Monthly Archives: February 2015

Writing With Sources

You have two weeks until the first version of your essay is due. Next week is dedicated to continuing your research and to practicing how to integrate source material into your emerging essay.

We will have our writing assistants visit the class and lead you in a writing workshop on using source material in your essay. Follow the link and read the chapter The Art of Quoting from Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkstein’s book They Say / I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (2006) before we meet next week. This brief chapter will serve as an introduction to the writing workshop and to the intensive work we will be doing with your source material for the rest of the course.

Looking ahead to what you need to do:

Week 7: Research Installment #2 is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 8 First Version of Essay is due on Thursday/Friday
Week 9 Spring Break
Week 10 Conferences: you have two conferences this week: you will be meeting with me to discuss your essay. And you will be meeting with our writing assistants Emily or Sarah to discuss your essay.

Please follow the schedule if you need more detail or contact me if you have any questions. Much of the work you are doing at this stage of the course requires you to work independently. If this is proving challenging to you, please be in touch so that we can help you develop strategies to keep moving.

Topics and Questions

Writing Projects Update: Most of you are struggling. Many of you are stuck. These difficulties are expected.

There are ways to begin moving through the challenges you are facing. First and foremost be clear that this course requires thinking and writing. And that is exactly what you are being asked to do.

Below you will find 1) a reminder about the area of inquiry in which all of your projects are developing: the search for wildness. While we spent most of the first weeks of the class exploring this term and concept, it is important that you have wrestled with this concept and come to terms with the presence of this search in our lives. I also include below 2) a framework for moving from a topic to a question. As you continue your process of seeking information you will be refining your area of interest. Remember that your area of interest is precisely that: what you are interested in. Without a genuine interest and motivation you are going to have a very, very difficult time with the work you are doing in this class.

Searching for Wildness: The search is to demystify the world as it is.

Enacting a deliberate and sustained effort to understand the changing flow of phenomena both within our selves and in the world around us.

The acceptance of the place where we are: what we know, and what we can know, is never certain and always provisional, no matter how persuaded we and others might be by common understanding of certain phenomena.

This course web site has numerous explanations of wildness and resources for you to consult. Here is another, from a now familiar writer, Gary Snyder, from the “Preface” to his collection of poems No Nature:

No Nature. Human societies each have their own nutty fads, mass delusions, and enabling mythologies. Daily life still gets done. Wild nature is probably equally goofy, with a stunning variety of creatures somehow getting by in all these landscapes. Nature also means the physical universe, including the urban, industrial, and toxic. But we do not easily know nature, or even know ourselves. Whatever it actually is, it will not fulfill our conceptions or assumptions. It will dodge our expectations and theoretical models. There is no singular set ‘nature’ either as ‘the natural world’ or ‘the nature of things.’ The greatest respect we can pay to nature is not to trap it, but to acknowledge that it eludes us and that our own nature is fluid, open, and conditional. (v)

We have also talked about E.O. Wilson’s concept of “biophilia” and here are two provocative comments from his most recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014):

“We are self-made, independent, alone, fragile, a biological species adapted to live in a biological world” (26)

We exist as a result of millions of years of biological evolution: “For the real human story, history must comprise both the biological and the cultural” (28).

We have also talked about, with the help of others, the intellectual history of oppositions between nature and culture, nature and nurture, primitive and civilized, raw and cooked, and so on. You can continue thinking about wildness as well. Please, take advantage of the resources I have compiled for you on the course web site. You may also want to become familiar with the recent writing by professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Marc Bekoff, on “rewilding.” His application of a practice in wildlife conservation to human life is potentially very useful for some of your projects. Need to talk? Set up an appointment with me.

  1. Moving From a Topic to a Question

In class we will use the first two steps in an Argument Template (adapted from Booth, Columb, and Williams, The Craft of Research). Name your topic and then see if you can articulate the question you are hoping to answer.

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about _____

I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about human intuition (or direct or unmediated experience/consciousness of the world) and its relationship to belief

Question: I want to understand

I want to find out why people continue to believe in creation stories to explain the origin of and their place in the world

Below are two examples of projects that are on the move. In each of these cases the project is explicitly aligned with the larger questions about wildness and has moved from a general area of interest to a more specific question the student has defined and is trying to answer.

Area of Interest: “Industrial Tourism”

from Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (1968), Chapter 5: “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Park”:

“Industrial tourism is a threat to the national parks. But the chief victims of the system are the motorized tourists. They are being robbed and robbing themselves. So long as they are unwilling to crawl out of their cars they will not discover the treasures of the national parks and will never escape the stress and turmoil of the urban-suburban complexes which they had hoped, presumably, to leave behind for a while.”

“Take off your shoes for a while, unzip your fly, piss hearty, dig your toes in the hot sand, feel that raw and rugged earth, split a couple of big toenails, draw blood!  Why not?  Jesus Christ… roll that window down!  You can’t see the desert if you can’t smell it….  Turn that motor off.  Get out of that piece of iron and stretch your varicose veins, take off your brassiere and get some hot sun on your old wrinkled dugs!”

“Why is the Park Service generally so anxious to accommodate…the indolent millions born on wheels and suckled on gasoline, who expect and demand paved highways to lead them in comfort, ease and safety into every nook and corner of the national parks?”

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about what Edward Abbey calls “Industrial Tourism”

Question: I want to find out how tourism has diminished the deeper (and more transformative?) experience offered by places we designate as wild areas or wilderness

Sources: Books: Daniel C. Knudsen, Landscape, Tourism and Meaning; Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind; Essay: Walker Percy, “The Loss of Creature”

Area of Interest: Loss of Wildness

Topic: I am seeking to understand/investigate/learn more about the problem of losing wildness in our lives

Question: I want to find out why young people appear to be unaware of the consequences of losing touch with themselves and the world around them

Sources: Books: Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild; John Krakauer, Into the Wild (Christopher McCandless); Film: Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (Timothy Treadwell); Poem/Performance: Buddy Wakefield, “My Town”; Article: Standardized Testing; Report: Study of media use by 8-18 year old children in US.

Thank you bringing all of your materials to our next class. Our writing workshop will be dedicated to moving you toward other resources and information that will be useful for you.

Go Forth!

Meeting with each of you this week in conference to talk about your writing projects is an exciting time for me. You have read a book that has helped you think about nature and culture, you have taken part in class discussions of wildness, and you have considered questions that you might pursue during the next ten weeks.

I now need you to pull out your planners and look ahead to the schedule for the next few weeks. Below you will find an outline of the work you need to complete before spring break. Please go through the steps carefully and let me know if you have any questions.

1. Overview
Our individual conferences this week are dedicated to clarifying a question (or questions) to help you begin your research. Then, at our first class meeting next week, you will submit (in class, hard copy!) your first research installment. This document gives me a window into the work you have been doing. The first research installment will also help you prepare for the workshop with our research and technology fellow at our second meeting next week. This workshop will lead to the second research installment and the first version of the essay that you will complete before spring break.

Here is what the schedule looks like:

Week 6 Research Installment #1
Week 7 Research Installment #2
Week 8 Due: Version 1 of Essay
Week 9 Spring Break

The first version of the essay should be the best piece of writing you are able to produce. The first version of your essay will reflect your effort and accomplishment in the first half of the course and therefore I will factor the quality of your first version into the final course grade. The essay will also be read by many people. So do your very best to present a document worth reading so that you don’t end up wasting anyone’s time.

2. Research Installment #1
This progress report has a specific format that I detail on the writing page. You fill find there a link to a PDF file with instructions about the annotated works cited page (or bibliography) and the reflective letter

As I have said in class, we learn by doing. Hence it is important to me that you begin this process by searching for information on your own. Use the search strategies that have worked for you in the past. Pay attention to the decisions you are making about where to look, how you are using sources to find other sources, and where you are reaching dead ends or information that feels to be less reliable.

Remember that you should

  • search web and print materials; but please make every effort to include a range of resources
  • plan to spend at least five hours in the library researching and preparing your notes for the document; and set aside additional time to write the document
  • make sure that your Research Installment is presented exactly right with complete works cited entries using MLA style (see the examples on the instructions). If your document is not presented according to the specifications I will ask you to revise it. (See grading page).

3. Resources Page
After you have done some poking around on your own please spend some of your time this week familiarizing yourself with the Resources page on the course web site. At this point in the course, more specifically, you will find the “Integrative Thinking & Writing Research Guide” to be a useful portal for teaching yourself how to do effective and efficient searches:

  • The “Search for Background Info & Key Words” is helpful for poking and prying with a purpose.
  • The “Get More out of Google” post will help as you begin looking around using key terms (learn about and use Google Scholar)
  • The pages and video tutorials on how to search the library paper holdings (books, journals), how to search electronic databases and resources (EBSCO, E-Library), and how to asses the source (currency, reliability, authority, purpose)

We will be using these materials in our writing workshops in the coming weeks. And the Research and Technology Fellow who visits our class will be helping you harness the research tools and strategies we make available for you. But these workshops will be far more productive if you are already familiar with some of this material.

If you have any questions about the direction of your research, please let me know. I am happy to answer e-mails or to meet with you at any time I am able. Also, remember that the Mason Library staff is able to help you at any stage of the process as you seek and assess resources for your work in this course.