UW20 Courses - Fall 2010

Last Updated: 8/20/10

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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.

REGISTERING: Here at the First-Year Writing Program, we do our best to provide students with a selection of interesting course themes.  However, there will inevitably be students every semester  who find that the sections they want are full.  If you find yourself in this situation, here is everything you should know about UW20 policies:


Each UW section is capped at fifteen students.  There are no exceptions to this.  Over-enrollment is not an option.


UWP instructors cannot sign you into a course, even if there is an opening.  All transactions must be through GWEB.

The best advice we can give you is to continue checking the GWeb Info System as often as you can. Students can add/drop classes at any point during the scheduled registration periods (see Registrar's websitefor exact dates). This is particularly true right before the start of each semester, when students return from the holidays and try to create better schedules. Students who check often will be the first to see if a course opens up.

UW20 Course Preview Options

»Alphabetical Order by Faculty Member
»Detailed Description of Course Theme




Bernstein, Arielle -Telling Truths; Making Mythologies

One of our most important jobs as writers is to be able to analyze an argument and assess its credibility. In doing so, a good writer should think about the kind of bias an author brings into her argument, such as a writer’s individual background and the culture in which the author is writing her work.

This task is often easier in hindsight, precisely because it is easier to assess an ideological standpoint we as a culture no longer ascribe to. Today, few would argue that the earth is actually flat or that acting and dressing as a different gender can actually change one’s sex. But these were ideas and beliefs that were staunchly held to by individuals throughout many different time periods. For this class we will isolate, examine and investigate the beliefs which we as a culture most fiercely cling to. Through readings and class discussions you will confront issues which range from what we as a culture consider to be common knowledge to what we see as being provocative, outlandish and bizarre. Throughout class we will struggle to understand how and why we regard certain things as necessarily right and true.

This class revolves heavilly on class discussions, debates and select readings.While a major aspect of this class is learning to cultivate more nuanced interpretations of ideas we normally take for granted, your goal as a writer this semester will be to use your critical thinking skills to analyze and assess the information at hand in order to create a clear and specific argument. You will have three major papers for this course, all of which will require strong critical thinking skills, and one of which will require both library as well as field research.

Berry, Shannon - Environmentalism and Religion

This course will introduce students to the basic literature and terminology of the environmentalist movement, including the complexity of the current environmental crisis as well as its critique of the monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity. In turn, the final section of the course will focus on various religious responses to such a critique. As such, the course will also explore the themes and terminology of Christian theology and biblical exegesis as well as the socio-cultural contexts from which such thought emerges. Though most of the literature in this field emerges out of a Christian context, other religious responses will be studied, especially in student research projects.

Due to the nature of the course, the exploration will be confined to mostly contemporary texts, especially texts written since the 1950s. However, the course will also employ contemporary films in order to explore the environmental question in the popular context. In the process students will also have the opportunity to reflect upon their own experiences concerning environmentalism, ecology, and religion. As this is a writing course, students will learn to process their own thoughts and research while honing their ability to write academically and sustain a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument about a two often-controversial topics: environmentalism and religion.

Bliss, Emily -All You Need Is Love?

Cultural and media messages inundate us with the idea that happiness lies in money, material objects, and social status. Yet, a sense of emptiness – of chronic searching – seems endemic to any life dedicated mainly to accruing things and attaining power. A primary reason for that, according to neuroscience and psychology, is that fulfillment is tied to the neurobiology of interpersonal connection and emotional intimacy. Those Beatles were on to something.

In this writing- and research-intensive course we will examine how sociologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists have used writing to explore the relationship between human connection and personal fulfillment. We will also consider the role of language in connectivity, meaning, and community.

The course will involve short writing assignments, discussions, workshops, and four analytical papers of increasing length and complexity. Our reading will include Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl; The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm; Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert; Social Intelligence by Daniel Goleman; A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon; and Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. As we write and revise, we will practice analyzing information, connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, and applying theory to our lived experiences.

Buursma, Joshua -THE END: Inquiries into the Nature of Death of Dying

"Death comes equally to us all, and makes us all equal when it comes," the great English poet and pastor John Donne once wrote.  Yet despite this wry observation on death's inevitable reality and equalizing power, Donne also had an unshakable religious conviction that the human soul could overcome Death and find everlasting Life.  Centuries later, another English poet, Philip Larkin, wasn't so sure: "Death," he wrote, "is no different whined at than withstood."  Which poet was right?  Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?

As a philosphical problem, as an occassion for art and public ritual, and as a biological reality we all must face, death is certainly one of the most important subjects - perhaps the MOST important subject - any human being must wrestle with.  How do we observe and grieve the death of a loved one, or of a beloved public figure?  How should we face the fact of our own deaths?  With courage?  Fear?  Faith?  Humor? All of the above?  And how do we even begin to think about the mind-boggling state of not-being?

To help us grapple with these questions, and others, we will study a wide variety of texts on the nature of death and dying; authors discussed will include Donne, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis, E.B. White, Primo Levi, Jessica Mitford, Julia Kristeva, and Albert Camus. We'll also be analyzing two films: WIT, Mike Nichols's film of the Margaret Edson play about a dying Donne scholar who uses literature and memory to deal with the grueling realities of cancer; and HUNGER, Steve McQueen's arresting study of the 1981 IRA hunger strikers, especially leader Bobby Sands, whose death was a conscious act of political protest that seized the world's attention.
Our ultimate goal in this course will be to craft thoughtful, in-class discussions and writing projects, oral presentations, thorough engagement with the research process, a personal essay, and two scholarly papers on topics related to death and dying.

Coulter, Charles - American Myth in the Western Film

Many have said that jazz music and the western film genre represent   two of the few quintessentially American art forms. However, the   classical view of the western genre as fundamentally conservative in   outlook has been shaped somewhat by poor journalism.

In fact, western films that receive the praise of serious critics   and maintain cultural staying-power (they continue to be watched on   Turner Classic Movies or purchased as DVDs) possess values that fly   in the face of the stereotypical lone gunman forced to clean up the   town. In many ways, the genre responds to the cultural undercurrents   of its times better than most so-called independent films do today.

In this course, we will watch the films of directors such as John   Ford, William Wellman, and Clint Eastwood. While this is a class  about university-level writing, we will master film terminology and   attempt “readings” of these films as texts that reveal much about   the periods in which they were made. History and politics are   important to this discussion. What do westerns say about sexual  morality or the construction of racial/ethnic identity for that   matter?

At the crux of the western film is a profound meditation both of  what it means to be American and to be civilized. Students will  develop skills – critical analysis and writing – that will help them   develop polished, well-researched university-level arguments.   Students will draft short analytical response papers, daily writing   and one larger research essay.

Text: Jim Kitses’ Horizons West: Directing the Western from John   Ford to Clint Eastwood

Fletcher, Wade - The Image of Everyday Life

As participants in American society, we are deluged with a barrage of images on a daily basis. Visual argument presents itself in numerous forms and guises, from advertising and marketing to art and fashion, each competing in some way for our attentions. In this course, we will examine and interrogate the role of the image in everyday life, both on campus and in society at large, reading images alongside written texts, and exploring the parallels between the two forms. To this end, we’ll also discuss what it means to examine something as an “image,” investigating how visual narratives and arguments are formed, composed, and realized.

Throughout the course, we’ll work our way through a variety of visual and written texts, including graphic novels, advertisements and product packaging, and photography and visual art, as well as essays and criticism, in an effort to better understand the role of visual mediums in our lives. Students will build their reading, writing, and critical-thinking skills through journaling, group work and short “visual projects,” all leading into three essay assignments of increasing complexity, each focusing on a particular image.

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 -Repeating and Retelling the Past: Imagination and Storytelling, and Adaptation in Literature and Film

We have all seen—and reacted to—books and films, either with high praise or harsh criticism. Thinking and writing about both genres will allow you to verbalize your own reactions from different perspectives: a reviewer examining narrative, dialogue, and acting; or, an academic writer exploring (and researching) broader issues: race, class, and gender; constructions of truth, memory, criminality, and the past; and, the mythology, attainment, and failure of “American Dream.”

This course will examine several works, all of which will enable you to self-reflect on your own critical reading, thinking, and writing processes: John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s The Usual Suspects.

Literature, film, and academic writing are not distinct; rather, you can have these genres “talk” to each other to expand your critical reading, thinking, and writing skills while working with familiar, enjoyable genres.

Writing Assignments: Analysis papers about The Usual Suspects and Six Degrees of Separation; peer workshopping and evaluation; and a final research essay centering on The Great Gatsby.

Fruscione, Joe -Repeating and Retelling the Past: Imagination and Storytelling, and Adaptation in Literature and Film

This course is meant as the UW 20 counterpart to Professor Alan Wade’s “Shakespearean Washington” Dean’s Seminar (CCAS 801-80). It is designed for the students who took the Dean’s Seminar in Fall 2009, and it requires the instructor’s permission to register. This course assumes a basic knowledge of Shakespeare, and it is not designed for students who lack a background or interest in Shakespeare, literary study, or film.  

Using three plays and three or four films—Twelfth Night, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet—this course will focus primarily on Shakespeare’s work as literature, and as the source text for modernized and period films. What is at stake when Shakespeare’s works are filmed? What might be lost in filming Shakespeare, and what might be gained? Should Shakespeare be modernized, or even filmed at all?

Writing Assignments: Analysis papers about Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice; peer workshopping and evaluation; and a final research essay centering on Romeo and Juliet.

Gamber, Cayo - Legacies of the Holocaust

I have not chosen the theme of this course – Legacies of the Holocaust – because I believe that engaging in such study necessarily will prevent a future Holocaust, future acts of genocide. Moreover, I concur with Terrence Des Pres when he argues that in the course of such study, we will not learn to understand the Holocaust. As Des Pres argues: “The question Why? will naturally persist…. Why enroll in such a course?.... And certainly, if by good we mean answers and rational explanation, if we mean atonement and redemption, then there is nothing to be gained by knowing the facts of the death camps” (35).

While we may not be able to make amends for the Holocaust, I believe that through the careful study of the lives of those who perished and the words of those who survived, we become witnesses who are willing to be bearers of the stories and history of the Shoah. The range of research topics is wide, from the role art played in the Holocaust to the workings of a particular concentration camp; or from the role liberators played (or failed to play) to what is known about the “bearers of secrets,” the Sonderkommando, who were eyewitnesses to the Final Solution. 

The series of writing tasks you will perform -- including composing brief response papers, annotating sources, writing a research paper (in a series of stages which afford you multiple opportunities for revision) that integrates both primary and secondary sources -- are designed both to help you write an authoritative study of your chosen topic and to help familiarize you with some of the types of academic writing you will perform in the semesters to come.

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

Goward, Shonda - Out of Her Mind: Women and Madness through the Lens of Literature

American social norms have attached a derogatory label of “mad” to women who assert themselves, who seek to define their lives separate and apart from social norms, or who stand in the way of their husband’s younger prospective bride. However, many of the women labeled mad were simply fighting against patriarchy for the right to be equal, or in the case of women of color, fighting to be considered human. Nonetheless, many women have actually gone mad for various reasons including being forced to remain in suffocating marriages, being subjected to abuse, or from the fear of death as they petitioned their nation for rights. This class will explore women and madness in literature to uncover how American women writers depict the descent into madness and its causes. Our work will include analyzing the time period in which the work was written and that period’s influence on the writer. Our methods will include peer to peer workshops; journaling; historical research; and analytical writing which will all challenge your ability to read critically and write on a scholarly level.

Hayes, Carol -Free Speech and Public Space: The Law, Language, and Power

In spite of the first amendment, speech in the United States has historically been far from free. The rights to free speech have been carved out through activism and legal battles that are often connected to issues of public space. To be able to speak, after all, one needs a place from which to speak (streets and sidewalks, parks, campuses). In this class, we’ll investigate part of the twentieth- century legal history surrounding the freedom of speech, particularly as it pertains to public space. We’ll also discuss connections between language and power: Who has the right to speak on certain issues? Whose voices are marginalized? How have marginalized peoples reclaimed the right to make themselves heard through language and writing (protest signs, rap, graffiti)? We’ll use our readings throughout the semester to model how scholars frame their writing within academic discourses, such as the law, theories of public space and place, class, and race (among others). Through a series of writing and research projects, you’ll learn to frame your own work in these ways as well, so that by the end of the semester you’ll not simply be reporting on what other scholars have said, but actively engaging as participants in university-level writing and research.

Howell, Katherine - Looking Forward, Looking Back: The Purpose and Place of Contemporary Poetry

What sets American Poetry apart from other poetic traditions? What kinds of works are American poets writing today? How do we define poetry? What role does poetry play in society? These are the kinds of questions this writing intensive course will explore using essays, poems, and one book of poetry. Students will be asked to write several journals or blogs, reviews of poetic and scholarly works, as well as three major assignments, including a paper exploring past and present connections in poetry, a paper using a scholarly lens, and a research project that will include a proposal and an annotated bibliography.

Jablonski, Leah - When 'That's Just the Way It Is' Does Not Suffice: Examining Assumptions in American Culture

In this course, students will be raising the questions that are so essential that they are seldom asked, such as: Why do people go to college? Why do we eat what we eat? What is proper English? Why is this class required? As a class, we will raise questions about aspects of daily life that are so rarely examined that they have become assumptions. At some point in time, these questions might have been dismissed with “That’s just the way it is,” but as students consider these questions more deeply, that answer will no longer satisfy them.

Examining cultural phenomena such as tattooing, Facebook, Wal-Mart, and MLA format through a variety of essays and short readings, students in this course will learn not only how to read critically and learn from published writers’ attempts and techniques, but also how to identify assumptions which writers (oftentimes unintentionally) reveal through their writing. Then, by harnessing this awareness and directing it toward their own writing, students in this course will move toward a greater recognition of and control over the ways in which their own assumptions influence their thought processes and writing.

Assignments will include frequent short writings, an annotated bibliography, and three longer writing assignments. Two of the longer writing assignments will incorporate research, giving students both preparation and practice for future writing intensive classes at the university level.

Johnston, Elizabeth - Natural Law, Social Conflict, and American Identity

From the earliest days of European presence on the continent, the idea of a "natural" law has held great power for Americans of every kind. For much of American history, those who seek to change the status quo have appealed to natural law, and they have claimed this law could and should replace more “ordinary” laws. This quasi-religious belief in transcendent justice is one of the hallmarks of American identity, as we will discover when we read political, legal, and fictional works from eras of intense social conflict in American history. After a brief introduction to the concept of natural law, we will read the Declaration of Independence, Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” portions of Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and other works of literary, political, and legal protest.

Kristensen, Randi - Radically Rewriting America (Service Learning - Section 24 only)

Howard Zinn, Mumia Abu-Jamal,  James Baldwin, Naomi Wolf, Martin   Luther King Jr., Aurora Levins-Morales, Patricia J. Williams, Audre   Lorde and many, many more have expressed a radical vision of   “America,” in multiple research-based genres of writing. This course   is designed as a writing workshop for our own research-based radical   rewrites of “America,” and we will consider the multiple meanings and   effects of radical ideas and activism. We will closely read authors of   our choosing to consider whether and how to model our own writing on   their rhetorical strategies of argument, style, voice, truth claims,   research, and audience. We will also present multiple drafts of our   work for peer and instructor review, and engage in continuous revision   in light of our research and reader responses. Writing projects   include an autoethnography, a critical bibliography, and a research   project, chosen by the writer, on a public issue that remains   unresolved and has the potential for radical revision. Finally, we   will seek ways to share our research and writing with audiences beyond   our classroom. NOTE: For this section of "Radically Rewriting   America," students will engage with the work of a DC community-based   organization to identify writing and research opportunities, and to   contribute to the work of the organization.

Kristensen, Randi - Radically Rewriting America

Mumia Abu-Jamal, Hunter S. Thompson, James Baldwin, Naomi Wolf, Martin Luther King Jr., Aurora Levins-Morales, Patricia J. Williams, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Howard Zinn, and many, many more have expressed a radical vision of “America,” in multiple non-fiction genres: journalism, travel writing, memoir, essay. This course is designed as a writing workshop for our own research-based radical rewrites of “America.” From their basis in anti-capitalist critique, we will consider the multiple meanings and effects of radical ideas and activism. We will closely read authors of our choosing to consider whether and how to model our own writing on their rhetorical strategies of argument, style, voice, truth claims, research, and audience. We will also present multiple drafts of our work for peer and instructor review, and engage in continuous revision in light of our research and reader responses. Writing projects include an autoethnography, a critical bibliography, and a research project, chosen by the writer, on a public issue that remains unresolved and has the potential for radical revision. Finally, we will seek ways to share our research and writing with audiences beyond our classroom.

Larsen, Kathy - Celebrity, Fame 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 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 using the same critical skills they have  been taught to use when approaching more traditional texts.  All writing assignments require students to think carefully about audience and approach.  Students are asked to examine and then engage in several different writing styles and genres (this may include writing for tabloids, both print and online, the mainstream press, or fan publications).  In addition, students will undertake a substantial research-driven writing project.  

This course is a partial hybrid. Friday class sessions will sometimes make use of alternative formats using wiki technology and Blackboard resources; these sessions may also take the form of conferences or small group meetings.

Lee, Jee Yoon - Asian American Experience

In this course, we will examine representations of Asian American experiences in contemporary American society. The course is designed to introduce you to historical and cultural concepts of "Asianness" as imagined by Asian American writers and artists. What does the term "Asianness" mean? In what ways can this concept be a shared American experience? In this course, we will focus on questions of authenticity, documentation, and representation. As part of our contact with a wide range of texts — poems, short stories, essays, photographs, and films — we will read, discuss and write about the Asian American experience within a broader American culture. The course materials will serve as topics of conversation for class discussions as well as the content for your writings. The writing assignments will give you opportunity to sharpen your writing and research skills on specific thematic issues.

Levine, Peter -Morality and Art: The Good and the Not So Good

Who’s to say what art ought to do, and what it ought to look like? How do we begin to separate “important” art from the merely entertaining? What criteria do we use to differentiate the quirky, clever, and transient, from the truly substantive, valuable, and enduring?

In 1978, the writer and critic John Gardner published On Moral Fiction, a series of essays that set forth a premise about the purposes and characteristics of moral art (especially fiction). Believing that the goal of art is to instruct and to affirm life, Gardner felt that to endorse anything less was to forfeit the right to tell each other how to behave, to live in a world where there are no “correct” models of human behavior.

The aim of the course is to examine what stands as true, moral art, and to allow you to develop your own explanation of what the purposes and characteristics of moral art should be. We will use essays, short stories, and films, to explore a range of works both “moral” and “immoral.”

You will be asked to analyze written works (primarily), comparing and contrasting their merits and weakness. The semester will culminate in a final paper that will serve as your own treatise on what art is, what it should be, and what it should never be.

Marcus, Robin - Birthed by a Nation – The Language of Black Americans.

Birthed by a Nation – The Language of Black Americans. Langauge or dialect? What are the origins of Black Vernacular Speech in the United States? What is its linguistic, political and cultural nature? These and other questions will be examined in this UW20 course which will expose students to the arguments made by and made on behalf of what is variably called African American Vernacular English, Black English or Ebonic language, the language created by African slaves in the 1600s. This language has endured into the 21st century and fueled arguments among principles along the way including becoming the subject of the Ebonics controversy ignited by the Oakland School Board in 1997. The language has conveyed hidden and overt messages and perpetuated racist stereotypes of Blacks. The film “Birth of a Nation” will serve as the point of departure for the course. Students will write two reflective papers, one comparison/contrast paper and one 25-30 page group generated research paper as requirements of the course. Students will also be required to attend at least two off campus events assigned by the instructor and produce response papers subsequently. In addition, students will be exposed to a variety of texts (including cartoons) and research that will introduce them to the conversation so that they develop the capacity to engage and contribute to the conversations as scholars.

McClain, Daniel - Politics of Religion

Religion is making a comeback. Whereas in the modern era religion had been treated as a deeply private affair, today prominent sociologists, philosophers, political thinkers, and even Bono increasingly give a greater role to religion in public discourse. And in many of these cases, the discussion is about the things that matter most - wealth, health, and community. This poses a challenge to citizens: as the secularization theory wanes and America is recognized to be a more pluralistic but no less religious country, how do we make sense of the role that religion has played and currently plays in the public arena? Do the old controversies over religious discourse stand? Is religion a source of controversy, violence and discord? Or can religious discourse help us clarify the state of affairs around the globe, or even improve those states of affairs?

Accordingly, the purpose of this course is to introduce students to the relationship, tensions and intersection of religious and political thought by looking at three of the big topics that occupy both religion and politics: economics, violence, and justice. Along the way, students will be introduced to some of the basic terminology of religious theory as well as the historical underpinnings of religion’s troubled and perplexing relationship to the political sphere. Special attention will be paid to recent authors that challenge dichotomized explanations in favor of more nuanced, synthetic, and constructive visions. Students will participate in this exploration by first reflecting on, discussing, and writing about their own experiences and presuppositions of religion and politics. Second, throughout the semester, students will learn to sharpen their critical thinking and academic writing skills by writing three progressively increasingly complex essays. In order to prompt these writing activities, we will consult both scholarly texts as well as modern film, music, and non-academic literature.

McKenzie, Shelly - Making An Appearance:  Historical Perspectives on Health and Beauty in American Culture.

Historians have observed that around the turn of the 20th century, as the United States shifted from a producer-oriented economy to one focused on consumption, Americans changed too. Previously defining aspects of personhood such as civic commitment, personal responsibility, character and morality gave way to concepts such as personality, leisure and self-fulfillment. This transformation was particularly notable in the way it was manifested in the human body. New kinds of grooming products, an intensified preoccupation with one’s physical health and the display of one’s body were part a change in American culture that TJ Jackson Lears has termed the “therapeutic ethos.” We’ll track this phenomenon in American culture from the turn of the century to the 21st century with readings and screenings on topics such as exercise, dieting, plastic surgery, cosmetic use and hair styling. This UW theme would be of interest to students considering majors in the health sciences, psychology, or American history. Assignments for this course include an advertising analysis and 12-15 page research paper.

Mullen, Mark - I'm Game: Exploring the Art, Science, and Economics of Electronic Games

Playing games is one way through which we humans refine our skills, test our limits and define our potential. In Western culture, however, two mutually contradictory discourses about games exist side-by-side. On the one hand, games are supposed to be purely recreational, and game- players are merely people seeking a little escape from other aspects of their lives. On the other hand, games are held to be capable of powerfully influencing those supposedly separate aspects of our lives. Usually the influence of games, particularly electronic games, is considered to be a negative one. Our course, then, will begin to construct more sophisticated ways of exploring electronic games as an emerging artistic, technological and economic force in our culture.

This course will challenge you to develop your writing skills in new directions. If you have an interest in art, technology, or economics, you will find that exploring electronic games will yield much that speaks to those interests. You will also find that new media require very different analytical approaches to those to which you may be accustomed. Tackling these writing assignments will force you to re-think some of your own preconceptions about both games (concerning the gender of players and the influence of gender on gamer's perceptions, for example) and writing (some of the assignments may strike you as a little unorthodox!). You’ll be formulating truly investigative research projects with little pre-existing research to guide you and will need to develop a sophisticated balance of descriptive and analytical modes, and a mastery of both aesthetic and technical vocabularies.

Note: You will be required to play games for this course and therefore need to have access to a computer that will enable you to do that.  In order to ensure that the entire class is able to compare notes on their gaming experiences most of these games will of necessity be short web-based games, or games available for the PC or Mac (but not both).  In addition, we will also be looking at examples of online multiplayer games.  There are some very good games available for the Mac, but your choice will be more limited.  If you have a netbook you won't have the computing power to be able to play even a basic game.  However, a basic PC laptop may also struggle with some of the titles we will be looking at.

Myers, Danika - Intersections of Health, Science, and Culture: Whose Body; Whose Words?

When you think of health sciences, maybe you think of drug trials, data collection and controlled experiments rather than persuasive language and conceptual framing.  This class will study the rhetoric used and circulated within health-related subcultures.  We will take a look at, among other examples, how Little League volunteers understand athletics as gendered, how operating room surgical teams assign blame, and how various medical, state, and social interests incorporate female sexuality into their arguments for and against making Emergency Contraception Pills available over the counter.  We will begin the semester by developing an understanding of how a rhetorical framework can be used to study the cultural values revealed by the language a community uses, and then use the theoretical framework of rhetoric to pursue original research into the values and rhetorics used within online communities you choose to study as a class.
Whether you are interested in the languages of health and science as a pre-med student, an athlete, or a future policy-maker, an ability to identify and decipher rhetoric will help you understand how communities that form around health issues think.  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 rhetoric 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 a self-ethnography, a rhetorical analysis, and a team research project analyzing an online health community.  This final project will culminate in a collaborative research paper.  This course is a partial hybrid, which means many Friday class sessions will make use of cyberspace formats including wiki technology and blackboard resources; these sessions may also take the form of conferences or small group meetings

Oliver, Martyn - Reading Islam

Understanding religion—either one’s own, or another “foreign” religion—requires navigating a complex field of texts, traditions, and interpretations. How does a religious tradition understand itself? How do scholars of religion engage and critique religion? How is religion depicted in popular culture?

This course asks these questions specifically about Islam. In the context of American interest in Islam since September 11, there is an opportunity for critical reflection on what it means to depict and understand a religious tradition. Beginning with the textual origins of Islam—the Qur’an—and proceeding through a selection of prominent theological, poetic, literary, and philosophical exemplars, we will explore the many competing claims about the nature of Islam.

And we will write about Islam ourselves, confronting the challenges of knowledge, representation, and authenticity. By engaging a variety of texts in our reading, research, and writing, we will also confront the broader challenge of scholarly analysis. We will work to develop your own voice, equipped with the critical skills necessary for academic success. The aim of the course is to combine our evolution as writers with a growing understanding of the role of religion in our society.

Pollack, Rachel - Dutch Painting at the National Gallery of Art

In this course we will develop writing skills through careful observation and analysis of 17th Century Dutch painting at the National Gallery of Art. Each student will write 2 polished catalogue entries (2-3 page each) of works from the National Gallery collection, a short exhibition review (3-5 pages), a short research paper (5-7 pages) and a larger research project (15-20 pages). Artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals will be the central focus of class discussion, as well as various landscape and still life masters. We will explore issues of technique (i.e. materials and methods) and art historical interpretations. Why do we consider Rembrandt a "genius?" Did Vermeer use the camera obscura? How did the new wealthy middle class affect art patronage? Together we will read a selection of scholarly articles related to each subject, as well as visiting the museum collection firsthand. Through critical writing, class discussion, and individual research, each student will learn to see and appreciate the art of the Dutch Golden Age.

Presser, Pam - Brain Matters

If you could find out everything about how your mind works, would you want this knowledge? Or does some of the magic of life evaporate if all secrets are revealed? Utilizing recent discoveries about the brain, this class will interrogate the role values should play in scientific research.

Freud believed that unconscious wishes and repressed memories continuously controlled us, regulating what we thought during the day and what we dreamed at night.After scientists began discussing the chemical transmission of nerve impulses in the brain,. physicians rejected Freud's model of the mind, turning to biological approaches. Yet, as an interdisciplinary field which focuses on cognition has emerged, Freud's ideas have made a comeback. Neurologists, biologists, and psychiatrists are collaborating to analyze discoveries made possible by recent technologies which seem to corroborate Freud's theories.

This work has implications for students and teachers of the writing process. Understanding how the brain works can provide insight into how people construct meaning, use language, create narratives and develop arguments. Assignments for this class might include, but will not be limited to, a collaborative project, an annotated bibliography, and an analysis of a blog which is relevant to course concerns.

Reidner, Rachel -Writing Global Women's Lives

Beginning with two case studies, an historical analysis of the veil in France and an anthropological study of sex workers in a small Mexican city, we’ll consider the powerful local and global forces that shape women’s lives. Drawing upon scholarship in transnational feminist theory, shared readings will lead to writing projects that look closely and carefully at women’s experiences beyond literal or popular representations of their lives and explore how we can rigorously write about and represent women. To begin our conversations about writing women’s lives, we'll reflect upon how history shapes our writing, how we include the voices of others in our writing, how we use and frame evidence, and how we ethically represent our own knowledge claims. The first assignment is an analytical and critical assignment that works closely and critically with shared course reading. The lengthiest assignment of the semester is a student-generated, critical research project. The course will end with a short public writing assignment where students will write a letter to an academic publication which could publish their research work.

Riley, Matt - Songs about Something Other than Love: Music as Social Commentary

This course is an ongoing study conducted by First Year students concerning how music functions as social commentary.  We will begin by looking at how we interact with musical artists and the industry as consumers and then examine how professional journalists write and argue about popular music.  From there, were will examine how scholars analyze music in a wide variety of disciplines.  Students will engage in developing the analytical tools necessary to conduct research and critical commentary, and they will argue positions on issues drawn from both popular music and scholarly inquiry. 

Ronan, Megan -Something Old, Something New: Collage, Mash-Up, and Remix Culture

Collage techniques have infiltrated our culture, from mash-up musicians like Girl Talk, collage poets and visual artists, to spliced together You Tube videos. As writers and researchers, we can take a lesson from these techniques. Our goal is to critically consider what already exists, and then synthesize various existing sources to create a new contribution to the conversation. The truth is, as writers, we can only put forth new and worthwhile arguments if we’re willing to use and bounce off of the old ones. But there is also controversy surrounding this kind of remix culture: what pieces of culture, what images, language, sounds, ideas, and materials are free to use and what is owned? What does society have to gain or lose in all this borrowing, stealing, and refashioning? Students will critically examine the intellectual, ethical, and social implications of the remix culture we live in and analyze mash- ups to see how the artists use, comment on, and converse with p reviously existing material to make their own argument, putting these remixing skills to use in their own research.

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 - Voices of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are an array of deeply conflicting and competing historical narratives.  For the cultures of this region, seeped in faith and engaged in a long political struggle, there is an exceptional amount at stake in constructing their national histories.  In this class, we will look at versions of the regional history told through a diverse set of voices from within the conflict.  We will compare a wide range of Israeli, Palestinian and American perspectives in sources including memoirs, newspapers, film, local history textbooks, and international observers’ reports.  Each of these genres combines varied measures of historical understanding, faith, or individual experience to construct a coherent story from a deeply complicated situation.  We will take apart these narratives to examine how each writer collects information and stakes a claim.  For each piece of writing, we will ask how collective memory impacts personal accounts.  We will scrutinize what cultural or historical assumptions shape their understanding and determine their actions.  These discussions will anticipate the sorts of questions students will need to ask in their own writing: What are their sources of information?  What constitutes evidence for each?   What are their claims and how do they convince their audiences?  Students will keep all of these questions at play as they research a piece of the history of the region.

Schell, Heather - Darwin's Legacy

When Darwin’s transformative On the Origin of Species was first published in 1859, people in England were deeply shaken, in part because it challenged literalist interpretations of the Bible; it took about forty years for the English to find a way to reconcile their religious beliefs and evolutionary theory. On the other side of the Atlantic, however, that kind of coming to terms has never really happened. This has shown most clearly in our public school system, where a battle over the right to teach evolutionary theory has been waged since the Scopes Trial of 1925. Why is evolutionary theory still the subject of debate in the United States? To answer this question, we will look at this war of ideas at the level of writing; we will use techniques of rhetoric analysis to examine the ways in which the players in this ongoing debate frame themselves as authorities, appeal to their audiences, produce evidence, and address alternate perspectives. The class will include a visit to Special Collections at two area libraries to study primary documents.

Smith, Caroline - The Politics of the Kitchen: Examining Contemporary Women's Food Writing

Last summer, the movie, Julie and Julia, which intertwines the tales of chef, cookbook author, and television personality Julia Child and food blogger Julie Powell, opened to complimentary reviews and a positive public reception, grossing $20.1 million on opening weekend. The film, which is based on two food memoirs (Child’s My Life in France and Powell’s The Julie/Julia Project), reveals the public’s recent fascination with the food we eat, the way we prepare it, and the stories of people like Julie and Julia who find pleasure and fulfillment in both. In the last five years, there has been a swell in food writing – from food histories (Anne Mendelson’s Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages) to local eating manifestos (Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). In this class, we will examine this recent writing trend, looking specifically at women’s food writing for the way in which this writing complicates more traditional perceptions of women and their relationship to the food they eat and write about. We’ll ask, along with writer Laura Shapiro, if women really do like to cook, and we’ll discuss how women writers, like Diana Abu-Jaber (The Language of Baklava), use food to shape their identities. We’ll also look at non-traditional forms of food writing – like the documentary – which chronicle this often complicated relationship between women and food. In our class, we’ll consider how, through the tangible act of preparing food, these writers encourage readers to reconsider the intangible politics of the kitchen. UW20 serves as the training ground for three important abilities – critical reading, researching, and writing at the college level. My intention in this class is to expose students to the thoughtful consideration of how writers effectively (or sometimes ineffectively) convince us of their points. Additionally, we will consider how we, as writers, best express ourselves. How can we make our own writing stronger? The food writing that we will read throughout the semester will serve as the starting point for our own writing assignments, which will be as varied as the texts that we will consider. 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.

Smith, Caroline - It's a Mad, Mad World: Writing about AMC's Television Series Mad Men

When the television series Mad Men first aired in the summer of 2007, it didn’t have much going for it. After all, it was a period drama airing on a network best knowing for showing classic films. But, before long, it became clear that Mad Men was here to stay – winning an Emmy for best drama in both 2008 and 2009. All of the sudden, Mad Men seemed to be everywhere. Banana Republic’s fall 2009 line was inspired by the show’s fashions. AMC’s webpage allows you to create your ownMad Men character and post it to your Facebook page. Even Sesame Street spoofed the series. In this course, we will examine the popular appeal of the series Mad Men. Not only will we look at the written criticism surrounding the show from articles in The New York Times to blogs like Basket of Kisses, but we will also look at the extratextual references that Mad Men makes, particularly in regard to the political climate of the early 1960s. For instance, how might newspaper coverage of the historic Nixon-Kennedy election help us to better understand the cultural climate in which Don Draper lives and works? Might reading Betty Friedan’s feminist classic The Feminine Mystique (1963) shed light on the character of Betty Draper? And, would considering historical accounts of the Civil Rights movement inform our reading of Paul Kinsey, who travels down south to register voters? As a class, we will immerse ourselves in 1960s culture in order to better understand the complicated historical circumstances that surround these characters.

UW20 serves as the training ground for three important abilities – critical reading, researching, and writing at the college level. My intention in this class is to expose students to the thoughtful consideration of how writers effectively (or sometimes ineffectively) convince us of their points. Additionally, we will consider how we, as writers, best express ourselves. How can we make our own writing stronger? What research lenses might we apply to our work in order to enrich it? The television series Mad Men and the readings associated with it will serve as the starting point for our own writing assignments, which will be as varied as the texts that we will consider. 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 - Communicating Climate Change

Researchers have found that humans respond most effectively to problems that pose an imminent risk, affect them directly, and can be solved by actions they can readily imagine taking.  The worst effects of climate change, by contrast, will not be experienced for decades, will likely be experienced by people far away, in less developed regions of the world, and are difficult to link with actions we might take now. This last characteristic is compounded by two other factors. First, it is easy to ignore the costs of action if we won’t be the ones who pay them. Second, it is hard to change habits that define a way of life. But this is the challenge that all Americans now face.

Climate scientists and policymakers, sociologists, public and non-profit administrators, psychologists, political scientists, media analysts, journalists, environmentalists, diplomats, and business people are all now striving to better understand the problem of communicating climate change. Over the course of this semester, you can participate in their broad interdisciplinary conversation. And through the critical thinking, creative research, and reflective writing you will practice in this section of UW 20, you will be able to make an original contribution to this ongoing discussion.

Tomlinson, Niles - Ghosts of Washington, DC: History, Folklore and Memorial

To study Washington as a place of haunting is to discover how traumatic events in American history are never fully buried or repressed but are instead always returning and exerting their influence on the present. This course starts with William Faulkner’s premise that “[t]he past is never dead, it’s not even past,” and moves towards an exploration of how we might locate in Washington’s ghost legends and national memorials the interchange between past and present, the popular and the officially authorized—in short, the ghostly whisperings that continue to haunt the American imagination.

We will begin by identifying specific strains of trauma and haunting in political speeches, short essays and fiction. We will then examine Washington’s most famous ghost stories and analyze some of its most significant memorials. The final research project will give students a chance to explore in depth a haunted event that creates a unique link between discourses of nation and American culture. In all, this course will make the larger point that Washington has a haunting side rarely read about in history textbooks, and this spectral history is crucial in continually deepening and revitalizing the American imagination.

This course starts with William Faulkner’s premise that “[t]he past is never dead, it’s not even past,” and moves towards an exploration of how we might locate in Washington’s ghost legends and national memorials the interchange between past and present, the popular and the officially authorized, nation and imagination.

Wilkerson, Abby - Food, Rhetorical Agency, and Social Change

Food is not simply a biological necessity but a part of life situating each of us in a network of growers, producers, consumers, preparers, and sellers—a network that has expanded to encompass the globe. Food is also a rhetorical domain, in which meanings are created and struggles enacted through language—writing about food and agriculture, as well as food used as language. This course uses the context of food and food politics as a site for exploring rhetorical agency, how speakers, writers, and all makers of meaning accomplish their goals through persuasion, argument, and advocacy of all kinds. In particular, we will investigate rhetorical positions and frameworks taken up in recent debates on sustainable eating. Coursework includes (1) examining published work on food politics, considering their strategies for representation and analysis, (2) creating reflections and narratives, and (3) conducting research on the rhetorical dimensions of specific instances of food politics and practices.

Wolfe, Zachary - Progressive Movements: Rewriting 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 courts and legislation to effect their  demands.  When those arenas are 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,  culminating in a major final research paper that will advance the  discourse on a self-selected 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 the romantic myth of the rebel artist extends far beyond the Paris garret to inform the choices we believe are available in arenas as varied as politics, human relations, business, art, religion, and the intersection of intellect and identity. Bohemian subcultures from starving artists to firebrand activists have not just challenged, but changed, where and how we live, under what rules and terms through their works, lives, and documented words.

In this course, we'll look to city neighborhoods and to countercultural groups such as the Dadaists, Beatniks, Black Panthers, Weather Underground, and contemporary "nowtopians" to see how countercultural groups rewrite—often literally—the world around us. Because bohemians break established boundaries to create new forms, you'll study a range of innovative, hybrid texts—including scholarly and creative writing, visual and performing arts, cinema, photography, and new media—and experiment with authentic writing forms designed to upset the status quo. As major projects, you will critique a countercultural text, embark on inventive critical research to address the bohemian experience, and then explore the city to create a multimedia writing project that critically argues the territory of neo-bohemia right here in Washington, DC.

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