The Sword and the Screen

New Tricks with Old Texts

About the Course

bCourses

Homework

(Updated Weekly)

Monday, April 8th: Week 11 journal due by email

Wednesday, April 10th: Project 1 final essay due by email

 
 

The difficulty with epics is that they're... well, epic. Beowulf goes hunting Grendel, and 3000 lines of poetry later he's still fighting; Arthur pulls Excalibur out of the stone, starts sending knights on quests, and keeps sending knights on quests until you start to wonder if they're ever coming back! (Hint: They're not.) The size of these stories is overwhelming; they are bracing and innovative and exciting, but sometimes it can be hard to see the forest for the trees.

So: what if we started counting things? What if, instead of using highlighters to keep track of who said what and what went where, we used Python instead? This class will combine the adventures of two epic heroes, Beowulf and King Arthur, with some basic Python text analysis. To this end, each week will be divided into three parts: Reading Discussion (Mondays), Writing Skills (Wednesday), and DH Studio (Friday). We'll still be deeply invested in the literary scholar's toolkit; close-reading and critical writing will be crucial components of the course. We will look for patterns of metaphor, imagery, sound, and wordplay in each text. But we will use Python to expand the number of ways in which we can seek out those patterns for our analysis: we will close-read word frequencies, and track adjective use for different characters, look for collocations and debate what they mean. Ultimately, it may not be an easy journey -- but it will be an epic one!

Course Policies

Grading and Assignments:

Written assignments must be emailed to me before the beginning of class on the due date. They should be send as a .docx Microsoft Word file, written in 12-point, Times New Roman font, with 1” margins on all sides and consistent double spacing throughout. It is your responsibility to make sure I can access your essay; a 1/3 letter grade will be deducted from essays sent in corrupted files or to the wrong email. Extensions must be requested at least 48 hours in advance of the deadline, and late papers will not be accepted.

A second copy of ESSAY DRAFTS ONLY will be due in class on the due date, for peer review.

 

Attendance:

More than three unexcused absences (equivalent to one week of classes) will negatively affect your grade. If you have any conflicts that would lead you to miss more than three class sessions, please contact me as early in the semester as possible to discuss your options.

 

Participation:

Your participation grade for this semester will be based on in-class goals that you set for yourself, and your own assessment of how you have met those goals. That said, this system assumes a basic level of respect and engagement in the classroom. Please put away your phones and laptops during section, unless the assignment requires them. You should try to speak at least once during most class meetings, but you must also help to foster a respectful, inclusive academic community by making space for others to speak and engaging constructively with others’ ideas. If you are more talkative, you’ll want to step back from time to time; if you are quieter, you’ll want to speak up! Come see me early in the semester if you would like to talk about strategies for engaging in class. You will also have opportunities to contribute through occasional in-class writing assignments and short posts to our section’s bCourses page.

 

Your final participation grade will reflect all of your contributions to the course. While I will rely heavily on your self-assessment, I may adjust your grade (either up OR down) based on your attendance and general presence in the classroom.

 

Office Hours:

My office hours are Monday 10-11 and Tuesday 11-12 in Wheeler 231. You may use drop-in office hours to discuss course material, papers, and any other questions or concerns you may have about the class. I'm always happy to chat! If you have a scheduling conflict, please email me to make an appointment.

Email:

Make sure to check your berkeley.edu email regularly and let me know if you are not receiving course communications. You may contact me by email about the course at amy.w.clark@berkeley.edu; under normal circumstances, I will respond to e-mail within 48 hours.

 

Disability-Related Accommodation:

If you need any disability-related accommodation, special arrangements in the case of a building evacuation, or if you have other important medical information you wish to share with me, please inform me privately (by email or in office hours) as soon as possible.

 
 

Projects

There will be two main projects for this course. In the first, you will need to identify one large-scale textual pattern in Beowulf, and perform a close reading of 1-3 passages that demonstrate or complicate this larger pattern; in the second, you will choose a single image or metaphor from Le Morte d'Arthur and explore how it is working across the text both through close reading and Python text analysis, offering your own interpretation of the textual "data" you have gathered. For both assignments, you will need to consult scholarly sources and present your argument in the form of a traditional research essay.

Project 1:

Time for a Hero

We will begin with one of the oldest poems written in the English language. Beowulf is famous for its portrayal of a world in which brave men battle dragons, underwater assailants, and otherworldly foes. But this poem is more complex than it first appears: heroes sometimes act like (and are called) monsters, loyalty is a precious and fickle thing, and pride is as dangerous as any dragon.

 

In the first project for the course, you will explore these complexities. You will start "big," by identifying a large-scale textual pattern in the poem: repetition, frequency, collocation, etc. The pattern you choose is up to you! Perhaps certain adjectives refer only to women, or maybe weapons are described as if they were people. Once you have identified a pattern you find interesting or significant, you will choose 2-3 passages from the text and build an argument, using traditional close reading and critical writing skills, about why that pattern changes, connects, or otherwise influences the passages you have selected -- and why that matters for the text as a whole.

Schedule for Project I:

2/25Project proposal: Identify your problem; based on discussions we've had in class, spend 300-500 words thinking about how you might phrase this problem as a question, what kinds of questions are most effective for the genre in which you are writing (literary analysis), and how, if at all, the scholars in your secondary sources have tried to answer the same questions.

3/8: Scholarly sources due: submit a works cited page, along with a 250-300 word reflection on how you chose these works, and why they are important for your project.

3/15: Drafts due in class

10/26: Revised essays due

Formal requirements:

5-7 pages, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins; Times or Times New Roman font. Citations should be in MLA format and your essay should include include a Works Cited page.

Project 2:

Heroic Time

We will spend the second half of the semester reading a book in which time takes center stage: unlike Beowulf, a very early English epic, Le Morte d'Arthur is a product of the Late Middle Ages. Yet like Beowulf, it imagines a world of the past, a time before its own. Time is both expanded and episodic, as each major character in Le Morte d'Arthur embarks upon his or her own narrative arc. Yet it is also cyclical: the text repeats and revises itself over and over again, giving us plenty of narrative patterns to tease out and explore. For this project you will choose ONE episode of the text that you find particularly interesting. Use close readings to figure out why: is it particular character descriptions? Is it the prose style, or the repetitions of certain metaphors or images? You might, for example, be interested in Sir Gawain's treatment of women, or in the way Morgan Le Fay practices magic, but you need to choose specific feature of the text that make these things interesting to you. Then, using the Python tools you've learned this semester, try to search for some of these patterns across the text: is the episode you've chosen unusual, or typical, in the way it uses metaphor, repetition, imagery, or other textual features? Using the evidence you collect, build an argument for the significance of your passage and how it relates to the text as a whole.

Schedule for Project 2:

4/15Project proposal: Identify your problem; based on discussions we've had in class, spend 300-500 words thinking about how you might phrase this problem as a question, what kinds of questions are most effective for the genre in which you are writing (literary analysis), and how, if at all, the scholars in your secondary sources have tried to answer the same questions.

4/22: Scholarly sources due: submit a works cited page, along with a 250-300 word reflection on how you chose these works, and why they are important for your project.

4/29: Drafts due in class

5/13: Revised essays due

Formal requirements:

5-7 pages, double-spaced, with 1-inch margins; Times or Times New Roman font. Citations should be in MLA format and your essay should include include a Works Cited page.

Academic honesty is a sign of respect for the intellectual community we are creating in this course and at this university. Your assignments are designed to develop your individual abilities to read and write critically, and it is fundamental that all the work you submit is your own, written specifically for this class. All quotations, ideas, or other material that you may derive from the work of others must be properly cited. I will follow the department policy stated below without exception:

 

Berkeley English Department Statement on Plagiarism


All written work submitted in this course, except for acknowledged quotations, is to be expressed in your own words. It should also be constructed upon a plan of your own devising. The Berkeley Campus Code of Student Conduct defines plagiarism as “the use of intellectual material produced by another person without acknowledging its source” and stipulates that plagiarism includes:

 

1.) Copying from the writings or works of others into one’s academic assignment without attribution, or submitting such work as if it were one’s own;

2.) Using the views, opinions, or insights of another without acknowledgment; or

3.) Paraphrasing the characteristic or original phraseology, metaphor, or other literary device of another without proper attribution.

 

Unacknowledged use of the words or ideas of others from any medium (print, digital, or otherwise) is plagiarism. The submission of plagiarized work will, under University rules, render the offending student subject to an F grade for the work in question or for the whole course, and will also make him/her liable for referral to the Center for Student Conduct for further disciplinary action.

Grading Breakdown

Close reading exercise...................................... 5%

Project 1 draft ............................................... 10%

Project 1 revision ........................................... 20%

Project 2 draft ............................................... 10%

Project 2 revisions ......................................... 30%

Semi-weekly journals ..................................... 15%

Participation ................................................. 10%

 
 

Week-by-Week Schedule

Week 1

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's translation, "Introduction."

Mon., Jan. 21 -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday; NO CLASS 

Wed., Jan. 23 -- Introduction to the course

Fri., Jan. 25 -- Introduction to Beowulf and Le Morte d'Arthur

 

Week 2

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 1-455.

Mon., Jan. 28 -- Close reading

Wed., Jan. 30 -- Writing skills

Fri., Feb. 1 -- Python studio (Pre-processing text; word frequencies)

 

Week 3

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 456-923.

Mon., Feb. 4 -- Close reading (Journal due)

Wed., Feb. 6 -- Writing skills

Fri., Feb. 8 -- Python studio (Collocations and concordances)

 

Week 4

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 924-1309.

Mon., Feb. 11 -- Close reading (Journal due)

Wed., Feb. 13 -- Writing skills

Fri., Feb. 15 -- NO CLASS

Week 5

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 1310-1768.

Mon., Feb. 18 -- Presidents’ Day holiday; NO CLASS

Wed., Feb. 20  -- Close reading exercises due by email

        (In class: Writing skills)

Fri., Feb. 22 -- Python studio (Part-of-speech tagging)

Week 6

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 1769-2220.

Mon., Feb. 25 -- Close reading (Journal due)

Wed., Feb 27 -- Writing skills

Fri., March 1 -- Project 1 proposals due by email

       (Python studio in class: Characters and descriptions)

Week 7

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 2221-2693.

Mon., March 4 -- Close reading (Journal due)

Wed., March 6 -- Library Session

Fri., March 8 -- Individual conferences; NO CLASS. 

Week 8

Reading: Beowulf, Heaney's and Hall's translations, lines 2694-3180.

Fri., March 11 -- Individual conferences; NO CLASS.

Wed., March 13 -- Writing skills

Fri., March 15 -- Project 1 secondary sources due by email

    

 

Week 9

Reading: Le Morte Darthur, Norton edition, pp. 3-40.

Mon., March 18 -- Close reading

Wed., March 20 -- Writing skills

Fri., March 22 -- Project 1 drafts due in class and by email

 

Week 10

Mon., March 25 – Fri., March 29: Spring Break; NO CLASSES.

Week 11

Reading: Le Morte Darthur, Norton edition, pp. 40-61.

Mon., April 1 -- Close reading 

Wed., April 3 -- Writing skills 

Fri., April 5 -- Python studio (Episodic differences; charting the text)

 

Week 12

Reading: Le Morte Darthur, Norton edition, pp. 62-112.

Mon., April 8 -- Close reading (Journal due)

Wed., April 10 -- Project 1 final essay due by email

Fri., April 12 -- Python studio (TBD)

Week 13

Reading: Le Morte Darthur, Norton edition, pp. 646-673.

Mon., April 15 -- Project 2 proposals due by email (Journal due)

        (In class: Close reading)

Wed., April 17 -- Individual conferences; NO CLASS.

Fri., April 19 -- Individual conferences; NO CLASS.

Week 14

Reading: Le Morte Darthur, Norton edition, pp. 674-698.

Mon., April 22 -- Project 2 secondary sources due by email

         (In class: Close reading)

Wed., April 24 -- Writing skills

Fri., April 26 -- Python studio (TBD)

Week 15

Reading: TBD

Mon., April 29 -- Project 2 essay drafts due in class and by email

Wed., May 1 -- Writing skills (Journal due)

Fri., May 3 -- Last day of classes

                    

Mon., May 6 - Fri., May 10 -- RRR Week

 

Mon., May 13 -- Project 2 final essay due by email

Contact

 

GSI: Amy Clark

Office hours: 231 Wheeler Hall

Mon. 10:10 to 11am

Tues. 11:10am to 12pm

or by appointment

amy.w.clark@berkeley.edu