Research Project

The goal of this project is to investigate a specific aspect of reading, writing or publishing and provide an in-depth cultural analysis of it. You may explore a topic that is historical, in process or futuristic.  Making connections between historical moments is encouraged but not required.  You have several options in how to proceed:

  • the assignment may take the form of  a traditional ten-page research paper or it can be creative project
  • you can author this individually, you may work with a partner, or work in teams
  • you may submit the final version on paper or you may publish it online

In order to end up with a richly detailed analysis, it is crucial that your topic be sufficiently narrowed.  It is also important that creative work be sufficiently academic and feasible.  Planning will be as important as execution to the success of your final project.  Because of this, outlines and drafts MUST be completed in order to move on the next phase (see syllabus for deadlines)—in fact, no papers or projects will be accepted until they have been approved through this process.  Use your blog to play with ideas and garner student feedback; you can also email or talk to me personally.  The more unconventional your topic or approach, the more critical it becomes that you discuss it with me early and often.

The topic for the paper is fairly open, although obviously, it must relate to the histories, concepts and ideas we’ve been discussing this semester. Within this constraint, you are encouraged to choose a topic that relates to what you’ve learned in other English classes or is relevant to your life, career goals or outside interests.  The ideas below are not meant to limit what you may do; rather, they are meant to inspire your own ideas.  All of these must be focused in a way that reflects your original analysis.

Possible Paper Topics:
All papers must be thesis-driven and analytical; descriptions without analysis will not be accepted.  See more on research conventions, below.

  • Choose a literary work and write an analysis of the technology and/or literacy themes within it.  How does this relate to changes in the media environment occurring at the time it was written? (E.g., the main character of Pamela frequently discusses her writing tools of pen and ink.  Why was her author, a printer, so invested in the culture of letter writing and handwriting?)
  • Investigate the publishing history or authorship strategies of one of your favorite writers (e.g., how did Henry James self-consciously create his reputation as a literary author?).
  • Locate one of the incunabula in the Detroit Public Library.  Write a complete bibliographic description as well as a history that includes where this book came from, how it might have been used and other aspects that will help us understand its cultural importance.
  • Discuss one specific new technology or media form and show how it is re-shaping one particular cultural domain such as education, publishing or the workplace.
  • Analyze how new media is or is not creating new opportunities for writers or other creative workers.
  • Research a specific form of literacy training relating to  a specific time, place or group of people (e.g., charity schools in Victorian England; education for slaves or former slaves in 19th century US; Medieval education before print, etc).

Possible creative projects:
Some creative projects may need to be accompanied by a short paper explaining their conceptual framework or providing researched evidence.  Projects by more than one person must be appropriately larger in scope or detail.

  • Create an online, annotated timeline for the history of the book
  • Create an educational website on some topic within book history and/or new media.
  • Produce a video documentary on a book history or new media topic
  • Make a flash-animation of an historical narrative (e.g., the rise of copyright) or new uses for literacy technologies (“Your Brain on Twitter”)
  • Construct a blueprint for and then initiate some form of political action related to technology and literacy.  This might be a “free culture” campus movement or a drive to get computers into less-privileged schools.
  • Create a blog that contributes to the history of the book, new media, or related field.  (The writing in this will be more informal and perhaps more opinionated than in a traditional paper, but it should still use researched evidence and provide useful analyses.)  Use digital tools or other means to attract “real” readers and responders.
  • Write a print-based project such as a short story with researched background.

Research Conventions:

You must use at least six sources, all of which must be authoritative and credible. Review any web sources carefully and be prepared to justify your use.

Don’t let your voice be drowned out by the sources.  Your opinions and ideas –your unique way of looking at the evidence—should be evident at every level, from your choice of topic to your views on your sources, to the conclusions you draw from your investigation.

There should also be a clear boundary between your opinion and those of others. The western academic tradition (influenced in part by the development of the literary market) demands that you separate your original ideas from all others’ ideas, and give credit to all the sources you use, even those not quoted word for word. Therefore, when using someone else’s ideas, even if you are just summarizing or paraphrasing, you must cite those sources using MLA parenthetical style (see http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/557/01/ for more information).  Papers must include a correctly formatted “Works Cited” page; creative projects will need to devise an appropriate way to cite sources as needed.

Other format considerations: Paper papers should follow the traditional format of academic writing by having 1” margins, being double-spaced, and using a standard font such as Times New Roman 12pt.


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