21L.705 | Fall 2010 | Undergraduate
Major Authors: America's Literary Scientists


The work for this course supports and carefully leads up to a substantial project requiring research, close reading, and critical thinking and writing. Students will choose topic areas at the beginning of the term, then refine these as their research, in-class presentations, introductory essays, annotated bibliographies, and progress reports allow them to develop their ideas.

In-class Presentation (15%)

Each student will choose a research topic in the science writings (including explorations and travel narratives) that influenced nineteenth-century authors like Melville and Thoreau. This presentation can treat the topic in a general way but should indicate some knowledge of relevant passages in the reading. You should prepare a print handout for the class (other materials such as a poster, PowerPoint presentation, or other visual aids can be helpful but are not required). This handout should highlight key concepts, provide a brief bibliography (a balance between digital and print sources—use MLA Works Cited format), and offer questions or topics for discussion. The presentation will be graded on the quality of research, handout, and oral delivery.

Essay 1: Close Reading (5 pp. due Ses #13. 15%)

This essay draws on your research (for the in-class presentation) to develop a close reading of a passage or chapter of Moby-Dick or “The Encantadas” in which you see Melville absorbing or critiquing his scientific sources. Your essay should clearly identify the passage and its relationship to the scientific material but will also study the use Melville makes of it: for parody or satire, as metaphor, point of contention, philosophical concept, or confirmation of empirical data. What is the effect of his use of scientific material on issues of narration or use of language? Your essay should include Works Cited in MLA format. It will be graded on the usefulness of the research, the effectiveness of argument, logical structure, and use of evidence, and the agility of the prose.

Prospectus and Annotated Bibliography (5 pp. due 5 days after Ses #17. 10%)

This paper will present your plans for the final essay, which will develop a considered treatment of your refined research topic in relation to one or more of the assigned texts. If you wish to include one of the later novels, consult with me at our conference and plan ahead accordingly. Your bibliography should include a balance of print and digital sources, including scholarly and critical materials, in MLA format. Annotations (a few sentences per entry) reflect how each source in your bibliography will be useful to your project. Your prospectus should identify the text(s) you plan to examine, the research questions governing your project, and the basic lines of argument you expect to pursue. Your report will be graded on the clarity of your vision of the project and its problems; and on the correctness and effectiveness of the bibliography.

Progress Report (2 pp. due Ses #22. 5%)

This brief essay will summarize your efforts in absorbing research materials, developing a thesis, organizing evidence, and writing the final paper (no expectation that the paper will be fully written, but an outline or rough draft or polished introduction would be helpful). You may include questions and requests for specific kinds of feedback. As with the prospectus, conciseness and specificity are key; avoid vague generalizations and abstract statements. Better to have a narrower focus than to try to include more than you can cover in your essay. Your report will be graded on its insight into the research and writing process and on the evidence it supplies of effective progress.

Essay 2: Research Essay (15 pp. due Ses #24. 30%)

This paper allows you to address a theme in one or more of the assigned readings, using your research into issues in nineteenth-century science—natural history or early social science—as a framework. By the time you finish the project, you will most likely have refined your topic considerably, and it may be that you are thinking of “science” in new ways or even have found that it is no longer necessary to your project, as you originally imagined it. That’s fine. The important thing is to have developed a thesis about the works that interest you and to ballast your argument with scholarship and criticism that shows your knowledge of the relevant research materials and organizes them into a thoughtful and readable study. Since you will be working independently, though with much guidance, the finished product will not fit into a preconceived conceptual box. You will be graded on the quality of your insight into the text and supporting materials, the effectiveness of the logical structure and prose, and your mastery of documentation and the tools of research.

Attendance and Participation (25%)

Steady attendance and active participation in class discussion are essential to the life of the seminar and your success in it. Much of that work will take place during classroom hours. Much of that work will take place during classroom hours, but it can and should continue on the class online discussion forum, where topics and questions will be posted regularly; use this resource to brainstorm ideas, get help, and work through problems.

Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2010
Learning Resource Types
assignment Presentation Assignments
assignment Written Assignments