Course Syllabus


Welcome to Writing 410, “Real Texts, Real Readers”! I hope that you’ll find this course to be an exciting introduction to the field of book history, and particularly to the quantitative methods that book historians use to explore how people create, acquire, and read texts, especially printed books.

Course Goals:

1) to familiarize you with some of the theory and practice of book history, through reading, responding to, and critiquing both classic and recent literature in that field;

2) to introduce you to book history research methods, by exploring and analyzing primary documents (such as library records, readers’ accounts of their reading, book catalogs, etc.);

3) to introduce you to some simple statistical methods book historians use to describe patterns and trends in readers’ reading, and to practice effective ways of presenting such information, graphically and in writing; and

4) to address the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) goal of engaging the conventions of disciplinary writing, by conducting extended critical inquiry into some aspects of book history in three major essays and several significant scholarly blog posts in which you respond to readings, analyze book history resources, or reflect on your own reading.


Required Texts:

Finkelstein and McCleery, An Introduction to Book History. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Miller, Jane. The Chicago Guide to Writing about Numbers. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004.

Other readings listed in the daily schedule below. These are available on CTools or online.


Required Materials:

A notebook or a laptop on which to take notes in class and write in-class assignments.

Your Google suite of tools, for sharing documents and responding to each other’s work.

The course blog and CTools site.



Shorter Writing Assignments

There are 10 total shorter writing assignments, which you must post to our class blog. An outstanding example of a short writing assignment demonstrates exploratory, critical thinking, well-developed ideas, examination of specific textual evidence in detail, and clear, correct, specific, and economical sentence-level writing. In addition, part of your grade for each shorter writing assignment will include responses to others’ posts on the blog. You should respond to others by incorporating others’ responses in your own post or by using the comment function on the blog. Note that if you’re early with your post, you will need to return to the blog to comment on others’ posts.

Three Major Essays

Major Essay 1: What You Read
Overview: this 6-8 page (1800-2400 words) essay gives you the opportunity to reflect on your experience as a reader, which provides a way to explore book historical questions on material you’re very familiar with: your books. (Book historians often define “books” broadly, to include any written materials, in print or in electronic form; we will follow their precedent here.)

Part I: This is an empirical essay based on primary evidence: prior to writing the essay, you must create a catalog of what you read. To make the evidence manageable, consider only the reading material you currently have access to or are in possession of: what’s in your room or house at the University; what you read in other locations on campus (i.e. books from the library or newspapers or magazines in coffee shops); what you read online (ebooks, blogs, etc.). Enter the information into the spreadsheet provided on Google Drive, making each entry as complete as you can.

Part II: Write an essay in which you reflect on and draw conclusions about the data you’ve collected about your reading. Because you must include in the essay a table that summarizes the data from your spreadsheet, your writing should not report or summarize the data as much as focus on interpreting the meaning of patterns within the data and drawing some conclusions from them. We will share and discuss these drafts with classmates.

Part III: Enter the data from your spreadsheet into the shared spreadsheet on Google Drive. Together in class, we will create a table that summarizes this data and discuss its significance.

Part IV: Write an epilogue to your essay, in which you compare your individual data to the data of the whole group. What can you learn by looking at your reading materials and experience in light of the larger set of data?

Major Essay 2: Presentation of Quantitative Data

This 3-4 page essay (900-1200 words) focuses on the effective presentation and interpretation of quantitative data. Using data I provide (or another comparable source of data, which you clear with me), you will present that data graphically in an effective visual form of your choosing. The essay you write about this visualization will make an argument for its effectiveness in light of the meaning of the data within the original author’s argument. In other words, you must make a case for how the visual representation you choose fits and enhances the interpretation of the data made by the original author.

Major Essay 3: Researched Academic Conference Paper
Write a 8-10 page (2400-3000 words) paper about a book history topic of your choice. Taking essays we’ve read in this course as models, you might analyze one reader’s reading, consider the ways in which a particular demographic consumes a particular kind of book, or analyze the charging patterns of one library’s patrons. Using what we’ve learned in this class, your essay should present some quantitative data and analyze and interpret that information as part of your argument. You may draw this data from any of the following databases, available online:

Reading Experience Database

What Middletown Read

New York Society Library Ledger

(There are other databases available that may be more suited to your interests. Please consult with me if you’d like to use a different database.) Ultimately, your research paper should make an interesting and original argument about readers, reading, and texts, and it should incorporate primary research (via online databases and/or archival materials) as well as a number of secondary sources (approx. 7-10), including academic books and journal articles. Remember that you’re writing for an academic audience and should follow conventions of general academic writing as well as standards for the presentation of quantitative information. As this course comes to a close, you’ll present your research project to the class via an oral conference presentation that incorporates some effective visual display of quantitative data, in the service of making an engaging and thoughtful interpretive argument.


Conference Presentation of Major Essay 3: Please present your research to the class by reading a presentation-appropriate version of it out loud and/or (preferably) by developing a new media presentation, such as a PowerPoint or a Prezi. Presentations should be about 20 minutes long. Presentations will be graded on quality of research and effectiveness of presentation style in conveying that research.

Writing Consultations: I am eager to help you develop as a writer and thinker by way of one-on-one conversations we have about your work in the course. You are required to schedule one one-on-one meeting with me this semester to talk about revising a paper. (Failure to attend at least one one-on-one meeting with me will count as an absence.) Generally, however, you should think of my office as an extension of the classroom, and you should feel free to use my office hours to discuss your writing whenever you’d like. My door is always open to you!

Class Participation: Because it is a seminar, this class focuses heavily on you, the students. As you are an integral part of class, if you come unprepared, the whole class suffers because of it. You must come to every class prepared with your class notebook, handouts, texts we are working from (annotated!), and completed assignments. Class participation will be graded on an A through F scale, so the best possible way to assure the best possible grade is to read all required readings and engage in discussion in every class AND on the blog by contributing thoughtful entries and comments that move our discussion forward.

Attendance: I expect you to attend every class. If you must be absent because of an emergency, illness, religious observance, or university sporting event, you should speak with me about it beforehand, if possible, or after the next class. Each unexcused absence will lower your class participation grade by a letter. Be aware that if you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get notes and assignments, complete work, and submit papers. Be sure to obtain another student’s email address so that you have someone to contact in the event of an absence.

Timeliness: Please arrive to every class on time. If you arrive late, I will count your late arrival as half of an absence. In other words, two late arrivals equal one absence. Likewise, it is your responsibility to submit all papers and homework assignments on time on the due date indicated. I will not accept late work unless you’ve made prior arrangements with me.


In order to pass the course, you must submit all required writing. Blog entries are each worth 2000 points and are graded on a simple scale: outstanding, thoughtful, deeply engaged entries earn 2000 points; average, competent entries that demonstrate reading of assigned material earn 1500 points; weak entries earn 1000 points; entries that are not submitted by the due date earn 0 points.

Major essays are graded based on the quality of the argumentation, the appropriateness and effectiveness of quantitative information, the quality (clarity, conciseness, detail, thoughtfulness) of the writing, and the significance of the revision on an “A” through “F” scale. (A+=100% of available points; A=97%, A-=93%, B+=90%, B=87%, etc.) Due to our emphasis in the course on writing as a recursive process, I give you feedback on your writing when you submit drafts, during our required consultation, and any other time you ask for it. In addition, you will receive feedback from peers during workshops in class. I also encourage you to visit Sweetland’s Writing Workshop or Peer Writing Center for additional feedback. Be aware that you must revise all of your major essays extensively at least once, meaning that you must make significant revisions that go beyond clean-up matters. The significance of the revisions you make factors into your grade for an essay.

It’s difficult to earn an “A” in this course. “A” work is truly outstanding work—work that makes a reader think, “WOW!” “B” work is very good work—work that very much impresses a reader. Contrary to popular belief, “C” work is not “bad” work; it is average work—work that doesn’t stand out as much, but work that exhibits average competence. “D” work is below average and thereby demonstrates failure to engage course material or master course concepts. “F” work is incompetent, incomplete, or plagiarized. I am always happy to discuss your progress in the course and your final grade with you prior to the close of the semester.

Grades are weighted as follows:

Blog Entries (20,000 points)                                                                20%

Quiz 1: statistical description (2500 points)                                         2.5%

Quiz 2: correlation (2500 points)                                                         2.5%

Major Essay 1 (15,000 points)                                                                15%

Major Essay 2 (15,000 points)                                                                15%

Major Essay 3 (25,000 points)                                                                25%

Presentation of Major Essay 3    (10,000 points)                                   10%

Class Participation (10,000 points)                                                        10%

Total                                                                                                         100%



Plagiarism: The LSA Student Bulletin defines plagiarism as “representing someone else’s ideas, words, statements or other works as one’s own without proper acknowledgment or citation” (see If I find evidence of intentional plagiarism in any formal or informal student paper, I will immediately fail that paper and report the incident to the Dean for Academic Affairs. Please talk to me if you have questions about whether or not you should give credit to a source in your work. In general, though, I recommend that you always cite sources you’ve consulted as well as those from which you borrow directly.

Students with Disabilities:  So I can best help you learn in this course, please arrange a meeting with me to discuss accommodations for your disability. I also encourage you to contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSWD) [Room G-664 Haven Hall, tel. 734-763-3000 (Voice/TTY/TDD), email] if you haven’t done so already.

Religious Observance:  If a class session or due date conflicts with your religious holidays, please notify me so we can make alternative arrangements. In most cases, I will ask you to turn in any assignment ahead of your scheduled absence, but, in accordance with UM policy on Religious/Academic conflicts, your absence will not affect your grade in the course.

Sweetland Center for Writing (located on the first floor of North Quad) is staffed by writing consultants who provide free, one-on-one help for undergraduate and graduate students who are committed to improving their writing.  The Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; appointments may be made by visiting the website at  Sweetland also trains and supports peer tutors, who staff the Peer Writing Center on the ground floor of Angell Hall.  The Peer Writing Center is open from 12-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday on a walk-in basis. The Sweetland Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers online writing consultations with peer tutors. Visit the website for more information:


Though it is detailed, this schedule is also flexible, so that we can explore interesting topics that come up. I will give you advance notice of any significant changes, in class and via CTools Announcements.

Date Topic and Agenda Reading Due


Writing and Other Assignments Due


Week 1

Th 1/9


Introductions to each other and to the course    
Week 2

T 1/14



What is the history of books?


Overview of the field


Communications circuit


Social history of reading

Finkelstein & McCleery, Ch. 1 “Theorizing the History of Books”


Darnton, “What is the history of books?” (CTools)


Febvre & Martin, “The Book as a Force for Change” (CTools)



Th 1/16


The Uses of Quantification


Overview of data sources & methods for book history


Limitations of quantitative methods


Introduction to Essay 1


Introduction to Google Spreadsheets


Weedon, “The Uses of Quantification”


Eliot, “Very Necessary but not Quite Sufficient” (CTools)


Miller, Ch. 1 “Why Write about Numbers?” and Ch. 4, “Technical but Important” (pp. 53-57)


Blog Post 1 due: a response to this week’s readings. Put them into conversation with each other and reflect on how the “history of the book” and quantitative methods connect with literary studies.
Week 3

T 1/21


Studying reading


Development of silent reading


Reading Process


Finkelstein & McCleery, Ch. 2, “From Orality to Literacy” and Ch. 6, “Readers and Reading”




Th 1/23


The meaning of reading


Reading as a phenomenon


Reading records as a way of understanding readers


Collecting data


Wolfgang Iser, “The Reading Process” (CTools)


Colclough, “Procuring Books and Consuming Texts” (CTools)


Blog Post 2 due: respond to a reading of your choice.



Week 4

T 1/28



Basic data analysis


Understanding descriptive statistics


Mean, median, mode and measures of dispersion


Practice descriptive statistics using our data

Feinstein & Thomas, “Descriptive Statistics”



Online modules about descriptive statistics




Essay 1 data due to Google Fusion Table


Bring a printed copy of your inventory of reading material to class today


Blog Post 3 due: a reflection on the process of creating an inventory of your reading material. What does the data collection process reveal? What does it conceal? How might the process be changed to tell a different story?


Th 1/30


Workshop Essay 1


Quiz: Descriptive statistics

  Bring three printed copies of your draft for Essay 1 to class today for a workshop; share one copy with a classmate and give one to Christine for additional feedback.


After class, write a one-page letter to your partner, outlining the strengths of the essay and making specific suggestions for revision.


Upload your inventory of reading material to the shared fusion table on Google Drive by midnight tonight


Week 5

T 2/4



Writing about data


Making quantitative comparisons

Miller, Ch. 5, “Types of Quantitative Comparisons,” and Ch. 6, “Creating Effective Tables”


Weedon, Ch. 2, “The Growth of the Mass Market for Books” (CTools)


Th 2/6


Genres and Readers


Introduction to Essay 2


Joshi, “Culture and Consumption” (CTools)


Final draft of Essay 1 due to CTools Assignments by midnight tonight
Week 6




Introduction to Data Visualization


Looking at online examples of data visualizations

Miller, Ch. 7, “Creating Effective Charts” (CTools)


Moretti, “Graphs” (CTools)


Booth, Ch. 15, “Communicating Data Visually”








Th 2/13 Visualizing Data (cont.)


Creating charts with Google Fusion Tables

Gilmore, “Deep Structure and Rural New England Mentalities” (CTools)



Blog Post 4 due: an analysis and evaluation of one table you’ve encountered in your reading for this class and a recommendation on how it might be effectively presented graphically


Week 7

T 2/18


Visualization is Interpretation


Practice visualizing data in a table using Many Eyes


Tufte, “Graphical Integrity” in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (on reserve)


Explore Many Eyes

Th 2/20 Workshop Essay 2





Bring three printed copies of your draft for Essay 2 to class today for a workshop; share one copy with a classmate and give one to Christine.


After class, write a one-page letter to your partner, outlining the strengths of their essay and making specific suggestions for revision.


Week 8

T 2/25


Introduction to Book History Research


Introduction to Essay 3


Introduction to book history resources online


Pawley, “Seeking Significance” (CTools)


Booth et al., Ch. 3, “From Topics to Questions” (CTools)


Booth et al., Ch. 4, “From Questions to Problems” (CTools)


Blog post 5: presentation and critique of a data visualization you’ve found for book history


Th 2/27



Online Databases for Reading Research


Explore RED, What Middletown Read, and New York Society Library Ledger


Preview databases:


Reading Experience Database


What Middletown Read


NYS Library Ledger


Rose, Ch. 4, “A Conservative Canon” from Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes

Final draft of Essay 2 due to CTools Assignments by midnight tonight


Week 9

T 3/4




Th 3/6





Week 10

T 3/11


Research project proposals


Discuss your proposed research with your peers


Review structure of a research proposal


Booth et al., Ch. 5, “From Problems to Sources” (CTools)  
Th 3/13


Reading research Darnton, “Book Production in British India” (CTools)


Joshi, “Quantitative Method, Literary History” (CTools)


Blog Post 6: your proposal for Essay 3


Week 11

T 3/18


Understanding Relationships among Variables




Miller, Ch. 9, “Writing about Distributions and Associations”


Feinstein & Thomas, Ch. 3, “Correlation” (CTools)

Th 3/20



Practicing correlation


Work through an example together


Tutorial on measures of comovement [correlation]


Reading TBA

Blog Post 7: presentation and critique of one resource you’ve found to help your book history research project


Week 12

T 3/25


Correlation and the challenges of interpretation


Correlation quiz


Nord, “A Republican Literature” (CTools)  


Th 3/27


Flex day


  Blog Post 8: response to a reading of your choice



Week 13

T 4/1


Effective Presentation of Quantitative Information


PowerPoint presentations


Miller, “Speaking about Numbers” (CTools)


Tufte, “The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint” (CTools)

Th 4/3


Effective PowerPoint presentations


Structuring & speaking



Reading TBA Share a draft of Essay 3 with your partner by midnight Sunday, April 6.
Week 14

T 4/8

Workshop Essay 3



  Write and bring a one-page response to your partner’s draft to class


Th 4/10


WRITING 410 Class Conference


Week 15

T 4/15


WRITING 410 Class Conference


Th 4/17 WRITING 410 Class Conference


  Blog Post 9: response to one or more of the conference presentations


Week 16

T 4/22

Book History Futures



Reading TBA Blog Post 10: topic TBA



Th 4/24     Final draft of Essay 3 due tonight by midnight via CTools



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