Course Syllabus: English 496B (Honors Thesis Seminar)
Spring 2015 Professor Gary Handwerk
M/W 10:30-12:20 Office: A-402 Padelford
Parrington 305 Phone: 543-2183
Office Hours: Tues 1-3 and by appt. E-mail: email@example.com
About the course:
The focal activity in the English spring honors seminar is a thesis project, generally understood to be a substantive essay (23-24 pages in length, plus notes and bibliography), but potentially somewhat longer (given your individual project). Although most students tend to choose literary topics, you are also welcome to do thesis work in another area within English Studies—language study, linguistics, rhetoric and composition, cultural studies, film studies, and/or emerging areas of the discipline. With prior discussion and my approval, you can also work on a more unconventional sort of project.
As important as the thesis itself is the process of researching and writing it, so much of our class time will be devoted to specific activities—some individual, some in small groups, some as a whole class. Besides providing a structure (and hopefully valuable support) for writing your individual thesis, a significant goal of these activities is to develop your oral presentation and peer activity skills. While we often think of writing as an essentially individual activity, writing (like reading) in the real world is rarely like that. We not only write for others (mostly), we often wind up writing with others, producing reports, analyses, documents of all kinds as the result of intensive collaboration with other people. In these contexts, we switch between dual roles, serving sometimes as sounding boards for other people’s ideas and drafts, sometimes using them as sounding boards for us. Much of that process is conversational; having to present an idea orally can be an invaluable step in sharpening your own sense of what you mean. So the course includes a significant component of group and oral work. As the schedule indicates, all of you will also do two oral presentations—one on your idea for your project, the other a summary of it during the final week of classes. While we won’t be meeting every class day, it is truly important that you be in class on scheduled work days (barring sickness or emergency).
For our purposes in this class, an academic thesis can be defined as a complex piece of research-based literary analysis, criticism, theory, or other critical work related to the field of English literary and cultural studies. An honors thesis should aspire to the level of a good graduate seminar paper. To approach this level of competence, it should have the following characteristics:
- A clear, significant thesis that is fully developed, coherent, and free from major flaws in reasoning.
- Arguments based on textual evidence and grounded in attentive close reading.
- An engagement in the “critical conversation” that takes the essay beyond a competent close reading. Authoritative use of secondary sources does not simply use the arguments of others in place of developing your own distinctive claim or simply provide a review of the researched criticism.
- A clear and consistent critical perspective that reflects an awareness of theoretical concerns.
- Effective organization that demonstrates purposefulness, a logical progression of thought, and rhetorical skill.
- Lucid, efficient and engaging prose style.
- Freedom from stylistic missteps and mechanical errors.
- Correct documentation utilizing either MLA Handbook or Chicago Manual of Style.
As companion and guide to critical inquiry, and as an aid to self-reflection about reading, we will be reading and discussing one required text:
Pierre Bayard, How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read (New York: Bloomsbury, 2007), IBSN-13: 978-1-59691-469-8
Despite its deeply embedded irony, Bayard’s book offers a thought-provoking framework for thinking about what we read, why we read…and how we might read more effectively. We will be discussing his Prologue and Chapter 1 on our first class day (March 30); please read those two sections in advance.
Conferences and Office Hours:
How much assistance and/or oral conversation you need as you progress with your project is something that you can and should figure out for yourself as the quarter moves along; that, too, is part of the writing process. We will have two sets of mandatory conferences for everyone in weeks 2 and 8, and I will also have office hours throughout the entire quarter dedicated to this specific class. One of the most crucial factors in successful completion of a thesis is being aware of where you are with your project at any given point in time—both when things are going well and, even more importantly, when you feel yourself getting stuck. Your classmates, especially your small group members, may be able to provide valuable help at such points; by all means, use them in that way. But I am your final resource for questions, concerns, brainstorming or anything else related to your thesis; it’s your responsibility to seek me out in ways that help you make efficient progress toward completion. I’d add, too, that you should seek out help without any sense of anxiety; getting stuck can actually be an incredibly valuable part of the writing process, a point when you are actively reconfiguring your ideas and making some of your most significant intellectual progress. But that stage is valuable only as a stage; getting through it in a timely way, especially in our world of ten-week academic quarters, is vital to compositional and psychic well-being.
Course Calendar (subject to change)
FOR THE FIRST DAY OF CLASS:
Read the Prologue and Chapter 1 of Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.
March 30 -- Introduction: Doing a Thesis (Topic Selection, Library Resources & Needs
Project Proposals, Annotated Bibliographies, Collaborative Writing &
April 1 -- Project Proposal Discussion: “What?, Why? & So What?”
April 6 -- NO CLASS: Individual conferences this week
April 8 -- Library Session w/Faye Christenberry (Suzzallo Instructional Lab)
April 13 -- Project Proposal Presentations
April 15 -- NO CLASS
April 20 -- Annotated Bibliographies Due
April 22 -- NO CLASS
April 27 -- Thesis Map/Outline Due; Group Workshopping
April 29 -- Group Workshopping II
May 4 -- NO CLASS: Optional individual conferences
May 6 -- NO CLASS: Optional individual conferences
May 11 -- First draft of first 12 pages of thesis due; bring 4 hard copies to class; Draft
May 13 -- Group Workshopping II
May 18 -- NO CLASS: Individual conferences on first drafts
May 20 -- NO CLASS: Individual conferences on first drafts
May 25 -- MEMORIAL DAY: NO CLASS
May 27 -- Full draft of thesis due; bring 4 copies to class; Group Workshopping
June 1 -- Thesis presentations
June 3 -- Thesis presentations
JUNE 12 -- FINAL DRAFT OF THESIS DUE