WRI 220/221: The Writing’s on the Wall

Discussion in a Writing Seminar

“YES!” exclaims the walkway into the Whitman College courtyard. Bonus intra, melior exi promises a fireplace at the Graduate College. And in Frick Laboratory, the Roman poet Virgil suggests that “happy is the person who is able to understand the cause of things.” Princeton’s identity as a place of learning seems to reverberate through the epigraphy that so proudly adorns its walls. But why, then, does the gargoyle known as Unseeing Reader read blindfolded? And why does the powerful chained dragon on the University Chapel never shatter its fetters? When analyzed in conjunction with campus inscriptions, those decorative elements of our built environment stop being purely decorative and begin to reveal a multitude of narratives and tensions that quietly influence our daily experiences.

And thus, the cheerful “YES!” makes us ask: to what? This Sophomore Research Seminar takes the textual, visual, and architectural elements of Princeton’s campus as its archive to raise questions about identity and community, about belonging and breaking free, about the past in the present. In the fall, we gather primary evidence to create researched collections. In the spring, those collections, now focused archives, serve as the foundations for our analysis of campus as message and campus as meaning. A prospective art historian might interrogate the Roman fragments from Antioch embedded in Firestone’s 20th-century walls while a language major may investigate the absence of non-Western languages in campus epigraphy. Focused on the heritage of Princeton’s material self, this course provides an interdisciplinary lens on archival research especially useful for students interested in majoring in the humanities and adjacent social sciences. 

Sample Reading List

Allen, K.-A. et al (2021) “Belonging: A Review of Conceptual Issues, an Integrative Framework, and Directions for Future Research.” Aust J Psychol. 73(1).

Della Torre, S. et al (2019) Buildings for Education.

Hajrasouliha, A. H. (2017) “Master-planning the American campus: Goals, Actions, and Design Strategies.” Urban Design 22.

Harrison, R.  (2013) Heritage. Critical Approaches.


  • Writing assignments 80%
  • Class/precept participation 20%

2023-24 Seminar

Seminar meets Tuesdays 8:30 - 9:50 a.m.

Precept meet Tuesdays 10:00 - 10:50 a.m. or Thursdays 9:00 - 9:50 a.m.


Review the Frequently Asked Questions.

For more information about WRI 220/221, please contact Emma Ljung.