Location: BLD 345, classroom 207
Class Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm
Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 10:30 am-12:00 pm (or by appointment)
Email: paul.watkins@viu.ca
Phone: Local 2118
Office: 345/ 222

“A historical property has morals and ethics of the society that created it and can be revived. What I mean is that we can discover new possibilities from the process of dismantling, transforming, and recreating.”
-Ai Weiwei

Stanley Fish’s contention, in Save the World on Your Own Time, that “composition courses should teach grammar and rhetoric and nothing else” because “content is always the enemy of writing instruction” provokes this course’s exploration between composition, technology, and the humanities. The course builds on Jeff Rice’s “hip-hop pedagogy,” which he contends allows students to simulate in their hypertexts some of the writing and sampling practices of graffiti and rap artists. From there we will move to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of technological progress, incorporating questions of remix (and read-mix) and rewrite (and read-write) into the very structure of our responses. One question that this course examines is what defines progress, relating questions of rapid population growth and technological development to the practice of literary study and university writing. The hip-hop technique of sampling demonstrates how students and researchers piece together seemingly unrelated artifacts/evidence in order to support a larger argument and formulate knowledge and conduct research in the university. In this course students will develop their voice and oral communication skills, analyze discourse, engage with pertinent social issues, and learn how various rhetorical strategies, particularly juxtaposition and point of view, are essential to university writing.


  • Diana Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (5th, Bedford Books)
  • Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading For? (RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press)
  • Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (available at VIU- eBook or at Amazon)
  • English 115: The Mix: Hip-Hop Pedagogy, Technological Progress, and University Writing/ Selected E-readings


In-Class Writing Prompts 10%
Creative Read-Mix / Read-Write 5%
Short Essay (500-750 words) 10%
Midterm 15%
Research Essay
Annotated Bibliography 5%
Outline and Thesis Workshop 5%
Final Paper (1500 words) 25%
Final Exam 25%

Assignment Breakdown:

  1. In-Class Writing Prompts (10%): Due Periodically

There will be six in-class writing assignments, but only the top five marks will count. See the syllabus for when these writing assignments take place. We will spend around 10 minutes of a given class on these and they are intended as prompts to test students’ ability to critically engage with the text or texts assigned for that day (prompts for days on which secondary and primary materials are assigned will ask you to think about intersections between these texts). Each assignment is marked out of 10. Please note that your grade is based on quality rather than quantity. Please take time to formulate your ideas rather than writing for the sake of writing. All in-class writings are open book unless otherwise specified by the professor.

  1. Creative Read-Mix / Read-Write (5%): Due by email before Nov 27th

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above Baudelaire epigraph, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. This assignment asks you to remix an in-class writing prompt and turn it into a new creation. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, a creative journal, a one act play, a twitter intervention, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. If you have a blog, you might decide to remix a writing prompt with relevant hyperlinks and images. If you decide on an entirely written response, I am looking for around 350-500 words. There must be some written component (at least 200 words) that explains the efficacy and process of your creative read-mix / read-write. More details will follow in class.

  1. Short Essay (10%): Due Sept 30th

Hip-Hop music and culture is a chiaroscuro of social consciousness and mainstream commodification, a chameleonesque art form that adapts to every environment it encounters, a personal saviour and communitarian mobilizer born out of a disenfranchised youth movement in the postindustrial urban nightmare of America’s neglected ghettos. The short research essay (500-750 words) asks you to research and write about the origins of hip-hop music, or to focus on a particular “hip-hop” moment. You are to include four sources using proper MLA citation, including two book sources, one digital source, and one recording. This assignment will teach you the value of summary, how to formulate a thesis, and incorporate evidence from multiple sources. There will be 45-minute Workshop for short essay peer review practice on Set 25th.

More details will be provided in class.

  1. Midterm Exam (15%): Oct 7th

There remains prescient truth in Marshall McLuhan’s aphorism “the medium is the message” (or “massage” or “mass age”), particularly the notion that today’s virtual media can be an adequate substitute for actuality. There is more being reproduced than ever before, which has led many cultural theorists to view repetition as a loss of the “aura.” Leading up to the midterm we will examine the desire of contemporary masses to use technology to bring things closer. Building on these ideas, the midterm will focus on digital music and copyright and will ask you to think about what music (and art and literature more broadly) means in the age of mechanical reproduction. 

Details will follow closer to the midterm.

  1. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due Oct 23rd

In preparation of your final paper, you will create three entries for an annotated bibliography. You may choose any three critical texts—articles, books, films, recordings—but at least one of these must be a book. Each entry must consist of a bibliographic citation, in MLA format, for the text you’ve chosen, and a one (max two) paragraph annotation, in which you explain the relevance of this text to your chosen essay topic, defining its theoretical position(s). How would this text be useful to you in the critical project you have undertaken for this course? What are its key points? Going back to our discussion on being engaged close readers, what do you take from it?

  1. Long Essay Workshop (5%): On Nov 13th

You will come to class with the introductory paragraph that will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis). You will also include an outline that shows a critical engagement with both secondary criticism and the primary text(s) you have chosen. On a second page you will provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. An unmarked version of your essay’s argument (essentially a proposal) will be handed (or emailed) in to me at the beginning of class. More detailed instructions will be provided. 

  1. Final Paper (25%): Due Nov 25th

In “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine: Hip-Hop Pedagogy as Composition,” Jeff Rice contends that we can venture to undertake critical projects grounded on the logic and style of hip-hop: projects, for example, that apply the notion of sampling (cut, paste, whatever). For Rice, the notion of whatever, encompasses “an indifferent or oppositional student reaction to course demand” (457) that stems from cognitive dissonance. It is from this space of cognitive dissonance—the whatever—that Rice suggests as an opportune moment for the “invention strategy for research-based argumentative writing” (453). Ultimately, hip-hop provides an understanding of how the process of sampling and re-mixing need not only apply to hip-hop, but that, in fact, as a general methodology, hip-hop provides a framework for the research essays we will be writing in this course. As we’ve observed throughout this semester, the hip-hop technique of sampling demonstrates how we can piece together seemingly unlike artifacts/evidence in order to support a larger argument and formulate new knowledge.

We will read Rice’s “The 1963 Hip-Hop Machine” and gloss the article for the argumentative approach Rice advocates we perform as engaged scholars. Your final paper requires you select a year before 2010 and dig through archives (in the library, on the internet) for moments that stand out (cuts, samples, whatever moments) and find at least three samples, each from a different discipline (e.g. film, music, literature, sports, science, technology, disasters and responses to them, and so on) and/or approach (text, sound, image) to include in your essay. Thinking of how these moments intersect and juxtapose one another, along with the dissimilarity of these “cuts,” will allow you to create a “mix.” For example, you could focus on technology in relation to a literary text, a musical example, and a scientific innovation and see what might bind these disparate movements/moments/temporal sources together. Let’s take 2004: Facebook was launched; Scientists in South Korea announce the cloning of 30 human embryos; Kanye West starts experimenting with Auto-Tune on College Dropout; and Vancouver poet Wayde Compton experiments with turntable poetry in Performance Bond. What do theses samples tell us about how the world was changing in 2004? More detailed examples and instructions will be provided in class.

This Research Paper will provide insight into the process of research, teach you how to organize your ideas, and locate your own position within various disciplinary frameworks. You will be graded on how well you engage your reader and the thoughtful selection of your samples, as well as matters related to style, grammar, and usage. You are required to engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will garner you a better grade.

There will be a sign up sheet in class to ensure each student focuses on a separate year.

The final research essay will be around 5 pages in length, not including a works cited list. You are required to actively engage with three secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments.

Note: I am open to the idea of you writing a research essay vis-à-vis a digital platform such as a WordPress or Prezi. Before undertaking such an endeavour, please see me in my office hours to discuss strategies and to obtain approval.

8: Final Exam (25%): TBA

Half grammar/ half essay (focused on Wright’s A Short History of Progress) 

Class Schedule:

A few changes: Philip Auslander’s article “is it live? (Oct 16th) replaced with Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” First day Gould (Sept 30) replaced with Thomas King and 2nd day Gould replaced with film, Downloaded.  Lastly, Writing Prompt #3 has been moved to Oct. 16th, since you have an essay due on Sept. 30th. 

Sept. 2
Introduction; Course Outline; Standards and expectations; departmental grading policies

Sept. 4
Reading to form an interpretation (WR) 541-547)
Begin discussion of short essay assignment due Sept. 30: A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Planning” 3-6; reader-response criticism
Discuss: Robert Bringhurst, What is Reading?

Sept. 9
Intro to critical thinking, reading, and writing; SASE (Summarize, Analyze,
Synthesize, Evaluate); A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR) “Academic Writing: Writing About Texts” (67-77); hypertext
Discuss: Rice, “Hip-Hop Machine” (coursepack)

Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”

Sept. 11
Discuss research essay; Inclusive language: WR 162-64; Summary versus synthesis;
More discussion on Bringhurst and Rice
Writing Prompt #1

Sept. 16
WR 153-58; in-class exercise (W2-1 & W3-1)
Discuss: Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (lyrics), Nina Simone version, and Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” (poem/article)
Writing Prompt #2

Sept. 18
Using appropriate language: WR 159-62; 165-69; in-class exercise
Discuss: Ralph Ellison, “Living with Music” (3-14, online)

Sept. 23
Introduction to using and evaluating sources: WR 346-57.
Documenting a single source for short essay assignment
Discuss: Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (coursepack, sections I-VII)

Additional possible reading: Glenn Gould, “Prospects of Recording” (online)

Sept. 25
Intro to argumentation / persuasion: logical, emotional, and ethical appeals; WR 78-91
Discuss Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (coursepack, VIII-epilogue)
45-minute Workshop for short paper (peer review practice)      

View the first 8 1/2 minutes of The Story of Film.

Sept. 30
Short five-paragraph essay due (500-750 words)
Evaluating arguments: WR 92-100
Logical fallacies in-class exercise
Discuss Thomas King, “You’ll Never believe What happened” (online)

Oct. 2
What is plagiarism? WR 357-65 and 376-79
Summary / Paraphrase/ Quotation
Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation: WR 379-98 (and skim WR 398-428)
Watch documentary, Downloaded

Oct. 7
Midterm Essay

Oct. 9
Proposal for research essay due
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in Lab (VIU Library (Building 305, Room 508). Read sample student research paper: WR 435-40

Oct. 14
Time devoted to Annotated Bibliography and Final Essay

Oct. 16
Writing formal outlines: WR 12-14
Discuss: Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance
Writing Prompt #3  

Oct. 21
Avoiding fragments and run-ons: WR 212-22
Discuss: Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, “The Medium is the Message” (19-37, VIU online)
Writing Prompt #4

More McLuhan: interview; recording; Who Sampled.

Oct. 23
Annotated Research Bibliography (and copies of sources) due
In-class exercise G5-1 and G6-2 in-class exercise (run on/ fragments)
Discuss: DJ Spooky, Rhythm Science (excerpt, coursepack)

Oct. 28
Exercise incorporating secondary sources; citation review and incorporating multiple sources; WR “Revising” 20-28
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (I)
Writing Prompt #5

Audio of A Short History.

Oct. 30
Workshop day for research paper—check-ins on research, incorporating sources, developing/clarifying thesis statements, and drafting outlines.

Nov. 4
Paragraphing: WR 32-45
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (II)

Nov. 6
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (III)

Nov. 11
Remembrance Day, university closed

Nov. 13
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper

Nov. 18
Review apostrophe usage: WR 278-81
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (IV)

Nov. 20
WR, The Comma (259-269)
Discuss: Wright, A Short History of Progress (V)
Writing Prompt #6


Nov. 25
Research Essay Due
Watch Surviving Progress (film) 

Nov. 27
Finish Surviving Progress. Final Mix. Review terms, reading, and prep for final exam.

Drop a line / or spit a rhyme

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