Monday, March 24, 2008
Off and on since Friday--one of the early consulting sessions in the W.C.--I've been thinking a little bit about why we ask students to produce annotated bibliographies. Yes, I, too, have done it--asked students in a lower division writing course or intro to the humanities course to produce an annotated bibliography. Why?
A student on Friday asked me how best to proceed with developing his own annotated bibliography. But he was already in the advanced stages of drafting the project. The annotated bib was an afterthought, a by-product. Probably not the way the instructor imagined it working. It was not organic, not a rigorously-researched advance screening of the conversations or materials in play. It was not done with interest, but rather with a makeshift, this-will-do (will this do?) spirit--much like I've seen in my own students when I served up the exciting annotated bib opportunity.
And underlying question is how to (also whether to) reconcile rigor with pleasure in the processes of collection and annotation. What if the collected thing isn't good enough? What if the annotations do not legitimate its inclusion? (viz., "How did this get here?) In other words, academic collections are too often burdened by preformulation; what goes together is molded by the course, the syllabus, the discipline, the library, and probably the teacherly gestures to clarify--"Oh, but this or that thing fits so well into what you have gathered together!" Topical heaviness pins much of this stuff down, filters it in advance, places a screen in front of the chaotic mess.
Another side of the annotated bib assumes engagement with some sort of conversation. And I am generally in favor of this idea--that reading and annotating produce valuable identifications (summary, etc.) and also help us to have a more or less distinctive take. But I don't know whether the "you enter a parlor" shtick works in all case where writers (who don't know enough of what they need to know). Motive gives way to other questions about how much we must understand discourse conventions, the key concepts getting major play, and so on: Did you realize you entered a parlor? Did you look up to see who-what was there or fixate on the exit? And why did you enter the parlor, anyway?
I know. Just a few mushy thoughts rolling around about annotated bibliographies. I'm not sure I've ever had an annotated bib assignment go especially (memorably) well. I'm not throwing up my hands as much as reconsidering why we have students do them in the first place and whether it is even reasonable to ask students to produce notes on books and articles rather than notes on anything whatever (as a possible alternative). So, through all of this I am thinking about collection and annotation--much in the way Sirc writes about them in "Box Fitting" and also about that which is collectible. These seem to me to necessarily precede the academised annotated bibliography. And so these problems are stoked when academic research and writing (as assigned) do not bear any obvious or self-evident relationship to what drives the passionate, geeky collector.Posted by Derek Mueller at March 24, 2008 9:15 PM to Dry Ogre Chalking