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What is "I"? Syllabus

Instructor Information

Name: Lynn Andrea Stein

Email: las @ the usual places

Office: OC 358 & AC 312

IM: Ask me or around the res hall

Phone: Ask me or around the res hall

Office Hours: By Appointment

Consultants: Gillian Anderson - Writing Consultant

Rob Martello: Good Guy, co-inventor of the class, author of all of the best jokes, sorely missed companion

Cameos: If we credited them, they wouldn’t be cameos…

Course Information

Learning Objectives

The philosophy and main objectives of this course are embodied in the following goals:

  1. Develop communication skills. This course will teach and assess a variety of communication practices:
    1. Analytical writing. This course will stress clear and organized writing, insightful analysis, effective enrollment of evidence and citation, and creativity. Your writing skills will be further developed through an analytical paper, a critical assessment, a creative project and the opportunity to revise your papers.
    2. Reflective writing. We will also develop your ability to write in a reflective and insightful manner, bringing your own experiences and views to bear on a complex topic. This course offers, at no extra cost, journal assignments that emphasize reflective writing, insight, and creativity.
    3. Class presentations. One project and journal assignments include a presentation component. This will stress your ability to present a narrative and some analysis in a manner that engages and educates your peers.
    4. Class discussion. This is a discussion class and your interactive discussion skills will be evaluated and developed. We will learn to work together in building and advancing a constructive group dialogue, including the importance of listening and responding to other comments. Keep in mind that participation quality is at least as important as quantity.
  2. Draw and encourage connections between “AHS” (Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences) and technical subjects. This foundation course will help you to work across boundaries between technical and non-technical disciplines. We will examine the rhetorical techniques and professional standards of disciplines that inform our understanding of identity. We will see how diverse approaches can lead to similar – or widely disparate – conclusions, and we will combine scientific and non-scientific approaches to broad topics that resist simple categorization.
  3. Explore the relationships among different AHS fields. This course is fundamentally interdisciplinary. We will take time to look at historical, literary, philosophical, cognitive science, sociological, and psychological texts, concepts, and methodologies. However, we will also strive to compare and connect these disciplines in our exploration of broad identity and cognition topics.
  4. Become familiar with contemporary issues in the study of identity, especially within cognitive science. Students in this course will learn some of the major themes underlying current understanding of individual identity as well as the tools and vocabulary used in this area of study. Student should be able to recognize major approaches and styles of argumentation and analysis and should be comfortable engaging with these issues in rigorous ways.

Olin Competencies

This course will build skills in communication and context as well as analysis and synthesis of AHS material. You should expect to receive ratings in this course on the Olin competencies communication, context, and possibly life-long learning.

Required Texts

The following required texts are available in the Babson bookstore:

  1. Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (New York: Broadway Books, 2003). NB: Ordered late; will not be used until after spring break.

  2. Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

  3. Scott McCloud. Understanding Comics (Perennial; Reprint edition, April 1994).

  4. V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee, Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind. (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1998). Note that this was the summer book program reading, so you probably already own it.

  5. Art Spiegleman, Maus, A Survivor's Tale, Volumes 1 and 2 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986 and 1991).

  6. Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).

  7. Donna Williams, Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic (New York: Avon Books, 1994).

In addition, a reading packet will be placed in a small burlap bag somewhere within 500 yards of the Residence Hall, and locations of online materials will be distributed throughout the course on a “need to know” basis.

The readings packet readings, online readings, and other interesting things are listed on the CourseReadings page.

Random Course Policies


This course will use the ABCDF grading system as outlined in the Student Handbook, including pluses and minuses (note that Olin does not use the A+ grade). Final grades will be assigned in accordance with the guidelines provided in the Student Handbook.

Your grade will be based on the following breakdown. Assignments are described in (mostly) nightmarish detail below.

Course Assignment


Journal One


Journal Two


Analytical Paper Combined Product


Review of Classmate’s Paper


Final project


Analysis notes and writing lab assignments


Participation and attendance

10 (*)



(*) Attendance and participation might impact more than 10% of your grade in exceptionally good or bad cases. In addition, late or missing assignments may be disproportionately penalized.

Course Assignments

This course features four main assignments: analysis notes; two journals (completed on your own); an analytical paper (completed on your own, assessed by a classmate, and then revised on your own); and a final project (completed on your own). These assignments are discussed below. In addition, you will have regular shorter assignments for the writing laboratory component of this course.

Format for Written Assignments

All assignments should be typewritten and submitted via email. Please use a descriptive subject (“WII assignment assignment description from your name” is always good) and a descriptive file name (including your name and something that identifies the assignment and, in the best case, the date in something like YYYYMMDD format). Politics notwithstanding, Microsoft Word would allow me to more easily provide direct, localized feedback (i.e., to mark up the paper). If you are writing your paper in Word (or a compatible application) anyway, please submit it in Microsoft Word format. If you would prefer not to use Word, this will please my politics but require a different method for my doing markup, so please let me know ASAP so I can plan for it.

Regardless of the application or file format, please observe the following settings:

Footnotes for the above paragraph:

  1. Author Name, Full Title of Book in Italics (City of Publication: Publisher, year), page number.
  2. Sherry Turkle, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), pp. 12-14.

  3. If a footnote points to exactly the same source as the preceding footnote you can simply say “Ibid. p. 17.” If this footnote cites an earlier (but not immediately preceding) source you can simply use the author’s last name, abbreviate the title, and leave out the publication information. For example, “Turkle, Life on the Screen, p. 17.”
  4. For example, “Turkle, Life on the Screen, p. 17, and Stein, Is Anyone Actually Reading This, p. 29.”

Submit all assignments to Lynn as email attachments las@olin.edu.

Assignment One: Analysis Notes


To increase student awareness of discipline, genre, and perspective. Students should be able to identify where (in disciplinary or ideological space) an author comes from, how an author uses language to communicate, and what his/her goals are in a particular work.


You will be producing analysis notes for some of the works you read for the first few classes. This exercise is meant to make you more conscious of certain aspects of the work as you read. It is not meant to be time-consuming or burdensome, and should be relatively low overhead to complete if you do so while you are reading.

For each work, your analysis note should contain:

  1. The title and author of the work.
  2. Answers (in a few words or one sentence for each question) to the questions:
    • From what discipline or disciplinary perspective does the author write?
    • For whom is the author writing (intended audience)?
    • What does the author wish the reader to take away from this reading? (If the author has a thesis or an argument, what is it?)
  3. A sentence or so, drawn from the work, that particularly evokes, for you, the style of the work. Note: This sentence need not (and likely will not) summarize the work, but should epitomize it.
  4. Three adjectives that describe the work , particularly its style or perspective, for you.


Make these notes as you read! Or, at least, do this immediately after each reading.

Analysis notes will be assessed briefly as a diagnostic. Altogether, they will make up an easy 5% of your final grade except if not completed on time and with reasonable attention, in which case they may carry greater weight.

Assignment Two: Journals


To make connections between readings within and across sessions; to highlight themes; to integrate student perspectives into the conduct of the class.


Each student is responsible for writing two journals. A journal is a two-page personal reflection and interpretation of the class readings. You cannot collaborate with others when writing your journals: this must be entirely your work and must reflect your own views. Each journal will count for 5% of your final course grade.

Journal dates will be assigned within the first two weeks of class. (Multiple students may be assigned to the same dates, but students sharing a journal date should not work together. I think I said this in the last paragraph, so let’s move on.) You must email your journal to Lynn no later than 9 PM on the day before our class session. It is vital that you submit it by 9 PM so we can have time to process it before class. Did we mention that we absolutely positively need it by 9 PM? Some of us sleep, you know. (OK, so this is more lame for a 1pm class than it was for a morning session last year. But don’t think that this licenses you to take the Eric approach.)

Journals will be assessed in the following categories:

We will read the journals before class and use them as a gauge of the topics we can discuss on that day. We will often begin each day with a discussion of the journals, so be prepared to “chat” in a “cool” manner.

Assignment Three: Analytical Paper Draft, Commentary, and Revision

Oh, the joy of the analytical paper! How we envy you. (sigh)

Your first major paper for this course offers you a chance to create a thesis that analyzes two or more of our readings and to explore that thesis through a well-reasoned and well supported body of argument and evidence. In general, a thesis statement is your slant on a scholarly paper, a proposal of the question you will address, the answer you expect to find, and the process you will take.

This analysis paper must include:

This assignment will unfold in four phases. We will discuss each phase in class and in lab prior to your work on it.

Phase Zero: Thesis/Proposal

Phase One: Analytical Paper

This paper will be assessed according to a rubric to be distributed. Last year’s version (which will be revised for this year but will hit most of the same points) contained four categories: Composition, Organization, Analysis, and Use of Evidence/Support. These are described further in Phase Two.

Phase Two: Commentary on Colleague’s Paper

This assignment requires you to read your colleague’s paper and write a response that explains the effect it had upon you and offers an assessment. This should provide the kind of feedback that allows your classmate to significantly improve his/her paper, so please be as thorough and thoughtful as possible.

Your commentary can take the form of a series of unconnected paragraphs that address the following topics. In other words you do not have to write this commentary as a single coherent paper. Your commentary must include all of the following categories (feel free to use the numbers and titles below) but not necessarily a response to every single question. (You may also find it helpful to use the rubric distributed for the paper.)

  1. Summary. What is the thesis (in your own words) and what are the arguments and evidence that support the thesis. No more than one paragraph, please!
  2. Composition. How would you characterize the writing in this paper? Clear? Confusing? Persuasive? Opinionated? Eloquent? Basic? Did you agree with sentence lengths, grammar usage, and word choices? Can you single out any errors or inconsistencies in the writing? If this is well written, can you explain why or give an example of something that works?
  3. Organization. When you read this paper, how would you title the main sections? Are these sections clear and self-evident or did you find yourself wondering why one paragraph followed the next? Did the introduction offer a road map or overview of the paper that captures both the narrative and analysis? Did the body of the paper live up to the introduction and carry out its mandate? Did different sections contain transitions that helped you step through the argument and narrative?
  4. Analysis. Does the thesis represent an interesting and significant argument or is it merely a statement of fact? Was the thesis clear? Did each section of the paper contribute something to the exploration and development of this thesis (this is also an organizational issue)? Was the logic and argument convincing to you? Did you find this paper perceptive and thoughtful?
  5. Evidence. Does the author support the analysis with sufficient evidence from multiple sources? Is the evidence relevant to the thesis? Is the evidence used in a correct manner, consistent with your understanding of the source? Does the paper include sufficient background information?
  6. Overall Effectiveness. Did this paper educate you? How would you characterize your overall reaction to it? What were its strongest and weakest aspects? What would you do differently?

Phase Three: Revision of Paper

Based on your classmate’s comments and any other feedback that you may have received, revise your paper and resubmit it. If you receive feedback that you do not incorporate into your paper, you may also include a brief explanation of why you chose to disregard this feedback.

Assignment Four: Final Project


Apply the lessons of this semester to our own narratives. Introspect, contextualize, analyze, communicate. Also allow individuals to express themselves in creative and personally meaningful ways.

We will start discussing the final project shortly after Spring Break. It will contain a substantial written component, including analysis of sources from this semester, and may in addition have a significant artistic or creative aspect.

Your project should have a creative or exploratory component that tells your audience something about who or what “I” is for you. This may be a piece of writing, a work of visual or performance art, an exploratory research project, or some other form of your choosing. Regardless of the form that your project takes, you will also be responsible for producing a written explanation of the ideas behind what you have produced. This will generally take the form of an artist’s statement, an accompanying explanation, or perhaps of one or more extended footnotes. The purpose of the explanatory comment is to reiterate your intentions in the deliverable (though that should also be apparent from the deliverable itself) and to make explicit the connections between what you have done in your disciplinary deliverable and the things that we have discussed in this course. You should expect to make explicit connections to at least three different works that we have discussed this semester.

Your project will be judged on how well your project answers the question What is “I”? and on how effectively it engages (an appropriate subset of) the material we’ve discussed this semester. It will also be judged on the goals that you set for yourself and how well your project accomplishes these goals.

The final project occurs in phases… Phase zero is really a preview, in which you will do some exploratory life narrative writing. It is really intended as a mental warm-up and will take place as a part of the writing workshop. Phase one is your (non-optional) opportunity to submit a proposal and outline for comment. You must select a question or idea to explore, create a plan to produce something that answers this question or communicates this idea, and describe what you’ve done in a way that relates it to the themes and readings of this class. Unless otherwise approved in advance, your project should have either an autobiographical or a self-portraiture aspect, i.e., it should help to communicate what “I” means for you. Phase two is the completion of your deliverable. You will have slightly under two weeks to complete your project, which means that you should pick something appropriately scoped. Ideally, your project will be something that you can stop part-way through and have something reasonable or continue working on longer and have something even better. Phase three is the creation of an explanatory comment on your project. You will neeed to explain the purpose of your project and connect what you did to several of the readings and themes that we’ve discussed this semester. If it is not apparent from your deliverable, the comment should also indicate how and why your project gives insight into what “I” means for you. The explanatory comment will generally take the form of a three to five page paper separate from your main deliverable, but it may be integrated into your deliverable if appropriate (e.g., if your deliverable is a research project). Phase four is the presentation of your deliverable to the class. At this time you will also turn in whatever tangible manifestation your deliverable takes along with your explanatory comment.

Let’s explore all these phases in more detail!

Phase Zero: Pre-project Workshop on Life Writing

Bring to class a paragraph that is either autobiographical (tells a piece of your story) or self-portrait (shows some of who you are). Alternatively, you may use some form other than writing, but you must bring a tangible artifact (a sketch, an explanation, …) that could be shared with one or more of your classmates.

We will use the writing workshop on Thursday March 31 to discuss these pieces and to begin to think about final projects.

Phase One: Proposal/Conference

This project has two parts: a disciplinary deliverable and an explanatory comment. The proposal should justify both of them.

Your proposal should indicate the nature of your planned deliverable as well as its scope (length, depth of exploration, number of components, etc.) and a plan for its creation. You should be able to complete your proposed project comfortably within twelve days.

Your proposal should articulate clearly the intended purpose or message of your deliverable. This may be in the form of a question that you seek to answer, a statement that you wish to make, connections that you wish to illustrate, or something else that you can describe in your proposal. Your deliverable will not be judged on its artistic merits, but it will be judged as to how well it accomplishes the intended purpose or communicates its intended message.

Your proposal should address:

What readings relate to this project? How? (This should be no more than about a sentence for each one.)

Phase Two: Produce your deliverable for the Mid-project workshop

Phase Three – Write your Explanatory Comment – and Four – Presentation and Final Deliverable

In class on May 2, each student will have an opportunity to share your deliverable with the rest of the class. We will schedule these based on the nature of the individual deliverables, but you should expect to spend at least five minutes sharing your project even if the deliverable is not one that lends itself to easy presentation. If you anticipate an issue, please let me know ASAP. (Also, please let me know ASAP if your project will require more than fifteen minutes for presentation.)

2013-07-17 10:47