Your work in BookLab will happen through two major assignments:

1. Leading Class Discussion

Once during the semester you will work with a partner to lead our class discussion. This means a few things:

  1. You should read all the core and penumbral readings for your chosen week. You and your partner can choose to split the penumbral readings if you wish.
  2. Optionally, you may adjust our readings for your week by adding one additional article and possibly moving one required reading into the penumbral category. You should speak with me well in advance about either, as I might see something essential in a piece that would not be apparent to you. Any decision to change the reading schedule should be made at least one week prior to your assigned session, so that your colleagues have time to adjust their preparations.
  3. You should come to your assigned class ready with a few questions or points you that will help get our conversation started. Your prompts should incorporate ideas from the penumbral readings that your colleagues may not have encountered. You are not expected to lead discussion for the entire class period: I only expect you to take the lead for the first 20-30 minutes.

There is a page in the class Canvas that you can use to sign up for your slot, which you should claim by the end of the day on February 3.

2. BookLab Fieldbook

BookLab is an experiential course that moves between discussion of readings and applied book labs each week. A central goal of the class will be to bring its two facets into conversation: to use our readings and discussions to contextualize our applied work in laboratories, and to use our applied work in laboratories to enrich our understanding of concepts from our readings.

To help accomplish this goal, you will maintain a fieldbook, which will constitute your central scholarly activity throughout this semester. I call this assignment a “fieldbook” rather than a “journal” to convey its hybridity: week by week, your entries will include a mix of description, analysis, code, figures, or images. This ongoing assignment will give you the chance to organize the diverse tasks of the class’ experiential work, practice the skills introduced in the labs, bring your experiential work into conversation with class readings and personal research, and experiment with ideas that will be further developed in experiments you will conduct and write up.

There will be three types of entries in your fieldbooks: bibliographic annotation, lab report, and experiment.

Organizing Your Fieldbook

Your fieldbook will be a collection of files collected in a folder that I am able to access. I strongly recommend that you consider using a Github repository and writing in Markdown (see instructions for doing so from another course I’ve taught) but you could also use a folder in Google Drive, publish to a blog, or find another solution that works best to meet your goals. The important thing is that I am able to find your entries.

You should share the URL of your fieldbook with me so that I can check your progress through the semester. I may also ask to repost stellar fieldbook entries on our class website, either under your name or anonymously as you prefer.

When using Github or another online folder structure, you should name your files following the following convention:

For bibliographic annotation entries:

For lab report entries:

For Experimental entries:


BookLab is a challenging and full class. The semester will include 14 weeks of readings and ~12 humanities laboratories. To give you some flexibility, you may choose to forgo bibliographic annotation entries twice during the semester, and you should plan to complete 6 lab report entries. Your complete fieldbook then, will include:

  1. ~11 bibliographic annotation entries: that’s one for each week, minus the first week when none was expected, and minus two weeks you choose to forgo
  2. 6 lab report entries, completed at your discretion within 2 weeks of the given lab activity
  3. 2 experimental entries, completed at your discretion

I strongly recommend you not delay starting this work, but instead begin early and work steadily so that you can use this flexibility as the inevitable stresses of the semester emerge. Your bibliographic annotation entries are due prior to the pertinent class, while lab report entries are due within two weeks of the pertinent lab session.

1. Bibliographic Annotation Entries

In order to help you attend closely to our course texts and prepare for each class, you should prepare a few paragraphs responding to the core readings and your chosen penumbral text. I mean a few paragraphs in total, NOT a few paragraphs per text. Your entries should synthesize and bring readings into conversation, and should focus on a few ideas you want to highlight rather than attempting to summarize everything in the readings. These entries should be prepared, roughly, in the style of the annotated bibliography. It will be easiest to complete this assignment if you jot down notes and ideas while reading.

You should draft each bibliographic annotation fieldbook entry in its own file, following the naming convention outlined above, and commit or publish it to your fieldbook prior to the pertinent class period. To emphasize: each class preparation entry should be saved as a separate file in your fieldbook.

2. Lab Report Entries

Your lab report entries will vary quite a bit from lab to lab. I may post a prompt for a lab to help start your thinking, in which case you should begin your reports from these prompts. In generally I would expect lab reports to be at least 500 but no more than 1,000 words, as an absolute maximum.

In each lab report entry, I will expect to find an account of what you did: that is, a brief description of the lab activities completed and any outcomes (code, a material product, etc.). For coding labs, you will likely integrate code snippets directly into your prose (more on this as those labs approach), while for other labs you may instead reference external proof of your work, such as photos. Next, I would expect some prose that reflect on the process: what thoughts did doing the lab activity prompt about the medium and/or technologies we used? What insights or questions occurred as you worked? Did the activity remind you of other labs in this class, or other experiences beyond the course?

I will also expect prose that reflects analytically on the work of the lab, putting it into conversation with one or two readings from the same week of class as the lab, as well as readings drawn from the larger syllabus, or beyond where appropriate. This prose need not be as formal as a research paper, but it should demonstrate careful thought and preparation. You should integrate the readings explicitly, if possible through direct quotation. Use this writing to experiment with intellectual pairings you think might be generative to your larger thinking and help you prepare for your longer experimental entries.

You should submit lab report entries within two weeks of the lab activity, as we agreed together in class on the first day.

3. Experimental Entries

Unlike many graduate seminars, BookLab will not ask you to produce a final seminar paper. In some ways, your lab report entries will constitute an ongoing analysis akin to what happens in many seminar papers.

In addition, twice during the semester, you will conduct your own experiment with textual technologies or media. In brief, you will either extend your work with one of our lab technologies, bring together multiple modalities from our labs, or even introduce a textual technology or medium we were unable to explore in class. Your goal will be to delve more deeply into a particular book technology or medium than we can in 90 minutes, gain a more robust understanding of the scholarly literature touching on that technology or medium, and produce a materially-engaged analysis. Your experiments should, like our labs, bring together theory and praxis and be engaged with material texts, capaciously construed.

As with your lab report entries, your experimental fieldbook entries will pair description and analysis, but with more emphasis on academic argument, and your own theoretical or scholarly approaches. We will discuss these assignments more in class in the first few weeks, so that we have a shared understanding of what is expected and what is possible, but I encourage enthusiasm and risk taking in these experiments.

You may choose your topics and technologies at your own discretion, and complete your experiments on your own calendar, though I would not recommend putting both off until the end of the semester. You might think of the effort asked in these assignments as, roughly, half what you would contribute to a more traditional seminar paper assignment.

Incomplete grades

Students must initiate an incomplete request by contacting the instructor. The instructor and student must agree on a due date for completion of coursework. The student must fill out the Incomplete Form and get it signed by the student, the instructor, and the student’s academic adviser.

An request for an incomplete grade is most often granted to students encountering a medical emergency or other extraordinary circumstances beyond their control. Students must request an incomplete grade from the instructor. The instructor and student will agree on a due date for completion of coursework. The student must submit an Incomplete Form signed by the student, the instructor, and the student's academic advisor to the front office:

Please see the Student Code for full details:

Method of Assessment

The Trouble with Grading

As you no doubt know, grading can be a contentious issue in college courses, particularly in writing- and discussion-based courses, where grades can seem arbitrary and contestable. Grading in school does not much resemble the way you will be evaluated in your lives or careers, where you will define many of your own goals and be measured by how responsibly and effectively you achieve them. For these reasons, in my undergraduate classes I have moved toward contract grading. To quote Cathy Davidson, a professor at CUNY from whom most of my ideas about contract grading are adapted:

The advantage of contract grading is that you, the student, decide how much work you wish to do this semester; if you complete that work on time and satisfactorily, you will receive the grade for which you contracted. This means planning ahead, thinking about all of your obligations and responsibilities this semester and also determining what grade you want or need in this course. The advantage of contract grading to the professor is no whining, no special pleading, on the students part. If you complete the work you contracted for, you get the grade. Done. I respect the student who only needs a C, who has other obligations that preclude doing all of the requirements to earn an A in the course, and who contracts for the C and carries out the contract perfectly. (This is another one of those major life skills: taking responsibility for your own workflow.)

In graduate courses, however, these issues are even more acute, as you professionalize away from away a system in which you are assigned letter grades and toward a system where you must take ownership of your own work, ensuring it meets the standards of professional performance, service, research, and writing. Your professors will give you feedback and guidance—and will at points decide whether your work is sufficient to move to the next stage—but your theses, comprehensive exam papers, or dissertation chapters will likely not be given A’s or B’s. In your work experiences, you will certainly not be given letter grades, but instead be evaluated in other ways, often with your own participation.

In addition, BookLab is an experimental course in which I want you to feel empowered to experiment and even sometimes to fail. I want to create an environment in which intellectual risk-taking and creative scholarship can be rewarded, even when it does not pan out as hoped.

Consultative Grading

Ultimately, the university will require me to assign a grade to your work this semester. In order to address the concerns outlined above and create space for experimentation, you will assess your own work in this class in dialogue with me, as mentor rather than judge. You will ultimately grade your own work based by assessing your effort and performance across the course assignments as they relate to the goals you set for yourself, your work to meet those goals, and your intellectual growth during the class.

Formally, this means that I will ask you to draft self-evaluations a few times during the semester, including a final self-evaluation through which you will assign yourself a grade. Barring extreme circumstances (see the Adjustment Caveat below) this self assessment will determine your grade for the semester. Ideally, knowing this process in advance will free you to do more ambitious work from the beginning of the semester.

My Commitments

In order to foster your progress this semester, I commit myself to:

  1. Providing substantive and timely commentary on your assignments aimed at cultivating your research skills, analytical abilities, and scholarly voice.
  2. Making myself available for in-person consultation and practical help during office hours and at other scheduled times, including virtual meetings if we cannot find a mutually-agreeable time to meet on campus.
  3. Assuming no technical expertise from students going into any of our laboratories. We will begin at the beginning, so that no one feels left behind. In order to ensure this happens, I will listen carefully to students if they feel lost and adjust a given lab plan as necessary to keep everyone together.
  4. Allowing students with expertise in particular technologies to challenge themselves and craft their own laboratory experiences beyond our work in class.
  5. Working with you to understand your goals and methods when you take intellectual risks in assignments, even if the final product does not turn out as expected.
  6. Respecting your identity, perspectives, and intellectual commitments in class discussions and assignments. I may push you to consider other perspectives, but I will not dismiss your thoughts or take them lightly. If you feel I am doing either of those things, I will listen and adjust my responses as necessary. See our class code of conduct for more details.

Your Commitments

This system will only work, however, if you also commit to:

  1. Holding yourself to the highest standards. You should work to the best of your abilities throughout the semester in your reading, class-room conversation, and assignments.
  2. Taking intellectual risks when possible, pushing yourself to think, write, and create in new modes and grown as a scholar and teacher. This may prompt anxiety, which you can work through by doing and with my help (see above).
  3. Experimenting with new tools and learning new technical skills with enthusiasm and an open mind.
  4. Assisting your colleagues with our laboratories when you have prior expertise, or if you acquire it more quickly during the lab itself.
  5. Clearly articulating your goals and methods when you take intellectual risks in assignments so that I can understand what you are seeking to do, even if the final product does not turn out as expected.
  6. Respecting your colleagues’ identity, perspectives, and intellectual commitments in class discussions and assignments. You may push them to consider other perspectives, but you should not dismiss their thoughts or take them lightly. If someone feels you are doing either of those things, you should listen and adjust your responses as necessary. See our class code of conduct for more details.
  7. Meeting with me, in person or via Skype, at least two times during the semester to discuss your work and ensure you are meeting expectations (my own and yours) for work in the class.

Adjustment Caveat

I do reserve the right to adjust grades as appropriate, if a student takes undue advantage of the consultative grading paradigm. However, I have never needed, and do not anticipate needing, to exercise this right.