For the final project in “Reading with Scientists,” I’ve asked students to consider themselves as editors. In small teams of three or four, students will collaborate to assemble a scholarly edition of a text for an audience of their choosing. The finished product – what I am calling a “Curated Text” – must in some way establish a conversation between literature and science.
The contours of the assignment were inspired by the 2017 MIT Press edition of Frankenstein, “Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds,” which has been a central text for us all quarter. Through a series of wide-ranging footnotes and framing materials, the MIT Frankenstein (edited by David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert) invites a scientific audience to participate in a literary discussion by linking the novel to current scientific issues, the history of science, and questions of ethics and education. It is therefore a helpful model for us as we attempt to bridge disciplines by curating texts of our own.
Our “Curated Text” combines elements of our previous three assignments: the “Frankenstein Review,” in which I asked students to reflect on the editorial strategy of the MIT Frankenstein, the “Reverse Annotation,” in which students annotated a work of scientific writing with reference to Frankenstein (see a description of both these assignments here), and the “Lesson Plan,” in which students came up with ideas for teaching literature in settings that are not traditionally literary (like science classrooms). Below, I share some of the prompts that I have given to students as we begin to work through our final project.
Choice of text: The text that you choose to curate may be one from our syllabus or one of your own selection. You may pick a text that you have worked with before for a previous assignment in the class, though if you do this, I will expect you to go significantly beyond work you have already turned in. The text may be literary or scientific and your imagined audience may be literary or scientific: the important thing is that you make intentional choices about how you would like to bridge disciplines in a way that we wouldn’t traditionally expect. For instance, you could edit a scientific text for a literary audience or a literary text for a scientific audience. Or, it would certainly be possible for the text and audience “match” in discipline (say, editing a scientific text for a scientific audience), but, in this case, it would be important that you in some way introduce literature into the equation (or vice versa).
Instead of choosing a single longer text, you may also use a grouping of short texts, though they should in some way complement each other as a collection. (In other words, have a clear reason why you are grouping them and make that reason explicit.)
The “Curated Text” assignment has four parts, which synthesize aspects from the previous three assignments. Please follow the instructions carefully! Throughout, audience is very important. Try to be as specific as possible with your imagined audience. For instance, if you are addressing a scientific audience, do you imagine your edition as being more appropriate for a middle-school biology class or for a group of retired doctors?
Part 1: Title, Preface, and Citation
Give your text a title in the style of our Frankenstein volume: “X text, Annotated for Y audience.” As a team, write a 1000-word (min) “Preface” to your text in which you address your chosen audience directly. Introduce them to the text and introduce yourselves as editors. You might say a little bit about the perspectives that you each bring to the project. Give your audience a sense of what to look for in the text that follows and explain how you have made editorial decisions. Why is it important for your audience to engage this particular text? What issues do you hope to address? It would also be good to provide enough contextual details about the text to make your audience feel situated. (You might find it helpful to refer back to the “Editors’ Preface” of Frankenstein as an example.) Please also provide the full citation for the text you will be using.
Part 2: Annotations
Each team member should provide three substantive annotations pertaining to specific passages in your text. (Remember that a “substantive” footnote is at least three sentences long.) Your footnotes should in some way establish a connection between literature and science. Please put your name after your footnotes (as the annotators in Frankenstein did). Though each of you may certainly have different editorial styles (which is good!), the annotations should be cohesive in that they all share a similar goal and address the same audience. Please follow the same format that we used for the “Reverse Annotation” – reproduce a passage of the text (with a page number), followed by an annotation. Though you may certainly skip around in the text, your passages should be presented to a reader in sequential order.
Part 3: Teaching Appendix
After your annotated passages, you should provide an appendix, imagining ways that your text could be used in a pedagogical setting. Each team member should contribute one idea (in at least 100 words) for how your text could be taught – an activity, a series of discussion questions, etc. It is important that your sense of audience carries through here as well: how could this text be taught in such a way as to engage your chosen audience? Keep in mind that teaching need not be confined to a traditional classroom setting. If your audience is a reading group of Google employees, for instance, what activities or prompts might help them to engage with the text?
Part 4: Reflections
Each team member should write up a 750-word (min) reflection on the process of “translating” your text for specific audience. (And please make sure your name is on your individual reflection!) What was difficult? What was rewarding? How did you make decisions? Did the experience prompt you to read the text in a new way? You might also reflect on some of the larger questions that we’ve considered this quarter. How do you feel about the current state of specialization in education? Are there ways that we might consider an educational model with less restrictive boundaries between disciplines? What would be the pros and cons? What does “reading with” mean to you?
Please combine all four parts into a single document to turn in. Please also include a Works Cited for all sources that your team uses throughout this assignment.
My goal in giving this assignment is for students to synthesize the different exercises that we’ve tackled so far and build on what they’ve learned throughout the quarter. Scholarly editions of texts, particularly in the humanities, are one of the most important framing lenses through which students become accustomed to the specialized parameters of their disciplines. Opening up such parameters to include new reading communities can therefore be a powerful tool of humanities advocacy. Similarly, incorporating the questions and perspectives of the humanities into scientific textbooks and pedagogy could be a way to establish more robust cross-campus conversations between departments. By allowing students to take ownership of the role of editor and encouraging them to engage audiences beyond the scope of our classroom (at least in imagination), I hope that they can begin to consider the curated text as a site for interdisciplinary exchange.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Annotated for Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds. Eds. David H. Guston, Ed Finn, and Jason Scott Robert. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017.
This post is part of a series about the ongoing UC Santa Barbara English course “Reading with Scientists: How to Export Literature.” For context, read more about the motivations and design process behind the course.
The goal of the Curriculum Lab is to ensure a steady dialogue between research and teaching for the WhatEvery1Says project. For more information, see our webpage and this introductory blog post, and stay tuned for more Curriculum Lab posts throughout the year!