English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism
English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism

English 121: Sonic Culture & Media Activism

Autumn 2007, Winter 2008 (22 Students)

Course Site No Longer Live

The Syllabus


Computer-Integrated, Writing Intensive Course with a Service-Learning Component (designed and taught with approval from the University of Washington English department)

Full Course Title: “Composition: Social Issues (Service-Learning, Sonic Culture, and Media Activism)”

Course Description

This course begins in 1906, when Reginald A. Fessenden conducted the first two-way transatlantic radio transmission.  From there, we will eavesdrop on a few theoretical conversations about voices and speaking for others, toward a playlist of music, mixes, and mash-ups, and into contemporary film, iPod practices and user-generated media.  However, no matter where and when we land in this class, we will attend to acoustics.  Our assumption here will be that current approaches to art and culture tend to privilege visual paradigms.  While we will not be in the business of discrediting such approaches, our primary aim will be to develop what Michelle Comstock and Mary E. Hocks refer to as “sonic literacy,” which is the “the ability to identify, define, situate, construct, manipulate, and communicate our personal and cultural soundscapes.”  Since English 121 is a composition course, we will think through sound to explore questions such as:

How might musical terminology inform the flow and layering of written argumentation?

How do compositions resonate with their audience?

How do we listen critically?

How does auditory filtering intersect with rhetorical awareness?

And how does voice—in all of its valences—influence writing?

Yet these questions cannot be separated from the socio-cultural and political implications of thinking through sound.  Consequently, another set of questions arises:

How is voice naturalized and mapped onto gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality?

Who is silenced and when?

Through what positions do people speak?

How do we responsibly speak for others?

How do the voice-overs of popular media shape the information we receive?

And how might we actively feed back into our communities?

True, in a class with so many questions about sonic culture, we risk getting moody.  After all, sound affects us at multiple levels.  Nevertheless, through consistent collaboration in and outside of the classroom, we will engage the course material through ways that will not only be creative and productive, but should also give us a sense of compositional balance by the quarter’s end.

Learning Outcomes for the Course

Students should:

Demonstrate an awareness of the strategies that writers use in different writing contexts.

Read, analyze, and synthesize complex texts and incorporate multiple kinds of evidence purposefully in order to generate and support writing.

Produce complex, analytic, persuasive arguments that matter in academic contexts.

Develop flexible strategies for revising, editing, and proofreading writing.

What I Learned

This course represents two firsts for me: my first service-learning course and my first class requiring audio composition. I decided to balance both through the framework of media activism, asking students to consider how they might use new media to speak with, for, and about their community partners. Along the way, I learned more about how to teach audio composition in the humanities classroom, as well as what issues to consider when deciding whether (and how) community-based media should be published on the Internet. After teaching this course twice, I became increasingly interested in the intersections between the public humanities and the digital humanities.

Course Evaluations

Available upon request.

(The penultimate image on the left is a screen shot of a keyword entry on “service” that the class composed for the Keywords for American Cultural Studies collaboratory project. The final image is a screen shot of Will Mari’s University Week article, “Sonic Culture: Becoming Producers, Not Just Consumers, of Media,” which features the English 121 course. All other images are screen shots of the course site and audio blog, which I designed.)