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MS 190 - Syllabus

This seminar is intended to be a capstone of sorts to your experience as a Media Studies major. You all began the major in roughly the same place -- MS 49 -- but then took very different paths through the major's requirements. Now here you all are again, in one room; part of our goal this semester is to put everything you've done together, to attempt to figure out what all those disparate paths have to do with one another, and thus, what it is to be a Media Studies major. We're going to do this by taking on one question in Media Studies, that of authorship, from a number of different angles and perspectives. It's no accident, of course, that we're examining authorship at the very moment at which you're preparing to transition into the authorship of your senior thesis projects; what is an author, and what can an author be, in the contemporary mediated environment?


Blog (25%): Each of you will maintain a blog specifically devoted to this course, and will post in it a minimum of three times weekly, using that space as an ongoing portfolio of your reading responses (which will make up at least one post weekly), thoughts about the course discussions, links to material relevant to the course, reports on your independent research, drafts of writing done for your term project, and anything else you'd like to contribute. This part of the course also requires you to keep up-to-date on your fellow students' blogs, and to comment frequently on their posts. The point of blogs is the free exchange of information they produce and the social relationships they foster; you'll only get as much out of this part of the course as you put into it. I'll offer a tech session in the first couple of weeks designed to help you get your blog up and running.

Term paper/project (50%): Each of you will undertake a semester-long research and writing project, in which you contribute to the field of media studies; there are two options from which you can choose:

  1. Paper: Under this option, you'll produce a 20 to 25-page research-based term paper exploring some Media Studies-related question. The question is entirely yours to formulate, and need not directly relate to the material covered in this class; while this paper is not meant to be an outline of your thesis, nor a chapter from the thesis (though it may turn out to be so), it should absolutely push you some distance down the road toward the argument that you will make in your thesis. If you intend to write on a topic that you've tackled in a previous class, you must do substantive new research and writing for this paper, significantly advancing the work you've previously accomplished.
  2. Project: Under this option, you will develop a significant new media project that brings computer-based technologies as well as the critical and theoretical concepts that you've explored throughout your major to bear in examining an issue of your choice. This project can take whatever shape you like, but it should be delivered to me via the web, and it should in some fashion reflect in its content the choices you have made about its form. You will include within this project, perhaps as an appendix, an essay of a minimum of 5 pages, exploring the relationship between your project and the kinds of issues raised throughout your work as a Media Studies major.

The option you select will be directly related to the senior thesis/project you produce during the spring semester. As you know, we're in a moment of transition in the Media Studies major. Everyone who is following the old major must complete a senior thesis in order to graduate, but we are opening up the requirement sufficiently that students who can demonstrate an appropriate level of training in new media production will be allowed to fulfill the thesis requirement with a digital project. We'll discuss these options during the first weeks of the semester.

You will select your option and submit a 3-page project proposal to me on Oct. 11; you will submit evidence of your ongoing work (which will vary depending on the option) at least twice during the rest of the semester, and will of course blog about it in an ongoing way. More information about this project will follow.

Presentation (15%): Working in groups of two or three, you will each facilitate the first half of one week's class session, opening with a polished, focused, formal ten-minute presentation that contextualizes the reading for that week, and leading our discussion by raising questions about the reading for our collective investigation. Each group will meet with me in advance of the class session in order to get feedback on your presentation plans. Your grade on this presentation will be based both on the formal presentation and the ensuing discussion.

Attendance and participation (10%): See policies below for more information. Bear in mind that participation doesn't mean simply doing the work, or simply speaking up in class, but actively working to make the class a positive learning experience for you and your fellow students.


My grading policy is pretty straight-forward, and comes in two parts:

The grade of B+ is yours to lose. Here are ways that you can lose it:

  1. Miss more than one day of class. I know you all have a lot going on, but this class is your job this semester, and I want you to take it that seriously. We're only meeting twelve times, and thus you each have one, and only one, excused absence. Use it wisely. Further absences will affect your final grade in unpleasant ways.
  2. Show up late to class more than once. It drives me absolutely bonkers when people walk into class after it's already begun (and if I'm talking, even if just to make preliminary announcements, class has begun). It's both rude and distracting. Get to class on time; every three late arrivals will add up to one unexcused absence.
  3. Turn your assignments in late. You each have two grace days to use as needed. For instance, if the project proposal is due on a Wednesday, but you have a big exam on Wednesday, you can use a grace day and turn that proposal in on Thursday. Please note, however: a "day" is twenty-four hours long, and ends at 10.00 pm. If you don't turn the proposal in until Friday morning, that's two grace days. Any lateness beyond these two grace days will count against your grade. Please note that because these grace days are freebies, I will give no extensions. Don't even ask.
  4. Don't take the blog seriously. The blog assignment is a key element of the course; aside from the final project, it represents all of the writing you will do, and it counts for a quarter of your final grade. The blog is taking the place of formal, print-on-paper reading responses, and it's also a space in which you can feel free to explore your ideas about the class material or about your own research in whatever way most appeals to you. Not posting regularly or ceasing to post halfway through the semester constitutes a failure to take the blog seriously, as do posts that have obviously been slapped together in two minutes or less.
  5. Fail to do the reading. Our in-class work is built around discussion, and you cannot participate fruitfully in a discussion if you aren't prepared. Read carefully, take notes on the reading, post your responses on your blog, and participate in class discussions. With respect to which:
  6. Fail to participate collegially in class discussions. You don't need to speak every day. And you absolutely must not monopolize the discussion. But both never speaking and appearing to overly enjoy the sound of your own voice constitute a failure of collegiality. Our discussions are a group endeavor, meant to help each member of the class reach the greatest possible understanding of the material.
  7. Turn in a weak, ill-thought-through, unpolished, dull, pointless, or generally mediocre term paper/project. Need I say more?
  8. Give a scattered, unpolished, unengaged, or OVERLY LONG final presentation. Again, 'nuff said. Practice your presentation, and time yourself carefully.
  9. Plagiarize. Academic dishonesty in any form will result in automatic failure of this class. Period. If you have any concerns about what constitutes academic dishonesty, refer to your student handbook, or ask me.

The grades of A- and A must be earned. Here are ways to earn them:

  1. Produce an excellent term paper/project. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent final paper or project is sophisticated, nuanced, engaging, and insightful. It is technically polished and free of any kind of errors. It shows evidence of a substantive, thoughtful engagement with the field of media studies. It is, above all, interesting, designed to draw the reader/viewer/user into full engagement with its content and its form.
  2. Maintain an excellent blog. Make me look forward to visiting your blog often, and stimulate thoughtful conversation in your comments.
  3. Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but contributing in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole, by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your colleagues, and graciously accepting challenges in return.
  4. Deliver an excellent presentation. An excellent presentation is one that is focused, organized, engaging, and to the point. It has what my predecessor, Brian Stonehill, used to refer to as "heart, smarts, and sparkle."


The following required books should be available at Huntley:
David Gerstner and Janet Staiger, Authorship and Film
Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck
Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, eds., First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game
Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture*
Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library

Other required readings are available on the site, or online, as indicated in the schedule.

*Lessig's Free Culture is available, appropriately, as a free download; those of you who prefer hard copy should of course buy the book.


Aug. 30 -- Introduction to the course, the blogs, and some other stuff, too

Sept. 6 -- Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author" [pdf]
Michel Foucault, "What Is an Author?" [pdf]
Molly Nesbit, "What Was an Author?" [pdf]

Sept. 13 -- Janine Marchessault, "Is the Dead Author a Woman?" [pdf]
bell hooks, "Postmodern Blackness" [online]

Sept. 20 -- David Gerstner and Janet Staiger, Authorship and Film

Sept. 27 -- in class: watch Vertov, Man with the Movie Camera

Oct. 4 -- No class; Prof. Fitzpatrick at conference

Oct. 11 -- Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves
Term project proposal due

Oct. 18 -- Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics

Oct. 25 -- Janet Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck

Nov. 1 -- Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan, eds., First Person
Term project stage 2 due

Nov. 8 -- Lev Manovich, "Database" [pdf]
Lev Manovich, "Models of Authorship in New Media" [online]

Nov. 15 -- Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

Nov. 22 -- No class; Thanksgiving

Nov. 29 -- Siva Vaidhyanathan, The Anarchist in the Library

Dec. 6 -- Final presentations
Term project due