56:842:565/50:209:303 Comparative Textual Media (Fall 2017)

What comes after print? In their edited collection Comparative Textual Media, Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman argue that “as the era of print is passing, it is possible once again to see print in a comparative context with other textual media.” What does it mean to rethink the work of the humanities through the lens of comparative textual media? What should we be comparing, and how? What methods of arguing, writing, and critique are available in such an approach? Which existing methods are useful, and which should be remixed and augmented? In this class, we will both make and critique digital objects as we consider how our research methods should shift in the waning days of print.

Photo Credit: "Fine Print" by CJ Sorg


Professor: Jim Brown
Class Time: Tuesday, 6:00-8:50pm
Meeting Place: Fine Arts 217

Jim's Office: Fine Arts 213
Jim's Office Hours: Tuesdays, 4:30-6:00pm
Jim's Email: jim[dot]brown[at]rutgers[dot]edu

Course Website: http://courses.jamesjbrownjr.net/303_fall2017

Learning Outcomes
Upon completion of this class, students will be able to:

  • Summarize and interpret complex academic arguments.
  • Work collaboratively to study technologies from a comparative textual media perspective
  • Understand and apply various theoretical and methodological approaches
  • Conduct hands-on humanities research on media technologies

Required Books

  • Hayles, N. Katherine and Jessica Pressman, eds. Comparative Textual Media: Transforming the Humanities in the Postprint Era

Course Work and Grades
Undergraduate student grades will be determined based on:

  • Attendance (15%)
  • Quizzes (15%)
  • Response Papers (20%)
  • R-CADE Project (50%)

Graduate student grades will be determined based on:

  • Quizzes (15%)
  • Response Papers (20%)
  • Subfield Profile (15%)
  • R-CADE Project (50%)

Grades will be assigned on the following scale:

A 90-100
B+ 87-89
B 80-86
C+ 77-79
C 70-76
D 60-69
F 59 and below

Success in this class will require regular attendance, and I will take attendance at each class meeting. You are required to attend class daily, arrive on time, do assigned reading and writing, and participate in all in-class work. Please save absences for when you are sick or have a personal emergency. If you find that an unavoidable problem prevents you from attending class or from arriving on time, please discuss the problem with me.

If you are more than 10 minutes late for class, you will be considered absent. If there is something keeping you from getting to class on time (i.e., bus or train schedules), please let me know during the first week of class.

Class Sessions
During the first seven weeks of the semester, the class will focus on reading and understanding the Hayles and Pressman edited collection. Prior to these class meetings, students will watch a video that contextualizes the readings and will complete a quiz based on that video. During class sessions, we will meet to discuss the readings further and also to conduct research on Rutgers-Camden Archive of Digital Ephemera (R-CADE) materials (more details on this in the assignments section).

During the second seven weeks of the semester, each of the R-CADE project groups will be tasked with leading a class session that addresses their research project. This will mean assigning readings (if necessary) and enlisting the group in both a discussion about the technology in question as well as collaborative research session about that technology. I will work with groups to help plan these sessions.

Computers, Smartphones, etc.
Please feel free to use your computer or any other device during class, provided that your use of it is related to what we are working on in class.

Late Assignments
Due dates for assignments are posted on the course website. Late assignments are not accepted.

Intellectual Property
Using the work of others without attribution, having another student complete an assignment for you, or any other violations of the university's Academic Integrity Policy will result in a failing grade. If you have questions about the that policy, please see the Dean of Student Affairs website.

The Office of Disability Services
From the The Office of Disability Services (ODS):

"The ODS provides students with confidential advising and accommodation services in order to allow students with documented physical, mental, and learning disabilities to successfully complete their course of study at Rutgers University – Camden. The ODS provides for the confidential documentation and verification of student accommodations, and communicates with faculty regarding disabilities and accommodations. The ODS provides accommodation services, which can include readers, interpreters, alternate text, special equipment, and note takers. The ODS acts as a signatory for special waivers. The ODS also works with students, faculty, staff and administrators to enforce the American with Disabilities Act of 1990."

If you believe you might require an accommodation, please contact the ODS early in the semester.

Technology Policy
We will use digital technology frequently in this class. Although I am assuming that you have some basic knowledge of computers, such as how to use a keyboard and mouse, and how to use the Web and check e-mail, most things will be explained in class. If you don’t understand what we are doing, please ask for help. If you are familiar with the technology we are using please lend a helping hand to your classmates.

Sakai, Course Website, and Email
You should check your email daily. Class announcements and assignments may be distributed through email. The course website will also have important information about assignments and policies. Pay close attention to the course calendar as we move through the semester. I reserve the right to move things around if necessary.


September 5
Reading: Hayles and Pressman, "Making, Critique: A Media Framework"

September 12
Reading: Raley, de Souza e Silva

September 19
Reading: Kirschenbaum, Drucker

September 26
Reading: Johnson, Boluk and LeMieux

October 3
Reading: Crain, Gitelman

October 10
(Class Meets with Professor Hostetter's class in the Campus Center - Viewing Room)
Reading: Brantley

October 17
Guest Speaker: Digital Studies Fellow Amber Davisson, Keen State College
Reading: "Mashing up, remixing, and contesting the popular memory of Hillary Clinton", by Amber Davisson; Excerpt of Enterprising Women by Camille Bacon-Smith (available for download in the Sakai resources section)

October 24
Reading: Fulton

October 31
Reading: Zuern, Marino

November 7 Check Sakai assignments for special instructions regarding this week's response papers.
Readings (available in Resources section of Sakai)
Page, "Women Writers and the Restive Text," for It's Name Was Penelope
Bernstein, "Toys Are Good for Us: Why We Should Embrace the Historical
Integration of Children’s Literature, Material Culture,
and Play" for Think-a-tron

November 14 Check Sakai assignments for special instructions regarding this week's response papers.
Videogame Controllers
Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse

November 21

November 28
R-CADE Lab Session

December 5
R-CADE Lab Session

December 12
Final R-CADE Project Presentations

November 7, November 14, November 28, December 5 sessions will be planned by groups working on R-CADE projects. See the syllabus and the R-CADE project assignment sheet for more details.


Lecture Quizzes (15%)

Prior to each class during the first seven weeks of the course, I will distribute a short video that contextualizes our readings as well as a quiz based on the video and readings. You must complete the quiz prior to our class meeting, but you can retake the quiz as many times as you'd like. Videos and quizzes are meant to provide an introduction to the reading and to frame our class discussion, and the videos will be designed so that we won't need to take up class time with lectures. This also means that you should arrive in class ready to discuss the readings and ready to ask questions (for more details on the kinds of questions you should prepare, see the assignment sheet for response papers).

Response Papers (20%)

In response to each of our readings, you will compose a brief response paper. These papers are short, and they are meant to help you prepare for class discussions. On most days, we will be covering two readings, and this means you will compose two response papers. Each paper is worth 2 points. You should upload papers to Sakai before you come to class.

Please bring a printed copy of these papers to class. As a way to start discussion each day, I will ask you to share these papers with a partner. This will help us begin thinking about the readings for the day and how others in the class interpreted them.

Each response paper must include the following sections:

Outline of Chapter
Using no more than one page, provide an outline the chapter. You can do this with roman numerals, with bullet points, or in some other format, but your outline should reflect that you understand how the argument is put together and how its different pieces fit together. This outline should be useful to you (providing you with notes for class discussion) while also demonstrating that you've read and understood.

Explanation of how the chapter connects to the concept of comparative textual media (150 words maximum)
Each chapter in this book relates to the idea of comparative textual media in some way. This section should explain that relationship. How does the chapter engage with the ideas, methods, and theories of comparative textual media?

Potential links to your R-CADE project (150 words maximum)
Throughout the semester, one of your tasks is to link our readings to your R-CADE project. In this section, you should be trying to consider how the chapter relates to your project. Are there ideas that you can apply to your group's R-CADE research? What are those ideas, and how might you apply them? Note that some chapters will be more closely related to your project than others. The purpose of this section is to try as hard as possible to seek out links between the chapter and your group's project.

Questions of Clarification (no limit)
Were there ideas, terms, or concepts that you didn't understand? Ask those questions here, and be ready to ask these questions in class. The more questions you list in this section, the better evidence you're providing that you've productively engaged with the reading. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions of clarification.

Questions for Discussion (no limit)
While the previous section focuses on things you didn't understand or that you'd like us to clarify, this section is about questions that will help us discuss the reading. How is this reading related to other things we've ready and discussed? What is unique about the chapter's argument or method? How did it help you think about the idea of comparative textual media in a new way? These are just a few examples of how you might approach this section. Again, try to ask as many questions as possible.

When grading response papers, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Is each section complete?
  • Does your outline reflect that you have carefully read the chapter and attempted to understand its content and structure?
  • Does the paper provide evidence that you've carefully written and revised?
  • Does the paper provide evidence that you've carefully read and considered the readings?
  • Have you observed the word and page limits?

Group R-CADE Project (50%)

The R-CADE research project is a group project, meaning that the assigned grade is the grade that all group members receive. However, if all members of a group approach me with complaints about a member of the group who is not contributing, I reserve the right to remove that person from the group and to then assign that person an individual R-CADE project. To be clear: This means that if you are unable to effectively collaborate with others, you will be required to complete the work of an entire group by yourself. In addition, you would receive a grade of 0 for any previous portions of the assignment submitted by your group, and you will not be permitted to make up those assignments.

Group-led Class Session (10%)

Each R-CADE group will lead a class session on the subject of their research project. This session should provide the rest of the class for some context for the technology the group is studying, but it should also be used as a way for the rest of the class to help the group conduct their research. This means that groups leading these sessions should be both teaching their peers things and learning new things from their peers.

Groups are responsible for running a one hour and thirty minute session that includes discussion, activities, and collaborative research. All group members should be involved in the planning and execution of this session, and grades for this portion of the project will be based on the following questions:

  • Has the group demonstrated that they have conducted preliminary research on their R-CADE artifact?
  • Has the group provided context to the rest for the rest of the class regarding the object of study?
  • Is the class sessions well-designed, demonstrating that the group has thought carefully about how to best make use of class time?
  • Has the group designed activities that engage the rest of the class in collaborative research?

R-CADE Project (30%)

Due December 12

Your project can make use of any medium you choose (print, video, audio, some combination of these, or something else entirely), but the medium you choose needs to be chosen purposefully. Your task is the share the results of your semester-long research project in the most effective way possible. For each project, this may mean using different media, and your group's decision may also be shaped by the strengths and experience of group members.

R-CADE projects should make use of the theories and methods discussed in the Hayles and Pressman collection in order to make some kind of argument about your R-CADE artifact. In other words, you are using the tools of a comparative textual media framework in order to make sense of your artifact.

When grading these final projects, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Does the project reflect detailed and sustained research on the part of the group?
  • Has the group thought carefully about the medium they have chosen to deliver the project?
  • Does the project reflect a comparative textual media approach, citing relevant research when necessary and demonstrating a familiarity with the Hayles and Pressman edited collection?
  • Is the project carefully designed and/or written, demonstrating an attention to detail?

Final Presentation (10%)

During the last class session, each group will make a 20-minute presentation on their R-CADE research project. That presentation should provide a detailed account of the group's research into their chosen artifact, and it should make clear that the group has applied the methods and theories of comparative textual media. In addition, the presentation should demonstrate that the group has incorporated feedback from the class session it organized. Group presentations should be 20 minutes in length, and they should carefully composed and choreographed.

When grading presentations, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Does the presentation demonstrate that the group has carefully researched the object?
  • Does the research project demonstrate that the group has applied the theories and methods of comparative textual media?
  • Does the presentation provide evidence that the group has carefully planned and choreographed the presentation?
  • Does the presentation observe the time limit?

Comparative Textual Media Subfield Profile *Graduate Students Only* (15%)

Graduate students in this class will complete a paper that describes a subfield that is part of or related to comparative textual media. This paper will lay out the key texts in this subfield, the research questions that define it, the key figures in the field, and how it relates to a comparative textual media approach to research.

Annotated Bibliography (5%)

Due October 24

The first step in your profile will be a detailed annotated bibliography. Each entry in the bibliography should include an MLA formatted citation (I'd recommend using citation software like Zotero to generate these) as well as a brief paragraph that summarizes the source and describes its significance. These bibliographies should have at least 20 sources, but their length will likely differ based on the subfield you are profiling.

When grading bibliographies, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Does the bibliography show evidence of extensive research?
  • Does the bibliography include the key research in the subfield being researched?
  • Do the entries include a properly formatted citation and a succinct summary of the citation and its significance?

Profile of the Subfield (5%)

Due November 14

In a 1500-2500 word paper, you will profile your assigned subfield by discussing its history, key figures, major research questions, and methods. This should offer a detailed account of what kind of research is conducted in this area or subfield. While this profile will certainly draw upon the work you've done in the annotated bibliography, it should also extend that work. Rather than just cataloging sources, this profile should be identifying trends and key research questions.

When grading these papers, I will be asking:

  • Does the paper provide a detailed account of the subfield's history, key figures, major research questions, and methods?
  • Does the paper gesture toward the key trends and research questions in the subfield?
  • After reading the paper, is it clear to the audience what it means to conduct research in this area?
  • Is the paper well-written, carefully revised, and within the word limits?

Comparative Textual Media Paper (5%)

Due December 5

In a 1500-2500 word paper, you will explain how your subfield is related to a comparative textual media approach. Hayles and Pressman argue that the CTM approach can and should be the way forward for humanities research, and some of the fields and subfields have more obvious connections to that approach than others. Some are already making the shift, and others are not. Your task in this paper is to lay out how the subfield you have researched and profiled is related to CTM. For some, this paper will document the research already happening in the area and how we might classify it as CTM, and for others this may mean describing how research in the area could more explicitly take up a CTM approach.

When grading these papers, I will be asking the following questions:

  • Does the paper demonstrate detailed research into the subfield?
  • Does the paper provide evidence that the author understands how this subfield is related to the comparative textual media approach?
  • Does the paper demonstrate that the author understands the comparative textual media approach and its significance?
  • Is the paper carefully written, and does it observer the word requirements?

Rules of Engagement

What is the purpose of a graduate seminar, and how does one use such a space to usefully engage with texts? I offer this document as an answer to that question and as a kind of constitution for our class.

The military root of the phrase "rules of engagement" is unfortunate because we are actually interested in something as nonviolent as possible. Of course, any interpretation of a text will do violence to it. This is the nature of interpretation. We fit a text or a set of ideas into a pre-existing framework that we already have. This is unavoidable. But we can try our best to forestall that violence or to at least soften the blow. In the interest of this kind of approach, I offer the following rules:

1. Disagreement and agreement are immaterial.

Our primary task is to understand, and this does not require agreement or disagreement. The only agreement the seminar asks of you is this: I agree to read, consider, analyze, and ask questions about these texts.

In his essay "The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle," Kenneth Burke presents us with a succinct encapsulation of this first rule of engagement:

The appearance of Mein Kampf in unexpurgated translation has called for far too many vandalistic comments. There are other ways of burning books than on the pyre - and the favorite method of the hasty reviewer is to deprive himself and his readers by inattention. I maintain that it is thoroughly vandalistic for the reviewer to content himself with the mere inflicting of a few symbolic wounds upon this book and its author, of an intensity varying with the resources of the reviewer and the time at his disposal. Hitler's "Battle" is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: If the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with a guaranty in advance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratification than to our enlightenment" (The Philosophy of Literary Form, 191)

Of course, we will not be reading anything like Mein Kampf, but the principle still stands. We are more interested in enlightenment than gratification.

2. An argument is a machine to think with.

This is another version of I.A. Richards's claim that “a book is a machine to think with." The "with" here should be read in two different ways simultaneously. We read "with" an argument by reading alongside it. We "tarry" with it. We get very close to it and join it during a long walk. Notice that this requires that we stay with the author rather than diverging down a different path, questioning the route, or pulling out our own map. But "with" here also means that the argument is a tool that we must first understand before using. Our job is to learn how this tool works. It has multiple moving parts and purposes. It has multiple audiences. We need to understand all of this before we make any attempt to use the argument, and we certainly need to do all of this before we can even think about disagreeing with it.

3. Ask that question sincerely, or the principle of "generous reading."

Why the hell would s/he argue that? If you find yourself asking this question, then take the next step by answering your own question. Why would s/he argue that? If I am indignant about the argument, does this suggest that I am not the audience? If the argument seems ridiculous, is it relying on definitions that I find foreign? If I think the argument is brilliant, is it because I am in fact the target audience, so much so that I am having a difficult time gaining any kind of critical distance?

The principle of "generous reading" has little to do with being "nice." Instead, it is more about reading in a generative way, in a way that opens the text up rather than closes it down. This requires that we read a text on its own terms, understanding how an argument is deploying certain concepts and ideas (see Rule #2).