I have recently learned that I will be teaching a senior seminar in the Spring 2010 semester, and I’m using this blog entry to think through an idea I have. If I get a little feedback, that would be excellent as well.

The senior seminar is an important capstone for the English Major experience. The seminar I took as an undergrad confirmed my desire to go to graduate school and pursue the career I now find myself in. So when I think about what would be valuable in a seminar now, I look back on that one and recognize the responsibility that I now have.

I need a topic and/or focus that meets as many of the following criteria as possible:

  1. It is an interesting topic. A topic, that is, that I will enjoy learning about, and a topic that will attract motivated students to enroll.
  2. It is a topic I can teach. I suspect there will be students in the class who are there simply because they need something on the 400-level. Therefore, I can not assume everyone will come to the table with the same interest in New Media (or whatever) that I have. It would be tempting to try and teach a genre seminar, or a study in American Lit (and in fact our catalog constraints mean that I will have to label it something like that anyway), but I have to be honest in my teaching and true to what I actually know.
  3. It is a topic with relevant readings. In other words, there should be a substantial, substantive workload relating directly to the topic. A well-chosen theme (the best kind, I’ve found) can provide an excellent structure upon which to hang readings and writing assignments like a Christmas tree.
  4. It is a topic that is not redundant. My guess is that some students taking this seminar will know me from previous classes (and vice versa, obviously). I want to make sure to give them something new.

The Idea

If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know something about me, so you know that I teach New Media at UMW. The topic I’m considering reflect that, but in different ways. So here it is:

A seminar on code as a metaphor or trope in literature, film, comics, videogames, e-lit, and elsewhere. Readings include several texts, relevant critical theory (Lacan, Derrida, et al), and some software. The thematic focus may also incorporate some emerging disciplinary categories such as Software Studies and Digital Textual Analysis.

Here’s a tentative list of books I might include:

  • Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci code. Random House, Inc., 2003. (seriously)
  • Caldwell, Ian, and Dustin Thomason. The Rule of Four. Dell, 2005.
  • Danielewski, Mark Z. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of leaves. Random House, Inc., 2000.
  • —. Only Revolutions. Pantheon Books, 2007. (seriously)
  • Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Ace Books, 2000.
  • —. Pattern Recognition. Berkley Books, 2005.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. The gold bug. Routledge, 1891.
  • Singh, Simon. The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography. Reprint. Anchor, 2000.
  • Stephenson, Neal. Cryptonomicon. HarperCollins, 2000.

So what am I forgetting? I’ve been stewing this idea for a while, actually, and I know there were things I came across where I thought, “Hey, that would be a good addition to a ‘code’ class.” But I can’t remember anything else right now.

Obviously, this list only includes books, and I’d love to include a graphic novel or two; if you can think of one, please post a comment.

Similarly, I’ll include some electronic works, including hopefully some “heavier” e-lit than what I got to do in my 200-level Electronic Literature classes. I have a few ideas, but they’re not already in my Zotero library for easy grouping and sharing, like that list of books above. If I consider “code” in a broader sense than just the work of cryptography (I do), then some things like Lexia to Perplexia or “Bad Machine” make perfect sense. Again, I’m very eager to hear suggestions, so please post a comment if you have one.

With regard to the student workload, a typical semester in a seminar is built around the final Seminar Paper of 20 – 25 pages, and I’ll probably do something similar to that regardless of a topic. My sense is that a senior seminar is a good place for deep thoughts and interesting conversation, not (necessarily) creative pedagogy.

So what do you think? If you’ve taught a seminar similar to this one, how did it go? Better yet, if you were a student in a similar seminar, how did that go?

If you’re a current student at UMW thinking about your Spring 2010 schedule, would you sign up for this?