DCS 1020: How to Read 1,000,000 Books (FYWS)

Professor Crystal Hall

Course Description

I invite you to reconsider definitions of basic words that you have used throughout your education so far: reading and books. In a world where there is always too much to read (thankfully there’s TLDNR), what we read has many formats, and it can always be updated or even deleted. This course encourages you to think about processes for taking in information, finding patterns, and expressing your arguments about those findings. My hope is that you develop habits of choosing which way of reading and writing suits your goals in the moment. Bring your love for your favorite books and I challenge you to see how you might find the same curiosity and enthusiasm for libraries, digital repositories, and other data sets. I am committed to a collaborative, active classroom in which we listen attentively and react respectfully to each others’ perspectives. You will have the opportunity to synthesize what you have heard, read, and computed through an end-of-semester writing project that answers the big question of the course: how do you read 1,000,000 books?

Since this looks like it will be a 1-1 collaboration, I’m happy to explore directions that are of interest to you. The library staff have asked me to explore some great questions about inclusion and representation in the Bowdoin collection. Some of my other text-analysis research projects are related to non-English literary analysis, changes in the history of science (particularly biology), gender and identity in social media, and the history of Florence. We can stick to “the script” for the course, or we can invent something.

Since this is a writing-intensive course, you will draft and revise your writing. Bowdoin’s Writing

Program offers peer Writing Assistants to help at any stage of the writing process. For two of the assignments, it will be required to make an appointment to meet with a writing assistant to review a draft of your work. Each First-Year Writing Seminar also has one Writing Assistant who can help connect you to these resources. Our liaison is TBD. You can work with any of the Writing Assistants, by making an appointment at the Baldwin Center for Learning & Teaching. Writing Assistants are available by appointment Sunday-Thursday (at least they were in the Fall, and I’m waiting to hear about scheduling for the Spring…)

Learning Goals (set by the College)

  1. Develop successful college-level writing processes (with ample feedback and opportunities to revise)
  2. Determine appropriate library resources and participate in scholarly conversations with academic integrity
  3. Gain familiarity with customs of a college-level community

Learning Objectives: what we will do to reach those goals (set by me)

  1. Collaborate on writing and reading, discuss, offer feedback to one another, share common experiences, situate our views within a community of perspectives
  2. Compare choices for identifying and using evidence, craft arguments, revise (but also edit), give and receive feedback, rewrite for different audiences, self-assess writing habits, and reflect on writing as a process
  3. Visit or work with collections at the Bowdoin Library, Museum of Art, and Center for Arctic Studies; compare Google to CBBCat; experiment with citation practices; meet with research librarians
  4. Meet in person to craft an ethic of interaction and sharing knowledge under physical distancing conditions
  5. Explore the digital humanities and text-based disciplines with digital and computational tools in order to ask and then answer a broad question

Learning Outcomes: what you will point to at the end of the semester

This is what I propose, but you should feel free to suggest things that fit where you are as a writer and student:

  1. A writing process developed from what you have learned from reflection on your experiences and those of others (15%)  I’ll work on my own writing so that we can compare...
  2. A toolkit for successful discussion participation (10%) This might involve talking about what you are seeing/experiencing in other courses.
  3. 4 formal writing assignments that incorporate library resources and demonstrate the best practices of maintaining academic integrity with drafting, revision, peer feedback, and faculty feedback (60% - these have to stay, but the point value can be negotiated)
  4. A final project (open format, possibly collaborative) that uses course materials and new research to make a claim about the process of responsibly connecting one (story, book, biography, _____) to one million (15%)

Key Dates (subject to modification)

Schedule will be updated as we settle on how we want to approach this low-enrollment format for the course.

A Note on Course Materials

Please talk to me if you are having trouble accessing any of the course materials or acquiring the required books.

Accessibility and Inclusion

Digital & Computational Studies is committed to creating a welcoming and representative learning environment that recognizes and values the diversity of our students and the voices in the materials we study. Our position is that technology is improved through attention to fairness that respects personal and cultural differences that include, but are not limited to race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, physical- and neuro-diversity, age and birthplace, religious and socioeconomic background. Feedback is invited on ways that we can improve in our mission.

No student is required to take an examination or fulfill other scheduled course requirements on recognized religious holidays. Please be in touch with me as soon as possible to make arrangements to complete coursework that conflicts with those dates.


All students are encouraged to meet with me to discuss your learning preferences and challenges that you may face this semester. Please see me during the first 2 weeks of class to discuss documented accommodations that will support your learning in this course. If you are interested in learning more about accommodations, please see Lesley Levy in the Office of Student Accessibility, https://www.bowdoin.edu/accessibility/.

As a student, you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduced ability to participate in daily activities. Bowdoin College is committed to advancing the mental health and well-being of its students. If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or in need of support, services are available. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus at: https://www.bowdoin.edu/counseling/.


I typically do not respond to email after 8pm (at home we start the day at 4:30am). I use Calendly to post my availability for meetings. When you select a time, Calendly automatically creates a Zoom meeting. Keep an eye on your spam or junk folder for the details. Please let me know if you would like to meet outside the times listed in my scheduling app: https://calendly.com/prof-chall/meeting 

One of the opportunities of FYWS is to practice faculty-student networking. This often helps with letters of recommendation prior to declaring a major. One way to achieve this is to schedule an office hour appointment or a virtual coffee or lunch. Office hours are also a great way to get early feedback on your writing and to ask questions about the College more generally.

What are office hours? Here is some advice from a Bowdoin student:

“Office hours are a time that the professors designate for students to drop by their office and TALK! What kinds of conversation can occur during office hours? That is completely up to students. You can simply drop by and introduce yourself, tell your professor about how much you liked that week’s reading, ASK FOR HELP when you are confused, draft/develop a thesis for your upcoming paper, tell them about a new article that you read that reminded you of their class, tell them about how much you miss your family and friends or how happy or stressed you are that day. Just about anything! Bowdoin professors are always happy to talk to students about anything.”        

A related note about Title IX: I look forward to having you talk with me during office hours

about things that are on your mind. However as a faculty member I am considered a

Responsible Employee, per the Student Sexual Misconduct and Gender Based Violence Policy.

While my goal is also for you to be able to share information related to your life experiences

through discussion and written work, I want to be make sure you understand that as a

Responsible Employee I am required to report disclosures of sexual misconduct, dating

violence, stalking, and/or sexual and gender-based harassment to the College’s Title IX

Coordinator, Benje Douglas. My reporting to Benje does NOT mean that any actions will be

taken beyond him reaching out to you and trying to schedule a time to talk to see what

assistance you might need to be successful as a student here at Bowdoin. For more

information: www.bowdoin.edu/title-ix 

Grading Policies

As a FYWS, DCS 1020 is not eligible for the Credit/D/F grading option.

This semester might go smoothly for us or it might be full of surprises. Clear communication can help us to lower the stress associated with deadlines. If things feel out of control, be in touch to discuss late submission. I can work with you on timing of the individual responsibilities. Importantly: I can’t help if I don’t know what is going on.