UW20 Courses - Spring 2004

| Last Updated: 6/28/05 |

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About UW20

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

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

Themes and Professors

(click on title for full course description)

Food Fights: The Pleasures and Politics of Food Writing - Professor Ryan Claycomb
26104 18 MW/F 12:30-1:45/ 12:30-1:20
26107 21 MW/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20

War and Memory in the Twentieth Century - Professor Cayo Gamber
26121 25 TR/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26133 33 TR/F 11-12:15/11-11:50

Sexuality, Identity, and other Contemporary Anxieties: Latin American Thought and Culture - Professor Gustavo Guerra
26105 19 MW/F 4:10-5:25/4:10-5
26137 M1 MW/F 1-2:15/1-1:50 meets at Mt Vernon

Writing and Research in Washington, DC - Professor Carol Hayes
26106 20 MW/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26118 22 MW/F 12:30-1:45/ 12:30-1:20

Visual Culture and the Usable Past - Professor Ryan Jerving
26120 24 TR/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26125 29 TR/F 8-9:15/8-8:50

Damsels in Distress and Dudes in Danger: The Great American Melodrama - Professor Mark Mullen
26126 30 MW/F 12:30-1:45/ 12:30-1:20
26131 32 MW/F 11-12:15/11-11:50

Fear Factor: The Culture of Fear in American Life - Professor Jessica O’Hara
26097 11 TR/F 11-12:15/11-11:50
26103 17 TR/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20

Revolutionary Writing and Outlaw Writers - Professor Rachel Riedner
26099 13 TR/F 12:30-1:45/ 12:30-1:20
26101 15 TR/F 2-3:15/2-2:50
26138 M2 TR/F 10-11:15/10-10:50 meets at Mt Vernon

Sit in! Strike! Take it to the Street!: The Rhetoric of Social Protest - Professor Phyllis Ryder
26123 27 MW/F 8-9:15/8-8:50
26124 28 MW/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20

Love, American Style - Professor Heather Schell
26096 10 TR/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26098 12 TR/F 8-9:15/8-8:50

He-Men, Girly Girls, Tomboys, and Sissies: Writing the Gendered Body - Professor Abby Wilkerson
26122 26 TR/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26129 31 TR/F 2-3:15/2-2:50

Digital Power: Information Technology and You - Professor Robbin Zeff
26102 16 MW/F 9:30-10:45/9:30-10:20
26119 23 MW/F 12:30-1:45/ 12:30-1:20
26134 34 MW/F 2-3:15/2-2:50

A Congress of Freaks: Cultural Oddities, Strange Folks, and Proud Outsiders - Professor Christy Zink
26100 14 TR/F 2-3:15/2-2:50 this class meets at Mt Vernon
26135 35 TR/F 4:10-5:25/4:10-5


Food Fights: The Pleasures and Politics of Food Writing
Professor Ryan Claycomb

Writing about food is a deeply personal, and often a deeply pleasurable experience. Marcel Proust, in the most literary of terms, remembers his childhood through the scent of cookies, while anyone who has ever read Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate can virtually smell her quail in rose petal sauce. But like all pleasurable experiences, writing and thinking about food is also embroiled in debate at every turn, as Upton Sinclair proved by changing minds and turning stomachs with The Jungle. Some examples: research suggests that food preferences are as unique to our identity as any other component of our personality; genetically engineered foods promise utopian results and provoke Frankensteinian fears; eating disorders plague women (and men) across the country, while advocates for vegetarian practices variously cite morality, health, and environmental well-being to support their choices. In short, our food is as troubling as it is satisfying. This semester, we will explore the pleasures and the politics of eating through a range of writing about food. We'll look at texts like Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, Madeline George's "The Most Massive Woman Wins," and food writing from connoisseurs and cultural critics alike. At the same time, we'll be doing our own food writing, ranging from restaurant reviews to rhetorical analyses of other food writers to extended research papers on food-related topics like Frankenfoods, body image, world hunger, or vegetarianism.

War and Memory in the Twentieth Century
Professor Cayo Gamber

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

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

Sexuality, Identity, and other Contemporary Anxieties: Latin American Thought and Culture
Professor Gustavo Guerra

This writing intensive course explores issues and themes surrounding sexuality and identity within Latin American and Latino/Latina studies. 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 sexuality and identity? We will read essays from two collections of contemporary essays and two, perhaps three, short novels by Manuel Puig. The course will center on the writing of arguments. In this class, we will define argument as a collaborative structure of thinking that allows writers and readers to articulate problems and find possible ways of thinking through them creatively.

Writing and Research in Washington, DC
Professor Carol Hayes

This course is focused on the theme of local Washington, DC, and is designed to help you develop a number of skills in university-level analytical writing and research. Because DC’s local history has been shaped by issues of race and class, many of the readings and class discussions will focus on controversial topics involving race and class: we’ll discuss the 1968 race riots, urban renewal (i.e., the way that such urban “renewal” came to be described as “Negro removal” by the black community in DC), the film Slam (a film that won the 1998 Sundance Film Festival award and which focuses on both slam poetry and the DC Jail), DC’s own go-go music, and DC’s status as a colony (i.e., it’s lack of voting rights). You’ll center your writing and research on DC in a variety of ways over the course of the semester: you’ll respond analytically to texts about DC; develop your own lines of research that are based on your personal or professional interests (researching and writing about topics such as medical facilities in DC, local schools, services for the homeless, the Redskins, The George Washington University itself, etc); and you’ll interview at least one local person as a resource. 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.

Visual Culture and the Usable Past
Professor Ryan Jerving

William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” This course considers how the present puts the past to work: to invoke or invent cultural traditions, to score political points, to establish precedents or parallels, to show how far we’ve come, or to figure out just how we got here. Through a series of case studies—of contemporary photojournalism’s take on historical significance, of museum approaches to the ordinary, of comic book answers to the burden of history, of the play between invention and tradition in university self-representation—we will explore ways of reading visually as we ask not only what we owe the past but also what, if anything, the past owes us.

The course itself will adopt this revisionary model for the writing and critical thinking process as we work to develop and sharpen our powers of critical observation, narration, argumentation, and problem construction—all necessary writing skills for academic and professional pursuits, and all crucial elements in the informed study of culture. The emphasis will be on multiple-stage and multiple-draft projects that require continuous self- and peer-evaluation. Projects will ask you to perform a close analysis of the form and function of news photo iconography, to write an ethnography of everyday design and architecture, to put together a text-and-image autohistorical essay, and to conduct archival and secondary research into the historical context and competing representations of a controversial issue on The George Washington University campus.

Damsels in Distress and Dudes in Danger: The Great American Melodrama
Professor Mark Mullen

I. An emaciated young girl, dressed in rags, arrives at the door of a bar asking for her father who is inside busily drinking away the family fortune. A bar-fight breaks out and the girl is hit in the head by a flying glass. After she is carried home her distraught father kneels by her deathbed and vows to swear off drink for life.

II. A hard-bitten Marine sergeant leads his troops through a storm of shot and shell as they struggle to capture Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima. As his men rest just below the crest of the hill, the sergeant is killed by an enemy sniper. The surviving members of his unit find an unsent letter on his corpse and listen, filled with emotion, as the sergeant’s final words to his son are read aloud.

Often derided for its simplicity and its emphasis upon emotion, melodrama has in fact been one of the most long-lived and influential genres in the US cultural landscape. It has transcended time, subject-matter, and medium: the first example above is from Ten Nights in a Barroom one of the most successful temperance plays of the nineteenth-century, while the second comes from The Sands of Iwo Jima, widely considered to be one of the most realistic war films ever made (and starring none other than the quintessential tough guy John Wayne). Indeed, Americans would be unable to make much sense of anything in their cultural landscape without a powerfully developed (if largely unconscious) appreciation of melodrama. Think, for example, of how many times explicitly melodramatic narratives involving villains and victims are used in political discourse.

This research-intensive course will use an investigation of the relevance of melodrama to American culture to hone your writing skills. You’ll be learning how to do primary documentation and site research, compare examples across different media, analyze complex phenomena with clarity and argue persuasively. As a bonus, we’ll wallow in emotional excess of all kinds: death, disease, and destruction, angelic children and fiendish villains—we’ve got it all!

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

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

Revolutionary Writing and Outlaw Writers
Professor Rachel Riedner

In this course, we will read writing that has inspired revolution or unrest, and has lead to social and political change. The purpose of revolutionary writing is to challenge the normal ideas that shape our everyday lives, to challenge the authority of the state and institutions of civil society and, in so doing, encourage us to actively oppose social inequality and political oppression. Revolutionary writing intentionally describes violence that others want to sweep under the rug, exposes corruption, uncovers inequality that is not acknowledged by the majority, and even critiques commonsense, everyday ideas (Kincaid). Not unexpectedly, such writing jeopardizes the safety of its authors. Writers are imprisoned by the state (Freire in Brazil), are exiled to other countries (Ngugi from Kenya), are outlaws within their own nation (Marcos in Mexico), have prices put on their heads (Rushdie), or, in some extreme cases, are executed or murdered for their writing.

As we read revolutionary writing, we’ll think specifically about our own writing. We will ask ourselves what we can learn about writing by reading and researching the circumstances surrounding revolutionary writing. We’ll ask ourselves why writing is chosen a means of social and political protest. We’ll look closely not only at what writers argue but how they use language. Because revolutionary writing encourages us to find voice to speak and to act, we’ll consider how our writing has important social and political consequences.

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

In this writing course, we will consider what it takes to persuade people to change their deeply-held beliefs. What did it take, for example, for the Civil Rights Movement to shift American attitudes about race? We will look at the activities of multiple groups involved in the Civil Rights Movement—from the SNCC college students (your age!) who coordinated voter registration marches in Mississippi, to the interracial CORE Freedom Riders who endured beatings for sitting together, to the large groups of marchers in Selma and Birmingham who followed Martin Luther King’s SCLC . We’ll also examine activities much closer to home: the protests planned around the World Bank/ IMF meetings in April. In what ways do contemporary protests parallel or diverge from protest strategies of the past?
The course will focus on this question: what does it take to challenge a social system that many consider “normal” and “right”? You’ll choose a particular social movement and analyze and evaluate the strategies they use(d) to create change. To develop your final, complex analytical research paper, you will write research proposals, annotated bibliographies, and multiple drafts; your peers and I will comment on these so that you receive helpful feedback at many stages of your writing process.

Some social movements you might explore include (but certainly are not limited to): the anti-sweatshop movements on university campuses; the Zapatista Army for National Liberation in Mexico; organizations that seek to abolish the death penalty or to protect immigrant rights or to secure the national border ; local groups in DC that are working to prevent gentrification of their neighborhoods; organizations that work on behalf of the homeless; or international feminist groups that work to end practices such as female circumcision: the possibilities are numerous.

Love, American Style
Professor Heather Schell

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

This semester, we will use love stories for our course theme as we work at developing your ability to write at a college level. You will read a wide array of texts drawn from popular culture and learn techniques for analyzing them. Writing assignments will focus on argument, organization, and research skills; student-led presentations will review grammar trouble spots.

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

How do the social categories of “masculine” and “feminine” shape our perceptions and expectations of our own and others’ bodies? Conversely, how do norms related to the body influence perceptions of ourselves and others as persons? What are the political consequences of these norms, and what is their relationship to social change? How are gendered social norms filtered through our bodies and what are the consequences for our day to day lives? We will examine gendered bodily norms in the following contexts: their intersections with other social categories, including race and sexual identity; men, women, and sports; violence; and appearance standards, body image, strength and size.

Digital Power: Information Technology and You
Professor Robbin Zeff

The digital world is intimately a part of our daily lives. We use the Internet to find an apartment, find a car, or find a date. We send pictures to friends through cell phones and follow our favorite presidential candidate through his campaign blog. Even though many of these technologies weren’t around a few years ago, they now define how we communicate personally and professionally. In fact, the Internet was once predicted to swiftly bring about the death of all previous information mediums from television to print. But we’re still watching TV and reading books printed on paper. What happened with the Internet is the same process that occurred with each new generation of information technology, the new merely takes its place alongside the old. In this course we will examine the power of information technology over time as we address the following questions: How does cutting edge technology break through barriers of adoption and become part of one's social life? How is the more orally focused way people write online affecting how we write off-line? What are the social and cultural implications of pervasive communication mediums in a wireless world? How does one write about the uses of technology from the inside when those very uses are dynamically changing?

Course reading will include excerpts from "The Victorian Internet" by Tom Standage, "The Social Life of Information" by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, "Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web by David Weinberger," and a selection of articles and web sites. We will use these thought-provoking texts as models for our own writing of narrative, argument, and critical analysis essays.

A Congress of Freaks: Cultural Oddities, Strange Folks, and Proud Outsiders
Professor Christy Zink

“Step right up! You won’t believe your eyes,” circus barkers once bellowed outside sideshow tents across the country, beckoning their audiences to be shocked and amazed by the wonders found within. To be both entertained and educated—while being fascinated, repulsed, confused, and convinced all at once—was central to the American experience. And how far have we really come from the days of P.T. Barnum’s sideshow exhibitions—what he called his Congress of Freaks—in this new era, when we find quirky roadside attractions and museums of rare treasures in every state of the union as well as the proliferation of stranger-than-truth Reality TV? What is it about our love for curiosities that endures not just for national pastime, but also as a central human experience? And why, then, do many of us find that identifying ourselves as outsiders actually makes for a desirable political, social, cultural, or ideological stance? In this course, students are invited to step right up and take a hard look at the strange, the eccentric, and the supposedly normal to explore how we're alternately spellbound, disturbed, and heartened by what is out of the ordinary and how innovative thinking and writing often stem from our encounters with what we least understand.

This interdisciplinary, writing-intensive course will concentrate on lives happening outside the mainstream and what oddity teaches us about the ability to enrich our everyday lives and make them extraordinary. Through the course theme, we will move into more subtle, yet complex ideas of how we determine credibility and authority, how we create new definitions and build convincing arguments, and what vital choices we make when we write from the many perspectives and multiple audiences available. We will approach the topics at hand from a broad range of viewpoints, incorporating philosophy, literature, biology, medical science, history, anthropology, and psychology, among other fields, to start thinking about the roots of effective research, critical writing, and scholarship. Students will learn how to move the idiosyncratic, personal idea into inventive, convincing writing that speaks to a wider audience outside the self through writing projects in narrative, critical analysis, argument, and research. Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys of all ages: Bring your sense of wonder and a willingness to surprise yourself. Join us for the extravaganza. It’s worth every penny.