Assignment 1: The Unauthorized Biography of…
1,000 – 1,250 words (due Oct. 9, 11:59 PM): 25%
Students will select a character or fable that appears within two or more children’s cultural texts (and/or artifacts), and that can be considered as “foundational” in some way (defining “foundational” and why the text should be considered as such is part of the assignment). You will conduct research in the library, online, and other archives to find out as much as you can about the history of this character (or fable), in order to answer the following questions:
- Who is the character (or fable)? What are their attributes, characteristics, flaws, strengths, background, physical attributes, origin story, friends, enemies, etc.? Where do they live, what do they do, what are their goals and dreams, what do they symbolize/represent?
- Who created the character or fable? Where or how did it originate? How has it evolved over time? Who currently “owns” it (if anyone)?
- Where, how and when does the character (or fable) appear? In what forms? In what relationships? In what incarnations? To what ends? Is there consistency across these various formats, or are there noticeable differences?
- Why is this character (or fable) “foundational”? What is their significance within children’s culture, media or literature? Within the larger culture? What were your criteria for defining a character/fable as foundational, and how did your subject meet these criteria?
- Are there gaps or contradictions in the character’s biography? (Hint: The histories of children’s characters are rarely linear or clear cut). If so, why might that be?
As this is an “Unauthorized Biography,” your assignment should read as a narrative. Because you are being asked to write up your findings as a sort of story, you are free to integrate some creative elements. For instance, you might write a biography of Cinderella that refers to your subject as though she were a person. However, be sure that you stay true to the literature, sources and evidence consulted: Don’t bend or manipulate the information that you’ve uncovered, and don’t make anything up (i.e. don’t take too much creative freedom).
- To gain an appreciation of the longevity and malleability of our culture’s most beloved children’s characters and/or fables.
- To gain insight into the nature and reach of transmedia intertextuality within children’s culture, and the ways in which characters and fables don’t only morph over time but across media as well, through reinterpretations, appropriations and retellings.
- To gain an understanding of the commercial or market dimensions of children’s culture, and the ways in which characters and fables can come to function as “brands” (in terms of tie-ins, cross-promotions, licensing agreements, target marketing etc.).
Assignment 2: Critical Book/Media Review
1,000 – 1,250 words (due Nov. 6, 11:59pm) 25%
Many top-tier children’s literature, librarianship and media studies journals, including The Lion and the Unicorn, Journal of Children and Media, and Jeunesse, contain review sections. The reviews are similar to those found in the popular press, in that they summarize and evaluate a particular book title, media text or artifact. Where they differ, however, is in the way both their descriptions and assessments are grounded in theory and in previous academic literature. They are critical in that they often employ critical theory, discourse analysis, feminist theory or other interpretive approaches in the analysis and deconstruction of their subject matter—the texts, their authors, and the socio-political contexts within which they appear.
For this assignment, you will write a critical review of a book or media text relevant to the themes and topics addressed in this course. Your review should include the following:
- Full bibliographic information (author/producer, title, year, publisher, format, etc.).
- A brief description of the text (storyline, characters, etc.) or artifact (design, features, etc.).
- Informed assessment of the text’s origins, preferred reading, intended function, underlying biases, discursive elements, etc. (Hint: This section should make up the bulk of your assignment, and be solidly grounded in and supported by academic literature).
- Evaluation of strengths and weaknesses (Hint: Be sure to build and support your arguments in this section).
- An overall assessment, based on the student’s own thoughts and opinions.
Students have the freedom to choose to review either a) a children’s text/artifact OR b) an academic book/article on a subject relevant to this course. Students are furthermore encouraged to identify a potential venue where they might submit their review for publication once the assignment has been graded and returned. Useful guides for writing critical book reviews can be found on the UofT Writing website (http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice/specific-types-of-writing/book-review), as well as the University of Alberta library website (http://guides.library.ualberta.ca/).
- To gain awareness of the review process and the function of critical reviews within academic discourse.
- To develop skills in both conducting a focused, critical analysis of a specific text, and contextualizing this analysis within broader themes, theory, history and literature.
- To develop skills in the evaluation and deconstruction of texts, as well as assessing the strengths and weaknesses of published work.
- To develop strategies in situating oneself (opinion and bias) within academic writing.
Assignment 3: Term Paper
2,000 – 2,250 words (due Dec. 11, 11:59pm): 30%
Term papers should be between 2,000 – 2,250 words length, and written on a topic related to the course, of the student’s own choosing. Suggested (optional) topics for this assignment will be discussed during two in-class brainstorming sessions, which will be scheduled in advance.
- To build and demonstrate a working knowledge of your term paper topic, which includes a clearly articulated familiarity with the relevant issues, debates and controversies (where applicable).
- To demonstrate thoughtful, informed engagement with the course materials, by drawing upon and synthesizing key concepts explored in the readings, lectures, class discussions and individual course work completed over the course of the semester.
- To engage critically with the relevant theories, and establish your own stance or position on a specific topic (of relevance to the course)—one that is firmly grounded in the existing literature, and supported through the construction of logical and balanced arguments.
Media Screening/Group Presentation
45 minutes max. (ongoing throughout the semester): 20%
In groups of approx. 4 (8 groups total), you will select, present and moderate a Q&A session around a media screening, to take place during the third hour of regularly scheduled class time.
You are free to select the media to be “screened” as long as it meets the following 3 conditions:
1) It must be pre-approved by Sara at least 1 week before your screening is scheduled (*An exception will be given to the group presenting during week 2, who will have until Friday Sept. 18, noon, to come up with a proposal).
2) It must conform to existing Canadian copyright law. As indicated on the UTL website: “Under the revised Copyright Act, it is permitted to show any legally purchased audiovisual work in a UofT classroom setting. This may be borrowed from the Media Commons or another library, rented from a store, or privately purchased.” The only additional exception would be media that is shared under a creative commons license that allows free download and educational use.
3) It must relate directly and obviously to the weekly theme being explored during lecture and in that week’s readings. (Note: You can dedicate a portion of your introduction to explaining how the media relates to that week’s themes.)
Feel free to pause during the screening to relay additional info, point out the importance of a particular scene or character, etc. After their screening, each group will lead a class discussion on the media screened and the topics/themes it raised or related to (i.e. prepare some questions & discussion points to ask the class and get a conversation going).
All together, the group presentation, discussion and screening cannot run for longer than 45 minutes total – so you’ll likely have to select a specific segment or sequence of scenes to show the rest of the class, rather than attempt to screen a complete program or film.
NOTE: These titles have been used in previous years and previous screenings of INF2141. You are welcome to re-use any of the above listed titles this term, or simply use this list for inspiration.