Analyzing a Cultural Artifact English 170W, An Introduction to Literary Study November 8, 2011 Task

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Analyzing a Cultural Artifact

English 170W, An Introduction to Literary Study

November 8, 2011

We’ll define a “cultural artifact,” for this assignment, as something created by humans that provides information about the culture of its creator and users. Choose one cultural artifact to analyze, the cultural relevance of which you will prepare to discuss in depth through outside research. Please apply one (or two) of the critical approaches we have discussed this semester in your analysis of the artifact.


Write to an audience of your college peers who may already be familiar with the artifact but who would also be open to a new way to “read” it. Your goal is to try to get them to understand the implications of your critical approach to that artifact—in other words, to explain why this critical lens highlights the relationship between the artifact and other forms of cultural media, cultural concepts, or pervasive cultural myths.

Posting Instructions and Process Stages

As this is a project you will revise over the next three weeks, it makes sense to post each stage of the project in our shared Dropbox folder. (When you do this, be sure to save a version somewhere else on your computer as well.)

  • Workshop I: A brainstorming workshop will take place in class on Thursday, November 10th. Please come prepared with five hard copies of a list of three “cultural artifacts.” Please include one to two sentences about each artifact on your list describing why and how it qualifies as a “cultural artifact.” We will spend the class discussing our choices, making sure that each class member leaves with a selection in mind.

  • Workshop II: On Tuesday, November 15th, you will come prepared with five hard copies of a two-to-three-page summary of your artifact, including a works cited page. This summary will provide a basis for your analysis of the artifact, though the whole summary itself will not be included in the final paper.

  • During the week of November 28th, the main bloggers will post their first drafts (of approximately 5-6 pages) of the artifact paper to the blog; rather than a formal reading for that week, these will be the texts to which the rest of the class will respond. We will analyze these drafts in class together on Tuesday, November 29th and commentators will post replies to one or both of them by that Wednesday at midnight, as usual.

  • Workshop III: On Thursday, November 28th, you will bring five hard copies of your complete draft of the artifact paper to workshop in class.

  • Your final version of the cultural artifact paper will be due via Dropbox before our last class on Tuesday, December 13th.

I will leave electronic comments on the summary and draft saved in the appropriate Dropbox sub-folders. All components of the essay are important to the success of the final product; failure to turn in any part of the assignment will result in the automatic deduction of points from your final grade.

Grading Criteria (Rubric to follow)

This essay is worth 25 points (out of 100 for the semester):

  • Summary of artifact (5)

  • Selection and contextualization of critical passages (8)

  • Application of critical lens(es) (7)

  • Full and precise formatting, including proof-reading for grammatical errors, accurate quotations, missing words, etc., as a well as a heading, title (preferably, a relevant but unexpected one that will get me excited about reading your essay!), page numbers, use of MLA-style parenthetical citations, and a works cited page (5)

**Another teacher who has tried a similar assignment with his class shared with me this list of artifacts that his students chose. This will give you some idea of the wide range of “texts” you might investigate:

—The first season of "Dexter"

—Kafka's "In the Penal Colony"

—Joyce's "The Dead"

—Joyce's "Araby"

—The narrative structure of the video game "Command and Conquer: Black Ops"

—Shakespeare's Two Gentleman of Verona (at first he was thinking of doing Heidegger's Essay Concerning the Question of Technology but realized he didn't have enough time.

—A Korean movie called "Oldboy"


—"Black Swan"

—Martin the Warrior


—Twains "Puddin' Hill Tom"

—The Catcher in the Rye

—"The Road to El Dorado"

—Ginsberg's "Howl"

—"Fight Club" — a mix between the movie and the book

—Camus' The Stranger


—To Kill a Mockingbird

—Pride and Prejudice

—"Bartleby the Scrivener"

—"The Dark Knight"

—"The Death of Ivan Ilych"

—"The Godfather"

—The TV show "Brothers and Sisters"

—A play called "Race"

—"I am Legend"

—Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

—Draper's November Blues

—Little Red Ridinghood

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