Reading Précis

30% of your assessment will come from 3 précis you’ll produce, each of about 500 words, covering readings and discussions from 3 different classes. All three précis must be submitted by 1700 on October 13, 2021. A sensible thing might be to select the weeks now and produce your responses right after the relevant class.

Précis Guidance & Example – PDF  Download PDF

A précis is a brief piece of writing that summarizes and engages critically with a text, idea, discussion, or discourse. As noted in the syllabus, you are to write three précis in response to three distinct class sessions. Class sessions include the readings and discussion from a given meeting. For example, a précis written in response to the meeting on August 25 could engage with (a) the course outline, (b) Prof Miller’s discussion of the course outline, or (c), both.

Here is an example précis, based solely on discussion from our first lecture from August 25:

On August 25, Professor Miller provided historical definitions for each of the keywords in this course: “race,” “culture,” and “industry.” I found this to be a very informative exercise, as it provided me with a clearer picture of the foundations and objectives of this course. Many different thinkers and ideas were mentioned, and I expect we will revisit each of these in turn throughout the course of the semester. In the meantime, I think it would be worthwhile for me to look further into Raymond Williams’ book Keywords, which was mentioned toward the end of the lecture portion.

As we learned through lecture, Williams is a foundational thinker in cultural studies. His initial, earnest inquiry into the origins and meaning of the word “culture” became the basis for a much larger Keywords project. After class, I googled the book and discovered that the premise & purpose of Keywords—i.e., to isolate and define terms that circulate widely and often, but the meanings of which appear to be many and varied—has been taken up by other writers and thinkers after Williams, including a textbook called Keywords for American Cultural Studies, which is edited by Burgett and Hendler, and which is now in its third edition. I hope to look more closely at Keywords and similar projects, which should help me to develop ideas for my essay in this course.

I wonder, though, about the limitations of Williams’ Keywords project. There seems to be a clear need to pause and reflect on the histories and meanings of the words we use in daily life. But, beyond serving as more substantive versions of dictionary entries, what is the actual critical utility of a keyword relative to the critical utility of a Wikipedia entry? For one thing, Wikis are more easily accessible to more people than a book in a library or at a store. Further, Wikipedia’s editors are often rather critical and careful themselves about the histories and meanings of words and concepts for which they create and maintain Wikis. I don’t mean to say that Keyword entries and Wikipedia entries are the same, or that one is better than the other. But I do think it will be important for me and others in the course to sort out the critical stakes and limitations, here—especially if we’re meant to use “keywords” as a model for our papers in this course.

In this class, your précis will be no longer than 500-words, and should be written in response to the readings & discussion from a given day. The above example clocks in at around 400-words, which is okay if it includes everything that needed to be said. Do you think it does?

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