E110: Seminar in Composition

Let me begin by looking at the three words that make up the title of this course.

  • A seminar is a class in which a small group of students share and discuss their writing with each other. In a seminar everyone brings their work to the table. You know what everyone else is writing, and they all know your work too.
  • To compose is to make meaning—with words, images, audio, video, or whatever other media may be at hand. Writing is one form of composing. We have decided to call this course a seminar in composition to emphasize that you will not only be writing words intended to be read on the page, but composing pieces that are meant to be read on the screen—and that perhaps incorporate image, sound, and video files alongside your written text.
  • Finally, in. This is not a course about writing or composing.  It is a course in composition, in doing things with words and texts. You will be writing all the time, and my goal as your teacher is to help you do so with confidence, authority, and pleasure.

There are about 100 sections of E110 offered each semester at UD. While all these sections share the same course goals, individual teachers work toward those goals in their own particular ways, centering their classes on readings and questions that they find important and engaging. And so while the students in all sections of E110 do similar types and amounts of work, the issues and texts they read and write about vary from one section to the next. I try to change the texts and writing projects I assign every semester I teach E110. It’s part of what makes the course exciting for me to teach.

This Section: Writing About Repair

8862476So this semester I’ve decided to center the work we’ll do together on Elizabeth Spelman’s Repair: The Impulse to Restore in a Fragile World  (2003). Spelman is a philosopher who teaches at Smith College. She is also a gifted writer. In Repair, she considers the impulse that humans have to fix things—from inanimate objects to bodies, relationships, people, communities, and nations.  I’m betting that you can find a way to make the concept of repair useful to you as a writer, no matter what you plan to study. If you are a science or engineering student, for instance, you might focus your writing on a technical problem in repair. Or if you plan to go into business, you could look at a company in crisis. Or if you plan to study the health sciences, you might consider new attempts to repair our bodies or counter diseases. And so on. My hope is thus that the idea of repair can both provide a conceptual focus for our work, give us something to think and talk about together, while also allowing each of you to explore an interest of your own in your writing.

I’ve also chosen Repair because Spelman offers such a nice model in it of someone writing about ideas in a clear and personal voice. My goal in this course is to teach you how to do a certain kind of work with texts and ideas. It is not to train you to write in a certain style, to sound like somebody else. I want instead to help you learn how to do a particular kind of intellectual work in a voice that feels your own.

I also need to say something about how this particular section will work. You’ll have noticed that for a seminar it is very large, with 42 students. (Usually E110 sections are capped at 22 students.) However, I’m lucky to be working this semester with three graduate teaching assistants (GTAs): Frank Desiderio, Megan O’Donnell, and Seda Oz. That means that (a) we will often be able to break the large group of 42 into three smaller sections of 14, and (b) that your writing will be read by at least two experienced readers (your GTA and me).  In addition, I will also ask you to frequently share your writing in a small group of four or five students. I’ll explain the logistics of all this as we go on. But I want you to know now that this class will indeed work and feel like a seminar, in which you will read the work of your classmates and have them read and respond to yours.

I hope you have a good semester, that you find the work I ask you to do as a writer challenging and fun. If you’d like to talk more with me, please send me an email or to stop by during my office hours. I look forward to working with you!