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Course Schedule

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Course Schedule


Graphic Novels

FWIS 108, David Messmer, MWF 10:00-10:50

While the image of spandex clad superheroes still dominates perceptions of graphic novels, the medium has evolved into a varied and complex form of expression in the decades since Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics (1938). From their inception, though, graphic novels have always showed a deep connection to the historical events, anxieties, and struggles that surrounded their creation. In this course, we will examine graphic novels from a variety of perspectives, including the historical, the political, the social, and the literary. Students will develop research skills through an engagement with the growing critical literature on graphic novels, and will strengthen communication skills by writing and presenting analyses of the cultural relevance of graphic novels, all while maintaining an awareness of the formal properties that make them such a unique and diverse medium.

Feminist Fabulations

FWIS 127, Brittany Henry, TTh 2:30-3:45

Traditionally a male-oriented genre, science fiction (SF) has grown steadily in popularity with feminist writers since the 1970s. In fact, the intervention of women writers has changed the landscape of the genre, bringing into popular parlance the term “speculative fiction” to encompass the variety of genres that use literature as a medium to ask, “what if?” What if women dominated positions of power in society? What if men could give birth? What if we could transfer our consciousness to different bodies? What if government control of women’s reproductive choices reached totalitarian extremes? These are just some of the questions raised by the alternate worlds of the texts we will explore. Through our readings, we will examine how women writers have employed SF to think imaginatively about the feminist concerns of issues ranging from gender roles, sexual identity, and reproductive rights to technological development, climate change, economic exploitation, and racial justice.

Inner Dimensions

FWIS 128, Katerina Belik, TTH 2:30-3:45

How much does what we say characterize us? The course explores personality traits through their linguistic manifestation. Students will be introduced to personality theory and the lexical hypothesis which states that the most significant personality characteristics are reflected in person’s language. We will attempt to identify what personality traits are vividly imprinted in one’s language, and whether language characteristics can be used as a predictor for personal and professional success. For our study, we will use personal observations as well as  academic articles, fiction and documentary stories. Students will be offered to take personality tests to learn more about themselves and others. We will discuss validity of the theories and accuracy of the personality tests.

Writing Everyday Life

FWIS 130, Lina Dib, Section 1: TTh 1:00-2:15 / Section 2: TTh 2:30-3:45

This course is dedicated to the poetics of everyday life. It introduces its participants to cultural and historical writing that draws from the real world and from the forms and colors of the ordinary. First, we will experiment with some non-fiction writing styles, from journalistic, to poetic, to documentary and ethnographic. Then, shifting the focus from writing styles to writing topics, the course will delve into how we experience landscapes, bodies, and objects in prosaic ways. We will develop reading, research, writing, and presentation skills through creative assignments and workshops. Engaging in fieldwork around Houston, we will practice observational and literary tactics, such as experimenting with rhythm and repetition, shifting scales from the micro to the macro, and making the strange familiar or the familiar strange. In short, we will explore, evaluate, and communicate the everyday. This course is eligible for credit toward the major in Anthropology.  

Women and the Holocaust

FWIS 133, MWF 1:00-1:50

This course will examine the Third Reich and the Holocaust from the perspective of women as perpetrators and as victims. Students will be introduced to the political, social, and cultural history of German fascism and its consequences for women in and outside of Germany through the analysis of literature, art, and film. In addition, students will analyze the testimony of female Holocaust survivors according to time and the circumstance in which it was given. Throughout the course we will explore questions of representation and students will be pushed to learn how to speak and write about this challenging topic.

The Road to Santiago

FWIS 134, Kyle G. Sweeney, Section 1: MW 2:00-3:15 / Section 2: MW 4:00-5:15

From The Legend of Zelda to Game of Thrones, the Middle Ages have inspired countless movies, novels, television series, video games, role-playing fairs, and other medievalisms that are an integral part of popular culture today. This seminar examines life in the medieval city in western Europe as it has been documented, studied, and imagined over time in primary source texts, scholarly publications, documentaries, movies, works of art, television series, contemporary best-selling novels, and so on. Streets, daily life, guilds, governance, trade fairs, Gothic cathedrals, processions, hospitals, universities, plagues, and revolts will be among the topics surveyed. Students will be introduced to ArcGIS Story Maps software and the DAVinCI Visualization Wall at Rice's Chevron Visualization Laboratory. No exams.

Literature and Environment

FWIS 141, MWF 12:00-12:50

This course provides an introduction to the increasingly relevant field of environmental literature and ecocriticism. We will examine literature, criticism, and film from the late eighteenth century to the present with an eye to determining how these texts represent the relationship between humans and their physical environments. Our textual analyses will also allow us to explore a number of broader questions, such as: how does language shape our perception of our physical environment? How has the history of the physical environment shaped the history of literature and the arts? What is the role of literature in raising awareness of environmental issues? How do environmental issues intersect with social issues related to class, gender, race, and ability? Students in this course will engage these and other student-generated questions through a variety of formal and informal writing assignments, interdisciplinary research, and a multisensory “practicum” in environmental perception and reflection.

Water and Cities

FWIS 142, TTh 10:50-12:05

This FWIS investigates ancient, historical, and modern cities and the ways their residents received water. A city must have water, and all cities depend on complex water systems. Waterworks are unique to each city, and they reflect the natural setting of the city as well as the choices made by residents and governments. We shall approach water and cities to understand how cities developed their water resources, how the delivery of water shaped city life, and how the environment was affected. Students will be able to select a city and a water topic of their choice for their final presentation and written assignment. The seminar will follow the strategies for teaching writing and effective communication developed by the FWIS program at Rice. The seminar meetings will emphasize discussion of common readings, effective writing, presentations of specific readings by students, and oral presentations of final projects.

Writing about Greek Drama

FWIS 144, TTh 2:30-3:45

This course introduces students to texts that are integral to ancient Greek culture, and core texts in the Western literary tradition.  The assigned primary texts are: Aristotle’s Poetics; Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy; Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, Antigone, and Electra; and Euripides’ Medea, Hippolytus, and Iphigenia in Tauris (all to be read in English translation).  Students who take the course also read a modest amount of secondary literature about the interpretation and application of Aristotle’s Poetics. The course introduces students to the assigned texts in a manner that provides frequent regular practice at close reading, writing, and oral communication.  Students who take the course write six or seven essays, and receive feedback on all but one from the instructor or teaching assistant.  Students also each give one oral presentation.  Most class meetings are devoted to discussion of the assigned texts.  A few class meetings are devoted to peer review of students’ essays.   

The World of Medieval Medicine

FWIS 150, W 1:00-3:50

How we experience our own bodies is in part culturally conditioned. In the middle ages, medicine is based in the idea that the body (the microcosm) reflects the cosmos (the macrocosm). Christian theology maintains that the body of Jesus holds the divine and human worlds together. Bodily and medical metaphors abound elsewhere: sin is an illness, cured by the medicine of the sacraments; the Christian church is a body with Christ at its head. This seminar will examine the context of the medieval understanding of medicine, exploring the network of relations between natural, social, human, and divine bodies. First-hand accounts by medieval writers provide the main platform from which students can get a picture of medieval people’s relation to their own bodies and the world around them. Secondary readings are drawn from history (especially history of medicine), ritual studies and psychology.

The Science of Supplements

FWIS 152, Mary Purugganan, TTh 10:50-12:05

This course examines the science behind some of the most highly promoted nutritional supplements for preventing or treating disease. The supplement industry has recently grown to $33 billion per year, and more than half of Americans now take supplements regularly. Because nutritional supplements are not regulated like pharmaceuticals, consumers have begun to question the safety, purity, and efficacy of these products. Students will examine the challenges in regulating supplements, the role of supplements as alternative or complementary medicine, the biology of common but complex diseases such as cancer and depression, and the molecular mechanisms of supplements’ effects on the human body. Through writing assignments and oral presentations, students will explore this rapidly growing but poorly regulated approach to improving health.

The Good, the Bad, and the Border

FWIS 154, Elizabeth Cummins Munoz, Section 1: TTh 9:25-10:40 / Section 2: TTh 1:00-2:15

This course will explore portrayals of morality in cultural texts produced in the US-Mexico borderlands. Through film, literature, music, and cultural criticism, students will examine representations of right and wrong that often conflict and many times converge in unexpected ways. As we consider perspectives from within the borderlands and without, we will also explore the ways in which border dwellers employ artistic production to expose and make meaning out of these alternative moral codes. Through the study of a variety of texts, students will be introduced to the following concepts: the nature of representation in film, literature and ballad; the border as both a physical and theoretical construct; the concept of a moral code and its relationship to cultural context.

Poverty in the U.S.

FWIS 154, MWF 11:00-11:50

Poverty implies various forms of material hardship: food insecurity, trouble securing housing, difficulty in obtaining higher education, or inability to save for crises. However, while many of us may be able to list the various consequences of poverty, how can we explain why poverty exists? How do we decide who falls within this category, and where have various anti-poverty programs focused their efforts? This course discusses how the contemporary conditions of poverty emerged in the U.S. context and the concurrent development of anti-poverty programs. We will cover trends and debates that stretch from the Depression, to the War on Poverty in the 1960s, to the present focus on growing wealth inequality. Particular attention will be paid to the distribution of poverty by race, gender, family structure, and immigration status, with a focus on the regional, city-level, and neighborhood spheres that play a role in determining poverty conditions.

Fakes, Forgeries, and Stolen Art

FWIS 155, TTh 1:00-2:15

In 1990, two men dressed as police officers entered the Gardner Museum and stole 13 paintings worth an estimated $300 million dollars. This crime remains unsolved. It has been estimated that 40%—70% of the artwork on the market today is either a fake or a forgery, and countless pieces of art and antiquities have been looted over centuries. It makes sense why faking or stealing art is such a lucrative enterprise. This class will discuss complex issues involving authentication, repatriation, the black market and art law, and scientific advancements in identification technology. Can a copy of a work of art be exactly the same as the original? Why is art often discussed first in terms of monetary value opposed to its cultural or intrinsic value? What, then, is the true value of art or cultural heritage, and what does this say about the societies that exchange it?

Humanitarian Narratives

FWIS 158, TTh 4:00-5:15

  What does it mean to intervene in the life of another? In a time of unprecedented global displacement, natural disasters, public health crises, economic upheaval, and prolonged war, humanitarian intervention has become a go-to form of social restoration. Through undertaking a survey of writings within the anthropological, historical, media, and novel genres, this course examines the many facets of what has become one of the most widely used frames to understand human acts of compassion and morality—humanitarianism. We will examine historical and contemporary examples of humanitarian narratives and intervention across geographies and eras, from the French Revolution to the 2011 UN missions in post-earthquake Haiti, to local efforts in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, to animal rescue initiatives. The course will focus on how the diagnosis of suffering gets made, what count as legitimate forms of compassion, and what imaginaries of the restored person are operative within humanitarian narratives.

Know Thyself

FWIS 159, MWF 10:00-10:50

This course explores the rich history of medical illustration and will study the way anatomists and artists have visualized the interior of the human body from the Middle Ages to the present day. Our examination of drawings, prints, paintings, photographs, and three-dimensional media over the course of several centuries—from medieval manuscripts to Renaissance drawings and prints to digital methods of analyzing the human body—will show that instead of serving merely an illustrative function, these images and objects carry specific cultural weight and multiple layers of meaning. By understanding how medieval anatomical diagrams carried information symbolically, rather than dismissing them because of their outdated portrayal of human anatomy, we gain insight into historical understandings of the body. Further, this course shows that medical illustrations, even when they serve as representational illustrations of observable phenomena, are not neutral: they are embedded with messages about how we see and imagine ourselves.

Global English

FWIS 160, Vasudha Bharadwaj, TTh 9:25-10:40

English is the most widely spoken language in the world, and there are twice as many people second language speakers as there are native users. It has been called a “world language,” a “global language,” and an “international language” and its widespread use is the result of a varied set of historical circumstances. What are the different forms of English? How does the use of English in a non-native setting affect how other languages are perceived? How do non-native / bilingual speakers of the language negotiate between multiple cultural histories and traditions? In this course, students will consider how sociocultural, political, and economic factors have historically influenced decisions about education and language use, particularly regarding English. In doing so, they will practice different forms of academic communication including discussion, writing, and presentation, and refine skills fundamental to their success as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

Feminist Critique of the Bible

FWIS 161, TTh 10:50-12:05

Is the Christian Bible inherently negative in its treatment of women and women’s issues? How are women’s lives portrayed in biblical texts? In the modern era, the Bible has been at the center of debates regarding gender equality and gender roles. This course explores various treatments of gender in the Bible, focusing primarily on feminist critiques. The course is divided into three sections: 1) an introduction to the history and methods of feminist critiques, 2) a close examination of select biblical texts, and 3) a discussion of feminist biblical criticism as it relates to contemporary cultural issues. Students will be challenged to read critically and formulate informed interpretations based on their own close reading of the biblical text and in discussion with major, mostly modern contributors to feminist theology and feminist biblical criticism.

Medical Humanities: Literature, Medicine, and the Practice of Empathy

FWIS 163, Burke Nixon, Section 1: MWF 1:00-1:50 / Section 2: MWF 3:00-3:50

This course will provide an introduction to the field of medical humanities, focusing specifically on narrative medicine and the role narrative can play in illness and the clinical encounter. We’ll also examine the use of literary fiction as a way to increase empathy in doctor-patient interactions, which will lead to a series of questions: Can empathy be taught? If so, can the humanities, and literature in particular, teach it? To help us explore these and other questions, we’ll scrutinize academic research on empathy and fiction, as well as examining some of the most influential texts in the field of medical humanities. We’ll also read medical-themed short stories by Ernest Hemingway, Lorrie Moore, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the physician-writer Anton Chekhov, among others. Writing assignments will range from a work of personal reflection to a research paper and presentation arguing for or against the use of literary fiction in medical schools. 


FWIS 167, TTh 4:00-5:15

We live in a radically connected world. But what, exactly, does it mean to be connected? Networks are more than just Wi-Fi and social media. Be they physical or digital, in fiction or nonfiction, networks fundamentally shape socio-cultural experience. These systems of interconnection and exchange form our structures of everyday life—and it’s time that we take a closer look at them. In this course we will think critically about social and cultural networks: how they expand and/or break down; how they transform what they transmit; and how they provide new paradigms for life in a global world. We will bring together conversations in network theory, literary analysis, sociology, and political science. As we grapple with the complexities of connectivity, we will hone our critical thinking, research, and writing skills. Through close readings, oral presentations, writing workshops, and style exercises, we will develop techniques for productive analysis and effective argumentation.

Case Studies of Building Design Problems

FWIS 168, TTh 1:00-2:15

This course is not for the faint of heart or the timid. We will read and analyze case studies, project documents and other source materials on buildings that have experienced serious design problems and ended up in the news and in court. Some major buildings lose their high-rise windows inexplicably, others experience catastrophic structural failures, while others are saved from disaster through brilliant professional skill and sheer luck. You will write about what went right and wrong, why the situation happened, who caused the problem, and who should have acted differently. We will conduct a mock trial with students serving as the designers, constructors, clients and others involved, as well as their attorneys. Active participation in class is essential and a part of your grade. The broad goals of the course are to improve and refine your ability to think and write critically and powerfully, and to present a convincing argument on the written page and in person.

Disability Matters

FWIS 172, MWF 9:00-9:50

What is the problem with thinking that disability is a tragedy and misfortune? With the help of critical disability studies and anthropology of disability scholarship, we unpack the cultural assumptions about disability that depict it as undesirable and lacking. We approach disability as an embodied experience, conditioned by political, sociocultural and economic forces and interlocked with other markers of difference. Finally, we examine the ways in which disability is experienced and viewed as valuable and desirable. Discussion questions include but are not exhausted by the following: Why and how do words and labels matter? How does disability surface in popular culture, educational and professional domains, private and intimate lives? How is power distributed alongside the axes of disability, gender, race, class, age, and other markers of difference? What other ideas about disabilities are there in the world and what can we learn from them?

Invented Languages: From Esperanto to Dothraki

FWIS 174, MWF 3:00-3:50

In recent years, invented languages (also known as constructed languages or ‘conlangs’) have achieved heightened visibility and popularity, through their appearance in prominent films and TV shows—such as “Avatar” (Na’vi), “Game of Thrones” (Dothraki), and “Lord of the Rings” (Sindarin). However, conlangs are not new. Conlangs have a long, rich history, and have been constructed for a wide variety of reasons—such as finding God, uniting nations, aiding the disabled, and communicating with computers. In this course, students learn about both past and present conlangs: their histories, grammars, storylines, and more. Additionally, students think critically about the linguistic arguments motivating these conlangs’ storylines. For example, a common motivating argument is that language influences thought (e.g., Heptapod B in “Arrival”)—a highly-debated topic in the field of linguistics and beyond. These subjects are explored through oral and writing assignments aimed at teaching students how to form and build an argument.

Writing Social Media

FWIS 176, MWF 9:00-9:50

Students in this course will become familiar with a variety of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, not just as users, but as critical thinkers. By pairing theoretical and social scientific analyses of social media with assignments based on real-world content and student production, students will come to understand how written and audiovisual communication works (and doesn’t) across these different platforms. As such, the overarching emphasis of the course is on the ways in which written and oral communication must change and adapt to fit the demands of particular media, audiences, or assignments. In this course, we will explore social media from a number of perspectives: we will learn its history; explore its technicalities; think critically about its content; and ultimately seek to understand why and how social media has quickly become a mainstream tool for written and audiovisual communication.

Myths of the Spanish Conquest

FWIS 180, MWF 11:00-11:50

What are the general facts most students been taught about the Spanish Conquest? The Aztecs believed the Spaniards to be gods, Native Americans were victims of greedy and violent Spaniards, Christopher Columbus and Hernán Cortés were the forefathers of exploration and conquest, and so on and so forth. This course is inspired by Matthew Restall’s Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, which highlights these “facts,” referring to them as myths, and aims to debunk, or correct them. By analyzing each of the seven myths individually, Restall demonstrates how the myth evolved, why it was accepted, and what he believes is a more accurate description of the myth. His monograph makes it clear that it is important to look beyond the Eurocentric interpretation of the Conquest by studying Native sources. This course will review both types of sources with the goal of achieving a more balanced view of the Conquest.

Contemporary American Poetry

FWIS 185, Andrew Klein, MW 2:00-3:15

This course will explore the world of contemporary American poetry by looking at some of the most exciting collections to come out in the past few years.  Ranging from the intimate lyrics of Peter Campion’s El Dorado to the minimalist verse of Christina Davis’ An Ethic to the historical polyphony of Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s Darktown Follies, these collections have been chosen: 1) to introduce students to some varieties of American poetry in their literary and historical contexts; 2) to increase each student’s ability to understand and analyze how given poems “work”; 3) to develop each student’s ability to put the results of their engagements with poetry into clear, effective prose; and 4) to build a framework for reading and understanding other types of poetry.  Perhaps more significantly, though, these books will also allow us to ask a larger questions: what, if any role, can poetry play in contemporary life?

Introduction to Engineering Design and Communication

FWIS 188, TTH 9:25-10:40

First-year students learn the engineering design process and use it to solve meaningful problems drawn from clients such as local hospitals and medical facilities, other local and international companies and organizations, and the Rice University community. Students work collaboratively on a team to design an engineering solution to meet the client’s need, and they use the resources of the OEDK to construct innovative solutions. Documentation is an essential element in the engineering design process.  Engineers must be able to communicate the need for a novel design, numerical design objectives, ideas for solutions, and the success or failure of a project.  During the engineering design process, students interact and communicate with teammates, the project client, instructors, and potential users. This course covers the same technical content as ENGI 120, Introduction to Engineering Design.  This course places additional emphasis on an individual’s development of the written and oral technical communication skills necessary for professional practice, especially results-oriented technical memos and oral presentations.

Migrant Experience

FWIS 191, Brittany Henry, TTh 1:00-2:15

This course focuses on the human experience of global migration and its representation in literature. As we explore the ethical and social justice implications of representations of migration and displacement in contemporary fiction, we will consider the following questions: How does literature by and about migrants convey the lived experience of displacement at the level of the social, the spiritual, the economic, the communal, and the family? How do race, class, gender, and religious identities shape migrants’ experiences in unfamiliar cultures? How do the narratives we examine attest to the creative strategies migrants employ to adapt, survive, and forge community in new (and often unwelcoming) places? How do narratives of displacement challenge our understanding of community, home, and hospitality? And finally, what role might storytelling, literature, and artistic expression play in the cultivation of a just and humane response to mass displacement in the age of globalization?

Mathematical Writing

FWIS 193, TTh 10:50-12:05

Formal mathematical argumentation is important in mathematics, in science and engineering, and increasingly in foundational questions in the social sciences. This course teaches students how to read, write and present clear, complete and cogent mathematical proofs and to appreciate how such proofs are used in contemporary scholarly discourse. With a focus on expression but not disciplinary content, no mathematical training beyond high school algebra and exposure to geometry is necessary.

Art and War

FWIS 194, MWF 11:00-11:50

The way we visually represent combat plays a vital and powerful role in our understanding of geopolitical events, human emotion, and the consequences of war. This course examines the relationship between violent conflict and images from Napoleon to Saddam Hussein and the American to Syrian Civil Wars. Beginning with the French Revolution and moving forward through such conflicts as the World Wars, Vietnam, and the events around 9/11, we will discuss mediums ranging from the war memorial and propaganda poster to painting and photojournalism. As we do so, we will explore the meanings behind these iconographic systems and learn how to analyze visual representations. We will examine the complexities of modern images of war through writing assignments, presentations, discussions, workshops, and creative assignments. By the end of the semester, you will improve not only your written and oral communication skills, but your visual communication abilities as well.