Spring 2023 Writing Seminars

Writing Seminars have a common goal—for students, through practice and guidance, to master essential strategies and techniques of academic inquiry and argument. Writing Seminars also have a common structure: unlike most other courses, which are organized around readings, Writing Seminars are organized primarily around writing—specifically, a series of four assignments, totaling about 30 finished pages.

While Writing Seminars all focus on the skills necessary for effective critical reading and writing, they differ in the topics and texts assigned. Below are topic descriptions of the many different Writing Seminars being offered this term.

As described in How to Enroll, you will rank your top 8 seminar preferences online at any time during the enrollment period.  To read a full description of the course, click on the course title.  To increase your chances of being assigned to one of your top preferences, choose seminars that meet at a range of times, including morning and evening. Be sure to keep in mind your class schedule and extracurricular commitments.

Enrollment Schedule

Thursday, November 3 - Wednesday, November 9

Writing Program site opens for Spring students to rank their top 8 seminar choices.

This process is not first come, first served. Your chance of receiving one of your top choices is as good as everyone else's, but you must submit your choices by the deadline.

Monday, November 14

Students receive their Writing Seminar assignment via email.

Writing Seminars

Title Course Professor Day and Time Classroom
Ages of Memory WRI 120 Irwin Wilkins, Amanda
Kurpiewski, Christopher
T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
American Dissent WRI 144 Cashbaugh, Sean M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
American Dissent WRI 145 Cashbaugh, Sean M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
American Expertise WRI 104 Bonczyk, Patrick M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
American Expertise WRI 105 Bonczyk, Patrick M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
And the Rest Is Drag WRI 163 Baldor, Tyler T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
And the Rest Is Drag WRI 164 Baldor, Tyler T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Answering the Call WRI 135 Miller, Chernice M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Answering the Call WRI 136 Miller, Chernice M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Banishing the Dark WRI 179 Sargent, Abigail T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Banishing the Dark WRI 180 Sargent, Abigail T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Captivating Animals WRI 195 Young, Catherine T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Captivating Animals WRI 196 Young, Catherine T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Confessions WRI 183 Garcia, Sam T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Confessions WRI 184 Garcia, Sam T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Constructing the Past WRI 146 Ljung, Emma T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Craft of Authenticity, The WRI 112 Visco, Julianna M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Craft of Authenticity, The WRI 113 Visco, Julianna M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Curiosity WRI 153 Selinger, Liora M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Curiosity WRI 154 Selinger, Liora M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Disability Justice WRI 165 Raffety, Erin T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Disrupting Nature WRI 129 Jones, Jessica T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Disrupting Nature WRI 130 Jones, Jessica T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Educational Equities WRI 133 Kim, Soo-Young M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Educational Equities WRI 134 Kim, Soo-Young M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Fight the Power WRI 123 Hofler, Sakinah M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Fight the Power WRI 124 Hofler, Sakinah M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Future of Food, The WRI 121 Geheber, Philip Keel T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Future of Food, The WRI 122 Geheber, Philip Keel T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Gamification WRI 185 Raphel, Adrienne M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Gamification WRI 186 Raphel, Adrienne M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Gray Matter WRI 159 Hofstra, Jorie T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Gray Matter WRI 160 Hofstra, Jorie T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Imagining Childhood WRI 118 Moran, Patrick M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Imagining Childhood WRI 119 Moran, Patrick M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Justice Beyond Borders WRI 167 Mull, Nathaniel T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Justice Beyond Borders WRI 168 Mull, Nathaniel T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Like Magic WRI 166 Fancy, Benjamin M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Love and Social Change WRI 151 Arroyo, Joy T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Outlawed and Infamous WRI 127 Johnson, Philip M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Outlawed and Infamous WRI 128 Johnson, Philip M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Over the Edge of Disaster WRI 102 Anshumali, Amit M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Over the Edge of Disaster WRI 103 Anshumali, Amit M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Politics of Agency, The WRI 131 Lu, Shaofei T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Politics of Agency, The WRI 132 Lu, Shaofei T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Politics of Intimacy, The WRI 108 Davis, Alexander M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Posthuman, The WRI 177 Fedosik, Marina T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Posthuman, The WRI 178 Fedosik, Marina T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Seeking Nature WRI 106 Case, Sarah T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Seeking Nature WRI 107 Case, Sarah T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Sexual Revolutions WRI 109 Davis, Alexander T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Sound and the City WRI 189 Parton, Chris M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Sustainable Futures WRI 116 DiGiorgio, Andrea T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Sustainable Futures WRI 117 DiGiorgio, Andrea T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
Tale of Two Democracies WRI 110 Chattaraj, Durba M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am to be announced
Tale of Two Democracies WRI 111 Chattaraj, Durba M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
This Course is Out to Get You WRI 187 Shorr, Ardon T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced
This Course is Out to Get You WRI 188 Shorr, Ardon T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Time's Mirror WRI 155 Wigodner, Alena M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Time's Mirror WRI 156 Wigodner, Alena M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Unlocking the Double Helix WRI 125 Stroud, Beth M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Voice and Voicelessness WRI 192 Yao, Zhuming T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Weird Weather WRI 137 Newby, Diana M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm to be announced
Weird Weather WRI 138 Newby, Diana M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm to be announced
Your Life in Numbers WRI 149 Choi, Daniel M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm to be announced
Your Life in Numbers WRI 150 Choi, Daniel M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm to be announced

Seminar Descriptions

Ages of Memory

WRI 120: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Amanda Irwin Wilkins
Christopher Kurpiewski

“Memory is identity,” novelist Julian Barnes observed. “I have believed this since–oh, since I can remember.” Yet as neurologists, chroniclers, and artists have shown, memory is as fragmentary and fallible as it is essential to human experience. How can savoring a favorite dish summon distant images of childhood, while simply walking through a doorway increases the odds you’ll forget what you were doing? How does personal memory relate to collective remembering? And to what extent are neural pathways rewired or the stories we tell rescripted to meet the needs of the present? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the ways we make sense of the past and of ourselves through memory and forgetting. We begin by examining the graphic memoir Fun Home (2006), in which cartoonist Alison Bechdel tries to piece together her father’s ambiguous history and understand her place within it. We turn next to cooking as students analyze the ingredients, foodways, and tastes that evoke community. For the research paper, students investigate a memorial or other site of memory of their choosing. Examples include the gravestone Icelanders placed for the Okjökull glacier (declared dead in 2014), the Depression-era iconography adorning many US post offices, and living-history museums like nearby Howell Farm. 

 

American Dissent

WRI 144: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 145: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Sean Cashbaugh

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” praising violent dissent by linking it with freedom. Yet Jefferson was a slave owner and, as president, he tolerated the suppression of legitimate political opposition. This paradox between dissent and conformity is not a bug of American democracy, but a feature: from the Civil Rights Movement’s appeals to nationalism to the Old Left’s frequent focus on the white male worker, it seems that dissent in America often aligns with elements of its opposite. From reform to revolution, what contradictions can opposition reveal? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the achievements—and limits—of ideas and movements that challenge the status quo. First, we analyze speeches by Frederick Douglass and Angela Davis about the politics of abolitionism to refine recent theories of dissent’s political function. Next, we examine historical, anthropological, and economic perspectives on the Woodstock Music and Art Fair of 1969 to consider the significance of this countercultural business venture. For the research project, students investigate an act, movement, or theory of dissent of their own choosing. Possible topics include antifa, minority Supreme Court positions, and the radical conservatism of the John Birch Society.

 

American Expertise

WRI 104: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 105: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Patrick Bonczyk

CDC officials encountered intense skepticism and misinformation when they offered guidance on the use of masks to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Historians have faced widespread resistance to correcting whitewashed accounts of slavery in US textbooks. What does it mean to be an expert in American society today? When do we look to experts and why? And to what extent is our acceptance or rejection of them shaped by storytelling, market values, and anything besides the facts? In this Writing Seminar, we explore expertise at a time when public confidence in specialists seems to have hit rock-bottom. We begin by investigating interviews with Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. who parlayed his skills as an electric chair technician into the role of star witness for a trial defense based on Holocaust denial. We next examine American higher education, particularly prestigious universities, and interrogate the formation of hierarchies of knowledge and status. For the final research essay, students will identify a case of contested expertise and investigate the root of the disagreement. Possible topics include the rise and fall of the Silicon Valley biotechnology company, Theranos, the coding decisions embedded in self-driving cars, or the “Do Your Own Research” (D.Y.O.R.) movement about vaccines and climate change. 

 

And the Rest Is Drag

WRI 163: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm
WRI 164: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm

Tyler Baldor

RuPaul Charles, host of the popular TV competition series RuPaul’s Drag Race, famously said, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” We generally think of drag as a specific kind of transgression––dressing up as the opposite gender––but how might “drag” describe the myriad choices we make each day to be seen and understood? How do we display who we are to the world, and why do we present the way we do? We begin this Writing Seminar by analyzing gender-bending performances from television and music in light of Erving Goffman’s theory of self-presentation in everyday life. Next, we explore New York City during the 1920s and ’30s “Pansy Craze,” as students engage with a range of scholarship—from urban studies and the history of medicine to sociology, visual studies, literary analysis, and the law—to examine how we draw boundaries between what’s considered “deviant” and “normal.” For the research paper, students investigate an aspect of identity and material culture in a case study of their choosing. Sample topics include the depiction of the villain Ursula in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, the history of the pantsuit in American business and politics, and the use of drag in Princeton Triangle Shows.

 

Answering the Call

WRI 135: M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 136: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Chernice Miller

From Superman and Wonder Woman, to first responders, teachers, and grandparents, diverse heroes occupy our hearts and imaginations. Sometimes they’re the irreproachable or historical, while at other times they’re strangers doing their jobs or friends showing simple kindnesses. So what does it mean to be a hero–or to call someone a hero–when anyone can put on their cape? And why might we call someone a hero even when they reject the title or couldn’t foresee their impact? In this Writing Seminar we explore controversies surrounding heroism and those who answer the call. We begin by analyzing stories of everyday heroism through the lens of trauma theory, questioning why and when bystanders take action. We turn next to the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman whose 1951 biopsy was repurposed without her consent to establish the HeLa human cell line, an invaluable source of medical research that raises ethical questions about agency, power, and heroic memory. For the research project students investigate a contested moment of heroism–a deed, depiction, contest, or discovery–and make an original argument about its social, cultural, or scientific significance. Sample topics include memorials to Christopher Columbus, veneration of healthcare workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, Nazi weapons designers building NASA rockets, and the vigilantism of Bruce Wayne.

 

Banishing the Dark

WRI 179: T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 180: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Abigail Sargent

Today, when it gets dark, it’s easy to flip a switch and take the resulting light for granted. But for millennia, light demanded steady labor, making illumination less accessible but perhaps more sought after. If we understand “progress” as moving out from the shadows, what mysteries or freedoms do we risk banishing along with the dark? And as technology affords us greater command over the night, who has access to light switches? How are human rhythms and behaviors affected? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the meaning of illumination and the power to control the dark. We begin in the gloomy forests of folklore, examining the tale of Vasilisa the Fair alongside research on how humans cope with darkness. Next, we turn to technology’s promise to expel danger from urban spaces as students analyze the interplay of politics, economics, and engineering in late 19th-century initiatives to electrify and illuminate the city streets of Philadelphia. Students conclude the semester by investigating the significance of light—or its absence—in a cultural practice, biological process, or technology of their choosing. Sample research topics range from ancient solstice festivals, to the impact of screen time before bed, rolling blackouts in Egypt, and designs for greenhouses in deep space.

 

Captivating Animals

WRI 195: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 196: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Catherine Young

From BBC Earth documentaries and Disney films to pollinator gardens and the dogs of Instagram, animals are captivating figures. Yet they are also captive test subjects in scientific laboratories, pests in human habitats, and raw material in factory farms. How do we explain such complicated, inconsistent attitudes towards animal life? How do we draw boundaries between animals and humans, and how does drawing that boundary guide both fascination and exploitation? This Writing Seminar begins by examining the use of animatronic wildlife cameras in light of roboticist Masahiro Mori’s theory about the uncanny valley effect. We turn next to the Bronx Zoo in order to analyze the institution through economic, philosophical, and zoological perspectives; students will explore current exhibits and their design, financial data, and historical documents including the Zoo’s 2020 apology for exhibiting an abducted Congolese man in 1906. For the research paper, students identify and investigate a human-animal cultural practice of their choosing. Possible topics range from the international politics of protecting endangered mammals, to the ethics of harvesting pig valves to treat cardiac disease in humans, the transmission of zoonotic diseases in meat industries, the invocation of animal guides and totems in spiritual practices, and the relationship between anthropomorphized wildlife and human stereotypes in children’s cartoons.

 

Confessions

WRI 183: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 184: T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Samuel García

“Western man has become a confessing animal.” This famous judgment, made by the French theorist Michel Foucault in 1976, is relevant today in ways Foucault himself likely never imagined. Increasingly, we live in—and often have a hand in creating—a confessional culture, with virtual platforms like Instagram (or Finstagram) and Facebook at our fingertips, where we can divulge our own secrets and consume those of others whenever and wherever we want. How are such virtual confessions related to those made to priests or therapists? How does intimacy or anonymity affect the nature of our confessions? What is the relationship between truth-telling and confessing? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the multiple meanings and media of confession. We begin by analyzing disclosures from campus confession pages in light of Foucault’s influential theory of confession. Next, we examine the relationship between confessions and policing, focusing on the infamous case of the Central Park Five while drawing on recent scholarship in criminal law, media studies, and psychology. For the research paper, students develop an original argument about confession and identity. Possible subjects include confessional podcasts such as The Moth Radio Hour, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix stand-up special “Nanette,” or graphic memoirs such as Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

 

Constructing the Past

WRI 146: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Emma Ljung

Colonial Williamsburg as we know it was created in the 1930s, yet thousands visit the town every year to learn about America’s pre-revolutionary past. Despite the absence of archaeological evidence for druidism at Stonehenge, authorities have granted special access to the ancient site for religious ceremonies. The past, it seems, is not simply over: on the contrary, it is constantly made and remade. But what happens to our knowledge of the past when there is an inconsistency between original and current use of a site or object? What are the consequences of literally constructing a new version of the past? This Writing Seminar investigates the complicated processes by which historic elements are shaped, managed, and revised. First, we assess how the Venice Charter problematizes architectural conservation at sites like Egypt’s Deir el-Hagar. Next, we turn to the Princeton University Art Museum’s collections to explore tribal and indigenous artifacts that have been separated from their original context. How does that separation impact issues like cultural appropriation and heritage preservation? For the research project, students investigate the consequences of constructing the past in a case study of their choice, for example: genealogy and DNA test kits, the renaming of Denali-Mount McKinley, or ruins as warnings in fictional worlds like Hyrule or Middle Earth.

 

The Craft of Authenticity 

WRI 112: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm
WRI 113: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:50 pm

Julianna Visco

Artisanal chocolate, handcrafted wood furniture, and bespoke tailoring suggest a cultural craving for close physical connection between artisan and object. Multinational corporations like IKEA and H&M are not only partnering with artisans to sell sustainable goods but also producing a “hand-crafted” aesthetic on assembly lines—all attainable through the click of a button. In what ways might the commodification of craftwork challenge our understanding of authenticity? How do we relate to an object when physical interaction is replaced with a virtual showcase? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the complicated relationship between craft and profit, interrogating authenticity and appropriation. Students begin by crafting a woven object or kneading bread, investigating the relationship between material, maker, and object. We then shift perspective from maker to consumer as students examine Etsy—an online marketplace for handmade, vintage and custom goods—by exploring the sociology of craft industries, the economics of peer-to-peer platforms, and the colonial legacy of craft in Western cultures. For the research project, students investigate a historical or contemporary making practice of their choice. Sample topics include pussyhats worn during the 2017 Women’s March, foodie appropriation of non-Western recipes, deepfake dances generated by AI for TikTok, African-American quilting, and the craft beer movement.

 

Curiosity

WRI 153: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 154: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Liora Selinger

Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” We prize the intellectual curiosity that leads to scientific discovery—and yet we say it was “curiosity that killed the cat.” What can we learn from this ambivalence? How does navigating from known to unknown, from familiar to foreign, challenge us as learners, innovators, and social beings? What ethical questions emerge when we label something—or someone—a “curiosity”? We begin by examining curiosity and human development as students analyze children’s books like Curious George and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in light of John Dewey’s theories of education. We turn next to the value of science for its own sake as students engage diverse perspectives— ranging from engineering and exobiology, to economics, cultural studies, and history of science—in order to investigate the relationship between open-ended inquiry and tangible results in NASA’s 2011 launch of the Mars “Curiosity” Rover. For the research project, students will craft an original argument about an object of curiosity and the ways people respond to it. Potential topics include Netflix cliffhangers, Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet of curiosities, destinations featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, true crime podcasts, and the fascinations of “mad scientists” like Victor Frankenstein.

 

Disability Justice

WRI 165: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Erin Raffety

Autistic, allistic, crip, neurodivergent, and chronically ill: disabled activists are coining new terms, displaying disability pride, and taking the disability rights movement into the 21st century. And yet, as the largest minority group in America, disabled people remain disproportionately disenfranchised, underemployed, and poor. How do theories of disability account for the diversity of disability experiences in America today? When it comes to disability rights and justice, what is the relationship between accessibility, accommodations, and inclusion? And what can disabled experiences teach us about our collective humanity? In this writing seminar we begin by analyzing how Deaf and intellectually disabled perspectives in the documentary films Sound and Fury and Including Samuel stretch medical and social models of disability. Next, we investigate the sprawling Princeton campus, and the iconic The Americans with Disabilities Act in the context of scholarship on racism, neoliberalism, universal design, and assistive technology. Finally, in the research unit, students expand their study of disability and justice to imminent and global challenges like disaster preparedness and evacuation plans, accessibility issues amid refugee crises, augmented communication and artificial intelligence, COVID vaccinations, crip sexuality, cochlear implants and Deaf culture, and the rise of anxiety disorders among young people.

 

Disrupting Nature

WRI 129: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 130: T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Jessica Jones

“Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis,” warn centuries-old stone tablets along Japan’s coasts. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster underscored their admonition “do not build” below certain points. An 1878 US government report advised against unrestricted settlement in the arid watershed of the Colorado River. Today 40 million people and 3.2 million acres of farmland depend on its waters. Why do some modern civilizations choose to ignore warnings about nature’s threats? To what extent can human societies built for one image of the world adapt when that understanding fails? This Writing Seminar explores how we might re-imagine our planetary place in the face of climate crisis, transforming the ways we inhabit nature. We begin by thinking with Wanuri Kahiu’s futuristic sci-fi film Pumzi about the limits of the anthropocene – a geological epoch marked by human impact on Earth. Next, we consider the Indigenous movement against the Dakota Oil Pipeline and how competing values influence different stakeholders’ relationships to Standing Rock. For the research paper, students investigate a depiction or re-imagining of the human relationship to the natural world. Potential topics include Ana Mendieta’s art, Disney’s Encanto, the Green New Deal, Svalbard’s seed vault, the Detroit Gardening Angels, or making cows burp less to reduce greenhouse gasses. 

 

Educational Equities

WRI 133: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 134: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Soo-Young Kim

Two centuries ago, public education advocate Horace Mann described education as “the great equalizer.” Today, U.S. student debt exceeds $1.7 trillion, and a racial achievement gap persists generations after Brown v. Board of Education ruled school segregation unconstitutional. Yet education remains central to American aspirations of equality and equity, as underscored by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she remarked, “The America that we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education.” How does the idea of education as equalizer shape the ways we as individuals and collectives invest—financially, politically, morally—in education? What are the consequences of these investments in the classroom and beyond? We begin examining the purposes and promises of education by putting Princeton recruitment and orientation materials into dialogue with sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the forms of capital. Next, we turn to Public School District 15 in Brooklyn as we analyze the relationship among access, integration, and outcomes for New York City middle schoolers. For the research project, students investigate a program, movement, or debate through which they develop their own arguments about equity in education. Possible topics include online learning platforms, race-conscious admissions policies, and income-share tuition schemes.

 

Fight the Power

WRI 123: M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 124: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Sakinah Hofler

In 1965 thousands braved beatings to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to fight for civil rights. Fifty years later, millions of social media users shared videos of the murders of Eric Garner and George Floyd. In 2021, when NJ high-school basketball star Destiny Adams was denied permission by the board of education to wear a BLM warmup shirt, teammates arrived at the season opener wearing BLM hoodies. When does an act become activism? How many dissenters are needed to start a movement? And how do different avenues of protest follow from new technologies and changes in where people get their information? We begin this Writing Seminar analyzing elements of dissent in music videos by Beyoncé and NWA. Next, we turn to Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem in the 2016 NFL season to investigate the relationship between media and activism using statistical, algorithmic, and historical perspectives. For the research project, students identify a contemporary protest or related art form and develop an argument about its economic, social, or cultural impact. Sample topics include LGBTQ-inclusive commercials by Fortune 500 brands, female autonomy in The Handmaid’s Tale, and protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

 

The Future of Food

WRI 121: T/Th 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 122: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Philip Keel Geheber

The United Nations estimates that in 2050 a global population of 10 billion will require twice as much food as the world does today. At the same time, scientists project climate change will reduce yields of agriculture, livestock, and fisheries. As food systems become less able to meet demand, how will humans continue to nourish an ever-growing population in the long term? What will this mean for established modes of distribution? And how can we ensure equitable access? This Writing Seminar begins by examining the food system infrastructure in Princeton as we draw on sociologist Andrew Deener’s study of food deserts to analyze food costs and quality with respect to grocery store locations and their target customers. Next, we examine a historic example of a food catastrophe, the 1867-1869 Swedish Famine, by attending to its climatic and political causes, effects on emigration and epigenetics, and cultural memory. For the research project, students identify and investigate a food source issue that will affect the food system in the near future, placing its future production and distribution in its ecological, economic, or sociocultural context. Topics could range from vertical farming in Newark, to the ethics of lab-grown meat, to moratoriums on traditional whale hunting.

 

Gamification

WRI 185: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm
WRI 186: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm

Adrienne Raphel

King Tut loved the board game Senet. IBM's supercomputer Deep Blue shocked the world when it defeated chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov. Today, gamification––applying game-design elements in other contexts to boost productivity––is a thriving field. Yet games may also have a dark side to their addictive power, substituting short-term pleasure for long-term fulfillment. How do we reconcile the benefits of gamification with its potential risks? From the stock market to Animal Crossing, from crosswords to Khan Academy, this Writing Seminar explores the games we play in our social and imagined lives. We begin by examining Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass alongside Jane McGonigal’s theory that gaming improves reality. Next, we analyze the famous case of Monopoly, drawing on history, economics, psychology, and narrative theory to illuminate everything from the making of its rules to its reception over time and its status as a brand. For the research paper, students identify and investigate a gaming phenomenon and make an argument about its wider cultural, political, or scientific implications. Potential topics include dating apps, climate change simulations, the Olympics, World of Warcraft, tarot, zero-sum games in international affairs, and cosplay. Throughout the semester, students will also invent and pitch games of their own design.

 

Gray Matter

WRI 159: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 160: T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Jorie Hofstra

Zombies crave them, drugs “fry” them, scientists map them, our hearts’ desires overrule them. How do all these different ways of imagining what a brain is, what it’s capable of, and how it relates to our personhood coexist? And among all the readily available metaphors, diagnostics, and literature used to describe the human brain, how do we come to know who we are in relation to our gray matter? In this Writing Seminar, we encounter artists, neuroscientists, social scientists, engineers, and psychologists who are all trying to understand the brain in relation to our bodies, our selves, and our environments. We begin by analyzing Jordan Peele’s representation of the relationship between the mind and the brain in his 2017 horror film Get Out. Next, we critically investigate neuroscientific claims to objectivity, authority, and transparency in the case of amnesiac Henry Molaison—anonymized as “Patient H.M.”—whose 55 years as a research subject led to major shifts in the neuroscience of memory. Finally, students identify and critically analyze a particular way in which the brain participates in the social world: for instance, as a template for Elon Musk’s Neuralink, as a site of therapeutic intervention in personality disorders, or as a casualty of war.

 

Imagining Childhood

WRI 118: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 119: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Patrick W. Moran

Reflecting on a striking range of objects designed for children—from Rubik’s Cubes to computer consoles, nursery furniture to astronaut suits—the Museum of Modern Art called the 20th century “The Century of the Child.” If that’s the case, what was the status of the child previously, and what has happened to it since? How has childhood as a social category been defined and redefined in different times and different cultures? In this Writing Seminar, we consider the constantly changing perceptions of those earliest years of human development. We begin with an examination of childhood objects and the upsetting realities of racial violence in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. Drawing on a range of interdisciplinary scholars, we then explore how seemingly simple children’s books like The Cat in the Hat and Where the Wild Things Are carry an array of unspoken ideological messages. Finally, students identify an event, controversy, or product of their choosing that illuminates a society’s perspective on childhood in a particular era. Potential topics range from Japanese Children’s Day to Pokémon Go, Grimm’s fairytales to AI-enabled toys, the history of the Scout movement to adult humor in The Muppet Show

 

Justice Beyond Borders

WRI 167: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 168: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Nathaniel Mull

The 21st century has witnessed a global refugee crisis unprecedented in size and scope. In the last three years alone, poverty, war, and ethnic cleansing have displaced millions of people from Syria, Libya, Somalia, Ukraine, and Myanmar, straining the hospitality and resources of a handful of neighboring countries. With 85% of all refugees hosted by developing countries, critics accuse wealthy nations like the United States of not doing enough to confront these crises. How should states weigh obligations to their own citizens against obligations to the rest of humanity? We begin this Writing Seminar by questioning the moral significance of national borders in light of Immanuel Kant’s attempt to resolve the conflict between national and cosmopolitan duties. We then analyze competing models of humanitarian intervention, drawing on evidence surrounding the Darfur civil war to explore the forces that shape cross-border responses to human suffering. For the research project, students will investigate a specific case study or debate in the global justice literature. Possible topics range from the prosecution of war criminals by the International Criminal Court to the distribution of carbon emissions rights. Finally, students will translate their research findings into an op-ed for the general public.

 

Like Magic

WRI 166: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Benjamin Fancy

Do you believe in magic? There may be more to this question than meets the eye. How does seeing relate to believing, and what does it mean for someone to “possess magic” or for something to “be like magic?” What role does a magician play in influencing an audience’s perceptions, and what role does the audience play in maintaining the illusion? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the boundaries between the real and the marvelous, interrogating the difference between entertainment and inducement. Students begin by learning a magic trick they’ll perform for a small audience. They’ll then collect data about the audience’s experience in order to analyze the role of participation, agency, and obedience in suspending belief. Next, we turn to fraught questions of deception and conviction as we examine the development of court procedures used during the Salem witch trials. Students conclude the semester by investigating an illusion of their choosing, placing it in its social, cultural, or historical context. Potential research topics range from P.T. Barnum’s Fiji mermaid to avatars customized for League of Legends tournaments; from the cinematic marvels of the Lumière brothers to digital deepfakes of Barack Obama; from making the Statue of Liberty disappear to the neurochemical magic of falling in love.

 

Love and Social Change

WRI 151: T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am

Joy Arroyo

Love cannot be killed or swept aside,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. His sonnet concluded with the call to "fill the world with music, love, and pride.” This vision of love as a powerfully restorative social act—one that can provide an antidote even to gun violence—contrasts our everyday association of love with the intimacy of romance and kinship. What then does it mean to evoke “love” in response to national crises? How does the individual’s experience of love call communities—or nations—to act or think in new ways? This Writing Seminar explores diverse spheres of love, ranging from private interplay to collective, even political, practices. We begin at the intersections of gender, race, and culture as we examine shifts in unpaid care work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next, students analyze the pageantry and performance of love in the 2018 Royal wedding in relation to British identity, history, and changing demographics. For the research essay, students investigate how love features in a political or commercial campaign of their choosing. Possible topics include the “Love Has No Labels” anti-bias campaign, Hillary Clinton’s “Love Trumps Hate” slogan, and South Korean boy band BTS’s “Love Myself” campaign.

 

Outlawed and Infamous

WRI 127: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 128: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Philip Johnson

Robin Hood famously robbed the rich to feed the poor, while cartel boss Pablo Escobar killed his rivals, built schools, and became so infamous that Netflix continues to profit from his story. Judging by their popularity, it seems many of us feel some fascination for stories about outlaws, but at what point does fascination become celebration? Who decides which crimes we retell and serialize? And if we blur the lines between champion and outlaw, what becomes of the victims? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the contradictions and meaning of criminal infamy. We begin by using historical accounts of social banditry in pre-industrial societies as a lens to analyze recent cyberattacks by the leaderless, borderless hacktivist group Anonymous. Next, we interrogate how and why Australians remember Ned Kelly, the 19th-century bank robber and murderer turned national icon. For the final project, students will develop an argument about perceptions of a specific criminal(ized) figure or event. Possible topics include vigilante justice in the Watchmen universe, the criminalization and prosecution of indigenous protesters near the Standing Rock Sioux Nation, and the mixed legacy of Dr. Timothy Leary, a psychedelic drug advocate who Richard Nixon called “the most dangerous man in America.”

 

Over the Edge of Disaster

WRI 102: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 103: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Amit Anshumali

California’s vintners, orchard growers, and vegetable farmers enter a third decade of drought, at the same time surrounded by threat of wildfires and crop-destroying pests. Recent chemical spills risk poisoning the Bay of Bengal and the 1.4 billion people living along its coast. During Hurricane Ida, an unprecedented number of tornadoes tore through New Jersey, with one topping out at winds of 150 mph. As severe weather intensifies, how do communities respond once over the edge of disaster? How does human complicity shape our understanding of natural crises? We begin this Writing Seminar by analyzing the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact through the lens of what economists and ecologists call “the tragedy of the commons,” namely the pursuit of self-interest by those using shared resources. We turn next to the 2014-2016 Flint Water Crisis, as we examine environmental policy and public utility at the intersection of race, gender, and socio-economic class. Finally, students conclude the semester by investigating an ecological disaster–past, present, or looming–and make a researched argument about the significance of anthropogenic impact in a case study of their choosing. Sample topics range from brownfield sites in the Rust Belt to desertification in the tropics, disrupted ocean currents, and ecosystems in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

 

The Politics of Agency

WRI 131: T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 132: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Shaofei Lu

Barbara and Christine are identical twins raised in the same household. As children they were difficult to tell apart, but their personalities diverged in adolescence as they began making choices according to their own tastes and values. Today Barbara describes herself as confident and outgoing, while Christine admits to feeling self-conscious and suffering from severe depression. How much of life is driven by choice and agency? How much by circumstance and environment? What determines one’s life path, even when nature and nurture work to control so many of the variables? We begin this Writing Seminar by investigating the lives of New York City drug dealers as we evaluate the extent to which individuals are shaped by the people around them. We turn next to the Chinese state’s policy of rehabilitating traditional alleyway communities in Beijing (Hutongs), as students analyze tensions between local advocates for cultural preservation and government designs for urban redevelopment. For the final research project, students identify an institution or demographic and make a researched argument about the place of personal agency within that larger social structure. Potential topics range from women in tech industries and athletes training for the Olympics, to second-generation Americans, Catholic nuns in politics, universal basic income recipients, and homeless encampments in Seattle.

 

The Politics of Intimacy

WRI 108: M/W 8:30am – 9:50am

Alexander K. Davis

Sexting, consent, sexual fluidity, dating apps, BDSM, asexuality, and polyamory are just a few variations on human intimacy that have appeared on legislative agendas or judicial dockets around the world in the past decade. Yet each of those identities or practices—and many more—also constitute some of the most cherished parts of our personal lives. What happens when private desires challenge public policies? How do individuals negotiate their sexual lives when their actions or identities defy the law? And under what conditions can collective values and legal dictates related to sexuality be transformed? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the social and political regulation of human intimacy—and pushback against that regulation. We begin the semester by using quantitative survey data to discover how legal structures and political ideologies across the globe shape personal attitudes toward sexual diversity. Next, we interrogate a variety of cultural texts that prominently feature unusual intimacies, from the television program Euphoria to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, as we consider the broader political impact of localized sexual rhetoric. Finally, students make their own intellectual interests the center of our seminar, as they craft research papers about any topic they choose related to sexual politics.

 

The Posthuman

WRI 177: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 178: T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Marina Fedosik

Eugene Goostman, an artificial intelligence program that passed the Turing Test, and CRISPR-Cas9, a relatively simple bio-technology for gene-editing, are just two harbingers of our posthuman future. Scientists and the public perceive these breakthroughs as simultaneously fascinating and alarming, but what is it, exactly, that’s so unsettling about a machine’s ability to impersonate a human, or our proficiency in manipulating genomes? In this Writing Seminar, we consider the ways new technological possibilities both define and challenge our understanding of ourselves. We begin with reading science fiction by Charles Stross alongside symbiogenesis theory to reexamine the idea of the self-contained human subject in the age of biohacking. Next, we question Cartesian dualism as a framework for human identity by using the theories of Donna Haraway and N. Katherine Hayles to analyze real-world AIs like PARO, the therapeutic seal-robot; Replika, your chatbot doppelganger; and representations of human/technology entanglements in Ex Machina and Black Mirror. For the research project, students analyze a posthuman phenomenon of their choice to make an argument about the ways it is changing our notions of shared humanity. Examples include the cloning of extinct species, art created by AI, and the kind of posthuman intimacy represented by Erika Eiffel, who married the Eiffel Tower.

 

Seeking Nature

WRI 106: T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 107: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Sarah Case

Activities like “forest bathing” have taken off among adults seeking to escape from the pressures of modern life. Yet people of color in New York State today are 10x more likely to live in nature-deprived communities. And at a time when human impacts on the environment are driving extinctions, Netflix and Disney are spending billions on new wildlife shows for their subscribers. What determines the value of nature and who can access it? How is that perspective shaped by its experience or loss? This Writing Seminar investigates the relationship between humans and the natural world. We begin by exploring Princeton’s manicured lawns and shaded groves through the lens of biophilia, analyzing the connections between campus life and overlapping ecologies. We turn next to Manhattan’s High Line, a public park built on the site of an abandoned elevated train line, as students examine urban redevelopment in terms of equity and access to green spaces. For the research paper, students choose a natural site, real or imagined, and develop an original argument about the relationship between humanity and that environment. Possible topics include the Galapagos Islands as a destination for ecotourism, projects reintroducing leopards in Mozambique’s Zinave National Park, or landscapes invented by sci-fi authors like Octavia Butler and Margaret Atwood.

 

Sexual Revolutions

WRI 109: T/TH 8:30 am – 9:50 am

Alexander K. Davis

Five years ago, National Geographic celebrated the dawn of a global “gender revolution”—a rapid and unprecedented social metamorphosis affecting individual bodies and international politics alike. From efforts at American universities to accommodate non-binary students to ESPN podcasts debating toxic masculinity in professional sports, evidence abounds that traditional beliefs about gender have indeed been upended in the twenty-first century. But with the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, international athletic federations banning trans women from competition, and the gender pay gap remaining resolutely immovable, are those shifts truly as revolutionary as they seem? When—and how—can meaningful social change be achieved? In this Writing Seminar, we investigate the tension between cultural transformation and institutional stasis, using the dynamic social meaning of gender to explore that interplay. To begin the semester, we study social change historically and cross-nationally, analyzing quantitative trends in attitudes toward women, gender, and sexuality around the world. We then turn to the personal side of gendered experience, as we uncover the surprising cultural messages about selfhood and society hidden within neuroscientific studies of puberty and television programs such as Euphoria alike. Finally, students make their own intellectual interests the center of our seminar, as they craft research papers about any topic they choose related to gender and social change.

 

Sound and the City

WRI 189: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm 

Christopher Parton

In his 1916 book The City of Din, Scottish author Dan McKenzie decried the ever-increasing levels of noise in modern cities and its danger to public health. Around a hundred years later, however, many of the world’s metropolises fell quiet as the first round of COVID measures came into effect. So dramatic was the reduction of noise in Tokyo, the difference registered on seismographs. But even in his tirade against city noise, McKenzie admitted that “civilization is noise.” This Writing Seminar asks: What can we learn about cities—their histories, communities, and ecologies—from listening to urban environments? How do we discern a city’s heartbeat from its clamor? How do we make sense of silence in the streets? We begin by analyzing the presentation of silence in pandemic lockdown videos of Paris and Rome through R. Murray Schafer’s work on soundscapes. We then turn to the issue of noise pollution in New York City to explore who gets to decide what is and isn’t noise. Finally, students will write an original paper on an act of listening in a historical, cultural, or biological context. Possible topics include: sound design of open-world video games, sonic crowd control at BLM protests, or music and curated sounds carried into deep space by NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. 

 

Sustainable Futures

WRI 116: T/TH 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 117: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Andrea DiGiorgio

In 2018, Hawaii banned sunscreen for harming Pacific coral reefs, while consumers boycotted Oreos to protect the rainforest. Quarterback Tom Brady joined campaigns against plastic straws to save the sea turtles, yet straws account for just 4% of plastic pollution. Coca-Cola raised $2M dollars to save its iconic polar bears, but by the time you finish this course, 80.3 billion tons of polar ice will have melted into the oceans. In light of the growing evidence of human-induced climate change and the risk of a “sixth extinction,” what tools do we have to make informed decisions about consumption—and who should make these decisions? How do we navigate the tensions between environmental sustainability on the one hand and producing necessities, comforts—and Oreos—on the other? In this Writing Seminar, we first analyze the rhetoric of climate change in the media and World Wildlife Fund conservation campaigns. Next, we evaluate the cultural, ethical, and ecological meanings of sustainability by examining the benefits and costs of palm oil consumption. For the research paper, students will investigate an example of depletion or extinction in its sociocultural or scientific context. Potential topics include the honeybee population crash, America’s new recycling problem, or the plight of the pangolin.

 

Tale of Two Democracies

WRI 110: M/W 8:30 am – 9:50 am
WRI 111: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm

Durba Chattaraj

A year after the January 6th attack on the US Capitol, polls reveal that nearly two thirds of Americans believe their democracy is “in crisis and at risk of failing,” despite more than a decade of increasing voter participation. In India–the world’s most populous democracy–hundreds of millions continue to cast their vote, yet observers like Freedom House note breakdowns in its courts, legislature, and protection of civil liberties–echoes of American criticisms of their own system of governance. What beyond elections allow democracy to thrive? What can the world’s two largest democracies learn from each other in this moment, and what exchanges have they had in the past? We begin by analyzing the intersection between India’s film industry and the American world of hip-hop in the film Gully Boy. Next, we use the 1970 US Women’s Strike for Equality as a case study for investigating the relationship between conflict and power in protests, social movements, and transcultural democratic practices. Students conclude the semester by making a researched argument about a cultural or political exchange of their choosing. Sample topics might include Gandhi’s civil disobedience as inspiration for Martin Luther King, Jr, John Dewey’s influence on India’s constitution, or the politics of yoga

 

This Course is Out to Get You

WRI 187: T/TH 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm
WRI 188: T/TH 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm

Ardon Shorr

Stonehenge was built by ancient aliens. COVID-19 was FAKE NEWS. The election is rigged; the economy is rigged. The moon landing was filmed on a Hollywood soundstage — that is, if you even believe in the moon. Why do people believe conspiracy theories? And how do we know when to trust experts and when to be skeptical of authority? Why does confronting new evidence change some people’s minds, but leave others even more entrenched in their beliefs? This writing seminar explores how we know what we think we know. We begin with the documentary Behind the Curve, examining how Flat Earthers support their claims using scientific methods. We turn next to secret surveillance, entering the legal, historical, and psychological debates around the FBI’s attempt to infiltrate and disrupt American social movements. Finally, students pursue their own intellectual interests as they craft a research paper investigating a conspiracy theory of their choice, placing it in political, cultural, or artistic context. Potential topics range from whispers of Illuminati to the prophecies of Q, from Russian disinformation on AIDS to covert CIA assassination programs. If you’ve read this far, you already know too much. Cover your webcam before it’s too late.

 

Time’s Mirror

WRI 155: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 156: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm 

Alena Wigodner

In 1953, French archaeologists uncovered a 2,500-year-old tomb filled with objects only a great and wealthy leader would possess. But the skeleton itself seemed to be female and was wearing women’s jewelry. Was it the wife of a leader, buried with markers of her husband’s status? Or perhaps the skeleton of a small man wearing ritual jewelry? The scientists could not imagine it was in fact a woman who had ruled this ancient society. How do our own experiences of gender, power, or race shape our perspective on the human experience more broadly? When peering back in time–or trying to glimpse the distant future–to what extent do we only see our own reflection? We begin by analyzing the relationship between science and imagination in facial reconstructions of ancient humans. We turn next to Monsanto’s 1957 vision for a “house of the future” and examine how Americans imagined the impact of emerging technologies on family dynamics. For the research project, students identify a scholarly or fictional study of a community, investigating how its author puts the present into dialogue with the distant past or future. Examples include the immigrants in ancient Teotihuacán; ancient Scythian warriors and myths of the Amazons; Battlestar Galactica; and Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear.

 

Unlocking the Double Helix

WRI 125: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Beth Stroud

Genomes living and extinct--variously described as source code, the “Book of Life,” and the very essence of identity--have never been easier or cheaper to access. From unlocking family secrets and tailoring cancer treatments, to engineering drought-resistant crops and resurrecting the woolly mammoth, how do assumptions about and uses of the double helix impact individuals, communities, and broader ecologies? How does language about lineage and natural selection shape our understanding of DNA and what it can do? To what extent can the human genome reveal who we are and what we’re capable of doing? We begin this Writing Seminar by scrutinizing metaphors of inherited criminality in The Jukes, a landmark family study that contributed to late 19th-century discourses about eugenics. Next, we analyze the marketing of at-home genetic testing kits and what these consumer products promise to reveal about identity and belonging. For the final project, students will make a researched argument about a depiction or use of DNA in contemporary life. Possible topics include the Innocence Project’s reliance on DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongfully convicted, new technologies allowing dog owners to clone their beloved pets, and genetic tests for establishing membership in Native American tribes and First Nations. 

 

Voice and Voicelessness

WRI 192: T/TH 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Zhuming Yao

Dowager Empress Cixi ruled China for more than four decades from behind a curtain. Prohibited as a woman from attending imperial audiences, she gave voice to her authority without being seen. Siri and Alexa voice the role of personal assistants for their millions of users, offering convenience at the price of privacy. How have our understandings and technologies of voice changed over time? How does voice as a phenomenon intersect with conceptions of power and empowerment, intimacy and publicity, identity and community? What happens when a voice cannot be heard, or is simply ignored? In this Writing Seminar, we investigate what voice–and its silencing–mean for our cultural and sociopolitical lives. We begin by analyzing auditions for the new voice of renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. We then turn to Hollywood’s “yellowface” films, in which non-Asian actors play Asian characters, interrogating theories of representation, histories of institutional racism, and film technologies. Students conclude the course by researching a form of voice or voicelessness and placing it in a historical, sociopolitical, or cultural-technological context. Possible topics include divine ventriloquism in the Middle Ages, Voyager’s Golden Records sent to outer space, or the 1917 Silent Protest Parade.

 

Weird Weather

WRI 137: M/W 3:00 pm – 4:20 pm
WRI 138: M/W 7:30 pm – 8:50 pm

Diana Newby

An unprecedented tornado devastated central London in 1091; temperatures plummeted worldwide following the eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815; an extraordinarily dry monsoon season triggered famine throughout India in 1899. Humans have a long history of contending with chaotic weather events. Yet a recent United Nations report warns that weather-related disasters have rapidly accelerated over the last two decades, and climate scientists say that weather will only get stranger in the years ahead. How does “weird weather” shape the stories we tell and predictions we make about the natural world? How do we adapt when the improbable becomes a norm? In this Writing Seminar, we begin by analyzing photographs from the 1930s Dust Bowl in light of Amitav Ghosh’s reflections on turning catastrophe into narrative. Next, we investigate the proposed New York Harbor Storm-Surge Barrier through the lenses of engineering, politics, and environmental impact. For the research project, students identify a past or present community dealing with weird weather’s consequences and place the community’s response in social, scientific, or economic context. Topics might include the apocalyptic British poetry that emerged following the “Year Without a Summer,” the new safety building standard established after the 2011 Joplin tornado disaster, or Morocco’s massive water infrastructure investments in the face of multiplying heatwaves.

 

Your Life in Numbers

WRI 149: M/W 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
WRI 150: M/W 1:30 pm – 2:50 pm

Daniel M. Choi

Calorie counts, GPS coordinates, electoral votes, and videogame leaderboards—it seems that we increasingly rely on numbers to understand our lives. And all the data we generate about ourselves—knowingly and unknowingly—allow governments and corporations to profile us according to our health, finances, habits, and tastes. We leave traces of our innermost thoughts for the highest bidder. Yet how much of our lives can numbers truly capture? And why do we obsess over new ways of scoring ourselves? In this Writing Seminar, we explore the mathematical representation of human lives and to what extent we’re more than the numbers we generate. We begin by examining Plato’s understanding of mathematics as both a philosophy and a means for organizing society. We then turn to the SAT and investigate the diverse ways that the College Board claims to measure academic aptitude. For the research essay, students identify and investigate a social practice or technology that is founded on the mathematical representation of human lives. Potential topics range from facial recognition software and dating algorithms to U.S. Census data and Social Security numbers. Finally, having digitally tracked themselves throughout the semester, students conclude by pitching a mobile app to capitalize on their “numerical self.”