anything that would be relevant to your work.

Over the course of the semester, we will be reading about, examining, and discussing DH projects of all shapes and sizes, so this should not be that difficult an assignment to complete, nor should you wait until the end of the semester to accomplish it. If you keep it in mind as we go, and check in with it every couple of weeks, it should be quite manageable.

DH Project - 30% of course grade


You will be undertaking one focused project this semester, due at the end of the course. You may want to follow up on one of the ideas from your portfolio, spend more time with a particular tool, delve further into a certain idea or issue, or you may come up with something that I haven't thought of yet. This will be a very open assignment, and it may be that you don't yet possess the technical skill necessary to achieve it. I will encourage you, though, to experiment, to push yourself both conceptually and technically, even if the final result is "unfinished."