Creative Commons licensed photograph "Field book, Raffles Lighthouse museum" by Flickr user Jnzl's Photos

Lab Fieldbook Entries

Assignment Overview:

  • A growing portfolio of documents, composed in MultiMarkdown and committed to a Github repository
  • Students work individually
  • Class preparation entries due before the class in question; lab report entries due 1 week after the final session for the pertinent lab
  • Some stellar entries will be posted on the course website under Model Fieldbook Entries


Technologies of Text is an experiential course that moves between discussion of readings and applied “humanities laboratories” each week. A central goal of the class will be to bring its two facets into conversation: to use our readings and discussions to contextualize our applied work in laboratories, and to use our applied work in laboratories to enrich our understanding of concepts from our readings.

To help accomplish this goal, you will maintain a fieldbook, which will constitute your central scholarly activity throughout this semester. I call this assignment a “fieldbook” rather than a “journal” to convey its hybridity: week by week, your entries will include a mix of description, analysis, code, figures, or images. This ongoing assignment will give you the chance to organize the diverse tasks of the class’ experiential work, practice the skills introduced in the labs, bring your experiential work into conversation with class readings and personal research, and experiment with ideas that will be further developed in your Unessay projects.

There will be two types of entries in your fieldbooks: class preparation and lab report.

Class Preparation Entries

For most classes, you will be assigned articles or books to read, files to watch, or websites to browse prior to class. We will discuss strategies for attending closely to these texts throughout the class, but in general you should not skim. You should pay close attention, note interesting ideas, and ask questions. You will like some of our texts and dislike others, but you should engage them all; don’t stop at “I like this” or “I don’t like this.” Instead, think about what the text is trying to say and how it’s trying to say it. Think about the choices made by its creator—stylistic, tonal, ideological—and how those choices contribute to the text’s success or failure. Compare one text with others, whether from our class, from your other classes, or from independent reading.

In order to help you attend closely to our course texts and prepare for each class, you should prepare 1-2 paragraphs responding to each class’ readings. I mean 1-2 paragraphs in total, NOT 1-2 paragraphs per reading. Your entries should synthesize and bring readings into conversation, and should focus on a few ideas you want to highlight rather than attempting to summarize everything in the readings. Your class prep fieldbook entries can make critical observations about the readings or they may ask questions.

You should draft each class prep fieldbook entry in its own .md file, following the naming convention outlined above, and commit it to your fieldbook repository prior to the pertinent class period. To emphasize: each class preparation entry should be saved as a separate file in your Github repository.

In order for your class preparation fieldbook entries to be “Satisfactory,” they should, in general:

  1. Get beyond basic questions or observations of fact and instead work toward questions or observations of significance.
  2. Demonstrate close thought about the themes, style, arguments and other elements of our texts, as well as about the relationships among them.
  3. Emerge from (and refer to) specific ideas, pages, quotations, scenes, &c. from our assigned texts rather than broad or generic concepts.
  4. Genuinely open toward discussion and debate during class (i.e. no leading the witness, your honor).

Reading responses will be deemed “Unsatisfactory” when they indicate lack of preparation or inattentive reading, and will have consequences as outlined in your grading contract.

Lab Report Entries

Your lab report entries will vary quite a bit from lab to lab. I will often post a prompt for a lab to help start your thinking; you should begin your reports from these prompts.

There are a few elements I will expect to find in each lab report fieldbook entry:

  1. A description of the lab activities completed. Most of our experiential activities will include specific outcomes. You might produce a specific material product, such as a letterpress printed sheet, or be asked to adapt the lab’s code to answer a new question. The first task of any fieldbook entry will be to demonstrate completion of these tasks. In the case of a coding session, you will likely integrate code snippets directly into your Markdown file (more on this as those labs approach). For other labs you may instead reference external proof of your work, such as photos.

  2. Prose that reflects analytically on the work of the lab, putting it into conversation with one or two readings from the same week of class as the lab. This prose need not be as formal as a research paper, but it should demonstrate careful thought and preparation. You should integrate the readings explicitly, if possible through direct quotation. Use this writing to experiment with intellectual pairings you think might be generative to your larger thinking and help you prepare for the class’ Unessay projects.

Organizing Your Fieldbook

Your fieldbook will be a collection of Markdown or .md files collected in a Github Repository. We will learn how to write in Markdown and contribute to a Github repository during the first laboratory (which you will reflect on in your first lab report). You will share the address of your repository with me so that I can check your progress. I may also download particularly strong entries for reposting as Model Student Fieldbooks on the class website.

You should name your files following the following convention:

For class preparation entries:

For lab reports:


ToT is a challenging and full class. The semester will include thirteen chapters and eleven labs. To give you some flexibility, you will complete fieldbook entries as outlined in your course contract, which will mean there will be some class days for which you will not submit class preparation entries, and some labs for which you will not submit reports.

Pacing Your Field Work

Your fieldbook should be a developing record of your thinking about our class and its activities. Thus you should be working on it steadily, responding to the labs in a timely manner, in part to keep your thinking fresh and in part to avoid falling too far behind as new labs approach.

Class preparation entries are due prior to the pertinent class, while lab report entries are due within one week of the lab session. If a particular lab session extends through multiple classes, its fieldbook entry is due within one week of the final classroom session devoted to it. You may not wait until late in the semester to complete fieldbook entries for activities earlier in the semester, and I will check your fieldbooks periodically to ensure you are working steadily. The coding labs, in particular, will build on each other and you will find it difficult to complete fieldbooks for later coding labs if you do not complete earlier ones.

I regularly assign ongoing assignments in my classes and every semester I strongly urge students to start working early in order to complete the work. Each semester at least a few students ignore this urging, usually to their later dismay. Complications will almost certainly arise during the semester, and if you put off starting your fieldbook entries you will struggle to earn full credit on this assignment.

Why Markdown?

I am asking you to write in Markdown for two primary reasons:

  1. Markdown makes it very easy to weave together code and prose, which I see as a necessity for a class that wants to think humanistically about code.

  2. Markdown itself will help us think about text and remediation in a very direct way. Writing outside of a GUI (Graphical User Interface) like Word will challenge use to think about the structure of our texts and how that structure translates among different media. I don’t want to pretend like the plain text of Markdown is somehow less mediated than a GUI; Markdown is an interface just like Word is an interface. But I suspect it is an unfamiliar interface for many of you, which will prompt you to think about how interface shapes our interactions with text.

  3. Markdown is flexible. A single Markdown document can be instantly translated through a program like Pandoc into HTML, DOCX, PDF or a range of other formats, and we can use these transformations to think through the affordances and limitations of those formats for contemporary writing.