UW20 Courses - Fall 2003

| Last Updated: 6/28/05 |

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About UW20

Because all UW20 sections are theme-based, with their own individualized readings and writing assignments, it's important that you peruse the course descriptions below to find a theme that is of interest to you.

REQUIREMENTS: The following requirements and workload expectations are consistent across all sections of UW20. Students will complete a total of 25-30 pages of finished writing, developed through a process that may include pre-draft preparation, drafts, and revisions based on instructor's advice and classmates' comments. Each student will complete at least three writing assignments of increasing complexity. Papers will be based on assigned texts and often on additional reading; although instructors will develop assignments that reflect a variety of academic writing projects, one paper will require significant research.

Themes and Professors

Themes and Professors

(click on title for full course description)

Performing Identity, Writing Identity, Performing Writing
Fear Factor: The Culture of Fear in America
Writing, Rhetorics, and Postcoloniality
Sit in! Strike! Take it to the Street!: The Rhetoric of Social Protest
Writing and Research in Washington, DC
War and Memory in the Twentieth Century
Visual Culture and the Usable Past
The Secret Life of Objects
Mayhem and Magic: Writing about New Media
Love, American Style
He-Men, Girly Girls, Tomboys and Sissies: Writing the Gendered Body
You've Got Mail, The Social Side of Information Technology
Beautiful Strangers: Strange Folks and Cultural Oddities


Performing Identity, Writing Identity, Performing Writing
Professor Ryan Claycomb

76821 UW20.20
76831 UW20.29

So much of what we write depends on who we are, how we identify ourselves, and where we situate ourselves in the world around us. Part of this has to do with the identity categories we claim (woman, Chicana, heterosexual, American, hockey player), and part of it has to do with the unique selves we create every day within those categories. Identity is something that we perform in our writing as well as in our daily lives. In this class, we will examine how we define identity categories, how they help define us, and how, through writing, we can use them to carve out spaces for ourselves as citizens. Perhaps we can even use writing to change the lives of others with whom we share these categorical distinctions-if only "human." Moreover, we will look at the idea of performance-theatrical performance, writing as performance, and identity performance-as an anchoring principle. While we will specifically consider issues of race, nationality, and gender through texts like Richard Rodriguez's Brown and Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror, each student will also explore categories that fall outside the hot-button realm of "identity politics" on an individual basis. And finally, we will explore writing as performance, through assignments on defining identity categories, analyzing the rhetoric of performed identities, proposing individual research topics stemming from our in-class discussions, and finally working up to a longer argument on those proposed topics. In addition, students will choose from a sampling of longer assignments that may include creating a written document for performance, constructing an online identity through a blog, and other possibilities.


Fear Factor: The Culture of Fear in America
Professor Jessica O’Hara

76808 UW20.11
76830 UW20.27

In his Great Depression-era inaugural address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt assured Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Now, more than seventy years later, many argue that Americans are still gripped by “fear itself.” Indeed, some observers claim that the culture of fear is as much a part of American life as Disney World and apple pie. Could it be true that the world’s most powerful nation is actually a federation of ‘fraidy cats? We will investigate this purported culture of fear by examining the ways in which fear may be propagated in the media as well as studying social, artistic, and political responses to fear. As we consider the dynamics of fear, students will be introduced to academic writing in a cross-section of disciplines, including literature, film, sociology, media studies, and political science. We will be writing film and literature analyses, studies of news stories that promulgate fear (such as “The Summer of the Shark” and “The Summer of Child Abductions”), policy position papers on U.S. law, and reports of our own research on fear among college students. An electronic discussion forum also will be an important writing component of the class. The course reading list includes White Noise by Don DeLillo (novel), Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore (film documentary), The Culture of Fear by Barry Glassner (sociological and media study), the U.S.A. Patriot Act (U.S. law), and some shorter works.


Writing, Rhetorics, and Postcoloniality
Professor Rachel Riedner

76809 UW20.12
76828 UW20.M2

We've been taught that to really persuade each other, we should write clear, concise, logical, and objective essays--concepts that have been passed down to us from Aristotle, and modified by the Enlightenment shift towards "scientific" knowledge. In this course, we'll examine how the usual, school-taught conceptions of writing and rhetoric embody assumptions about who can speak, what counts as "knowledge," what counts as "speech.” And we’ll examine the rhetorics used by postcolonial authors to help us re-evaluate and expand our notion of rhetoric and “good” writing.

In the first third of the semester, we’ll talk about and reflect upon standards of good writing that you’ve learned in school. We complicate our discussions of good writing through the work of rhetoric and composition theorists (Freire, Hirsch, Pratt, and Brodkey) who are interested in thinking through paradigms of good writing.
In the second third of the semester, we’ll examine postcolonial writers (Kincaid, Anzaldua, and Ngugi) who use writing as a site of struggle and resistance and who use their writing to work against multiple forms of oppression. What historical and cultural position is their point of entry into a discussion of writing and rhetoric? How can our reading, discussion, and writing of these authors complicate how we think about good writing and rhetoric? How can they expand our notions of who can speak, who can write, and what counts as knowledge?

In the final third of the semester, you’ll develop a research paper in which you expand upon these ideas, drawing upon your own interests and knowledge, and working with Raymond Williams’ ideas about rhetoric, social ideas, and history. You will write a paper that investigates the relationships and conditions that construct an historical moment.


Sit in! Strike! Take it to the Street!: The Rhetoric of Social Protest
Professor Phyllis Ryder

76829 UW20.26

In this writing course, we will consider what it takes to persuade people to change their deeply-held beliefs. What did it take, for example, for the Civil Rights Movement to shift American attitudes about race? We will examine the rhetorics of grassroots organizing and look at the speeches of Martin Luther King, and we’ll consider how these rhetorical strategies work together to create change. How do the larger social, cultural and political contexts shut down or open up new avenues of persuasion? How did the presence of Malcolm X and the Black Power movement affect King’s message? Together, we’ll read theories and case studies about effective rhetorics of social movements. Then, you’ll choose a particular current or historical social movement to study, and you’ll research the historical and cultural context of the group in order to analyze and evaluate the strategies they use(d) to create change. To develop your final, complex analytical research paper, you will write research proposals, annotated bibliographies, and multiple drafts; these will be read by me and your peers so that you can receive helpful feedback and many stages of your process. Some social movements you might explore include (but certainly are not limited to): the anti-sweatshop movements on university campuses; any of the many groups that sometimes converge near GWU to protest the IMF and World Bank; local groups in DC that are working to prevent gentrification of their neighborhoods; or organizations that work on behalf of the homeless; international feminist groups that work to end practices such as female circumcision.


Writing and Research in Washington, DC
Professor Carol Hayes

76824 UW20.23
76827 UW20.M1

This course is focused on the theme of Washington, DC, and is designed to help you develop a number of skills in university-level analytical writing and research. Because DC’s history has been shaped by issues of race and class, many of the readings and class discussions will focus on controversial topics involving race and class: we’ll discuss the 1968 race riots, urban renewal (i.e., the way that such urban “renewal” came to be described as “Negro removal” by the black community in DC), the film Slam (a film that won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival award and which focuses on both slam poetry and the DC Jail), DC’s own go-go music, and DC’s status as a colony (i.e., it’s lack of voting rights). You’ll center your writing and research on DC in a variety of ways over the course of the semester: you’ll respond analytically to texts about DC; develop your own lines of research that are based on your personal or professional interests (researching and writing about topics such as medical facilities in DC, local schools, services for the homeless, the Redskins, etc); you’ll interview at least one local person as a resource; and you’ll take and then analyze a photograph of some part of the city that relates to your research. The goal of this course is not only to introduce you to university-level writing and research, but also to encourage you to see writing as itself a form of exploration and learning: as you research and write about DC, you’ll also be discovering the city that will be your home for the next four years.


War and Memory in the Twentieth Century
Professor Cayo Gamber

76817 UW20.16>
76825 UW20.24

In this course we will examine how a variety of texts – from the works of the trench-warfare poets of WWI to the Vietnam Memorial and from Picasso’s “Guernica” to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – encourage inquiry into the ways in which we remember and we memorialize warfare. These narratives of war and remembrance inform our national, institutional, social, cultural, political, popular, and personal understandings of the wages of war in modern times.

Through close readings of key texts, class discussions, peer review, and individual research projects, we will interrogate how the commemorative culture of warfare is fraught with tensions about how the past is remembered. Our texts – which will include written and spoken accounts of combatants and civilians, documentaries and Hollywood films, photographs, monuments and memorials, museums, rituals, and public celebrations – probe the ways that differently remembered pasts both create conflict and illuminate the potential for reconciliation. We will discuss how reconciling differently remembered pasts encourages us to envision a new paradigm – a new paradigm that calls for us to enlarge our witnessing imaginations and allows us to create a more multi-vocal, internationalized understanding of war, of history, and of memory.

Students will choose a topic – related to the theme of the course – and will dedicate themselves to locating pertinent research; evaluating the merit of their research; fully attending to the arguments made by the scholars; thoughtfully and accurately incorporating those scholars’ ideas into their own writing; and using their research findings in order to shape their own engaged and engaging arguments. Each of these tasks is incorporated into the series of assignments the students will perform, in stages, over the course of the semester. In addition, one-on-one conferences, peer review, drafting, and revision will aid students to develop coherent and compelling arguments.


Visual Culture and the Usable Past
Professor Ryan Jerving

76819 UW20.18 TR
76820 UW20.19 TR

William Faulkner once wrote: “The past isn’t ever dead. It’s not even past.” In this course we will consider the part the past plays in the present as we work to develop and sharpen our powers of critical observation, close analysis, narration, argumentation, and problem construction—all necessary writing skills for academic and professional pursuits, and all crucial elements in the informed study of culture. More particularly, we will focus on (and ourselves engage in) some of the visual means—painting, film, photography, comics, museum exhibition—by which the horrors and heritage of history have been critically observed, analyzed, narrated, argued about, constructed as a problem, and otherwise reworked. We will proceed through a series of case studies—including Art Spiegelman’s comic book rewriting of the Holocaust, the 1950s Hollywood Western, the New Deal’s Index of American Design, the implications of the recent looting of Iraq’s National Museum—that will ground us in ways of reading visually and that taken as a whole will enable you to develop your sense of not only what we owe the past but also what, if anything, the past owes us.

We will ourselves adopt this revisionary model for our own writing and critical thinking processes, as the emphasis will be on continuous self- and peer-evaluation, multiple-stage and multiple-draft projects, and assignments that build on one another. The course will move from shorter projects designed around particular skills and texts to culminate in a longer, combined visual portfolio and research paper for which you will frame and research a significant historical question and then produce a visual/textual document that works to come to grips with the place of the past in the visible present.


The Secret Life of Objects
Professor Gustavo Guerra

76810 UW20.13

The idea behind this writing course is that most of us live simultaneously in an internal and an external world. How is this possible? Let me offer this class as an example. After you read this brief course description, you will choose to either sign up for this class or not. I suspect that decision will be largely based on what you imagine the class will be like. Even though you have some information here about its general topic, your decision will likely be based on other factors too—previous writing classes, your general interest in the theme of the course, how difficult you imagine the readings will be like, etc. etc. The class, in this sense, is both something objective insofar as it exists in the real world (there is a time, day, meeting room associated with it) and also something subjective insofar as it exists in your mind independently of its real-world existence. I would go as far as to say that we cannot help but create these mental things—in this class we’ll call these ‘things” objects—The class example can be extended to most of the relationships we form in our lives: to our friends, to our partners, to our jobs, and to our writing. How does something apparently as objective as writing become an object we have all sorts of complicated feelings about? How do we negotiate this internal and external life of objects? Can we live comfortably in both places, or does one need to dominate the other? We will explore some of this question through a variety or readings. The class will be organized as a workshop, where we will discuss individual instances of such interactions with objects—we will find examples of such interactions in a variety or sources: in material we read, in ways we relate to people we know, in how we behave vis a vis objects in general. As a result of such discussions we will then write argumentative essays advancing specific views of such object relations.


Mayhem and Magic: Writing about New Media
Professor Mark Mullen

76826 UW20.25

The stereotypical view: Computer games are a marginal past-time enjoyed mostly by adolescent males; they are a fad, a diversion, with little cultural or aesthetic significance.

The facts: In the year 2000 sales of computer and video games and related merchandise surpassed the revenue from the Hollywood movie industry; a study in the same year found that 61% of all game players were over 18 (in fact 42% of computer game players and 21% of console game players were 36 or older); women are now the fastest growing segment of the game market, and while they tend to be concentrated in particular genres (role-playing games, for example) they are now making their presence felt even in such testosterone-laden genres as military simulations and shooters. What is the significance of such a widespread cultural phenomenon? That’s what we’ll begin to determine in this course.

The main reason I’ve chosen to base a writing course around new media is that it will challenge you to develop your writing skills in new directions. For example, you will find that new media require very different analytical approaches to those to which you may be accustomed. You’ll be developing truly investigative research projects with little pre-existing research to guide you. Your writing will need to develop a sophisticated balance of descriptive and analytical modes, and a mastery of both aesthetic and technical vocabularies.

Do you need to have a lot of experience playing computer or video games to take this course? Absolutely not; indeed, in some ways your research projects may be stronger if you don’t have a lot of preconceptions about games. Given the diversity of computer and video games, I’m confident we can develop a research project that will match your interests, whatever your background.


Love, American Style
Professor Heather Schell

76812 UW20.14
76832 UW20.28

Love stories are an inevitable part of our daily lives. We encounter them in literature, movies, television, advertising, music, personal ads, scientific theories, politics, crime, fairy tales, court cases, advice columns, and fashion. We are surrounded by products that promise to enhance our love lives or console us for love lost. Some people read love stories weekly or even daily; others might be concerned only about their own personal love relationships; still others perhaps experience love stories only in terms of aggravation at their friends’ dramatic emotional entanglements. Whether we love them or hate love stories, we cannot escape them. Why is our society so addicted to love? Is it a cultural expression of our genetic compulsion to perpetuate the species? Supposing we have doubts about a simplistic biological explanation (and we should have doubts about it), could we claim that love stories are a purely cultural event? Are love stories as American as apple pie? And why do women seem more interested in love stories than men, anyway? Do only heterosexuals love these stories? Have people always loved love stories?

This semester, we will use love stories for our course theme as we work at developing your ability to write at a college level. We will read poetry, science articles, novels, critical essays, and personal ads. You will learn techniques for analyzing material culture, such as song lyrics and wedding ceremonies. Writing assignments will focus on argument, organization, and research skills; student-led presentations will review grammar trouble spots.


He-Men, Girly Girls, Tomboys and Sissies: Writing the Gendered Body
Professor Abby Wilkerson

76807 UW20.10

How do the social categories of masculinity and femininity shape our perceptions and expectations of our own and others' bodies? How do norms related to the body influence perceptions of ourselves and others as persons? What are the political consequences of these norms, and what is their relationship to social change? How are gendered social norms filtered through our bodies and what are the consequences for our day to day lives? How do these norms manifest themselves in various contexts such as appearance
standards, body image, strength, and size; men, women, and sports; and the intersections of gendered bodily norms with other social categories, such as race and sexual identity? Students will explore these and other questions through studying and producing texts linked to a variety of discourses: ethnographic papers based on interviews conducted by students, combined with traditional secondary research; argumentative papers analyzing course texts; and papers which integrate personal writing with social analysis.


You've Got Mail, The Social Side of Information Technology
Professor Robbin Zeff

76818 UW20.17

The digital world is intimately a part of our social framework. We use the Internet to find an apartment, find a car, or find a date. We send pictures through our cell phones and IM to three people at once. And yet, many of these technologies weren't around just a few years ago. We are living through history as these once radically new innovations become necessary means to make Friday night plans or connect with family and friends.

This personal use of sophisticated information technology raises many provocative questions. What are the social and cultural implications of pervasive communication mediums in a wireless world? How does cutting edge technology break through barriers of adoption and become part of one's social life? How is the more orally focused way people write online affecting how we write off-line? How does one write about the uses of technology from the inside when those very uses are dynamically changing? We will examine these questions and more as we explore the theme of the social implications and uses of information technology in this writing intensive course.

Course reading will likely include The Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger, Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold, and a selection of articles and web sites. We will use these thought-provoking texts as models for our own writing of narrative, argumentative, and critical analysis essays. Students will also write a longer research paper on the social contexts of a wireless networked world.

Beautiful Strangers: Strange Folks and Cultural Oddities
Professor Christy Zink

76815 UW20.15
76822 UW20.21

“If the truth were known, we’re all freaks together,” Jane Barnell once said, and she ought to know; Barnell was The Bearded Lady in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ sideshow. In this course, we’ll take a hard look at the strange, the eccentric, and the supposedly normal to explore how we're alternately fascinated and disturbed by what is out of the ordinary. From sideshows to museums filled with curiosities to Jerry Springer's television show, we love to gawk at strangeness and oddity. The eccentrics among us draw us in, while we also gauge ourselves—and through that reckoning, what is normal and abnormal—against them. How do we draw lines between what we consider rebellious (the teenager with a tattoo) and what we consider freakish (The Tattooed Lady)? Who has the power to draw those lines between the ordinary and the truly, essentially strange, and how do these categories change as what was once thought beyond the boundaries of normal becomes perfectly acceptable and sometimes, even, culturally desirable?

This interdisciplinary, writing-intensive course raises essential questions about identity, privacy, social and cultural prejudices, and asks course members to challenge their ideas of the “strange” and “other” through critical readings, film viewings, class discussion, written essays, and research work. Course texts will likely include In the Little World: A True Story of Dwarfs, Love, and Trouble by John Richardson; Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder by Lawrence Weschler; Joe Gould's Secret by Joseph Mitchell; and a course reader of nonfiction and fiction works. Students will learn how to move the idiosyncratic, personal idea into inventive, convincing writing that speaks to a wider audience outside the self. Through narrative, critical analysis, argument, and research, writers in this course will explore what is alternately strange, beautiful, and extraordinary in this odd, wide world we come to know as our own.