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

Students and their professor having a discussion in a classroom

"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 inspired learning seems to reverberate through the epigraphy that so proudly adorns its walls. But if it’s learning that liberates us to lead meaningful lives, why does the gargoyle known asUnseeing Reader read blindfolded? And why does the powerful dragon remain forever enchained to the University Chapel? When analyzed in conjunction with campus inscriptions, the decorative elements of our built environment begin to reveal a multitude of narratives and tensions that quietly influence our daily experiences: things are not what they seem. What are we saying “YES!” to?


That thing you came to Princeton to study? Study it with us, in a supportive community of your fellow sophomores!

This Sophomore Research Seminar turns to Princeton’s campus as its archive in order to raise questions about identity and community, about belonging and breaking free, about the past in the present. In the fall, we survey campus to gather original collections of primary evidence. In the spring, those collections become our focused datasets, serving as the foundations for our analysis of campus as message and campus as meaning. Prospective neuroscientists, for example, might investigate the intersections of campus greenspaces and mental health; a computer scientist might analyze the spatial distribution of affinity spaces; and a historian may investigate the relationship between donations, building programs, and curricular reforms. Through the lens of heritage, this course enables students curious about their university home to delve deeply into the complexities emergent in contemporary experiences of a storied place.

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%

2024-25 Seminar

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

50-minute precept time to be scheduled.

Apply to WRI 220/221


Review the Frequently Asked Questions.

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