Note: the below assignments are rough-cuts of the tasks asked of students in ENGL 693B: Public Literary Humanities. Comments for improvement are strongly suggested.
Part of the work of doing public humanities is finding ways to translate the work of academic scholarship to various audiences and genres. Each of the assignments below is an occasion to re-imagine the rhetorical scenario of scholarly work for different iterations of “the public.”
Eight total assignments (including the proposal), earn 1 point each for timely submission, with 2 additional points for timely submission of all of them (10 points total).
Of the seven actual re-mediations, you’ll submit polished versions of five of them for the final portfolio (30 points). These will be graded as a body of work rather than as an average of 6 individual assignments.
Those assignments are:
9/4: Propose your Corpus—In a page or so, write a proposal for the body of knowledge that you’ll be writing about for most of the semester. The requirement is that it must be something that you have academic insight about, and that you can sustain an ongoing interest in for the duration of the semester. This might be a proto-dissertation topic, a transformation of a past academic project, a side interest, an artistic influence, etc. Your proposal should: articulate what the “general public” perception of the topic seems to be, what informational knowledge you have to convey, what theoretical/interpretive take you bring to the subject, how the subject might be exigent for a non-academic public, and what excites you about bridging that gap. This assignment does earn its point for completion, but it cannot be included in the final portfolio.
9/11: Op-Ed—Using the range of models available, write a 500-750 word op-ed that suggests a way that your corpus (or some element of that corpus) illuminates our contemporary moment. In a brief prefatory paragraph, identify the venue and briefly analyze your audience for their defining features, likely advance knowledge they may have on the topic, and pre-existing attitudes that they may have about your subject. Then: headline and 500-750 words.
9/25: Event/Flash Talk Proposal—Events are public performances of humanities knowledge. They may happen on the scale of the local event or a highly curated online venue. Propose an event that brings your body of knowledge to a wider audience. TEDxWVU? A Campus Read event? A WV Humanities Council “Little Lecture”? Write your proposal in the form of a 1000-word (max) grant proposal that: summarizes your proposed event, defines the intellectual content of the event, identifies the audience, (including the way that your venue/platform is accessible to them) and a brief sense of how this event will enrich that audience on their terms.
10/2: Book Review Essay—for your assigned book (or a book connected to your corpus directed at a similar market-segment, approved in advance)…write a book review (1000-1500 words) that briefly summarizes, assesses, and puts into exigent context the book in question. Good book reviews achieve this task thoroughly, helping readers to understand the book’s value to them whether or not they agree with the reviewer. Great book reviews also subtly advance an argument about the subject (often a meta-discursive one) without getting in the way of the review of the book itself.
10/16: Digital Project Proposal—Again in the form of a grant narrative, propose a digital project that makes your corpus accessible and usable in an innovative way and/or to an audience whom might otherwise never have been able to access it meaningfully. In your proposal, describe the way that the digital interface presents information, what digital tools (to the best of your limited knowledge) might be useful in creating this interface, and how this interface preserves, presents, or allows for interaction with your body of knowledge. Consider in this case that a digital project proposal might include information including but extending beyond the corpus you’ve already been working on.
10/30: Letter to a Legislator—Keep it short, sweet, and simple. Write a persuasive letter to a local, state, or national legislator that marshals a key piece of literary-humanistic information that illuminates a matter of urgent contemporary political concern. 500 words is likely too many. In a brief prefatory paragraph, identify the legislator, their relevant educational background, their likely pre-existing views on your subject, and your rhetorical goal (PACT, baby!). Consider sending this letter.
11/6: Podcast—Using the tools discussed in class, create a 10+ minute podcast that opens up your corpus to a new audience. If the technology really escapes you, write a 5+ page double-spaced script, exactly as conversational as you’d want your podcast to be. Avoid monologues. Consider also collaborative podcasts, in which you collaborate with a classmate or two (or dear friend to whom you will forever owe a favor)…still, ten minutes per podcaster, max three podcasters. Unlike some other genres, bonus points (not real) for scruffy humor and can-do amateurism. Like other genres, the point is to make deep humanities inquiry accessible for a different audience.
11/27: Open Re-mediation—By now, you will perhaps have devised other genres and media by which to communicate your corpus to new audiences. A children’s book? An episode of Drunk History? A script for a biopic? A public re-enactment? A completely different take on a genre already explored? Pick the genre, audience, and length that you believe is most appropriate to propose (or draft) such a re-mediation.
12/11: Portfolio due (with Final paper)—include a brief (500-1000 word) prefatory memo that frames the five (revised, polished) pieces you’ve chosen to submit and your rationale for doing so. Describe the strategies you’ve taken in these five pieces and trends in your efforts to bridge the academic-public gap that may correlate with your own interests or perhaps something intrinsic to your corpus. Be prepared to present a single outstanding piece to the rest of the class. Possibly be prepared also for it to be shared in some more public way to be brainstormed by our class at a later time.