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Project Two: Routes Analysis

The contemporary American landscape may seem at first like little more than a crowded tapestry of gas stations and pharmacies, 7-Elevens and Taco Bells, bulky concrete structures standing shoulder to shoulder with remnants of auto repair shops, wires and cables crisscrossing the skies—the whole scene saturated with layers of signs and billboards that seem to hover in mid-air, disrupting the continuity of experience like a webpage littered with pop-ups-all connected by an intricate network of highways threaded through other highways breeding shopping malls and pristine residential utopias. We could also understand this landscape as a series of affluent (but paranoid) islands, fully equipped with guarded perimeters and cutting-edge surveillance technologies, buttressed on all sides by an ever-expanding sea of impoverishment, disempowerment, and decay. These are the spaces we routinely inhabit, routinely navigate.

For Project Two, I would like each of you to explore this landscape, focusing specifically on routes available to you as you travel from your hometown (or home away from home) and EMU's Ypsilanti campus. Like social cartographers, we will devote the greater part of the next four weeks to an ongoing investigation of this omnipresent "culture of congestion" in an attempt to determine the roles it plays in our designed environment, as well as the rules it presupposes for social interactions in such Intersectenvironments. Routes, or segments of routes, in and around our hometowns, to and from campus, will constitute our shared object of study.

Writing Assignment
Project Two lasts four weeks and culminates in a 5-6 page analysis essay. Each of you will build upon the work you've done in Project One—observing, describing, interpreting—only this time you will analyze the routes connecting specific areas of your hometown or connecting your hometown and EMU. Think of the essay as an opportunity to register an autobiographical, analytical set of turn-by-turn directions, where your pathways and the social, economic, and architectural forces that mark them are brought more fully into view, even as they connect and collide. Our collective goal for this project is to generate insights about spaces, identities, and cultural beliefs and practices. Toward this end, each of you will:

Project Two is also intended to serve as an introduction to conventions of academic discourse. We will spend significant time over the next four weeks practicing critical reading strategies—annotating, summarizing, paraphrasing, unpacking, responding—by carefully reading and grappling with some complex texts. We'll also examine each not just for what the author says but also for how the author says it. In other words, we'll be reading rhetorically to begin making sense of the contexts—historical, social, political, cultural—in which these texts were written, the author's explicit and/or implicit reasons for writing the text, the structure of the essay, the claims and evidence, and so on. More than critical reading, you will also gain practice with research, representing what you know, using evidence, and revising, all of which are cornerstones to ENGL121.

Throughout the project, we'll also gain more practice with making analytic claims, writing rich descriptions, and recognizing and articulating connections between personal experiences or memories and larger cultural issues (like race, gender, class, ability, sexuality, ethnicity, education, etc.). From our careful readings and discussions of these texts, and from your own "memory work," interpretations, and observations, you should be ready to describe, analyze, and make claims about some segment of the routes between your hometown and EMU.

Just because there is pressure on you (the "I" of the essay) to be critical in your examination of your selected routes, that doesn't mean you will be working alone. That's one of the ways secondary sources can help. Your analysis will be both richer and more persuasive when you contextualize your claims in some way, offering your readers some insight into larger cultural forces and phenomena. You are asked to reference at least two of the readings for this unit, and you are encouraged to consider visual forms of evidence, as well, such as photographs, a turn-by-turn map, screenshots from Google Street View, etc. We will spend time in class discussing and practicing incorporating these forms of evidence into your own analysis.

It will be important for you to move beyond narration and description, in order to examine the details of your location carefully enough to be able to explore what it means, what it suggests, and why it seems significant. As Rosenwasser and Stephen claim in Writing Analytically: "the process of noticing, of recording selected details and patterns of detail, is already the beginning of interpretation" (39). There is no predetermined formula to follow or structure to imitate as you attempt to organize your essay, but your writing and critical thinking are bound to be more successful if you adhere to the following suggestions:

Finally, your project may be organized as a series of turn-by-turn directions, some of which will be subject to analysis and others of which will stand without examination. We'll go over this formatting alternative in class, and whether or not you adopt it for your project, you should examine no more than three segments of the route. That is, limit your analysis to only selected stretches along a route between your home (which, again, might mean hometown or home away from home) and campus.

A draft of the project (4 double-spaced pages, word processed, 12 point font) is due on Wednesday, October 24. Bring a paper copy with you to class. The finished project (5-6 double-spaced pages, word processed, 12 point font) is due on Monday, October 29, to the appropriate Dropbox in EMU Online.

Assessment Criteria
Your project will be assessed for its strengths in the following five areas.

Evaluation Criteria

Each criterion listed above will be evaluated on the following scale:


EX: Exceptional. The writer has applied the criterion with distinction.
AC: Acceptable/meets expectations. The writer has applied the criterion to a satisfactory degree.
NI: Needs improvement. The writer has minimally applied the criterion in the project.
NA: Not applied. The writer has not applied the criterion in the project.

Contact Information

Derek N. Mueller, PhD
Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Writing
Director of Composition
Department of English
Virginia Tech
Office: 315 Shanks Hall
Spring 2019 Office Hours: T, 12-3
Phone: +1-734-985-0485

"Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else has charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only a very little has been discovered" (88). —Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry

"Let's say you were from somewhere else, seeing this Earth from space for the first time. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be satisfied with that view; I'd want to get closer, walk around on it, even get down on my hands and knees. That's how I prefer to see the Earth." —Wendell Berry, Interview with Jordan Fisher-Smith

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