Kelly Quinn uses "The Water Front" with some great writing exercises in an American Studies Course at Miami University
Introduction to American Studies is an interdisciplinary course that introduces students to the field of American Studies through an examination of three basic human needs: shelter, food, and clothing. Together we explore a range of sources to probe how people in the United States address these needs. We study the practices, values, beliefs, and symbols of Americans – and, importantly, how these practices, values, beliefs, and symbols change over time.
Over the series of several classes, we consider the ways in which water has been commodified and fetishized in contemporary American consumer culture through individual writing assignments, group projects, lecture, and classroom conversation.
WRITING EXERCISE ONE:
Learning goal: to analyze a familiar artifact in a rigorous, systematic fashion
We review the steps that E. McClung Fleming proposes in his essay, “Artifact Study.” Then, students break into groups and I distribute several bottles of water. Following the Fleming Model, each student is expected to perform the operations on the artifact. (Fleming’s “operations” include: identification, evaluation, cultural analysis, and interpretation.) The students may work collaboratively through the steps, but each should author her or his own responses. This takes at least 45 minutes.
WRITING EXERCISE TWO:
Learning goal: to improve writing skills with a focus on composing thesis statements about bottled water.
In the next session, we return to the subject of bottled water; we also work to hone writing skills. In this session, we consider how we move from the preliminary work outlined with Fleming’s Model to the drafting of an essay. I present three common types of essays that they may craft: analytical, expository, and argumentative. I then ask them to draft different types of thesis statements in response to the following prompts. (This takes at least 20-25 minutes)
1. Using Mc Clung Fleming’s model, write a thesis statement about bottled water drawing from your artifact analysis.
2. Write a thesis statement about bottled water’s positive qualities.
3. Write a thesis statement about bottled water’s negative qualities.
4. Write a thesis statement either for or against the availability of bottled water at events catered by Carillon Catering, our campus catering service.
SUBSEQUENT CLASSROOM CONVERSATION:
One of the major goals here is to make a familiar, quotidian artifact like bottled water strange. After two writing sessions, students may then begin to examine their own consumption patterns. I introduce the notion of commodity fetishism through their writing and a conversation about a series of images of advertising campaigns for bottled water. (I typically use PowerPoint as a slide projector to show some images from fashion and sports magazines.) These images culminate in a moment at Bling H2O’s website.
We then turn our attention to The Water Front after these sessions as we discuss water privatization and local water issues in Southwestern Ohio and the Midwest.
Printed resources included as required readings on the syllabus:
Wendell Berry, “The Pleasures of Eating” published in What Are People For? New York: North Point Press, 1990 and available at http://www.stjoan.com/ecosp/docs/pleasures_of_eating_by_wendell_b.htm
Food And Water Watch, Take Back the Tap Why Choosing Tap Water over Bottled Water is Better for Your Health, Your Pocketbook, and the Environment, 2006. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/bottled/TakeBackTheTap_web.pdf
E. McClung Fleming, “Artifact Study: A Proposed Model” Winterthur Portfolio Vol. 9 (1974), pp. 153-173
For teachers with institutional subscriptions to the electronic database JSTOR, Stable URL:
Marion Nestle, “Water, Water Everywhere: Bottled and Not” from What to Eat New York: North Point Press, 2006, pp. 401-416.
Pablo of “Ask Pablo” at Triple Pundit: People Planet Profit calculated the “true cost” of bottled water using Fiji Water as an example.
Bottles of water including the university’s campus brand, filtered water, spring water, etc.
Copies of full page ad campaigns in glossy periodicals for bottled waters