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Junior Seminar

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Spring 2007

William C. Snyder, Professor

Office: 412 Placid

Ext. 2318, or 724 805 2318

Course Profile

Whereas a seminar depends on contributions from all members of the class, this course will rely heavily on your efforts. Aside from offering ideas and observations in discussion sessions and question-answer periods, you will have to give five professionally-styled presentations, and be meaningfully engaged in the work of the Saint Vincent English Department as a whole.

You should look upon the Junior Seminar as a dialogue between you and the professor, between you and your peers, and between you and your disciplinary concentration. Begin to think of yourself not merely as a good student trying to get the highest grade, but as a member of a community which can provide you with connections and resources, as you do the same for others.

Course Requirements

1. Departmental Enterprise and Accompanying Journal
2. Four Branch Text Oral Presentations
3. Four Branch Text Written Synopses
4. A Project Prospectus for Senior Seminar
5. One Prospectus Presentation
6. Conferences

Departmental Enterprise

The faculty in the English Department invites you to assume leadership of, or an active role in a Departmental Enterprise:

The Review
Sigma Tau Delta
Departmental Assistant
Departmental webpage
Recruiter/Guide for prospective majors
Pre-Law Society
Study Abroad
Ragan Poetry Prize
Undergraduate conference
Any new, well-conceived self-engendered enterprise

Your accompanying journal for the Departmental Enterprise should include exposition and analysis (this means discursive writing in paragraph form; not notes or bullet points). If the task you choose is activity-oriented, such as departmental assistant or tutoring, then you should provide a description of what you have done, followed by an analytical section, which may include your thoughts and emotions involved in the activity, as well as criticism and suggestion for improvement. If the enterprise is product-oriented, such as writing articles for the Review or working on the departmental student webpage, then you should submit a copy of your work and add an insightful analysis. You will need to submit four entries which will be graded on three criteria: (1) an exposition detailing tasks completed; (2) an analysis of the experiences (3) quality of writing [Six Principles of Good Writing]. 30 points each entry.

Core Questions, Core Texts, and Branch Texts

In the first three-quarters of the course, we will consider four questions that have pervaded literary study since the time of classical literature:

1. What is the relation of language to reality?

2. How does non-Scriptural literature explore questions of spirituality?

3. What are the key questions of gender?

4. Why is landscape so prevalent in literature?

All members of the seminar must choose a text that can answer or refine these questions. These are the Branch Texts;works of literature that branch out from the core of required readings. As the professor and manager of the seminar, I have chosen the Core Texts, or the books that everyone is required to read in order to establish common epistemological reference points. The Core Texts are:

The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Waste Land and Other Poems, by T. S. Eliot

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Presentation Requirements

Your Branch Text selection should be a work of literature that, in your estimation, offers insights and answers helping to resolve the question at hand. In your presentation, you have to lead the seminar while providing thoughtful commentary that connects your Branch Text to the question as well as to other parts of the seminar. You will need to do four presentations; your choices for branch texts must be cleared with me. You will get one-third class period (16 minutes) to complete your presentation.

Please realize that reading and being tested on a book are not tantamount to presenting the book to a collection of high-powered peers, especially if you must stay focused on a specific question, and rouse questions from your listeners. You should have something good to say, and that something must be clear, organized, and relevant. You must present for a minimum of ten minutes; you may use another five minutes for a question-answer session, to use multi-media, or to give the class a project which you manage. Rule: you must be a presenter for at least ten minutes. If you screen a video clip that takes six minutes, your treatment of it still must be ten minutes long, not four minutes long. If you give the seminar an in-class reading assignment that consumes 3 minutes, your time in the spotlight will still be ten minutes, not the seven minutes left after the reading.

You should make your Branch Text choices carefully. If you are planning to go to graduate school in English, you might choose a decidedly literary path: the Homeric epics, Medieval writers, Milton, Emerson, Pound, Yeats, or a focused scholarly interest--Brook Farm, Contemporary Women Fiction Writers, Art for Art's Sake, Feminist Criticism, Deconstruction. If you are planning to go to law school, business or publishing, you might choose texts for rhetoric and ethics: the works of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Castiglione, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O Connor, Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates--or any text that explores human behavior in social and moral contexts If you are working toward a teaching certificate, you might wish to read texts common in high school English curricula: Poe's Tales, Shakespeare, A Tale of Two Cities, Catcher In the Rye, Wuthering Heights. If you are intending a career in creative or professional writing, you may want to consult the work of persons who make livings in that field: E. B. White, Richard Rodriguez, E. J. Dionne, Bob Woodward, William Safire, Anna Quindlen.

By the end of your presentation, four components should be clear to your audience:

1. The major tenets of the work
2. The intellectual, historical, social and/or philosophical context of the work
3. Connections of the work to the core text, or to other branch texts
4. Ways in which the work answers the Core Question

If you finish covering these components with time remaining, you may offer the class a question-answer period.


As the purpose of a seminar is for all of you to help each other, and not just perform for the professor, assessment will include all seminar members. An evaluation form for your oral presentations will be completed by your peers. I will complete an evaluation form for your written synopsis. This is to be a two-page overview of the material given in your oral presentation, or a paper copy of your PowerPoint. It will be due one week after your oral presentation date. Each presentation will be worth 30 points, while the synopsis will also be worth 30.

Proposal and Presentation

A proposal project must be completed by the end of the Junior Seminar. This document should identify a specific problem or sequence of tasks that the writer will investigate for the Senior Project. The Junior Seminar project may not be a revision of an old paper, but must be a new and original endeavor. After identifying this problem or task, the proposal should state the purpose of your project, and speculate on the project's plan or subtasks. Your proposal should review at least ten recent secondary sources or other kinds of sources that will be necessary to the completion of this project. The proposal should be about five typed, double spaced pages, with a bibliography of works cited appended, if necessary.

In the final quarter of the semester, you will have to give a presentation to the class about your proposal, revealing how you were attracted to the idea and to the area of study, how the focus of your work fits into a critical context, and where, possibly, you plan to take your idea in your Senior Project. Your presentation will also be peer-reviewed, while I will stringently grade the written section according to the Six Principles of Good Writing.

Specific requirements and questions addressing the varying nature of proposals according to concentrations will be posted on Blackboard.

Point Values

Departmental Enterprise and Accompanying Journal 120

Four Branch Text Oral Presentations 120

Four Branch Text Written Synopses 120

One Proposal Presentation 30

Senior Project Proposal 60

Leadership/Attendance 50

Conferences -30 for each conference missed

Total 500


One thread of coherence among a variety of courses at Saint Vincent College is that faculty members participating in the Common Text Project assign in certain of their courses texts chosen from a small, mutually agreed upon “pool” of texts. In this way, students encounter certain texts in more than one course, gaining an experience of the same texts from different points of view, thereby enriching their understanding of the texts and of the various academic disciplines, and enhancing their reading abilities. Current texts in the project are the Book of Genesis, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, The Allegory of the Cave from Plato's Republic, the Rule of Saint Benedict, Karl Marx's Estranged Labor, General Summary and Conclusion& (chapter XXI) from Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov by Feodor Dostoyevsky, essays on science and religion by Albert Einstein from Out of My Later Years, “The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and I Have a Dreamand Letter from a Birmingham City Jailby Dr. Martin Luther King. This course is such a Common Text course. Our Common Text reading in this course will be The Yellow Wallpaper.

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