Spring 2015 Courses

WRI 101 - Course List for Writing in the Liberal Arts

WRI 101 helps students develop the skills of writing in the liberal arts: critical analysis of texts, exploration of and deliberation about public and intellectual issues; familiarity with research strategies; understanding the conventions for using with integrity the work of others; and crafting inventive, correct, and rhetorically sophisticated prose. The subjects for writing in the course vary by instructors.

WRI 101 [A]: Noise

TR 12:15 – 1:30 p.m.
Weinstein, G.
This class will explore different ideas about listening as a meaningful, socially engaged act. Is listening an active process, or can one listen passively? Where are the boundaries between music and noise, and why is the former often privileged? How can the act of listening be used as a device of social order and discipline? Is it possible to not listen? In the first unit of this course, we will explore theories of "noise" as both a musical and a social construct. In the second unit, we expand our study to the soundscape, examining how sound and listening can produce order in a social space, such as a concert hall, a city, or even a nation. Finally, we move to the rhetorical and methodological strategies adopted by ethnographers of sound.

WRI 101 [B]: The Ethical Diet

TR 3:05 – 4:20 p.m.
Jankovic, M.
What is good food? The first thing that comes to mind is that good food is simply food that is tasty and healthy. However, our dietary choices have wide ranging consequences. Our eating habits affect non-human animals, local and non-local economies, the environment, and other people. We should seriously consider the idea that in deciding what to eat we make important moral choices.

In this course, we will aim to acquire tools and information that will help us think clearly about our food choices. We will ask questions such as: Does the suffering involved in the industrial farming of animals make it immoral to consume animal products? Do we have moral obligations to non-human animals? To what extent do our food habits contribute to social injustice? Is the amount of food waste produced in rich countries immoral, given that billions of people are hungry? We will look at several contemporary movements that try to address the ethical problems with the standard American diet: vegetarianism, veganism, locavorism, urban foraging (dumpster diving), and the anti-GMO movement. We will aim to clearly articulate and assess the conception of good eating developed by these movements. We will consider whether, given the different cultural and religious values that influence our food choices, there can be a reasonable food policy that would apply to a large number of people.

I hope that by writing and thinking about these issues you will come appreciate the variety of esthetic, cultural, and moral values that can be reflected in our conception of good food.

WRI 101 [C] Quare Harmonies: Rethinking "the Queer" Through African American Poetics

TR 8:15 - 9:30 a.m.
Wilson, L.
In his Poetics, Aristotle declares that the poet’s role is to relate “not what has happened, but what may happen.” In addition to theorizing human’s natural inclination to imitate, he also acknowledges individuals’ instinct to reach “special altitudes” of what he calls “Song” and “harmony.” This course, then, builds on Aristotle’s differentiation between history and poetics and reframes African American writing as emerging not solely through imitation of white writers and as a critical response to whites’ historical oppression and institutional privilege. Rather, it challenges us to parse the “special altitudes” individual black writers reach and to find ways, in our own writing, to harmonize with the models they offer as we (re)define a 21st-century poetics of being and writing. In addition, he emboldens us rethink the ways that these writers trouble the ideals of racial harmony and universal American identity and blur the lines delineating gender, genre, and sexual purity.

Predating the nation’s founding, the literature of African Americans, America’s original queer foreigners, has been marked since its inception by its writers: 1) affirming their equal humanity under the auspices of divine forces while being treated as subhuman property; 2) staking claim upon and expanding the ideals of what constitutes American identity and culture; and 3) redefining their gender expressions and sexualities outside the binaries that render them queer. [In this course, we’ll explore the possibilities of queer as it is used by the writers themselves, both in the classical sense of odd and striking deviation from a norm and for its contemporary theoretical utility in exploring representations of non-heteronormative sexuality and gender performance.]

In 1903, preeminent scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this outsider state “double consciousness,” an acute spiritual awareness of dual citizenship and ancestry in the United States and in a continent that is at once derided for its link to darker skin and religious and cultural difference and revered for its wealth of natural resources. This course will complicate that dualism by adding a multivalent dimension recent scholars of color have called “the quare,” a globally Southern diasporic state of being that allows for more flexible, inclusive discourse on race, gender, and sexuality than the binaries of “gay” and “straight.”

We will spend our first month and a half reading not only Aristotelian notions of poetics and being, but also those of Horace, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, W.E.B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Sharon Holland. Along the way, you will craft an original definition of poetics, toggling between imitating, harmonizing with, and writing against the philosophers and theorists we’ve read. This process will culminate in each of you writing a five-page meditation on your own poetics.

For the remaining weeks, we will examine selections from Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, Jean Toomer’s Cane, and Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall as we learn from these African Americans’ quare journeys of discovery, mourning and protest—subtle in its nuanced critique in the 18th century and at times scathing in its 19th-, 20th- and 21st -century manifestations. As they, marked by what Trethewey ultimately calls “the typology of taint,” (re)define their own poetics, we will learn to imitate, harmonize with, and write against various rhetorical strategies in three subsequent writing exercises, at least one of which will have a multimedia online component involving the creation of a WordPress site or Tumblr page.

WRI 101 [D]: Rhetoric, Racism, and White Privilege

MWF 8:30 – 9:20 a.m.
Hillard, V.
Citizens and scholars have argued that despite legal advances, the persistence of overt and covert racism is America's most pressing moral problem. Woven deeply into the very roots of America's economic, cultural, and political history, racism's blunt realities continue to mark the lives of us all. The course examines how the private and public experiences of U.S. racism have been inflected by language, and explores how rhetorical techniques have been employed to call its ideologic force into question. We will examine personal and intellectual discourses offering sociological, experiential, and historical perspectives on racist harms in order to evaluate how various writerly strategies have been put to the service of understanding, persuasion, and social action. The course also focuses on the strengths (and limits) of antiracist moral reasoning as a force for the collective moral good of the United States.

WRI 101 [E]: Rhetoric, Racism, and White Privilege

MWF 10:30 – 11:20 a.m.
Hillard, V.
Citizens and scholars have argued that despite legal advances, the persistence of overt and covert racism is America's most pressing moral problem. Woven deeply into the very roots of America's economic, cultural, and political history, racism's blunt realities continue to mark the lives of us all. The course examines how the private and public experiences of U.S. racism have been inflected by language, and explores how rhetorical techniques have been employed to call its ideologic force into question. We will examine personal and intellectual discourses offering sociological, experiential, and historical perspectives on racist harms in order to evaluate how various writerly strategies have been put to the service of understanding, persuasion, and social action. The course also focuses on the strengths (and limits) of antiracist moral reasoning as a force for the collective moral good of the United States.

WRI 101 [F]: Religion and Human Rights

TR 1:40 – 2:55 p.m.
Lustig, B.
In this course, we will examine the nature, scope, origins, and practical significance of human rights claims, especially within the context of religious discourses. Some questions will involve historical matters: Are the early modern roots of rights language in accord or in tension with earlier religious perspectives? Are Enlightenment understandings of rights independent or complemented by religious warrants? Other questions are conceptual: Are the warrants for rights claims similar or dissimilar to various religious traditions? Are rights correlative with the dominant religious discourse or duties? Do socioeconomic rights have the same or more status as political and civil rights? Still other questions are practical: If individual rights to liberty and basic welfare are universal, what political and cultural institutions are required for them to be effectively implemented? Finally, there are issues raised when religious practices appear to conflict directly with secular perspectives on rights (e.g., female genital mutilation, faith-based refusals of medical treatment for children).

WRI 101 [G]: Extraordinary Bodies

MWF 11:30 – 12:20 p.m.
Fox, A.
Disability surrounds us every day, but it is hiding in plain sight. We are used to thinking about it in highly specific ways: as something to be overcome, cured, avoided, or as in the case of many charity approaches to disability, sentimentalized and tied to consumption and commodification (think, for example, of the pink ribbon not simply as a symbol of breast cancer survival, but as a highly directed and effective marketing tool). Disability also touches all of us: we are disabled, are on our way to becoming disabled by virtue of the aging process, or know/love/work with someone who is disabled. Yet we're not used to thinking about disability as a cultural identity, similar to race, class, gender, and sexuality. What would happen if we did? In this course, we will look at disability as both an individual and a cultural identity, rather than an "affliction." We'll ask questions that challenge a lot of what we think we know, including, but not limited to: What is "normalcy," and from where did the concept of bodily normalcy emerge? What is the history of disability, disability oppression, and disability rights in the U.S.? Can charity be an oppressive force? Don't people mean well? What does it mean to examine intersectional identities – what could race and disability have in common, or race and queerness or race and female identity? Is there such a thing as "transability," where someone is born nondisabled but thinks they should have been disabled? Is there a hierarchy of disability? How do we define disability itself? Is obesity a disability, for example? How have representations of disability in the arts and media both perpetrated and challenged conventional narratives about disability? Are reality shows the new "freak show"? Why have so many Oscar-winning roles been about disability? What is a "disability aesthetic" of art? What does it mean to claim disability rights? What is "crip pride"? Does language matter? Is there a difference between "special needs," "physically challenged" and "handicapped? How does disability get performed and accorded (or not accorded) space at Davidson College? In the end, I hope that the exploration of the "extraordinary bodies" of disabled people will suggest to you the power disability studies has for a fuller understanding of the wondrous and infinite variation of humanity – and make us each a little more accepting of the diverse ways our very contingent, ever-changing bodies can embody our own existence.

WRI 101 [H]: Divided Light

MWF 9:30 – 10:20 a.m.
Vasquez, M.
The Hispanic world – Latin American nations, Spain, and the U.S. Latino population – has known an abundant share of exile. The course focuses upon the reading and discussion of a number of texts of Hispanic exile published in recent years and belonging to the genres of memoir, other testimonial essay, novel, and short story. Reading and writing is in English; no knowledge of Spanish is expected.

WRI 101 [I]: Interspecies Intersections: Writing with Animals

TR 12:15 – 1:30 p.m.
Weaver, H.
Animals participate in every aspect of our lives, from the bees who pollinate the plants we consume to the animal-related memes that take over our Facebook newsfeeds. Indeed, because microbes make up 90 percent of our bodies, we are only 10 percent human. In this course, we will examine the dynamics of the many interspecies relationships that suffuse our lives. Our focus on inter through interspecies as a way to understand relationships between and among humans and animals also points to another type of connection that we will examine: intersectionality. Coined by Kimberly Crenshaw, intersectionality describes the ways that race, gender, and sexuality intersect in identity politics, such that one cannot speak of, for example, woman’s experience, but must instead attend to the ways that race, sexuality, and class figure into and change different experiences of gender. Pairing interspecies and intersections, we will explore how the many identity intersections involved in human experiences shape and are shaped by human/non-human animal relationships.

The texts we draw from in this class are quite varied; in addition to those that focus on the practice and craft of writing, we will be reading and writing with work ranging from histories of colonization to contemporary accounts of racialization by animalization in the NFL. The writerly tasks of our course will also vary widely, for while we will spend a good deal of time developing skills related to research and academic writing, we will also devote time to more speculative writing practices. Throughout the course, students will have the opportunity to think through not only how their own lives intersect with those of various animals, but also how these intersections figure into larger questions of multi-species justice.

WRI 101 [J]: Writing About Physics

TR 9:40 – 10:55 a.m.
Yukich, J.
In this course we will study the fundamentals of several areas of twentieth-century physics and related technologies, including quantum physics and nuclear energy, with attention to public and social ramifications of technologic advances. The course focuses on writing concisely and clearly for the educated public who are not experts in science and technology. Readings include a book, book reviews, news reports, and journal articles. We will examine readings with various degrees of formality and professional expertise, and critique texts of varying quality. We will consider how good science writing depends on the complexities of calibrating special language, data, and experimental findings to the level of expertise of the intended audience. Writing assignments include a book review, a science news report, an op ed article or argumentative essay, an historical narrative, and a research paper.

WRI 101 [K]: Twitter Problems: Rhetoric and Social Media

MWF 2:30 – 3:20 p.m.
Horowitz, K.
Over the last two decades, digital technologies have fundamentally reshaped human interaction. Routine elements of daily life that today's college students take for granted – hybrid courses, online dating, texting, instagramming your dinner – were inconceivable, edgy, or taboo 10 years ago. This course explores the ways in which the omnipresence, instantaneousness, and accessibility of social media have molded Americans' understandings of reality, friendship, consent, publicity, privacy, individuality, and intention. We will ask how digital culture has changed both how we communicate and what it means to communicate. How, for example, have the emergence of texting, like buttons, hashtags, Vine loops, and 140-character limits altered the way we speak and write? What motivates us to tweet, post, snap, upload, update our statuses, and otherwise share the details of our private lives with friends, acquaintances, and the general public? In what ways is digital culture gendered, classed, and racialized? How has technology changed in response to human social behavior, and how has our social behavior changed in response to technology?

WRI 101 [M] Quare Harmonies: Rethinking “the Queer” Through African American Poetics

TR 9:40 – 10:50 a.m.
Wilson, L.
In his Poetics, Aristotle declares that the poet’s role is to relate “not what has happened, but what may happen.” In addition to theorizing human’s natural inclination to imitate, he also acknowledges individuals’ instinct to reach “special altitudes” of what he calls “Song” and “harmony.” This course, then, builds on Aristotle’s differentiation between history and poetics and reframes African American writing as emerging not solely through imitation of white writers and as a critical response to whites’ historical oppression and institutional privilege. Rather, it challenges us to parse the “special altitudes” individual black writers reach and to find ways, in our own writing, to harmonize with the models they offer as we (re)define a 21st-century poetics of being and writing. In addition, he emboldens us rethink the ways that these writers trouble the ideals of racial harmony and universal American identity and blur the lines delineating gender, genre, and sexual purity.

Predating the nation’s founding, the literature of African Americans, America’s original queer foreigners, has been marked since its inception by its writers: 1) affirming their equal humanity under the auspices of divine forces while being treated as subhuman property; 2) staking claim upon and expanding the ideals of what constitutes American identity and culture; and 3) redefining their gender expressions and sexualities outside the binaries that render them queer. [In this course, we’ll explore the possibilities of queer as it is used by the writers themselves, both in the classical sense of odd and striking deviation from a norm and for its contemporary theoretical utility in exploring representations of non-heteronormative sexuality and gender performance.]

In 1903, preeminent scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this outsider state “double consciousness,” an acute spiritual awareness of dual citizenship and ancestry in the United States and in a continent that is at once derided for its link to darker skin and religious and cultural difference and revered for its wealth of natural resources. This course will complicate that dualism by adding a multivalent dimension recent scholars of color have called “the quare,” a globally Southern diasporic state of being that allows for more flexible, inclusive discourse on race, gender, and sexuality than the binaries of “gay” and “straight.”

We will spend our first month and a half reading not only Aristotelian notions of poetics and being, but also those of Horace, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, W.E.B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Sharon Holland. Along the way, you will craft an original definition of poetics, toggling between imitating, harmonizing with, and writing against the philosophers and theorists we’ve read. This process will culminate in each of you writing a five-page meditation on your own poetics.

For the remaining weeks, we will examine selections from Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, Frederick Douglass’ Narrative, Jean Toomer’s Cane, and Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall as we learn from these African Americans’ quare journeys of discovery, mourning and protest—subtle in its nuanced critique in the 18th century and at times scathing in its 19th-, 20th- and 21st -century manifestations. As they, marked by what Trethewey ultimately calls “the typology of taint,” (re)define their own poetics, we will learn to imitate, harmonize with, and write against various rhetorical strategies in three subsequent writing exercises, at least one of which will have a multimedia online component involving the creation of a WordPress site or Tumblr page.

WRI 101 [N]: Heracles from Myth to Man

MWF 9:30 – 10:20 a.m.
Neumann, J.
The January 2014 release of “The Legend of Hercules” (Lionsgate) with Kellan Lutz, followed by, in July, “Hercules” with Dwayne Johnson (Paramount and MGM) testifies (as if testimony were needed) to the continuing fascination with –  and cultural adaptability of – the Greek hero Heracles (Hercules). This course will interrogate our sources for Heracles in both Greek art and texts to uncover the complexity of myth in general and this ubiquitous hero in particular. It will evaluate the interpretations of Heracles in antiquity and beyond. Our goal is to arrive at a greater understanding of the nature of Heracles and Greek myth in general, both in antiquity and in our own recent cultural history.