Course Syllabus

Tu, Th   2:00-3:15PM   Maura 237
Contact Information:
  • 403 St. Joseph (Box 461)
  • My last name,  at the domain.
  • 724-830-1909

Office Hours:
  • Monday, 4-5
  • Tuesday, 10-11
  • Wednesday, 1-2
  • Thursday, 3:30-4:30 (though I will often have a meeting at 4)
From the catalog description of EL 336: Topics in Media and Culture
Examines one or more issues in depth that result from the interplay of cultural forces and contemporary media. The course may focus on specific media, tracing their development and interaction in contemporary society, or it may begin with an issue and deal with the ways in which media treat and shape issues.
Our topic:
The History and Future of the Book

Your objectives for this course are to

  • gain a broader understanding of the history and future of the book a cultural force
  • develop the ability to analyze complex issues relating to knowledge, thought, and literacy; and to evaluate diverse critical perspectives on those issues
  • learn the fundamental principles and current theories associated with media studies (as applied to the book)
  • strengthen your critical thinking and writing skills

To that end, the course asks you to

  • read a wide range of texts (including fiction, scholarly, and popular works)
  • discuss the assigned readings (both online and in class)
  • write informal responses (several times a week), slightly more involved exercises (about every other week), and academic research papers (a midterm paper of 6-8 pages, and a final paper of 12-15 pages)
  • lead class discussions (on two out of four planned classroom forum dates)

The class format will be mostly discussion, with some lecture.

Critical thinking is a skill; like most things of value, it is not easy to learn (or teach), and meaningful progress comes only with practice. One of the benefits of the small class sizes we have at Seton Hill is that all students can participate meaningfully in every class discussion..

Please keep copies of rough drafts; that is, instead of saving overtop of your old files, save each new version with a new name ("Exercise 1.1" "Exercise 1.2").  I may want to talk with you about your rough drafts before recording a grade.

I will often send out bulk e-mails to the address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

According to the catalog, "Students are expected to attend every class." (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, "Class Attendance" and "Excused Absences".) 

Repeated late arrivals and early departures will begin to count as absences.

A student's final grade may be lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of 90% with a record of 10% unexcused absences may get a final grade of 81%. (If you have only a few absences and your class participation is good, I will probably waive the penalty.)

Seton Hill University recognizes that extra-curricular activities of all sorts are important components of a liberal arts education. Nevertheless:
  • Students who miss deadlines for any reason are still responsible for the material covered that day.

  • An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected, assigned, or discussed that day.

According to Seton Hill policy, you must complete 80% of the course material before you qualify for an incomplete, and you must clear the request with the registrar before the last day of classes.

5.1.1. Emergency Absences

Those who miss deadlines due to an unplanned emergency should submit an "Absence Form," with proper documentation, as soon as possible.

For each class that you miss, print out and complete an "Absence Form" (available at After you initiate this contact, we can discuss when or whether it will be possible for you to make up the work that you missed.

Before you contact me about material that you missed, please consult the online syllabus and/or a classmate's notes to determine exactly what you need to make up. (If you ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed in class, I will refer you to this document.)

For some classroom activities, such as offering timely feedback on a peer draft, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

5.1.2. Scheduled Absences

Those who miss deadlines due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all assignments beforehand. Coming up with a plan to accommodate your needs may involve extra work on my end, so please submit an acceptable "Absence Form" (see above) as soon as possible.

Students who are attentive, prepared, involved, respectful, and contribute positively to the classroom environment stand to benefit if their final grade falls near a borderline. Participation is a key factor that determines whether and to what degree I will adjust a final grade up or down.

Students who dislike public speaking may wish to invest more effort in their online writing, and vice-versa.

Most work will be submitted online.

Most online due dates will be set for 15 minutes before class begins (in order to discourage students from missing the first few minutes of class because they were uploading the homework).  In general, late submissions go to the bottom of my grading stack. If you are a few minutes late submitting your online work, I probably won't even
notice (as long as you're ready when it's time to start class).

Unless I agree to another arrangement in advance, assignments listed as Exercises or components of the research papers lose one letter grade per day they are late. (Any day when SHU classes are in session, including Saturday, counts as one day.)

Some assignments that are designed to give you specific preparation for a particular class (e.g. worksheets or reading responses) will be collected only at the beginning of the class when they are due.

If given a good reason, I am generally willing to be flexible. Nevertheless, some work (such as group projects and peer workshops) can't be made up.

If you are late submitting any part of a multi-step assignment, you might not get feedback from me before the next part of the assignment is due.  (I can try to plan ahead for this sort of thing if you let me know in advance.)


Items designated as "workbooks" or "worksheets" are brief assignments designed to help you focus on some area of knowledge, or give you practice on some skill that is about to feed into an upcoming assignment. I might ask you to explain the difference between paper and parchment; or give you a picture of an object and ask you to identify it and label the parts; or ask you to fold a piece of paper to make a signature for an octavo. We might do these during class time, or they might be homework.

Your overall performance on workbooks will be factored into your class participation score; there isn't a separate slot in the gradebook. They are designed to give us a starting point for a conversation, or firming up a point I want to make sure you have noticed. Exercises and Research Paper Components

Via, submit the assignments designed as Exercises, Drafts, or Revisions. (I will send out an e-mail with instructions for setting up your account.)

Getting Credit for Late Work

J-Web assignments close automatically. I won't be so rigid about the exercises and project components that you upload to, or the online discussion that you carry on through your blogs.  But if your assignment has not appeared in its proper place by the time I finish marking all the work that was submitted on time, I may record a zero for a late assignment.

In order to remove that zero, you will need to tell me exactly assignment you have recently submitted. (Just send me an e-mail with the name of the assignment.)

If you would like to purchase your texts online, here is a page with links to for History and Future of the Book. (You don't have to buy them from Amazon -- you may choose any bookseller, and the items are also in the SHU bookstore.)

  • Brookfield, Book (Eyewitness), (0789458926)
  • Tribble & Trubeck, Writing Material (0321077172)
  • Kindle (tentative; a Kindle is a hand-held gadget for reading electronic books; Reeves Library has ordered one because I wanted each student to be able to check one out for a week or so. More about this assignment if and when the Kindle arrives -- they sold out during the Christmas rush!)
Part I: Oral to Manuscript
  • Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write (0300043821)
Part II: Manuscript to Print
  • Orwell, 1984 (0451524934)
  • Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler... (0679420258)
  • McLuhan, Gutenberg Galaxy (0451039130)
Part III: Print to Digital
  • Aarseth, Cybertext (0801855799)
  • Doctorow, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (076530953X)
  • Kirschenbaum Mechanisms (0262113112) [publication date: 31 Jan 2008]

Disability Statement
If you have a disability that requires instructor consideration please contact the Director of Disability Services at 724-838-4295. It is recommended that this be accomplished by the second week of class.

If you need accommodations for successful participation in class activities prior to your appointment at the Disability Services Office, you should offer information in writing that includes suggestions for assistance in participating in and completing class assignments. It is not necessary to disclose the nature of your disability.

Academic Honesty and Ethical Conduct

Seton Hill University expects that all its students will practice academic honesty and ethical conduct.

The University regards plagiarism, cheating on examinations, falsification of papers, non-sanctioned collaboration, and misuse of library material, computer material, or any other material, published or unpublished, as violations of academic honesty. Violators of the code may expect disciplinary sanctions, which are discussed in the Seton Hill University Catalog, page 30, Code of Academic Conduct.

Many of your college assignments will involve quoting from or responding to other people's words and ideas. However, using those words or ideas without properly citing them, or resubmitting your own work for a different class without the instructor's permission, constitutes plagiarism.

Paraphrasing the thoughts or written work of another without reference -- even with permission from the source -- is also plagiarism.

Helpful information is available at What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It.

Any plagiarism on a draft will result in a zero as the final grade on that assignment. Any plagiarism or cheating on an informal essay, paragraph, or grammar exercise will also result in a zero.

There are 1200 points of work in the class.

  • Participation Portfolios (300 points)
  • Exercises (350) points)
  • Forum Presentations (200)
  • Formal Papers (350 points)

There is no final exam.

I will grade on a four-point scale. If an assignment, such as an exercise, is worth 50 points, and you earn 40, that's a high B.  If you earn a 25, that's a C.

If, at the end of the class, you have earned 75% of the possible points, (about 1000), then your base grade will be a B. I might bump that grade up or down a little, based on your participation grade.

The portfolio assignments asks you to compile your contributions to the most productive online conversations, as well as selected thoughtful expansions of contributions that you made earlier. The portfolios are your opportunity to demonstrate your developing understanding of key concepts and issues that we have been discussing.

The participation portfolios are your chance to call to my attention the online contributions that you feel are the most valuable. The most important component of the portfolio is your reflection on your online participation. I'll post more details about the portfolios after everyone has had some time to get comfortable in the online environment. If you keep up with your online postings, the portfolio assignment will be easy.

  1. Portfolio 1 (100)
  2. Portfolio 2 (100)
  3. Portfolio 3 (100)

Short essays, more formal than an in-class response paper, but not as formal as a research paper.

You are welcome to use "I" and refer informally to things we have discussed in class, but

  • choose a specific thesis to defend
  • quote assigned readings directly and usefully
  • follow MLA style (including a Works Cited list)

Assigned about every other week. 3-4 pages long, sometimes broken up into several shorter parts).

Upload these to

Check the course outline page for the due dates and assigned subjects. I will provide more information as the due dates approach, but the list below offers an idea of what the exercises will cover.

  1. Of Books and Me (a personal essay)
  2. In Defense of Oral Culture
  3. In Defense of Manuscript Culture
  4. Of Books in Culture (a social essay)
  5. In Response to the Kindle [or, if the Kindle class project falls through... In Defense of X (choose something of value that is threatened by Facebook, text-messaging, videogames, Wikipedia, or some other influential artifact of digital culture)]
  6. Of Books as Books (an analytical essay)
When I formally introduce this assignment during class, sign up to deliver a 15-minute presentation on two of the following four general topics.

  1. Memory and Knowledge in the Classical Era
  2. Scarcity and Knowledge in the Medieval Era
  3. Conformity and Knowledge in the Mechanical Era
  4. Emergence and Knowledge in the Digital Era


Your presentation will begin with a longer-than-usual, richly linked blog entry, due at least 24 hours before your assigned presentation date. Your blog entry will be assigned reading for the class, so your in-class presentation should not simply involve reading the words you have already posted to your blog. The advance reading should prepare the class to have a meaningful discussion about the issue(s) you raise during the class presentation.

  • Demonstrate the ability to choose a specific case study.
    • "How people used to read back in the day" is too vague.
    • "How the Protestant Reformation affected public attitudes towards reading in England" is a little better.
    • "Anti-catholic bias in British accounts of the history of the printing press" (might be a bit TOO specific, but if the subject interests you, and you can tie it to the course material, go for it)
  • Demonstrate your ability to build a compelling, accurate case for multiple different perspectives on ways to look at an issue. (You don't have to pretend to be objective, but you should try to choose a topic that is likely to divide the opinion of the class, and you should emphasize the strengths of the positions you reject, and acknowledge the weaknesses of the positions you support.)

  • Demonstrate your ability to use your media skills to find relevant sources (online and offline, academic articles and, where appropriate, conduct original interviews).  I would welcome a podcast, video presentation, narrated slide show (with appropriate credit given to the images), or just a clever and effective use of web links.


The sequence of assignments leading to the midterm paper and the term paper also includes oral workshop presentations, but those factored into your grade for the papers.
Paper 1, 6-8p (100)
Paper 2, 12-15p (250)

Recent Comments

Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: No problem, Dani! I'm glad you've made a connecti
DavidCristello on Ex 5: Response to Kindle: PSAW!
Daniella Choynowski on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: warning: conclusion deals with Harry Potter (the b
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: David, could you please let me know that you've re
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: Right. Can be informal.
Daniella Choynowski on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: around 3-4 pages for the Kindle, right?
Jeremy Barrick on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: Dave, rest assure. I have the Kindle. Can I give i
Jeremy Barrick on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: Dave, rest assure. I have the Kindle. Can I give i
Daniella Choynowski on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: no, both essays will be in before midnight
Dennis G. Jerz on Ex 6: Of Books as Books: That's correct, Dani. Actually, I suppose if thi
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