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Extended Deadline! CFP: The Unessay Companion

Updated: Apr 11



Barbara Bordalejo, Ryan Cordell, and Daniel P. O’Donnell, Editors

Extended Deadline for 500-Word Abstracts: May 1, 2022


Note: A labour disruption at the University of Lethbridge affected our ability to communicate with potential authors through February and March. We are extending the deadline by a month as a result. We have a number of excellent abstracts in hand. We are particularly interested in contributions from outside of the Humanities, The Global North, the Anglosphere, and/or the Post-Secondary Sector.


If you are using the Unessay in Science or Engineering, Clinical practice, primary or secondary schools, or outside of the English-Speaking “North,” we are particularly interested in hearing from you.


The “Unessay” is a popular assignment format designed to empower student enthusiasm and learning. First proposed a decade ago within the Digital Humanities, the unessay has garnered a wide and enthusiastic following among university instructors across the disciplines, from the Humanities and Social Sciences, to math and the natural sciences, to professional schools.


In his initial blog post proposing the exercise, O’Donnell argued that the Unessay improved on the “college paper” by “by throwing out all the rules… about essay writing in the course of … primary, secondary, and post secondary education… to focus instead solely on [the students] intellectual interests and passions” (O’Donnell 2012).


Because it breaks with traditional essay writing, originally developed by institutions in the West to educate relatively homogenous groups of students with similar backgrounds, the “Unessay” lends itself to serve as a tool that allows alternative epistemological systems to assert themselves. In this sense, it can also serve to dismantle hierarchical models of education by becoming a tool to “unsettle” both the classroom and the university. Unsurprising, conversations around the unessay have often dovetailed with discussions of non-traditional evaluation, such as contract-based, specifications-based, or ungrading.


In honour of the unessay’s tenth anniversary, we are putting together a collection of contributions papers on the Unessay in theory and practice. We are particularly interested in ensuring a broad range of perspectives, both across disciplines and from authors with a wide range of lived experiences. Some suggested topics include:


  • Practical experiences with the unessay or similar pedagogical tools

  • Problems with traditional essay writing and similar approaches

  • Unsettling the classroom through alternative evaluation practices

  • The unessay as a force to restore cognitive justice

  • The relationship of the unessay to other “non-traditional” writing assignments, historical or contemporary

  • Challenges—practical, theoretical, or administrative—to creating meaningful unessay assignments


We also welcome practical discussions of the use of the Unessay in classroom contexts and its adaptation to different regional contexts, types of institutions, or levels of instruction (Post Secondary, K-12, two-year and four-year colleges, etc.). In the spirit of the unessay, alternative formats (including unessays) are most welcome for consideration.


If you have a related approach and would like to be considered for this collection, please contact the editors directly.





Tentative Deadlines

● Abstracts (500 words) due: April 1, 2022

● Decisions on accepted proposals: May 1, 2022

● Proposal to press: June 1, 2022

● Essay Submission Deadline: October 1, 2022

● Peer-to-Peer Review: October 2022

● Revisions Due: January 1, 2023


Please contact the editors with any questions:

Barbara Bordalejo, University of Lethbridge, barbara.bordalejo@uleth.ca

Daniel P. O’Donnell, University of Lethbridge, daniel.odonnell@uleth.ca

Ryan Cordell, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, rcordell@illinois.edu




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