Current Course Descriptions

Explore FWIS Course Topics from Pop Music to Sports

Fall 2024 COURSES

  • FWIS 105 Media, Politics, and the 2024 Election
  • FWIS 107 In the Matrix: On Human Bondage & Liberation
  • FWIS 108 Contemporary Art and Environment
  • FWIS 112 Writing About Video Games: Approaching Videogames as Literature Through Critical Reading and Writing
  • FWIS 115 Exploring Biological Research Challenges
  • FWIS 119 The Beauty of the Beast: Telling and Re-telling the Tale as Old as Time
  • FWIS 124 Witnessing the Holocaust
  • FWIS 125 Writing with Artificial Intelligence
  • FWIS 128 “Space, Speed, Cinema”: The Automobile in American Film
  • FWIS 130 Writing Everyday Life
  • FWIS 134 Religion, Technology, and Magic
  • FWIS 135 What is a Book? The Material Foundations of Reading and Writing
  • FWIS 136 Cowboys and Cornfields: (Un)Making the American West in Film, T.V., and Literature
  • FWIS 137 Pop Music and American Culture
  • FWIS 138 Plotting Marriage: Romance, Inheritance, Jurisprudence
  • FWIS 139 Shakespeare in Adaptation
  • FWIS 144 The 2024 Federal and State Elections in the United States
  • FWIS 146 Apartheid in South Africa
  • FWIS 151 Think of the Children - Histories of 20th Century American Childhood
  • FWIS 153 Body Politics in Francophone Fictions
  • FWIS 156 The Statistical Measures of Cause and Correlation
  • FWIS 160 Gender, Race, and the Carceral State: Incarceration Through an Intersectional Lens
  • FWIS 161 Australian Culture and History
  • FWIS 162 How to Write Essays About Love
  • FWIS 163 Sex, Death, and Spiritual Writing
  • FWIS 166 Exploring the World Through International Education
  • FWIS 171 The Devil and the World: The Image of the Devil in Western Culture
  • FWIS 173 Gender and Race in U.S. Popular Music
  • FWIS 174 Sounding the City
  • FWIS 176 Dramatic Pauses: Introduction to East Asian Performance Studies
  • FWIS 179 Medicine and Disease in Transnational Asia: A Historical Perspective
  • FWIS 181 Graphic Blackness: The African-American Comic Book Tradition
  • FWIS 182 Border Politics: Migrations and the Meaning of the Nation
  • FWIS 183 Utopia or Dystopia? The Politics of Space
  • FWIS 193 The Rule of Law and the Pursuit of Justice
  • FWIS 194 Latin American Dictatorships Thorugh Film
  • FWIS 196 Business in the American Imagination
  • FWIS 198 The Essay as Literature: Montaigne and His Legacy

FWIS Course Schedule

Media, Politics, and the 2024 Election

FWIS 105, Liam Mayes

This course offers an in-depth examination of the 2024 American presidential election with a dual focus on the election’s media (campaign speeches, press releases, debates, political ads, interviews, and media coverage) and social and cultural context. Students will follow and critically engage with the developments of the final months of the election, honing their ability to recognize rhetorical devices and strategies, assess media framing, analyze appeals in relation to different audiences, and evaluate the effectiveness of campaign messaging. At the same time, students will examine four fundamental social and cultural factors that shape the broader contours of American politics—political polarization, economic inequality, demographic shifts, and the global rise of right-wing populism. Through interdisciplinary readings, in-class discussions, and case studies, students will investigate the roots and implications of these societal trends, gaining insights into their impact on voter behavior, electoral outcomes, and the health of American democracy.

In the Matrix: On Human Bondage & Liberation

FWIS 107, Philip Wood

Using the film "The Matrix" as the point of reference, this course presents celebrated explorations of servitude and emancipation - from religious mysticism to Marxism and artistic modernism. Texts by Lao Tzu, Farid ud-Din Attar, Plato, Freud, Marx, Baudelaire, J.S. Mill, Proust, de Beauvior, Malcolm X, Marcuse, Baudrillard.

From the China Desk: China Analysis and Reporting on China

FWIS 108, Steven Lewis

This course will require students to read critically, discuss, synthesize, summarize and analyze writings about the contemporary affairs of the People’s Republic of China. The students will become familiar with a range of basic documentary sources – official press releases, government reports, diplomatic cables – and also popular and academic secondary sources – news reports, editorials, feature stories and academic research articles and policy reports prepared for government agencies and NGOs. The materials will not require deep background knowledge of Chinese history, and all of them will be in English. The materials will be carefully chosen to comprise a relatively light work load in reading such that the students can focus on developing their communication skills, and also constitute a fairly consistent and predictable work load throughout the semester. Students will be taught how to concisely summarize documents in weekly reports, and also prepare news stories, editorials and policy briefs.

Image of pixelated typewriter

Writing about Videogames: Approaching Videogames as literature through critical reading and writing

FWIS 112, Michael Pons

This course takes seriously the idea that videogames have evolved into an art form worthy of critical attention and aims to introduce students to the growing body of academic literature in videogame studies as the discourse has existed since the early 2000s. With how popular the medium has grown, it is becoming increasingly important that we have an understanding of how to properly engage with videogames as literary/cultural artifacts. We will ask questions about the medium itself: what is a videogame? How ought we “read” a videogame? What, if anything, differentiates the experience of engaging with a videogame from something like a novel or a film? In doing so, the students will become better equipped with the methodological tools and writing skills necessary to discuss, and ultimately write about, their favorite videogames as they might an Austen novel or a Hitchcock film.

Image of a petri dish, a lab notebook, and a note detailing lab observations

Exploring Biological Research

FWIS 115, Beth Beason-Abmayr

This writing-intensive course introduces students to biological research and scientific communication. Student teams work on investigative projects with opportunities to ask questions, perform experiments, collect and analyze data, and share their findings. Recommended for students interested in the Biosciences major who have limited laboratory experience. Because of the collaborative, lab-based nature of this course, attendance at all class meetings is essential.


The Beauty of the Beast

FWIS 119, Nina Cook

There’s a reason “Beauty and the Beast” is called the Tale as Old as Time. It is a story that we, as a culture, keep telling and retelling: we are obsessed with the beauty of the beast. This course takes “Beauty and the Beast” as an object of study, examining its various adaptations in film and literature. We will engage with traditional adaptations, from Disney’s 1991 classic to the 2017 revision, and ask whether films such as Pride and Prejudice (2005), Jane Eyre (2011), and Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) can be read as interpretations of the tale. Close attention to form and content opens a space to discuss its propagandistic appeal and archetypal power. Using feminist and Marxist methods, we will think critically about how the story changes in response to cultural shifts, including ideas surrounding gender roles, toxic masculinity, and the tenuous fairy-tale conflation of goodness and beauty.

Movie poster of man in suit holding briefcase standing between shelves filled with papers

Witnessing the Holocaust

FWIS 124, Astrid Oesmann

This course will examine selected testimony given by Holocaust survivors. Their testimony varies according to time and the circumstance in which it was given, and also according to the genre (memoir, drama, or film) in which it is presented. Representation then will also be a continuous field of exploration throughout the course, as students will examine how to speak and write about this challenging topic. This class will ask students to think about one of the most defining periods in 20th century western history. While most students have been exposed to the history of the Holocaust in high school and through the US media, this course offers them a new perspective through personal testimony. Students will be introduced to critical and interpretive methods/approaches through which they can recover new ways of understanding history and culture, and alien (to them) ways of understanding society.

Writing with Artificial Intelligence

FWIS 125, Ali Garib

In an age where technology and AI are transforming every aspect of life, understanding and utilizing these advancements in academic and professional contexts has become a necessity. This course, Writing with AI, is designed to help students use the power of AI in their writing and communication skills ethically, responsibly, and effectively. As effective communication is fundamental to success in both academic and professional arenas, this course will focus on developing strong writing and speaking skills, underpinned by the use of generative AI tools. More specifically, we will cover a wide range of topics, including generative AI writing capabilities, the ethical use of generative AI, and the role of generative AI in education generally and writing specifically. By the end of this course, you will have a better understanding of the latest trends in AI-assisted writing and how they are transforming the way you learn. While gaining insights into these topics, the main goal is to provide you with an opportunity to develop your writing and communication skills through a variety of readings and assignments.

Image of van in desert

“Space, Speed, Cinema”: The Automobile in American Film

FWIS 128, Paul Burch

Be it the Joad’s first glimpse of Californian farmland in The Grapes of Wrath (1940), the gruesome deaths of the classic antiheroes in Bonnie and Clyde (1967), or Frances McDormand’s heartbreaking pilgrimage to her former home in Nomadland (2020), some of the most iconic moments of American cinema have taken place in the shadow of the motorcar. This class asks students to think critically about what it means to depict the automobile through film and to consider how these depictions, and their meanings, might change in accordance with different historical, artistic, and political contexts. As a field with a rich cultural and critical history, studying the automobile in American Cinema provides the ideal opportunity to think broadly about a wide variety of academic questions while gaining a depth of writing and oral communication experience in both academic and popular genres.

People shaped bristles on toothbrush

Writing Everday Life

FWIS 130, Lina Dib

This course is centered on the practice of ethnography, that is to say, on the practice of writing culture. It introduces its participants to a variety of techniques and works that draw from the real world, from the forms and colors of the ordinary, in short, from what surrounds us day-to-day. Easily overlooked because of its ephemeral qualities, the mundane reveals itself as a source of information and wonder. The course delves into seminal texts in anthropological theory to examine how we experience and represent landscapes, bodies, and objects. This course includes local fieldwork exercises as well as writing assignments. Fieldwork and ethnographic methods have become the basis of anthropological practice since the 1920s and have been adopted by many disciplines such as sociology, psychology and design. Throughout this course, students learn to identify and replicate ethnographic, field-based research and writing and reflect on theoretical, aesthetic and methodological implications of this craft.

File:Amazing Stories Annual 1927.jpg

Religion, Technology, & Magic

FWIS 134, Stanislav Panin

The course explores how new technologies transform religion and lead to emergence of new forms of spirituality, as well as how religion inspires imagination in ways that lead to technological innovation. Throughout the semester, students will learn both about the presence of religion in fiction, especially in cyberpunk and related genres, and about actual historical developments on the intersection of religion and technology that have transformed modern spirituality. The category of magic, particularly medieval and early modern notion of natural magic, will be in focus of some lectures aiming to provide an unexpected perspective on the history of technology.

What is a Book?

FWIS 135, Philip Mogen

This course will explore the history of books and the material (both intellectual and physical) from which they are created. Drawing on a wide range of historians, literary scholars, sociologists, and others, we will study the history of books from the development of writing systems in antiquity through the development of the internet. We will consider how the physical form of books has shaped their content and meaning over time and think about what a book is today. Together, we will imagine what it might look like in the future. Above all, the course is designed to help students think critically about how contemporary physical and digital media shape our reading, writing, and thought. It aims to help students better understand the deep and complex history behind the creation of our contemporary media landscape and, ultimately, more effectively parse its many complexities and complications.

Cowboys and Cornfields: (Un)Making the American West in Film, T.V., and Literature

FWIS 136, Paul Burch

A core part of American identity is tied to a nostalgic image the “West” consisting of cowboys, homesteads, wagon trains, and wide-open spaces. But how many Wests are there actually? FWIS 109 approaches the American west from a variety of different perspectives, identities, and genres. In each case, we will ask how these alternate Wests intersect with, or refute, the dominant tropes and mythologies of this most contested of cultural spaces. How do Black drovers and lawmen such as Nat Love or Bass Reeves disrupt the cowboy archetype? How do domestic spaces fracture or enrich a pioneer/settler aesthetic? What histories lie beneath (and on top of) America’s “amber waves of grain”? To consider these questions we will examine a series of carefully selected films, short stories, T.V. episodes and excerpted novels, including works by the likes of Jordan Peele, Joan Didion, and Sui Sin Far.

Record on a truntable

Popular Music and American Culture

FWIS 137, Andrew Klein

Recent cultural movements encourage a more serious exploration of popular music. This course will participate by taking a critical look at what songs mean, what songs/ albums/genres express, what our interest in music express, and how writing about music can lead us to great insights.

Image of bride and groom on two separate slices of wedding cake

Plotting Marriage: Romance, Inheritance, Jurisprudence

FWIS 138, Nina Cook

Using the various meanings of the verb “to plot,” this course seeks to plot changes to the institution of marriage over time, from the early modern to the modern period. In “Plotting Marriage,” we will examine the various ways in which marriage has been religiously mandated and legally codified over time. We will question the fundamental nature of marriage and the goal(s) of marriage – sexual pleasure? reproduction? companionship? economic stability? Baked into questions about what marriage is and what marriage does are vast political stakes, and we will seek to understand marriage’s role in constraining and controlling the relationships of bodies with and to one another and with and to the nation-state. Of utmost importance will be untangling the ways in which the intuition of marriage, as codified by law, and the “marriage plot,” as narrative form, have been complicit in promoting and perpetuating our patriarchal and heteronormative society.

Collage of movie posters of Shakespeare adaptations

Shakespeare in Adaptation

FWIS 139, Megan Oakes

When it comes to adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, these stories are more often filtered through the visual and cultural context of the media landscape that produced them. For this reason, this course will focus on Shakespeare’s work as an interative medium, taking up the original text of two comedies and two tragedies and explore the thematic and structural differences in these [modes]. The course will then address different adaptations of each work—one direct adaptation (that integrates the original language of the work) and one indirect adaptation (that only derives from the basic plot of the work). In this way, the course will take up the tension that exists between the longevity of these stories and the fluidity of adaptation that has been applied to these works, begging the question of where lines can be drawn between novel creation and adaptation.

The 2024 U.S. Presidential and Congressional Elections

FWIS 144, Mark Jones

This course will utilize the 2024 election cycle in the United States as the vehicle through which to achieve the six FWIS Learning Goals. The core of the course will consist of a set of written work and oral presentations on specific election and political related topics, with concomitant group discussion and debate of those topics, culminating with a final research paper that goes into greater depth on one of the previously explored topics. The course will provide students with experience with several forms of written (policy report, opinion essay, research paper) and oral (with and without visual aids and of varying time lengths) communication.

Nelson and Winnie Mandela

Apartheid South Aftrica

FWIS 146, Nana Osei-Opare

What is Apartheid? In 1948, white, European settlers consolidated power in South Africa and passed a series of laws to create a racially segregated society. This system became known as Apartheid. During the course, we will learn what Apartheid was and how white South Africans constructed and justified a system of racial separation, oppression, and violence in South Africa during the 20th century. We will also learn how non-white South Africans fought against Apartheid. Moreover, we will explore international opinion and discover which countries were for or against Apartheid and why. We will then link anti-Apartheid struggles in South Africa to broader 20th-century African liberation movements and debates over what a post-Apartheid South Africa, if it ever came, might and should look like. Finally, we’ll examine the legacies and meanings of Apartheid in South African and global discourses.

Historical black and white photo of three boys smoking

Think of the Children: Histories of 20th Century American Childhood

FWIS 151, Danny Gibboney

The twentieth century saw unprecedented consideration given to children. From the advent of juvenile courts and the researches of developmental psychologists to the popularity of coming-of-age films and circulated clichés like “think of the children,” umpteen facets of collective life were obsessed with childhood. Despite these extraordinary attentions, very few can actually say what childhood is. By way of historians, filmmakers, journalists, and cultural theorists, this seminar will cast attention towards some of the knotty histories of American children and gnarled attempts to define childhood. While looking across academic and professional genres, the stories of American children will be documented, analyzed, and, hopefully, imagined anew as we take up the question “what is a child?” Together, this seminar will examine both what has been said about childhood and analyze some implications of these efforts. This course aims to develop skills in primary source analysis, synthesizing research, academic writing, oral debate, and collegial riposte.

Body Politics in Francophone Fictions

FWIS 153, Linsey Sainte-Claire

What is a body? How does the (sexed and gendered) body come to life in political discourses? How do social and cultural forces shape women’s experience and beliefs about their own body? In this course, we will explore such questions by reading, writing about, and discussing several contemporary Francophone fictions (novels and film) written by women and focusing on the social construction of women’s body through the very intimate lens of family. Adopting a multicultural perspective, we will reflect on the weight personal, institutional, and disciplinary powers bear on women’s ability to retain control over their body. Students will investigate accounts of gender norms, arranged marriage, same-sex female intimacy, abortion, and hypersexualization presented in diverse spaces (Algeria, Cameroon, France, Haiti, Mauritius Island, and Senegal) and times (19th, 20th and 21st centuries).

The Statistical Measures of Cause and Correlation

FWIS 156, Alexander Renwick

Statistics began as a discipline for quantifying correlation, but current work aims to formalize the identification of cause-and-effect relationships. While the 2021 Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded for work in this area, the idea of inferring causality from observational data remains controversial. Many statisticians would argue that causation can only be determined from a randomized experiment. This class will explore the implicit epistemological and philosophical commitments involved in each of these views. We will review current statistical methods and critique some examples “evidence-based” practices. Students will be assigned weekly writing assignments through the first four modules of the course: (1) the early history of statistics; (2) what philosophers say about causality; (3) how scientists show causality; (4) current statistical approaches to causality. The final assignment will be an oral presentation that examines a current example of an evidence-based practice.

Gender, Race, and the Carceral State: Incarceration Through an Intersectional Lens

FWIS 160, Vic Overdorf

What is “the carceral state”? What histories propel mass incarceration, and how do these histories continue to promote inequities today? How/why does identity matter when examining systems of punishment? How/why have some identities come to be associated with criminality? This interdisciplinary course will examine the gender and racial dynamics of incarceration, particularly as they intersect with other systems of oppression.

Moving beyond solely incarceration, this course explores “the carceral” as a network of institutions that facilitate surveillance, capture, and detention. Readings will provide students with the tools to consider the place of the prison in the context of the United States punitive landscape and through the lens of intersectional systems of oppression. Students will build a de-carceral literacy that will allow them to participate in interdisciplinary conversations about justice, reform, and abolition, as well as to be able to speak comprehensively about the ethical value of the prison.

Image of Australian continebt with Koala

Australian Culture and History

FWIS 161, Meredith McCullough

This course covers over 200 years of Australian culture. We begin in the nineteenth century with the many crises following the British invasion. Issues of Indigeneity and criminality are deeply significant in this context. The latter units address the tumultuous twentieth century. Continuing our discussion of Indigeneity students will learn about The Stolen Generation by reading sections of the Bringing Them Home report. We will discuss how wars altered recognition of gender and sexuality. These units challenge students to write about multiple forms of media together and construct a coherent argument.
Finally, students will select a region in modern Australia and craft a research project around this place. After scaffolded activities designed to refine writing and research skills, students will craft multimedia presentations and educate their classmates. This final project will empower students to synthesize their knowledge in a public setting.

Image of Bell Hooks quote in colorful text

How to Write Essays About Love

FWIS 162, Meredith McCullough

Love is an ancient philosophical problem. It is just as much a topic for chemical biology as for poets and musicians. Writing about love in academia now means discussing politics, race, and sexuality, alongside psychology and biology. In “How to Write Essays About Love” students will investigate and participate in such conversations. ​​This course begins and ends with bell hooks’ All About Love (2000). Indeed, hooks’ essays form a central text that we return to throughout the semester. Thinking with hooks’ arguments in selected chapters students will be prompted to examine the overlap between love, justice, and politics.

Sex, Death, and Spiritual Writing

FWIS 163, Cameron Hammon

Synchronicities, angel numbers, soul mates, UFO sightings, and horoscopes— these are just a few of the ways modern spirituality— and spiritual anxiety— expresses itself, writ large by the wild popularity of “spiritual” influencers on social media. In this course we will look at a variety of historical and contemporary “spiritual but not religious” texts, both literary and visual, and discuss how ideas of spirituality shift and change over time and across cultures, and how they stay the same. Through close reading, we will look at the way these texts grapple with the most profound mysteries and challenges of human life, allowing us to dive into the larger questions of sexuality, mortality, race, gender, class, and politics. Students will engage in collaborative writing, and workshop early drafts of their assignments in small workshop groups. This course will foreground discussion and reflection, and students will write weekly discussion posts on canvas, in addition to the three major papers including a film review and a group presentation. The instructor will meet one on one with each student during the semester.

Exploring the World Through International Education

FWIS 166, Jennifer Wilson and Adria Baker

Higher education serves as a hub for global understanding. Every year the USA hosts about one million international students from across the globe, and almost 200,000 US students choose to study abroad. International education provides unique opportunities to integrate into a new culture, interact meaningfully with people in the host country, and encounter a new academic experience. Rice and Houston are wonderfully diverse laboratories in which to learn about international education! Join us to learn important college-level reading and writing skills, while also exploring several major elements of international education:
• History and types of international education
• Benefits and challenges of international education
• Stages of living and studying abroad
• Intercultural communication.

The Devil and the World

FWIS 171, Arina Zaytseva, MWF 1:00pm-1:50pm

Throughout the history of Western culture, the figure of the Devil has exerted a massive influence comparable to Jesus Christ and His divine father. The Devil has been with us for over two millennia and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon. He has inspired some of the greatest works of art and literature: from the Book of Job to Milton’s Paradise Lost, and even modern works of cinema like William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” In this class we will track the historical development of the figure of the Devil in Western thought. We will look at various representations of the Devil in ancient and modern literature and other media. The class will cover topics such as possession and exorcism, demonic pacts and witchcraft, satanic panic, and more.

Gender and Race in U.S. Popular Music

FWIS 173, Hannah Young

This course aims to introduce students to popular music as a site for critical analysis. Listening to U.S. female artists across time and genre, students will consider how gender, race, and class become signified in sound and how the intersection of these categories shape iconic figures. Guiding questions include: how is ‘womanhood’ defined and performed? how do female artists challenge and subvert expectations around them and their music? Course readings and albums privilege women of color in U.S. popular music. These women occupy a hypervisible position in the cultural consciousness, making them subject to higher rates of objectification and criticism than their white counterparts. At the same time, they often appear as innovators, whose creative contributions become coopted and commercialized by other artists.

Sounding the City

FWIS 174, Andrew Klein

Sound surrounds us. And yet we often put little thought into what role it plays in our lives and the lives of our public spaces. This course aims to correct this oversight by offering an introduction to the field of sound studies focused on Houston’s audio environment, past and present. We will approach the topic in four ways. First, through an investigation into the audio epistemologies of sound studies. Second, through a cultural history of Houston’s musical legacy and the way in which aesthetic styles can be traced to local geographies. Third, through the production of a guided audio tour into one of Houston’s neighborhoods. And fourth, through a collaborative audio mapping project. In addition to developing students’ interpretive toolkits, critical thinking skills, and writing abilities, the course seeks to raise a number of key questions about the aesthetics, poetics, and politics of sound in the bayou city and beyond.

Image of costumed performer

Dramatic Pauses: Intro to East Asian Performance Studies

FWIS 176, Schoenberger, Casey

This course introduces students to performing arts of China, Japan, and Korea, like Noh, P’ansori, Beijing opera, and Butoh, with a focus on their psychological and multimedia aspects. We will introduce the field of performance studies, including how to think and write about singing, dancing, storytelling, and drama from perspectives like ritual, gender, musicology, choreography, costume, stage design, and literary criticism. Readings/viewings will be in translation/subtitled, and no background in East Asian languages is required, but interested students may request help with locating and analyzing original-language material.

Drawn image in black and white of a doctor treating a patient

Medicine and Disease in Transnational Asia: A Historical Perspective

FWIS 179, Chang Xu

How did traditional medical practitioners perceive epidemics and disease transmission? What happened when Asian medicinal practices met biomedicine? What does the history of medicine look like when Asian experiences are emphasized? This course examines these and other questions in the history of health and disease in Asia and beyond, from the seventeenth century through the present. Topics covered include public health as both a political and practical concept; colonial and semi-colonial medicine; pluralistic medical systems; and disease stigmatization and pandemics. Beyond exploring these issues, we will also investigate different methodologies and materials that historians use to understand the human experience of disease, health, and medicine. As a writing-focused seminar, this class values writing as both a process and a social act. Students will be present to support each other and complete a series of incremental and recursive writing stages, from proposal drafting and identifying relevant scholarly works to workshopping and revising.

Torchy Brown, African-American graphic novel

African-American Graphic Novel

FWIS 181, David Messmer

This course examines the struggle for black representation in comics and graphic novels. We will discuss the unique opportunities that sequential narratives present to creators as they represent race on the page and we will examine the history of black artists working in the comic book industry.

Crossing Borders - Brad Spencer Relief Sculpture

Border Politics: Migrations and the Meanings of the Nation

FWIS 182, Hubert Rast

In the midst of a global climate and migration crisis, the safeguarding of borders has become an increasingly contentious issue worldwide. Borders demarcate territories, establish differences, and constitute sites of division and violence that are linked to the existence of states. In this course we will explore the perilousness of the human condition, as experienced in the crossing of real and imaginary borders, and in the traumatic loss of homeland and self. We will examine the ways in which environmental crises have uprooted people and probe how climate change and migration pressures may redefine existing borders and boundaries of states. Borders also arise within major cities, through the building of highways, the politics of zoning and real estate investment, creating urban borderlands along economic or racial lines, which this course will also explore. The city of Berlin offers a contrasting example of urban borders: divided into East and West sectors by the Berlin wall (1961-89), the city became the frontline of the Cold War. Finally, we will delve into the changing meaning of the border between the US and Mexico through a range of testimonies, stories and films.

image of hand drawn map

Utopia or Dystopia? The Politics of Space

FWIS 183, Valentin Duquet

Utopian and dystopian imaginings saturate our contemporary society. While some see technological progress as the solution to a challenging twenty-first century, others view nuclear war, global warming, and state surveillance as signs of a 1984-like future. Throughout history, utopias have been created as fictional or nonfictional narratives to influence public opinion and impact the world in real ways, and spatial constructs like ‘the American West,’ ‘the uncivilized desert,’ or ‘the national homeland’ often go hand-in-hand with utopian thinking. In this course, we will embark on a journey to study examples of utopias and dystopias across different media (essays, novels, films, animation, comics, etc.). We will travel across the world from Plato's Greece to Margaret Atwood’s New England, making stops in places like Atlantis and Wakanda. We will critique the utopic visions of both capitalism and communism, seeing how different political ideologies have transformed the land, cities, and people's livelihoods.

Law and its trangression

The Rule of Law and the Pursuit of Justice

FWIS 193, Hubert Rast

Democratic societies claim to be based on the rule of law. This course examines what is required of a society that treats every individual equally regardless of a person´s status or influence. Presently, concerns arise that the courts, which are supposedly independent in their adjudication of the law, increasingly rely on ad-hoc “rule-making” to accommodate powerful individuals or interest groups. We will analyze the relationship of politics and the law in the distinct historical and national contexts of the contemporary US and post-war Germany. We will consider instances in which the judiciary has been politicized in the United States and its repercussions for the rule of law. Furthermore, we will explore the topics of crimes, guilt, punishment and vigilante justice in selected literary texts and films (Schirach´s Crime/Guilt and The Collini Case, as well as Franz Kafka´s The Judgment). We will also scrutinize the sordid judicial history of Germany in the aftermath of the Third Reich drawing on Bernhard Schlink´s The Reader.

Latin American Dictatorships Through Film

FWIS 194, Laura Correa Ochoa

In the 20th century Latin American societies experienced dozens of brutal dictatorships. These regimes, which were often backed by the United States government, persecuted progressive movements and those seen as threatening the status quo. They targeted a wide range of actors including students, peasants, Indigenous communities, labor organizers, leftwing militants, artists, and intellectuals. Film has been a crucial way of reckoning with the history of dictatorships in Latin America and their afterlives. We will use films alongside other sources, such as academic texts, novels, testimonials, protest songs, and declassified CIA documents, to learn about various dictatorial regimes and to explore broader questions about state violence, democracy, revolution, imperialism, justice, and memory. The writing and communication assignments in the class provide students with an opportunity to think critically about the ways history is written and narrated and the political implications of how we go about remembering, or silencing, the past.

Image of statue of liberty

Business in the American Imagination

FWIS 196, Scott Pett

Because the world of business is so full of glass ceilings, corporate ladders, backroom deals, black markets, and human resources, it has always been a culturally rich site for national and self-reflection. In our analyses of literature and film, we will continually ask: what can these texts teach us about the ethics of pursuing happiness and success? How have such types and tropes as the working class, the self-made man, the con artist, and “the art of the deal” shaped our notions of the so-called American Dream? How do work-life and work-place narratives address and shape issues of opportunity, especially in terms of class, education, gender, immigration, and race? On the road to discussing such questions and improving our written and verbal communication skills, we will consider an array of allegories, motifs, and plots about the profits and pitfalls of American commerce culture.

Portrait of Michel de Montaigne

The Essay As Literature: Montaigne and His Legacy

FWIS 198, Burke Nixon

This FWIS will treat the essay as a genre that is just as artful and worthy of attention as poetry, fiction, or drama. We’ll begin with Montaigne, the inventor of the form, and consider how his legacy has been embraced and complicated by essayists and educators in our own time. Along the way, we’ll read and write a variety of critical, personal, and scholarly essays, strengthening our abilities as writers, readers, and thinkers.