English 333: Monsters and Protean Figures

Final Project

Final Project: The Cultural Monster Kit

Students will work in groups to create a Cultural Monster Kit that is related to one of the texts or themes of the course.  These kits may be material, digital, or a hybrid material-digital format.  As with our other projects, the final kits (or representations of the final kits) will become part of the UWGB Commons for the Digital and Public Humanities.  Students will be expected to work collaboratively with group members to create the kit, participate in a brief class presentation of their kit, and write a personal assessment of the project that also details personal contributions.  The final project is worth 200 points.

Groups

Groups will be assigned and you should meet with your group as soon as possible to begin discussing possible projects.  You might find it useful to collaborate in the “Group Forums” space on the UWGB Commons. All of you are able to start new forums and communicate there and share ideas. You could also create a site-wide wiki for the project, and that would allow you to share ideas across groups.

What is a “Kit”?

This assignment was inspired by the University of Victoria’s Maker Lab in the Humanities Project, Kits for Cultural History (http://maker.uvic.ca/kitsposter/).  Specifically, this post by Nina Belojevic, “Publish This Kit (Part I)” (http://maker.uvic.ca/kit1/) outlines the goal of this project and this assignment:  “create a kit that – by inviting hands-on engagements with the material dynamics of historical experiments, media, and technologies – enriches the academic arguments we typically find in scholarly journals and monographs.”  That is, rather than writing a traditional essay on some topic related to the course, this assignment asks you to assemble a material or digital “kit,” a collection of “artifacts,” that presents an argument related to your learning in our monsters course.  In such a kit, evidence that supports your argument might take the form of text, audio, video, objects, images, and so forth. Together, these artifacts in some way will explain or enact or contextualize your topic in a humanistic and literary perspective.  Here’s an example of one kit (the original table tennis video game) already assembled at UVic’s Maker Lab.

As you can see in the provided link, Christie’s goal is “to provide an embodied scholarly experience that makes an argument about the location of an early game within larger social, cultural, and political histories of technology and media” while acknowledging “the materialist and tinker-centric experience that a history of videogames demands, blending physical computing components, 3D models, schematics, fabricated mechanisms, and dynamic media with text-based scholarship.”  Note that his preliminary work includes a brief narrative history of the game as well as images of the game schematics, pictures of the hardware to run the game and its graphical display.  Note, too, however, that Christie extensive research into traditional sources, providing a bibliography and links to online essays.

Standards

As you can see from the above, these kits are somewhat different from traditional research projects.  Belojevic notes the following differences:

  1. Kits demand more from their audiences, requiring them to assemble, assess, and think critically about the topic than a traditional essay.
  2. Because the Kit itself “enacts” the story of the project, the authorial voice may be less prominent.
  3. While the Kit may contain text, it should also contain a variety of physical objects (or representations of physical objects) that imply the overall story being told.
  4. While the Kit must still employ rhetorical devices, it is not limited to only written or spoken language, and so is open to experimentation.

Having noted this, however, it is important to note that scholarly standards still apply.  A topic must be chosen, and question must be posed, research must be conducted, and the project assembled and presented.  In doing so, the standards of such scholarly activity will be necessary.  Sources must be assessed for appropriate authority, and a record of research (bibliography, etc.) must be kept.  In the end, a brief narrative of the project should be included, so that it is clear what the intention of the kit is.  In this way, it will be easier to assess how well the finished project meets the intended goals.

Summary: In short, you want to create a kit that someone can pick up and use. This requires directions, the materials the directions apply to, and having a goal for what the final product will look like. This will involve what we call prototyping andversioning.

With that in mind, your kit will contain, at a minimum, the following:

  1. A set of thorough instructions. These can take any form you want, but the objective is the same for all of you. A complete novice must be able to pick up your get and use it to “make” or create what was intended.
  2. The materials that the kit’s instructions refer to. These materials may be physical and/or digital. Every member of the group is expected and required to contribute materials to the kit. This may involve some personal expense, which by all means we want to keep to a minimum. The more low-fi, recycled, and reused the materials are, the better.
  3. A group write-up/narrative of the project, where there is a general overview of the project, the experience doing it, and what was learned in the process. This must also include an explicit inventory of what each member contributed to the project.

Possible Kits

  • Hack a Board Game: A Possession Kit (The Exorcist).  I’m sure we’ve all played games like Monopoly andOperation. How would we turn those into “Demon Monopoly” or “Exorcism”? Create a monster kit that allows its users to transform, or hack, an existing board game into a demonic version of that game. While you would include a game in the kit to work with, ideally, the kit would serve as a guide to hacking/possessing other games. I could also see this being applied to different artifacts besides a board game.
  • Technology of Text Kit (Dracula, et al.). This semester we’ve read multiple novels that are constructed from different media and eventually synthesized, or figuratively represented, as a single text in the form of the novel we hold in our hands. How might we make such a monster narrative? Create a kit that allows its users to construct a single monster narrative from multiple sources of media. It might be useful to conceive of this in the form of a game, similar to those where children lay down cards in order and build stories around what they see. Obviously, this would be a bit more complicated.
  • Build a Monster or Transformation Kit (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). As we’ve discussed, we have many prototypes/archetypes for monsters. What if we want to make a new monster? What if we want to create our own? Create a kit that allows users, using the materials you provide, to create a new monster with its own distinctive characteristics, desires, and capabilities. Ideally, different users would create different monsters from the instructions, even though the materials at hand are the same. Also, in the spirit of #1 above, you could explore a transformation kit—one that allows the user to transform themselves, or existing characters/representations, into monstrous versions of themselves. We could call this a “Monstrous Versioning Project.” For example, you could create a kit where users can turn the book of their choice into a monstrous version of itself via physical alteration, textual transformation, and other transformative methodology.
  • Based on the digitally based projects we have done this semester, you could create a monster kit that is entirely digital in nature. All of the project requirements still apply.

These are just a few examples; there are many more you might develop based on these texts and themes.  I encourage you to look ahead at the remaining novels we will be studying this semester.

Due Dates:

Prototype/Version 1.0: This must be done by December 3, the first class after Thanksgiving Break.

Prototype/Version 2.0: Exam Week. We will meet during our scheduled exam time and set up a gallery of the projects for class viewing.