Literature and Composition:

Gutenberg Progenies

English 101

Professor Meehan

Office: 115 Smith

Office Hours: T/TH 10-11 and 2.30-3.30; also by appointment

Books should be read as deliberately and reservedly as they were written.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer.

Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility”

Course Description: Gutenberg Progenies

The primary purpose of this course is to develop your capacity for intelligent reading, critical analysis, and writing through the study of literature. The subtitle for my version of the course, “Gutenberg Progenies,” indicates a particular approach we will take in working on that development. We will study literature and writing in which questions and implications of writing and technology are present, if not prominent: Mary Shelley’s nineteenth-century novel Frankenstein; Sven Birkerts’s lament for the fate of reading and the book in that digital age, The Gutenberg Elegies; a variety of film versions and adaptations of the Frankenstein story (film is a multimedia writing machine); and various electronic (or hypertext) literary works. At the same time, reading and writing about such technology in literature, we will explore and interrogate reading and writing in relation to technology—indeed, reading and writing as technologies. Our focus, in this sense, is also a first-hand exploration of what it means for us to read and write and interpret texts thoughtfully and creatively, including the very texts we are working on—what it means for us to be and become skilled in the techniques and rhetoric of writing and critical thinking. This emphasis on “first-hand” will be evident and prominent in the attention we will give to the writing process in developing a series of essays (with deliberate attention to revision and editing strategies) and in experimentations we will pursue with different media formats for our writing and reading: from printing press to blog to wiki to word processing to digital imaging to oral presentation. Indeed, as the title of another course text suggests, we will be focusing intensively on writing as rewriting.


Purpose of Course:

The habits of thinking and reading critically, writing thoughtfully, and communicating effectively are fundamental to a liberal arts education and to the mission of Washington College. English 101 introduces students to these fundamentals of a liberal arts education and mentors students in using these essential abilities effectively toward a successful academic career at Washington College. Washington College students write well and often. As the introduction to the intensive writing experiences students will have across their studies, the First-Year Writing Program provides the foundation for students’ academic writing lives.

W2 Learning Goals  for English 101:

    • Goal 1: Critical Thinking: Students develop the ability to raise questions and identify problems related to particular subjects or situations and to make thoughtful decisions based on that analysis, through writing, reading, and research.
    • Goal 2: Writing Process: Students develop the ability to use appropriate strategies for generating, developing, composing, and revising writing and research.
    • Goal 3: Rhetorical Knowledge: Students develop the ability to analyze and act on understandings of audiences, purposes, and disciplinary contexts in creating and comprehending texts.
    • Goal 4: Knowledge of Conventions: Students develop an awareness of the formal guidelines, ranging from matters of grammar and style to conventions of research and documentation that define what is considered to be correct and appropriate to writing in a particular discipline or context.

Humanities Learning Goals for English 101:

Students completing a Humanities distribution course will:

  • interpret and express the range of human experiences represented in works of thought and imagination;
  • examine the cultural, creative, and historical traditions and values of the humanities.

Required Course Texts:

Available at the College Bookstore [used or alternative editions are fine]

Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age

Harris, Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts.

McLuhan and Fiore, The Medium is the Massage.

Shelley, Frankenstein (Harvard annotated edition)

Various essays and articles that will be provided to you at the time of the assignment.

A journal for notes and writing brought to each class. 

Course Expectations and Experiences: some terms to consider.

Deliberate reading:

Following the example of Thoreau (among many other writers), I will require that you keep some form of a reader’s/writer’s notebook as a medium for you to engage with the “books” more deliberately and become more deliberate in your own writing. You will have a choice in what you do with this notebook and where you keep it. [My notebooks, these days, are part digital and part handwritten]. Approximately once a week (usually on a Friday) you will post a section from your notebook (or all of it, if you prefer) using blogging technology. For more on this assignment and how I will evaluate it, see the description under Blog. The dates for the assigned logs can be found on the Assignment Schedule. Any time a reading assignment is due, you should be prepared for some sort of in-class response or quiz.  Any homework assignment or in-class work or quiz not turned in when due will not receive credit, unless you have made an arrangement with me in advance.

Writing Process/Writing Projects:

Writing projects (3): each essay will be approximately 3-5 pages and will include drafting that will be reviewed (in class as well as outside class) and assessed in addition to the final version.

Final writing project: an expanded and revised essay that will build upon your previous reading and writing and will culminate your work in the course; you will turn this in as part of your final portfolio for the course and include with it a reflection on your work and progress in the course. You will find detailed descriptions for these under Writing Projects.

Late Policy: Writing projects turned in late, without prior discussion with me, will lose credit (approximately half-grade per day). No project will be accepted more than one week late. As always, communication with me in advance regarding any difficulties you are encountering is the best way to go.


I expect active and engaged participation in discussions of our readings and in the writing workshops where you will be frequently working with peers. Your participation will be assessed, along with attendance, as part of your overall grade. I suggest you check in with me during a conference if you want to know how you are doing or ways you might improve your engagement. A rubric for that assessment:

90-100: very strong to excellent; thorough engagement in all aspects of course; exceeds expectations.

80-89: strong engagement in all aspects; meets expectations.

70-79: average to sufficient, room to improve engagement; below expectations.

60-69: weak to average; need to improve engagement in most areas; significantly below expectations

below 60: failing

Attendance Policy: Since participation counts in this course (and in being a good scholar, reader, writer), your attendance matters. Every student is granted up to two absences during the semester for whatever reason. Three or more absences (excused or unexcused) will begin to affect your final participation grade (approximately a half-grade per absence). Any student missing more than 6 classes during the semester should not expect to pass.  I am flexible and reasonable (was once a student, have kids, get sick, etc.)—so communicate with me regarding your attendance. But be aware that I consider it very important for a course such as this.

Technology Policy: Good participation requires a learning environment where attention and invention are possible. As you already know, I am interested in the inventiveness of writing technologies and will encourage you to explore them with me. Having a laptop or other technologies in class can be productive if you can use it to attend to our focus, but not if you are distracted easily by “the restless, grazing behavior of clicking and scrolling” (to cite Birkerts). Since such clicking distracts me, I will expect you to use technology thoughtfully. Here are my guidelines for thoughtful use:

  1. No cell phones in class. I’m not interested in them; sorry. I recommend leaving it in your room or car or somewhere else, not on you. However, if that’s not possible, then the cell phone must be put away in a bag when you enter; it may not be left on the table/desk or anywhere visible. It must also be shut off.
  2. No laptops out or open in class unless I have (in advance on the assignment page) invited you to use them. On days when a reading assignment is electronic (eg. a pdf) or we are workshopping a draft that you have submitted to Canvas, then I will invite laptop use. However, even on those days, the laptop will also be closed at times when we are not directly using them. For anyone who is in need of the use of a laptop for notes, rather than handwriting in a notebook, please come talk with me to make your case and make arrangements.
  3. Notebook and Pen and Book/Text assigned for class that day must be out and ready for use. These are also technologies and we will use them every class as a basis for discussion and further reading and argumentation.

I will give a friendly reminder only once if there is a violation of any of these (cell phone away, put laptop away, get your book out). After that the participation grade will be affected and a conference will be advised.

Experimentation and Communication.

We will be exploring not just technology in reading and writing, but reading and writing as technologies we can learn to develop (that is, become stronger readers and writers, an overall goal of the course) by understanding them better. Thus we will be experimenting as writers: exploring the printing press; film writing; different types of digital writing. This means that the variety of media we will use in the course (from reader’s notebook to Blackboard to variety of web media (wiki, blog, etc) are not just tools in the course but part of its focus: to be explored and evaluated critically and thoughtfully as we use them. I will be emphasizing a similar spirit of experimentation in workshops and expect to see you bring that into your own writing. One must be an inventor to read and write well.

The rhetorical knowledge we use in our writing is inherently experimental and probabilistic; persuasion and argument are possible only on the condition that someone might disagree or remain in need of further persuasion. In order to experiment and to risk success (and failure)—something rhetoricians need to do—we also need good information and feedback; we need to know where we are. This applies certainly to my obligation to you as your teacher: I plan to give you a range of feedback and information about your progress and learning—in class, in conferences, on informal assignments and my evaluations of your formal writing projects. I will also ask for your feedback (don’t be alarmed) at various points in a class or a conference. I always want to know what questions you have, about the course as well as your learning, and will frequently ask you for your questions. A great way to demonstrate engagement and learning, especially with a difficult or challenging text or topic, is to ask a question about what one doesn’t understand. I value questions as a rich form of communication—in fact, many of our discussions will begin and end with exploring and updating the kinds of questions you have.

Another valuable resource for communication and experimentation: the Writing Center (106 Goldstein). We will at times make use of the WC’s talent and services as a class; I encourage you to do so individually as well, to discuss ideas, workshop a draft, follow up on a grammatical or rhetorical issue of interest to you and your progress as a writer, begin to map out ideas for your first book or screenplay. Enough to say, I wish I had a Writing Center when I was an undergraduate.

I encourage any student who has concerns or questions about learning differences, documented or not, to speak further with me as well as to consult Washington College’s Office of Academic Skills (second floor of the library). We can explore arrangements that will support your learning experience in the course.

Effective writing also works by being very mindful, which is to say, respectful of audience. As such, discussion in this course will follow the terms for respectful communication emphasized in Washington College’s Diversity Statement:

Washington College welcomes people of all backgrounds and beliefs who wish to participate in a diverse educational community. The College strives to be a place where all students, faculty, administrators, and staff are able to live, study, and work in an atmosphere free from bias and harassment.

The College encourages civil debate and the lively exchange of ideas in the belief that such exchanges promote understanding that will grow beyond simple tolerance of difference to embracing and celebrating the richness of diversity. Our graduates acquire knowledge and learn skills that help them thrive in a culturally diverse world. 

Academic Integrity.

Washington College has the following policy regarding academic integrity and plagiarism: Plagiarism is defined by the Honor Code as “willfully presenting the language, ideas, or thoughts of another person as one’s original work.”  Turning in someone else’s work as your own is obviously plagiarism.  Quoting or paraphrasing someone else’s words or ideas without properly citing your source is also plagiarism.  If you ever have any question at all about whether you are using a source correctly, ask me about it to make sure.  Submitting a paper for this class that contains all or part of a paper that you submitted in another class, without the permission of both professors involved, is also a violation of the honor code. A student found guilty of plagiarism may fail the assignment or the course, and may be referred to the Honor Board for further adjudication.  Whenever you hand in a paper for this course, you must include in your essay a statement that your work has been completed in compliance with the Honor Code.  Washington College has contracted with, a web-based plagiarism prevention service. You will be submitting copies of your writing projects to

Integrity suggests wholeness; a synonym would be ecology. Your integrity affects the integrity of the whole learning environment here, in the class (where you are relying upon the response of your peers) and on campus. We will be talking further about the integrity of your writing and the ways that your writing can be inventive without being plagiarized. The point is that I take plagiarism seriously, but as such, also want you to learn and ask questions about it.


I will be emphasizing a range of assessment techniques as a way to communicate with you and provide response to your writing and your progress beyond simply assigning a grade. For a specific rubric I will use for writing projects, consult the page Rubric: Writing Projects on the course web page. In fact, part of what you will be learning is the importance for writers to assess their own writing and incorporate the assessment and response from their readers. You will be learning about the creative necessity of revision—and I have built into the grading process an understanding that you are working toward your best writing by the end of the course. In terms of the final grade, it will be determined using the following categories (with approximate percentages of weight)

Participation (including attendance): 10%

Reading (in-class responses, homework assignments, Blogs): 25%

Three writing projects: 45%

Final project/portfolio: 20%

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