Dear Class

First, I want to thank each and every one of you for your projects. The work you are doing is significant. Your research into the natural and cultural history of California—and your answers to the question, “What is California?”—is of great value for others. Not incidentally, at this point in the semester, you are each sharing the responsibility for coauthoring the course. Your work is directing our learning as we continue to study natural and cultural history. And it is demonstrating the intellectual work that is possible in a first-year college course.

At the same time I need each of you to make progress before our conferences next week. As I have been intimating in the questions I am asking in the symposium we are conducting, it is not enough to compile primary and secondary materials. The next step is to organize and describe the materials. The use of blogs is working very well in this regard and I encourage those not using these digital tools to consider them as they offer affordances that are not possible in a more static product.

But it is also not enough to offer a descriptive account of the objects and artifacts that you have gathered. You are organizing and describing your objects and artifacts to offer insight into the richness and complexity of culture. To understand a place or a culture requires interpretation, and interpretations offer interesting and useful answers to the question we are asking: What explains California?

Second, I need you you to put in the time and the intellectual work before we meet next week in our individual conference. By the time we meet for our conference every one of you should have gathered your materials. You should also have organized and described the materials. The more you can do the more productive our conference session will be. In addition to putting in the time necessary to do good work, I want you to come to our meeting prepared with questions. The questions can be about design (for example, how to organize materials, or the relationship between organization and interpretation) or interpretation (what is the significance of these materials when gathered together). By this point your project statements should be crisp and clear and accessible to a reader. These statements will most likely be the final piece that you are tinkering with but the more times you work on them the better they will be.

If you have not sent me your URL or a document with your work I need you to do so. Conferences will be held in my office, 206 Parker Hall. Bring your laptop, if you have one.