visual rhetoric & multimodal comp, spring 2014

Course Description

Writing, in our highly mediated, highly visual culture, is no longer just about using a keyboard to put words on a screen nor about using a pen to put words on paper. Writing is composing—in all the forms, media, modes, and genres we can think of. It is multimodal. That is, it brings together images (still and moving), words, and music. When composing such visual texts to make an argument, a host of rhetorical strategies are used, ranging from placement of texts on page to consideration of audience to the media used to write and present the text.

In this course we will consider the impact of the pervasiveness of the visual in contemporary society by reading theoretical texts in the areas of visual rhetoric and multimodal composition, including the topics of mapping, semiotics, photography, comics, remix, and mashup. We will compose multimodal narratives in the form of a collection of maps (or atlas), a video mashup, and a photo essay. Each will be accompanied by a theoretical reflection and discussion about rhetorical decisions you’ve made. With the anticipation of Neil Gaiman’s visit to campus, students will have the option of composing brief but sophisticated semiotic analyses of one of his graphic novels. We’ll also be blogging and tweeting throughout the semester.

Ultimately, this is a course that encourages exploration, experimentation, risk taking, and thinking outside the box. It will be an adventure in composition. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create.

Brief Description of the Main Projects

This course will have four main projects and several smaller assignments that support and enhance the development of the main projects. Each project will have it’s own extended assignment page and will be accompanied by one or more short reflective essays.

Designing an Atlas

Maps tell stories. Though they appear neutral images representing the reality of what is being seen, maps are actually rhetorical artifacts embedded with social, political, historical, and author biases. As such, they have great power to create and manipulate realities. In this unit we will learn to analyze the rhetoric of maps, learn theories on semiotics (the study of how meaning is made through the transmission of information), and create our own atlases in which we tell the stories of a particular local space.

Video Mashup 

Video mashups have been popular for quite some time (and remixes have been for much longer, actually). They have become more accepted in scholarly communities as ways to make arguments about important social, cultural, political, and other -al issues. This assignment is going to ask you to think expansively about an historical and/or contemporary subject and compose a mashup of video, audio, and still images in an attempt to make a rhetorically savvy, semiotically grounded, and visually complex social/cultural critical commentary or argument. To complete the project we will create story boards, rough, and final drafts.

Photo Essay

We are awash in photos. In 2011 The Next Web ran a story headlined, “Flickr hits 6 billion total photos, but Facebook does that every 2 months.” Later in 2011, Jonathan Good asked “How many photos have ever been taken?” His answer is staggering: approximately 3.5 trillion. He writes, “If the average person snaps 150 photos this year that would be a staggering 375 billion [digital] photos. That might sound implausible but this year people will upload over 70 billion photos to Facebook, suggesting around 20% of all photos this year will end up there. In 2012, Facebook’s photo collection has a staggering 140 billion photos, that’s over 10,000 times larger than the Library of Congress. . . . In the midst of the 3.5 trillion photos that have ever been taken it’s easy to forget that the shoebox or album of old photos we have at home is incredibly fragile and special. Every 2 minutes today we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s. In fact, ten percent of all the photos we have were taken in the past 12 months.” The questions, however, we must ask is: what do the photos that we take mean? The numbers are impressive, yes, but how are we using the mode of photography to create meaning. In this project we will compose a photo essay with the goal of making a particular argument or relaying meaning of some kind. No prior photography skills are needed. The project will be informed by theories on photography and semiotics.

Semiotics and Comics Analysis of Neil Gaiman Graphic Novel (optional)

With Neil Gaiman visiting campus in March, we have an opportunity to explore the work of one of the most successful and prolific graphic novelists of all time. Students who choose to complete this assignment will select a Gaiman graphic novel and compose a brief but sophisticated analysis of how he employes one semiotic theory throughout the book. All students will be encouraged to attend his talk on Friday March 7 regardless of whether they complete the full assignment.

Blogging and Tweeting

Students will be blogging and tweeting throughout the semester. The course hashtags are #vrmcs14 and #vrmondays. We will be creating a collaborative blog that I hope will be able to compete with the best blogs being published today. Most of the writing we’ll be doing this semester will be on the blog. We’ll integrate Twitter with blogging by tweeting out blog posts, blogging about tweets posted by classmates, and using Twitter (and other spaces) to try to spread the reach of our posts. We’ll also be live-tweeting course-related work and tweeting about class discussion.

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