Research Projects

Each student will complete an essay for a course website we’ll build together–an online anthology of your essays.

In your essay, you will make an argument about how nineteenth-century fictional texts and psychological or scholarly ones illuminate each other with regard to a question about a particular aspect of the brain, mind, or mental experience–for example, dreams, hypnotic states, desire, consciousness, or relationships between mind and body. Your job will be to identify texts that ask related questions about some aspect of psychology and then explain to readers how each text can help us understand the other–as well as the question(s) they share.

Your research projects will involve two related tasks: 1. You’ll write a research-based essay based on course readings and independent research and 2. You’ll adapt this essay into a component of a course web site featuring the work of all students in the seminar.

You will complete your essays in stages, including a proposal, annotated bibliography, a draft, and a revision for our web project. You will work in writing groups, offering each other feedback throughout the process. Essays should be 1,500 – 2,000 words, organized into a series of pages readable in web format, integrating relevant visual material, links, or video. I will assign two grades–one for the draft (25%) and one for the completed project (75%).

PART ONE: RESEARCH ESSAY

To make a strong argument, you’ll need an angle, or method. Consider some of the following possibilities:

  • An examination of one or more fictional works through the lens of a prominent theory about the relationships between literature and psychology (for example: Lisa Zunshine’s argument about “mind reading” or Shuttleworth’s about phrenology and social power).
  • A survey of a psychological phenomenon in works of nineteenth-century fiction in a particular genre (for example: “representations of reading in sensation fiction,” “mind reading in the marriage plot,” “the mad scientist in the gothic,” or “cognitive difference in the detective novel”)
  • A comparison of a particular brain or mind phenomenon in two or more works of fiction (for example: altered states, mesmerism, dreams, hallucinations, visions; particular qualities or quirks of memory; “the mind-body problem”; or sexual desire).
  • Analysis of the cognitive effects or implications of particular techniques of narration (for example–free indirect discourse, multiple narrators, or the unreliable narrator).
  • A close examination of the ways a single author draws on psychological theories or phenomenon to achieve literary aims (for example: Brontë’s use of theories of phrenology and physiognomy in Jane Eyre or the influence of evolutionary psychologist James Sully’s theory of “double consciousness” in the composition of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

Advice

Choose a topic and a set of texts that fascinate you. Challenge yourself by addressing sources that may seem daunting at first. Let the project evolve as you conduct research and learn from it; don’t be afraid to change your mind or change direction. Start early and write your essay in stages. Revise. Take feedback seriously. Revise again. And again. Think THESIS and MOTIVE. Be sure your SOURCES are reliable and relevant. Choose your EVIDENCE to advance your argument. Think of your audience as anybody interested in learning something new about psychological aspects of literature.

Note: Our “Readings” page contains a variety of readings that can help you get started with your research. You might start by scrolling through the titles there to see if anything sparks your imagination.

Formatting Guidelines

Use a 12-point font and 1” margins. Include page numbers, a title, and Works Cited list. Use MLA Style. (See link on on this site for Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab guidelines for MLA Style.)

PART TWO: WEB PROJECT

You will adapt your essay for a web format. While much or most of your essay’s content and argument will probably remain central, your adaptation will be aimed at an expanded audience: any interested readers who may happen upon your project online. The rhetorical demands of writing for the web overlap with those of writing a traditional essay, but they also differ in significant ways. With this in mind, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Structure your project for the web, creating an introductory page and a set of readable sub-pages easily navigated using a menu. See UMASS-Dartmouth suggestions for “chunking” when writing for the web.
  • Adapt the style and tone of your writing to appeal to an audience who may be unfamiliar with the texts or ideas you’re writing about.
  • Be sure you have a title that is both explanatory and catchy.
  • Include images, videos, or sound files wherever they are relevant.
  • Indicate sources using live, embedded links whenever possible.
  • Include a short “about” page introducing yourself as author.

Writing for Multimedia 

We’ll use a WordPress theme to create a collective website representing your work for the seminar. We’ll give it a name, and we’ll include an introductory page explaining what readers can expect to find when they navigate the site. We’ll decide on menu topics, and we’ll arrange your various projects according to these topics. We’ll consider how particular design elements send rhetorical messages. In addition to all this, we will work on finding ways to use multimedia elements–video, images, charts, maps, graphs, sound files, etc.–as more than windowdressing. Sometimes an image or video may simply offer readers a visual example to accompany a detail in your writing (an author photo, for example), but you should also strive to use multimedia elements to help develop and drive your argument, as texts that offer evidence or new ways of thinking about the questions you explore. The University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth offers some good advice for Writing for the Web.

Process

You’ll complete your research project in stages (see calendar):

April 1: Project proposal workshop (in class).
April 6: Send a draft of your project proposal to your writing group.
April 8: Send feedback on your peers’ proposals, using the feedback guidelines I’ll provide.
April 10: Send me your revised proposal by email. I’ll send you feedback. You will revise until I give you the go-ahead to proceed with the project.
April 29: Annotated bibliography workshop: Bring a bibliography, without annotations, to class.
May 6: Annotated bibliographies due (to me, via email).
May 11: Essay drafts due (to me and your writing group, via email)
May 13: Draft workshop
May 21: Essays due online

These stages are designed to help you make steady progress on your projects, with opportunity for reflection, feedback, revision at each stage.

Cover Letters

Submit a cover letter with each draft or revision of your essay. Use the cover letter to orient your readers—explaining what you set out to accomplish, what you still need to work on, and what kind of help you would like. Be specific. You might even include a list.

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