This course is on literature, reading, books about reading, and cultures of reading. It is also a course about arts (and creativity) and liberty. Assignments should reflect these preoccupations.


  • Regular short writing on the course blog = 10%
  • Form: free (may include images, links, audio, video, etc.)
  • Submitted electronically, on this present course blog, via weekly commentary
  • Open for continuing comment all term

FROM WEEK 4 ONWARDS (groups set up at start of term):

  • Group presentation of a liberal art = 20%
  • Form: presentation (using whatever means, method, and materials best suit you and what you are communicating)
    10-20 minutes
  • To be discussed the week before with Ó Brien in office hours or by appointment: she is here to help
  • In class
  • Groups and their dates: set up at start of term


  • A 4-5 page commentary due at midterm = 10%
  • Independent or in a group (in which case 4-5 pages per person)
  • Topics / criteria: this commentary should be
    A reading
    of an image or object (but not just words),
    that is from around the 5th to the 14th century in Europe or from a “middle” period in another culture,
    and that depicts or otherwise represents:
    —the seven liberal arts
    —OR your group’s liberal art
    —OR how knowledge is organised and subdivided at a university or culturally-equivalent place of higher learning.
    —Ex.: a manuscript illumination, a part of a cathedral, a map
  • Form: commentary (written, read and recorded, or otherwise performed and filmed)
  • Submission by email to Ó Brien; PDF preferred for written papers, audio and video also accepted
  • [ADDED 2016-10-21] Repeating what I’ve said in class:
    For work like this, extensions are possible iff arranged in advance (= before the deadline). Talk to me. I know midterm season is a heavy time of year. I don’t like seeing fellow humans (or other creatures) suffer. Wellbeing is important. I may be able to help. Talk to me.
  • Guidance: Criticism & commentary
    —about commentary
    —resources for writing
    —about plagiarism (as contrasted with proper citation, WHICH IS ENCOURAGED!!!)
    —about style guides (quick version: I don’t mind which system you use provide that you’re consistent in your usage)
    —NB: brilliant commentary does not necessarily involve any “research” in the sense that you may have met in other courses, that is: the reading of or reference to secondary sources (i.e. criticism/commentary written by others, books, journal articles). It can be done entirely from first principles: that is, the combination of a primary text / primary sources (including their representations online, for example in the case of manuscripts in libraries elsewhere and objects in museums), your good reading, and pure reason.
  • Examples of how this is done in applied practice:
    —exhibits at the UBC Museum of Anthropology
    —and this free online exhibit (with audio):
    A History of the World in 100 Objects


  • The presentation of your final project (see next item: which does not need to be finished by this stage!) = 25%
  • Topic: your project… even if it’s not yet fully finished: you may receice valuable feedback at this stage
  • Form: poster; submission: in class in a “festive fair of learning” (which will hopefully not become a clerkly carnival in the wrong way). There will be food. Ó Brien will photograph your posters… and students will comment and vote. Student votes contribute to your presentation mark.


  • A research project (7-10 page paper or equivalent) = 35%
  • Independent or in a group (then 7-10 pages per person)
  • Topics / criteria:
    —anything to do with the over-arching course themes and topics:

    Main topic/title:”THE LIBERAL ARTS”

    Themes from DESCRIPTION:

    “The function of freedom is to free someone else.” (Toni Morrison)

    What is a liberal arts education?
    A course in the Faculty of Arts?
    What does it mean to be a student at a university?
    What’s the point of reading?
    Or of lifelong learning?
    What are the personal, public, social, and cultural purposes of all these things?

    —AND based on the course readings
    OR about materials (literary or otherwise) from the medieval or other “middle” period in any culture anywhere
    OR as a comparative or translational exercise in medievalism (but still involving a medieval aspect)
    —this may be an expansion of your Liberal Art Week work

  • Form: free (research-paper, commentary, critical essay, creative writing (poem, short story, dream-vision narrative, allegory, speculative fiction, alternate history, etc.), multimedia experiment, audio, video, filmed performance, a made object)
  • Topics to be discussed in advance with Ó Brien in office hours or by appointment
  • Submission by email to Ó Brien; PDF preferred for written papers, audio and video also accepted
  • Extensions, as previously: talk to me.

There is no final examination.