13 May 2016

Text and Paratext: Student Responses

I have ambitions for writing a larger, longer post (about a taxation metaphor in Middlemarch), but time has kind of gotten away from me, so instead I want to post a little bit about the wrapup of my teaching this semester. I taught a new-to-me course, "Honors I: Literary Study through Reading and Research," which basically is first-year writing for Honors students. It's kind of a mini-graduate seminar: we studied one topic in depth, and the students produced research projects at the end of the course on topics that they selected within the course's area of inquiry.

My section (along with two others; this course is always taught in "pods") had the theme of "book history": how are books used by readers, how do the elements that are not the text of the book (i.e., the paratext) affect the way it is received? In class, we explored this through two case studies: Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford and H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. We read Cranford as a novel, but then explored its magazine serialization, its various early editions, its illustrations, its deployment as a school text in America in the early twentieth century, a stage adaptation, and its two television versions. After reading The War of the Worlds as a novel, we looked at its original magazine serialization, its unauthorized American newspaper publication, the Orson Welles radio drama, different covers, comic adaptations, and the Steven Spielberg film version. We did this to model the kind of work they could do with their final projects.

These final projects were the really impressive part of the course for me, and I felt the students did a great job producing a diverse range of approaches to a diverse range of texts. Here is the complete gamut of titles: (I've added a comment in brackets in some cases where specificity could be added)
  • 400 Years of Favor: The Origin and Sustainability of the King James Version of the Bible
  • Analysis of the Alternate Endings in A Clockwork Orange
  • The Art of Adaptation: From Coming-of-Age Story to Racial Courtroom Drama [in To Kill a Mockingbird]
  • Creating Sympathy for Criminals: Inevitable Subjectivity of a Holocaust Narrative in The Storyteller
  • Cuckoo’s Nest Book vs. Film
  • The Different Societal Notions Presented Through The Land of Oz
  • The Effect of Tyranny on an Author and the People [in 1984]
  • Examining the Author-Reader Relationship in Modern Romance: An Investigation
  • How Interactions Between Author and Reader Function as Promotion [in Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle]
  • The Impact of Society on the Conversion of Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm into Disney Movies
  • The Impact of the Preface in The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • “I Open at the Close”: An Evolution of Harry Potter Cover Art
  • The Influence of Race on One’s Reaction to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Liberation, Vulnerability, and Contentment in Covers of Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • The Reality of 1984 [the use of "Orwellian" as a term in contemporary journalism]
  • Research on George Orwell’s 1984 [as Prophecy]
  • Shifting Political Interpretations of Nineteen Eighty-Four
  • The Will of One: How Bill Watterson Made Calvin and Hobbes a Legend
  • The Young Adult Genre: The Power of Publicity in Bubble Gum Books
As you can see, most (though not all) even paid attention during my mini-lecture on the writing of good paper titles!

I really enjoyed teaching this class; there are things I'd do differently, but I was really impressed with the research my students did and (especially) the conclusions they drew about it. Shame they all want to be doctors, because some of them would make good humanists!

I've illustrated this entry with some of the more baffling War of the Worlds covers my students examined in class. These scans are courtesy Dr. Zeus's excellent The War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection.

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