ENGL 320 Sonic Studies

English 320: Sonic Studies

“Sounds Like Social Justice”

Tuesday and Thursday 2:30 – 3:45 PM

Instructor: Earl H. Brooks

Classroom: Engineering 336

Instructor’s Office Location: Performing Arts Building room 407

Contact: [email protected]

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 2:00 to 4:00 PM and by appointment


Course Goals

Welcome to Sonic Studies! This course will challenge you to think through issues of culture, ideology, race, class, and gender through the lens of sound. You will be introduced to histories of sound reproduction, emerging sound technologies, music, and the presence of sound in various forms of media. In conjunction with covering a diverse array of current scholarship, this course will explore the intersection between communication, culture, and technology. More specifically, you will have the opportunity to build competencies in sound aesthetics as a historical and political object of inquiry and, most importantly, put those competencies into practice. You will collect, create, and analyze sound in addition to images and texts. This semester, our course was chosen to participate in UMBC’s Humanities Teaching Labs program. This means that we will have the privilege of receiving special support to increase our use of technology as well as our engagement with the local community.


Sounds Like Social Justice

The theme for this semester’s course, “Sounds Like Social Justice,” combines sonic studies with advocacy rhetoric and challenges students to create interactive media projects that use sound to tell stories about specific locations, events, or issues related to social justice. You will be challenged to think about what social justice rhetoric means to you while grappling with its expression through sound technologies and social media. You will then identify a local or campus organization and create these projects as potential content for your chosen organization’s website.

!!!Note!!!! Students who arrive to class without having copies of the assigned texts/readings in hand, not having read, or who are otherwise unprepared for class discussion will be marked absent. If you are without copies of the assigned texts more than 2 times, your final grade will be lowered one full letter grade per each occurrence.


Final grade/percentage breakdown:

90-100% A

80-89% B

70-79% C

60-69% D


Individual task or project grade/point breakdown:

A+ = 99

A = 95

A- = 90

B+ = 88

B = 85

B- = 80

C+ = 78

C = 75

C- = 70

D= 65

Course Requirements

Assignments Grade Percentage
Assignment 1Composing Memoirs with Sound, Individual Project 20%
Assignment 2- Three Short Essays 30%
Assignment 3- Social Justice Advocacy Project- Group Project 30%
Assignment 4-Class Participation 20%


To pass this course you must complete all the major assignments, fulfill all the weekly assignments, and submit all the writing assignments on time. You are expected to attend all class meetings and to participate in draft workshops, in-class exercises, and classroom discussions. All proposals, drafts, papers, and final revisions must be handed in on time; failure to turn in a proposal on time, or to appear at a draft workshop without a draft is equivalent to turning in an assignment late (i.e., normally a penalty of one grade letter per late day).


Class Discussions and Reading Assignments

Our class discussions have three important purposes:

  1. They facilitate the examination of ideas for their merits and applicability which supports learning processes
  2. They prepare students for careers that require strong communication and critical thinking skills
  3. They provide students the opportunity to ask questions about the material

Class discussions will be supported by the assigned readings. To ensure the quality of our discussions, each student will be required to complete a brief post about the following:

  1. Head Scratcher– Identify a quote that you find challenging and hard to understand. State the quote and two questions you have about the quote that would expand your understanding of the text.
  2. Double Take– Identify a quote that you find to be provocative, controversial, or attention-grabbing. Describe why you found this quote so thought-provoking.
  3. Words to Live By– Identify a quote that you feel speaks to your daily life, personal goals, or career ambitions. Describe why this quote stands out to you and how you understand its application beyond the scope of the text.

This post will be due on Blackboard before class on days when there is assigned reading. You must also bring your post to class to support our class discussion.

Reading Quizzes

On days that have assigned readings, I will provide a short quiz of three questions. These quizzes will be graded as pass/fail and serve the purpose of supporting your class participation grade.



Before each major assignment, you will submit a brief proposal (1 or 2 paragraphs) that explains your ideas and ambitions for the assignment. This will allow us to have a dialogue about what your plans are for the assignment. Proposals will also serve as a space to communicate any questions or concerns you have about the assignment.


Workshop Days vs. Discussion Days

Our class sessions will usually be divided into two groups: Workshop Days and Discussion Days. On workshop days, we will spend time working on group or individual projects, peer-reviewing, and discussing examples. You must come to workshop days with the assigned work completed. Because the assignments in the course rely heavily on technology, you will be expected to use this time work on the portions of work that require computers, microphones, digital recorders, and other technology. Students who come to workshop days without their work or other materials they need to work towards the completion of their projects will be counted as absent. On discussion days we will spend time discussing readings, listening to music/sonic projects, and watching documentaries and other films.


Simply put, I expect you to be here for each class session. For simplicity’s sake (and in fairness to others enrolled in the course), I DO NOT distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. (Do not approach me with doctor’s notes.) Each person is allotted 3 absences, no penalty. For every additional class session, you miss or arrive unprepared for, your final grade for the course will be reduced one full letter grade per extra absence.


Office Conferences

There will be at least two mandatory conferences. Also, I am happy to meet with you in advance of a deadline to offer advice. You can come to my office hours or schedule an appointment with me. Please keep in mind that my job is not to proofread your work. When you come to a meeting with me, you should have some specific questions or concerns to discuss.


Peer Review

Our peer review sessions will happen in designated class sessions. In most cases, you will exchange your work with a class member during the peer review session so that they have time to review your work and provide feedback. We will spend these class periods reviewing both the projects/papers and the feedback they receive. I take peer review very seriously because it is one of the most efficient ways to grow as a writer and thinker. Even professional writers/producers spend countless hours writing, editing, and rewriting their work. Composing is a process that requires revision. Most importantly, this idea of revision goes beyond fixing mistakes. It’s about improving all aspects of composing, including its argumentative, aesthetic, and organizational attributes. If you miss a peer-review day, you must take measures to send your work to a classmate for comment outside of class. I will not accept projects that have not been peer-reviewed.


Listening Assignments and Listening Responses

Sometimes I will assign listening assignments that will accompany the reading. I will notify you in advance so that you have time to prepare.


Class Citizenship

The class citizenship grade is based on your role as a student and colleague irrespective of homework or project grades. This portion of your grade will take in account your preparation for class, quizzes, your completion of any homework assignments, your participation in class discussion and writing assignments, your adherence to the rules for class etiquette, and your presence at conferences with me.


Class Etiquette

During this course we will discuss a wide range of topics, some of which may be sensitive or even alienating for you; I urge you to keep in mind that we all have different personal experiences, diverse beliefs, and opinions about such topics. We will learn a great deal through discussing various views and perspectives if we make a commitment to listening to each other and to honoring each other’s backgrounds, values, and feelings. We will always treat one another with respect and dignity. While your peers or I speak, I expect your full attention. Distractions (talking, laughing, etc.) can be problematic for me as well as for your fellow classmates. Such behavior will harm your grade.



Please make sure cell phones are turned off. Anyone checking email, text messaging, getting up to leave class, etc. will be marked as absent


Graded Essays and Projects

When I return your work to you, I ask that you wait 24 hours to contact me about the grade. Please use those 24 hours to review your work and read my comments carefully. Once you’ve done that and 24 hours have passed, I will be happy to meet with you to offer further comments or answer questions. Please keep all graded material until the end of the semester.



By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC’s scholarly community in which everyone’s academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty. Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal. To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult UMBC policies, or the Faculty Handbook (Section 14.3).


Statement of Nondiscrimination

The University of Maryland Baltimore County is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. UMBC prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated.


Note: UMBC encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any kind of accommodation in this course or have questions about physical access, please tell the instructor as soon as possible.




 WARNING: I have high expectations for you. When this semester ends, you will not be given your grade—you will have earned it. This syllabus shows you how it is possible to earn a competitive grade in this course. Turning that possibility into a probability will entail a lot of reading, writing, listening, and speaking; above all, it will involve a lot of thinking. You will have to possess (or quickly develop) intellectual curiosity and a capacity to engage enthusiastically with complex material.

You will also have to work hard. However, as I hope you have already discovered, hard work can be satisfying, not only when it is rewarded but also when it is directed toward a worthwhile goal. If you make an active intellectual commitment to the class, if you are eager to learn, and if you persistently hone your abilities, you will do well. To attain your learning goals, you must recognize that your university education constitutes your full-time job. According to NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) guidelines, for every hour spent in class, you need to devote another two to three hours to academic work outside class. To do well, you will thus need to augment your almost six and a half hours a week of work in the classroom with an average of 10 to 12 hours a week of related work outside the classroom. Your ultimate goal, however, should not solely be to achieve a good grade for the course but to make significant progress in your own career of lifelong learning and writing.

Now, you know something about what I expect from you. What can you expect from me? I am here to help you learn to think critically. If you ask me something that I don’t know, I will work with you to discover the answer. I will show you why learning to think and write critically is important. By challenging you to reach high standards, I shall help you to educate yourself. The workload will be demanding, but I shall never give you busywork: everything I ask of you will be aimed at making you a more accomplished writer, a more discerning reader, a more effective speaker, a more perceptive listener, and a more astute thinker.

Assignment 1– Composing Memoirs with Sound, Individual Project


Students will use audio recording tools to record a “mini” album of sounds they encounter within their daily lives with accompanying commentary. The goal here is to explore what these sounds mean to you and why. After drafting a list of 3-4 settings that occur around you, record these sounds and then edit them into tracks that are one to three minutes long. Use narration to provide a story that contextualizes these sounds. These tracks should be presented in an order that communicates a theme or idea, such as “sounds that remind me of home.” This assignment is an experiment with sound, style, genre, and composition. The audio memoir should be creative and intended for a particular audience. Narration should not distract from the focus on the sounds themselves. Students will also provide a three to five-page summary of their reflections on the assignment including a script of any narration.

Assignment Objectives-

  1. Observe how sounds mediate all aspects of everyday life
  2. Use audio as a critical tool of composition while engaging questions of organization, style, audience, and representation
  3. Learn recording and editing skills

 Assignment 2- The Sound of Social Justice and Advocacy


Students will work in groups to identify an issue concerning social justice and create a project that uses the lens of sound studies to construct a project that could serve as material for a particular organization’s website. Advocacy can take many forms. It may take the shape of an argument in defense of some principle or idea or it may take on a more educational tone and seek to provide an alternative narrative to misinformation or stereotypes. The style, tone, and methodology of your project will be based on the topic and organization your group selects.

Each group will identify at least two existing professional projects as models. These models will serve the purpose of providing a standard of complexity, discovery, and academic rigor to which your work will be compared. Of course, your project will take place under considerable time and resource constraints. I do not expect you to duplicate such projects in their entirety. Therefore, you will have to work with your group to create a project that can be completed by the final due date. I highly recommend seeking opportunities to conduct interviews and use local archives. This assignment will culminate in a ten-minute presentation of the project.

Possible social justice issues you may choose from: (you may also suggest your own)

  • Education
  • Poverty
  • Food deserts and/or Food scarcity
  • Ineffective Government (public trust)
  • Civil Rights
  • Pollution
  • Immigration
  • Terrorism
  • Affordable Housing
  • Homelessness
  • Student Loan Debt
  • Police Brutality
  • Racism
  • Moral Decline
  • Climate Change
  • Green Energy
  • Unemployment
  • Bullying
  • Income inequality
  • Transgender issues and protections
  • Gender Equality
  • Drones
  • The War on Drugs
  • Corporate Influence
  • Health Care Reform
  • Animal Rights
  • Nuclear Weapons
  • Childhood Obesity
  • Defense Spending
  • Poaching
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • Vaccines
  • Gun Control
  • Overpopulation
  • Surveillance
  • The Deficit
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Embryonic stem Cell Research
  • Prison Industrial Complex
  • Capital Punishment
  • Fracking
  • Torture
  • Nuclear Power
  • Islamophobia

Short Essay Assignments

Our course readings will support the completion of three short essay assignments. These essays will be posted to Blackboard and should be between 1000 and 1500 words. These essays will be graded for clarity of thought, style of prose, and your ability to apply vocabulary and ideas from the readings to new material.

Short Essay # 1 Sound, Place, and Space

Use the course readings to identify a current event or phenomena that demonstrates or explains how sound functions to structure our experience of certain places and spaces. Once you describe this event or phenomena, use vocabulary from our course readings to theorize, define, or evaluate the role of sound.

Short Essay #2 Sound and Technology

Identify an object that captures the intersection between sound and technology that you find particularly relevant and provide a discussion that illuminates the larger historical and cultural implications of such technology. The object you select can be historical or currently in use. These objects could range from the invention of the radio to streaming music and beyond. Use vocabulary and assertions from our course readings to help construct your essay.

Short Essay #3 Music and Social Justice

Discuss the use of music as a tool to promote social justice. You may identify a particular event, song, or artist as the basis of your essay. Also, you must address questions of history, genre, politics, and audience response. Use the course readings to aid your analysis of the music and its social impact.

Tentative Course Schedule

Note: Syllabus is subject to change; however, I will always alert you to any changes.

Weekly Schedule

Week 1

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
August 29 Tu Course



Week 2

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
September 3 Tu Individual/Group Project introduction

What is Sound Studies? Also, why would it be in an English class?

The Auditory Culture Reader: Intro, Into Sound… Once More with Feeling

Digital Sound Studies

Sound Practices for Digital Humanities- Introduction

September 5 TR Sound and Race

Film- Sorry to Bother You

The Sonic Color Line: Introduction

The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapter 7 Making Sense of Race



Week 3

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
September 10 Tu Workshop  “Sonic Memoir Project”

Check Point 1

Project Proposal

Discussion of proposals
September 12


TR The Blues, American Culture, and the Changing Same

Documentary- Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song

The Sonic Color Line: Chapter 4

Music and Conflict-

Chapter 12 Musical Enactment of Attitudes towards conflict in the United States

The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapter 25 Between the Blues and the  the Blues Dance: Some Soundscapes of the Black Atlantic



Week 4

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
September 17 Tu Workshop Sonic Memoir Project

Check Point 2

Gather Sources and Complete Research

Complete Script


Advocacy Project

Check Point 1

 Select issue and organization and complete proposal


Peer Review of both Check Points
September 19 TR Sound and Gaming

Documentary- Beep: A Documentary History of Game sound

Sound Play

Introduction, Chapter 1



Week 5

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
September 24 Tu In-class Workshop

Individual Project

September 26 TR Sound, Place, and Space

Documentary- In Pursuit of Silence

The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapters 11 Discussion


Week 6

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
October 1 Tu Conferences Individual Project Peer Review: Short Essay #1: Sound, Place, and Space Peer Review of recorded materials for Sonic Narrative
October 3 TR Sound, Identity, and Conflict

Documentary- movies

Get Up, Stand Up: Pop and Protest

The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapter 20, 21

Music and Conflict-

Chapter 3 Music across the DMZ

Final Draft: Short Essay #1 Due on Blackboard Discussion


Week 7

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
October 8 Tu Workshop Advocacy Project Peer Review Session and Individual Conversations with Instructor

Work on Group project

October 10 TR Issue Brief/Organization Review Discussion


Week 8

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
October 15 Tu Workshop Advocacy Project First Draft of Individual  Project Work on Group project
October 17 TR Sound, War, and Peace

Documentary: Songs of War – Music as a Weapon

The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapter 23- ‘A few feet of film run backwards’: Tracing the Sonic Construction of Shellfire, 1914-30

Chapter 31- Music as Torture / Music as a Weapon

Sonic Warfare- Introduction and Chapt. 1, 2, 4-12

Check Point 2:

Issue Brief/Organization Review

Peer Review


Week 9

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
October 22 Tu Workshop Sonic Memoir Project

Check Point 3

Advocacy Project

Check Point 3

Make contact with the selected organization

October 24 TR Sound, Culture, and Technology Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Chapter 2 Her Voice a Bullet: Imaginary Propaganda and the Legendary Broadcasters of World War II

Chapter 3 “Savage Dissonance” Gender, Voice, and Women’s Radio Speech in Argentina, 1930-1945



Week 10

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
October 29 Tu Workshop Advocacy Project

Check Point 4

Gather Sources, Complete Research, Identify Interviewees and arrange interviews

Work on Group Project and Peer Review
October 31 TR Sound, Culture, and Technology Peer Review

Short Essay #2: Sound and Technology

Peer Review and Discussion

Week 11

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
November 5 Tu No Class/Group Meetings No Class
November 7 TR No Class Group Meetings The Auditory Culture Reader: Chapter 29

Sound in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Chapter 7 An audible Sense of Order: Race, Fear and CB Radio on Los Angeles Freeways in the 1970s

Discussion post due on Blackboard No Class

Discussion post due on Blackboard


Week 12

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
November 12 Tu Workshop Advocacy Projec

Check Point 5

Complete Script

Final Draft

Short Essay #2: Sound and Technology

Due on Blackboard

Peer Review and Work on Group Project
November 14 TR Music, Culture, and Social Justice


Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns – The History of Jazz Music in America

Civic Jazz

introduction: Chapter 1


Week 13

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
November 19 Tu Workshop Advocacy Project

Check Point 6

Complete Story Board

Peer Review and Work on Group Project
November 21 TR Hip Hop, Culture, and Social Justice

Nobody Knows My Name – Women and Hip Hop

Say My Name – Young Female Hip Hop and R&B Artists

Digital Sound Studies

Chapter 5 Becoming Outkasted: Archiving Contemporary Black Southernness in a Digital Age



Week 14

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
November 26 Tu Workshop Advocacy ProjectCheck Point 7

Complete Filming and/or Image Selection

Work on Group Project
November 28 TR No Class

Happy Thanksgiving!

No Class

Happy Thanksgiving!


Week 15

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
December 3 Tu Final Workshop:

Peer Review



Advocacy Project

Check Point 8

Complete Interviews and Editing

Peer Review and work on Group Project
December 5 TR Sonic Memoir Project

Check Point 4

Complete Editing

Peer Review Short Essay #3: Music and Social Justice

Final Draf due December 10th


Week 16

Date Day Topic of Discussion Reading Due Writing Due Class Activities
December 10 Tu Individual and group Presentations  Sonic Memoir Project, Final Draft Due  with written reflection and journal entries

Group Advocacy Project Due