The assignments in this course are designed to foster the development of critical reading and argumentation skills essential to the humanities. Many humanities seminars culminate in one large paper at the end of the semester, but I have found it is easier on students and more conducive to learning, especially when students have disparate backgrounds, to maintain a 'steady burn' of work and feedback throughout the semester rather than to drop a nuclear bomb of work at the end of the semester.

Your work for the class will consist of the following components: a fairly substantial reading load, with brief weekly reading responses, and 3 short papers building on course materials which build up to a group final project.

Regular attendance is expected and is essential to acquire a full understanding of course content.


The most important work you will do in this class are the course readings. They contain the core course content and are designed to deepen your reflection on issues of interpretation that will pay off in a wide variety of research areas. You are expected to have thoughtfully read the day's reading prior to coming to class. I strongly encourage you for your own benefit to keep written notes of your reading annotated with page number. Course reading varies considerably in difficulty; be aware that reading length does not greatly correlate to expected reading time. You should bring the readings and your notes to class to ground our discussions.

To encourage your engagement with the readings, you will once a week post a brief reading response and a brief comment on another's response to our discussion boards on our Blackboard site. You may skip the reading responses/comments twice during the semester without penalty.

Reading Responses

Reading responses are due on Mondays by 1pm, and have two components:

1. One-paragraph description of one of the week's readings (or, in the case of a book, one chapter of the readings), that summarizes the argument made and the evidence being used in support of that argument. You should aim for a fair and balanced presentation of the author's point of view. Reading descriptions will be graded on a check-plus, check, and check-minus basis.

2. One-paragraph personal response to the reading you have summarized. You may choose the form of your response; some examples include:

  • Discussion of an issue or problem raised by that reading that you find interesting.
  • A link to a related news article or short piece from outside of class with brief discussion of the relationship.
  • Discussion of implications of this reading for your own research interests.

Responses are graded on a pass/fail basis.


You must post at least one comment on another student's post or comment by 11:30 AM on Tuesdays. Comments may be brief (3-5 sentences). Of course, if the spirit moves you at any time you may make longer comments or respond to more than one person. Comments are graded on a pass/fail basis. The goal is to stimulate conversation amongst yourselves, not to scintillate the instructor with your intellect; you will get full credit for any comment that shows engagement with another student's thoughts.

Final project

The final project for this course will be a collaborative group project involving all course members on the interpretation of how people plan their activities using both digital and nondigital tools. "To-do" software and other formal tools for planning are ubiquitous in the world of white-collar work and, often, appropriated for personal use. We will develop an empirically and analythically grounded analysis of how users appropriate such tools and make them meaningful - or find them unmeaningful - in their everyday activities. We will develop this project over the course of the semester and use it as a platform to explore course topics.

Short papers

You will write three short (5-7 pages) papers for this class. The topics of the papers are as follows:

  • Paper I: You may write on any topic you choose related to the course content in the unit on "Faith and Suspicion." You are strongly encouraged to choose topics related to your research interests outside of class.
  • Paper II: You will write up one carefully selected incident of a person planning an activity with or without a digital tool, in the style of ethnographic writing (ca. 4 pages). You will also reflect on your ethnographic observations and link your thoughts to the literature in the unit on "Understanding being in the world" (ca. 2 pages).
  • Paper III: You will choose a topic related to the final project. You must discuss to some extent reading from the previous unit ("Juggling Meanings") but may discuss equally or more any other content from the course, as appropriate for your argument.
Your short papers should include proper citations to the literature in a consistent format. A good paper will include balanced, strong, original argumentation engaging with the course readings and on-going discussion. You will hand in a one-paragraph informal paper proposal for each short paper to get early feedback on the topic you have chosen.


Alterations to these assignments are always possible upon approval of the instructor.

Grading formula:

  • Weekly Responses: 15%
  • Short Papers: 45%
  • Final project: 30%
  • Class and on-line discussion: 10%
Grading is not just a matter of numbers, but also of judgment. The instructor reserves the right to adjust grades by up to half a letter grade based on knowledge of your performance not summed up in this tidy formula.

Academic Integrity

My expectation is that, as graduate students, you are generally aware of the need for academic integrity and self-motivated to achieve it. Issues with academic integrity that have come up in my courses in the past have been almost exclusively due to students being unaware of the specific requirements of academic integrity at Cornell, rather than students trying to "game the system" for their own advantage. Some examples of situations I have encountered include:

  • Not knowing how to properly cite or use non-academic on-line sources, informal sources such as another student's comments in class, or another person's ideas (as opposed to their words)
  • Not being aware when doing literature reviews that close paraphrasing of someone else's text is considered a form of plagiarism
  • Coming from cultural or disciplinary contexts where it is considered more appropriate to use an expert's words to express an idea rather than one's one
I am required by the university to prosecute for such violations; doing so is particularly sad because they could have been avoided with a bit of pro-active education. I would therefore strongly encourage you to take Cornell's (brief) on-line tutorial on how to avoid unintentional plagiarism if you have not done so already. I particularly encourage this for students whose primary education was at a non-US institution as well as students who come from a substantially different disciplinary orientation than the sciences, social sciences, and humanities (e.g. art, journalism, law). You are responsible for understanding what constitutes academic integrity violations in Arts and Sciences at Cornell. Please contact me if you have any questions about how to achieve academic integrity in the context of this class (e.g., proper use of citations).

Instructor: Phoebe Sengers
Location: Phillips 213
Time: Tu, Th 11:40-12:55