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English 350, Fall 2013

Expository Writing: Rhetorics of Place

University of Massachusetts Amherst

  • INSTRUCTOR: David Fleming, PhD
  • CLASS MEETINGS: MW 4:40 - 5:55 pm, 312 Bartlett
  • OFFICE: 267 Bartlett Hall
  • OFFICE HOURS: W 2:00 - 3:30, Th 12:00 - 1:30, & gladly by appt.
  • PHONE: 545-2972 (o)
  • EMAIL:
  • BLOG:
  • (For the fall 2012 course blog, click here.)

  •  Description  |  Assignments  |  Texts  |  Policies & Grades  |  Calendar  |  Blog


    English 350 is an intermediate-level, expository writing course designed to improve your writing skills, guide you through a series of writing projects, and welcome you into a community of writers.  Although we’ll do a good bit of reading, this is not a course in literary analysis, history, or theory.  And although the course will at times resemble a writing studio, we won’t be working on the classic “creative writing” genres of fiction and poetry.  Instead our focus will be the essay, an intellectually agile genre that, given its role in school, journalism, politics, and popular culture, is also exceptionally accessible to ordinary writers and everyday experience.

    The center of the course will be your own writing, which you’ll practice in a variety of situations, for a variety of purposes and audiences, and with a variety of opportunities to stretch your rhetorical and linguistic muscles.  The theme of the course (see below) will require you to experiment with new kinds of writing, including ones that imaginatively mix words with images (moving and still) and sound.  At the same time, you’ll have a chance to practice writing skills that are broadly applicable, including drafting, revision, and editing.  In addition, there will be required reading assignments, expectations for participation in class discussions, obligations to one another for peer response and collaboration, and firm due dates for submitting drafts and final papers.

    The theme of this section of English 350 is place, and most of the reading and writing you’ll do will be about “geography”: home, nature, travel, cities.  Mainly, this is to have a common thread running through our work, connecting our assignments to one another.  But it’s also meant to anchor our work to the world itself.  Writing today, I would argue, often feels curiously placeless: sitting in front of our screens, communicating with our online “friends,” it’s easy to feel that we are everywhere and nowhere at once – our subject: life in all its instantaneousness; our scene: the universe of social media; our audience: the faceless society of the World Wide Web.  This can be thrilling as we try on new identities and genres.  But it can also exacerbate the modern tendency to see writing as a matter of absence and our time on screen as an excuse to neglect the world around us.  And that’s a shame because writing is a powerful way to become more engaged in the world, more responsible to our communities, more present in the places that ground and sustain us.  This course, then, is an opportunity to think about how place writes us and how we can re-write our place in the world.

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    Work in the course will include:

    Reading and discussion.  Reading is important for writers: as inspiration, as model, as material to center reflection and discussion.  We’ll try to do some reading every week.  To prepare discussion, I ask that you come to designated class meetings with a one-page (single-spaced) response to the assigned reading that engages it in some way, ideally from the point of view of a fellow writer, reading to see how the piece works and what lessons it might provide you for invention, structure, style, etc.

    Writing.  The main work of the class will be your own writing.  There will be a series of linked projects, increasing in length and challenge as we proceed, all focused on place but approaching that topic in a variety of ways and practicing different writing, design, and rhetorical skills along the way.  Tentatively, we’ll undertake the following projects:

    1. memoir: writing about a place in your life, especially your past life: a wild place, a peopled place, a treasured place, a fraught place;
    2. map: describing, recording, drawing a place and the lives that occur there, a report from the field, including non-verbal representations;
    3. engagement: reporting on a community, project, scene, group, or problem with the goal of understanding and improving a place or situation in some way;
    4. travelogue: writing about movement through space and time, dealing with places far away or near at hand, with your presence inserted; and
    5. restoration: re-imagining and re-creating the history of a place, excavating its past, uncovering its secrets, and re-peopling its emptiness.

    Expectations for the course include effortful invention in your initial drafts, thoughtful revision in your later drafts, careful editing in your final version, and punctual submission of all materials to instructor and peer responders.  There will also be opportunities to experiment with new kinds of literacy, including multi-media writing.

    Obligations to our writing community. We will do much of our writing and reading togethr, and we’ll be sharing our work often in class and in other venues.   Your sensitive and sympathetic participation in our classroom community will be important.

    Final portfolio.  At the end of the course, in lieu of a final exam, you will turn in a final portfolio with a selection of your work from the semester, along with a reflective piece in which you talk in general about your writing for this class.

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    Our readings will come from a variety of sources, almost all of them available free online.  The bibliography is here.

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    Class Policies & Grades

    Please read the following policies carefully and let me know if you have questions about any of them.

    Attendance: Regular attendance in this class is important and thus required.  If you must miss class for an unavoidable, legitimate reason – serious illness, death in the family, religious observance, etc. – let me know as soon as possible and remember that you are responsible for any missed work.  Beyond two unexcused absences, your final grade will be reduced 1/3 letter grade for each day missed.  Coming to class excessively and/or repeatedly late, or turning in work late, may also result in penalties.

    Final grade.  Your final grade for the semester will be based on the following formula:

    Reading responses (5)


    Writing projects


    Project 1: memoir (10%)
    Project 2: map (10%)
    Project 3: engagement (15%)
    Project 4: travelogue (15%)
    Project 5: restoration (15%)

    Final portfolio




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    Calendar (tentative)

    day topics and assignments
    1 W 09/04 introduction to class; assign project 1: memoir
    2 M 09/09 reading response 1 due
      W 09/11 first draft project 1 due; peer response
    3 M 09/16 writing workshop
          Sept. 16 is last day to add or drop the course with no record
      W 09/18 project 1 due (DFleming out of town)
    4 M 09/23 assign project 2: map; reading response 2 due
      W 09/25 field work
    5 M 09/30 first draft project 2 due; peer response
      W 10/02 writing workshop; assign reading 3: No Impact Man
    6 M 10/07 project 2 due; assign project 3: engagement
      W 10/09 Colin Beavan visit; reading response 3 due: No Impact Man
    7 Tu 10/15 UMass Monday schedule (Columbus Day); field work
      W 10/16 first draft project 3 due: peer response
          mid-semester: Thurs., Oct. 17 is the last day to drop with a "W"
    8 M 10/21 writing workshop
      W 10/23 project 3 due; assign project 4: travelogue back to top
    9 M 10/28 reading response 4 due
      W 10/30 field work
    10 M 11/04 first draft project 4 due: peer response
      W 11/06 writing workshop
    11 M 11/11 Veterans' Day - no class
      W 11/13 UMass Mon. schedule; project 4 due; assign Project 5: restoration
    12 M 11/18 reading response 5 due
      W 11/20 field work
    13 M 11/25 first draft project 5 due: peer response
      W 11/27 Thanksgiving
    14 M 12/02 writing workshop
      W 12/04 Project 5 due; last day of class
    15 F 12/13 final portfolio due

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