Amateurs vs. Professionals

English 114, Fall 2013
Yale University

The amateur/professional divide impacts almost every facet of cultural life: from literature (fan fiction), and performance (YouTube) to photography (Instagram), sports (NCAA), and journalism (Blogs and Twitter). And these parentheticals offer only a few of many examples illustrating the fact that amateurs do the same things professionals do and wreak havoc/innovate in the process. In this course we will investigate amateur and professional practices across time periods, exploring major controversies to gain a better understanding of the cultural products that we create and consume (art, scientific knowledge, news, etc.). 

As we progress through the semester, you will each select a particular practice to research in greater depth. You may decide to study a practice that interests you primarily from the amateur angle, either because it is a hobby of yours or a product you enjoy (amateur sailing, for example, versus a career at sea; failblog videos versus slapstick comedy). Conversely, you might decide to explore the amateur version of your chosen discipline. If you’re planning to major in the sciences, for example, you might want to learn more about scientific innovations made by amateurs. Technology will be a key component of the course, which will culminate in a collaborative digital project: an archive of amateurism and professionalism built from student research.