25% of course grade

Due: Thursday, April 30 by 9:30 pm to Blackboard and our course site

Extended Office Hours:

Monday, April 27: 1:15 pm – 4:15 pm

In-Class Workshops:

Tuesday, April 21

Thursday, April 23

Geographers Craig Dalton and Jim Thatcher have recently called for the development of a “critical data studies” in the humanities and the qualitative social sciences. The term “critical” here has less to do with not liking _something, and more to do with developing an awareness of the differing historical, social, political, and academic issues surrounding “big data” — in other words, it has to do with understanding the many ways in which _cultural __contexts matter _to how we think about and use data. _In this class, we have tackled these issues by considering data in the context of literature and cultural and literary studies more broadly. Your final project asks you to bring all of these strands together to think about what contemporary literature can teach us about the meaning, place, and/or function of data in our contemporary culture.

Generally, an honors literature seminar might ask you to do this by having you write a paper about one of the course’s literary texts, in which you would advance an original argument about that text. We’re going to do that, but with a substantial, added twist. The twist comes in the form of asking you to think directly about “applications” for the insights and knowledge you will develop by writing about your chosen literary text. The assignment has three interlocking parts.

Part One: Write Your Close Reading Paper

The first part of the assignment is more traditional. You will write a 4-5 page (double-spaced, 1″ margins, 12 pt font; 1300-2000 words) close reading of one of the literary texts we have read this semester. In this paper, you will advance your own argument about the meaning — or, more accurately, one possible meaning — of your chosen literary text. The only stipulation is that your argument be in some way about data: about what data means in your chosen text, about how your chosen text reconfigures what we mean by “data,” about how your chosen text challenges our understandings of or preconceived notions about data, about how your chosen text tackles the meaning of data formally, etc. These papers should be focused and specific, meaning you will need to choose one argument to make about data in relation to the text, and you will need to support this argument using specific examples from the text (this means, in many cases, specific quotes). You will need to focus with intensity and even obsession on the language and form of the text you are writing about: in many cases, it is not good enough to paraphrase or summarize. I want to you to get specific — to get down into the nitty gritty grime of a text to see what you can find.

What does close reading mean? We’ve discussed this in class, but here’s a refresher: Despite its somewhat misleading name, “close reading” does not mean holding a text up very close to your face and squinting. It also entails more than “just” reading. Put simply, close reading is a method of literary study that involves paying very close attention to specific properties of a text that go beyond its plot (observing), pulling these observations about a text together in the name of producing an interpretation of the text (analyzing), and making a case for why this particular interpretation of the text is meaningful to the text itself (arguing). Close reading presumes intensity (you need to pay attention to minute details) and iteration (you will likely need to read the text you are writing about again, or at the very least, parts of it over again). The end product is a paper in which you, the close reader, produce new knowledge about your chosen text in the form of a new understanding of its meaning.

This perhaps sounds easier than it is. The hardest part about close reading is moving beyond making observations about your text so that you are making an argument about its meaning. This requires creativity and ingenuity. I see students fail to do this all of the time, especially those students who have less practice doing this kind of assignment (aka — you). Sometimes making smart observations about a text requires a lot of thought and work. But don’t confuse hard work for making an argument: observations about the text are not arguments about its meaning. One way to keep pushing yourself beyond observation is to ask of everything you notice about a text: “So what? What does this mean? Why does it matter to the text itself?” Another way is to come talk to me about the observations you are making and the ideas you have about their potential meanings. As with our last project, I encourage you to take full advantage of my extended office hours and our class workshop times to talk with me about your ideas and to make sure you are fulfilling the requirements of the assignment.

In short, I am expecting intellectually rigorous, creative, sophisticated, and unique arguments. I am not asking you to produce a five-paragraph lifeless lump of an AP exam essay about alliteration, imagery, and diction. I am also not looking for you just to parrot back to me things I’ve said in class. I am challenging you to take the things we discuss in class and use them to make your own argument. I am interested in your own thought about your chosen text; I value creativity and conceptual risk-taking (that is solidly backed up with specific evidence from the text).

You are not required to incorporate any scholarly sources about your chosen text into your close reading paper: in its most basic form, a close reading consists of your argument about the meaning of a text and yours alone. However, you can incorporate outside sources if you choose (just make sure to cite them appropriately). I often find that reading scholarship about a text helps me to formulate my own arguments about it. Some of the literary texts we have read, like Only Revolutions _and _The Intuitionist, have inspired a fair amount of scholarship. Talk to me if you would like to read more but are unsure of how to find scholarship in literary studies. I can help.

Part Two: Apply the Knowledge You Produced

The second part of this assignment is where we get creative in a different way. After you’ve written your close reading paper, you will find a creative way to “apply” the knowledge you have produced about data in your close reading paper. This “application” will take the form of a specific genre or artifact of your choosing. Perhaps you will write a lab report, perhaps you will make a poster, perhaps you will create a website, perhaps you will produce a podcast or a video, perhaps you make another data visualization or a series of data visualizations. There are many other possibilities. This can literally be anything, as long as it is a recognized genre or artifact. Importantly, you will need to find a specific example of said genre/artifact on which to model yours (see Part Three below).

In short, I am asking you in this part of the assignment to take the knowledge you have produced about the meaning of data in your close reading paper and creatively “apply” it to a new context. Close reading is generally highly conceptual and theoretical; this part of the assignment asks you to bridge theory and practice in a speculative and contingent way.

Here are some examples of what I mean. Let’s say you write a close reading paper about how The Intuitionist challenges our “conventional” understanding of data (whatever this is) by encouraging us to think about data as meaning x. One thing you could do for the second part of this assignment is write a lab report describing the results of an experiment (speculative or not) that is organized around or proves the validity of x meaning of data (which you argued for in your close reading paper). Another thing you could do is to write a patent or grant application for (or part of a patent or grant application for), or draw up the blueprints for, a speculative invention/machine/app/project based on x meaning of data. Perhaps you could write a computer program organized around or featuring __meaning of data (or you could write a description of what such a program might be like/what it might do, complete with images). You might even re-analyze the dataset you chose to write about for your Data Critique, applying this new meaning of data, or you might do the same with an entirely different dataset.

This part of the assignment can also, of course, be more of a “proof of concept” and/or entirely speculative.

No matter what form your application takes, it should contain roughly the equivalent of 3-4 double-spaced pages of text (800-1300 words). There is some flexibility with “length” here, especially if the genre/artifact you produce is primarily non-textual. Just come talk to me about your ideas in advance and we can work something out.

Part Three: Project Description

Your project must be accompanied by a brief project description (1-2 paragraphs), which you will post on our course website (categorize your post under “Final Project Description”). This description should include the following:

  • Link(s) to a model example of the genre/artifact you have produced for Part Two.
  • Link(s) to Part Two of your project, if it exists online. It’s entirely possible that you may want to post Part Two of your project on our course site rather than turning it in via Blackboard. If that’s the case, talk to me about how best to do this.
  • A brief synopsis of the argument you wrote for Part One of this assignment. What is your argument about data in your chosen literary text?
  • A brief explanation of why Part Two of your project takes the form that it does. How does Part Two demonstrate/embody/apply your argument from Part One?

Final Project Checklist

Make sure your project meets all of these requirements before turning it in:

  • Is your close reading paper about data in relation to your chosen literary text?
  • Does your close reading paper have an argument? Do you move beyond describing your chosen literary text to make an argument about its meaning?
  • Is your close reading paper 4-5 pages long (double-spaced, 1″ margins, 12 pt font; 1300-2000 words)?
  • Have you found a model example of the genre/artifact you produce for Part Two?
  • Does Part Two of your final project contain the equivalent of 3-4 double-spaced pages of text (800-1300 words), or have you talked to me about alternative metrics if Part Two of your project is primarily non-textual?
  • If you want to post your Part Two on our course site, have you talked to me about how best to do this?
  • If you incorporate scholarly or other outside sources into any part of your final project, do you cite these sources appropriately?
  • Have you written your project description and posted it to our course blog (categorized under “Final Project Description”)?