Week 11 (by Arielle Catalano):
Hi everyone! I hope you all had as great a weekend as I did! This past week in class ran a little bit differently than usual. Instead of our class discussions with review of the work we were to prepare for that class day, Professor Seaman invited four professors from the college to speak to our class about English Studies. Since I can not really stick to the usual format for the Weekly Review post, I figured I would use this post as a chance to recap some of the more important points that each of the four Professors made during their visit.
Tuesday March 29th
Tuesday was a very interesting class, in my opinion. Two Professors who focused their presentations on the idea of Doing English Studies visited our class. First we heard from Professor Lindsey Green-Sims. Lindsey Green-Sims is a visiting professor whose work involves a focus on non-Western texts. She spent much of her time presenting ideas on the borders and limits of English Studies. She asked us to question what falls outside the range of English. With these ideas in mind, Lindsey asked us to take part in an exercise. She asked us to pair up and make a list of English speaking countries that were not in the Americas. She then asked us to list novels and authors from those countries. As a class we came up with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Aruba, Philippines, Jamaica, South Africa, Denmark, India, Ireland, Uganda, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, etc. Coming up with novels and authors proved to be harder than expected. After completing this exercise, Lindsey asked us to participate in one more. She asked us to make a list of literary works that had been translated into English and were originally written in another language. As a class we came up with Petrarchan sonnets (originally in Italian), Les Miserable (originally in French), Pablo Neruda love poems, Beowulf, etc. The list went on but you get the point. The focus of these exercises came after when Lindsey raised the question of where you would go if you wanted to pursue the study of any of these literary works since they are not in English. The options she made aware to us included area studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, gender (women’s) studies, various humanities programs, and literature departments not necessarily focused on English texts. To sum up her visit, what I felt she was expressing to our class is that even though the English department and English studies might have their limitations, there are still MANY areas that deal with literature but also involve the cultural studies of other areas.
After we heard from Lindsey Green-Sims, we had the pleasure of hearing from Alison Piepmeier. Professor Piepmeier is not only an English professor, but also the Director of Women’s and Gender Studies program here at the college. Alison started by giving us a little bit of background information about her personal education. She has a PhD in English she received after completing a mainstream graduate English program. However, she made it very clear her work is interdisciplinary. She works in many areas such as English literature, sociology, women’s studies, etc. Currently, Alison has been working with “zines” and publishing zines that have been written by girls and women in the last twenty years that are a series of texts/artifacts that have no been examined. In doing so, she actually works with the Sociology Editor of NYU Press, not the English editor. Again, her work is extremely interdisciplinary and is a part of many different fields. Professor Piepmeier stated that her graduate and undergraduate work in literary scholarship gave her great training for the skills she needed, which also translated into various interdisciplinary areas. Studying English gave her a set of tools she uses in her educational and professional work. Alison also informed us of another project she is currently embarking on involving disability in literature. She had us take part in an exercise similar to Lindsey’s and asked us to come up with a list of literary works we had read involving disability. As a class we produced titles such as Forrest Gump, Flight Club, Of Mice and Men, The Yellow Wallpaper, Jane Eyre, etc. Not only did this exercise make us realize how prevalent disability is within literary works, but is also made us take a more sociological approach and try and understand what is considered and what is not considered disability. There were many titles that were considered “non obvious definitions of disability”, including mental and physical. Alison closed her presentation with the notion that “everything can be a text”, something I feel both her and Lindsey’s exercise helped us prove.
Thursday March 31st
On Thursday’s class, two more professors visited us from the college. The topics of their presentations were focused on Writing in English. We were visited by Professor Anton Vander Zee, whose presentation focus was student writing in English, and Professor Scott Peeples, whose presentation focus was scholarly writing in English.
Professor Vander Zee is a visiting assistant professor and is quite knowledgeable when it comes to student writing. He made the point that we bear a special burden when it comes to writing good papers, good sentences, and good paragraphs. Professor Vander Zee started his presentation by reviewing Writing in General. He started by saying that good writing is the object of study and then gave us a list of the basics of general world writing. This list included elements such as clarity, not having to make someone read anything twice. Hard writing makes easy reading. Good writing is to communicate knowledge, not demonstrate it. Next came concision, more space! The strongest essays in his opinion are those that are a mastery of certain strategies. As strong students we should favor active voice, deploy vivid verbs, and reduce prepositional phrases. Next came correctness. The point of correctness is to not let minor mistakes of grammatical tics make you appear less intelligent than you are. After correctness comes control. As a writer you are expected to take organizational control of the essay at hand. This includes word choice, sentence structure, etc. Finally comes patterns and flair. The point of this is to write sentences that are smarter than you are–your professors won’t know the difference and neither will your readers. We are all guilty of “writing the endless sentence” as English majors. After giving us this brief look into strong student writing, Vander Zee moved on to deliver research fundamentals, or rather telling a story. A Research Paper is actually the equivalent of storytelling. Primary and Secondary sources are the major and minor characters, the argument is the story to tell, and quotations are the dialogue and conversation. Within a research paper there is enough room to tell a story based on research skills, the fundamentals of writing, intersecting ideas, and our own personal values, convictions, and identities. The best student writing harnesses these fundamentals and also adapts a strategic combination of various critical approaches, something English 299 has taught us all.
Following Professor Vander Zee’s presentation on student writing, Professor Scott Peeples made a presentation focusing on the difference between student writing and professional writing and where the two overlap. Professional writing and Undergraduate writing are two very different things. However, many of the same skills are used in both. For example, professional writing and undergraduate writing both utilize research, citations, use of sources, arguments, a thesis, evidence, reason, and revision. No matter if you are a professor writing for an academic journal, or an undergraduate writing a paper for English Studies you MUST have an original thesis, textual evidence, logic, and contextualization. The main thing that Professor Peeples expanded on, however, was time. The main difference between Professional and Undergraduate writing is time. With professional writing, like the case of the Melville and Douglass conference Professor Peeples wanted to attend, the amount of time you have to write and revise is so much longer than a student has to produce a paper for their English classes. Professor Peeples started with a proposal in the late spring and early summer of 2005. This was the beginning idea. The article that came out of this proposal was not published until three years later in June of 2008. Three years for an article is much longer than any undergraduate would obviously have to produce a paper for a teacher in one semester. The life cycle of papers is very different at the professional level. There are many more steps taken to produce a scholarly article. Professor Peeples closed his presentation by leaving us with the idea that time controls everything when it becomes your job to write articles.
Well, I hope this review helped! There was a lot of information conveyed in these presentations. I did my best to provide those I felt were most important and left an impression on our class! See you all Tuesday!
Preview of Next Week:
Last week our visitors’ presentations and discussions with us seem to have returned us to some of the discussions of the first few weeks of the semester (when we spoke more directly about the development over the past 125 years of English Studies and considered the critical conversation into which we enter as readers and writers). This week, we return to Theory Toolbox. Tuesday we will discuss the many “Posts” that have been the focus of the past 2-3 decades; Thursday holds for us the topic of Difference (one that will no doubt bring to mind both Dr. Piepmeier’s and Dr. Green-Simms’ presentations). Be sure to allot time for reading and considering the various terms I’ve assigned you to look up in the Bedford glossary for each day. See how these supplement, complement, and sometimes challenge the way the issues are presented in the Theory Toolbox. Both of these topics are (a) rather complex and (b) capacious, so that each chapter is chock full of a range of concepts (whereas History, for instance, was really focused on a single topic). Give yourself enough time to process them before coming to class for discussion. This week’s topics lie at the heart of what the Humanities (and to a large extent the Social Sciences) has been concerned with for years now.
On Tuesday your sample annotation–the first of the 10 that you will ultimately produce for your Annotated Bibliography–is due. The following Tuesday (April 12) your sample body paragraph is due. We will discuss the assignment for and some examples of that in class this Tuesday.
Remember to be blogging, and also that your posts can deal with the work you’re doing on your Big Project. If there’s anything you can imagine getting useful feedback from fellow students about, please post on it.
Also remember that I have office hours Tuesday 11-12 and Thursday 3-4:30. And get ready for the last 3 weeks of class!