Syllabus for Spring 2012: Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

  • English 302H09 (M/W, 9:00 - 10:15 am, East Building 121
  • English 302H26 (M/W, 10:30 am - 11:45 am, Enterprize Hall 275

    Dr Ellen Moody. My homepage address:; for Course Materials, go to e/emcourse.htm. My preferred email address is:

    Advanced Writing: On the Humanities

    This is an advanced writing course. In some ways it may remind you of the introductory college freshmen writing course you took a few semesters ago. We will talk about how to write plainly and clearly, about the ways of constructing arguments, about how to synthesize materials to compose a research paper, about punctuation, documentation -- about, in short, everything we can think of having to do with writing essays; and we will read and discuss full- length books, stories, essays, and watch and write about film adaptations.

    The course will, however, differ from the introductory course in that you will be asked to use these skills to write about imaginative literature and film in such a way as to cover some central aspects of the way we experience the arts in our culture: pictures, sculpture, and architectural, books, and films. We will delve into how artists transform their experiences into art and how readers and viewers respond. We will also deal with "high" and serious art and popular wide audience culture. We are looking to see how the books & films that reach are chosen; how they come to be published and disseminated. We will also look at art from a personal vantage point: how our memories of those books, films, music, pictures available to us, the buildings and landscapes we find ourselves in have helped to make us what we are today. Since there is no specific art prerequisite for this course, our perspective and discussions cannot be specialized or narrowly-focused on any art form: you do not have to have taken a film study course to do well here. The background knowledge assumed is that of the typical generally-educated reader who has attained Junior status in a senior college.

    Required Texts (unless otherwise stipulated any edition will do)
    Required Films:

    Required Writing and Research Methodology:

    You are required to write three essays outside class; to pass an open-book midterm exam and open-book final exam, which will take the form of writing essays in class on the books and films and answering short answer questions outside; and to give one short talk.

    The class (see Essay #3) is participating in the Students as Scholars program. Essay #3 has been devised to enable students:

    First Essay (#1)

    Writing About Art. You asked to go to a museum and describe a painting, sculpture or other artefact defined as art or craft that you see there. You can also describe a building if it's one that has been made by an architect with aesthetic values in mind or if it's a historically preserved building. See online models.

    Second Essay (#2)

    Essay #2: comparing novels and films. The proposal is due 3/21; the paper is due 4/4.

    The idea of the assignment is to compare a book and its film adaptation closely, not with a foregone conclusion that the book is better, but to see how a film narrative can supplement, surpass, change or (perhaps) lose something from the literary narrative.

    The Proposal:

    1. Which pair of novels/films will you write about. The choice is A Month in the Country, book and film; Namesake, book and film, or The Haunting of Hill House and the 1983 Haunting (book and film). If you have written or given a talk about either A Month in the Country or The Namesake, you must chose one of the other two; if you have covered both, you must write on Haunting of Hill House and the 1963 Haunting. If you are curious about the 1999 Haunting, you could watch that on on your own and could substitute it for the 1963 Haunting, but I warn all students the later part of the 1999 Haunting is very different and much is changed in the earlier part of the film too.
    2. Which choice are you going to do? a, b, or c. 3. A provisional thesis: your thesis should concern why you provisionally think this scene or set of scenes should not have been dropped, made a good addition to the film as a film, or why they are so essential they must appear in both the novel and film.
    3. . The paper would correspond to what Corrigan calls a "formalist" paper -- one concerned with formal features, patterns, themes in the novel and film, but taken as a whole these things have important ideological import (this is a phrase which sums up what Mason and Dixon have shown us in the classic and popular children's books they discuss). So what would you say is the overt ideological project of the novel and/or film? Who does the author/film maker want us to empathize with and why? who is not sympathized with and why?
    Third Essay (#3)

    In Search of Lost Time

    Length: 3-5 double-spaced typed pages. For this one you can go well over the limit if you want to (say 7 pages).

    This is to be a researched essay and may be regarded as "the term project." I ask you to find four sources beyond your chosen book -- about your book. Again, Bobbie Ann Mason's The Girl Sleuth: In Search of Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and Cherry Ames, about popular series books for girls, is the sort of book you might read for research into syndicated series and girls' books. There are books on boys' books, genres, books intended to reach specific age groups (youth adult book).

    Here is a full bibliography of books on children's literature to help you.

    The essay must include:

    An Annotated Bibliography: As part of the researched essay, you will be asked to hand in an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography provides short summaries and evaluations of the books and essays used in a research paper. The skill of synopsis will be reviewed. Models will be provided.

    An Abstract: You will also be asked to hand in an abstract of your own essay. We will in class learn to and practice the art of writing abstracts, of summarising, paraphrasing, and writing synopses.

    Q.E.P. Components: In Essay #3 they will articulate and refine a question about their favorite book which comes out of the reading they on types of books as a preface to Essay #2, and obviously follow ethical practices. The broader context will be the economic forces behind curricula in junior high and high schools as well as issues of sex, gender and race, class, and money. We will discuss how such experiences enter into students' choices and ideas in later life.

    1. In this essay the students will explore the workings behind how books they read and films they see reach them and take the form and are marketed the way they are. This can pertain to any specific discipline but to make for unity in discussion, we will approach all these from the aspect of the adolescent first coming into contact with such materials in junior high, high school and college.
    2. We will explore a group of essays and journals in the area of education (teaching, children's literature, areas of education) and film (film and literature quarterlies, essays on TV, film technology) where choices of what is published, how to teach and disseminate materials are discussed. We will look at how the choices of books for children are part of how people form social identities through reading books and magazines.
    3. We will write up our findings in a some short assignments, which will culminate in a comparative essay (#2) and in this essay going in search of lost time. Steps will include exploring the JStor, Project Muse and other humanities databases, and a trade journal.
    4. We will all also read a short monograph, Bobbie Ann Mason's Girl Sleuth, which goes into how girls's books were formulated, marketed and rewritten over several decades by commercial conglomerates; and Bob Dixon's Catching Them Young which analyses these books culturally.

    The Short Talk

    Talk is primary and writing secondary. I believe everyone can learn to write more clearly and enjoy writing more if he or she would only learn to talk on paper, to use the real language he or she might use in the classroom or any other natural situation which demands a certain coherence. Much of the advice you will find in John Trimble's Writing With Style is based on this belief. A good writer must learn to think of his material as something he is really communicating to someone else. The success of a communication in whatever media is measured not only by how the reader or listener receives it, but by whether the reader or listener truly understands and can apply to themselves what the artist has to say.

    Thus, each student will be asked to prepare a coherent ten minute talk for classroom presentation on the readings from one of our books which is due the day he or she is scheduled to talk upon. The talks will begin the third week of the semester. Fundamentally what you must do is invent a clear instrumental thesis-statement about the topic connected to your text and/or film, and develop it coherently and concretely.

    The whole class will listen and try to respond; their response will tell the student whether he or she has made him or herself clear; the ensuing dialogue and the student's own later thoughts about either what happened when he or she or another student talked will (it is hoped) teach everyone something about the basis of writing -- again, clear thinking in clear language which comes naturally to the speaker-writer.

    Each student is asked to hand in an outline or cards (hand-written or typed) which he or she used to talk from, and I will return this material with the grade for the talk in the following session.

    Open Book In-Class Writing

    For the midterm (which comes about 2/3s way through), you will be asked to write essays and answer questios about the texts and films we've covered up to that point: Trimble's Writing with Style, Corrigan's Short Guide to Writing About Film, Carr's A Month in the Country, Lahiri's The Namesake, Mason's The Girl Sleuth For the final you will be again asked to write essays and answer questions about the texts and films we've covered after the midterm: Jackson's Haunting of Hill House, Clark's Ox-Bow Incident, Graham's Ross Poldark, and Levy's Small Island.

    Important restriction: You can only write on a text or film once. If you talk on a text or film for your short talk, you cannot use that text or film for your mid-term or final. If you use a text or film for your mid-term, you cannot use it for extra credit essays. You can use the films, and even compare the films to the books for the mid-term and final in writing about books, but you should concentrate on the textual story.

    There is a specific format for writing reviews of books and films which we will learn about. We will use literary essay with guidelines format to learn about writing about books and films. The writing in the course is generally intended to provide practice on how to select, elaborate upon and judge books, films, essays and all research sources. They are also intended to make you think about what is the best way to express analytical, evaluative, and appreciate ideas about art. Such essays usually include some or all of the following points:

    1. the book's context and intended audience;
    2. its thesis or theses;
    3. your evaluative statement about this thesis and the book's content;
    4. a synopsis or summary of its contents;
    5. an analysis of the book to reveal how the author's background or biases help or hinder the author and the quality of the evidence.

    We will discuss how a film review usually includes some or all of the following points:

    1. the film's producer, director, intended audience, and (if applicable) screenplay;
    2. its perspective (or "message");
    3. your evaluative statement about this perspective;
    4. a synopsis or summary of the story or literal content of the film;
    5. an analysis of the film's techniques (presentation of characters, use and juxtaposition of scenes, use of music), dialogue, use of real actors, and particular ending to discuss how well or poorly the film conveyed its perspective.We will discuss the various approaches taken towards literary works and how a good literary or filmic review usually includes some or all of the following points:

    Obviously the midterm and final will test whether you have read all the assigned books with care, watched all the assigned films with sophisticated criteria in mind, and to reward those who attended class and listened to the short talks. But they are not "jump-through the hoop" exercises in which I try to catch you in literal mistakes. They are intended to provide opportunities for learning about and doing more kinds of writing in the arts.

    Reading and Class Attendance:

    Assumptions behind this course : I think that 1) something is to be gained by coming to class, and that we all can learn a great deal from one another; 2) good writing can be discussed in simple words, and exemplified, learned, practiced, and improved through imitation of models; 3) people who write well are often people who read a lot; and 4) the only way to improve one's writing is by much practice over a long period of time; so:

    1. Classwork : I want everyone to attend class faithfully, to read all the books, and to participate in class discussions. I ask that you limit your unexcused absences to a minimum; I regard weeks of absence as one basis for a failing grade.
    2. Writing Assignments: I have allowed ample time for 1) writing and revision of each essay; for 2) discussion of student models to help you see what is expected and give you ideas on how to go about a particular task; and for 3) the class as a single group to listen to, analyse and comment on one or more of the essays someone in the class has written. I will try my best to write comments on your essays which can help you how better to organize your thoughts, correct your grammar, and write lucidly and engagingly.


    By the end of the term there should be seven grades for each student on my roster. These I will average together to form the final grade. I should have three grades for the three essays, one for the short talk, one for the midterm and one for the final, one for the short talk. All shorter assignments (the proposals I ask for, any in-class writing) will be averaged together to form an eighth grade. Of course all three QEP assignments, in-class writing, and the final metacognitive assignment will be averaged together to form the eighth grade. If you hand your essay in late, the grade will be pulled down one element for every session, it is late. You must give your talk on the day cited on the short talk schedule so as to ensure only one person will talk on a given day. If you do not give your talk, you must take an F and that will be factored into your final grade.

    For the final grade for the course I take into account 1) your attendance record; 2) your participation in class; and 3) if you came for help if you needed it in planning the essay, thinking up a perspective; organizing and revising it. A teacher can tell when an essay or short talks is done with care, is something really thought about, something for which a genuine self-educational effort was made. I respect serious hard work and reward it when I see it. I will also reward someone whose work improves.

    The Problem of Plagiarism:

    DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Plagiarism is defined by the GMU English Department as follows:

    '"Plagiarism means using words, opinions, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit. Writers give credit through accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles consulted is not sufficient."

    If I discover that you have plagiarized, I will follow the guidelines of the English department which require that I fail or report you to the Chair of my Department. I am serious about this.

    How to contact me outside class:

    Without an appointment:

    Write to me by e-mail. My preferred address is I look at my gmail during the day, and I write back. Be sure to type the e-mail address to which you wish me to send my reply at the end of your message. Please feel free to write me. I will provide thorough commentary on any drafts of essays that you send me through my e-mail addresses.

    You can call the phone in the office I use (993-1176) or leave a message in my box in the English Office, which is in Robinson Hall on the fourth floor. I have no voice mail, and there is no way you can fax me. However, remember that I am on campus only on Mondays and Wednesdays; the secretaries will not call me and simply put notes in my box. Also, leaving essays in my box is a chancy business because materials get lost this way: no-one stands guard over the boxes. If you send an essay through an attachment, it doesn't always come through. The securest speediest way to get a late essay to me is still to bring it to the next class and give it to me warm hand to warm hand.

    With an appointment Private conferences are available by appointment on Mondays from 3:00 to 4:20 pm, Robinson A455. Sign up on the stenography pad which will be placed on the corner of my desk every time the class meets.

    Other Help Outside Class

    The College of Arts and Sciences runs a University Writing Center where you will find tutors to help you with writing. Their phone number is 703-993-1200. Here is a description of the place and its services:

    "The George Mason University Writing Center is a writing resource open to the entire university community, offering free tutoring in a comfortable, supportive atmosphere. During face-to-face and online sessions, trained graduate and undergraduate tutors form a variety of disciplines assist writers at all stage of the writing process. Tutors emphasize positive attitudes and stratgies that help writers at any level learn to evaluate and revise their work in order to be more confident and effective writers."

    To find out more and to start to use the services offered, go to


    1: Mon/Wed, 1/23 & 1/25
    In Class: Course introduction: brief explanation of syllabus and overview of course. Brief explanation of short talks. We'll watch A Month in the Country. Outside Class: Trimble, Writing with Style, Read Carr's A Month in the Country (to finish 2/6) and student models for short talks for next time. Be prepared to be assigned one talk for the term.
    2: Mon/Wed, 1/30 & 2/1
  • In Class: Short Talks Given Out. Trimble; Proposal for #1. How to write about art; discuss A Month in the Country book & film. First in-class writing. Outside class: Proposal for #1; due. Read Trimble, student models on art. Begin reading Corrigan.
    3: Mon/Wed, 2/6 & 2/8
    In Class: Proposal for Essay #1 due. Short talks 1-3. Outside class: Read half way through The Namesake and finish by 2/20; Corrigan assigned and student models on writing about literature and comparing film and novel for next time
    4: Mon/Wed, 2/13 & 2/15
    In Class: Class watches Namesake, discusses film and book. Short talk 4. Outside class: Trimble; finish reading Namesake.
    5: Mon/Wed, 2/20 & 2/22
    In Class: Essay #1 is due. 1st QEP assignment: From Bob Dixon, "Snakes and Ladders," pp. 43-75, "Empire Follows the Flag, pp 73-98, 114, "Supernatural," pp. 120-29, 145-63. Class discussion, material on midterm. Short talks 5-7. Outside Class: Read Girl Sleuth.
    6: Mon/Wed, 2/27 & 2/29
    In class: Return and discussion of Essay #1. Short talks 8-10. Outside class: Materials for mid-term given out. Prepare for mid-term.
    7: Mon/Wed, 3/5 & 3/7
    In Class: 3/5: Prepare for Midterm & Girl Sleuth, Catching Them Young. Essay #2 explained, proposal outlined. 3/7: Midterm. Outside class: Read Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House to finish 3/19. Proposal for Essay #2 and Name of book for Essay #3 due on 3/21.
    3/12-18: Spring Holiday!
    8: Mon/Wed, 3/19 & 3/21
    In Class: 3/19: The class watches the 1961 Haunting. 3/21: Proposal for Essay #2 is due and name of book for #3 are due. Short talk 11. Outside Class: Begin reading Ox-Bow Incident to finish week of 4/ 2.
    9: Mon/Wed, 3/26 & 3/28
    In class: Short talks 12-13. Discussion of gothic and film noir. Class watches Ox-Bow Incident. Outside class: Finish Ox-Bow Incident and begin Poldark to finish by the week of 4/9. Select models for Essay #3 are assigned.
    10: Mon/Wed, 4/2 & 4/4
    In Class: Short talks 14-16. Discusson of models for #3. 4/4: Essay #2 is due. Outside Class: Begin reading Poldark to finish 4/16. You should be reading your chosen book/text for Essay #3. Do Practice I for learning to write an abstract.
    11: Mon/Wed, 4/9 & 4/11
    In Class: Proposal for #3 due. How to write an abstract, how to write an annotated bibliography; how to compose an abstract. 2nd QEP assignment: 2 essays in Language Arts & biographical sketch of children's writer. The classes watches 3rd episode of Poldark in class. We go over abstract for #1. Outside Class: You should finish reading Ross Poldark and begin Andrea Levy's Small Island to finish by 4/25.
    12: Mon/Wed, 4/16 & 4/18
    In Class: Short talks 17-19. Outside Class: You should have finished Poldark and be into Small Island. Do Practice 2 for learning to write an abstract.
    13: Mon/Wed, 4/23 & 4/25
    In Class: Class watches long selection from Small Island (about 84 minutes). Short talks 20-21 We go over practice 2 for writing an abstract. Outside Class: Finish Small Island. Prepare to give 2-3 minute presentation on your research paper on 5/2.
    14: Mon/Wed, 4/30 & 5/2
    In Class: First call for Essay #3 (with abstract and annotated bibliography) is due. A Short talk 22: 2-3 minute presentations of progress of research papers. Review for final. Twenty short answer questions handed out; there will be a paragraph where you are asked to answer three QEP questions on what we read and how you went about your last paper. Outside class: Prepare for final and if you have not handed in your Essay #3 finish it to hand it in too.
    15: Mon/Wed exams

    Final for 302H09: 5/14, Mon: at 7:30 - 10:15 am: If you did not hand in Essay #3 on last day, it's due with the Final. Final. open-book in class essays & short answer questions.

    Final for 302H26: 5/9, Wed, at 10:30 am - 1:15 pm: If you did not hand in Essay #3 on last day, it's due with the Final. Final. open-book in class essays & short answer questions

    Contact Ellen Moody.
    Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
    Page Last Updated January 16, 2011.