Writing 3: Syllabus

Post-apocalyptic Fiction, Film, and Art

Course Description

Why do we feel such an attraction to disaster? Why do we produce novels, films, and other forms of art that contemplate the end of humanity? Scholars from many disciplines have offered theories about the appeal and meaning of such spectacles of apocalyptic destruction. We will read some of this critical literature, examining views from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, cultural studies, and religion. In addition to these assigned readings, each of you will engage in your own original process of inquiry on a related topic of your choosing. You will present your findings frequently to the community of scholars in our class, sharing and discussing your research discoveries and insights. Ultimately, you will produce a lengthy work of original scholarship that will contribute to this field of inquiry

Course Objectives

Writing 3 continues our focus on inquiry, critical thinking, and argumentation. The course additionally involves an introduction to academic research. Our libraries hold an impressive collection of traditional and electronic research tools as well as hundreds of thousands of books, journal articles, and assorted media. Navigating this ocean of information can be intimidating; however, excellent research skills are fundamental to your training. Therefore, we will spend a significant amount of time learning how to perform academic research and use our library resources effectively. By the end of this course, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Formulate research questions that may be used to guide a research process.
  2. Discover background information on a topic using reference materials.
  3. Locate books, periodicals, and other physical media within library collections.
  4. Locate electronic databases and query them with precision.
  5. Understand the importance of the process known as “peer review.”
  6. Critically evaluate sources for credibility and suitability for research.
  7. Use bibliographic software and a research journal to track and manage references.
  8. Craft a lengthy argument that contributes to an ongoing critical conversation.

Required Texts

Link Purpose
No Silo Course website, syllabus, readings, assignments, the Open Handbook.
Canvas Submit assignments, contact others, view media.
Hive A shared Google drive for collaborative work.
The End A research archive built by our class.

Academic Honesty

All work submitted for this course must be your own and be written exclusively for this course. The use of sources (ideas, quotations, paraphrase) must be properly documented. Please read the Academic Honor Principle for more information about the dire consequences of plagiarism. If you are confused about when or how to cite information, please consult the course handbook or ask me about it before submitting your work.


Regular attendance is expected. Bracketing religious observance, severe illness, or personal tragedy, no more than three unexcused absences in a single term will be acceptable for this course. This policy applies to regular class meetings, assigned X hours, and TA meetings. Four or more unexcused absences may result in repercussions ranging from significant reduction in GPA to failure of the course. If you have an event that conflicts with participation in the course, please contact me beforehand to discuss appropriate accommodations.

Typical Weekly Workflow

Below is a list of the typical assignments and activities we will do each week. These are described in more depth in the Major Assignments section below.

  • Before we meet to discuss a reading as a class, each of you should carefully read and critically engage the text on your own—interrogating, analyzing, and questioning the arguments, ideas, and assumptions you discover there.

  • As you read, I ask that you annotate the text—that is, mark up the text by adding meaningful symbols, marginal notes, and questions on the document itself. Note: This requires that you print out the text before you begin reading it. Bring this annotated copy of the reading with you to class to help you engage in the group discussion and analysis.

  • After annotating the text, take critical notes on it in a separate document. These notes will be valuable to you later, when you write your essays.

  • After annotating and taking notes, contribute to Hive—our open-source repository of notes, ideas, and questions about our course readings.

Further advice and caveats about annotation may be found in the “Annotation and Critical Reading” chapter of the Open Handbook.


Decades of research on grading concludes that it is counterproductive, even harmful, to the process of education. If you care to examine it for yourself, Alfie Kohn has conveniently summarized the key findings of this scholarship.

For the reasons described by Kohn (and ones we explored in the fall term), this class will not feature traditional letter grades for evaluation. To be sure, I will evaluate your writing and give you rigorous feedback on how to improve. You will receive similar feedback from your colleagues in the class. And you will also perform reflective self-evaluation of your writing and thinking. Ultimately, you will have to decide how best to express your ideas. But at no point will this complex, important work be reduced to a percentage or letter grade.

At the end of the term we will reflect together on your progress, effort, participation, and performance; we will decide together what final grade to enter into Banner. This discussion about your performance in the class will involve our mutual reflection on the following topics:

  • Participation
  • Attendance
  • Collaboration and sharing
  • Late, incomplete, missing work
  • Growth
  • Effort
This list was partially inspired by the grading contract in Asao B. Inoue’s Labor-based Grading Contracts.

Major Assignments

1. Formal Research Essay

You will write one formal research essay, 15 pages or more in length. The project will involve many of the core competencies we developed in the previous term including argumentation, critical thinking, close reading, synthesis, and theoretical analysis. You may write on any topic you wish, so long as it is a contribution to our course conversation and theme. Please discuss your ideas with me before you get too far along. I am happy to meet with each of you to discuss ideas and help formulate a research plan.

The essay must be submitted in the Chicago format and contain a minimum of 15 peer-reviewed sources.

2. Research Workshops

Several workshop assignments will help you gain confidence with using library resources, constructing bibliographies, and managing a large research project.

3. Presentations

You will make one formal presentation at the conclusion of the term to explain your research project to our class. You will also make a number of informal presentations about your ideas, research, and writing as they evolve over the term. These informal presentations may not be announced, so be prepared to discuss your project at any time.

4. Author Page

Each of you will curate a webpage dedicated to your research project. We will call this site your Author Page. You may create this page as a shared Google Doc or use the Dartmouth Journeys platform. After creating your page, link to it on the course research projects page so that we may locate it. We will use these Author Pages to view your project as it evolves over time. One of your most important responsibilities this term is to keep this page updated. Your author page should contain the following:

  • a short research proposal/statement of no more than 250 words.
  • an annotated bibliography of all the sources used to construct your research project.
    • Use permalinks to link to the book or article within the library system.
  • a current draft of your research essay.
  • a weekly reflective blog post about the progress of your research project (see #7 below).
I have placed a model author page on the course website.

5. Contribute to Hive

Hive is an open-source repository containing notes, ideas, and questions about our course readings and class discussions. We will build this resource together as a class—sharing the work of interpreting, analyzing, and questioning the complex course texts we encounter.

We will use shared Google docs to create the Hive resource. Each week containing course readings or films has a dedicated Hive document. Please make sure to contribute to the Hive document for your course section. You may distinguish between these two documents by examining the superscript notations, as in the examples below:

  • 6 : Hive page for section 6 @ C hour
  • 7 : Hive page for section 7 @ D hour
You must use your Dartmouth login credentials to access the shared drive, not your personal Gmail account. You may authenticate using this G-Suite link: https://google.dartmouth.edu/

Our objective for Hive is to explore meaning, discover argumentative structures, evaluate supporting evidence, ask probing questions, connect to other readings, link to relevant resources, and think critically about the implications of a text. The “hive mind” is capable of discovering and creating far more than any one individual. With luck, Hive will become a central resource in our class discussions and an indispensable aid to you as you craft your essays.

You might contribute to Hive by doing some of the following tasks:

  • Help create a simplified version of the text’s argumentative structure by presenting an ordered list of claims, reasons, and evidence.
  • Ask a question about a difficult passage in the text or offer an answer to one posed by another student.
  • Define difficult vocabulary.
  • Flag a key portion of the essay or film that seems worthy of discussion or analysis and explain why it seems significant, or build on the thought of another student who has done so.
  • Make a connection between an idea found in one text with others we have read in class (or elsewhere).
  • Constructively question, respond, or correct the ideas or work of another student.

6. Critical Reading Notes

Take detailed notes on each course text. Your aim here should be to reduce the entire argument to its bare essentials using paraphrase, summary, and selective quotation. Carefully document page numbers during this activity. Interrogate the text by asking questions, raising objections, and noting observations. Connect and compare the reading to others we have read. Link to any outside research you perform and define unfamiliar terms or words. At the end of this process, you should have a simplified version of the essay as well as a number of critical observations, questions, and ideas that emerged as you read. If the text is a film, take detailed notes on elements of the film that seem significant. Don’t forget to note the timestamp.

For more detailed information on the creation and purpose of these notes, read the chapter entitled “Annotation and Critical Reading” in the Open Handbook.

7. End-of-Week Journal Reflection

Compose a weekly reflective “blog” post on your Author Page that details your efforts that week to further your research project. At the beginning, these posts will likely be searching, inarticulate musings as you think out loud about something you’d like to research. However, as your research intensifies and comes into focus, these posts should begin to include the steps that you took that week to further the project in some way. What kind of research problems or difficulties did you encounter? What sources did you locate? How is the project evolving as you read and think more deeply on your subject? In essence, I would like you to blog your experiences as a novice researcher engaged in your first big research project. Significantly: the things you say in your posts will help me, the teaching assistant, and your colleagues assist you with your project.

Help With Your Writing

There are many sources of help for your writing assignments. I am happy to meet with you all term during my office hours or by appointment. Each of you will meet with our TA for 45 minutes per week to go over your writing and plan revision. If you require further help, the RWIT program offers excellent peer tutoring on all phases of the writing process—from generating ideas to formal citation.

Required Conference

Each of you must attend a brief conference with me and our teaching assistant during the first two weeks of class. During this meeting we will discuss the Fall Reflection and Review assignment you completed over the holiday break. We will decide together what grade you earned during the fall term.

The meeting is also designed to discuss any concerns that you may have about the fall term or any goals that you may have going forward into the winter term. If there are particular things you would like to work on in your writing, please come prepared to discuss them.

To sign up for a session, use the schedule here. All meetings will be held in my office hour Zoom room.

Students With Disabilities

All students are entitled to full access to this course, regardless of disability. If you have a disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange a confidential meeting. Students requiring disability-related services must register with the Student Accessibility Services office. Once SAS has authorized services, students must show the originally signed SAS Services and Consent Form and/or a letter on SAS letterhead to me. If you have questions about whether you qualify to receive academic adjustments and services, you should contact the SAS office. All inquiries and discussions will remain confidential.

Symbol Legend

Symbol Note
Synchronous class day via Zoom
Independent work day from home
Winter conference with professor & TA
Student presentations
A new assignment
Workshop assignment
Assignment due
Upload assignment to Canvas
Contribute to Hive
Peer work, in pairs or groups
Discussion topic
Course reading from the Open Handbook
Course reading download (.pdf)
Question of the Day™

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

1 - Course Introduction

{ } Friday, 1.8

+ In-class work

  • Class reunion, course overview & housekeeping.

+ Assignments

2 - Winter Conferences

This week is dedicated to our winter conferences. In this conference you will sit down with me and the teaching assistant to examine your performance during the fall term. The main topic of conversation will be your responses to the end-of-term reflective work that you completed over the holiday break. We will also think ahead to things you would like to work on during the winter term.

  • Sign up for your winter conference using the schedule. The conference will be held in my office hour Zoom room.

As you wait to do your winter conference with us, occupy yourselves with the following important lectures and workshops:

{ } Monday, 1.11

+ Lectures & Workshops

Introduction to Academic Research

  • A brief introduction to the processes involved in a research project. The lectures and workshops that follow build on this initial description.

Introduction to Cultural Studies

  • This class will frequently use a mode of analysis associated with cultural studies. This lecture provides a brief (and wholly reductive) introduction to this form of inquiry.

+ Independent work

  • Complete the lecture and workshop.

{ } Wednesday, 1.13

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 1: Searching with Precision

  • This workshop will help you learn how to query databases and catalogs with precision, saving you time and headaches.

+ Independent work

  • Complete the workshop.

{ } Friday, 1.15

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 2: Finding Periodicals & Electronic Databases

  • This workshop will help you learn how to locate online periodicals (such as scholarly journal articles).

+ Independent work

  • Complete the workshop.

+ Due

3 - Disaster, Apocalypse, and the State of Nature

Philosophers and social scientists have attempted to explain the origins of civilization and the rise of the modern state for centuries. A key concept in this conversation is the “state of nature,” a hypothetical condition where human beings lived without government. In this primitive state there is no law or authority, only anarchy and the pervasive threat of violence. Thinkers of the past such as Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke used this hypothetical condition to explain why the state of nature no longer exists and how civilized orders came to be. Today, however, many writers, filmmakers, and social scientists imagine apocalyptic scenarios of disaster wherein society regresses again to chaotic states of nature. Why do we produce such imaginings? What purpose(s) do they serve? And why have these narratives become so prominent of late?

{ } Monday, 1.18

  • Martin Luther King Day. No classes. We will use the X-hour for an optional meeting, described below.

{ | } X-hour session

  • Tuesday, 1.19 | X-hour | Section 7 @ 12:30-1:20
  • Thursday, 1.21 | X-hour | Section 6 @ 12:30-1:20

This is an optional meeting to discuss the previous workshops and lectures from week 2 or other course-related matters. Otherwise, complete the workshop independently and prepare for discussion.

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 3: Finding Books and other Physical Holdings in the Library

  • This workshop will help you learn how to locate physical items in the library’s stacks.

{ } Wednesday, 1.20

+ Texts

  • Thomas Hobbes, selection from Leviathan (1651).
  • Claire Curtis, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and the Social Contract, “Introduction.”

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the readings, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

+ In-class work

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss readings.

{ } Friday, 1.22

+ Texts

  • Mathias Nilges, “The Aesthetics of Destruction: Contemporary US Cinema and TV Culture.”

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the reading, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well

+ In-class work

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss reading.

+ Due

  • Submit an end-of-week reflection to your Author Page.

4 - The Apocalypse and the Other I

Cultural Studies scholars argue that post-apocalyptic narratives proliferate during periods of social crisis. During these moments of extreme social stress, cultures transmute fear, anxiety, or dread into popular art forms such as novels or films. Thus, by examining popular media produced during these particular historical moments we are afforded a glimpse of how a culture worked through difficult social problems, reacted to challenges to its foundational values, and related to its various “Others.” In this section we will examine two films, The Last Man on Earth (1964) and I am Legend (2007), both adaptations of Richard Mattheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend. What cultural anxieties or problems do these films articulate? What social solutions do they seem to offer? Significantly, how do the differences between these two films provide a metric for measuring the evolving concerns of America from the 1960s to today?

{ } Monday, 1.25

+ Texts

  • Film, The Last Man on Earth (1968). Film is in the “Media” section of Canvas.
    • Resist the urge to watch the film at faster than 1x speed.

+ Independent work

  • View and take critical notes on the film, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Wednesday, 1.27

+ Texts

  • Deborah Christie, “A Dead New World: Richard Matheson and the Modern Zombie.”

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 4: Works Cited or Bibliography

  • This lecture will help you gain familiarity with constructing a bibliography for a research paper or project.

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the reading, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

  • Complete the workshop.

{ } Friday, 1.29

+ In-class work

  • Question of the Day™
  • Go over Workshop 4 answers.
  • Discuss film, Hive submissions, and research proposals.

+ Due

  • Author Page: research proposal (250 words), annotated bibliography of current research.
  • Submit an end-of-week reflection to your Author Page.

5 - The Apocalypse and the Other II

{ } Monday, 2.1

+ Texts

  • Film, I am Legend (2007). Film is in the “Media” section of Canvas
    • Alternate ending of I am Legend (only watch after completing the original film).

+ Independent work

  • View and take critical notes on the film, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Wednesday, 2.3

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 5: Cutting Corners in Research

  • The best researchers know how to cut corners and work efficiently. This lecture presents you with some tips that will save you time.

Workshop 6: “Getting Sh*t the Library Doesn’t Have”

  • As a researcher you will encounter many problems, but one of the most annoying is discovering that some other person has rudely checked out your book. Sometimes our library doesn’t own a book or article that you want to read. What do you do when these things happen? You have many options that won’t cost you a dime.

+ Independent work

  • Complete the workshops.
  • Prepare for discussion of texts on Friday.

{ } Friday, 2.5

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss film and Hive submissions.

+ Due

  • Update research proposal and annotated bibliography on your Author Page.
  • Submit an end-of-week reflection to your Author Page.

6 - The Zombie, Civil Rights, and Race

“[T]he true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses.”

—Robin Wood

Vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein are all monsters of European extraction; the zombie, however, was made in America. This begs several questions. Why was the zombie born here rather than someplace else? What is it about the Americas and their history that made the figure of the zombie possible and popular? What does it say about us and our culture that we have created precisely this type of monster? In this section we will attempt to answer these questions by tracing the evolution of the zombie—from its origins in the slave-based plantation cultures of the Americas through modern interpretations of the figure in contemporary literature and film. Significantly, the zombie of today differs markedly from its precursors in the cinema of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. In these earlier films the zombie was a figure within an imperialist discourse that expressed racist ideologies and the anxieties of post-slavery cultures throughout the Americas. However, just as the figure of the zombie had nearly been forgotten, a new form of the creature appeared in 1968 in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. No longer was the zombie a folkloric figure born of the struggle between master and slave; now it was an mindless, cannibalistic creature that stalked the countryside in swarms, mindlessly searching for human flesh. How do we account for this sudden transformation of the zombie? What cultural “work” did the zombie perform?

{ } Monday, 2.8

+ Texts

  • Film, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Film is in the “Media” section of Canvas.
    • Resist the urge to watch the film at faster than 1x speed.

+ Independent work

  • View and take critical notes on the film, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Wednesday, 2.10

+ Texts

  • Peter Dendle, “The Zombie as Barometer of Cultural Anxiety.”

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 7: Bibliographic Software / Research Journal

  • Over your career as a student and a professional, you will encounter and make use of thousands of books and articles and assorted media. Many of these texts will be very useful to you later, if you take the time to save and organize them now. There is an app for that.

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the reading, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.
  • Complete the workshop.

{ } Friday, 2.12

+ In-class work

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss film and reading.

+ Due

7 - TEOTWAWKI: Prepping for the End

Recent years have seen an explosion of “reality” television programming based in survival skills or challenges. Popular shows in this regard include game shows like Survivor and adventure shows like Man vs. Wild and Survivorman. Newer programming includes the Discovery Channel’s Dude, You’re Screwed, Alaska Bush People, Dual Survival, and the rather prurient Naked and Afraid. While these shows give viewers the vicarious thrill of braving the wilderness from the comfort of their armchairs, there has recently been an explosion in real survivalist culture, known as “prepping.” Preppers build bomb shelters and other fortifications where they stockpile food, supplies, firearms, and ammunition in preparation for TEOTWAWKI: The end of the world as we know it. A number of shows have emerged in response: Doomsday Preppers, Doomsday Castle, and Doomsday Bunker. The list of prepper fears is long: generalized civil unrest, total social collapse, global weather catastrophes, the return of Christ, peak oil, attacks using EMPs, and, of course, zombies. Are these views largely fueled by paranoia or a desire for self-reliance? Do these fears and anxieties signify some larger, unarticulated criticism or anxiety about modernity or capitalism?

{ } Monday, 2.15

+ Texts

  • Doomsday Preppers.
  • Casey Kelly, “The Man-pocalypse: Doomsday Preppers and the Rituals of Apocalyptic Manhood.”

+ Lectures & Workshops

Workshop 8: Managing Large Research Projects

  • How do you begin when you’ve collected a large pile of books and articles that will be parts of your research project? Often, a large collection of sources leaves you feeling paralyzed. This lecture gives you some ideas about how to process your research and start writing.

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the reading, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Wednesday, 2.17

+ Independent work

  • Independent research on essay topic.

{ } Friday, 2.19

+ In-class work

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss film, reading, Hive submissions, and research proposals.

+ Due

  • Update research proposal and annotated bibliography on your Author Page.
  • Submit an end-of-week reflection to your Author Page.

8 - Slow Violence, Eco-pocalypse, and Poverty

We tend to think of violence as an explosive event that erupts in a singular moment in time and space; however, scholar Rob Nixon argues that we must sensitize ourselves to what he calls “slow violence”—a form of violence “that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (2). In particular, Nixon’s focus in his influential work Slow Violence is on climate disaster: the slow-moving catastrophes of rising sea levels, mounting greenhouse gasses, toxic waste, nuclear accidents, deforestation, and acidifying oceans. These catastrophes, Nixon argues, are difficult to apprehend or represent in narrative form because they take place over years, decades, lifetimes, generations; as “spectacle deficient” events, they struggle for representation in a media environment that is biased toward more sensational forms of violence. Yet, these forms of ecocide are forms of violence surely, ones that remain invisible to many of us because they principally affect the impoverished and forgotten global poor. How can we recalibrate our perceptions to cognize these forms of slow violence? How do we convert “slow violence” into narrative form so that we can communicate its dangers, raise public awareness, and mobilize efforts for change?

{ } Monday, 2.22

+ Texts

  • Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, “Introduction.”

+ Independent work

  • Print out, read, annotate, and take critical notes on the reading, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Wednesday, 2.24

+ Readings

+ Independent work

  • View and take critical notes on the film, then post your contributions to the week’s Hive page. Read and engage the work of your peers there as well.

{ } Friday, 2.26

  • Question of the Day™
  • Discuss the film, reading, and Hive submissions.
  • Essay 3 workshop.

+ Due

9 - Drafting, Revising, Presenting

{ } Monday, 3.1

+ In-class work

  • Presentation Group 1.

{ } Wednesday, 3.3

+ In-class work

  • Presentation Group 2.

{ } Friday, 3.5

+ In-class work

  • Presentation Group 3.

+ Due

  • Submit an end-of-week reflection to your Author Page.

10 - The End

{ } Monday, 3.8

+ Independent work

  • Finalize revisions to final paper.

{ } Wednesday, 3.10

+ In-class work

  • Tearful goodbyes.

+ Due