Fall 2017
UW1020: The Visual Past: Images in American History

Prof. Phillip Troutman

Class meets on the Mount Vernon Campus:

m27, crn83636, m/w 10:00-11:15 Eckles 112, fri 10:00-10:50 Ames B201

m29, crn82919, m/w 11:30-12:45 Ames B207, fri 11:30-12:20, Ames B207

Office: 237 Ames Hall, hours Friday 1:50-3:00 pm (usually! email me to make sure) & other times/days by appointment.
Email: (please include “UW” in subject heading)

Why focus on images in a writing class? If for no other reason, analyzing images will be unfamiliar to you, and that will help focus your critical thinking. But historical images pose some interesting writing problems in their own right. Images say things; they can be rhetorical. Cartoons, paintings, films — even maps and photographs — interpret, idealize, and shade the truth. They even lie outright. Images have represented, reinterpreted, and reinscribed ideas throughout American history, from the earliest colonial encounters through slavery and civil rights, from frontier wars through civil wars, cold wars, hot wars, and culture wars. People have used images to do important cultural “work” in regards to race, gender norms and identity, class mobilization, democratic politics, national expansion, immigration and migration, scientific thinking, and religious ideologies.

But images do not speak for themselves; despite appearances, their meanings are not self-evident. Scholars of visual culture have created specialized concepts, terms, and methods that you will need to adopt and adapt in order to do your own interpretation. You will gain hands-on experience with archival and digital primary sources—from daguerreotype photographs to propaganda posters—analyzing and interpreting them in light of historical questions that you decide matter. To write about images requires description, translation from visual to verbal. So writing about images will help you hone your critical thinking, research, and analytic skills. But you will also have to approach historical images with some imagination and creativity, finding new words and phrases to rise to the task.

In this class, you will work as a visual historian, designing your own research project in any period of American history by drawing on a wealth of image-based primary sources available in digital and local archives. You will acquire a specialized analytical vocabulary; frame research questions in response to existing scholarship; pursue those questions through archival research; and hone your analytical voice by anticipating reader expectations through a peer response process.

All these are chief goals of UW1020, which aims to help you expand your capacity to:

  • Read and write for critical analysis: analyze for assumptions, claims, and evidence; interrogate sources for potential uses and limitations.
  • Frame research questions and develop hypotheses: identify gaps or connections in relevant sources to establish an agenda for inquiry; analyze, synthesize, and respond to sources to formulate claims that are contestable, substantive, and specific.
  • Understand and exploit rhetorical principles: anticipate and respond to academic readers’ expectations through use of genre, format, tone, disciplinary conventions, and appropriate methods of source use.
  • Practice writing as a process: draft to develop ideas; share drafts to elicit meaningful response from peer readers; respond to peers’ writing; reframe inquiry; research recursively; refine analysis; restructure argument; and revise and edit sentence-level prose.
  • Develop a resourceful and ethical approach to research: seize on library resources (collections, databases, and knowledgeable staff); locate arguments, concepts, and evidence in multiple kinds of sources; acknowledge sources clearly and cite sources accurately.
  • Attend closely to editing and proofreading: identify and correct errors; adhere to prose conventions; and use syntax as a tool of analysis, communication, and expression.

Drafting, peer response, and revision are key to all these objectives. I will guide you through several small-group workshops in which you will learn both how to offer critical responses and how to respond to those offered by your peers.

These two required books are readily available online or through the GW bookstore:

  • Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts, by Joseph Harris (Utah State University Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0874216424. Note: the earlier edition is fine and is available used online.
  • Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles, by Charles Lipson (2nd ed., University of Chicago Press, 2011). ISBN: 978-0226484648.  Note: only by the most recent edition because it will reflect updates to the various styles.

Your syntax text is free online:  The Purdue OWL: Online Writing Lab.

You will find other readings on Bb>E-Reserves and in library research.

You will also be printing out articles, your draft materials, and peers’ drafts. Budget for copying/printing, as needed.

Projects & grading

Each UW1020 course requires completion of “finished” writing that has undergone a rigorous process of pre-draft preparation, drafting, and revision in response to instructor’s advice and classmates’ comments. In this class, you will work through a staged series of graded and non-graded writing assignments to design and complete a major research project.

Note on the workload:  For every hour you spend in classroom work, your prep and followup work outside class should take minimum two hours, or 7 hours a week. This is an average per week–in some weeks you may spend less, in some weeks more. It is critical that you complete each assignment on time, since each builds on the next.

First, you will study scholarly argument closely by writing an abstract  of one academic journal article, carefully delineating the scholar’s central question, claim, evidence, logic, and methods. Second, you will develop an original research project of your own, described in a research proposal & annotated bibliography. You will do this through a series of guided research exercises–finding and analyzing primary source images in GW’s Special Collections, in GW Library databases, and in online digital archives; finding and and responding to other scholars’ prior arguments; finding and applying other scholars’ methods and frameworks of analysis. Third, you will carry out your research project and write a research essay that develops a line of inquiry, engages in scholarly discourse, and closely analyzes a coherent body of primary source images in order to articulate an original academic claim. Finally, you will present this research project to the class in the form of an academic poster session, summarizing your argument, presenting key visual evidence, responding to peers’ questions.

You will carry the three major graded projects (abstract, proposal/biblio, and essay) through a process of sketching, drafting, peer-response, revision, and final editing. The poster itself will be ungraded, but your participation in the poster session will be graded. Grading criteria for major projects are provided with the assignment sheets. Late submission for all graded assignments will garner a 1/3 letter grade penalty per day late. Other moments in the process also get a completion grade.

Sketches are short pieces of writing, prep work that lays the foundation for work you’ll do together with peers in class. Sketches are labelled on the syllabus & checked in class at least five times during the term. Not having the sketch printed out and in hand so that it can be used in class will dock this grade by one letter. Since sketches are to provide us with fodder for in-class work (not to prove that you did your homework), they cannot be made up if missed. Keep printer supplies stocked and have a backup printer plan. Gelman and Eckles Libraries both have printers.

Tutorials and poster session: All the feedback you get from me in this course will be in person, in a series of workshops modeled on the British tutorial system. On certain scheduled occasions, instead of class, you will meet with me at my office (or a  conference room), either with a small group of peers or individually.  Tutorials are intensive, focused work for which you must be exceptionally well prepared. The are also incredibly rewarding. You will always be presenting a draft (first or final) of a major project, and often providing (on drafts) critical feedback to peers on their drafts. Students routinely tell me these are the most important moments of the course.To earn an A on each tutorial, you must do all the following (with penalties given for missing that element):

  1. schedule your session time on the Bb Wiki by the deadline given (1  letter grade penalty)
  2. post your draft on time and in the correct format (1 letter grade penalty if late; 2 if not posted in time for us to read it)
  3. bring a printed copy of the required peer response assignment (1 letter grade penalty)
  4. arrive on time to the tutorial (1 letter penalty)
  5. prepare to lead civil discussion of the draft, with criticism that is supportive and specific, and be ready to take notes on discussion of your draft.  (1 letter grade penalty for any uncivil discourse or lack of preparation)

No grace periods on any tardiness. Missing a tutorial for any reason means a maximum of 1 point possible (if you scheduled and posted your draft on time) and counts as an absence. In an emergency beyond your control, you can make up the tutorial partially by completing the peer response assignments.Your course grade is determined by the following:

  • Abstract (250-350) words, 20%
  • Proposal (300-500 words) & Annotated Bibliography, 20%
  • Research Essay, (3600 words), 25%
  • Tutorials (3 x 5% each), 15%
  • Poster session, 5%
  • Library Research Prep (2 x 5% each), 10%
  • Sketches, total 5%

Course completion: Failure to turn in any one or more of the graded assignments (Abstract, Proposal, Research Essay, and Library Preps) will justify an F in the course, regardless of other grades. Accruing 4 or more absences before Spring Break &/or 4 or more after Spring Break will justify an F in the course, regardless of other grades (noting that missing a tutorial counts as 3 absences).I assign letter grades on all graded assignments & use the 4.0 scale to translate these into numbers.  This is the same 4.0 scale used for your GPA.  Note: The 4.0 scale does not translate to percentages.  E.g., a 3.0 is not “75%.”Your final course grade is  the average of your assignment grades (weighted by the percentages above) on the 4.0 scale, rounded as below (noting the exception that 3.70+ is an A). These rounded numbers are firm cutoffs and do not round further (e.g., a 3.49 does not round to 3.50 for a A-; it remains a B+ because it is rounding to the nearest .0, .3, or .7).

A (4.0)     3.85+
A- (3.7)   3.50 – 3.84
B+ (3.3)  3.15 – 3.49
B (3.0)     2.85 – 3.14
B- (2.7)    2.50 – 2.84
C+ (2.3)   2.15 – 2.49
C (2.0)      1.85 – 2.14
C- (1.7)     1.50 – 1.84
R                  0.50 – 1.49 and completed all required work


A student who completes all the UW1020 course requirements but whose assignment grades indicate need for further instruction will be assigned a course grade of R (for “repeat course”) instead of D. The R grade, unlike an F, carries no GPA penalty, but the student must take UW1020 again. (The R grade is unique to UW1020.) Students who do not complete the course requirements, who are absent excessively, and/or who violate other expectations of academic conduct will receive an F for the course.GW’s General Literacy Requirement calls for a grade of C- or higher in UW1020. After finishing UW1020, students complete the GLR with two Writing in the Disciplines (WID) courses.

Absences, &c.

UWP policy holds that class attendance is required, with limited excused absences. Because the seminar and tutorial formats rely heavily on the collaborative work of each student, daily participation is essential to performance and will affect your project grades. Of course, you might occasionally have good reasons to miss (religious holidays, team travel, family emergency, the compelling need for a hike on the Blue Ridge) or even bad ones (broken alarm clock, missing the shuttle, general sloth). I trust all those reasons to your judgment and do not require any explanation or documentation.Note: no GW professor can require your absence from another GW course–please keep this in mind when scheduling make-up exams, study sessions, etc., for other classes.
All absences are excused automatically. However, your absences are limited to:

  • three in the first half of the term (through due date for Proposal/Biblio).
  • three in the second half (after due date for Proposal/Biblio).

Missing four or more classes in the first half of the course &/or four or more in the final half will justify an F in the course, regardless of other grades.If you know you will likely missing more than the maximum above, please drop the class now and plan to take UW1020 when you will not have these conflicts. If serious issues arise unexpectedly, please let me know as soon as possible so we can work out a plan together.You are responsible for keeping track of your absences. You are always responsible for work listed on the course calendar for the days you return to class. If you miss, check the calendar and check with your peers and make sure you are prepared for the next class. (Remember, there is no make up for missed sketches, but there is also no need to make them up–you are not penalized for sketches during your absences.)

Tardiness: We are all late on occasion, some of us more often than others. But if you are repeatedly tardy, I will warn you and then start counting tardiness as absence. Learn the shuttle schedule and plan for rush hour delays. Print out all your written work at least one hour–not minutes–before class.
Other distractions: Please silence phones and do not look at them during class. (I use mine as a watch, but I will not answer calls or look at texts during class.) Laptops:  default mode is closed. You may bring laptops for note-taking and when the assignment calls for it. Using a phone or laptop for anything not directly relevant to the class will count as an absence, as will sleeping or any other activity indicating your intellectual absence from class.

Academic integrity

The George Washington University’s Code of Academic Integrity defines academic dishonesty as “cheating of any kind, including misrepresenting one’s own work, taking credit for the work of others without crediting them and without appropriate authorization, and the fabrication of information.” Recommended penalties for plagiarism and other violations range from failing the assignment to expulsion from the University. 
Most narrowly (and legalistically), this means you must quote accurately, paraphrase fairly, and cite all sources completely. More broadly still, you should act ethically and honestly in all the work you do at the University. Accept responsibility for what you write. Openly acknowledge aid others give you in doing your work, whether through collaborative writing or critical feedback. (You can do this in the text, in footnotes/endnotes, or in an acknowledgements page. And use Lipson, Cite Right, and course handouts to help you.) But just as importantly, we will practice quotation and citation as a way to signal the differences between others’ points of view and yours, to acknowledge others’ intellectual work in order to highlight your own.

Student support

The Writing Center offers GW students free, one-on-one feedback from peer tutors for any kind of writing at any stage of the process (UW1020, WID, any other class, application letters, etc.).  Appointments are recommended. Ninety-seven percent of students using the Writing Center found it useful to their writing process. Try it out.

Students who write in English as a second (or third, or fourth…) language (a.k.a. L2 Writers) may also use the EAP (English for Academic Purposes) Writing Support Program at the Language Lab.  Make an appointment.

If anything—personal, family-related, institutional, whatever—ever interferes with your academic work in this course, please feel free to discuss it with me, the earlier the better.  You do not necessarily need to share personal information with me; just the fact that there is something happening would be helpful for me to know.  We can then decide how best to proceed or what resources GW might offer to help. You can always consult the Academic Advisor in your Dean’s office:

If you require any specific accommodation to compensate for a disability, GW’s Disability Support Services requests that you contact them with documentation:  Marvin Center 242, phone 202.994.8250.  Also, please talk with me about anything I can do to help facilitate your getting the most out of this course.

The University Counseling Center offers a wide array of assistance, from time management workshops to personal counseling and crisis intervention. It has drop-in hours M-F at both locations:  Foggy Bottom, Marvin Center Ground Floor, drop-ins 10am-3pm (& appts 9-5). Mount Vernon, Academic 119, drop-ins 3pm-7pm. Email: Counselors are available 24/7 at 202.994.5300.

If you or someone you know at GW is ever sexually assaulted, contact GW’s Sexual Assault Response Consultative Team at 202.994.7222 or In addition, ASK DC’s free app can help you be prepared with “immediate access to the information needed most in the event of a sexual assault on one of DC’s nine college campuses — quickly, confidentially and free.” Both the app and the info itself are available at