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Northwestern University

Choosing a First-Year Seminar

Spring 2023 First-Year Seminars

The following seminars will be offered in Spring Quarter 2023.  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): 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.

Teaching Method: Seminar, Readings, Group work, Class participation, Writing assignments, Films / videos, Presentations, Discussion

Evaluation Method: Class participation, Papers, Final project, Readings, Writing assignments

Class Materials (Required): Course Materials tbd

Afterlives and Living After: Envisioning Other Worlds

Instructor(s): Alissa Chung

Description: In this class, we will explore the question of how we become the people we are. We will be focusing on three major forces that shape us as humans: our close relationships (usually with the people who raised us), our significant life experiences (including trauma), and our biological predispositions. Our goal will be to understand the science behind our personalities and tendencies, particularly in a relational context. But we will also discuss how individual trajectories cannot be fully understood with variables found in research studies and what the limitations of those studies are (who is doing the research, who is being studied, and who is not). The course is discussion based, and the goal will be to improve your ability to analyze the material both verbally and in writing. Because it is a writing seminar, we will discuss the approach to writing different kinds of papers and will go through the process of developing and editing drafts. As this class is discussion based, it is imperative that you read the readings before you come to class so that you will have something to talk about. Your participation will be included as part of your overall grade/assessment.

Becoming Ourselves: How Does Psychology Explain Who We Are and Why?

Instructor(s): Sera Young

Description: The first objective of this course is to introduce students to the many ways that babies and young children are fed around the world, including breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and complementary (non-milk) foods. We will discuss the health and social consequences of each mode of infant and young child feeding (IYCF), and what the international recommendations, i.e. best practices are. The second objective is to explore why there is such variety in infant feeding worldwide. These discussions will be guided by the socio-ecological framework, in which biological, socio-cultural, and psychosocial characteristics of the individual, household, community, and national policy are considered. Influences on infant feeding will be broadly considered. To do this, we will draw on literature in global health, ethnography, evolution, and public policy. We will also consider the representation of infant feeding in popular culture. The third objective of this course is to develop critical thinking and writing abilities. These will be developed through a series of short weekly writing assignments and an in-class presentation on a recent infant feeding news item.

Biocultural Perspectives on Water Insecurity

Instructor(s): Isaac Miller


New Media Black Aesthetics

This course will examine the many ways Black artists, writers, and cultural workers have responded to the aesthetics and politics of the internet age. Over the quarter, we will address the question: how have Black art and aesthetics changed (and what continuities remain) over the past three decades of vast technological, economic, political, and cultural transformations? This class will examine how the internet/new media has shaped Black artistic production across a range of fields: literature, film, visual art, theater and performance, music, and comedy. Additionally, we will study how social media platforms can themselves be understood as artistic/aesthetic forms (i.e. the meme, the GIF, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, #BlackTwitter). Particular attention will be paid to the relationship between contemporary Black art/popular culture and social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, Black feminism, abolitionism, internationalism, and #RhodesMustFall.

Black Creativity in the Digital Age

Instructor(s): Antawan Byrd

Description: Portraiture by Black artists has gained widespread prominence and visibility in recent decades, whether in the form of national portraits such as those of Barack and Michelle Obama, large-scale public art commissions, or through attention to prison photo studios that document self-expression and familial relations among incarcerated subjects. One of the most popular and potent sites of cultural, social, and political contestation, “Black portraiture” has emerged as an expansive category of inquiry across the fields of art history and cultural studies. In this first-year seminar, students will engage a range of approaches to Black figural representation from the early twentieth century to the present. We will analyze how artists and ordinary subjects have used film, painting, photography, and sculpture to generate representations of themselves and others in order to address issues including but not limited to beauty, class, gender and sexuality, racism and antiblack violence, modernity, and decolonization. Students will learn how to interpret, discuss, and write about portrait-based objects in terms of their material form, circulation, reproduction, sites of display, and patronage.

Black Portraiture

Instructor(s): Nicole Spigner


Thanks to the 1980s and 90s, Black women writers have become well known in popular US culture. Specifically, Toni Morrison’s historical Nobel Prize in Literature (1993), the adaptations of novels by Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Zora Neale Hurston into film, and the advent of Oprah Winfrey’s book club mark moments where Black women’s fiction moved out of the margins of popular reading culture. Moreover, while these works became best known at the end of the twentieth century, there is a much longer literary history attributed to Black women writing very layered, intriguing, and beautifully-written fiction, both short and long.

In January 2020, Time said this of Zora Neale Hurston’s short fiction, most of which was written in the 1940s: “Hurston’s short fiction is ripe with imagery and narratives that blend the real and the idyllic, the whimsical and the serious, the natural and the cultural.” Known best for her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston also produced several short stories. This course will explore the long tradition of Black women’s fiction, beginning in the nineteenth century and ending in the present moment, primarily through the short story genre.

In this class, we will survey a wide range of Anglophone Black Diaspora women authors and primarily concentrate on those from the US. We will interrogate themes, symbols, and forms in short fiction works that extend across the Black Femme/Feminine Literary tradition. We will ask how these authors similarly and differently explore Black feminine identity as it intersects at the juncture of unique social, economic, and sexual contexts. What are the unique issues of Black womanhood that they explore? Of what do they attend, outside of Black womanhood? Our authors will include at least Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Edwidge Danticat. Assignments will include, at least: regular online discussions, in-class discussion leading, and an individual final project.

Students will be evaluated on their performance in these assignments as well as class attendance and participation. This seminar depends on discussion and participation of every member of the class. Come to class ready to enthusiastically address issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality.

Black Women's Fiction

Instructor(s): Sergey Ivanov

Description: It is well known that Ancient Rome fell in the 5th century, but few people are aware that the eastern half of the Empire survived for another thousand years. It was inhabited by Greek-speaking people who are these days referred to as “Byzantines” - yet they never called themselves this way and identified themselves as Romans. This empire had its capital in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. It was the longest-living civilization in the whole history of Western Eurasia. Its religion shaped the spiritual life of Eastern Europe, its culture preserved the ancient Greek literature for us, its flamethrowers forestalled firearms, its art prefigured the 20th century avant-guard, its main cathedral of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia was for 900 years a building with the tallest inner space on Earth. And yet, Byzantium remains understudied and all but unknown to the general public. This course will introduce students to this mysterious civilization.

Byzantium for Beginners

Instructor(s): Amy Partridge


In this seminar, we explore several 1970s-era projects in Chicago and beyond that exemplify a coalitional feminist politics and consider the usefulness of this history in an increasingly polarized present. We will read histories of this period and memoirs by movement participants, but our focus will be on engaging in collective archival research and, ultimately curating collections of (8-10) documents that aid us in recuperating these instances of successful coalition building across anti-war, women’s and gay liberation, and black power/ethnic nationalist movements, as well as the intersectional politics that informed these collaborative projects. The seminar will meet in Special Collections and will introduce students to the practice of archival research as well as the remarkable range of archival materials housed in Special Collections, which might form the basis for research projects during your four years at Northwestern. Our final class project will be to collectively curate an exhibition of our findings that will be exhibited in the Main Library at the end of Spring Quarter. Over the course of the quarter, we may host a class visitor and, if covid protocols allow, go on a field trip to the Chicago Women’s Health Center (established in 1975 and still going strong!) to explore current coalitions and projects that build on this legacy.

Cases: Anti-Vietnam war movement; Gay and lesbian/feminist liberation movements in Chicago and at Northwestern; Chicago’s first “Rainbow Coalition” (which included the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and Young Patriots and Rising Up Angry); Chicago’s free clinic movement; and reproductive rights/justice projects in Chicago.

Coalitional Politics: Case studies from Chicago and beyond

Instructor(s): Paul Ramirez

Description: In 1492 the New World became a crucible for the exchange of diseases, drugs, and therapies between people of American, European, and African origin. The region has been central in the circulation of medical knowledge and materials ever since. This course traces upheavals in the history of medicine, from contact to the present. A key angle of inquiry will be to consider how global frameworks help make sense of local practice, and how local knowledge informed transnational, hemispheric, and Atlantic developments in public health and medicine. We will also ask what medical practitioners today stand to learn from a chronologically deep, culturally informed understanding of healing and illness. Topics include pre-Columbian medicine and conceptions of the human body; the “Columbian Exchange” of pathogens, animals, and people; the global commodification of American plants and botanical knowledge; Catholic, shamanic, and lay healing frameworks; disease eradication campaigns, including the discovery of the yellow fever vector; and experiments with socialized medicine.

Conquest Cultures
TTh 3:30pm-4:50pm

Instructor(s): Anna Zalokostas

Description: What is the role of diversity in U.S. society? How can it help to realize aims such as human flourishing, equality, or liberation? These questions generate very different answers, ranging from early ideas of the US as a melting pot, to the Black feminists of the Combahee River Collective who argued that none of us are free until all of us are free until all of us are free, to the novelist Karen Tei Yamashita who proclaimed in the 1990s that “cultural diversity is bullshit.” This course examines how such writers historically envisioned diversity, multiplicity, and difference in 20th century America. Moving from ideas of assimilation and cross-racial solidarity in the early 20th century to recent understandings of intersectionality and multiculturalism, we will ask: What models have writers formulated to understand and describe difference? What do these accounts tell us about social transformations within the US? And, what are the utopian horizons—and daily contradictions—of living in a multiethnic, multiracial society? Possible readings include: Carlos Bulosan, Richard Wright, Muriel Rukeyser, Amiri Baraka and Hettie Jones, John Cassavetes, the Combahee River Collective, June Jordan, Karen Tei Yamashita, and Ernesto Quiñonez.

Dwelling in Difference: Diversity and Multiculturalism in 20th Century America

Instructor(s): Elisabeth Elliott


In this course, we will have a main objective: effective written communication on our specific theme of language and politics. We will explore some of the sociolinguistic issues (that is connections between language and society) in various Slavic speaking countries and areas and Central Europe (the Russian Federation, the former Soviet Union, the former Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, etc.). In addition to some topics of important in these regions, we will also look at contemporary issues in Russia and the Ukraine as these relate to sociolinguistic issues and how such issues have increased since the War started in Feb. 2022, and the question of fascism particularly with respect to the annexation of the Crimea and the current War. Issues to be examined include: language and identity, language discrimination, language vs. dialect, and language and nationalism.

In this seminar, students gain skills in: communicating effectively, both orally and in writing (focusing on our seminar’s topic); consciously working with the writing process and discovering what yours is, how you may want to improve it, all with the goal hopefully of improving your writing. beginning to understand basic sociolinguistics/linguistic anthropology; starting to understand how language is used to discriminate and erase identities; and starting to understand language’s role in DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice).

As the final paper for this course, students will themselves choose to write on any geopolitical area in the world and examine the sociolinguistic issues particular to that region or linguistic variety.

Some previous papers, for example, have looked at: the role of Japanese in Korea; Koreans in Japan and language discrimination issues; the languages of South Africa; the status of African-American English (or African-American Vernacular English, or Black English) in the US and the controversy surrounding it in the 1990s in the Oakland, CA school district; US language change and the Internet and social media; Celtic in Ireland; the successful revival of a dead language, e.g., Hebrew, as the official language of Israel; the successful revival of a dying language, e.g., Native American/Amerindian languages, Hawai’ian, etc.; language rights in the EU; American Indian/Amerindian languages; bilingualism in the US or Canada; ASL (American Sign Language); Kurdish language discrimination in Turkey; and other topics.

From Fascism to Pussy Riot: Language and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe

Instructor(s): Jessica Ramirez


How does a minority group fight for recognition in New York City? This course addresses questions of visibility within the Puerto Rican enclave of New York. We will have the opportunity to discuss movie clips from West Side Story to oral performances of poetry. In Luis Rafael Sánchez’s poem “La guagua aérea,” the following exchange depicts the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico: “Which town in Puerto Rico do you come from? With striking ordinariness…she replied – De Nueva York.” We can compare these lines to the famous West Side Story song that exclaims, “Nobody knows in America/Puerto Rico’s in America!” Whether asserting that New York is located in Puerto Rico, or that Puerto Rico is in fact in “America,” one thing is certain: the boundary between the United States and Puerto Rico is extremely blurry, malleable and, one may even argue, subjective. Through poetry, memoirs, and short stories, Nuyorican/Puerto Rican literature represents an in-betweenness via references to, and often nostalgia for, the Island. This course will explore the violence and rehabilitation of Down These Mean Streets, the crying out of Nuyorican poetry and the impact of the memoir as a genre. We will consider how interracial dynamics and border theory influence Latinx literature, including Nuyorican slam poetry, and we will analyze how the past affects contemporary literature, which speaks out against stereotypes of poverty, welfare, and social status.


METHOD OF EVALUATION: This course requires you to write and completely revise three papers by the end of the quarter. With regard to the first two formal papers, you are expected to complete a first draft, final draft, and peer review. In relation to the final paper, you are required to complete a first and final draft. The formal paper assignments include:

  1. Theoretical Review (3-4 pages) (15%) • Choose one text on literary theory (either Shared Selves: Latinx Memoir and Ethical Alternatives to Humanism, OR Divided Borders: Essays on Puerto Rican Identity –OR– both) • How might we read Down These Mean Streets within the context of the secondary readings that we’ve discussed thus far? • In other words, based on the secondary reading, how can we apply the ideas of Suzanne Bost and/or Juan Flores to Down These Mean Streets? • Summarize/quote main arguments in relation to Latinx literary formation. • How might we read Latinx literature according to specific geographies/histories/close reading techniques?
  2. Poetry Analysis (4-5 pages) (20%) • Create an argument about how 2 poems contribute meaning through similar/distinct themes, which could include depictions of social class, race/ethnicity, gender, etc. • Include 2 secondary texts to support your thesis (your main argument)—these could include the works of Paula M. L. Moya and Urayoán Noel, in addition to previous theoretical texts that we’ve discussed) • Then, choose 2-3 literary devices that support your main argument; some formal techniques may include syntax, metaphor, imagery, personification, etc. • Finally, how do these 2-3 rhetorical techniques support your thesis alongside the 2 secondary texts that you’ve selected?
  3. Research Paper (8 pages) (25%) For this research assignment, you will be asked to craft a thought-provoking argument about a literary text and then show how that text’s genre (i.e. memoir, poetry, fiction) enhances that claim. You will find 3 academic sources that support your thesis about the relationship between genre and content in a particular work. Questions you can consider include the following: How does the genre of a memoir impact the narration of the lot/characterization/setting? Why is poetry a useful form of communicating your main argument about the text? In what ways does the genre of fiction highlight particular elements of the text (i.e. geography, history)? Make sure to include citations from the text to support your thesis (i.e. select

From West Side Story to Down These Mean Streets: Interracial Dynamics in Latinx Literature

Instructor(s): Douglas O'Hara


Whether you come from a small town or rural area, or have always lived in Chicago or some other large city, you likely have heard cities both praised and scorned. Great restaurants and violent crime, economic opportunity and political corruption, music festivals and homelessness, cities seem to embody all of the prevailing social divisions and contradictions. In this course, we will think critically about cities by examining how they are represented in fiction and film. What is the city’s relationship to the surrounding area? What types of thoughts and behaviors does it seem to call for? What kinds of encounters are typical? In short, what happens when we treat cities more as “characters” than “settings,” when we think of Las Vegas as a party animal (What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), or New York as a cultured gadabout (The city that never sleeps), or Detroit as pugnacious and defiant (Detroit vs. everybody)? We will begin with two cities that are sharply defined by internal divisions, those in the television series Derry Girls and the film Blade Runner 2049. From there, we will compare two representations of Las Vegas (The Hangover and Fear and Loathing), and ask what kind of freedom is on offer and what is the cost of such freedom? Finally, we will visit post-Katrina New Orleans (Treme) and the multicultural London of filmmaker Steve McQueen and author Zadie Smith (Small Axe and NW).

Texts may include: Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; Zadie Smith, NW

Films/TV episodes: Derry Girls; Blade Runner 2049; The Hangover; Treme; Mangrove; Lovers Rock

How We Think about Cities

Instructor(s): Charles Yarnoff

Description: In this seminar, we will explore the question of what is and what might be the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. To guide us in that exploration, we'll read, discuss, and write about novels and poems that allow us to imagine ourselves into the lives of animals. These literary works powerfully dramatize the many ways in which we experience animals: as companions and as sources of food, in zoos and in nature, as objects of scientific study and as reflections of ourselves. The readings will offer us the opportunity to reflect on such questions as: Is it possible to know what an animal is thinking and feeling? Why are our pets so important to us? Are we justified in using animals for food and in laboratory experiments? Through class discussion and varied writing assignments, you'll articulate your answers to those and other questions to your colleagues in the seminar.

Humans and Other Animals

Instructor(s): Steven Epstein

Description: Who are we and who gets to say? This seminar explores the tension between the social emphasis on identity (naming who we are and claiming where we belong) and the technological processes of identification (distinguishing people for administrative purposes). Using texts primarily from the social and historical sciences, we will pivot back and forth between considering the many kinds of identity currently in circulation (racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities; illnesses identities; political identities; etc.) and the rise of techniques and technologies that seek to identify people and fix them in place (from the invention of surnames, to the rise of forensic techniques such as fingerprinting, to the creation of the “average” person in opinion research, to the role of DNA testing in telling us who we are). The object of the course is to better understand the historical and social circumstances that determine where people fit—how they know themselves and are known—and to trace the diverse cultural and political implications of identity and identification

Identity and Identification

Instructor(s): Domenic DeSocio


This course offers a study of Berlin, Germany’s world-famous role as a major center of contemporary dance music (techno, house, disco) and nightclub culture. Beginning in the 1990s with the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Berlin, the city quickly became home to cutting-edge DJs, party planners, club owners, and dancers, including notorious clubs like Tresor and Berghain. Coming together, they pioneered new ways to express oneself and connect with one another through music and dance.

This course examines many aspects of this culture, from the unique genres of music and how DJs create music to the technology of sound, the experience of clubs as spaces, and the politics of belonging, representation, and identity on the dancefloor, in particular its complicated exchanges with Black communities and music in Chicago and Detroit, the birthplaces of this music. We also will consider the social, cultural, and political implications of nightlife and dance music as a site of community-building, friendship, and love within contemporary Western society, especially for queer communities.

As our course is a First-Year Seminar, we will discuss various aspects of college academic life. Moreover, our writing assignments will be the core of this course’s exploration of dance music and culture. Through our writing, we will learn how to interpret what others have said and made and how to make knowledge ourselves. Each week, we will practice and discuss a specific component of the writing process, from asking good questions to finding sources, synthesizing what others’ have said, and constructing arguments. We will hone our skills in crafting college-level writing through summative, comparative, analytic, and research writing assignments as well as practices of revision and editing.

There will also be an experiential component to the course involving workshops with DJs in which you will engage in a hands-on approach to topics such as the work of DJing and making music and the politics and logistics of dance.

Life, Love, and Sex on the Dancefloor: Berlin Dance Music and Club Culture 1990-2020

Instructor(s): Rebecca Seligman


In an age of unprecedented global distress, what is the role of media in shaping discourses, representations, and experiences of mental illness? Western psychiatric frameworks are increasingly defining mental health/illness around the world via multilateral health organizations that intervene across cultural contexts to treat mental distress, and are also circulated via Western media narratives that shape the meanings people associate with mental health and illness. What other narratives of mental health might be told? What experiences of distress and resilience are obscured by these dominant frameworks?

In this course, students will learn about the ways in which cultural meanings and social structures shape mental distress and how it is expressed and experienced by people across time and context. We will critically examine dominant U.S. models of mental health and illness, and trace the global spread of these models. We will ask what underlying cultural assumptions and expectations about self, personhood, emotion, mind, body, well-being and success are embedded in these narratives and explore how representations in film and television serve to reflect, reinforce, or re-imagine such assumptions. Through a combination of engagement with scholarship on culture and mental health, media studies, and our own critical analyses of media objects from film and television, we will explore these questions and work to generate creative and collaborative ideas about how to rewrite media narratives in order to better reflect the broad spectrum of experience.

Madness and Media: Culture and Mental Health in Film and Television

Instructor(s): Domietta Torlasco

Description: This course will explore the role that exhibitionism and the logic of the spectacle have played in Italian culture from the years of Fascism (1922-1943) to Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power in the 1990s and the current resurgence of populism and far-right politics. As the flip side of our desire to see, exhibitionism manifests the desire to be seen, to expose oneself to the look of others—to turn oneself into a spectacle—in both the private and public spheres. While drawing from the fields of cinema and media studies, feminist/queer theory, and critical race theory, we will analyze how film, television, and social media both express and construct our desire for visibility. We will pay particular attention to questions of gender, sexuality, and race, and to the ways in which spectacle and politics have joined forces at different junctures in Italian history.

Media and Exhibitionism

Instructor(s): Enzo Enrique Vasquez Toral

Description: From theatrical cross-dressing to drag kings and the queens of Rupaul’s Drag Race, crossing gender boundaries through performance has been fundamental in LGBTQI+ culture across time. This course critically explores drag as an art form and platform of expression that unsettles normative gender performance. Drawing from academic fields such as performance studies and queer and trans* studies, this seminar centers the analysis of gender through drag and cross-dressing in different contexts in the Americas by relying on concepts such as performativity, race, gender, class, sexuality, and coloniality. In exploring diverse case studies that call for historical and socio-cultural specificity, students will also analyze drag as a type of political performance and a site of contestation of societal norms. In so doing, we will explore gender as an unstable concept by using examples from theater, dance, TV, film, and popular culture. By the end of the quarter, students will develop skills in academic writing, performance analysis, and interpretation of queer and gender theory. Assignments will include written work that will require students to analyze theoretical, performance, and visual works, peer-review exercises, a creative written piece on a fictional drag persona, and a final research paper that centers a drag figure or practice not covered during the quarter.

On Drag and Cross-Dressing

Instructor(s): Corey Barnes

Description: This first-year seminar introduces students to philosophical issues and foundational questions in philosophy through an examination of a very fundamental part of our world—namely, race. And so students will be introduced to different philosophical questions in seven traditional areas in philosophy—namely: 1) knowledge and certainty; 2) being and reality; 3) language and meaning; 4) aesthetics; 5) morality; 6) politics; and 7) God and religion. However, we will engage each area through an analysis of race.

Philosophy through Race

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
MW1pm-2:20 PM

Instructor(s): Megan Geigner

Description: While print novel and magazine readership may be down, podcast listening is hugely popular. Podcasts are now where many people encounter news, pop culture, and stories. Good podcast creators—of both fiction and nonfiction podcasts—engage in the art of storytelling, making carefully crafted plots, characters, settings, and themes. This course will expose students to narrative theory and storytelling tools and then teach them to apply these concepts to podcasts. Just as they do with written texts in other courses, students in this course will learn to consider podcasts using close-“reading” techniques, rhetorical argumentation, and character, plot, and setting analyses. In addition to these more classical academic analyses of podcasts as literature, the course will also ask students to consider the serial and documentary genres. Furthermore, students will consider how technology affects storytelling. In the first half of the course, students will analyze existing podcasts and write academic papers on the podcasts of their choosing. In the second half of the class, students will make 2 podcasts themselves. One of the podcasts will be an original podcast of their choosing. The other podcast will be a class project wherein students make a podcast that gives other students tips and tricks to improve their writing processes

Podcasts as Storytelling

Instructor(s): Kaitlin Browne


Professional writers and amateur internet users have explored identity through making use of monsters, beasts, and role-play. In this this course, we will explore gender and sexuality through the lens of monstrous creatures and spaces that allow for play and possibility—from the wilderness to virtual reality. We’ll ask what can octopuses, werewolves, and the Loch Ness Monster do that humans can’t? Why do we return to monsters and myths to inform, validate, explain, or investigate our identities? How does this “return to nature” intersect with technological innovations that challenge our concept of a fixed human identity? As transphobic and homophobic legislation is on the rise, what effect does the queer imaginary have on queer possibility? Texts and multimedia that we will study include Marie de France’s medieval werewolf tale “Bisclavret,” Black Mirror’s “Striking Vipers,” selections from Philosophy Tube, poems from Donika Kelly’s Bestiary and a variety of queer cryptid memes and etsy merchandise.

TEACHING METHOD Discussion & Groupwork

METHOD OF EVALUATION Participation & Attendance, Paper writing, Discussion Posts, Oral presentation.



Queer Monstrosity

Instructor(s): Robert Ward


While the primary focus of this course will be to improve academic writing, we will do so by asking questions regarding our evolving relationship with technology and whether it alters the ways in which “race”, ethnicity, and culture are performed in society. The primary focus is on the ideology of “race” as a social construction, and how might technological advances in social media, virtual reality, Siri, and Alexa change the way we collectively think about the world and our relationships within it? Does the emphasis in late capitalism on technological design have the power level playing fields and guide us into a post-racial society? Should technological design be working in the “best interest” of humanity? Should a post-racial society even be a goal that we should be aspiring to?

In this course, we will explore racial ideology as part and parcel of the broad American socio-cultural experience. We also aim to interweave experiences and research into a synthesis of the social construction of “race” as it evolves with modern technological advances. We will openly discuss and write about how technology affects the ways in which we think and interact with one another along these lines.

Race and Technology: Being Human in the Post-Racial Era

Instructor(s): Thomas Gaubatz


How do video games tell stories, and what kind of stories do they tell? How do the formal elements of the game experience shape the stories that they tell and the meanings that they convey? What historical contexts make those stories meaningful, and what is the significance of historical shifts in game form? In this class, we answer these questions through a study of the Japanese Role-Playing Game—the JRPG. We approach the JRPG as a genre, under the premises that cultural genres represent the formal crystallization of a set of cultural meanings, that individual works express particular meanings through manipulation of the details of form, that the evolution of form reflects historical shifts in cultural meanings, and that interpretation of an individual work thus demands knowledge of genre conventions, careful attention to the nuances of form, and rich historical contextualization. To study this genre, we begin by building skills of formal description and analysis, with attention to how scholars in different disciplines have attempted to theorize various formal elements. We then situate this genre in its historical context—the social and cultural crises facing Japan at the end of the 20th century—and examine the evolution and permutation of the form as it has been adapted to different narrative concerns between the late 90s and the present day. Though our focus is on the JRPG, the skills and modes of thinking that we develop—formal description and analysis, historical contextualization and interpretation, theoretical framing, critical evaluation—form the basis of humanistic study at the college level.

Evaluation Method: Attendance (10%), participation (10%), game journal (5%), online forum (10%), short essays (20%), group presentations (10%), final project proposal (5%), final project (30%) Course

Materials Required: All reading materials provided in PDF form; games will be made available in the Kresge Media and Design Studio

The Japanese Role-Playing Game

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): Laura MacKay Hansen

Description: Growing up is hard to do, whether in southern Italy in the 1950s or in 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 (Elena Ferrante) and consider a variety of other texts, including the films Ladybird, The Virgin Suicides, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower; the graphic novel Persepolis; the shows Derry Girls and Never Have I Ever; and short pieces from Jamaica Kincaid 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): Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern


Using the current Russia-Ukraine war as a springboard, this course provides a historical and cultural backdrop of the conflict outlining Ukraine as a colonial addendum of Poland, Russian Empire, and the USSR. Students will focus on thirty-year long history of Ukraine after the 1991 collapse of the USSR against a broad historical, political, socio-economic, and cultural perspective. Students will discuss the formation of a modern post-colonial nation bringing together insights into art history, comparative literature, nationalities and imperial studies, social and political history, and genocide studies. We will use op-eds by the famous world poli sci pundits, journalism blogs of Ukrainians who write during air raids, video clips and movies filmed over last thirty years in the independent Ukraine, poems and novels reflecting the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Based on high level of interaction, this course will explain why Ukraine suddenly moved from a peripheral position in the new and minds of European scholars into the central place of the world politics.

Ukraine: Why Should We Care?

Instructor(s): James Mahoney

Description: Why are some countries richer than others? Why have some countries witnessed repeated industrial transformations, whereas others have economies that remain significantly non-industrial and agricultural? When and how did certain countries “get ahead” of others in the global economy? To what extent can less-developed countries “catch up” with more developed ones? How does “globalization” affect these chances? These are some of the questions that we will explore in this class. The goal of the seminar is to enhance our understanding of differences in levels of development among countries of the world, and to explore competing hypotheses designed to explain those differences. We will examine both the contemporary global economy and the historical processes that brought the current situation into being.

Why Are Some Countries Richer?

Instructor(s): Vinzenz Unger

Description: At the molecular level, life is a chemical engine so complex that it makes everything humans have invented and built look like child play. Through a mix of lectures, workshops and writing assignments, the seminar will explore some of the wonders that are at the core of biological systems. The goal is to inspire you, and to illustrate how studying biology yields insights that are mirrored in seemingly unrelated things like social media, architecture, airline route design, computer sciences, or sociology to name but a few. Materials needed: laptop, iPad, or smartphone with internet capability.

Wonders of Biology

Instructor(s): Abigail Barefoot

Description: Why are so many people incarcerated in the United States? How do various individuals experience life behind bars? What do people write while incarcerated and why? Students in this first-year seminar will engage with these questions through an exploration of the writings of incarcerated individuals about their prison experience and socio-legal scholarship. This course employs various types of writing, including autobiographies, poetry, letters, comics, and podcasts. By examining these texts, students will explore the genre of prison writing and the issue of mass incarceration. In addition, students will discover how writing can be a vehicle for civil disobedience, a tool of political consciousness, and a way to reimagine justice. A primary goal of this class is to sharpen students’ writing skills. We will balance reading assignments with various short writing assignments.

Writings From Prison
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