Lower Division (1000–2000) Special Content Courses
Note: Course numbers listed in the table below are linked to course descriptions. Descriptions will open in a new web page in this window. Use your browser’s “back” function to return to this page.AML 2410
Issues in American Literature & Culture: Writing America/American Autobiographies
When we write personal narratives, how do we decide what to include? Why do we leave certain things out, and what is the effect of doing so? To what extent do race, class, or gender differences affect our writing? Throughout
the history of the United States, autobiographical texts like those of Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, and Zitkala- Sa have helped shape American lives by introducing new, influential ideas. In this course, we will
look at a variety of autobiographical texts (mostly prose, but also including poetry and a graphic novel) and consider how such personal narratives have shaped our ideas about the United States and the relations
between its citizens, as well as international relations. We will touch on a variety of topics related to the autobiographical mode of writing in the U.S., including storytelling and creation of the self; the blurring
of truth and fiction; the fine line between memory and representation; and finally, the politics of race, gender, sexuality, and class in shaping personal experience. In doing so, we will examine to what extent
the ideas and values we hold for granted were actually “written” into the social fabric of the United States. Assignments will include (but are not limited to) several one-page critical responses, a short mid-term
paper, one final paper, and a reading journal in which students are encouraged to make connections between the texts and their own lives to discover how their own identities shape the way they view the world.
Times: T 8-9, R 9
Issues in American Literature & Culture: Mad Women
There has been a recent upsurge in memoirs written by women which detail their battles with mental illness, like Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half and Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,
which is occurring alongside a move to discuss mental illness openly. This will be the backdrop for our class to investigate what it means for women to be “mad,” and how this definition has changed over time. Hysteria,
borderline, and dependent personality disorders have all functioned as the limits of “normal/normative” feminine behavior. Yet these disorders cannot be merely dismissed as socially constructed as many women under
these labels suffer heavily (BPD has self-harm and suicidal tendencies as symptoms). We’ll explore this topic following a chronological arrangement of readings, both about and by “mad” women, starting in the nineteenth
Times: M W F 3
Issues in American Literature: Slavery: The Vile Institution
The United States of America began with a paradox: While the Declaration of Independence announced that slavery was a direct antagonist to its ideals, many of the people who signed it went back to houses, farms, and
plantations built on foundations that unequivocally opposed the utopian visions of the document they had just endorsed. Thus, the beginning chapters of an independent America were wrought with the tensions that
this paradox espoused. Armed with religious and “scientific” weapons, the slave owners and traders fought to maintain their disciplinary powers over those who they thought were inferior, “people” that could only
be managed through the “good” institution we know as slavery. On the other side of the battle, the slaves—the runaways or the still enslaved—the abolitionists, and, curiously, the British fought with the tools of
logic and satire to demonstrate both the immoral and illogical nature of the Vile Institution of slavery.
The open wounds of this long war—metaphorical and actual—produced writing that is valuable not only in trying to understand the past but also in explaining the present. In this class, we will combine historical, theoretical,
critical, biographical, and fictional accounts in the process of understanding slavery. Our “texts” will examine slavery from all sides, both pre- and post-Civil War [up to the present], to try and understand why
the wound that it has inflicted on our history has yet to heal and what vile fruits its chronic pain has yielded.
Times: T 2-3, R 3
Issues in American Literature & Culture: Utopia and Its Forms
This course will develop an understanding of utopia and its literary forms from the final years of the Cold War to the present. In a context of impending and ongoing crises—environmental disaster, economic disparity
and unemployment, prolonged war, sexual inequality, racial discrimination—can we imagine viable utopian projects today, and, if so, how can literature help us do this? Approaching utopia from a range of issues,
including economics, race, gender, sexuality, and art, students will be challenged to conceptualize what it means to imagine utopia today, not merely as an unattainable “good place,” but as an ongoing process in
which we are all engaged.
This course will examine several literary forms, including science fiction, critical dystopia, apocalyptic fiction, contemporary realism, and the K¨nstlerroman. This emphasis on forms will allow students
to contextualize different utopian ideals and examine their historical developments up to the present day. We will also read a number of supplementary critical texts to contextualize and ground theoretically the
idea of utopian process.
Students will learn to read contextually and rhetorically, form persuasive arguments, and write critically about literature. Writing assignments will emphasize writing as process, culminating in an original argumentative
paper. Assignments will include two close readings/analyses of primary texts (500 words each), a short mid-term paper (1,500 words), an argument skeleton (500 words) and a substantial final paper (3,000 words).
Students will also be expected to participate in all class discussions and give one brief discussion-leading presentation on a primary text of their choosing.
Times: M W F 6
Issues in American Literature & Culture: Failures
“So far as I am individually concerned, & independent of my pocket, it is my earnest desire to write those sort of books
which are said to ‘fail’” (Herman Melville, Correspondence 139).
In a personal letter addressed prior to the publication of Redburn and White-Jacket, Herman Melville wrote of his thwarted desire to publish “failures” both at home and abroad.
The status of Melville’s failures would be reconsidered almost a century later, but this reassessment came at the cost of understanding what failure meant for 19th century print culture and society in America. Thus,
this section of AML 2410 explores the significance of failure and error for American authors in the 19th and early 20th century. “Writing Failure(s)” explores what transatlantic representations of failure can tell
us about the foundations of America’s print culture and its complex, transnational politics. Our readings will include Melville’s “failures” Redburn, White-Jacket, and (especially) his “disaster” Pierre,
Henry James’ The Beast in the Jungle, Susan Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, W. E. B. Du Bois’ John Brown, and others. While this class is interested in what representations
of failure can open up for (re)imagining American history and culture, this class will also consider the significance of failure in various communication/writing technologies as well as the commercial print marketplace.
Students will be expected to work through representations of failure through three major writing assignments and weekly writing responses. By the end of the course, students should have a strong grasp of how failure
played a significant role in the writing of key figures from the 19th and early 20th century, an overview of the print market, and framework for rethinking the significance of failure and error.
Times: T 7, R 7-8
Topics for Composition: Writing About the American High School
This course looks at the American high school as a mythological space. To this end, we will examine various representations of high school—in literary texts, graphic novels, critical and sociological studies of teenagers
and high school environments, as well as select films/television shows—to analyse the tropes that go into building a high school narrative, and talk about the intersections of narrative/genre expectations and “reality.”
We will be looking into the way the idea of the high school has permeated the American popular cultural imagination for decades, concentrating for the most part on post 70s texts that compulsively engage with this
socio-cultural institution to the point of fetishizing it. Students will respond to these texts using various analytical strategies such as close reading and historical, cultural and contextual analysis, informing
these by theories of the American adolescent and the spaces they inhabit.
Possible texts include (please note that this is a tentative list):
- Robert Cormier, The Chocolate War
- Stephen Chbosky, Perks of Being a Wallflower
- Charles Burns, The Black Hole
- Meg Cabot, How to be Popular
- Francine Pascal, Sweet Valley High (select titles)
- Laurie Halse Anderson, Twisted
- Nanette Burstein (dir.), American Teen
- Elinor Burkett, Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School
- Thomas Hine, The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager (select chapters)
- Murray Milner, Freaks, Geeks and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools and the Culture of Consumption (select chapters)
- Michael Lehmann (dir.), Heathers
- Select episodes from Daria/Veronica Mars/My So-Called Life
Times: M W F 5
Topics for Composition: Writing about Desire in Young Adult Fiction
In this course we will discuss and write about representations of desire, gender, and sexuality in six primarily young adult texts: Emma(Jane Austen), The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula
K. Le Guin), Twilight (Stephenie Meyer), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), every day (David Levithan), and Catalyst (Laurie
Halse Anderson). Within the framework of close reading, critical analysis, and argumentative writing, we will explore answers to the questions that these texts raise for YA scholarship: How are these and other YA
texts constructing (or perhaps deconstructing) ideas of femininity, masculinity, homosexuality, lesbianism, heteronormativity? How are literary tropes (such as romantic friendships, the Byronic Hero, or high school,
for example) used in these texts to tackle questions of gendered and sexual identity and agency? What is the function of desire in contemporary young adult fiction? Moreover, how do the various incarnations of desire
inform our readings of the significance of gender and sexuality in YA fiction?
Primary texts will be supplemented with additional critical readings provided by the instructor.
Times: M W F 3
Topics for Composition: Writing About Magic
This course will examine humanity’s continued preoccupation with magic in popular culture despite the current scientific, rational mindset that holds precedence in contemporary American society. We will view examples
of magic (as illusion, as paranormal phenomena, and as mythic fantasy) in early and contemporary literature, film, television shows, comics, and plays and read critical essays on the subject. A wide range of possible
examples include, but are not limited to, the Arthurian legend, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, John Dee’s The Book of Soyga, Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Harry Potter, The Illusionist, Gravity Falls, and Marvel’s Thor. We will also read texts on the changing
views about magic throughout the centuries (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton’s occult writings, historical accounts and cultural depictions of the Salem witch trials, critical texts by C.S. Lewis).
In addition to several smaller, in-class writing assignments, students will produce three major papers (1500 words each) throughout the semester examining best practices for different modes of discourse. First, students
will generate a narrative in response to one of Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick, exploring themes of magic. The second assignment will ask students to write a comparative analysis
about an early work of literature and a contemporary text about magic. The final assignment will ask students to critically engage with the texts and create an articulate argument about the role magic plays in today’s
Times: T 2-3, R 3
Topics for Composition: Writing about Teaching and Education
This course asks students to study teaching. Generally examining the ways teaching practices—especially in college—relate to education and how “knowledge” is dispensed and verified (tested) throughout the university,
this course gives students a chance to explore how teaching manifests in their own field of study. As a writing course, we’ll specifically analyze academic conventions, ideologies and superstitions of college writing.
Most importantly, this class will ask students to critically reflect on the teaching styles they’ve encountered throughout their college experiences and present those experiences (formally and informally) to our
class. With help of historical texts on IQ testing and writing education, as well as critical examinations of educational systems and pedagogy, students will take an active role in their own education by investigating how they learn in
terms of how they’re taught.
All writing assignments will be analytic or critical in nature, and the course aims to give students a sense of how, in writing, style and organization influence substance. Class discussion, close reading exercises
and rhetorical analyses will encourage students to engage with and present their own ideas as they gradually prepare to explore, in depth, the topic of their final research paper. All writing assignments will ask
students to investigate some interest of their own as it relates to their respective or prospective majors. Through independent research, students will develop an understanding of how their chosen fields of study
comprehend and discuss these interests.
Times: M W F 7
Topics for Composition: Writing About Science Fiction Utopias
This course will explore some of American science fiction’s most important attempts to imagine a better world. We will not approach the idea of “Utopia” as a blueprint for a perfect society we might emulate, but rather
as an ongoing process of imagining the present and future that eludes our attempts to pin them down. Utopian texts do not predict our future—they open our imagination to possible futures while giving us new ways
of thinking about and responding to the present. We will therefore explore Utopian fiction as a hopeful intervention into a variety of present-day anxieties and problems, including rapid technological advancement,
ecological crisis, unemployment, and inequalities of all kinds.
Throughout the course we will develop methods for reading, discussing, and writing about Utopian science fiction as a distinct literary form, requiring distinct practices of critical reflection. Our readings will focus
on science fiction Utopias written in America from the late 19th century to the present day, including texts by Edward Bellamy, Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Ursula K Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson and Octavia Butler
This course is designed to provide 6000 words toward the Writing Requirement. A major focus of the course will be writing instruction: students will learn how to organize their thoughts, make clear arguments, and use
evidence drawn from literary texts to demonstrate these arguments. We will also address the unique challenges presented by science fiction texts for literary analysis. Assignments will include short response papers
(1–2 pages each), longer literary analyses (4–6 pages each), in-class responses, and reading quizzes.
Times: T 8-9, R 9
Writing Through Media: Public Interventions
In its simplest sense, this course teaches students to use composition to intervene in public problems. In its more complex sense, this course asks students to use a variety of composition modes (written, still image,
video, etc.) and to plan how to use those modes in a variety of contexts (in public and digital spaces) with the goal of effecting personal and political change.
We will divide the semester into four units (based on language, technology, perception and institutions) around which we will develop strategies for effective rhetoric in public contexts. We will then put these strategies
into practice through more traditional papers (including a rhetorical analysis, feasibility report, and a grant proposal) as well as digital forms like blogs, memes, videos, and discussion forum postings. Course
screening times will serve largely as a workshop space, although we will also occasionally look at short experimental videos to aid our practice.
Times: M W F 4, Screenings: M 9-11
Writing Through Media: Augmented Reality
In light of the undeniable changes underway within human-computer interaction, this course focuses on the emergence of augmented reality technologies (Google glass, Kinect for Windows, mobile augmentation software,
etc.), exploring their technical, biological, and cultural impacts on a contemporary society that continues to collapse the barrier between the real and the virtual.
Our readings will focus primarily on the changes underway within the human-technology relationship as we explore such themes as avatars and digital identity, the perception of artificial intelligence, visual rhetoric,
bodies in digital space, and the narratology of augmented reality tours, among others. In addition, we will take into account the experiential realm of augmented reality, or what the bio-semiotician Jakob Von Uexkull
might refer to as our digital “umwelt.”
The writing assignments for the first half of this course will come from contribution to our course blog and a researched writing assignment. Students will contribute to the course blog on a weekly basis to apply the
class material to a specific cultural object/or phenomenon. The research assignment asks the students to expand their thinking and research of one of their blog posts.
As a final project, students will create their own multimodal augmented reality narrative using the software available for free at Aurasma Studio and Wix.com.
Our screening times will be used for two main purposes: 1) screening for films/documentaries related to augmented reality and 2) work-shopping with the software for the final project.
Note: Students without access to a networked mobile device can check out one of the iPads available for 7 day loan from Library West.
Times: M W F 8, Screenings: T E1-E3
Writing Through Media: Translation
This course explores writing through the highly mediated process of poetry translation, a process that has been frequently called “impossible.” The point of departure is an assumption that there is no such thing as
a “perfect” translation and that translation is an ongoing process. Through a combination of theory (reading and discussing essays on translation, analyzing poems in translation, and critiquing each other’s work)
and practice (completing weekly translation exercises, researching a poet whose work you’d like to dedicate yourself to this semester, and submitting a portfolio of translations accompanied by a translator’s critical
introduction), students will attempt to answer the question of what can be learned from engaging with this process. In other words: why should we bother with translating at all and how does translation change the
way we write and think about writing?
Students will also engage in non-literary translation modes in several multimedia projects that incorporate work with image, sound, and remix. During screenings, students will watch the films that discuss the concepts
of imitation, adaptation, and authorship and gain practice using technical tools in order to complete their translation mini-projects. To further demystify the process of translation and make the complex process
of revision and choice-making transparent, students will compose in a wiki environment, sharing their work in all stages of the writing process with each other. Finally, students will be encouraged to continue thinking
about how the very act of composing in the new media environment of a wiki affects their writing.
Times: M W F 7, Screenings: W E1-E3
Writing Through Media: Race, Gender, and Technology
This course is based on the premise that technology is not neutral. Rather, it is socially and culturally inflected. Specifically, the course will focus on 1) the construction and performance of race and gender through
technology and, 2) how technologies have been informed by encounters with race and gender. In the first part of the course, we will study the interlinking of race, gender, and technology in the nineteenth century
colonial empires. In the second part of the course, we will situate ourselves in post-9/11 digital media practices. Topics may include the post-9/11 discourse of terrorism in social media, sexism in digital games,
and digital activism.
Our goal is to develop a critical lens to analyze the new media objects that we encounter in our daily lives. Hence, we will study film & photography (colonial and contemporary), social media, and digital games.
Weekly course screenings will be used to watch or interact with these media, and to develop related digital production skills (eg editing Wikipedia). Students will be expected to write in various genres, and learn
to tailor their writing to different audiences. Writing assignments will include regular contributions to a course blog, a rhetorical analysis, and a social media based writing assignment.
Times: M W F 6, Screenings: W E1-E3
Writing Through Media: Remix & Remediation: Picturing Media
Being able to write through media well is, more than anything, about being able to understand what media is and how it works. It is about understanding that every device writes its user as much as the user writes it,
and it is about understanding the ways in which media has a long and complicated past that has developed it into what it is today. This course will focus on teaching the techniques, methods, structures, and theories
that are the foundations of media, using relevant theoretical approaches to explore several of the major sources of media that we currently encounter on a daily basis, including photographs, video games, blogs,
comics, and film. Here, we will first study these media sources through prominent media theorists like WJT Mitchell, Ian Bogost, Andrew Galloway, Marshall McLuhan and Katherine Hayles in order to get beyond the
surface of these media sources, showing how each has their own rhetoric, and through that, how students can learn to make use of the political, social, and structural understandings revealed through this study to
make media work for them. Second, we will enable students to leverage these understandings towards creation, asking students to understand the ways in which their writing through media, whether that be in YouTube,
twitter, blogs, or digital comics, writes them, and then push them to craft a more conscious representation of themselves, showing students how they can create a professional and relevant digital presence that works
towards their goals.
Times: M W F 3, R 9-11