Forms of Non-Fiction

EN 080.06, Spring 2006, M W F 3
Carney 205
Nirmal Trivedi
Boston College
English Department
Email: trivedni AT bc DOT edu
Office: Carney 239
Office Hours by Appointment

Course Overview

This course will teach students how to read various forms of non-fiction: photo-essay, reportage, documentary film, social survey, and the non-fiction novel. The course is designed to address a wide range of themes and contexts while focusing on the literary techniques of non-fiction. There will be a heavy emphasis on developing critical reading and writing skills.

Required Texts

Edward Steichen, Family of Man
Ansel Adams, Born Free and Equal (Available on WebCT)
Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer
John Hersey, Hiroshima
Michael Tucker, Gunner Palace (Film on reserve at the O'Neill Media Center)
Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, Born Into Brothels (Film on reserve at the O'Neill Media Center)
Henry Mayhew, London Labour and London Poor (Available on WebCT)
Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives
Truman Capote, In Cold Blood


The graded work for this class will include:

3 page paper (10%)
5 page paper (15%)
7 page paper (25%)
Weekly Quizzes and Responses (20%) (6 Quizzes and 5 Responses -- lowest grade will be dropped)
Panel Presentation (10%)
Participation (20%)

Note: In place of a final, you will be given the option of rewriting one of your three papers. Although a higher grade on the rewrite is not a given, it is very likely that you will improve your grade by diligently re-reading your paper in light of my comments. Your final grade will be the average of the two papers.


On select weeks (see schedule), you'll be responsible for providing a one paragraph response to the reading assigned for the day, due either on Monday or Wednesday. Your response should address literary or theoretical aspects of the text and combine a combination of objective and subjective assessments. It should not be a summary or a plot outline, but an analysis of what you've read. I would advise you to include quotes from the text, reference allusions being made, elaborate on persistent themes, et cetera. These responses will help to formulate your term papers and get you engaged in class discussions. The responses will be posted to WebCT before class and handed-in after class on either Monday or Wednesday. Late responses will not be accepted.


The quizzes will be short and should take no more than 10 minutes at the beginning of the class period. They are simply designed to make sure you don't fall behind on the readings.

A Note on Participation

Oral participation in class is central to this course. By contributing to the discussion, you demonstrate your engagement with the material and with the contributions of your fellow students. Furthermore, your participation demonstrates to me where we might direct our conversation for future sessions. I will make a note of those who participate at the end of each class.

A Note on Attendance

You are allowed 2 absences maximum this semester. Each absence after the second absence will lower your final grade by half a grade (for example, an A- will become a B+). Do note that being more than 5 minutes late to class will count as a half-absence.

Late Work

No late work will be accepted. If you anticipate a difficulty in your schedule, please plan ahead to make sure that your work for this course will not be sacrificed.


According to the University Statement on Academic Integrity, “Plagiarism is the deliberate act of taking the words, ideas, data, illustrations, or statements of another person or source, and presenting them as one's own. Each student is responsible for learning and using proper methods of paraphrasing and footnoting, quotation, and other forms of citation, to ensure that the original author, speaker, illustrator, or source of the material used is clearly acknowledged.”

Using a term-paper “service” counts as plagiarism, as does “borrowing” from a friend's paper, a book or online source without attribution. Plagiarism will result in automatic failure of the course. When in doubt, cite your sources. If you have any questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please see me.

Class Schedule:

PART 1: The Photo-Essay

• Week One:

Wed January 18 Introductions

Fri January 20

Read: Steichen (p. 1-32)
Bring in one-page description of a photograph that is particularly striking. Describe the photograph, explain why it interests you, and speculate as to its context.

• Week Two:

Mon January 23

Read: Steichen (p. 33-69)
Read: Barthes, "The Great Family of Man"
Post: Response #1

Wed January 25

Read: Steichen (p. 70-112)
Post: Response #1

Fri January 27

Read: Steichen (p. 113-192)
Read: Berger, "Appearances: The Ambiguity of the Photograph"

• Week Three:

Mon January 30

Panel #1 Presentation
Read: Adams (p. 1-23)
Post: Response #2

Wed February 1

Read: Adams (p. 24-100)
Read: Berger, "Appearances: A Popular Use of Photography"
Post: Response #2

Fri February 3

Read: Adams (p. 101-112)
Read: Berger, "Appearances: The Enigma of Appearances"

PART 2: Reportage

• Week Four:

Mon February 6

Panel #2 Presentation
Read: Malcolm (p. 1-20)
3-page Paper Due

Wed February 8

Read: Malcolm (p. 21-41)
Quiz #1

Fri February 10

Read: Malcolm (p. 42-81)

• Week Five:

Mon February 13

Panel #3 Presentation
Read: Malcolm (p. 82-108)

Wed February 15

Read: Malcolm (108-130)
Quiz #2

Friday February 17

Read: Malcolm (131-145)

• Week Six:

Mon February 20

Read: Malcolm (146-163)

Wed February 22

Panel #4 Presentation
Read: Hersey (1-23)

Fri February 24

Read: Hersey (24-55)
Quiz #3

• Week Seven:

Mon February 27

Read: Hersey (56-77)
Post: Response #3

Wed March 1

Read: Hersey (78-86)
Post: Response #3

Fri March 3

Read: Hersey (87-118)

•Week Eight: Spring Break

PART 3: Documentary Film

• Week Nine:

Mon March 13

Panel #5 Presentation
Watch: Gunner Palace
Post: Response #4

Wed March 15

Discussion on Gunner Palace
Post: Response #4

Friday March 17

Discussion on Gunner Palace

• Week Ten:

Mon March 20

Panel #6 Presentation
Watch: Born Into Brothels
5-page Paper Due

Wed March 22

Discussion on Born Into Brothels
Post: Response #5 (all students)

Fri March 24

Discussion on Born Into Brothels

PART 4: Social Survey

• Week Eleven:

Mon March 27

Panel #7 Presentation
Read: Mayhew (excerpts)

Wed March 29

Read: Mayhew (excerpts)
Quiz #4

Fri March 31

Read: Mayhew (excerpts)

• Week Twelve:

Mon April 3

Panel #8 Presentation
Read: Riis (p. 52-77)

Wed April 5

Read: Riis (p. 77-106)
Quiz #6

Fri April 7

Read: Riis (p. 106-113)

•Week Thirteen:

Mon April 10

Read: Riis (excerpts)

PART 5: Non-Fiction Novel

Wed April 12

Read: Capote on the Non-Fiction Novel


• Week Fourteen:


Wed April 19

Panel #9 Presentation
Read: Capote (1-74)

Fri April 21

Read: Capote (77-110)

• Week Fifteen:

Mon April 24

Read: Capote (110-155)

Wed April 26

Read: Capote (159-211)
Quiz #6

Fri April 28

Read: Capote (212-248)
7-page Paper Due

• Week Sixteen:

Mon May 1

Panel #10 Presentation
Read: Capote (251-302)

Wed May 3

Read: Capote (302-343)