Week 2, February 1: Syllabus: a Map, a Recipe, a Score, a Promise

Lynda Barry, Syllabus; via Drawn & Quarterly; fair use

Today, as we preview our plans for the semester, we’ll consider the syllabus as a promise, a contract, an invitation, a “boundary object,” a genre, a medium – one not unlike a map, a blueprint, a timeline, a score, a collage, a recipe. We’ll assess the epistemologies, logistics, social relations, conventions, and values embodied in the conventional syllabus – how it crystallizes certain understandings of the classroom and the academy, understandings about learning and knowledge – and we’ll imagine how things could be otherwise. The syllabus then also gives us an opportunity to think about citation: who do we cite, how, when, and why? What are the aesthetics, economics, and politics of citation? 

🚨🚨 We’ll meet virtually this week! 🚨🚨

🌿 I should also say: If you’re accustomed to syllabi that consist of little more than a weekly schedule and a list of readings, our website might look a bit – or a lot! – intimidating. Fear not! Most of what you see here is my attempt to provide context and intellectual framing. I explain why I’ve chosen particular texts, and what I hope you’ll gain from reading, watching, or listening to them. I offer tips regarding what to focus on. I pose questions that I hope you’ll keep in mind as you engage. I also occasionally direct you to collections of related resources that you’re welcome simply to skim, and which might (I hope!) prove useful for your own research – or inspire a new interest, or introduce you to some new resources, or connect you to a new community. In short, the voluminous text you’ll see below is meant to serve as a friendly guide to your weekly preparations. It’ll ideally make your reading more efficient and meaningful 🙂  

In-Class Activity: Syllabus Audit: I’ll organize you into small, interdisciplinary groups, and you’ll each develop rubrics for analyzing a selection of anonymized, historical syllabi in accordance with whatever criteria you/we determine to be most salient. The academy – which exemplifies what anthropologist Marilyn Strathern calls an “audit culture” – loves “rubrics” because they portray assessment as systematic, scientific, objective, verifiable, and transparent. One of our goals, both today and throughout the semester, will be to see when, how, and why we exhaust our assessment tools – and to appreciate how and why analysis often defies standardized criteria. 

To Prepare for Today: 

  • Sign up for your Object Analysis submission and presentation date!
  • Please review the course website (which constitutes our syllabus!) and come to class with any questions you might have! Then please skim The New School’s Syllabus Requirements and Template [pdf] and think about its form and content in light of the questions above. What functions does all of this “content” serve? [30 min]. 
  • Anthropologists, historians, media scholars, visual artists, and myriad other scholars and critical practitioners have developed methods for rhetorically and aesthetically analyzing bureaucratic documents like the syllabus (there’s a whole field of “paperwork studies, a body of art experimenting with the “aesthetics of administration,” and a group of STS scholars interested in bureaucratic “boring things!”). What might we learn from this work in our analysis of the syllabus? See  this super-short excerpt from the introduction to Lisa Gitelman’s Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents (Duke University Press 2014): ix-x; Vanessa Gregory, “If I’m to Go,” Harper’s (October 2020); and “Wendy Red Star, Apsáalooke: Children of the Large-Beaked Bird,” MASS MoCA. How do these examples model methods for analyzing the syllabi below – or our own syllabus? [thanks to Leah Price and @casadefauxdobe for the reminders!] [15 min].
  • Read Hua Hsu, “A Celebration of the Syllabus,” New Yorker (October 22, 2021) and check out some of the syllabus examples in our “Syllabus” Arena channel. Please also skim the Hyperlink Academy’s Meta Course – especially the Syllabus Inspiration [30 min]. 
  • Enjoy these excerpts from Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014): 1-11, 34-9, 55-63, 89. The whole book is great; you’re welcome, but not required, to buy it! [15 min]. 

Now let’s think more about who is included in a syllabus, how we cite, and how bibliographies and citations are political, ethical, and aesthetic practices: 

  • Read Katherine McKittrick, “Footnotes (Books and Papers Scattered About the Floor),” Dear Science and Other Stories (Duke University Press, 2021): 14-34 [45 min]. 
  • Read Max Liboiron, Acknowledgements in Pollution is Colonialism (Duke University Press, 2021): vii-xi; we’ll revisit Liboiron’s work in a few weeks! [5 min]. 
  • Optional: Watch Legacy Russell, “On Footnotes,” Vera List Center (November 29, 2021) [video: 1:19:41]. 

We might consider Pelin Tan’s Urgent Pedagogies a “meta-syllabus” for experimental learning; we’ll consider this project, and others like it, in a few weeks, as part of our para-/extra-institutional schools lesson. Fair use.

Supplemental Resources: 

  • Sarah Ahmed, “Making Feminist Points,” Feminist Killjoy (September 11, 2013).
  • Seth Cluett’s November 21, 2021, Twitter thread on footnotes. 
  • Kevin Gannon, “How to Create a Syllabus,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (n.d.). 
  • William P. Germano and Kit Nicholls, Preface and “What You Do, What They Do” in Syllabus: The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document that Changes Everything (Princeton University Press, 2020): xv-xxiii and 1-21; Daniel Shea, “W. Germano and K. Nicholls, ‘The Syllabus,’” New Books in Education [podcast : 1:30]. 
  • +Tao Leigh Goffe, “To Read bell hooks Was to Love Her,” Vulture (December 17, 2021). 
  • Eric Hayot, “Unlearning What You (Probably) Know,” The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities (Columbia University Press, 2014): 7-16 [on citation]. 
  • Remi Kalir and Maha Bali, “Annotate the Syllabus,” OneHE (2020) [video: 15:48]. See also “Annotate Your Syllabus,” Remi Kalir (August 15, 2018); “Annotate Your Syllabus 2.0,” Remi Kalir (December 19, 2018). 
  • Carrie Mott and Daniel Cockayne, “Citation Matters: Mobilizing the Politics of Citation Toward a Practice of ‘Conscientious Engagement,” Gender, Place and Culture 24:7 (2017). 
  • Imani Roach, “Kameelah Rasheed: Who Will Survive in America?Guernica (March 6, 2017) and Darren Campion  and Steve Messer, “Other Histories: An Interview with Kameelah Janan Rasheed,” Paper Journal (June 20, 2013). 
  • *Chris Shore and Susan Wright, “The Kafkaesque Pursuit of ‘World Class’: Audit Culture and the Reputational Arms Race in America,” in Sharon Rider, Michael Peters, Mats Hyvönen, and Tina Besley, eds., World Class Universities: A Contested Concept (Springer, 2020): 59-76. 
  • *Marilyn Strathern, “Introduction: New Accountabilities” in Strathern, ed., Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy (Routledge, 2000): 1-18. 
  • *Marilyn Strathern, “Bullet-Proofing: A Tale from the United Kingdom” in Annelise Riles, ed., Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge (University of Michigan Press, 2006):  181-205.
  • *Marilyn Strathern, Commons and Borderlands: Working Papers on Interdisciplinarity, Accountability and the Flow of Knowledge (Sean Kingston, 2003). 

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