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Northwestern University

First-Year Writing Seminars - Spring 2024

Spring 2024 College Writing Seminars

The following seminars will be offered in Spring Quarter 2024.  Click on the ">" in front of a title to read the course description. Please confirm class days and times in Caesar as there may be some changes.


Instructor(s): Farhad Zadeh

Description: Exploration of what is understood about stellar nurseries, deaths, collisions, neutron stars, black holes, accreting white dwarfs, quasars, and gamma-ray bursts and why they hold cosmic records as the most massive, energetic, shortest, furthest, or brightest objects and events in our natural universe.

A Brief Journey Through the Invisible Universe

Instructor(s): Brian Libgober


Complex societies require systems for settling private conflicts and, in so doing, producing civil justice. In recent years, scholars have documented a profound, multi-dimensional crisis in the basic infrastructure of providing civil justice, with particular flash points including eviction, child welfare, and debt collection.

Our course will explore how the civil justice system has reached this state of crisis, the consequences of this crisis for social and economic inequality, and how and why the political system has struggled to arrive at policy solutions. We will also discuss prospects for reform to civil justice and draw connections and contrasts to the criminal justice system. The course aims to give students a familiarity with how social scientists think about thorny policy issues crossing many substantive areas.

Access to Justice

Instructor(s): Lily Stewart


Humans for thousands of years have documented their visions of other worlds and afterlives. Whether informed by religious revelation, collective trauma, or individual creativity, these visions provide important vantage points for assessing cultural values and experiences. In this class we will explore religious models of “The Afterlife” while also analyzing afterlives constructed in fiction, film, art, and other forms of popular media. We will ask how envisioning other worlds can help us to alternately articulate and blur the boundaries between life and death, trauma and healing, past and present, and reality and fiction. We will also explore what it means to “live after” major ruptures in individual and collective experience. For instance, how do we envision life after pandemic? After climate change? Revolution? Immigration? Utopia? Through speculative fiction, how to we envision the afterlives of humanity as we assess the potential for a post-human world?

Sources will include ghost stories from around the world, medieval visions of hell, purgatory, and heaven, videos of dead celebrities resurrected as holograms, episodes of Upload, The Good Place, and Star Trek, contemporary news releases, and short speculative fiction. Students will develop skills in analytical writing, creative thinking, and classroom collaboration.

Afterlives and Living After: Envisioning Other Worlds

Instructor(s): Jay Grossman


From selfies to Instagram to Twitter bios and other social media, we are all writing our autobiographies all the time. Our phones chronicle our daily experiences and we share them so that friends and strangers around the world consume the details of our lives in real time. In this class, we’ll revisit some classic works of American autobiography in order to take stock of the long backstory to our current autobiographical moment. How have prior generations thought about the possibilities of telling their life stories? What have been the stakes in doing so? Who were the imagined readers of these texts, and what happens when they’re read in contexts and by people that the original authors could hardly have imagined—including all of us now in the twenty-first century.

Our reading will include autobiographical works from every century but the last: • Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan woman captured by Native Americans who wrote about her experiences in 1682; • Founding Father Benjamin Franklin, who wrote his action-packed, name-dropping life story in the 1780s; • William Apess, a Pequot, who wrote the first autobiography by a Native American in 1829; • Frederick Douglass, the formerly enslaved person turned brilliant abolitionist leader whose 1845 Narrative is an American classic; • Colson Whitehead, whose 2019 novel Nickel Boys won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and turned the conventions of autobiography on their head; • and the great gay poet Walt Whitman, who invented in the 1850s a wholly new kind of poetry to tell his story. In every case we’ll be interested in the ways—different from ours—that these authors constructed the stories of their lives, as well as the cultural, political, social, and national contexts within which they lived their lives and told their stories.

American Selfies: Four Centuries of American Life Writing
MW3:30-4:50 PM

Instructor(s): Kevin Hunter


This course explores the many facets of color. From the scientific underpinnings of what light is and how it behaves in the world, to the way that color is used in art and film. Requiring no previous science or art background, this course hopes to bridge the gap between these two worlds by exploring how color is vital to so many disciplines.

Over the quarter we will focus on the guiding questions of: What is color? How do we perceive color? How do we capture color? How do we create color, and What does color mean to us? We will address these questions through guided readings, outside speakers from across disciplines, and interactive assignments.

An analysis of color across science and culture

Instructor(s): Fay Rosner


What do poetry, music and painting have in common? Can a painting be musical? Can music paint a scene? In this seminar, we will immerse ourselves in the works and criticism of several influential figures of modernity whose artistic visions often overlapped.

Through close readings, we will take our time enjoying the works of artists from these different genres, as we seek to understand how these writers, painters and musicians echo, support, and challenge one another in their work and criticism. As we examine the turbulent social and political contexts in which these works emerged, we will also explore how and why the works of these artists caused such moral and critical outrage in audiences of the time.

Artists in Dialogue: Literature, Music, and Painting in Nineteenth-Century Paris

Instructor(s): Jacob Brown


Black writing matters, and Afro-Brazilian authors have made indispensable contributions to the literature of the Americas and the African diaspora. Brazil has the largest Afrodescendant population outside of Africa. It was the last country in the Western hemisphere to formally abolish slavery in 1888, and it imported more enslaved human beings from the transatlantic slave trade than any other country in the world. Africans and their descendants have shaped virtually every aspect of Brazilian culture, history, and society. So why focus on Afro-Brazilian literature? How do we define it, and what does it have to say about Black history, Black identity, and Black lives in Brazil?

To explore these questions, students will analyze English-language translations of Afro-Brazilian fiction, poetry, testimony, theory, graphic novels, documentary, and song lyrics. These texts reveal the central role of Afro-Brazilian women in the construction of Afro-Brazilian literature.

By the end of the course, students will be able to name some of the most influential Afro-Brazilian authors and make meaningful connections and comparisons between their rich and multifaceted works. Students will also be able to write and talk about how Black authors have challenged racism and intersecting structures of oppression in a global context from the 19th century to the present. Students will leave the class with an appreciation for how Afro-Brazilian literature can help us not only critique society but also collectively imagine a more equitable and inclusive future for all in Brazil and beyond.

Black Lives in Brazil: Afro-Brazilian Writing, Culture, and Perspectives

Instructor(s): Melissa Rosenzweig


The concept of environmental justice in the United States emerged in the early 1980s as Black residents fought hazardous waste sites planned in and around their communities. Since then, the environmental justice perspective has been expanded to include the struggles of other minority groups disenfranchised on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or class.  

In the first part of the course, students will learn about the history of the environmental justice movement in the US and its development. Next, the course will take a closer look at environmental justice in Chicago, both past and present. As a final project, students will be tasked with researching an environmental justice organization in the Chicago area.

Chicago Environmental Justice

Instructor(s): Melissa Macauley

Description: China has been the object of Euro-American fascination for centuries. Popular writers, scholars, journalists, filmmakers, and government officials either have upheld its traditions as worthy of Western emulation or dismissed them with profound disdain or anxiety. American depictions of China over the last one hundred years have changed in particularly dramatic ways. Writings associated with imperialism and the missionary enterprise often exuded a sentimental paternalism toward the Chinese. Anti-immigrant prejudices at home produced an abundant “yellow peril” literature. This literature changed its hue as the Cold War fostered fears of a “red menace.” Many of these views were colored as much by shifting American domestic and international concerns as they were by objective changes in Chinese history. This seminar will address how and why American opinions of China have shifted so repeatedly and profoundly over the past 150 years.

China in the American Imagination

Instructor(s): Merida Rua


This first-year seminar foregrounds age as a social and analytical category in examinations of Latina, Latino, and Latinx everyday life. Students will work with historical narratives, ethnographic texts, nonfiction essays, short stories, visual art, and popular culture to question assumptions about how individuals and communities grow up and grow old.

Discussions will consider how the political and economic dimensions of place have affected life trajectories in certain communities, as well as how other categories of social difference inform ideas about age and age relations.

Coming of Age in Latinx Studies: Scholars, Writers, and Artists on Growing Up and Growing Old
MW 9:30am-10:50am

Instructor(s): Jessica Ramirez


How does contemporary poetry take on new meanings through spoken performances and the incorporation of song lyrics? Furthermore, how do song lyrics simultaneously perform the work of poetry? In this class, we will focus on the ways in which contemporary poetry engages music and politics, including racial relations, gender studies, and nationalism.

We will explore recent films including the critically acclaimed In the Heights (2021) and West Side Story (2021), which adapts the 1957 musical of the same name. We will also look at slam poetry and texts by Toni Morrison, Pedro Pietri, and Langston Hughes, considering the ways in which music contributes to identity-making and community building in lyrics, poetry, and prose. Along the way, we will practice important reading and writing skills including argumentation, literary analysis, and the use of textual evidence to understand more about the writing of complex subjects through the means of musicality.

Contemporary Music, Poetry, and Politics

Instructor(s): Elizabeth Smith


How do students build community at Northwestern University, after pandemic has turned the world upside-down and transformed many social practices? How do cultural anthropologists write about people and places? To find out, you will learn and practice cultural anthropology's most famous methods of research and writing, participant observation and writing ethnography. Weekly readings and class discussions will inform your observations of one aspect of college life on campus you choose to study throughout the quarter, building toward a final creative and/or academic project presentation. An important part of the course consists of three student-run in-class roundtables which pair NU campus groups with Evanston organizations examining intersecting power structures such as race, gender, sexuality, and economic inequality.

Conducting your own participant-observation research will empower you to 1. make sense of your environment in the current moment, 2. turn an analytical eye toward Northwestern as an institution, and 3. critically develop your new role as a college student. Requirements include participation in class discussion and roundtables, developing your field research project, and your final project presentation which can be creative, analytic, or a mix of both—prior students have written songs, created podcasts, and hand-drawn illustrations to present their research results along with more traditional academic analyses. Course materials include one text for purchase ($30 new) as well as book chapters, articles, and film/media accessible for free online.

Ethnography of College Community

Instructor(s): Johana Godfrey


Picture this: it’s 2005. You’ve got “1, 2 Step” by Ciara and “Pon de Replay” by Rihanna loaded on your iPod mini, and your dad has promised to take you to the brand-new Bubble tea place in the mall if you join him at the Iraq War protest. In this class, we’ll take an honest look at the 2000s, a decade shaped by the tension between conspicuous consumption and political awareness. We’ll focus our critique on the media and pop culture sandstorms that shaped your (early) childhood: Kanye West’s comments on Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession, the infamous tabloid photograph of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears titled “Bimbo Summit.”

We’ll form our own cultural account and critique of the 2000s, reading between the lines to grapple with the economic inequality, racial disparity, and exaggerated and limiting gender roles that shaped popular culture. How can we account for our own recent history, and how does nostalgia warp our perception of the past? Each class will be anchored by broadcast news clips, news articles, and tabloid headlines, and ads, and we’ll watch selections from reality classics Laguna Beach, America’s Next Top Model, and Jackass; TV shows like Friday Night Lights and The Wire; Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko; Alice Wu’s Saving Face; Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums; Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham; and music videos by Destiny’s Child, Green Day, and Outkast, among others. Teaching Methods: seminar discussion, group exercises.

Flip-phones, Tabloids, Juicy Couture: 2000s Pop Culture and Politics

Instructor(s): Ann Orloff

Description: This class will investigate how gender shapes politics and policy, and how these in turn shape gender, with a focus on the United States, in comparative and global context. Gender is conceptualized as a set of relations, identifications and cultural schema, always constituted with other dimensions of power, difference and inequality (e.g., race, class, sexuality, religion, citizenship status). We will analyze the gendered character of citizenship, political participation and representation, social rights and economic rights. We aim to understand gendered politics and policy from both "top down" and "bottom up" perspectives. What do states do, via institutions of political participation and representation, citizenship rights and policies, to shape gender relations? How do gender relations influence the nature of policy and citizenship? How has feminism emerged as a radical challenge to the androcentrism and restricted character of the democratic public sphere? And how have anti-feminism and "anti-gender theory" come to be significant dimensions of politics? We expand on conventional conceptions of political participation and citizenship rights to include the grassroots democratic activism that gave birth to modern women's movements. We explore how women's political efforts have given rise to the creation of alternative visions of democracy, social provision and economic participation, as well as reshaping formal politics and policies. And, finally, we will take advantage of the fact that we are in the run up to a Presidential and congressional election to examine the gendered aspects of the political landscape in the contemporary United States.

Gender and Politics

Instructor(s): Christopher Kuzawa


Recent advances in genetic analysis have opened up new opportunities to examine how genes influence our health and our potential, and to investigate our family roots. Although these are revolutionary advances, the scientific implications of genetic research are not always as straightforward as press releases and media coverage imply; and in some domains genetic research raises thorny new ethical and other societal questions. In this discussion-based seminar, we will critically read several recent books that tackle various dimensions of the social lives of our DNA, augmented by additional scientific, popular and journalistic readings.

We will address questions that sit at the interface of genetics and society, such as: How do our genes really influence our health? What are the problems with the concept of genetic race, and why do scientists who study race describe race as a social construct? How do new genetic approaches help us dig deeper into our ancestries, and what are the societal and ethical implications of those approaches? Readings for this class will not require specialist knowledge of biology or genetics, but will benefit from a curiosity about science and a willingness to engage in critical analysis and discussion.

Genes and Society

Instructor(s): Ashish Koul


‘Islam’ is often believed to be a religion which justifies oppression of women and regulation of their public lives in theological terms. In this seminar, we will learn about various intellectual movements that have shaped the interaction of religion and gender in Muslim societies from the nineteenth century to the present.

To contextualize our understanding of these intellectual currents, we will focus on South Asia—home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations today—as a site for examining the historical evolution of Islamic perspectives on gender issues.   This seminar is an opportunity to reflect on the historical intersections among Islam, modernity, and colonialism, using South Asia as a regional site and gender as an analytical category.

The course is divided into two unequal parts. Part One focuses on ideological responses to historical transformations in various parts of the Muslim world. Part Two shifts to South Asia and examines how these ideas of change manifested in this region. Based on texts composed by Muslim women and Muslim male theologians, we will consider the following issues: reformist education, marriage and divorce, gender segregation, property ownership, and Muslim women’s political participation. In analyzing these questions, we will elucidate the complexity of Islamic intellectual traditions and emphasize their historical dynamism, especially in colonial and post-colonial contexts. Simultaneously, we will discover the ways in which Muslim women have become agents of their own change while compromising with and negotiating multiple forms of social authority in Muslim societies.

Islam and Gender in the Modern World

Instructor(s): Tim Charlebois

Description: The ‘late’ modern period of political thinking, spanning the late 18th- to early 20th-centuries, followed the legacies of Immanuel Kant and G.W.F. Hegel, and continued their investigations into the politics behind enlightenment, tradition, history, and progress. This course explores this late modern period of political thinking through close readings of three influential works from the Western canon of political theory: selected writings by Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche’s "On the Genealogy of Morals," and Sigmund Freud’s "Civilization and its Discontents." Analyzing the way these thinkers both converge and diverge in their attempts to grapple with the modern condition, this course will investigate and problematize the characteristics of ‘modernity’, the political problems it gave rise to, and the conclusions drawn by each of the three core thinkers. Of particular interest will be their investigations into the themes of power, violence, freedom, subjection, oppression, emancipation, democracy, and the state.

Marx, Nietzsche, Freud
MW3:30 - 4:50 pm

Instructor(s): Marcia Grabowecky


Mindfulness is currently a popular topic and has been claimed to benefit mental and physical health and almost everything that we do. In this seminar we will examine the concept of mindfulness from both the popular culture perspective and from the perspective of the roots of mindfulness in Buddhist traditions.

We will also explore Buddhist views that can be considered as a psychological system and investigate how these ideas relate to scientific psychology. We will employ Buddhist techniques for investigating mental activity by incorporating a brief meditation period into class and homework activities. We will also examine written materials from both traditions, and these will form the primary basis for class discussion and written assignments.

Mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology

Instructor(s): Wenhan Zhang


This writing-intensive course focuses on the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion by the director Hideaki Anno, generally considered as one of the most celebrated works in this art form. What are the dominating ideas in this series, and how do they evolve? How do discourses of religion, philosophy, and psychology manifest in this series, explicitly or implicitly? How does the saga of Neon Genesis Evangelion achieve its quasi-mythical status, and what influence has it exerted on anime as a form, culturally and economically?

The main goal of the course is to introduce students to the conventions and rigors of evidence-based argumentation and analysis in humanistic forms, and we will accomplish this by surveying the original TV series of Neon Genesis Evangelion, its film sequels in the late 1990s, and its more recent Rebuild series with the previous questions in mind. By also reading theoretical works from Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Walter Benjamin, and select contemporary cultural critics, we probe into and reflect upon topics that profoundly inform Anno’s series as well as our daily life: the nature of desire, the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, the formation of self-consciousness, among all others.

Neon Genesis Evangelion: Ideas, Inspirations, and Influence

Instructor(s): Ed Muir


In recent years historians have developed a new technique called microhistory for capturing the lives of the people who have been lost to history—peasants, religious heretics, poor women, gays, ethnic minorities, and non-conformists of all sorts. These were the people who because of their low social status, rural origins, illiteracy, or unpopular beliefs were ignored, despised, or persecuted by the dominant society.

Microhistory is a method of investigation that usually relies on the evidence from judicial trials of otherwise obscure people who found themselves in trouble with the authorities. The method gives a voice to those who otherwise left no written record of their lives. The result of the studies has been a remarkable re-evaluation of the experiences and beliefs of the common people of the past.

People Lost in History

Instructor(s): Mayda Velasco

Description: Climate change is an empirical fact based on many sources of experimental data. This observation and analyses show the importance and predictive power of science. In this course, we will start with what Physics reveals about climate change at the most fundamental level. At the end of the course, each student will develop their own vision of what a proper policy should be, based on the facts and predicted challenges ahead.

Physics and Climate Change

Instructor(s): Courtney Rabada


This course will examine the complicated and fraught relationship between religion and sexuality in the United States. We know that American culture often seems both offended by and obsessed with sex, and that the U.S. prides itself on individual freedoms while simultaneously policing the bodies, identities, and practices of its inhabitants. Is it all religion's fault? Through contemporary case studies with a bit of history and theory thrown in, we will explore the diverse and often contradictory teachings, practices, and attitudes regarding sexuality in a variety of American religious traditions / groups.

Topics may include: abortion and contraception, activism, BDSM, bodies, celibacy, creativity, feminism, gender and sexual identities, liberation, marriage, masculinity, masturbation, pleasure, politics, polyamory, pornography, purity culture, queerness, race, rape culture, and sexual violence (among others). Students will engage with ethnographies, feminist / gender / queer / religious theory, historical documents, film / tv / news media, podcasts, and other pop culture sources. Classes will be a combination of lecture and discussion, and students will be required to complete analytical and creative writing assignments as well as a short oral presentation.

Purity and Pleasure: Sexuality and American Religions

Instructor(s): Michele Zugnoni


This writing-intensive course will examine pivotal moments and works within queer popular culture, placing consideration on how popular culture has helped create social transformation and a sense of belonging within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.

Attention will be given to a variety of mediums, including film, television, theater, music, literature, and video games. Students will examine popular culture through the lenses of scholarly theory and personal experience, ultimately situating themselves within the popular culture narrative through writing, research, presentation, and discussion.

Queer Popular Culture

Instructor(s): Jennifer Lupu

Description: Traditional ways of representing the world around us are steeped in heteronormative assumptions and practices. How might we re-imagine or represent the world around us in a queer way? What would a queer utopia look like and how could we begin to move toward that future? We will explore what makes a queer space "queer" and why these spaces are so elusive and poorly represented within traditional maps. We will examine queer mapping projects from scholars, artists, and activists around the world who have re-envisioned what a map can depict—erasing borders, marking queer communities or imagining new ones, and disrupting heteronormativity to actively re-invent queer worlds. Students will also read works that attempt to “queer” or creatively innovate approaches to academic writing.

Queer Worldbuilding

Instructor(s): Jesse Yeh


Monsters, boogeymen, zombies, and ghosts. Horror films are often spaces for us as a culture to work through what terrifies us in the real world. In the US, this can rarely be separated from race. From the monstrous racial other to the racial violence inflicted upon Americans of color, this First-Year Writing Seminar explores race in American society through the lens of horror films.

In this class, we will read legal and social scientific writings on the construction and maintenance of race and racial subordination; we will analyze how films engage with racial meanings through dialogues, images, and plots; and we will develop our ability to produce evidence-based academic writings.

Race Terror: Sociolegal Readings of Race Horror Films

Instructor(s): Karrie Snyder

Description: This course examines the experiences of young people today and how the experience of being a young person varies greatly by socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ethnicity. We will also spend time looking at how life stages associated with youth (such as 'tween, teenager, and emerging adulthood) have evolved and why the road to adulthood is often longer today. We will also consider how the media shapes societal views of young people and how young people use social media. Finally, we will consider how the lives of young people today (Millennials and Gen Z) compare to earlier generations (including Baby Boomers and Generation X), and we will look at inter-generational interactions at home, in school, and in the workplace.

Teens, 'Tweens, and Adolescents

Instructor(s): Adrienn Kácsor


What is “propaganda” and how can we differentiate it from “art”? Do all forms of art with a political message necessarily fall into the category of propaganda? And can abstract art become a tool of political persuasion? Is propaganda merely about political manipulation or would commercial advertisement also count as visual propaganda? From mass-produced World War II posters to TikTok videos of social media influencers, from Soviet propaganda movies to Pablo Picasso’s iconic Guernica (1937), this course will put diverse examples of modern and contemporary art and visual culture to the test of propaganda.

During this course students will learn and practice visual analysis, applying this critical skill to a broad range of visual media across mass culture and “high” art produced in the 20th and 21st centuries, including painting, posters, photography, film, monuments, architecture, clothing, and social media platforms. The course will include a class visit to the Art Institute, a film screening, as well as a walking tour around Evanston.

The Art of Propaganda
MW12:30pm – 1:50pm

Instructor(s): Christine Helmer

Description: This course explores the Nazi Olympics, held in Berlin 1936, in relation to religion, race, and politics. We show how the Nazi Olympics appropriated themes from the ancient Olympics in Greece in order to create a new religious, aesthetic, and political ethos. We also look at the legacy of politics in the Olympics of Mexico City in 1968, with a focus on Black activism in contemporary sports.

The Nazi Olympics

Instructor(s): Stephanie Knezz


Biased interpretations of scientific results have been used to justify racial and gender oppression for centuries. It was often argued that people of different races and different genders were fundamentally different, and as such their roles in society should differ as well. Today, many people reject the claim that race and gender have substantial effect on a person\'s abilities or capacity, but how did we get here? More importantly, how did science help facilitate these claims in the first place? In this course, we will explore the role of science in historical oppression based on race and gender.

We will identify key scientific studies and their subsequent legacy to reveal the precarious nature of scientific interpretation in the hands of biased individuals. We will discuss how power structures can infiltrate scientific integrity and propose safeguards to prevent this kind of infiltration in the future.

The Science Behind Oppression

Instructor(s): Kaitlin Browne


In The Inferno, Dante reserved the penultimate circle of hell for those guilty of fraud, who he divided into ten categories: panderers and seducers, flatterers, simoniacs, soothsayers, grafters, hypocrites, thieves, fraudulent counselors, sowers of scandals, and falsifiers. Taking Dante’s tour through the eighth circle of hell as inspiration, this class will look at medieval and contemporary representations of fraud and their intersection with race, gender, economics, and genre.

We will read literary works including Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale” as well as watch films like Hustlers. Grounding our exploration in critical theory, we will discuss Plato’s concept of “true lies,” explore Immanuel Kant’s work on dishonesty, and examine other philosophers’ perspectives on fraud and deception. This class is designed to improve your critical reading and writing skills. Assessment will be based on participation and writing assignments.

Touring the Eighth Circle of Hell: Representations of Fraud in Literature and Film

Instructor(s): Laura MacKay Hansen


Growing up is hard to do, whether in post-World War 2 Naples or Sacramento in 2002. This course will explore the literature of growing up and consider some of the challenges presented by difficult parents, deceptive friends, and turbulent circumstances. How do characters negotiate hurdles and forge their own identities?

We will look at the novel My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and consider a variety of other texts, including the films Ladybird, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Spirited Away; the graphic memoirs Persepolis and The Best We Could Do, and short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Morgan Talty and Viet Than Nguyen. How are identities both modeled on and forged in opposition to those around us? How do we maintain stability when the community around us is dangerous and unstable? What happens when we outgrow a friend or have a fundamental disagreement with a parent? In this seminar, we will use literature and film to investigate the coming-of-age narrative and to consider these questions and others.

Toxic Parents and Frenemies: The Literature of Growing Up

Instructor(s): Brendan O'Kelly


Recent controversies about “fake news” and disinformation would appear to suggest that contemporary mass media is newly unreliable. This course will explore how the distinction between truth and fiction in all media technologies has always been muddy.

To do so, we will examine fiction that pretends to be true from 17th-19th century literature and philosophy to documentary-styled novels, films, and radio programs that span the 20th century. We will study the predominance of “found footage” films and digital media in the current millennium that parallel the rise of reality television, YouTube, and the smart phone. We will begin and end the quarter with considerations of "fake news," from founding father Benjamin Franklin’s fabricated newspaper propaganda to contemporary digital media. We will also read selections from philosophy and critical theory that question the concept of truth and the construction of reality through media technologies. Book: Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood. Vintage, 1994. 978-0679745587

True Fictions

Instructor(s): Jennifer Weintritt


How does a work of literature become a “classic?” What separates a classic from all the other good books that exist? What belongs in our educational curriculum or “What to Watch” lists, and who decides? Most importantly, what do a society’s answers to these questions tell us about its values and cultural identity?

To answer “What Makes a Classic?,” we’ll divide our attention between the literature that constitutes the canon and the critical apparatus that maintains this special status for certain works while excluding others. In the first half of the quarter, we take Vergil’s Aeneid and its reception as our focus. Later we’ll turn to classics from other premodern cultures, such as the Icelandic Sagas and the 11th century Japanese novel The Tale of Genji. Our writing projects will focus on developing students' own ideas about how classicism works and what recent cultural products have the potential to become classics.

What Makes A Classic?

Instructor(s): Amy Patridge


The 1970s U.S. Women’s Health Movement demanded everything from safe birth control on demand to an end to for-profit healthcare. Some participants formed research collectives and published D-I-Y guides to medical knowledge such as the Boston Women's Health Collective's "Women and Their Bodies" or Carol Downer's "A New View of a Woman's Body." Some movement members established battered women's shelters, underground abortion referral services, and feminist health clinics. Others formed local committees and national networks, such as the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse (CARASA) and the National Women's Health Network (NWHN), with the goal of transforming contemporary medical protocols and scientific research agendas. Because many of these local and national groups are still in existence, original movement goals continue to define the parameters of a "women's health" agenda in the present moment. On the other hand, the Women's Health Movement was (and is) a heterogeneous movement. Then, as now, groups with competing ideas about the healthcare needs of women as a group identified as part of same movement.

Thus, an examination of historical and current debates over "women's health" is also a means of assessing several distinct, often competing, paradigms of health and disease. Moreover, how we articulate a "women's health agenda" depends on our (often taken-for-granted) ideas about gender, sexuality, and embodiment itself.

Women's Health Movement(s) 1970s-present

Instructor(s): Pascal Brixel


From the time you enroll in this course, you can likely expect to spend about 90,000 hours of the rest of your life at work. But what is work? What makes work meaningful? Is there a right to meaningful work? What is free time? How much should we be working? Is there anything wrong with having to work for someone else for a living? Should all work be abolished? Should workplaces be democratic? How might technology change the nature of work and its place in our lives? If there is some work that has to be done but that no one wants to do, who should do it? What determines the division of labor in our society, and what, if anything, is wrong with this division?

To help you explore these questions, you will read and critically discuss works of philosophy and social theory by Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Simone de Beauvoir, Angela Davis, David Graeber, and others. The emphasis, however, will be on developing your own views and defending them in writing.

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