Object Research

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Object Research
Eng Composition 102 - Honors
School: Rutgers University
Section: 350:102:H1 (12943)
Semester: Spring 2015
Location: CS-203
Time: MWF 10:10am - 11:05am
Instructor: Michael Russo
Contact: Available on Sakai
Additional: None
#! This is a course description page, designed for students and containing the course syllabus and expectations.
#! If you are a student, then check this page regularly for updates.
#! All changes are recorded and documented on the course history page.

Object Research, Spring 2016, Rutgers University, is an English research and writing course taught by Michael Russo, introducing students to systematic processes related to academic and humanistic inquiry. Students will leave the course better writers, better researchers, and better citizens of the public sphere. The class is modeled on the pedagogies of Dr. William FitzGerald, Dr. James J. Brown Jr., and Dr. Andrea Lunsford. It is also loosely inspired by writings by Jane Bennet, Timothy Morton, and Ian Bogost.

Learning Goals

Students of Composition: The goal of this course is to teach you to become better researchers and better writers – also, to encourage you to become active participants in shared communities of knowledge. You will refine skills acquired in Composition 101, learn to engage with multiple texts and sources, recognize the utility of academic investigation, and finally apply what you have learned to an 8-10 page "research paper."

Our class theme, Object Research, highlights the historical, philosophical, and social significance of everyday things in the world. The purpose of the theme is to motivate you to think critically about your surrounding environment. You will understand the political ramifications of material culture while at the same time explore depths of knowledge available through research. Moreover, Object Research is meant to show that even the most mundane things can be made incredibly interesting when discussed in the context of rhetorical inquiry. Within the scope of our theme, you’ll be free to explore any area of thought that interests you, so long as your exploration meets the standards and expectations of Rutgers University.


Cover for Everyone's an Author, by Lunsford, Brody, et al.
Cover for Remote Control, by Benson-Allott.
Cover for Driver's License, by Castile.
Windows XP Default Wallpaper: "Bliss" (1996) by David O'Rear. Microsoft.
A concrete block.
Bars of chocolate.
Peter Pan Peanut Butter, original packaging (c. 1920).

NOTE: This list will update as the class progresses.
This is a composition course: you will need a pencil and paper; also a notebook, and a binder for class handouts; laptops and other devices are encouraged, but not necessary.


Texts marked with [$] will be purchased or rented by student.
Texts marked with [ƒ] will be provided by instructor.

  • [$] Lunsford, Andrea A. Everyone's an Author. ISBN: 0393932117.
  • [$] Graff, Gerald, and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say / I Say. ISBN: 0393935841.
  • [$] Benson-Allot, Caetlin. Remote Control. ISBN: 1623563119.
  • [$] Klassen, John. I Want My Hat Back. ISBN: 0763655988.
  • [ƒ] Ovid. "Pygmalion." The Internet Classics Archives. Link.
  • [ƒ] Honegger, Mark. English Grammar for Writing. Excerpts. ISBN: 0618251898.
  • [ƒ] Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter. Excerpts. ISBN: 0822346338.
  • [ƒ] Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology. Excerpts. ISBN: 0816678987.
  • [ƒ] Bogost, Ian. "Watermelon, Fruit of the Flesh." Link.
  • [ƒ] Maxwell, Lee. "Who Invented the Electric Washing Machine?" Washing Machine Museum. Link.
  • [ƒ] Wolters, Eugene. "Understanding Jean Baudrillard with Pumpkin Spice Lattes." Critical Theory. Link.
  • [ƒ] Nguyen, Kevin. "The Little Switch." Link.
  • [ƒ] Lepawsky, Josh and Charles Mather. "A Terminal Condition: The Cathode Ray Tube's Strange Afterlife." Link.
  • [ƒ] Diana, Carla. "The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends." Link.
  • [ƒ] Arnold, Willis Ryder. "The Return of the Cassette Tape." Link.

Audio Files

  • [ƒ] "Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool." History of the World in 100 Objects. BBC.
  • [ƒ] "Solar-Powered Lamp." History of the World in 100 Objects. BBC.
  • [ƒ] "Concrete." Surprisingly Awesome. Gimlet Media.
  • [ƒ] "A Brief History of Peanut Butter." Stuff You Missed in History Class. How Stuff Works.
  • [ƒ] "Tea." In Our Time. BBC.
  • [ƒ] "No Innocent Sprice." NPR.

Still Pictures

  • [ƒ] Warhol, Andy. "Campbell's Soup Cans" (1962). Painting. Info.
  • [ƒ] O'Rear, Charles. "Bliss" (1996). Windows XP Wallpaper. Info.

Moving Pictures

  • [$] Rewind This! (2013). Film. Dir. Josh Johnson. IMDb.
  • [ƒ] The Dark Side of Chocolate (2010). Film. Dir. Miki Mistrati. IMDb.
  • [ƒ] "The Ancient Myth of Prometheus." Royal Opera House.
  • [ƒ] "Office Marvels." Modern Marvels. Discovery.
  • [ƒ] "The story behind the wallpaper we'll never forget." MicrosoftNL.
  • [ƒ] "The Magic Washing Machine." Hans Rosling. TEDWomen.

Video Games


Optional Texts

  • [$] Castile, Meredith. Driver's License. ISBN: 1628929138.



Writing Prompts

This is – after all – a composition class. There will be numerous in-class writing prompts along with homework reading, writing, and analysis. The writing prompts will allow you to practice writing in different styles and genres for various audiences and purposes. The writing prompts are low-stakes, which means that so long as you turn them in on time, you will receive 100% credit for the work completed. If you do not turn the prompts in on time, you will forfeit credit and your participation grade will suffer. Low-stakes work cannot be turned in late.

Online Discussion Board

Participation on the online discussion board is mandatory. A new thread will be posted to Sakai at the start of class, each Monday of every week. You will have one week to respond to each post. Your response must be at least 50 words long and address whatever issues are raised in the thread. You are encouraged to post more often and to engage with your classmates in productive conversation. The discussion board is a low-stakes assignment. So long as you respond each week, you will receive 100% credit for your post. If you do not respond in time, the thread will close and you will forfeit full credit.

Advanced Show and Tell

Bring in an object and talk about it (for 6 minutes and 40 seconds)

Each student will give a concise show-and-tell presentation in the PechaKucha style (20 slides at 20 seconds each). The presentation will cover an ephemeral object of the student’s choosing. The object should be discussed in terms of its historical and/or cultural significance using image-heavy slides. After the presentation there will be a brief question-and-answer session in which the presenting student will field inquiries about his or her object. Students will be graded on depth of research, time management, and articulatory skills. Remember that you must bring the object into class as well – so choose an object that is easily passed around. Examples of ephemeral objects might include: a ball point pen, a lottery ticket, a roll of film, a baby bottle, a flower pot, etcetera. The point is to take something seemingly normal and make it entirely interesting through applied research and skilled presentation.

Note: Students are excused from submitting writing prompts due on the same day as their PechaKucha presentation. In lieu of the writing prompt, the PechaKucha file or link should be uploaded to Sakai.

Literacy Narrative

By definition, a literacy narrative tells something the writer remembers about learning to read or write. In this assignment, students will compose a personal narrative that explores the instruments and utensils of the craft. We will be covering a brief history of office supplies including pencils, papers, and computers -- and students should use the literacy narrative as an opportunity to tell of their own experiences with such objects.

You might want to write a narrative about your favorite genre of book. Or maybe you might write about your lifelong love affair with crayons. Whatever you choose, there needs to be some indication of the narrative's significance to your identity as a scholar. For more information about how to write a literacy narrative, check out this site.

Portfolio Updates

Students will create and edit an online portfolio in which they include a collection of revised writing from Composition 101 and 102. Portfolio updates will be accompanied by four short (50-100 word) reflection pieces in which students discuss the process of portfolio creation and revision. The reflection pieces are meant to to function as both change-logs and works of self-examination.

Research Updates

Much of the second half of the semester will be dedicated to self-directed student research and revision. While composing multiple drafts of the final paper, students will provide the instructor with research updates. There are a total of four research updates due before the final paper is submitted on May 06.

  • The Profile of a Discourse Community is a research report on communication practices within a community related to the final project. Students compose a 3-5 page detailed report based on observing, interviewing, and collecting and analyzing data.
  • The Possible Sources Bibliography represents of brief overview of the books and/or articles being considered for inclusion in the final paper. Please include at least five reputable and annotated sources.
  • The Super Rough Draft or Outline should provide the instructor with a bare-bones sketch of the final argument, its direction and its purpose. Roman numerals not required.
  • The Last Chance Draft is the last opportunity to get feedback or advice on the final research essay.

NOTE: Research is a recursive process. The above assignments do not necessary need to be written in the given order; however, they must be submitted by their respective due dates.

Final Paper in Portfolio

A systematic, source-based academic argument that deals with the social, philosophic, and/or historic significance of an object of the student's choosing. The final paper is 8-10 pages long, must include at least five reputable sources, must be written in MLA style, and must show attention to form, genre, audience. This is an opportunity to show off what you have learned throughout the semester.

Note: The final paper must be included in your online portfolio by midnight on May 06.


I am not interested in policing your every behavior. The rules of this course can be summed up in three points:


The classroom is a place for learning. While I encourage individuality and original thought, even argument, it is important to note that everyone has the right to be considered in a manner consistent with academic civility. If somebody says something that you vehemently disagree with, I expect you to reply calmly and with propriety. Remember that we are here to learn from each other, not to criticize without tact or reason. Disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated.

A NOTE ON FOOD: Food will not be allowed in the classroom. Water is acceptable.


All required work must be uploaded to Sakai by the start of class. Writing prompt assignments will not be accepted if they are late. Graded papers and projects, such as the literacy narrative, will be penalized by one-third of a letter grade (B+ to B to B-) for each day the work is late. Students are expected to bring a copy of all written work to class -- either on laptop or on printed paper.

NOTE: If for any reason you have technical difficulties with Sakai, you may submit a printed paper copy on the day the assignment is due.

The work you submit must be your own, and written specifically for this class. If you plagiarize another author’s work, you will receive an F for the paper and may fail the course.

Familiarize yourself: Rutgers Academic Integrity Policy


All written work should follow the MLA guidelines covered in the required text, Everyone's an Author, by Andrea Lunsford.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Set the margins of your document to one inch on all sides.
  • Create a header that numbers all pages consecutively in the upper right-hand corner.
  • Double-space the text of your paper, and use a legible font (e.g. Arial).
  • Leave only one space after periods or other punctuation marks.
All of your work must be uploaded to Sakai in Microsoft Word format (preferred), .pdf, or using the open-source .odt alternative. Zip files are unacceptable and will not be opened, since they can contain viruses. Apple .pages files will also not be accepted.

Determining Your Grade

  • Participation: 30% ; Show & Tell: 10% ; Literacy Narrative: 10% ; Portfolio Updates 15% ; Research Updates: 15% ; Final Paper: 20%
A NOTE ON PARTICIPATION: Participation will be calculated by way of writing prompts, homework assignments, reading quizzes, and numbers of posts in the online forums.
A NOTE ON ATTENDANCE: Rutgers University allows students two absences without penalty. For every additional absence you will be penalized 3% of your final grade. If you are absent more than six classes, you will fail for the semester.
LATENESS: Attendance sheets will be passed out at the beginning of every class. Remember to sign the sheet for attendance credit. Constant lateness will result in lost participation points and a reduced grade.

Extra Credit

  • Driver's License: Students who are looking for a boost in their grade can read and write on Meredith Castile's book, Driver's License. This extra credit assignment is not just a summary of the book itself -- rather, it is a four-to-five page rhetorical analysis that discusses Castile's research process, her methodology, and its relevance to the course as a whole. This assignment is worth 1/2 a letter grade added to your final.
  • Other extra credit assignments may be announced in class and posted here, as the semester progresses.

Schedule of Classes

The following is a breakdown of meeting times and assignments. Changes to the schedule will be announced in class; however, you are expected to periodically check this page in order to make sure that you don't fall behind. Any additional homework will be announced in class.

Important Dates:
03.01: Last day to withdraw from all classes in order to receive tuition refund.
04.04: Last day to withdraw from a class, or all classes, with a W grade.

Date Reading Due Writing Due
F.01.22 Read: Ovid, "Pygmalion"
Play: Mountain
M.01.25 Watch: "Office Marvels" Writing Prompt
W.01.27 Explore: Fountain Pen Network (discourse community) Writing Prompt
F.01.29 Read: Honegger, "Speech vs. Writing"
M.02.01 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 08: "Writing a Narrative"
W.02.03 Explore: Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives Writing Prompt
F.02.05 Explore: Norton Field Guide: Writing a Literacy Narrative Rough Draft of your Literacy Narrative
Special Guest Researcher: James J. Brown Jr.

Read: "The Return of the Cassette Tape."
Literacy Narrative
W.02.10 Read: Bogost, Alien Phenomenology (excerpts)
F.02.12 Listen: Olduvai Stone Chopping Tool and Solar-Powered Lamp Writing Prompt
M.02.15 Read: Benson-Allott, Remote Control (1/3) Writing Prompt
W.02.17 Read: They Say/ I Say: Introduction;
Explore: Remote Central Forums (discourse community)
Writing Prompt
F.02.19 Read: "The Little Switch"
M.02.22 Read: Benson-Allott, Remote Control 2/3 Writing Prompt
W.02.24 Read They Say/ I Say: Part One (chapts. 1-3);
Explore: r/television (discourse community)
Writing Prompt
F.02.26 Read: "A Terminal Condition"
M.02.29 Read: Benson-Allott, Remote Control 3/3
Do your own research instead!
Writing Prompt
W.03.02 Read: They Say/ I Say - Part Three (chapts. 8-11);
Explore: Discourse Community (see Sakai)
Writing Prompt
F.03.04 Read: "The Dream of Intelligent Robot Friends"
M.03.07 Watch: Rewind This! Writing Prompt
W.03.09 Special Guest Researcher: Robert A. Emmons Jr.
F.03.11 Watch: "The Magic Washing Machine"
Read: "Who Invented the Electric Washing Machine?"
Extra Credit - Read: Castile, Driver's License
M.03.21 Do your own research / Brainstorm ideas for final paper.
ONLINE CLASS: Today's class is on Sakai, in chat.
Extra Credit Rhet Analysis Due
WDL Workshop
Setting up online porfolios;
Bring electronic copies of your past work.
F.03.25 Listen: Surprisingly Awesome, "Concrete"
M.03.28 Watch: The Dark Side of Chocolate;
Listen: In Our Time, "Tea"
Writing Prompt
W.03.30 Special Guest Researcher: Dr. Aaron Hostetter
Read/Listen: "No Innocent Spice";
and Wolters: "Pumpkin Spice Lattes"
F.04.01 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 15: "Starting Your Research" Final Research Object Due
M.04.04 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 16: "Finding Sources" and Chapt. 18: "Evaluating Sources" Final Research Question Due
See example files attached to most recent announcement.
Library Visit
Meeting in Library Electronic Classroom
Portfolio Workshop
Workshopping online porfolios;
Bring electronic copies of your past work.
Portfolio Update - Reflection
Research Workshop
Concentrate on your own research :) Research Update - Profile of a Discourse Community
W.04.13 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 21: "Synthesizing Ideas"
Portfolio Workshop
Workshopping online porfolios;
Bring electronic copies of your past work.
Portfolio Update - Reflection
Research Workshop
Concentrate on your own research :) Research Update - Possible Sources Bibliography
W.04.20 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 21: "Quoting, Paraphrasing, Summarizing"
Portfolio Workshop
Workshopping online porfolios;
Bring electronic copies of your past work.
Portfolio Update - Reflection
Research Workshop
Concentrate on your own research :) Research Update - Super Rough Draft or Outline
W.04.27 Read: Lunsford, Chapt. 22: "Giving Credit"
Portfolio Workshop
Workshopping online porfolios;
Bring electronic copies of your past work.
Portfolio Update - Reflection
Research Workshop
Concentrate on your own research :)
Read the very short: I Want My Hat Back
Research Update - Last Chance Draft
F.05.06 Final Paper in Your Portfolio by Midnight
Also, please upload a second copy to Sakai.


If you have a diagnosed disability and you are on file with the Office of Disability Services, please provide me with a letter of accommodation so that we can work together to make this class accessible and meaningful to you.

Timothy Pure, Ed.M., Assistant Director/Coordinator of Disability Services
tpure@camden.rutgers.edu // 856.225.2717

External Links

  • The online forums, supplemental materials, and instructor contact information can be accessed via our Sakai page.
  • The WDL is a writing-focused multiliteracy center run by the English Department at Rutgers-Camden.
  • The Paul Robeson Library provides invaluable tools that can help with your research.
  • Onelook.com is an excellent dictionary aggregation tool that I recommend to all new writers.
  • The Purdue Online Writing Lab for tips and tricks to improve your writing.


Further reading

Students who are interested in the theme beyond the scope of this course may want to check out the following resources:

  • Object Lessons is an essay and book series about the hidden lives of ordinary things.
  • Explore the history of the world from two million years ago to the present through 100 objects.
  • Surprisingly Awesome is a podcast about the hidden awesomeness in everyday things.