English 111 is a composition class first and foremost, and therefore our primary goal this quarter will be the development of strong expository writing skills like audience and genre awareness, effective use of primary and secondary sources, argumentation, organization, and revision.
An important secondary goal of the course, however, is to familiarize you with undergraduate-level inquiry in the humanities, particularly in the discipline of English. This means taking a closer look at how we generate the kinds of questions we ask in the English Department and at the tools and techniques we apply to those questions, such as close reading and rhetorical analysis. While the assignments for this class are designed to help you practice ways of thinking and writing that are most at home in the humanities, the skills you learn this quarter will help you become a more effective and persuasive writer in almost any context.
The 111 course understands these key skills in terms of four outcomes, or habits of good expository writing, which I’ve hinted at already. We’ll be returning to these definitions throughout the quarter, but briefly they are:
- Developing rhetorical awareness. (In what context will my writing be received? What are the stylistic conventions, key vocabulary, etc. of that context?)
- Entering into a critical discourse. (How do we create “conversations” between our own ideas and what has been said by others?)
- Generating and supporting complex claims. (How do we present our ideas in a nuanced, engaging, and persuasive manner?)
- Practicing reflection and revision. (Why do we, as authors, make the choices we make?)
These outcomes provide the backbone of the course, and it will be by practicing these skills that we will train ourselves to be more effective communicators and more critical consumers of texts.
Finally, a word on the subtitle: I’ve clustered the readings for this quarter around the theme of “Alternate History.” Over the course of the next ten weeks the United States will see the culmination of a historic presidential election (no matter who wins), and I feel, as only an English teacher can, the time is ripe for fiction that asks us to imagine both the precariousness of history and its profound impact on the present. These are stories that revisit crucial moments in history and ask, “If something else had happened there, how would things have been different?” During the first half of the quarter we will work together to construct a “theory” of the genre (that is, an account of its characteristic operations and categories of thought) that you’ll then use to guide your major writing projects in the second half.