prizes (and cash money)

The English department offers a wide range of prizes each year for the best work in X or Y categories. The list of prizes is here and the deadline is fast approaching: 2/29.

I can’t encourage you enough to submit work. Of course many of the prizes are competitive, but there are always categories that are undersubscribed, and you all have good or great work in your drawers that should get recognition. So do it!

I’ll also mention that ACERT is starting a new prize for the best example of student “digital writing.” All of our projects would qualify, so when the call for applications goes out next week, I fully expect you all to apply!! Stay tuned…

Final project ideas page/doc

I’ve started to jot down some of the 4am ideas I’ve had about cool final projects for y’all (and some that you’ve spontaneously generated, whether you realized it or not, during class). I’m keeping them on a Google Doc that’s embedded on a page on the top menu of this blog.

So take a look and feel free to add to it as well. It’s very early still, but it never hurts to think about what you might do, especially while a given topic is fresh.

O Humanities!

This opinion piece from the NY Times relates obliquely to our discussion of Benjamin’s “The Storyteller” this and last week. The author, an English professor from Brown, passionately defends the value of literature over and against the “STEM” fields (science, technology, engineering, and math), arguing that the latter are primarily “informational,” whereas the humanities concern themselves with questions of value.

Interestingly, Weinstein opposes novels to STEM modes of inquiry in ways that are closely analogous to the way Benjamin opposes traditional storytelling to the news. In that way, it’s the novel that’s the cultural form that’s under threat and, thus, reveals an unexpected beauty/value, just as oral storytelling did for Benjamin in 1936.

interactive, annotated Bartleby on Slate

Pretty cool version of Bartleby edited by a Slate writer, Andrew Kahn, last year. It’s richly illustrated and contains a wide range of notes that provide historical context and a sense of some of the diversity of critical opinions on the text over the years since its publication. And there’s even an audiobook version on the site for good measure.

As such, it also points towards our second collaborative project together, in which we’ll be doing something similar (though with much lower production values!) with Benito Cereno, so as you check it out, think about what Kahn did to make this work. Or not.

quick follow-up on + evaluation

I just wanted to sum up our quick discussion about using for annotating our readings in the course and to say a quick word about evaluation. First, nuts and bolts:

If you are using your own machine:

  • download the Chrome browser (if you don’t already have it) and the Chrome extension for
  • navigate to a text you want to annotate
  • click the icon in the extensions area of the browser window


  • the tools will pop up on the right-hand side of the window and you’re up and going

If you are not using your machine or are a die-hard Firefox/etc. person:

  • first try dragging the bookmarklet to the bookmark bar
  • if the browser you’re using will permit you to do this, navigate to a page you want to annotate and then click the applet icon in the bookmark bar, and you’re good: if it worked, you’ll see the tools on the right-hand side


  • if the browser won’t let you, navigate to and enter the URL of the page you want to annotate into the appropriate cell


  • on some occasions (say, if you’re accessing something via the library proxy), this won’t work, and you’ll get stuck in a redirect loop and time out

Bottom line: if you save the annotating work for the course for times you’re with your own computer, you’ll never have problems. If you can’t, you still should be just fine most of the time.

In terms of evaluation, I view your annotating much the way I view your participation: I think it’s important and value it highly (15% of your grade in each case); I care about both quantity and quality of both; I don’t want to force you to do either according to a reductive template to earn a grade for both. So be active in annotating texts, just as you are in participating in class. At the end, you will have a substantial body of work for me to evaluate (and I can see your whole output very easily in, unlike your class participation!). I don’t expect you to be profound all the time; I just want to see your reading/thinking process spontaneously at work. Added bonus: those of you who are naturally shy or retiring in class can use the distinctive privacy of cyber-annotations to step out a bit more!

Why Blog? What makes for a good post?

A central feature of this course will be the writing we do on this site. In what follows, I will outline three things:

  • a rationale for why I ask you to blog in the first place, rather than write traditional essays
  • a quick primer on how to create your first post
  • a simple rubric to guide your writing + an example of a good-looking post

First things first: why blog?

  1. Blogging is sharable: rather than have a private circuit between you and me, we have a much more dynamic conversation across the entire class.

  2. Blogging is public, sort of: I like the idea that we are responsible for our ideas in front of broader audiences. In practical terms, I doubt anyone is listening in most of the time, but I think it’s important that we roll up our sleeves and defend our arguments in an open and public forum as often as possible. And of course, you can show your family/friends/pets what we’ve been up to in class. For those who have reservations about privacy, note that a) you can only be identified via firstname+last initial, so you have relative privacy beyond our class; and b) you are free to delete your posts at the end of class. If anyone has serious reservations despite all this, feel free to contact me.

  3. Blogging is sturdy: rather than forget the piece of paper once it’s been handed back, we can link back to prior statements or observations, or to each others’. If you like, you can leave your posts up for future 399ers to see.

  4. Blogging is responsive: rather than only getting comments from me, you’ll comment on and get comments on each other’s work.

So how do you post? Once you get enrolled as an “author” on the site, it’s really easy. Here’s a step-by-step with screen shots from Evan Cordulack at William and Mary. I’ll also note that WordPress gives you several other ways to initiate a post, so feel free to explore the dashboard and find your own best way.


What makes for an excellent post? For this class, posts should:

  • contain at least 500 words (use word count in WordPress or your word processor)
  • explain a given text’s argument (for secondary readings) or analyze its form and themes (for primary readings by Melville), using quotations and paraphrases of the text with page numbers in parentheses
  • engage a text critically, noting its limitations, its links to other texts we’ve read, its unstated assumptions, etc.

Here’s a simple rubric, adapted from Mark Sample, that I will use to evaluate your work (see how the academic blogosphere encourages sharing and exchange? I told you so!):

Rating Characteristics
4 Exceptional. The post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. It moves beyond summary to engage the text critically, articulating weak points or dubious assumptions (for secondary texts) or giving a sharp, original close reading (for primary texts). It makes useful connections to other texts and raises novel questions.
3 Satisfactory. The post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. It provides a compelling summary of an argument (or dutiful reading of primary text) but fails to engage the argument/text more than glancingly. The entry reflects moderate engagement with the topic and/or rehashes what was said in class.
2 Underdeveloped. The post is restricted to summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and may contain misreadings of the argument at one or more points. The entry reflects passing engagement with the topic.
1 Limited. The journal entry is unfocused, or simply rehashes others’ comments; it fails to grasp fundamental aspects of the argument.
0 No Credit. The journal entry is missing or consists of one or two disconnected sentences.

Last but not least, here’s an example of a good-looking post. I’ve linked to it in a Word doc so you can see some marginal comments that explain why it’s good. And remember: it’s not an exercise in cookie-cutting: your results may vary, and there are lots of ways to write an excellent post.