UW20 Courses - Fall 2008

Last Updated: 8/19/08 | 9:00 am

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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, spread out over at least three writing assignments of increasing complexity. All students will engage in pre-draft preparation, drafts, and revisions based on instructor's advice and classmates' comments. 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.


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DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF COURSE THEME

Bryant, Kevin - Malcolm X

TBA

Busse, Ashley - Shakespeare and Love

This course will examine the myriad types of love explored in the poetic and dramatic works of William Shakespeare—such as romantic love, familial love, friendship, love of country or home, spiritual or religious love, and courtly love—and the conflicts people experience as they try to balance all these ties and bonds in their daily lives. We will read several of Shakespeare's sonnets and three of his dramatic works, and use them to identify the ways love is represented, imagined, described, and put to use in Renaissance England as well as the ways these notions continue to inform our conceptions of love in the twenty-first century. Along the way, we will necessarily grapple with the problems inherent in trying to represent, access, and understand such abstract concepts as love and desire, as well as the lived experiences of people from time periods different from our own. In other words, how do we know what we mean when we speak of something so imprecise, so relative, so personal as love? Can we truly know or understand another person's experience of love, whether that person is a contemporary of ours or someone who lived 400 years ago? If so, how? What role do language and rhetoric play? And can we even use literature or other forms of writing to represent "real" life? Through three short response papers, two analytical-critical papers and a larger research project, student-writers will "learn to write and write to learn," as we explore the ways that language and rhetoric are used to grapple with grand human concerns like love and desire.

Drown, Eric - Conspiracy : Theory

University Writing 20 aims to enhance first-year students’ abilities to read, think, and write critically and analytically; to explore emerging and traditional information resources; their grasp of rhetorical principle; their ability to frame sound questions or hypotheses; their abilities to edit and proofread carefully, as well as to equip them with university-level research and project-management tools.  This course seeks to meet these learning goals by studying conspiracy theories and the people who create them.  On first glance conspiracy theory hardly seems worth studying.  What, after all, can be learned from reading the writings of paranoid crackpots given to delusional accounts of the world?  But, as you will discover, conspiracy theory is a form of thinking to which most Americans subscribe at one time or another to explain some aspects of their lives.  Moreover, it is a form of writing with some significant parallels to university writing.  Both academics and conspiracy theorists conduct extensive research, use elaborated arguments to convince others to see things their way, and circulate their work in highly critical public arenas.  By developing sophisticated analytical methods and conducting first-hand research in conspiracy communities, you’ll learn to see conspiracy theorists as astute, if eccentric, observers of society.  More importantly, you’ll learn how to use academic research and writing to formulate and answer questions that are more than merely academic.  Writing assignments include an analysis of the “Dark Alliance” investigative journalism controversy, a research report, a research essay, peer reviews, and presentations.

Fox, Charity - History of Cool: Teenage Terror in the 1950s

In this section of UW20, we will examine the “teenage problem” in 1950s American culture as a way to expand critical thinking skills and hone creative approaches to different types of academic writing assignments commonly assigned at the university level.  Students will produce response papers to assigned readings (1-2 pages each), short analytical papers based on class assignments (4-5 pages each), and an independent research paper (10-12 pages) on a topic of their choosing.  Students will give several in-class presentations on their independent research, and will participate in frequent writing workshops, peer reviews, informal writing, and other activities that will serve as a model for approaching future academic assignments. 

The post-World War II “baby boom” created a constituency that was perceived as both powerful and dangerous in the 1950s.  Teenagers were targeted by advertisers and marketers selling “cool” to young audiences with expendable income, making them a large and powerful group of consumers important to the post-war economy.  The cultural and political uncertainty of the early Cold War increased the scrutiny of teenagers from parents, educators, television, and Hollywood.  Fears of juvenile delinquency abound at this time, with images of disrespectful boys and girls, some neglected by their parents and forced to become members of gangs to make up for their lack of “proper” families, others choosing to violent and rebel against society.  Many of the stereotypes about angry, lonely teenagers still around in 21st century culture have their roots in these depictions of teenagers.  Using films from the 1950s and recent scholarship on American culture, we will discuss how issues of gender, race, class, marketing, and the importance of being “cool” factored into the “social problem” of teenage delinquents in the Cold War.

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Fox at cyfox@gwu.edu

Friedman, Sandie - Write Lola Write: Critiquing the Postmodern Film

With twenty minutes to raise $100,000 to pay off a drug dealer who’s going to kill her boyfriend, the heroine of Run Lola Run does what any postmodern punked-out redhead would do: she re-writes the film she’s in; she re-writes her fate.  Postmodern films like Run Lola Run confront viewers with unconventional modes of storytelling; they demand interpretation, and so offer an ideal field for honing the skills of academic writing.   In this course, we consider questions raised by the experimental forms of postmodern film:  do these disordered narratives reflect upheavals in culture?  Do they mirror a chaotic postmodern consciousness?  Why have such challenging, self-referential forms moved into the mainstream of American film?  As part of our inquiry, students write three types of critical essay that prepare them for future academic work: a theoretical analysis, an analytical research essay, and a film review.  For the research essay, students select a film to interpret in the context of its genre, the director’s work, or its historical moment.  Suggested films include:  Adaptation, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, and Pulp Fiction.  Lola runs, we write—and re-write. 

Fruscione, Joe - Books on Film

TBA

Gamber, Cayo - Legacies of the Holocaust

One of the primary legacies of the Holocaust has been the call to remember. In this course, we will discuss the various ways in which the Holocaust is remembered.  We will bear witness to first-hand testimonies of memoirists (for example, in oral histories collected at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) and the video testimony of survivours (in Yale's Fortunoff Video Archive). In addition, we will question the ways in which the Holocaust has been "interpreted" in documentary film (for example, in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah), and in art (such as, Alan Jacobs' "Then and Now"). Finally, we will interrogate the "Americanization" of the Holocaust (for example, in Art Spiegelman's Maus I and II and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum).

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

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Gamber at cayo1@gwu.edu

Guerra, Gustavo - The Latin American Sensibility

In this writing intensive course we will explore and write about issues and themes surrounding identity and sensibility within Latin American and Latino/ Latina studies. Students will be asked to write a number of short position papers, an annotated bibliography, a research proposal, and to integrate all this writing in a final research paper. The course explores the significance and multiplicity of meanings of identity as a tool of analysis in literature, history, and politics. Some of the questions we will pursue are: How does identity and sexuality interact in Latino and Latina contemporary writing? How do issues of class, or national origin circumscribe the possible meanings attached to sensibility and identity? We will read essays from collections of contemporary essays , view a couple of films and read whatever else helps us understand and write about these issues better.

Hamilton, Sharon - Images of Italy

TBA

Harewood, Gia - Man Up! Comparative Masculinities in the US

I could settle for being a man, or I could struggle to become a human being.
- Robert Jensen

Why does Jensen associate being a man with something other than being human? Do the expectations of being a “real” man somehow jeopardize one’s humanity? Are the expectations different across race, class, geography, age or even time? And what are the underlying assumptions invoked when someone demands that an individual “man up”? Gary Barker points out that this is not always a healthy directive: “In much of the world, young men die earlier than young women and die more often than older men largely because they are trying to live up to certain models of manhood – they are dying to prove that they are ‘real men’.” When maleness is attached to dominance, control, aggression and violence, it is often seen as a natural way for boys and men to be in many Western countries. When boys and men step outside of this narrow box of manhood, they are given swift correction: “Man Up!” 

We will dig into the expectations behind that command and deconstruct the layers of meaning wrapped up in maleness by examining various representations of masculinity circulating in the US that both support and challenge the definitions. In effort to search for deeper cultural definitions of manhood, we will use our own lives as a way to jump into these constructions as seen in a range of multidisciplinary texts including film, literature, visual art and music. Your responses to these texts will become the basis for developing analytical skills through close readings, critical thinking, vigorous writing and multiple revisions. Assignments will include regular in-class journaling, short response essays and a final 12 - 15 page research paper with annotated bibliography on a topic that you choose early in the semester.

Hayes, Carol - Writing and Exploring “Local” DC

This writing and research course will explore “local DC”--the city behind and beyond Federal Hill. Because local DC’s history has been shaped by issues of race and class, many of the readings will focus on these controversial topics, from the 1968 race riots, to recent urban renewal, to DC’s own go-go music. 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 will explore DC-based places, groups, people, or events; and you’ll conduct at least one journalistic interview while researching your final project. Three major essays will be assigned. As you work on those projects, you’ll learn how to move beyond high school modes of writing such as the five-paragraph essay and standard research report, so that by the end of the semester you’ll no longer simply be repeating what scholars and journalists have to say about DC, but participating in those conversations. Finally, 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.

Jerving, Ryan - University Writing 2.0

Things ain't what they used to be. In fact, things that simply weren't five years ago -- Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook -- are now an inescapable part of the landscape. These may seem like trivial, flavor-of-the-week phenomena, but they represent a profound challenge to traditional notions of authorship and authority. Wired editor Kevin Kelly describes this as a shift in how we view creativity: from the pre-millennial emphasis on professionals generating "text" to a post-millennial emphasis on users generating "context" through the links, tags, and lists by which they connect a culture's bits and pieces. We will consider the impact of this shift on us as 21st-century consumers, producers, and citizens. Have we entered a veritable golden age of democratized knowledge, or a Colbertian dystopia of "wikiality," "truthiness," and a let-their-be-links cult of the amateur? (HINT: neither.)

Most of all, we'll consider the impact on us as researchers and writers. Count on getting your hands dirty in the same muck we'll be raking. You'll blog. You'll post. You'll tag. Indeed, much of our daily work -- writing, peer reviewing, editing, revising, collaborating -- will take place on a wiki. (Start right now: click the "ain't" above, and you can rewrite this course description.) You'll create your own online project that should outlast this class and -- if it works -- should escape your ability to control it. And you'll write an article for submission to an actual peer-reviewed journal (even as we rethink peer review in the age of peer-to-peer).

Johnson, David - How to do Things with Words: Tracing Rhetoric, Hegemony, and Culture in America

In 1926, Antonio Gramsci began writing Notes from Prison, a formative and challenging collection of philosophical ideas about culture, power, and intellectualism. These writings, influenced by Marx, provided the theoretical groundwork for more leftist and controversial philosophies.  By redefining culture, Gramsci showed the possible links between class and power, intellectual language and the production of ideologies, and oppression and freedom. Essentially, Gramsci opened new and provocative ways of apprehending the nature and idiosyncrasies of language, power, and culture.

In this course, we’ll engage in close readings of various texts that speak in some way about rhetoric, hegemony, and culture so that we can judge both the accuracy of their respective theories and the reasonableness of their particular arguments.  In brief, we’ll reveal the rhetorical ways people invent powerful places for themselves—often at the expense of others—within their respective cultural fields.

In addition, we’ll refer to a rhetoric handbook on occasion for a more practical approach to argument and writing, we’ll meet with a local poet to discuss the ways language is used to define ourselves and culture, and we’ll absorb the works of three very different theorists for presentation purposes.        

The fundamental objective of this course, then, is for you to enhance your judgments by constructing weekly response essays, developing valuable research questions, and finally producing an independent research paper (12-15 pages) that logically argues a stance concerning the possible relationship between words and deeds.  When all is said and done, as it were, you’ll have gained the essential academic tools—close reading, stasis development, primary and secondary source acquisition, and framing—to assemble a scholarly writing artifact.

Khoury, Shaadi - Corrupting the Youth: Academic Freedom on Trial

Ever since Socrates was made to sip the hemlock, notions of academic freedom have stirred the passions of the public, of students, and of teachers.  This course will begin by situating the question of academic freedom within three paradigms: "Education as Social Policy," "Education as a Social Right," and "Education as Social Struggle."  It will briefly consider classical antecedents and those from medieval and modern European history before focusing on debates in American history.  Some of the issues we will examine include the "Scopes Monkey Trial" and creationism versus evolution in American public schools, the "Red Scare" on campus during the Cold War, the struggle for civil rights for minorities and women in education, student activism during the Vietnam War and 1960's, affirmative action, hate codes, and teaching today's War on Terror.   Students will also learn how professional associations and departments within their own areas of interest have grappled with ideas of academic freedom and have set guidelines for themselves.  Readings include the work of some of the major known figures in academic freedom debates, scholarly articles, and primary sources.   The assignments prepared for the course should be stimulating opportunities for the students to assume clearly defined positions on these questions and produce persuasive, well-reasoned and well-supported arguments.  As such this course seeks to assist them in becoming simultaneously better skilled academic writers and more aware members of the academic community.

Kohlstedt, Matthew - Sports and Society: Are Sports Life, and the Rest Just Details?

For many people, sports are an integral part of modern life. They arrange their schedules around them, identify themselves by team allegiances, and feel real pain when their team loses. Yet few of us stop to think about the impact that sports have had on society as a whole, particularly in the United States. In this course we will look at how sports have both changed and been changed by society at different points in U.S. history. We will look at how sports can both divide (for instance, baseball maintaining segregated leagues until 1947) and unite (as when much of the country rooted for the Yankees in the 2001 World Series). We will look at the cultural artifacts that emerge from sports, examining and writing about such items as the sports memoir, the sports film, and the sports stadium. Not everyone may have the same level of enthusiasm for sports in general or certain sports in particular, so we will also be looking at societal issues such as race, class, and gender, all of which will provide useful historical background for our coursework.

Throughout this course, our most useful tool of analysis will be our writing, which we will use to both explore new ideas and solidify our thoughts. I encourage you to think of your writing as a continuously evolving process. We will use different forms and venues, all in service of putting words to the page. The university's goal for you in this course is to prepare you for writing at the university level; my goal is not only that, but to encourage you to think more critically about the importance of written expression.

Larsen, Kathy - Fame, Celebrity and Fandom in Contemporary Culture

How we see our celebrities speaks volumes about who we are as a culture.  We are fascinated by the famous, the infamous and, increasingly, by our own fascination with them.  This course examines our often conflicted attitudes toward celebrities and the mechanisms through which we express these attitudes.

Students are asked to investigate what seems, on the face of it, to be a rather superficial topic – fame and celebrity in contemporary American culture.  After all, isn’t our obsession with celebrities one of the things that pundits frequently point a chastising finger at whenever they decry the dumbing down of culture, the increasing inability of current generations to think and write critically, and the unwillingness  to take anything seriously that does not come packaged in sound bites of 7.8 seconds or less?

All the more reason to take a good, long, critical look at both the ways we receive the information and what we do with it. Since of necessity, many of the resources students are asked to consult fall into the category of pop culture – web sites and blogs, YouTube videos, supermarket tabloids – they must learn to consider these not as entertainment but  as texts to be decoded, in the same way they have been taught to approach more traditional texts.  The three writing assignments required in this course ask students to examine and engage in three different approaches to celebrity culture – tabloid (print and online) coverage, mainstream press (newspapers, and publications geared to more in-depth coverage and meta-commentary) treatment, and finally a scholarly approach to the larger issues suggested by our infatuation with celebrity and our own forms of engagement with fame and the famous.

Love, Jeannine - Poverty: Perceptions and Policy in the United States

Catastrophic events may bring passing public attention to issues of poverty, class, race and wealth inequality; however, our ideas about these social phenomena are constantly shaped by our everyday experiences. In this course we will be considering the ways in which images, language and power can be used to shape the ways in which social issues are understood. We will be specifically focusing on the issue of poverty and wealth inequality in the United States; however, the techniques we will be using are applicable to practically any social issue you might consider.

This course will push you to engage in critical analysis of a variety of texts. Throughout the semester we will explore how poverty is defined, consider the ways poverty has been portrayed in mainstream media (e.g. news outlets, film, photography, music), read personal testimonies and social analyses, participate in community service and discuss government programs designed to reduce poverty. While we will analyze various materials in this course, the primary emphasis will be on improving student writing: writing academic analyses and arguments. Academic writing abilities will be developed and honed through several short writing assignments and one longer research paper. This course will help you to develop critical thinking and writing skills, construct original arguments and define your own perspective on complicated social issues.

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Love at j9love@gwu.edu

Malone-France, Derek C - Scriptures and Constitutions: Textual Authority in Religion and Law

Religious and political communities face a similar challenge as they navigate the vicissitudes of history.  The fundamental identity of a community must be preserved through the consistent transmission of its core principles and practices.  Yet, these principles and practices must also remain relevant to the changing circumstances of each generation.  Both religious and political communities depend upon the authority of foundational texts to meet this challenge: religious communities have scriptures and creeds; political communities have constitutional documents and bodies of law.  However, such texts often require interpretation for their meaning to be ascertained and applied.  And the question of what constitutes the “proper” method for such interpretation is necessarily connected to fundamental disagreements about the nature of the community itself and the rights and obligations of its members.

Our examination of the various ways in which theologians, philosophers, legal scholars, and others have approached the issue of interpretation will provide us with a rich conceptual context in which to explore basic intellectual issues such as: How does the ‘meaning' of a claim get constructed in the relationship between author and audience?; What justifies me in interpreting a text in this way, rather than that?; How can I establish the correctness (or at least legitimacy) of my perspective on a matter of controversy?; Etc.  Students will proceed through a succession of reading and writing assignments intended to introduce them to the skills and sensibilities necessary for quality academic writing in general. These assignments will build upon one another, so that as the students' capacity for sophisticated written argumentation grows they will be asked to formulate increasingly more complex positions.  Most importantly, students will learn to incorporate active drafting, revising, editing, and researching practices into their writing throughout their university experiences.

Marcus, Robin - Speak English—This is America!

Twenty-first century America, a relatively young nation established by immigrants and a labor force stolen from Africa, is embroiled in a national argument over who belongs here and who does not. (Some nerve, right?) Foreigners, whose numbers reach into the hundreds of millions, have undeniably influenced the cultural, social, political landscape of the United States but it hasn’t been easy. The melting pot is boiling over and the kitchen is crowded. How is the nation coping? What does assimilation offer? How are neighborhoods adapting to the presence of the new members of their communities with their strange behaviors and languages? Are they welcomed, should they be here? How can a human being be “illegal”? How do the immigrants represent, that is to say, maintain their traditions and culture? Why don’t they learn English? On the way to becoming American, what gets lost in translation?

In this section of University Writing 20, students will take a closer look at several local immigrant populations by examining perspectives on several sides of the equation. Students will produce response papers assigned to readings, film viewing, recordings and events attended outside of class, write short analytical papers based on assigned topics, will engage in one community-based and country-of-origin specific group project that will produce a class presentation and one research paper (including an annotated bibliography) on a topic of their choice subject to approval by the instructor.

Mullen, Mark - Burning Down the House: The Information Age and the End of the Library

Although considerable controversy surrounds the burning of the Great Library in Alexandria in either the third or fourth centuries, the event is widely considered one of the greatest tragedies to befall the ancient world. When the library was destroyed, humanity lost not just information about the ancient world, but reflections on the human condition that would forever remain untold. The modern institution of the library faces the opposite challenge: unlike fragile manuscripts, information today seems to be replicated easily, and new communications technologies break the imprisoning hold of geography to make information available to people everywhere. This has led many critics to predict the end of the traditional library. In this class we will be investigating the impact of new information technologies on the institutions we use to store, share, and distribute human thought. We will be looking at the end of the library not just as disappearance but also destination (where will it end up?) and purposes (what are the ends of the library?). In this course, therefore, we will be developing writing techniques and strategies in the process of investigating changes that promise to have an enormous impact on writing. As we learn some of the techniques of college-level research we will be faced with changing notions of what counts as authoritative research. As we learn to anticipate an audience for our work and respond to their demands, we will be confronting the changing ways people access and respond to writing from others. As we struggle with how to establish our credibility we will be looking at a world where information credibility is both more unstable and more tightly policed than ever before.

Myers, Danika - Poetry, Language, and Language Games

This course will approach poems and poetry as language artifacts, using linguistics as a tool for analyzing poetry as an instance of language.  Critical readings will include Noam Chomsky’s studies in language and knowledge; Wittgenstein’s concept of the Language Game; and de Saussure’s explanation of signifier, signified, and sign.  As we build a critical framework for understanding how language is learned, applied, and understood, we will use it to analyze works of poetry starting at the most basic level of language:  the words chosen by the writer and the syntax into which those words are placed.

Our readings in poetry will focus on modern and contemporary poets including Gertrude Stein, Harryette Mullen, and Bridget Pegeen Kelly—poets who break language apart, subvert traditional grammar, or display a unique understanding of how the English language can be assembled and create meaning.  We will look at experimental poetry and at the word replacement exercises used by the French Oulipo group as a tool for learning what happens to language when a writer radically departs from linguistic norms by inverting or otherwise altering syntax, or by using the “wrong” parts of speech or inventing words.

Assignments include several short, analytical response papers; a research paper analyzing a poet from an applied linguistics standpoint; and a final portfolio of revised writing.  The research paper will require both an understanding of the critical readings used throughout the course and additional research.

Myers, Danika - Your Body, Their Words: Intersections of Health, Policy, and Culture

Our bodies are our most private and intimate selves, but ideas of wellness and health come to us from the public sphere in the form of culture, business, and government—health care is managed by legislation and insurance companies as well as by medical doctors trained in Western medicine; our ideas about what causes or cures disease are informed by our parents, our religion, our fourth-grade health teachers, and the accounts of epidemics we read in the newspapers. This class will look at those intersections and the language used by various groups to talk about health, health care, and health care policy—after all, a policy writer for the World Health Organization, a doctor trained in both Western and Eastern medicine, a twenty-two year old suffering from anorexia, and the parent of a diabetic child will all have different ideas about what it means to be healthy and who should control access to an individual’s body. Each will express her views in different language.

Whether you find yourself navigating these ideas as a future health professional, a policy wonk, a patient, or a political junkie tracking the health care plans offered by the presidential candidates, an ability to decipher the rhetoric surrounding these issues will serve you. As a person, you may be interested in the topic of this class, but as a student and a writer, you will also obtain essential tools of academic writing—tools for analyzing both text and topic, for arriving at answers by starting with questions, for attending to detail and engaging critically—that you will take with you to other topics, texts, and writing throughout your academic career. This class will take the intersections of health, culture, and policy as a subject, but we will use our subject in service of rigorous practice in rhetorical strategies and development of a successful writing process.

Assignments include several short, analytical reading response papers; two essays, and a research project that will ask you to create a pamphlet on a health issue and analyze the rhetoric you use to communicate the issue.

Riedner, Rachel - Writing Activism/Activist Writing

Drawing upon contemporary examples, including graffiti, feminist writing, Zapatista writing, and ethnographic writing, this course will consider how, and under what circumstances, writing can challenge stable and accepted social ideas. To put it another way, we'll look at writing as action that has social, even political, consequences or action that takes places in and through writing. To begin our conversations about writing activism, we'll reflect upon the circumstances that call us to write, how we persuade, how we argue, how experiences and histories shape our writing, how we use and frame evidence, how we work with and incorporate into our own thinking the writing of others, and how we ethically represent our own knowledge claims. As part of these discussions, we'll think about why challenging, ground-breaking, provocative, critical work might, to some readers, seem incoherent, unintelligible, or just messy. While they might initially appear incoherent, such writings could challenge, even shift, our critical thinking and the limits of our own literacies. These shifts will become the basis for our focus on our own writing and revision processes. In an addition to an analytical and critical essay that develops ideas from course readings and course discussion, students will write an archival assignment that argues for connections between course texts. We'll finish up the semester with an initially messy, lengthy, nuanced, critical, self-reflexive, and in the end beautifully written, research project.

Riley, Matt - The Pattern of Technology

There is little question that modern society has changed dramatically as a result of technological development.  Even in your lifetime, technology has enabled us to radically alter how we live, travel, communicate, and even love.  Yet, has technology merely enabled us to make these changes or has something fundamental to its nature shaped our decisions in the process?

Careful analysis shows that there is a pattern to technological development.  The Industrial Revolution brought wondrous machines and a bounty of goods that freed us from the burdens of cold, hunger, disease, and poverty.  However, with all this new freedom and power, we cannot stop polluting the environment, homogenizing our landscape, and driving whatever animals we can’t use toward extinction.  Meanwhile, in our homes, relationships grow ever more strained and congested with new devices and demands on our attention. 

In his book, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, the philosopher Albert Borgmann argues that this increasing fragmentation of our ways of life is more than just circumstantial.  On the contrary, there is something fundamental to our relationship with technology that all but programs it, which we must learn to manage more carefully.

In this course, students will explore this pattern of technology through Borgmann’s theoretical framework and then propose new perspectives on current problems with technology. Your work will contribute to an ongoing, accumulative project begun in the fall of 2007 in which each class builds on the contributions of previous classes. We will use all the tools of analysis, argument, research, and well-written prose to develop and articulate an understanding of this pattern.  Like most works of philosophy, Borgmann is not an easy read; however, it is an eye-opener, and a well-developed structure of support materials allows us to take what we need from the philosophy and apply it to a real-world context.

Rubin, Robert - Spin: A Consumer’s Guide

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, complaining about what we now might term “spin” 2,300 years ago, argued that “It is not right to pervert the judge [of laws and ideas] by moving him to anger or envy or pity.” But, he admitted, people do so all the time. So, what’s a modern philosopher, living in the age of spin, to do? What does “spin” mean? Is it any different now than in Aristotle’s day? How can you become a smarter consumer of persuasive language in politics, commerce, and public life?

In this writing-intensive class we’ll examine the art of spin, past and present. We’ll read a book by a conservative “spin doctor” that offers a “how-to” guide to spinning, and we’ll examine those recommendations in the light of essays by liberal linguists, academic psychologists, journalists, political scientists, communications theorists, social critics, lawyers—and even a novel by a satirist. We’ll try to identify current examples of “spin” in today’s political debates, intellectual arguments, and commercial discourse, and learn how to recognize it. We’ll talk about the differences between political rhetoric and academic prose, and how logical argument and “good writing” fit into the rough-and-tumble world of discourse. In the process, we’ll learn how to be better writers and thinkers ourselves, and how to join the intellectual conversation of the modern academic community. In addition to class presentations and a reading notebook, each student will compile a portfolio of three major papers, one of which will be a substantial researched argument that explores the language strategies and “spin” that a particular organization or interest group uses to advance its political, social, or commercial agenda.

Ryder, Phyllis - Writing for Social Change: Writing with DC Community Organizations

When people write in the real world—as when community organizers publish brochures to motivate their neighbors to fight injustice or even when college professors argue for a way to classify knowledge—they must consider their rhetorical situation carefully. In addition to conveying information, they must convince people that what they say matters, that what they are proposing has merit, that what they are asking is reasonable and possible. They must convey a sense of urgency and a sense of agency.

How do people make their words do all this? First, they learn to analyze how the context in which they are speaking affects their persuasiveness. Second, they develop a repertoire of strategies for responding—ways to enhance their credibility among different kinds of audiences, ways to heighten or diffuse audience concerns, ways to signal that they share their audience’s values. They develop this repertoire by studying, with a writer’s eye, how other people in the community speak, act, and write. That’s what we’ll do in this course.

We’ll study the discourse of community organizations to understand these moves. Community organizations are a helpful starting point because their purposes and contexts are readily apparent. Looking at their mission statements, their websites, their history, demographics of their communities and so on, we can identify the challenges that they face as they seek to persuade others to work with them. As you partner with the organizations throughout the semester, you will gain an insider’s perspective on the methods that they use to bring people together to make change.

Coming from this experience, we’ll then consider the somewhat more elusive rhetorical context of academic writing. Just as a community organization is united around a particular social goal and a particular method of achieving it, so the academic community at a research university unites around its social goals and accepted methods. Using the analytical abilities we developed by studying community organizations, we’ll study academic discourse and learn how to write in a way that signals that you are part of this academic community.

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Phyllis Ryder at pryder@gwu.edu

Sallinger, Lauren - Activism, Protest and National Progress

This course will examine the strength of the written word to empower  people and promote social change.  We will focus our historical  inquiry on the challenges and innovations of two very different forces  of social change: the civil rights movement and the environmental  movement.  The groundwork for the class will be formed by written  works which codified resistance and inspired these movements.  Writers  will include Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, Dr. Martin Luther  King, Jr. and John Lewis.  Our investigation will then focus on the  national stage of marches and protests within steps of our campus, as  we explore how the streets of Washington are currently being used to  reflect the national consciousness. This will be an active class, in  which we will attend demonstrations and write about the questions,  demands or visions they present to and for the nation.  Students will  also commit to a semester-long internship with an activist  organization, either from a list of pre-arranged options or of their  own design.  Thus, the course content will be determined in part by  the national issues being played out on the streets and within the  activist organizations of Washington, possibly related to the Iraq  war, global warming, or the election season.  Students will carry  these experiences back to the classroom as raw material for several  small writing projects and a large research paper.

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Schell, Heather - Write of the Living Dead: Rhetoric and the American

Our superstitious ancestors lived in a world haunted by spooks and ghouls. Occasionally, fear of such monsters incited people to burn or decapitate their neighbors. We like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated nowadays. We are no longer tormented by brownies, magyr, or tengu. However, if we look at the realm of popular culture, monsters are still thriving. Why do they continue to fascinate us? Do they unveil our unconscious fears and desires? Do they relieve the stress of everyday life? Are they a shared memory of our prehistoric role as prey? The word “monster” itself, as cultural critic Donna Haraway points out, comes from the same root as the word “demonstrate”—monsters are showing us something. This semester, we'll try to figure out what exactly they are showing us. First up is a theoretical exploration of the uncanny, the abject, the sublime, and the shadow. Next, you will write a substantial research paper on a movie monster. The final, collaborative project will entail researching, writing and recording a script for a DVD commentary.  You should be prepared to screen numerous monster movies, to master basic audio editing technology, and to be afraid—very afraid...

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Schell at schellhm@gwu.edu

Showalter, Anne - Spike Lee's Joints and Social Commentary

Shelton "Spike" Lee belongs on the shortlist of the most well-known and controversial directors in Hollywood today.  This writing workshop examines a variety of Lee's films as potential texts of social commentary. We will begin our course by formulating some working definitions: What is "society"? What is a "social critic"? What does it mean to promote "social change"? What is a "working definition" anyway? With these frameworks in place, we will then turn to the films themselves:  Does Mookie Do The Right Thing?  Who are the 4 Little Girls? If you Get on the Bus, where will it take you? Why are so many critics bamboozled by Bamboozled? When the Levees Broke, what did Katrina say? What does Clockers tell us about our time? Why did it take nearly three decades to get Malcolm X's story on the big screen?

In addition to looking at Lee's films as a form of social commentary, we will consider responses to Lee's work by film critics, the mainstream media, and "intellectuals" such as Amiri Baraka and bell hooks, both of whom have serious reservations about Lee's projects (and they're not alone).  Moreover – and more importantly – we will produce our own critical responses to Lee's work through frequent writing assignments which will not only allow us to develop our writing skills but to identify our writing as part of an ongoing dialogue about the society in which discourse is created and, in turn, creates. In order to facilitate these formal writing tasks, we will make use of multiple revisions, peer reviews, and regular in-class writing assignments.

Simerman, Michael - Rethinking Wilderness

What is wilderness? Is it aesthetic or ecological? Or is it an historical construction?  What should humanity’s responsibility be to protect wilderness? How has wilderness rhetoric shaped the development and growth of our National Parks System? By critically reexamining ideas of wilderness both today and in the past, students will participate in some of the crucial debates influencing current preservation practices.

Wilderness as a theme allows for a variety of writing opportunities, both expressive and analytical, designed to reinforce a number of important literacy tools and techniques. During the first few weeks of the course we will discuss how we experience wilderness. You will then visit a local National Park area and evaluate the experience.  For much of the remainder of the course we will examine historical and contemporary conceptions of wilderness in America.  We will try to understand the theoretical and practical implications of these contending ideas in both a regional and global context. Your assignments for this unit will emphasize document analysis, the formulation of argument, and the synthesis of these two skills in analytical essays.  Finally, in a larger research project, you will frame critical questions and then investigate the significance of wilderness in a specific park within the National Parks System. Revision will be emphasized throughout the semester.

Course readings will include essays by Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and current scholars. We will also examine visual representations of wilderness, such as Thomas Moran’s paintings and Ansel Adams’s photographs. Students should expect to actively participate in, and occasionally lead, class discussion. In this course, you will be challenged to think, read, reason, analyze, speak, and write—skills that transfer to any career you might imagine.

Smith, Caroline - Fight Club: Writing about Violence in American Culture

“You aren't alive anywhere like you're alive at fight club,” declares the narrator of Fight Club , Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel. Palahniuk's book presents a liberating view of violence; in many ways, violence serves as the catalyst for the narrator's ability to regain a lost sense of self. Other portrayals of violence in American culture, however, are different. Some critics argue that video games encourage violent behavior, that rap songs promote shootings, and that pornography perpetuates violence against women. In this course, we will examine a variety of contemporary texts – from non-fiction, to novels, to films – which address the role that violence plays in American society. How do writers write about violence in America ? What arguments do they make? What role do issues of race, class, and gender play in these arguments? In this UW20 section, we will thoughtfully consider how these writers and filmmakers effectively (or sometimes ineffectively) convince us of their points. Students will write response papers and short essays, and they will pursue an independent research project on the topic of their choice. These writing assignments will help students to develop a variety of reading, researching, and writing skills applicable to the remainder of their college career.

Svoboda, Michael - Global Warming & the Problem of Global Governance

“Global Warming and the Problem of Global Governance” is ideal for “writing to learn,” the approach to writing taken by the University Writing Program, because “writing to learn” is exactly what scientists, citizens, and policymakers around the world are trying to do right now. We need to connect past ways of understanding ourselves, individually and collectively, with the unprecedented challenge of managing the climate together. While a consensus has emerged regarding the basic science of global warming, we have yet to ask many of the necessary questions about the interrelationships of climate, energy, the economy, culture and society, and politics. (For example, is it realistic to think that we can strive to reduce our CO2 emissions by 60–90%—the numbers now being vetted by scientists—without changing who “we” are?) And we will arrive at answers to these questions only by writing out, discussing, and revising our evolving understanding of the issues. In this class you can participate in that process.

Here you will be asked to observe and analyze some aspect of the worldwide response to climate change.  In your research, and when you consider how and for whom to present your findings, you will encounter many different forms of writing. And as we track new developments in the science and politics of climate change, you will be introduced to resources, both real-world and digital, that define university research and writing in the anthropocene—the new geological age of a human-dominated Earth.

Tomlinson, Niles -Madness

Emily Dickinson writes: “Much Madness is divinest Sense—to a discerning Eye—much Sense—the starkest Madness.” This course starts with the premise that the border between insanity and sanity is often an unstable and paradoxical one, but the attempt to define this border reveals a lot about the cultural moment. We will investigate both the madness of individuals and of the collective imagination, particularly as they intersect in a widespread contemporary form of madness in American culture: addiction.

Some questions we will consider: How does our culture tend to distinguish between sanity and insanity and how are these distinctions problematic? In what instances does insanity masquerade as sanity? How does the study of madness provide insights into issues of gender, ethnicity, and class? How might we begin to see consumer culture as intimately tied to the madness of addiction? Students will have the opportunity to write essays in a variety of forms, including literary/film analysis, critical response, comparison/contrast, and research.  Students will also learn the value of writing as a process through library research, proposals, peer response, drafting, presentation, and revision. As a culminating project students will write a substantial critical research paper on a topic of their choice.

Troutman, Phillip - Serious Comix: Graphic Novels and Manga as Visual Argument

Can comics or "comix" (graphic novels, comic books, manga) do viable argumentative or interpretative work in history, literature, philosophy, psychology, journalism, politics, or religion? By what criteria do we evaluate "sequential art" works like Maus, Persepolis, Palestine, or Pyongyang? Can these hybrid image-texts help us explore relevant issues in new ways? Instead of a topic or discipline, students in this UW20 will focus on an object of research: the comics medium, a sequential combination of images and text.

The comics medium is especially suited for pre-disciplinary first-year writing because comics scholarship is itself proto-disciplinary. It is "proto-" in the sense that it is the purview of no single field. This means that you can find approaches of interest from history, literary studies, philosophy, clinical psychology, education, public health, journalism, politics, aesthetics, semiotics, technology studies, religious studies, and many other fields. And in most of these fields, comics scholarship is nascent, so your writing and research can make genuine intellectual contributions.

At the same time, comics scholarship is "disciplinary" in the sense that, in order to write sensibly and precisely about it, you must acquire, practice, and work to refine a specialized analytical vocabulary that has been developing around the study of comics. You must also discover, through scholarly secondary-source research, what the relevant and interesting questions and arguments to write about are. By taking forays into fields of scholarly analysis, you will acquire both specific knowledge and specialized ways of knowing that will allow you to situate your arguments and build credibility for your writing among particular scholarly audiences.

As a proto-disciplinary composition course, then, "Serious Comix" challenges you to engage in specific academic discourse without insisting on any particular disciplinary path. By researching, analyzing, and responding to the writing of artists, writers, fans, critics, and scholars, you will further develop your own analytical writing style and learn to anticipate the expectations of academic readers. You will write as academics do, through a recursive series of thinking, writing, research, and peer response practices. You will frame your writing in a series of authentic academic modes and genres that also hold applicability outside the university: a formal analysis, a visual argument, a scholarly review, a research proposal and bibliography, and an original research essay.

Weise, Aliya - Reconfiguring Writing

Can a blog be as scholarly as Moby Dick? Is our text messaging on the latest iPhone® killing proper prose? Has technology reconfigured writing? Or, was writing always ‘virtual’? In this class we’ll participate in discourses surrounding issues of new media and their relation to writing and deconstruct traditional paradigms of academic, professional, and amateur writing using dooce® and Derrida alike.

As noted on the website, UW courses are intended to produce students capable of writing well in a variety of areas and forms. We’ll encourage our “capacity for critical reading and for analytic thinking” as we explore “scholarly texts and intelligent public commentary.” We’ll explore both traditional and emerging resources and how “to use them effectively, and to acknowledge them correctly” as we consider if bloggers deserve protection under freedom of the press. Moving between Colbert and Coulter, we’ll participate in a variety of discourses to encourage a better understanding of rhetorical principles in a variety of discourse communities. Finally, we’ll constantly work to develop “the habit and discipline of careful editing and proofreading to ensure that final drafts are essentially free of errors.” Of course, these very goals should also be subject to our critical discussions.

Wilkerson, Abby - Food and Social Change

Eric Schlosser observes, “Food politics underlie all politics in the United States ”—and globally, we might add. How do our food practices and food-related interactions relate to larger social justice themes, from the micro-level of households and local communities to the macro-level of transnationalism? How are the politics of seasonal food connected to critiques of globalization and of capitalism? How have people worked to pursue social change through altering practices in the production and consumption of food?

This course explores how food and food writing serve as tools for meaning-making, political analysis, and advocacy. Coursework includes:

  • examining published analyses of food politics from several fields and disciplines, considering the strategies for representation and analysis employed in these fields, with critics of the transnational industrialized food system serving as a case study in rhetorical strategies of advocacy;
  • creating reflections and narratives;
  • investigating food politics in specific subcultures, organizations, or practices shared by particular groups;
  • analyzing a food-related political problem and a potential solution.

Wolfe, Zachary - Progressive Movements: (Re)Writing History

You can marry outside your race, now. Pre-adolescent children cannot work in coal mines, anymore. Women can attend all state-run military officer training schools, as of 1996. As Dr. King tells us, “human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts” of social justice movements. But most of us know very little about those tireless efforts that produced many of the rights and social assumptions we now take for granted. Although it is axiomatic that our present society is a function of countless social movements and other dynamics, some of those processes become storied while others are glossed-over or ignored. 

Through self-reflective and scholarly writing, students will examine the significance of these movements, their place in history, and what this tells us about where we come from and where we may be going. Much of the semester will revolve around research and writing concerning a social movement of the student's own choosing, critically examining that movement as well as exploring why some (or some parts of) movements make the history books while others do not. Beyond advancing our understanding of social justice movements, the course will allow students to engage existing scholarship and pursue their own innovative research and writing projects.

Wolfe, Zachary - Law as a Force for Social Change

"Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice  and . . . when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously  structured dams that block the flow of social progress."
-- Martin  Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail"


Manipulations of law have been used many times throughout our  history to prevent social progress or even create intellectual  justification for injustice, such as the once-revered concept of  "separate but equal" and the notion that a person can be property.  Despite this history, progressive movements continue to claim the law  as their own, invoking the language of rights at every stage and  ultimately turning to the court system and to new legislation to  effect their demands.  Within those arenas, when functioning at their  best, we get to see words and ideas taken seriously.  Advocates  construct legal briefs, OpEd articles, scholarly journal articles,  and legal opinions.  These will be our course materials, which we  explore in often intense seminar-style class meetings.  Students then  explore these concepts even more thoroughly in their scholarly  writing. In addition, students will produce a major final research  paper on a self-selected topic, advancing contemporary discourse on a  social justice issue in current public debate.

Zink, Christy -La Vie Boheme: Artists, Counterculture, and City Life

Starve, brood, and be an outcast: those are the supposed requirements for being an artist. But what happens when groups of artists gather together in experimental living arrangements to integrate art and life? From the Harlem Renaissance to Dadaists to the Beats and the French New Wave, bohemian subcultures have changed art, politics, history, and mainstream society. In this course, we'll examine just what the bohemian identity entails. Do we include "musicians, artists, would-be artists, hustlers, and entrepreneurs" alike, as scholar Christine Stansell suggests? What about the peddlers of sex, drugs, and speculative development in so-called artistic districts? We'll look to city neighborhoods and see how boho groups rewrite—often literally—sexual norms, gender roles, race relations, and the urban experience by insistence on new daily lives. Just as bohemians, by their nature, take nothing established for granted, you'll study innovative, hybrid texts—including scholarly and creative writing, visual and performing arts, cinema, photography, and new media—and experiment with bohemian writing forms designed to upset the status quo. You will embark on inventive critical research to address the territories of past and neo-bohemia, then undertake a multimedia writing project to practice the collaborative work that has characterized the creative heart of bohemian culture.

Hybrid Course: "Hybrid" is the name given to courses that blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment. If you have any questions about this class, please contact Professor Christy Zink at czink@gwu.edu