In her Introduction to Things that Talk, Lorraine Daston has observed that the “language of things derives from certain properties of the things themselves, which suit the cultural purposes for which they are enlisted” (p. 15). Later she expounds on this idea:
It is precisely the tension between their chimerical composition and their unified gestalt that distinguishes the talkative thing from the speechless sort. Talkative things instantiate novel, previously unthinkable combinations. Their thingness lends vivacity and reality to new constellations of experience that break the old molds. . . . As in the case of constellations of stars, the trick is to connect the dots into a plausible whole, a thing. One circumscribed and concretized, the new thing becomes a magnet for intense interest, a paradox incarnate. It is richly evocative; it is eloquent. Only when paradox becomes prosaic do things that talk subside into speechlessness. (p. 24)
The authors allow the things being analyzed to talk through discussions of their unique, complex, and often-contradictory socio-cultural histories, and the implications of their socio-cultural uses.
So, too (and, perhaps, even more so), do we see such talkative things in Harper’s Magazine Annotations. These double-page spread articles use an object or group of objects to ground an historical and socio-cultural discussion and analysis of both the object itself and the implications of the object. As such, an Annotation about bootleg Obama t-shirts becomes a discussion about appropriation of image in the African-American community with nods to issues of race, racism, slavery, propaganda, community identity, and so on. An Annotation about a Google server farm schematic becomes as discussion of the power consumption required by our insatiable data byte consumption, which has environmental, cultural, political, and geographical implications.
For this assignment, I would like you to create your own Harper’s-like Annotation in which you discuss and analyze the socio-cultural histories and implications of an object (or related objects) directly relating to your research topic. Choose your object carefully; as Daston warns there are talkative things and there are silent things. Yours must be talkative. The talkative have and evoke a kind of tension among various social, historical, political, and other forces. All other objects are mundane. For example Harper’s Annotations, see the Readings page.
As part of the requirements for this assignment, I’d like you to compose a submission letter to Harper’s. This way you have the option of submitting your Annotation to for possible publication if you so choose. Use Writer’s Market to locate the appropriate address; if that doesn’t work, find their contact information and give them a call.
The object can be anything as long as it is talkative in terms of Daston’s discussion and a digital representation of it can be made so that you will be able to add it your paper. Though you do not need to lay the Annotation out as it is laid out in Harper’s (see below if you would like to), I would like you to think in terms of the section’s primary characteristic: call-outs pointing and relating to specific portions of the object.
Each Annotation should include 6 call-outs, each with 150 – 175 words. You have two options for presentation: presentation in Microsoft Word (or other similar program) or presentation as seen in Harper’s.
Presentation in Word
Lay your document out in the following order:
- Include a title and subtitle centered at the top of the page
- Below the title and subtitle, include a digital representation of the object (that is, a photograph, a scanned object, and so on).
- Below the image, include your 6 callouts. They should be single spaced, with one space between them.
- Note by way of parenthetical statement at the beginning or end of each call-out what part of the object the call-out would be pointing to.
- Time New Roman, font size 12.
- Submit this version as .doc or .docx (no PDFs)
Presentation as seen in Harper’s
If you would like, you are more than welcome to create a layout like those used in Harper’s Annotations.
I recommend using PowerPoint, but using a more nuanced design problem like Adobe InDesign, Quark, Scribus(a free, open source layout program) will also work.
For tips on setting up PowerPoint for this, see “How to Create a Poster Using PowerPoint”
If you choose to do so, you are solely responsible for using and learning the software; we will not discuss them at all in class.
Submit these versions as .ppt files if you use PowerPoint or .pdf files if you use another example.
Note that you most likely won’t be able to submit a printed version of this to Harper’s, so you’ll need a Word version, as well.
3/26: Bring your object (or digital representation of the object) to class to discuss
4/9: Rough draft of Document Analysis and submission letter due by class time in Dropbox
4/16: Final Draft of Document Analysis and submission letter due by 11:00pm in Dropbox