English Composition 1

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Many of today’s pressing issues, from gender inequality to police brutality, were addressed  in the 20th century by social activists, educators, and writers like Margaret Walker Alexander, who lived and worked in Jackson, MS, and who taught at Jackson State University (JSU). In this course, you will read and write—in conversation with Margaret Walker—about issues that matter to you and to your communities: home, community, academic, or professional.

Margaret Walker was both a poet and a scholar. Known on JSU campus as Dr. Alexander, she taught in the English department for 30 years, from 1949 to 1979, and courageously founded the Institute for the Study of the History, Life, and Culture of Black People in 1968, a time of great social turmoil. The Institute is now the Margaret Walker Center (MWC), an archive containing artifacts that include the personal and professional writings of Margaret Walker, oral histories (nearly 2,000), photographs, and more. The physical archive is located in Ayer Hall, built in 1903, the oldest building at JSU, which also houses a museum, African Art exhibit, and a restored Freshman girl's dorm room. With much of the archive accessible digitally, you can access the materials online. In addition, you also have the opportunity to add to the archive through transcribing hand-written journal pages and submitting oral histories.

What Will You Do in This Course?

In Composition I, you will explore, discuss, and write about issues that matter to you, like Margaret Walker did, with the focus on developing your own position on issues important to you. For example, Walker wrote in journals and in essays about her writing process, religious beliefs (e.g., animism), political activities (e.g., the massacre at JSU in 1970), discussed ideology (e.g., communism), and shared thoughts on family and academic life. As a class, we will read some of her journals, which she began writing at the age of 16, and some of her essays, with her first one published when she was 17. You will use her writings to compare and contrast then and now in ways that will allow you to reflect on your own experiences and challenges as you develop a position from which to argue.

To be more specific, we will practice the following:

  1. Reading with purpose, analyzing texts and contexts of artifacts and published materials, the issues discussed by the authors and their perspectives, along with their relation to intended audiences.
  2. Writing to think through ideas critically, to respond to readings, to reflect (e.g., writing journals, taking notes).
  3. Writing formal academic essays—narrative, compare/contrast, process, argumentative, reflective—attending to all parts of an essay and the writing process, including a range of revising and editing strategies.
  4. Discussing and reflecting critically on the processes of reading, writing, and learning
  5. Using and, potentially, creating archival materials.


What You Will Need for This Course

  • All Open Education Resource (OER) course materials are available online.
  • You will need a paper notebook (e.g., spiral) to use as a journal, something you can bring to class to write in.


Why Keep a Journal for This Class?

Keeping a journal is keeping track of your ideas. Although social media have given us new platforms for recording our “ideas, sensations, thoughts” and new spaces “to spill everything” you might say, many professionals still prefer to keep handwritten journals. Why? Listen to Eric Weiner talking on the National Public Radio (NPR) about why “In a Digital Chapter, Paper Notebooks Are as Relevant as Ever.”

In this course, you will read and write journal entries as central activities. You will turn in a typed journal for each assigned reading (double spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font). As you read, or listen to your friends, or walk around campus, or surf the internet, jot down what you are paying attention to—write. Describe what you are paying attention to. Once you do, then, you can reflect: Ask yourself, “Why am I paying attention to this? Why am I feeling this emotion in response to that?” Asking yourself why you think or feel something pushes you to think more deeply, to reflect on what you value – to think critically. Reflection is crucial to critical thinking.

Why Will We Use Archival Materials?

Through engaging archival materials in the MWC archive, you will come in contact with traditions at JSU, an HBCU, issues raised by parents and grandparents, conflicts they had to negotiate. Other materials in the archive include the writings of Black Panther Ms. Frankie Adams-Johnson, who donated her papers to the archive and is still teaching in the English department at JSU, and Dr. Roderick R. Paige, United States Secretary of Education (2001-2005) and the recent interim president of JSU (2016-2017). During the semester, you will also have an opportunity to contribute to the archive itself through transcribing a page from Margaret Walker’s journal or collecting an oral history. You will also compile an archive of artifacts you create in this course—your course portfolio.

As you learn about local and national historical events and figures and find connections between the past and the present from first-hand accounts, you will be engaging with primary sources, thus beginning to develop research skills and laying the foundation for Composition II, which focuses on research.

Welcome to the course!

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