HomeCourse Procedures & MaterialsSyllabus



American Women's Bestsellers: Digital Humanities Perspectives

Mondays & Wednesdays, 3:00-4:15 p.m., Innovation Hall 222

Spring 2015

Catherine E. Saunders



Email: csaunde1@gmu.edu (the last character in the username is a numeral one, not a letter L)


Office: Robinson A413


Course Omeka/Neatline site: 202s15.cesaunders.net/ (we will build this over the course of the semester)


Office hours: MW 12:15-1:15 p.m. & by appointment

Class Blackboard (Bb) site: available at mymason.gmu.edu; log on using the same username and password you use for GMU email, click on the “courses” tab, wait for your courses list to populate, and look for a link incorporating the course title and section number. 

Phone: for budgetary reasons, most English department faculty members no longer have individual office phones.  If you don’t have access to email and need to reach me, you may leave a message at the general department number, 703-993-1160, and someone will email it to me. 


The most efficient way to contact me is always in person before or after class or during office hours.  Email is the next best method.  If I’m not meeting with someone in person during office hours, email turnaround at those times will be quick; at other times, I strive for no more than a 24-hour-turnaround on emails received Mon. – Sat. I do not generally answer email on Sundays, so please submit questions that need to be answered before class on Monday no later than noon on Saturday. 





Like other courses that make up the Mason Core, English 202 combines study of a particular content area – in this case,  books by American women that attracted particularly large readership in their day – with development of critical and analytical skills that can be applied to problems that arise in a variety of contexts, in college courses and beyond.  English 202 develops these skills through close reading of a core set of literary texts, analysis of other artifacts – texts, images, perhaps even physical objects and/or built environments – that arise out of the same cultural context, and making connections among individual items in the two groups. In this section of 202, we will be using two Digital Humanities (DH) tools -- Omeka, a digital humanities publishing platform developed by GMU's Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and Neatline, an Omeka  plug-in created by UVA’s Scholars’ Lab -- to collect, describe, and connect documents that shed light on the significance of places and spaces in the four novels we read, and in the cultures from which they arose.  We’ll also experiment with other DH tools, talk about the tools and techniques of more traditional literary analysis, and think about how the two approaches both overlap and differ. 





Core readings:


We will read four complete novels this semester; the preferred editions, listed below, are available at the GMU bookstore.  Other editions will work (in assigning readings, I'll provide chapter numbers), but you'll need to at least borrow a copy of the Rowson and Cummins editions listed below so that you can read the editors' introductions. 


Susanna Rowson, Charlotte  Temple (ed. Cathy Davidson), Oxford, ISBN-13: 978-0195042382
Maria Susanna Cummins, The Lamplighter (ed. Nina Baym), Rutgers/Longleaf, ISBN-13: 978-0813513331
Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, Dover, ISBN-13: 978-0486420493
Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Harcourt, ISBN-13: 978-0156028356


Additional readings will be made available as PDF (Adobe Acrobat) files on the class Blackboard (Bb) site, or via links to digital editions. You’ll need an updated copy of the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (available at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2_allversions.html ) installed on your computer, and a means of bringing copies of PDF/digital readings to class (either printouts/hard copy or viewing files on a laptop or tablet will work; a smartphone screen is too small to allow for effective reading and analysis of longer texts). 





Other texts & materials:


A handbook covering grammar, usage, and MLA-style citation: You may have a handbook from an earlier class (English 101 or a similar class in high school or at another college) with which you are already familiar and comfortable; if so, feel free to keep using that.  If you need a handbook, I recommend Diana Hacker’s A Writer's Reference, available at the GMU bookstore.   If you do not need a great deal of help with grammar and usage, you may be able to get along with the free online version of Hacker’s citation guide, available at http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/resdoc5e/index.htm , and with other resources recommended by the GMU writing center (http://writingcenter.gmu.edu/writing-resources ).  


A tent-style sign with your name printed on it in letters large and dark enough to be seen across the classroom (even by the instructors’ middle-aged eyes), to be set in front of you during class.  Easy ways to make such a sign include folding a sheet of blank paper in 3, or cutting off the outer 2/3 or so of a manila file folder, leaving the spine and remaining 1/3 to serve as the sign. 


An activated GMU email account which you check regularly, regular internet access, and a means of backing up important files on a regular basis.  Please make sure that you have activated, and regularly check (or forward messages from) your GMU (masonlive) email account; important course and university announcements are often delivered by email (or by the Bb utility that connects to GMU email), and for reasons of both privacy and practicality, course messages will be sent only to official gmu email accounts.   You will need internet access both to check the course Blackboard (Bb) site for course materials and scheduling updates, and to conduct research in the library databases.  If you don't have reliable access at home, you will need to allow enough time on campus to complete these tasks.  Finally, please make sure that you have a system for backing up important files (in the case of this class, reading and class notes and notes and materials representing research in progress).  Ideally, your backup system should include both local copies on a drive other than your main one, and cloud storage, both updated each time you have accomplished a significant chunk of work; at the very least you need either cloud storage or storage on a local backup drive. 





Your course grade will be based on a weighted average* of the following:



Preparation Exercises (“Preps”) (approximately 15 in all;  I will drop the lowest 4 grades)


Individual Omeka Items (4 in all, 1 for each major text; you must contribute an item to the pool for a particular text  to get credit for the corresponding Exhibit/Report)


Omeka/Neatline Exhibits/Reports (1 for each major text and 1 summary/final one, for a total of 5; completed in groups; you may sit out one of the major text exhibit/reports, or I  will drop the lowest grade)


Class participation




The grading system in this class (as in many humanities classes), involves rating one or more aspects of the graded work using a scale that, for practical purposes, most often stretches from 0 to 95 (A), rather than starting with a total of 100 and subtracting points.  Work that fully satisfies the requirements of an assignment will most often fall in the B range (79.5-82..4=B-; 82.5-86.4=B; 86.5-89.4=B+).   Grades of A- (89.5-92.4) and A (92.5-96.4) reflect work that demonstrates all the positive qualities of B work, and is also distinctively above average in quality; the grade of A+ (96.5-100) reflects truly exceptional work (and in many individual class sections will not be used at all).    Grades of C+ (76.5-79.4) and C (72.5-76.4) reflect work that fulfills the basic requirements of an assignment, but demonstrates significant weakness in one or more areas.  Grades of C- (69.5-72.4) and below reflect work that does not fulfill one or more basic requirements of the assignment. While I do not give credit for effort alone, I do distinguish between work that is unsatisfactory despite careful and sustained effort and work that is unsatisfactory because it is sloppy, hastily produced, or late.  In the former case, I will, when possible, give you the chance to revise your work until it is satisfactory.  In the latter case, the work will simply receive a failing grade. 


Preparation Exercises  (“Preps”) are designed toguide you through a close, careful reading of course texts in preparation for class discussion, and to give you credit for that effort.  They will consist mostly of short-answer questions (with occasional use of multiple-choice or other formats), and will be graded mostly on the basis of completeness and evidence of careful thought.  Preps must be completed before the class to which they correspond (whether or not you’re able to attend that class).  There will be no opportunities to make up missed or incomplete preps, but, in calculating the final grade, I will drop the four lowest grades. 


Individual Omeka Items (the requirements for which appear under “Major Assignments” on Bb) will be graded primarily on the basis of completeness, timeliness, and accuracy (as well as on their appropriateness to the investigation at hand).  Late items will receive only partial credit, and, as mentioned above, students must contribute an item to the pool associated with a particular text to receive credit for the associated exhibit. 


Omeka/Neatline exhibits & associated oral presentations (also described under “Major Assignments”) will be group efforts.  We’ll plan and form groups for each of the five major exhibit/presentations in class, and each group will present its results to the class.  As mentioned above, students  may choose to skip participation in one of the four Omeka/Neatline exhibit/presentations  associated with the four core texts (but will still need to contribute an item associated with that text).  Alternatively, they may choose to participate in all four core text presentations (plus the final exhibit/presentation, which cannot be skipped), and I will drop the lowest exhibit/presentation grade.  Since presentations are a core part of class discussion, they must take place on the scheduled day;  it is not, however, absolutely necessary for all members of a group to be present for the presentation, as long as absent members have contributed in other ways. 


The class participation grade will reflect  your preparation for, presence during, and active participation in individual and group class activities, including workshops, other group work and whole-class discussions.  For this portion of the grade, as for all others, students start the semester with a grade of zero.  Credit is accrued through successful completion of the relevant work: in this case, preparation for and participation in classroom activities.  The opportunity to accumulate participation credit begins with your presence in the classroom (which you are responsible for recording on the roll which will be passed around in each class following the end of the add/drop period) and continues with your giving signs thorough preparation and active participation: answering and/or asking questions, contributing in other ways to class discussions and activities, consulting readings and/or homework notes and/or taking new notes when appropriate.  Progress in accumulating participation credit will be retarded by signs that a student is physically present in the classroom but mentally absent from class activities (sleeping; listening to music; checking or exchanging messages via email, instant messaging, cell phones, and the like; doing work for another class; discussing subjects unrelated to the course with classmates during class time; coming late or leaving early).  In extreme cases, such activities may lead to a student’s receiving no participation credit for the day.  Physical absence from the classroom will have the same result, unless I have some indication that a student has made efforts to keep up with the work of the class.  If you know in advance that you will be absent, please contact me to see if there is a way for you to make up at least some of the work done in class.  If you must miss a class without prior planning, make sure to check the Bb site for handouts from the missed class, and for updates to the course schedule and preparation assignments.  Since some of the work done in class can only be accomplished in the presence of both the professor and your fellow students, repeated absences from face to face classes – explained or not -- will limit the amount of credit you can accumulate toward the participation component of the course grade.  In this class as in others, you will improve your chances of success by attending whenever possible (whether or not you are entirely caught up with the work), and by keeping in touch with the professor when you cannot attend. 


 In accordance with GMU policy for 200-level courses, I will be submitting midterm progress reports no later than the end of the eighth week of class.  These grades will reflect the work completed and graded up to that point (preps and at least the first set of Omeka/Neatline items and exhibit/reports) , but will not include a participation component.  Since the advisory grade reported at midterm will reflect performance on considerably less than 50% of the assignments and activities that contribute to the final grade, final grades may be significantly higher or lower than midterm grades. 


*A weighted average is calculated by multiplying each grade by the numerical equivalent of the weight percentage, e.g. (.15 x class participation grade) + (.40 x the average of your top 3 test grades), and so on.  Even for an assignment on which a student  receives an A (95), the calculation still needs to be done; for an assignment such as the first Omeka exhibit & presentation, which is worth 5% of the final grade, and for which anyone who completes the work fully and on time will receive and A (95), that A would contribute .05 x 95, or 4.75, to the final grade total. 





In this course, you will most often be asked to perform your own analysis of primary sources (texts which represent the phenomenon you are investigating) rather than conveying information from secondary sources (other authors’ writing about the subject/phenomenon you are investigating). However, you will read some secondary sources (chiefly scholarly introductions to the core texts), and you may on occasion find yourself consulting secondary sources for information that will help you understand primary sources, or place them in context.  Any time you make use of a secondary source (including but not limited to someone else's criticism of, commentary on, or summary of the text you are examining, or a work that provides context for that text) in completing work for this class,  you must give proper credit.  Failure to give such credit constitutes plagiarism.  The English Department Plagiarism Statement (available in full online at http://english.gmu.edu/faculty/plagiarism ) defines plagiarism as  “using the exact words, opinion, or factual information from another person without giving that person credit.”  An earlier, more detailed version of the University Honor Code (the new version is available at http://oai.gmu.edu/understanding-the-honor-code/ ) explained that “borrowing the sequence of ideas, the arrangement of material, or the pattern of thought of someone else without proper acknowledgment” also constitutes plagiarism.  As the English Department Statement explains, “writers give credit” for both direct quotations and paraphrases or summaries of a source “through the use of accepted documentation styles, such as parenthetical citation, footnotes, or end notes; a simple listing of books and articles is not sufficient.  Plagiarism is the equivalent of intellectual robbery and cannot be tolerated in an academic setting.” 


Instructions for citing both primary texts and secondary sources in Omeka exhibits will be included in the Omeka exhibit assignment(s), and we will discuss this issue in class; you will also be expected to apply what you learned about citation in English 101 or an equivalent.   In particular, please note that, in this class, you are required to list every source you consulted in the course of writing item or exhibit text, even if you are sure that the information it provided is common knowledge, in your “works consulted” list.  I will also ask you to run the text for exhibits (and possibly some items) through SafeAssign, a plagiarism-checking tool built into Bb. 


 If you have any questions about what you need to cite, or how to cite it, don’t hesitate to consult me, one of the tutors at the Writing Center, and/or any reliable handbook that gives guidance in using MLA-style citation.  Please ask for such help early in the writing process; while I will be glad to help you correct honest difficulties with citation while you're in the process of creating an exhibit, it is ultimately your responsibility to make sure that all references to sources in your papers are correctly and completely documented, and there may not be time to correct problems in exhibits turned in toward the end of the semester.  Ultimately, no written work that displays significant lapses in appropriate citation will receive a passing grade in this class; work that display less serious difficulties will have its grades lowered.   In addition, please note that, in group projects, the entire group is collectively responsible for assuring that the citation in the final product is complete and accurate; you need to be honest with each other about where you found information, and to check each others' work as you go along.  Finally, if at any stage of an assignment, I find evidence of intentional plagiarism -- deliberately misrepresenting someone else’s work as your own – I will report the matter as an honor violation.


While plagiarism is never acceptable, this class encourages certain forms of consultation, including exchanges  of work with group members and/or other classmates.  Acceptable forms of consultation include the kind of assistance with writing that you may give to your classmates, that I will provide in comments, and that is available at the Writing Center; such assistance focuses on helping you generate ideas and arguments, clarify organization, and identify patterns of mechanical error and/or stylistic problems so that you can learn to correct them yourself.  No one other than the person or persons receiving credit for a particular piece of work should write or rewrite that work, nor should anyone other than the individual or group responsible for the work correct mechanical or stylistic errors throughout the text.  Acceptable help with mechanical matters includes proofreading -- marking errors for a responsible person to correct -- or pointing out patterns of error and helping the author(s) of the work correct one or two representative examples so that they can apply the same principles to the others.  If you have any questions about what does and does not constitute acceptable assistance, please ask me.


Finally, please be aware of the honor code provisions related to lying and cheating; in particular, please take note of the following possible violations that might be relevant to this class:  falsifying an attendance record (or asking someone else to do so), giving or receiving unauthorized help on tests (including the preparatory exercises, which should be completed by each student independently), sharing test (including prep) materials with others, and lying about why you missed a test (prep) or project deadline.  If I discover substantive evidence that any such violations occurred, I will report the violation(s). 






If you have a documented disability and need academic accommodations, please bring me the appropriate form from the Office of Disability Resources (703-993-2474 or ods.gmu.edu) as soon as possible. If you have a disability but have not yet obtained documentation, or if you suspect you have an undiagnosed disability, please contact the Office of Disability Resources to begin the process of evaluation and documentation; all academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.  





All students should also be aware of the services offered by the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) which, as the caps.gmu.edu website relates, include “individual and group counseling, workshops and outreach programs -- experiences to enhance a student's personal experience and academic performance.”  In addition to offering help with situations that involve acute distress, CAPS offers a number of programs designed to help students develop effective coping strategies for dealing with academic work as well as other areas of life.





Except in cases where you are explicitly instructed to do so (e.g. contributions  to the class Omeka site), you should not  post course materials  (whether created by the instructor or your fellow students, individually or in groups) to the internet,  nor should you  audio- or video-record or photograph class activities or materials, either for your own purposes or for public distribution.   I am willing for you to record in-class and office hours consultations with me as long as you ask permission at the beginning of the consultation, and will consider requests to audio-record class sessions (especially in the case of an accommodation for a documented disability).   These restrictions preserve the privacy (and, where relevant, the copyright/ownership of intellectual property) of all participants in the class.




To the extent possible given copyright law and licensing agreements for the databases from which we draw primary materials, we will make the class Omeka/Neatline  site available to the public under a Creative Commons license. We will discuss in class which license to use, and whether individual exhibits should be separately licensed. The basic principle will be that each student or group of students retains copyright in his/her/their own work, but will be encouraged to make that work available for further nonprofit use as long as appropriate credit is given.  In completing work for this class, you are agreeing to make it publicly available on the Omeka/Neatline site; you may, however, ask that any or all of your work be made anonymous before it is made public. 





George Mason University is committed to providing equal opportunity and an educational and work environment free from any discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, or age. GMU shall adhere to all applicable state and federal equal opportunity/affirmative action statutes and regulations.





If you enjoy this course and other English classes, you may want to major or minor in English. We have programs in creative writing, drama, film, folklore, literature, professional writing and rhetoric, and linguistics. English prepares students for careers in law, medicine, business, social services, and many creative areas. For more information, speak to an English professor or visit english.gmu.edu.