Pet Book (Undergrad)

In the first week of the semester, you will be picking a work—perhaps literary, perhaps not—from the Northeastern University Special Collections that you are interested in getting to know very, very well. You can choose your work from this list. Throughout the semester, you will conduct ongoing research into the material and social history of your work at archives , and contribute regular reports to the course website in which you relate its history to our weekly course themes. There are a few rules for picking your work:

  1. In general, you should pick a work that is at least 100 years old. Your job in this assignment will actually be easier if it’s even older. Essentially, you want a work with a long enough history—multiple influences, editors, owners, editions, adaptations, other cultural manifestations—that you will have lots to write about, and many ways to apply our course ideas to it. If you want to pick a more recent work, you need to get approval from us.
  2. Avoid works that scholars have already studied extensively. You may be very interested in Hamlet, but it might be difficult to find new things to say about its history. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there (literally millions) that haven’t received much, if any, scholarly attention. If you’re interested in Shakespeare’s milieu, dig just a little to find a contemporaneous author whose works have not been so thoroughly examined.
  3. We strongly advise you to consult with one or both of us as you decide on a work. We reserve the right to ask you to switch (even after your first report) if your chosen work seems unlikely to lead to a successful assignment. We would much prefer—and we suspect you would much prefer—to have these discussions before you have invested significant time in research or writing.

As the semester progresses, you will use our readings, class discussions, archival visits, and independent research to unfold a history of your chosen book.

Here are the nitty-gritty details of the assignment:

  1. Our course website is made with WordPress. In the first days of the semester Prof. Cordell will create an account for you. You will receive an email with your login information. If you’ve never posted in WordPress before, visit the WordPress Codex for instructions. If you get stuck we are happy to help.
  2. You must chose your work and complete preliminary research on one edition in time to post an introductory research report to the course website no later than the beginning of class on Friday, September 16. This first post should briefly explain why you picked this particular book for a semester’s work and describe the visual construction of your chosen edition using the vocabulary we will develop in the first days of class. We will discuss this first post in more detail in class before it is due. This introductory post is required for all students.
  3. In addition to the introductory post, all students must complete a report for Week 7.
  4. For other weeks, your reports should consider your work in light of the ideas and themes of our readings and in-class work. Your reports have two objectives: first, you should use them to reflect on our readings and discussions, and develop your own preliminary arguments in response. We expect you to reference our readings regularly and directly. Second, your reports should center on your chosen work, and expand your analysis of it in light of each week’s themes. Sometimes a week’s themes will suggest comparisons with the history of your work, and other times our themes might suggest contrasts. If you’re thinking creatively, we expect you will be able to relate any week’s ideas to just about any chosen work. If you are struggling with doing so, however, please do come chat with us during office hours.
  5. In addition to the first and week 7 posts, you must contribute 8 more reports through the semester, for a total of 10 weekly reports over 14 weeks. At least 5 reports must be submitted before the beginning of week 8. After week 8 you will only be able to receive credit for 5 more reports. In other words, you should not wait to begin writing research reports. We assign only 10 reports to give you some flexibility during the semester; it is up to you to make that flexibility a boon rather than a bane.
  6. In order to receive credit for a weekly report, it must be submitted by 8pm each Friday. So, a post about Reprinting (one of our week 8 themes) would be due by 8pm on Friday, October 28. We will not accept a report for credit after this deadline; we will not accept makeup reports in later weeks.
  7. Each post should be (roughly) 500-1000 words. Ultimately we are more concerned that you develop compelling ideas than we are that you meet a particular word threshold. With that said, do keep in mind that you will be writing about your work throughout the semester and thus do not need to say all you might say in each individual post. Focus on the topic at hand in each week’s report and save other ideas (we hope you have lots each week!) for future reports.
  8. If you are struggling with a week’s report, review your classmates’ contributions. They’ll be working on other books, of course, but their reports might model how you can use each week’s theme to spur thinking about your chosen work.

Professors Boeckeler and Cordell will not be able to comment in detail on each student’s reports each week. We will review them all and we will sometimes refer to ideas your reports’ ideas during class and we will certainly refer to your work in discussions (among ourselves and with you) about your understanding and progress in the class.

Most importantly, however, these reports will help you refine your thinking in ways that will be of enormous benefit as you develop your final class projects. Indeed, we expect your reports to constitute a significant portion of your research and pre-writing for the final project. Thus you should consider these weekly activities an investment; the more careful and considered these reports are, the better positioned you will be to succeed in the class.