For your final project in the class, you need to adapt and redesign an assigned reading—or a series of related readings—into a new object. What you make is entirely up to you.

This assignment draws on recent research about the pedagogical benefits of “critical making.” Critical making is a concept we find regularly at work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classroom. Critical making asks students to translate concepts into projects; it’s like critical thinking…with your hands. Matt Ratto is credited with having coined the term “critical making” in 2008, and he has since defined it as an attempt to bridge a divide we often establish between cognition (or thinking) and making. The former we understand as a disembodied practice, one characterized by reflection and criticism; the latter we understand as a kind of unthinking habit—a practice of the body and one that often simply entails following directions, like putting together a piece of Ikea furniture. Critical making, however, seeks to combine the two by encouraging students to experiment with turning thought-processes into hands-on projects.

Ratto and others, such as Garnet Hertz, started a critical making movement in order, specifically, to help students working in new information technologies get out of two ruts that they seemed to be stuck in: the one rut where they would discuss, think, and write about concepts that were important in their fields of study and the other rut where they would simply prove that they had learned something technical by recreating or replicating a described or pre-baked design. Critical making encourages students to be creative and innovative—to make new things based on their ideas and research. Importantly, what you make when you undertake a critical making project is often not as important as the process that was involved in making the thing in the first place: the critical thinking part, where you have to organize, test, reflect on, and refine your ideas as you attempt to translate them into something material and three dimensional.

As you can see from this short documentary film about the critical making movement, the movement has overwhelmingly been focused on media and technology and, specifically, on creating new media and new technologies. There are benefits, however, to bringing that movement more deeply into the humanities and historical studies of media. For one thing, critical making reminds us that, historically, our relationships to ideas have always been intimate and material. We carry them around as objects—as books, pieces of art, tokens and mementos; we exchange them as gifts, keep them close to us in our homes, or turn them into social events and embodied public experiences. Critical making in the context of the humanities can therefore highlight connections between the past and the present. Likewise, critical making can make us more aware of how specific historical and cultural conditions both afford as well as limit conceptual possibilities. For another thing, critical making in the context of the humanities reminds us about the forms of creativitythat inhere in ideas as well as objects, no matter how philosophical or practical they may otherwise seem.

By asking you to translate a text or texts into an object, this assignment asks you to think deeply about the text(s) you’ve read and to imagine how they once existed in the minds and hands of their original readers—and how they might still be capable of making meaning for readers today. This assignment also, at a very basic level, offers us an opportunity to reflect on the real, lived conditions of literary cultures in the long eighteenth century when texts constantly leapt off of the page and onto the things that surrounded people. In this way, the assignment also reflects my own research on the commodity and craft cultures that surrounded early reading practices. People weren’t satisfied just by imagining what they read. They wanted to make what they read: to turn characters, stories, memorable lines of poetry into something that they could see and touch. Texts from the long eighteenth century were translated into a wide variety of things: needleworks, paper dolls, board games, fashion accessories, moving images, art objects and dramatic installations.

You can access galleries of previously-completed and similar student work on my course archives page.

All you need to do to succeed in this project is demonstrate that you’ve put time as well as effort into making a thoughtful, professional-looking, compelling object that demonstrates your comprehension as well as engagement with assigned texts and discussed topics in this class. You can make anything—either something that aspires to be a replica of an object like one of the ones on the Pinterest board I linked to above or something entirely new and unexpected, but you should be obviously inspired by having done some research into both the assigned text you’re adapting and the general look and feel of objects that are similar to the one you create. You should be creative; you should experiment; you should have fun.

During the scheduled final exam period for the course, we’ll host a show-and-tell for everyone’s object. In addition to making an object, you should also create a flyer for your object. I recommend that you use the free web resource, Canva, for ensuring that your flyer looks slick and professional. The purpose of the flyer is to:

  • offer a brief explanation of how your object relates to the text(s) it adapts
  • describe what insights viewers of your object should have about the text(s) it adapts.

Your flyer should:

  • Demonstrate some concern for design and be professionally printed (i.e. in color, glossy, etc.—if necessary. Please don’t just print your flyer on your home printer in black and white as if it were just an essay. I find the ERC’s Production Lab to be a good resource you can use for printing; there is also Wright State’s print and digital media production services. Be sure to prepare your flyer for production at least one week before the due date.)
  • Feature a good, sharp picture of the object you created. To make it especially good, photograph your object against a white sheet or isolated against a plain background.
  • Include a title as well as your name.
  • Describe how your object relates to the text(s) it adapt and describe, briefly, at least one important insight that viewers of your object should have about the text(s) it adapts (200-250 words). Be sure to include the author(s), title(s), and original publication date(s) of the text(s) that inspired your object, too.

Suggestions for the Text on Flyer:

  • This [object name or title] adapts [Author’s First Name and Last Name] [Title (date of first publication)].
    • Example: This snuffbox adapts Eliza Haywod’s short novel, Fantomina (1725).
  • [Description of what the viewer should see or pay attention to in your object]
    • Example: On the outside of the snuffbox is a portrait of the main character, Fantomina. Inside the snuffbox, there are four scenes depicting each of the disguises that Fantomina wears in her attempts to secure the affection of her lover, Beauplaisir.
  • [Description of what you tried to emphasize in your design of the object…]
    • Example: The snuffbox emphasizes Fantomina’s desire to control potentially uncontrollable passions by including borders around each scene; these borders are based on eighteenth-century designs. Likewise, each costume—all of which are also based on research I did into eighteenth-century dress— fills up most of the scenes. I did this in order to suggest that what Fantomina wears or how she looks may be more important in the text than how she feels. Fantomina’s face stays the same in each scene: passive and composed.
  • While creating [object name], I was surprised to realize/discover…
    • Example: While creating this snuffbox, I was surprised to realize that Haywood always frames descriptions of Fantomina’s feelings with descriptions of her clothes, and I was also surprised to realize how important clothing was to eighteenth-century stereotypes of women. Haywood’s Fantomina suggests that women in the period used their clothes as forms of expression as well as control.

Grading Rubric:

Does the object demonstrate that time, thought, and effort were taken both to conceive and create it? Or does the object appear to have been haphazardly completed at the last minute?

Does the object obviously relate to an assigned text or texts in the class? Does it demonstrate comprehension of the text’s or texts’ content as well as class discussions, activities, and lectures?

Does the object demonstrate some independent research on the students’ part into similar kinds of objects and/or the text(s) the object adapts?

Does the flyer demonstrate that time, thought, and effort were taken to design both the flyer and write the text it features? Does the flyer have all the required components? Is the text on the flyer well-written and proofread? Does the flyer look professional? Does the flyer offer meaningful insight into the object it describes and the text that object represents?

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