Expository Writing Course Descriptions

Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.114), Spring 2018:

060.114.01 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 10:00)

Robert Webber

Shortly after leaving office in 1974, and after struggling with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks during his tenure, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was asked about his greatest fear for the future of Britain. Heath responded: “that Britain will become the first police state in the democratic world.” Some twenty years later, a report produced by David Murakami Wood claimed that Britain is “the most surveilled country in the world.” Although the United States has always prided itself on being a free society, September 11 pushed it into a situation similar to that of 1970s England. The controversy over warrantless wiretapping at the National Security Agency, the role of Homeland Security, and the expanding use of drones reignited the ancient debate over the best balance between security and individual freedom. In this writing course, we will probe that debate by looking beyond our contemporary world to consider how others have approached this question throughout history. We will start by writing a brief analysis of Cicero’s narration of the Catalinarian conspiracy—an event that shook the Roman Republic to its core and helped lead to the civil war that has fascinated Westerners for two thousand years. For our second essay, we will move to the Cold War and the opposing views of President Harry Truman and former Vice President Henry Wallace on the spread of communism, views students will evaluate by focusing on their underlying assumptions. In their third essay, students will read critiques of current US counter-terrorism policies and will develop an argument, focusing on the extrajudicial use of drones abroad and on questions of privacy at home.

060.114.02 Medicine, East and West (MWF 11:00)

James Flowers

When the western physician Vesalius argued for the importance of human dissection, he urged that anatomy was necessary to practice medicine, and he presented his treatise on the human body as the pinnacle of medical knowledge in the sixteenth century. Yet physicians in East Asia and elsewhere, familiar with Vesalian anatomy, emphasized other conceptions, such as qi, until the twentieth century. How was the eastern body different from that of the West? Are there legitimate conceptualizations of the body other than physical structure? In this writing class, we will examine both classic texts and scholarly essays as we consider these questions and pursue our answers. For the first essay, students will read a selection from Fabrica by Vesalius and will analyze his argument, including his concept of representing the body in images. For the second essay, we will read Shigehisa Kuriyama’s essay “The Imagination of the Body and the History of Embodied Experience: The Case of Chinese Views of the Viscera.” Students will evaluate Kuriyama’s argument for the importance of qi, alongside excerpts from the foundational text, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. For the third and longest essay, students will read Charles Rosenberg’s essay “Alternative to What? Complementary to Whom? On Some Aspects of Medicine’s Scientific Inquiry.” In it, Rosenberg asks why people seek medical care outside the western scientific model of medicine, and he offers a number of reasons. Drawing on the sources they have already read, as well as selected others, students will develop their own assessments of the tension between scientific and alternative medicines.

060.114.03 Defying the Limits of Knowledge (MW 12:00)

Sungmey Lee

What is more human than the desire to defy our own limits? The desire to know—to reach beyond the boundaries of the knowable world and to defy the gods if need be in the quest for infinite knowledge—is deeply human. This desire to transgress our own limitations has led to some of the greatest intellectual achievements in history. It has led humans to explore the earth, discover the stars, and investigate the depths of the human mind. And yet, since ancient times, the quest has been accompanied by great fear and dire warnings of disaster whenever humans attempt to defy what are seen as the finite boundaries of knowledge. From Biblical stories and Greek myths, to modern tales of scientists seeking to uncover the secrets of life, and even to anxious stories today about the potential of biotechnology to alter the nature of life itself, we see fear of the consequences of seeking forbidden knowledge. In this writing course, we will explore how the conflict between the desire for infinite knowledge and the fear of the consequences, should we achieve it, has been represented in a range of texts. We begin with the myth of Prometheus and the Biblical story of “the fall.” Students will choose one of these archetypal narratives to analyze for their first essay. For the second essay, we turn to Satan’s famous speech in Book I of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Refusing to obey God, Satan defiantly declares, “The mind is its own place.” Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the character of Satan. For the third and longest essay, students will interpret Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by entering into conversation with secondary sources to construct a distinct argument of their own.

060.114.04 Law and Revenge (MW 12:00)

George Oppel

According to the seventeenth-century essayist Francis Bacon, “Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out.” Bacon articulates a dichotomy between law and revenge that has become familiar. On one side, revenge is understood to be a wild instinct of human nature, one that finds expression in excessive acts of violence. On the other side is the rule of law, a civilizing force that has the potential to tame the unreasoning passions of human beings in order to advance a nobler ideal of justice. But is revenge always wild and indiscriminate, and is law always reasonable and proportionate? Can revenge be weeded-out of the legal system, or does it serve some purpose there? In this course we deepen our understanding of the relationship between law and revenge through a sequence of three essay units. In the first, we read Jared Diamond’s account of a blood-feud in the highlands of New Guinea, and you write an essay that analyzes the complex nature of vengeance in this source. The second unit considers arguments made on behalf of the rule of law by two prominent philosophers. You test these arguments in relation to a decision of the US Supreme Court which allows victims to voice their fury at defendants during the sentencing phase of capital murder trials. In the third unit we read Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which pits the villain Shylock and his insatiable demand for a “pound of flesh” against the more exacting demands of the legal system. You offer an interpretation of where justice resides in the play based on the ideas and arguments we have already considered. The overriding aim is to develop your ability to write persuasive arguments as you engage with these fundamental themes and diverse sources.

060.114.05 Law and Revenge (MW 1:30)

George Oppel

Please see the course description listed above for Section 04 at MW 12:00.

060.114.06 Science Fiction, Gender, and Sexuality (MW 1:30)

Joseph Giardini

In faraway galaxies and futuristic societies, the imaginative world of science fiction has often replicated features of our own world, particularly gender norms. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that recently the Hugo awards—the event that bestows science fiction’s biggest prizes—has been a site of controversy, with fans lobbying against what has been called the “subversive switcheroo”: texts that seem to promise familiar sci-fi narratives yet instead explore issues of gender and sexuality. But are such issues so alien to the genre? How does science fiction, historically dominated by male protagonists, explore questions of gender and sexuality as political and moral problems? In this writing class, we will pursue this question by examining science fiction classics that place gender and sexuality at the center of their narratives. In the first essay, students will analyze one of two mid-century short stories, Philip K. Dick’s “The Father Thing” or Judith Merril’s “That Only a Mother.” For the second essay, we will read short stories from the late 1960s by Samuel R. Delany (“Aye, and Gommorah…”) and Ursula Le Guin (“Nine Lives”) alongside critical sources. Students will respond to a critic and develop an argument about one of the stories. Our final and longest essay will focus on George Miller’s film Mad Max: Fury Road, released in 2015. Using selected critical sources, students will build an argument that examines how the film represents gender and sexuality as entangled with other political issues, such as race and freedom.

060.114.07 Understanding Scientific Explanation (TTH 9:00)

Genco Guralp

A key aspect of scientific knowledge is its power to explain diverse phenomena we observe in the world around us. But what is a scientific explanation? And what makes one explanation better than another? Can science explain everything? In this writing course, we will examine how leading philosophers of science respond to these questions. We will begin with a classical essay by Carl Hempel, which set the stage for subsequent developments in the philosophy of explanation. For their first essay, students will analyze Hempel’s argument, which puts laws of nature at the center of explanation. We will then move to Wesley Salmon’s model, which argues that causality is the defining factor in explanation. In their second essay, students will examine to what extent Salmon’s model corrects Hempel’s and will identify flaws within Salmon’s causal approach as well. Next, we will turn to the contemporary debate on scientific explanation, with a reading of Philip Kitcher’s account, which claims that science explains the world by providing a unified view of a range of phenomena. In their third and largest essay, students will evaluate Kitcher’s argument and will draw upon the authors they have already examined as they develop their own ideas about the question of scientific explanation. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.114.08 The Olympics and Politics (TTH 9:00)

Evan Loker

Since its inception in1896, the modern Olympic Games has become the most visible and influential international sports competition in the world. In the words of the International Olympic Committee, the goal of the Games is to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” In the popular view, the Olympics provides an occasion for nations to put aside “politics” and celebrate the world’s athletes. And yet, historically, the Olympics has been an arena in which politics are contested, in particular, ideas about race, gender, and national identity. In this writing course, we will analyze how documentary films represent three such significant moments in Olympic history. In the first unit, we watch Leni Reifenstahl’s controversial 1938 documentary Olympia about the1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Jesse Owens won four gold medals. Students write an essay analyzing how the film constructs notions of white and black racial identity and national belonging. Next, we watch Black Power Salute, the 2008 documentary about Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s “black power” gesture at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Students evaluate the view of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the film. For the final essay, we turn to the 2005 film Dare to Dream, which depicts the successes and obstacles experienced by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team en route to consecutive Olympic medals and World Cup championships. In the context of selected secondary sources, students develop an argument about gender and sports in response to an issue raised by the film.

060.114.09 Revenge and Morality (TTH 9:00)

Alexander Lewis

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” the law of retaliation first appears nearly 4,000 years ago in the Code of Hummurabi, and nothing seems to make more emotional sense than exacting revenge against those who have wronged us. Yet we are also taught that revenge is wrong. Questions about the morality of revenge underlie many issues of national importance, from the death penalty to anti-terrorist operations. Is revenge necessary to right a moral wrong, to restore the moral balance of the community? Is revenge moral? In this writing course, we will examine a number of works both classic and contemporary which explore the morality of revenge and its potential costs for both the individual and society. In the first unit, we will read two classic short stories, “Killings” by Andre Dubus and “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories and its portrayal of revenge. For the second essay, we will watch Stephen Spielberg’s controversial film Munich (2005), which depicts the Israeli government’s secret retaliation against the perpetrators of the Munich massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the film. For the third and largest essay, we will read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, one of the most famous tales of revenge in world literature. In conversation with a select group of critical sources, students will argue their own interpretation of how the play speaks to us about the morality of revenge.

060.114.10 The Ethics of Spying and Surveillance in Film (TTH 10:30)

John Sampson

“The movies make us into voyeurs,” Roger Ebert once said. “We sit in the dark, watching other people’s lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it.” Film is a medium of watching: audience members sit, transfixed or bored, as images of violence, heartbreak, and comedy play across the screen. Some films, though, call attention to an audience’s gaze, often through the figure of the voyeur—a character who watches others, personally or professionally—and thus pose difficult questions. Should we feel guilty after watching scenes of violence? Should a voyeur step in and prevent violence, or is intervening in the lives of strangers always a bad idea? Does the one-way viewing experience of film make us more likely to accept that our trip to the theater was captured on closed-circuit television? In this writing course, students will answer such questions relating to the ethics of spying and surveillance in film. For the first essay, students will analyze a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Next up is Following, the first film by director Christopher Nolan, which explores how a writer’s life is turned upside-down when he intervenes in the lives of strangers he follows on the streets of London. For the second essay, students will evaluate the view of a secondary source as they offer their interpretation of the film. For the third and final essay, students will enter a critical debate centered on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, a film about a surveillance expert who fears the subjects of a conversation he has taped are in danger.

060.114.11 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 12:00)

Donald Berger

In a 2012 interview with the New York Times, American critic M.H. Abrams was asked, “Why study literature?” Abrams answered, because “it enables you to live the lives of other people.” And in his book How Fiction Works, critic James Wood points us to fiction’s “extraordinary capacity . . . [to] tell us what a character is thinking.” But how does a master of short fiction open a window to his or her characters’ thoughts and feelings? How does the writer, as Abrams suggests, draw us into other lives? In this writing course, we will examine how writers of American short stories use fictional elements such as point of view and description to create a character’s inner life. For our first essay assignment, students will analyze one story from among a small set of stories by considering a question the story raises. For Essay 2, students will evaluate a critic’s interpretation of how characterization operates in a story and, based on that evaluation, will offer their own interpretation. For our third and largest essay, students will develop an argument about a short story in the context of secondary sources, evaluating the critics’ views and offering their own. Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Edward P. Jones, and Lydia Davis.

060.114.12 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 10:30)

Marisa O’Connor

In London in 1605, a group of conspirators plotted to blow up the English Parliament on its opening day—when all the political elite of the realm, including the king, would be present. Called the Gunpowder Plot, the conspiracy failed, but it generated powerful responses of fear and trauma across the realm. Allusions to it thread their way through Shakespeare’s violent play Macbeth, written shortly afterward. In this writing course, we will consider what we can learn from Shakespeare’s sustained exploration of violent thoughts and acts in Macbeth, especially within a context in which the threat of violence that endangers the social order is so real and pressing. What can Macbeth tell us about why such violence happens and what, if anything, might authorize it? In the first essay, students will focus on moments early in the play when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wrestle with the idea of murdering the king. For the second essay, students will evaluate the view of a critical source on how the play associates Macbeth’s murder of the king with witches and witchcraft, with transgression and desire. In the third and most extensive essay, students will engage various critical sources on the play that raise questions about how the play represents kingship and tyranny, including what, if anything, distinguishes Macbeth’s violence from the violence that restores order and legitimate rule at the play’s end. Students will assess these sources and develop their own arguments.

060.114.13 Violence and Macbeth (TTH 12:00)

Marisa O’Connor

Please see the course description listed above for Section 12 at TTH 10:30.

060.114.14 The Challenge of Climate Change (TTH 12:00)

Christopher Westcott

The science is emphatic: global environmental conditions are changing dramatically; the effects on life will be considerable; and humans have everything to do with it. But who—or what—is responsible for these changes? Why do so many remain skeptical about their significance? And in the midst of rising emissions, what kind of response might actually limit their effects? This writing course examines competing accounts of global climate change, foregrounding recent debates over capitalism’s role as both cause and possible solution. We’ll begin with two brief essays on climate-change skepticism. Students will analyze either George Marshall’s psychological interpretation of skepticism or Naomi Klein’s political interpretation. Next, we’ll consider two leading accounts of what lies at the root of climate change. In the first, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen traces our predicament back to humankind’s mastery over fire; in the second, Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital, portrays climate change as an outcome of capitalist development. Students will select one of these texts to evaluate. For the third and longest essay, students will enter a debate sparked by An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a collectively-authored text that advocates for nuclear energy and capitalist growth as solutions to climate change. Alongside the manifesto, students will engage with a response, “A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique,” as well as an essay by Vandana Shiva, who examines the ecological implications of growth within an uneven global landscape, and excerpts from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on climate change.

060.114.15 Family Matters (TTH 12:00)

Aliza Watters

Your roommate stares at you and says: “Tell me about your family.” Translation: who are you? In leaving home for college, we come to reevaluate the primary—and primal— relationships which define us, often for the first time. How do we understand and reconcile the shaping power of family—a power that can both fortify and confine us? In this writing course, we will examine what family narratives can teach us about the formation of individual identity. To help answer our central question, we’ll explore diverse examples of family narratives, including fiction, memoir, and a contemporary case study. We’ll begin with a variety of origin stories whose central characters grapple with family legacy: the original 1939 Batman, “The Very Rigid Search” by Jonathan Safran Foer, and “North” by Aria Beth Sloss. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories and offering an interpretation. Next, we’ll examine how auto-biographical authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Sherman Alexie shape their own identities by re-shaping their family narratives in memoir. Students will evaluate the view of a critical source as it pertains to either Kingston or Alexie. In the last and most extensive phase of the course, we’ll investigate how new scientific research can compete with conventional views of what defines us to reshape our understanding of family. Students will read excerpts from Andrew Solomon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity alongside other critical sources to develop an argument of their own about the power of family and its boundaries.

060.114.16 Family Matters (TTH 1:30)

Aliza Watters

Please see the course description listed above for Section 15 at TTH 12:00.

060.114.17 The Challenge of Climate Change (TTH 1:30)

Christopher Westcott

Please see the course description listed above for Section 14 at TTH 12:00.

060.114.18 American Gothic (TTH 1:30)

Mande Zecca

From Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” to the Twilight series, the Gothic imagination is one of the signature modes of American expression. How do we explain our sustained cultural preoccupation with the supernatural and the macabre? To help us understand why this genre has adapted so well to the American environment, we will consider how representations of horror in American literature (and film) express anxieties about the unknown and the irrational and how they serve as compelling allegories for political and social realities. For our first essay, we will read two short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, paying particular attention to patterns of transgressed boundaries between self and other, life and death, sanity and madness. For the second essay, we turn to Henry James’s famous novella The Turn of the Screw. Based on evidence found in the primary text, students will evaluate James’s claim that the novella is nothing more than a simple ghost story. For our third and final unit, we will watch Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. Students will make use of several secondary and theoretical sources to develop an argument about the relationship between horror and social allegory in the film.

Individual Course Descriptions for Expository Writing (060.113), Fall 2017

060.113.01 Understanding Scientific Explanation (TTH 9:00)
Genco Guralp

A key aspect of scientific knowledge is its power to explain diverse phenomena we observe in the world around us. But what is a scientific explanation? And what makes one explanation better than another? Can science explain everything? In this writing course, we will examine how leading philosophers of science respond to these questions. We will begin with a classical essay by Carl Hempel, which set the stage for subsequent developments in the philosophy of explanation. For their first essay, students will analyze Hempel’s argument, which puts laws of nature at the center of explanation. We will then move to Wesley Salmon’s model, which argues that causality is the defining factor in explanation. In their second essay, students will examine to what extent Salmon’s model corrects Hempel’s and will identify flaws within Salmon’s causal approach as well. Next, we will turn to the contemporary debate on scientific explanation, with a reading of Philip Kitcher’s account, which claims that science explains the world by providing a unified view of a range of phenomena. In their third and largest essay, students will evaluate Kitcher’s argument and will draw upon the authors they have already examined as they develop their own ideas about the question of scientific explanation. Note: No specialized knowledge is required for this course.

060.113.03 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 10:00)
Robert Webber

Shortly after leaving office in 1974, and after struggling with nearly a dozen terrorist attacks during his tenure, British Prime Minister Edward Heath was asked about his greatest fear for the future of Britain. Heath responded: “that Britain will become the first police state in the democratic world.” Some twenty years later, a report produced by David Murakami Wood claimed that Britain is “the most surveilled country in the world.” Although the United States has always prided itself on being a free society, September 11 pushed it into a situation similar to that of 1970s England. The controversy over warrantless wiretapping at the National Security Agency, the role of Homeland Security, and the expanding use of drones reignited the ancient debate over the best balance between security and individual freedom. In this writing course, we will probe that debate by looking beyond our contemporary world to consider how others have approached this question throughout history. We will start by writing a brief analysis of Cicero’s narration of the Catalinarian conspiracy—an event that shook the Roman Republic to its core and helped lead to the civil war that has fascinated Westerners for two thousand years. For our second essay, we will move to the Cold War and the opposing views of President Harry Truman and former Vice President Henry Wallace on the spread of communism, views students will evaluate by focusing on their underlying assumptions. In their third essay, students will read critiques of current US counter-terrorism policies and will develop an argument, focusing on the extrajudicial use of drones abroad and on questions of privacy at home.

060.113.04 Balancing Freedom and Security (MWF 11:00)
Robert Webber

Please see the course description listed above for Section 03 at MWF 10:00.

060.113.05 Medicine, East and West (MWF 11:00)
James Flowers

When the western physician Vesalius argued for the importance of human dissection, he urged that anatomy was necessary to practice medicine, and he presented his treatise on the human body as the pinnacle of medical knowledge in the sixteenth century. Yet physicians in East Asia and elsewhere, familiar with Vesalian anatomy, emphasized other conceptions, such as qi, until the twentieth century. How was the eastern body different from that of the West? Are there legitimate conceptualizations of the body other than physical structure? In this writing class, we will examine both classic texts and scholarly essays as we consider these questions and pursue our answers. For the first essay, students will read a selection from Fabrica by Vesalius and will analyze his argument, including his concept of representing the body in images. For the second essay, we will read Shigehisa Kuriyama’s essay “The Imagination of the Body and the History of Embodied Experience: The Case of Chinese Views of the Viscera.” Students will evaluate Kuriyama’s argument for the importance of qi, alongside excerpts from the foundational text, the Inner Canon of the Yellow Emperor. For the third and longest essay, students will read Charles Rosenberg’s essay “Alternative to What? Complementary to Whom? On Some Aspects of Medicine’s Scientific Inquiry.” In it, Rosenberg asks why people seek medical care outside the western scientific model of medicine, and he offers a number of reasons. Drawing on the sources they have already read, as well as selected others, students will develop their own assessments of the tension between scientific and alternative medicines.

060.113.06 Defying the Limits of Knowledge (MW 12:00)
Sungmey Lee

What is more human than the desire to defy our own limits? The desire to know—to reach beyond the boundaries of the knowable world and to defy the gods if need be in the quest for infinite knowledge—is deeply human. This desire to transgress our own limitations has led to some of the greatest intellectual achievements in history. It has led humans to explore the earth, discover the stars, and investigate the depths of the human mind. And yet, since ancient times, the quest has been accompanied by great fear and dire warnings of disaster whenever humans attempt to defy what are seen as the finite boundaries of knowledge. From Biblical stories and Greek myths, to modern tales of scientists seeking to uncover the secrets of life, and even to anxious stories today about the potential of biotechnology to alter the nature of life itself, we see fear of the consequences of seeking forbidden knowledge. In this writing course, we will explore how the conflict between the desire for infinite knowledge and the fear of the consequences, should we achieve it, has been represented in a range of texts. We begin with the myth of Prometheus and the Biblical story of “the fall.” Students will choose one of these archetypal narratives to analyze for their first essay. For the second essay, we turn to Satan’s famous speech in Book I of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Refusing to obey God, Satan defiantly declares, “The mind is its own place.” Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the character of Satan. For the third and longest essay, students will interpret Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by entering into conversation with secondary sources to construct a distinct argument of their own.

060.113.07 Politics and Violence (MW 12:00)
George Oppel

When we think about political violence we tend to focus on specific examples of war, genocide, terrorism, assassination, or revolution. But the deeper causes, meanings, and justifications of political violence are also worthy of attention. In this course we explore how major political and literary thinkers have tackled the following questions: What is political violence? Are we all implicated in political violence, or is it something we can blame solely on the actions of states and leaders? And when, if ever, can political violence be justified? In the first segment, Defining Political Violence, we read essays by Abraham Lincoln and William James, and you write a short piece that responds to their views on the nature of political violence. In Unit Two, Violence and the State, we read Machiavelli’s account of state violence, and, as a practical example, we consider the use of torture by the US government. You write an essay on the torture issue that engages with the views of a prominent thinker. In Unit Three, Violence and the People, we focus on themes of conspiracy, assassination, mob-rule, and the power of political speech. We read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and you write a longer essay that offers an interpretation of the play in light of the thinkers we’ve already read. The overriding aim is to develop your ability to write clearly and persuasively as you engage with these fundamental questions and classic texts.

060.113.09 Politics and Violence (MW 1:30)
George Oppel

Please see the course description listed above for Section 07 at MW 12:00.

060.113.10 Science Fiction, Gender, and Sexuality (MW 1:30)
Joseph Giardini

In faraway galaxies and futuristic societies, the imaginative world of science fiction has often replicated features of our own world, particularly gender norms. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that recently the Hugo awards—the event that bestows science fiction’s biggest prizes—has been a site of controversy, with fans lobbying against what has been called the “subversive switcheroo”: texts that seem to promise familiar sci-fi narratives yet instead explore issues of gender and sexuality. But are such issues so alien to the genre? How does science fiction, historically dominated by male protagonists, explore questions of gender and sexuality as political and moral problems? In this writing class, we will pursue this question by examining science fiction classics that place gender and sexuality at the center of their narratives. In the first essay, students will analyze one of two mid-century short stories, Philip K. Dick’s “The Father Thing” or Judith Merril’s “That Only a Mother.” For the second essay, we will read short stories from the late 1960s by Samuel R. Delany (“Aye, and Gommorah…”) and Ursula Le Guin (“Nine Lives”) alongside critical sources. Students will respond to a critic and develop an argument about one of the stories. Our final and longest essay will focus on George Miller’s film Mad Max: Fury Road, released in 2015. Using selected critical sources, students will build an argument that examines how the film represents gender and sexuality as entangled with other political issues, such as race and freedom.

060.113.01 Understanding Scientific Explanation (TTH 9:00)
Genco Guralp

Please see the course description listed above for Section 01.

060.113.12 The Olympics and Politics (TTH 9:00)
Evan Loker

Since its inception in 1896, the modern Olympic Games has become the most visible and influential international sports competition in the world. In the words of the International Olympic Committee, the goal of the Games is to “contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind, in a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” In the popular view, the Olympics provides an occasion for nations to put aside “politics” and celebrate the world’s athletes. And yet, historically, the Olympics has been an arena in which politics are contested, in particular, ideas about race, gender, and national identity. In this writing course, we will analyze how documentary films represent three such significant moments in Olympic history. In the first unit, we watch Leni Reifenstahl’s controversial 1938 documentary Olympia about the1936 Olympics in Berlin, where Jesse Owens won four gold medals. Students write an essay analyzing how the film constructs notions of white and black racial identity and national belonging. Next, we watch Black Power Salute, the 2008 documentary about Tommie Smith’s and John Carlos’s “black power” gesture at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. Students evaluate the view of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the film. For the final essay, we turn to the 2005 film Dare to Dream, which depicts the successes and obstacles experienced by the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team en route to consecutive Olympic medals and World Cup championships. In the context of selected secondary sources, students develop an argument about gender and sports in response to an issue raised by the film.

060.113.13 Revenge and Morality (TTH 9:00)
Alexander Lewis

“Eye for eye, tooth for tooth,” the law of retaliation first appears nearly 4,000 years ago in the Code of Hummurabi, and nothing seems to make more emotional sense than exacting revenge against those who have wronged us. Yet we are also taught that revenge is wrong. Questions about the morality of revenge underlie many issues of national importance, from the death penalty to anti-terrorist operations. Is revenge necessary to right a moral wrong, to restore the moral balance of the community? Is revenge moral? In this writing course, we will examine a number of works both classic and contemporary which explore the morality of revenge and its potential costs for both the individual and society. In the first unit, we will read two classic short stories, “Killings” by Andre Dubus and “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories and its portrayal of revenge. For the second essay, we will watch Stephen Spielberg’s controversial film Munich (2005), which depicts the Israeli government’s secret retaliation against the perpetrators of the Munich massacre of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Students will evaluate the interpretation of a secondary source and offer their own interpretation of the film. For the third and largest essay, we will read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, one of the most famous tales of revenge in world literature. In conversation with a select group of critical sources, students will argue their own interpretation of how the play speaks to us about the morality of revenge.

060.113.14 Getting Married (TTH 10:30)
Noelle Dubay

Contemporary debates about the status of marriage in the United States, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, have had to confront the question of how flexible the institution really is. What are the essential features of marriage, and what do certain theories tell us about how we imagine our selves, our ideal lives, and our romantic relationships? In taking a long view of the institution, we see that answering this question is not at all simple. It can be a legal contract, a religious ceremony, a social practice, and any combination of these—and only recently in history has “love” entered the stage as a powerful player. We will approach the question from various angles, considering also questions about selfhood, personal relationships, and social recognition through the lens of marriage. For the first essay, we’ll consider philosophies of marriage and divorce coming out of classical and enlightenment thought. What role does marriage play in conjunction with other questions about the ideal development of the self? Students will write an essay analyzing one of these philosophical texts. For Essay two, we will read short fictional narratives describing the experience of being married, especially considering questions of gender inequality. Students will evaluate an interpretation of the story of their choice. Essay 3 will consider marriage in the 21st century. We will read a series of essays offering different perspectives on the usefulness and uselessness of the institution of marriage today, especially at the contested borders of its legal definition. Students will enter this conversation and argue their own point of view.

060.113.15 The Ethics of Spying and Surveillance in Film (TTH 10:30)
John Sampson

“The movies make us into voyeurs,” Roger Ebert once said. “We sit in the dark, watching other people’s lives. It is the bargain the cinema strikes with us, although most films are too well-behaved to mention it.” Film is a medium of watching: audience members sit, transfixed or bored, as images of violence, heartbreak, and comedy play across the screen. Some films, though, call attention to an audience’s gaze, often through the figure of the voyeur—a character who watches others, personally or professionally—and thus pose difficult questions. Should we feel guilty after watching scenes of violence? Should a voyeur step in and prevent violence, or is intervening in the lives of strangers always a bad idea? Does the one-way viewing experience of film make us more likely to accept that our trip to the theater was captured on closed-circuit television? In this writing course, students will answer such questions relating to the ethics of spying and surveillance in film. For the first essay, students will analyze a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Next up is Following, the first film by director Christopher Nolan, which explores how a writer’s life is turned upside-down when he intervenes in the lives of strangers he follows on the streets of London. For the second essay, students will evaluate the view of a secondary source as they offer their interpretation of the film. For the third and final essay, students will enter a critical debate centered on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, a film about a surveillance expert who fears the subjects of a conversation he has taped are in danger.

060.113.16 American Gothic (TTH 10:30)
Mande Zecca

From Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” to the Twilight series, the Gothic imagination is one of the signature modes of American expression. How do we explain our sustained cultural preoccupation with the supernatural and the macabre? To help us understand why this genre has adapted so well to the American environment, we will consider how representations of horror in American literature (and film) express anxieties about the unknown and the irrational and how they serve as compelling allegories for political and social realities. For our first essay, we will read two short stories by Edgar Allen Poe, paying particular attention to patterns of transgressed boundaries between self and other, life and death, sanity and madness. For the second essay, we turn to Henry James’s famous novella The Turn of the Screw. Based on evidence found in the primary text, students will evaluate James’s claim that the novella is nothing more than a simple ghost story. For our third and final unit, we will watch Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out. Students will make use of several secondary and theoretical sources to develop an argument about the relationship between horror and social allegory in the film.

060.113.17 The Challenge of Climate Change (TTH 12:00)
Christopher Westcott

The science is emphatic: global environmental conditions are changing dramatically; the effects on life will be considerable; and humans have everything to do with it. But who—or what—is responsible for these changes? Why do so many remain skeptical about their significance? And in the midst of rising emissions, what kind of response might actually limit their effects? This writing course examines competing accounts of global climate change, foregrounding recent debates over capitalism’s role as both cause and possible solution. We’ll begin with two brief essays on climate-change skepticism. Students will analyze either George Marshall’s psychological interpretation of skepticism or Naomi Klein’s political interpretation. Next, we’ll consider two leading accounts of what lies at the root of climate change. In the first, Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen traces our predicament back to humankind’s mastery over fire; in the second, Andreas Malm, author of Fossil Capital, portrays climate change as an outcome of capitalist development. Students will select one of these texts to evaluate. For the third and longest essay, students will enter a debate sparked by An Ecomodernist Manifesto, a collectively-authored text that advocates for nuclear energy and capitalist growth as solutions to climate change. Alongside the manifesto, students will engage with a response, “A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique,” as well as an essay by Vandana Shiva, who examines the ecological implications of growth within an uneven global landscape, and excerpts from Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on climate change.

060.113.18 Contemporary American Short Stories (TTH 12:00)
Donald Berger

In a 2012 interview with the New York Times, American critic M.H. Abrams was asked, “Why study literature?” Abrams answered, because “it enables you to live the lives of other people.” And in his book How Fiction Works, critic James Wood points us to fiction’s “extraordinary capacity . . . [to] tell us what a character is thinking.” But how does a master of short fiction open a window to his or her characters’ thoughts and feelings? How does the writer, as Abrams suggests, draw us into other lives? In this writing course, we will examine how writers of American short stories use fictional elements such as point of view and description to create a character’s inner life. For our first essay assignment, students will analyze one story from among a small set of stories by considering a question the story raises. For Essay 2, students will evaluate a critic’s interpretation of how characterization operates in a story and, based on that evaluation, will offer their own interpretation. For our third and largest essay, students will develop an argument about a short story in the context of secondary sources, evaluating the critics’ views and offering their own. Our readings will feature the work of some of the masters of contemporary American short stories including Raymond Carver, Grace Paley, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Ford, Denis Johnson, ZZ Packer, George Saunders, Lorrie Moore, Edward P. Jones, and Lydia Davis.

060.113.19 Family Matters (TTH 12:00)
Aliza Watters

Your roommate stares at you and says: “Tell me about your family.” Translation: who are you? In leaving home for college, we come to reevaluate the primary—and primal— relationships which define us, often for the first time. How do we understand and reconcile the shaping power of family—a power that can both fortify and confine us? In this writing course, we will examine what family narratives can teach us about the formation of individual identity. To help answer our central question, we’ll explore diverse examples of family narratives, including fiction, memoir, and a contemporary case study. We’ll begin with a variety of origin stories whose central characters grapple with family legacy: the original 1939 Batman, “The Very Rigid Search” by Jonathan Safran Foer, and “North” by Aria Beth Sloss. Students will write a brief essay analyzing one of the stories and offering an interpretation. Next, we’ll examine how auto-biographical authors Maxine Hong Kingston and Sherman Alexie shape their own identities by re-shaping their family narratives in memoir. Students will evaluate the view of a critical source as it pertains to either Kingston or Alexie. In the last and most extensive phase of the course, we’ll investigate how new scientific research can compete with conventional views of what defines us to reshape our understanding of family. Students will read excerpts from Andrew Solomon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity alongside other critical sources to develop an argument of their own about the power of family and its boundaries.

060.113.20 Family Matters (TTH 1:30)
Aliza Watters

Please see the course description listed above for Section 19 at TTH 12:00.

060.113.21 The Politics of Freedom (TTH 1:30)
Christopher Forster-Smith

What do we mean when we use the word “freedom”? More specifically, how do ideas about freedom shape our political world? In this writing course, we will pursue these questions by examining famous political speeches and texts in political theory. We will begin by reading two speeches: “I Have a Dream,” delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1963, and “A Time for Choosing,” by Ronald Reagan in 1964. Students will choose one speech and write a brief essay interpreting what “freedom” means to either King or Reagan. For the second essay, students will read excerpts from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract together with an academic article about the concept of freedom in Rousseau’s work. Students will write an essay that evaluates the secondary article’s interpretation of Rousseau. For the third and final essay, students will read Isaiah Berlin’s classic essay “Two Concepts of Liberty,” in which Berlin outlines two contrasting notions of freedom, alongside selections from Neil Roberts and F.A. Hayek that contribute to this scholarly debate about freedom. Students will then write an essay that engages the debate and makes an argument about how political freedom ought to be understood.

060.113.22 American Gothic (TTH 1:30)
Mande Zecca

Please see the course description listed above for Section 16 at TTH 10:30.

060.113.23 Human Rights and Military Intervention (TTH 3:00)
Casey McNeill

State violence against civilians—in Libya and Syria, for instance—has renewed debates about military intervention to protect civilians. When should outsiders intervene, and who should decide? Who bears responsibility for intervention and its consequences? In this writing course, students will consider these questions as they engage different perspectives on humanitarian intervention. We will start with former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power’s article “Raising the Costs of Genocide,” in which Power argues that a lack of political will has failed to prevent post-Holocaust genocide. In her view, the American public must demand a global re-commitment to stopping it. Students will write a brief essay analyzing Power’s argument. Next, we turn to the debate around the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine, which establishes international norms for determining when to violate state sovereignty to protect civilians. Students will read the UN report alongside a critique of its assumptions and, in their second essay, will evaluate R2P’s central claims. For the third and longest essay, we will consider a case study from recent world events: the 2011 intervention in Libya by the United States and other NATO nations. Drawing on the debates above as well as new materials, students will argue for their own views of the intervention and will consider the implications of their arguments for future interventions to protect human rights.