Dear R1b Students (preferably write in their names here by alphabetical order),
In the opening credits of nature documentaries, climate science documentaries, or even some romantic comedies, we start out from the vantage point of a floating object in space, seeing the planet in its entirety before us. Gradually, we begin to descend and the Earth expands and fills up our screens. We move further and further down towards the Earth, zooming first into a side of the Earth, then into a continent, a country, a state, a city or town, a home or structure, and eventually we settle on a single individual. (In the case of romantic comedies, this is either a woman buckling a bra or a man shaving; in the case of documentaries, it is on a single, scouting ant). What begins as an image intended to capture significance and immeasurability turns into an image of the mundane.
Imagine the structure of this course like these opening scenes. It is an understatement to say that the subject matter of this course is vast, but it is not just the content of this course that holds meaning. In fact, it is the movement over the course of the semester that is most revealing. We begin the semester by studying the images and visions of our world at large— our planet Earth. We ask, “How does the representation of our planet in maps, images, poems, etc. shape our understanding of ourselves, who we are are, and where we come from?” We then begin to zoom further and further in— looking at immigration narratives and refugee narratives that rely on movements across the world, and we consider how that travel redefines the refugee or immigrants’ conceptualization of their world. We end on a single snake’s movement in and out of a kitchen in Leslie Marmon Silko’s The Turquoise Ledge.
We will approach writing and research in much the same way. We’ll begin broadly, by learning how to find and ask the right research questions of our material. We will then map the process of reading and research and learn how to take advantage of their entanglement. Gradually over the course of the semester, we will learn how to structure a paper, how to think about the relationship between paragraphs, how to think most effectively about a single paragraph, a single sentence, and even a comma.
The goals of this class are two-fold: Firstly, its aim is to help you develop and strengthen your close reading, critical thinking, use of secondary sources, and research skills as we explore the relationship between people, Earth, and our idea or sense of place. And secondly, the course aims to help you develop the ability to craft your analyses into clear and effective writing through drafts, revisions, peer-review feedback, and weekly writing exercises. Every week, we will spend a day focused on developing our skills as readers and critical thinkers, and a day developing our skills as writers and researchers. You will quickly realize that this bifurcation is deceiving and false. Reading and writing are inherently entangled and you will always need one to produce the other. As a result, there will be weeks where our writing days focus on how to read and reread, and days where our close reading days will focus on how to take apart and write about a single line of a poem.
You should expect to do worlds of reading and worlds of writing in this course, both inside the classroom and outside of it. In fact, it is not so much the work you do during the class that will make you a stronger writer, that will be the most rewarding. Rather, it is the work you do beyond this class and outside of its hours. In other words, consistent writing (much like sketching) is the only way to improve your skills as writers. So use the opportunity of R1b to adopt a new lifestyle for this semester, or form a new habit. Write often— everyday, anywhere, on anything.
Finally, three qualities will help you get the most out of this class:
We have so much to learn from one another. I can’t wait to get started,