Category Archives: Assignments

Group Project #2: Creating an annotated “edition” (due Thursday, 10/25)

The overarching purpose of this project is to put the theories of Barthes, Bauer/Zirker, Iser, Drucker, et al. into practice by collaborating on “editions” of a text, in this case Melville’s Benito Cereno. Obviously, it takes many hands and several years to create a publishable edition of a literary text, so we will keep our expectations modest and emphasize the process of collaboration and the experimentation with the affordances, design choices, and relationship with “implied readers” that digital publication allows.

In class, we decided by consensus to work within the following parameters (apologies to those who were absent, but the deadline is looming!):

  • two roughly equal groups will each create an edition: to enroll in a group, sign up here
    • the groups need not be perfectly equal, so follow your interests. But if things start getting very imbalanced, be a mensch and take your second choice, please!
  • each group selected a relatively narrow “frame” for the edition. Whereas the Norton edition we have in print, for example, aims to tell a “general reader” everything they need to know to feel oriented to the text, both editions will focus on a narrower (but more novel) issue:
    • group one (Anthony, Jenna, and Lisa so far) will create an edition focusing on the geography of the novella, providing links to historical maps and perhaps providing some context from historians of the period as to the global flows of goods, bodies, and capital that sailor/merchant/sealer/slavers like Delano and Cereno engage and enslaved Africans like Babo and Atufal attempted to wrest away for their own liberation.
    • group two (Sabina, Patrick, Travis, and Kelly so far) will create an edition that links the text to its own “reception history,” embedding quotes and links that give readers a sense of how Benito has been read, from its publication in the tumultuous 1850s to the present day.
  • both groups began discussing next steps:
    • choosing a platform (some suggestions are here), creating a division of labor and workflow, and scheduling things out to ensure finishing within two weeks.
    • I want to emphasize that I want you to experiment and enjoy the collaboration: I am realistic about what you can do in two weeks and am perfectly happy with a partial edition that is a “proof of concept.” For example, group two might limit itself to the mid-19th century reception of the text, or it might add “reception history” only to the first 1/3 of the text. Group two might also “map” only a part of the text, or discuss representations of the slave trade in the visual culture of the period. Be realistic and follow your interests where they go.
  • instead of formal presentations like last time, we will have an informal discussion of the process/product on 10/25. I do ask that, as for the first group project, each team member compose a brief post for the blog (500 words max) reflecting on a) the process/product as a whole and b) your specific role within it, with an emphasis on what the experience taught you that theorizing about annotation, marginalia, readers, and editions, or consuming such editions, didn’t.
  • evaluation will be very similar to last time, with a group comment/grade and an individual comment/grade. The criteria are only slightly changed:
    • adventurousness: does the text take risks, or just play it safe? Does the edition resemble other standard “critical editions” in print, or does it do something new, using digital affordances to engage readers in novel ways or devise a new angle on the text that will be fresh to readers?
    • quality: is the product accessible and user-friendly? Does it articulate a clear relationship between the “primary text” and your “secondary” comments on it? Was some attention paid to aesthetics and design?
    • reflectiveness: does the presentation (and the discussion in the seminar and on the blog) reflect careful thinking about the project? Did the secondary readings by Barthes, Bauer/Zirker, Iser, Drucker, et al. inform the project in any way?

“yahoo” annotation assignment

For next week, you will note on the syllabus that there’s a “yahoo” annotation assignment. Since we’re thinking about the history and future of annotations in the study of literature in this unit, I thought we could do a quick experiment prior to producing together an actual annotated edition of Benito Cereno. I want to see what happens when we’re confronted with, on the one hand, a relatively blank text–the Project Gutenberg plain vanilla HTML formatted text of Benito Cereno with no notes, introductions, or scholarly apparatus whatsoever–and, on the other, our own relative ignorance about the text.

The challenge, then, is to make annotations that mark areas of questioning or uncertainty, that provide interpretation or analysis of key moments, or gloss difficult words or concepts for peers, using little bits of research (e.g, the Oxford English Dictionary or other useful reference texts). We’ll use good ol’ for this, and please use both the allred720 tag and a “benito” tag as well, so we can pull out just these annotations as a separate stream if we like.

In terms of expectations, let’s say that you must make a minimum of five annotations for next week, but that your annotations can be on absolutely anything from any part of the text. And be sure to annotate the text I’ve posted on this site so your annotations will be with everyone else’s.

And in closing, you may find these two passages from Melville useful or therapeutic as you face this assignment.

First, from Benito itself:

Relieved by these and other better thoughts, the visitor, lightly humming a tune, now began indifferently pacing the poop, so as not to betray to Don Benito that he had at all mistrusted incivility, much less duplicity; for such mistrust would yet be proved illusory, and by the event; though, for the present, the circumstance which had provoked that distrust remained unexplained. But when that little mystery should have been cleared up, Captain Delano thought he might extremely regret it, did he allow Don Benito to become aware that he had indulged in ungenerous surmises. In short, to the Spaniard’s black-letter text, it was best, for awhile, to leave open margin.

Second, a riff on the unbearableness of whiteness from Moby Dick:

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues—every stately or lovely emblazoning—the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colourless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge—pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?


ASSIGNMENT: audiobook version of Bartleby (due 9/27 in class)

Whether or not you prefer to, you will collaborate with peers in the production of an audiobook version of Melville’s enigmatic novella, Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street (1853). Each student will be assigned to a team, and each team will decide on how to divide up the work. I suggest that, at a minimum, each team have:

  • reader/s: readers will read/record the text (duh). Each team will decide whether to have one voice read the entire text (it should take about 1:20 of continuous reading, excluding breaks) or whether to assign parts in a “radio play” format. More experimentally, a team could deliberately shift the voice of the narrator, having numerous actors voice one character.
  • editor/s: editors will compile the audio files into a format that is listenable. This could involve a single long track or several chapters (though the original does not have chapters, you could create them); it could involve mixing in a soundtrack or sound effects as well. You could use Garage Band for Mac or the free/open Audacity; if you have the skills/software, you could use more sophisticated software. The key is not to have a product with high production values, however: I’m more interested in the process and how well you reflect on it.
  • presenter/s: each group will present its a-book to the class on the due date of 9/27. Presentations will be brief (max 15 mins) but focused. Presenters will play a sample of the a-book and walk us through the process and the product: how the team divided the work, what strategic/aesthetic decisions were made, what worked well and what didn’t, how the final product speaks to (sorry) the secondary readings we’ve been doing.

The last requirement is that you compose a brief post for the blog (500 words max) reflecting on a) the process/product as a whole and b) your specific role within it, with an emphasis on what the experience taught you that merely reading about audiobooks (or, of course, merely reading Bartleby!) would have missed. The post is due on 9/27 as well.

You will be evaluated on the following criteria, which I will not boil down to a simple rubric, since they all interact with one another in subtle ways:

  • adventurousness: does the text take risks, or just play it safe? Is the audiobook a straight reading of the text, or does it do something strange/experimental in some way? Does the audiobook transform Bartleby radically or merely transpose it to a new medium?
  • quality: is the product accessible? Does it sound good? Did the voice actors review the text and look up the pronunciations of unfamiliar words? Did the editors smooth out problems with the files, maintain steady audio levels, reduce noise where feasible, etc.?
  • reflectiveness: does the presentation reflect the group’s careful thinking about the project? Did the secondary readings by Rubery, Allred, Benjamin, etc. feed into the conception of the project?

All group members will receive a collective grade for the group’s work. This can be unfair, I realize, and a given member can be uncooperative or unresponsive, but that’s also true in postgraduate life, so it’s good practice. Each of you will receive individual grades for your reflective post, as well. And all of the group projects will be folded into one grade (20% of total grade), so each project is “low stakes.” If your group is having problems (or has one problem member) you are encouraged to contact me privately for help.

As you plan your attack on this project, feel free to be a bit zany. It may be that “quality” and “adventurousness” are somewhat at odds (since it’s easier to have good quality if you know what you’re aiming for and easier to experiment if you’re not worried too much about quality), so consciously decide what you’re going for, go for it well, and have fun. I’d be tempted to play with the following (not a list for you to copy, necessarily, but a springboard for dreaming about it):

  • representing Bartleby’s famous silences and repetitions: what if you used a whispered second track mixed in to represent B’s inner thoughts? Or played with very different vocalizations of the “same” statement that haunts the book (“I prefer not to”)?
  • What about a crude video version, using photos or drawings or puppets along with the audio to capture the tensions at work in the text?
  • Since the Occupy movement very consciously drew from Bartleby for inspiration, what about a transposition of the tale to a more recent setting to capture this connection in some way? Or even a montage (drawing from the above idea) of imagery of Occupy to accompany the original text?

The overarching theme here is to embody the ethic of “serious play”: there is truly no wrong way to do this, and we will all learn from your efforts, very much including the mistakes or the parts you wish you’d done differently. And I don’t know whether this is an incentive or not, but I will post the finished products to the blog so future students (or anyone who is interested) can enjoy your work.

ASSIGNMENT: “found” audiobook + presentation

For our next meeting on 9/13, I want you to write a blog post and report on it with a very brief (max 5 min) presentation on any audiobook version of a fiction text that you can get your hands on. Sources might include:

  • free/open texts read by amateurs on (which Rubery mentions in his article)
  • texts you download/check out from your local library or the GC’s library
  • texts you buy from iTunes or Google Play or
  • texts you own or discover at flea markets/secondhand stores

I’d like you to think about and comment on some of the following:

  • production values: how much went into the recording, in terms of vocal training, editing, recording technology, etc.?
  • style: is there a single voice or multiple voices? Does the narrator (or do the narrators) do “voice characterization,” modulating the voice for different characters, or not?
  • fidelity: is the recording abridged or unabridged? Does it stick rigorously to the text or deviate from it?
  • affect: what does it feel like to “read” this text? How does it differ from reading a printed work of fiction?

Blog post #6 prompt: due Tuesday, May 17th before class

For your sixth and final post (yay), you will reflect on the data visualization exercise we’ve been working on. In a post of the usual length (500-800 words), please reflect on the following:

–Process: What did I personally do to contribute? What were some of the challenges of the process? How did I figure out what to search for, how to categorize items, etc.? How does this kind of work compare to the customary work in an English course?

–Product: What do you think about what we made? What light does it shed on literary history? What surprises emerge from visualizing Melville’s revival in this way? What problems exist with the data set in terms of accurately reflecting the re-emergence of Melville?

–Possibilities: Knowing what we now know, what would you change? What kinds of metadata did we omit from our search that would have been useful? What other modes of visualization might we have used? Given bigger budgets of time, what else might we look for in revising this history?

Presentation on final project (for last class on Tues. 5/17)

For our last class, we will have a festive (I hope) session in which we’ll talk about our final projects. I don’t expect anything time-consuming or formal, just a three-minute sketch of your project, knowing full well that a few of you might have procrastinated and have work to do prior to the Friday 5/20 due date. If you’d like to add visuals (purely optional) feel free to add a slide to this presentation, and I’ll handle the AV while you talk. Here’s what a good presentation will cover:

  • WHAT I found: the research question I posed to myself and the answer/s I discovered to that question. For an essay, this will be a quick thumbnail of the argument; for a more expository or creative project, this may be more descriptive: what I did with the source text to transform it or make it mean something new.
  • WHERE I found it: the sources or examples that were useful to me in my research/work. Again, for an essay this is straightforward, though it might be interesting to describe any pitfalls or barriers you ran into. For a creative project, you might note other artworks/projects that inspired you or provided a model (positive or negative).
  • WHY it matters: why should peers care about your project? What do you hope readers take from it? How has the project changed the way your think about your topic or, better, some aspect of your life?

The final project will be due by midnight on Friday, 5/20. This is a non-negotiable deadline, since I’ve given you extra time and since I don’t want to let you carry things into exam week. Late projects will be docked one letter grade per day they’re late.

Blog Post #5: Reflection on Mantrap

[I know I’m late posting this, so your response will not be due until Monday at 5pm!]

To focus your reflection on our gameplay of Billy Budd, I would like you to write a post of the usual length that reckons with the following three questions (you can either write three responses or weave the three questions into a single mini-essay):

  1. How did your reading of the text change by virtue of looking at it through a single “window”** (i.e., the POV of your character or persona)? What did you learn about the novel by playing this role rather than simply reading the text?
  2. What are the pleasures and frustrations of “playing” a novel, rather than reading it? What obstacles did you encounter, and how did you deal with them?
  3. If you were to play again, what would you do differently? Would you pick another role? What moves would you change? What different moves might you make?

**Henry James famous likened the novel genre to a “house of fiction” that “has in short not one window, but a million — a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will.”

Billy Budd, Gamified

Our next unit will focus on Billy Budd reimagined via the Ivanhoe concept we’ll be discussing tomorrow. I’ve invited you to a site I’ve created to host our game and created an initial game to serve as a sandbox. Check out the documentation, which is aimed at instructors more than students, but has useful descriptions of how to set up roles, make moves, add to others’ moves, comment on moves, etc.

I’ll keep adding stuff to the site, and we’ll start a fresh game next week, once we start hacking out who is going to play what role. I’ll also share some guidelines re: evaluation, expectations, tutorials, etc. And we’ll meet in the library on Tuesday next week (as well as for two additional sessions in subsequent weeks), so you’ll have access to a computer, tech support (well, me), and support for research (one or two librarians will join us and help you locate good sources for your roles).

Post #4 assignment: reflection on annotation project

  1. For this post, I’d like you to reflect on the process and product of the annotated edition that you created together. As usual, I expect 400-800 words, but I would like you to address the following (either in essay form or, if you like, in a list):
  2. How successful was the project? How might it help a novice reader of the text? How might it be improved, either in terms of its aims or its execution of those aims? What insight do you have into what “real” editors do when they prepare an annotated edition (e.g., our Norton edition of Melville)?
  3. What did you learn from creating your own annotations? How did your exploration of intertexts like Delano’s narrative, etc. inform your reading of Benito Cereno?
  4. What did you learn from reading everyone else’s annotations? How is reading our edition different from reading the text in the Norton?
  5. Knowing what you know now, how would you approach the project differently? You might think about different research parameters (especially in light of all the different ideas we voted on last week), a different platform (e.g., a more formal, book-like mode of presentation rather than the “layer” of annotations that adds), or a different research process.

group project #2: annotated edition for Benito Cereno

We voted today and decided to do an annotated version of Benito Cereno together on the theme of relevant intertexts, especially the narrative of the real Amasa Delano. Here are the ground rules:

  1. We will use to annotate our text.
  2. We will use the dead simple “edition” that I’ve posted on our site using the plain text version from Project Gutenberg.
  3. Each student is responsible for minimum three annotations taken from some text that’s relevant to Melville’s text. Easiest, of course, is comparing aspects of Delano’s text, which you can find in searchable form here or in your Norton, where it’s reprinted. You could also search for other relevant historical texts on (for example) slave revolts or the activities of sealers or ideas about Senegal and enslaved Africans returning there or whatever you can think of. I’ll post relevant intertexts as I think of them and locate them. Hathi Trust is an amazing trove of old texts that are searchable, so you might poke around there.
  4. Evaluation: I’m most concerned that each of you clear the bar of (only) three annotations, which will get you a good solid B. More notes will be rewarded, as will especially lucid notes, and notes from surprising sources. Evaluation will not be as stringent as with the first project, since this is a quicker/dirtier project by its nature.

Sound good? Have fun and see you Tuesday. The annotations are due a week from today, Friday March 18th.