***NOTE: This syllabus was revised in 2015. The aim of the revision was to foster more interdisciplinary modes of writing and research.
We tend to assume that seeing and writing are fundamentally different processes: we experience the world visually and express our ideas about it verbally. Considering the increasingly visual character of daily life—film and video, social networking, and cell phone cameras, for example—the line between image and text may be less distinct than it seems. As art critic and painter John Berger notes, even the quintessentially verbal act of reading begins, for many of us, in seeing words on a page or screen. Given these complications, it might be more accurate to say that the two processes are interrelated and interdependent rather than that they are separate and distinct. As a writing course, the primary aim of The Visual World is to discover interactions, overlaps and conflicts between seeing and writing. In order to promote reflection on the conventions of academic essays, reading and writing assignments focus on types of expression that depend heavily on visual presentation, such as advertisements, comics and photographs, some of which treat text itself as a visual element. While most of the writing in the course will be text-based, some activities will call for experimentation with visual and verbal forms.
Rationale for Assignment Sequence
The first assignment asks students to distinguish between the visual and verbal messages of an advertisement and then to integrate their ideas into a single essay that identifies conflicting interpretations. Introducing methods of analyzing visual and verbal rhetoric, the assignment prepares students to compare representations of public events in comics and traditional journalism as in the second essay. Students use library databases to find a magazine or newspaper article and apply writer Tim O’Brien’s theory of “story truth” to evaluate the relative power of image and text to convey significance and meaning. The third assignment builds on skills of analysis students practice in the first and second essays for the course and prepares them to conduct independent research as part of the final essay. Students identify and synthesize at least two theories of photographic meaning in the context of generating their own interpretation of an image of a public event. Requiring both a visual presentation and a written essay that engages journalistic and scholarly sources, the final assignment integrates the interpretive and analytical processes students practice throughout the semester.
The materials and description for this course were revised in 2012.
Course documents for previous versions
- Course Overview and Assignments (doc)
- Pre-Draft Assignment: Pre-Writing Sequence for Memoir/Graphic Novel Unit (this is a multi-part pre-writing sequence, designed to be used over multiple classes/weeks)
- Syllabus (doc)
Previous versions of the syllabus (2009):