Grantham – Writing 2-3

Course: Writing 5
Instructor: Prof. Shelby Grantham
Assignment: The Visual Essay

A 4 to 6 minute documentary film about some aspect of a Dartmouth culture that will introduce you to finding and using primary and secondary sources at the College and to the challenges and freedoms of composing with media other than the written word. The project itself does involve working with the little black squiggles, including a written proposal, interview questions, narrative voice-over, a rough storyboard, a voice-over script (if you use one), a pitch, a progress report, and a final evaluation. The project requires research and citing of sources when credits roll at the film’s end.

To produce the Visual Essay, you will be assigned to groups of three. Choosing your group’s topic involves positing some genuine question that puzzles your group about one of the cultures at Dartmouth, past or present. In conference, your group and I will distill from your question a manageable and mutually satisfying topic for you all to research. Using general library resources, special collections, interviews, and the archives of Dartmouth’s various serial publications (The daily Dartmouth, The Dartmouth Review, The Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Vox, and others), you will probe your topic, looking not only for textual information but also for visual and audio resources. Your assignment is to create and then present a 4-6 minute multi-media documentary film that argues a position taken by your group on your topic.

You might, for instance, start with the question, “How has Dartmouth dealt with Native Americans?” You could then use special collections to study Dartmouth’s initial proposals to educate Native Americans, investigate old documents to explore how this mission changed over the years, and look into Native American books and journals to see what educational issues various native peoples here have considered important in the past and now. Reference librarians and scholarly search engines could lead you to articles about how others, native and non-native, view Dartmouth’s Native American Studies Program or Native Americans at Dartmouth. You could look up on Dartmouth’s web pages the credentials of faculty who teach Native American Studies, decide to ask one or two to talk with you briefly in hopes of refining your understanding of what you’ve learned, and videotape the talk (with permission gained beforehand, of course). The (and only then), when you have some serious information under your belt, you might talk with (“interview”) current Indian students to find out how each of them answers your question and why. Once you have all this information, you will be in a position to decide something about your topic, to take a position on it. That will guide you in looking for and choosing images and music and other audio effects to enhance the argument or claim you want to make about this topic. From the Orozco murals in Baker to the Native American collection at the Hood Museum, the Hop’s signing of indigenous artists, the archived speeches of Native American speakers, and the special collections images of the annual Powwow, Dartmouth offers many possibilities for both sound and vision.

Similarly, you could explore the culture of women (“co-education”) at Dartmouth. Or the homecoming ritual and what it represents. You might focus on “Greek” culture here, investigating recent discussions about eliminating it, or examining recent scandals within some of the house. You could even look at the architecture at Dartmouth – how is uses space, and what the space and the designs signify or suggest about the culture of those who chose the projects, the architects, the designs, the uses (White? Ivy League? Male? Trustee? Donor?). Interviews with Geography and Art History professors, talks with the College’s office of facilities planning and its development officers (who raise funds for buildings), combing the archives for published pictures of Dartmouth, chatting with the college photographer, listening to archival tapes of speakers on architecture, consulting indices of the Alumni Magazine for letters to the editor about buildings, and soliciting from students their responses to the college’s buildings could be artfully combined with video or stills of the campus sites and backgrounded with appropriate music from the Baker bells or Dartmouth singing groups (Glee Club, Gospel Choir, Aires, etc.) to produce a fascinating documentary arguing something meaningful about the architecture here.

Or you could ask a question about the role of student protest at Dartmouth. You could ask a question about the history of black/white relations at the College. You could investigate the culture of bisexuality at Dartmouth. You could learn something about anti-racist efforts at the College, or look into how affirmative action is set up here and how it is viewed by various College groups. You could ask why at this College, “Asian” seems not to include “South Asian.” You could probe the culture of the Ivy League president at Dartmouth. Endless possibilities.

The draft proposal you submit Friday, 10/6/06, should state your question and hypothesize how your group might investigate, suggesting what might be your focus and where you might look to illustrate your subject. Might you conduct interviews? With whom? What seem at this point like profitable sources of information or history? Will you need to film something on campus? What? Where might you locate still images? Might you use special collections? Which ones? Your proposal should also speculate as to your probable technology needs.

The Preparation: We begin by looking together on Wednesday and Friday at some short examples of multimedia composition and talking about how they are constructed as well as the soundness and the ethics of their arguments. We also meet for two or three sessions with reference librarians, one at Baker/Berry (Dartmouth’s main library), one or two in Rauner (Dartmouth’s special collections and archival library). These workshops will give you experience in using the libraries here to “play” with the resources they offer, to use them to form questions for further research, and to try your hand at locating some things.

Running Time: (including credits): 6 minutes maximum, 4 minutes minimum (NO EXCEPTIONS).
Images: 25 maximum
Text Length: (excluding credits): maximum of 50 discrete words.
Audio: Any kind (voiceover, song, music, sound effects). Remember the 6-minutes limit when you choose audio.
Video: 4 minutes maximum. (Use video advisedly. It doesn’t insure a better film or grade.)
Credit and Permissions: cite in the credits secondary sources and images or audio recording of others that you use or consult. Student need to credit everything and everyone. For educational use (such as showing to the class), you do not need to get written permission. BUT-if you post your film on a web site or screen it at a public (non-educational) event, you would have to get written permissions beforehand.
Clips from distributed movies: not allowed (though still images from them are allowed – but remember that transferring such material to digital form is difficult and not always successful).
Editing: Remember that editing footage takes four times as long as acquiring it.
Final Submission: Save as a Full Quality Quick-Time file and place it in the “Final Projects” folder on the server space provided.
Keep it: Simple.

Example of Final Project

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