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Explore FWIS Course Topics from Pop Music to Sports

Course Schedule


Fall 2019 Courses


Culture and Healthcare

FWIS 102, Julie Dinh, TTh 9:25-10:40

Research has demonstrated that minority patients experience lower standards of healthcare, even after controlling for access-related factors (including socioeconomic status). In response, the medical field has been paying increasing attention to cultural competency, or the ability of a healthcare provider to establish effective interpersonal and clinical relationships with diverse patients. This course is designed to explore the role of culture in healthcare from several angles. We will first cover the phenomenon of “unequal treatment” in healthcare, examining multiple levels of influence – from historical events to psychological dynamics, and from healthcare infrastructure to individual patient encounters. We will then discuss interventions that can help enhance cultural competency, including reorganizing incentive systems, providing key resources, and implementing provider trainings. This FWIS will introduce students to scholarly and interdisciplinary ways of reading and writing, drawing from fields including medicine, policy, public health, sociology, and psychology.

Political Campaigns

FWIS 103, Steven Perry, MWF 4:00-4:50

Nationwide, Americans elect candidates to more than 500,000 government positions; each year, thousands of would-be office holders hit the campaign trail in order to whip up support and increase their chances of victory. How do voters make decisions about the candidates they support, and how can candidates attract the support of voters? How can candidate use advertisements, debates, issue positions, and name recognition to build a winning coalition and secure electoral victory? In this FWIS, students will gain understanding on the operations of political campaigns, and how candidates can attempt to attract the support of would-be voters. Through writing assignments, creating political ads, and analyzing political debates and speeches, students will identify and analyze the characteristics of successful campaigns and victorious candidates.

Greek Myth in Words

FWIS 105, Hilary Mackie, TTh 2:30-3:45

This course introduces you to texts that are integral to the mythology, literature, and culture of ancient Greece. Hesiod’s Theogony, a creation narrative, includes the epic battle between the Olympian gods and the Titans. The Homeric Hymns celebrate individual Olympian gods and goddesses. The Works and Days is an early Greek example of wisdom literature. Hesiod, as poet, challenges the authority of the local kings and educates his community about justice and the value of hard work. The course introduces you to these important texts through the regular practice of close reading, writing, and spoken discussion. You will learn to develop and articulate your own interpretations of them in response to the views of others, including your classmates. The assignments and in-class activities will help you to hone your communication skills, and to employ reading, writing, and speaking in the service of critical thinking. (All works read in English translation.)

Art and Environment

FWIS 109, Lina Dib, Section 1: TTh 1:00-2:15 / Section 2: TTh 2:30-3:45

This course delves into questions of environment, ecology and sustainability through the lens of contemporary art. From earthworks, to performance, to land art, activist art, and community-based practices, participants engage critically and creatively with various contemporary practices. We discuss works that put art and environment into conversation by using landscapes as raw material and by highlighting our relationship to local and global ecological systems. Throughout the course, we explore how art provides ways to rescript interactions with our environment. Students work to design and create their own projects. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of much of the work we view, discuss, and propose, we read across a wide range of disciplines, including media studies, design, urban planning, humanities, art and anthropology. The course involves excursions to landfills, museums, gardens and other visits led by experts. This course is eligible for credit toward the Environmental Studies minor.  

Reading Innuendo

FWIS 110, Evan Choate, MWF 1:00-1:50

From 1934 until the early 1960s, the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code, strictly prohibited all depictions of “sexual perversion”—such as homosexual or interracial romance—in Hollywood films. But could these desires and experiences ever be completely excluded from popular representations? If not, in what form might they be expressed? How can we read sexualities that were literally unrepresentable? What can such a reading teach us not only about the place of sexuality in the American cultural imagination but also about the nature of communication and interpretation in general? Did the Code shape the ways we express ideas about sexuality, or was the Code merely an expression of popular mores? In "Reading Innuendo," we will begin to answer these questions by exploring what the films produced under the Hays Code, from its origins to its eventual demise, can teach us about ourselves as writers and interpreters.

Writing the University

FWIS 111, Amanda Johnson, MWF 2:00-2:50

Still loosely modeled on a monastic institution, the American university is a funny place where modern ideas of professional accomplishment collide with medieval philosophies of higher learning. Historically, the American university has also been a Petri dish for radical activism and social change in the U.S., even as the institution itself continues to operate according to traditions passed from generation to generation. It is an intense four years, but most U.S. college graduates still remember their undergraduate years as a uniquely transformative period in their lives, and continue to identify with their alma mater decades after their last day of attendance. Together, we will read texts that explore the wonderfully strange experience of university life in America, use our writing to tease out the significance of the university to us, and ultimately, take stock of how our time at the university has transformed us, on and off the page.

Art in Place & Places for Art

FWIS 117, Nonya Grenader, TTh 10:50-12:05

Students will look closely at a curated selection of influential, Houston‐based works of art, installations, and architecture from the past century to understand the context and ideas behind the emergence of modern and contemporary art and design. They will observe, analyze, and describe these primary sources using both words and images. Through a sequence of reading, observing, and responding, students will: understand methods of viewing original work to observe nuances of color, form, style, material, massing, and context; develop skills for conveying their observations to audiences using words (written and spoken) and images (photography, collage, diagram, drawing, etc.) in precise and descriptive ways; learn strategies for preparing questions for active participation in class discussions and site visits; apply techniques for planning, editing, and revising their responses; and learn various approaches for synthesizing ideas in a final paper and presentation, comparing or contrasting several works of art viewed during the semester.

Fiction and Empathy

FWIS 120, Burke Nixon, Section 1: MWF 1:00-1:50 / Section 2: MWF 3:00-3:50

Is there a link between reading literary fiction and empathizing with others? A much-discussed 2013 article in Science seemed to answer this question in the affirmative, but writers and readers have been making (and challenging) similar claims for almost as long as the novel has existed. In this course, we’ll explore and debate the question ourselves. What does empathy actually mean? What’s the difference between empathy and compassion? Can a work of fiction actually change the way we perceive others in real life? We’ll read and write about the work of fiction writers who are often praised for their ability to inhabit the consciousness of their characters, as well as contemporary authors who attempt to do the same thing in different ways. We’ll also examine and debate what literary critics and authors themselves have claimed on this topic, focusing in particular on the elements of fiction and how those elements might provoke empathy.

Time Travel Narratives

FWIS 121, Laura Richardson, TTh 4:00-5:15

From an aesthetic perspective, time travel has existed as long as there have been stories: narrative is time tourism. Narrative introduces alien temporalities, transporting listeners and readers into different temporal landscapes. Throughout the twentieth century, science and science fiction participated in a shared economy of inspiration, each stirring the other to new creative potential. This course investigates the historical, aesthetic, and scientific connections between the authorial and scientific co-creation of time travel. Our central quests will be to define the relationship between scientific and narrative jumps through time, as well as forge, as a class, a general understanding of how our culture represents time travel, given not just technological limitations, but also the historico-cultural limiting factors of gender, race, politics, and language.

Leaders and Leadership

FWIS 122, John Cornwell, TTh 4:00-5:15

For over a hundred years, social scientists have studied leaders and leadership. The popular press and media pundits continue to expound on the topic with conflicting views. Students will explore what they believe and what science informs us about leaders and leadership and share their analyses through discussions, writing, and oral presentations. This course does not study individual leaders but instead is devoted to learning about scholarship in the field of leadership and applying it to better understanding oneself as a leader. Besides writing about their leadership experiences and applying leadership scholarship in analyzing those experiences, students will also create visual images about leadership using digital technologies and share them with each other.

Your Arabian Nights

FWIS 125, Paula Sanders, TTh 4:00-5:15

The Arabian Nights is one of the best known yet poorly understood literary masterpieces. It has been passed down orally, in writing, in performance and film; in multiple languages; and with different collections of stories. What is your Arabian Nights? Is it one of the many Arabic versions? The famous Burton translation? Disney's Sinbad? Alladin or Ali Baba? Scheherezade the storyteller? Robert Louis Stevenson's stories? Do you know it as a collection of stories or a group of colorful characters? We will consider stories of the Nights through both a literary and historical lens, and we will consider stories, films and works of art that were inspired by the Nights in different cultures.

The Nobel Prize in Literature

FWIS 126, David Messmer, TTh 10:50-12:05

Each year the Swedish Academy awards the Nobel Prize in Literature “to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” The award confers a standard of prestige that can secure an author’s legacy long after his/her literary career comes to an end. But what does “outstanding work” entail, exactly? What does “an ideal direction” mean? Why does a committee of people in Stockholm Sweden have the authority to bestow such an important award on writers from around the entire world? This course will address these questions by interrogating the works of the five most recent winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature. We will see what patterns we notice in the Swedish Academy’s selections while paying attention to both aesthetic merit and the roles that social justice and cultural diversity might play in the awards process.

Feminist Fabulations

FWIS 127, Brittany Henry, Section 1: MWF 11:00-11:50 / Section 2: MWF 2:00-2:50

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 and types of intelligence through their linguistic manifestation. Students will be introduced to personality theory, multiple intelligence 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 professional success. For our study, we will use academic articles, fiction and documentary stories as well as personal observations. Students will be offered to take personality tests as well as the multiple intelligences test to learn more about themselves and others. We will discuss validity of the theories and accuracy of the personality tests.

Tech and Culture in US History

FWIS 136, Elizabeth Petrick, TTh 10:50-12:05

This course examines the relationship between technology and society throughout the history of the United States. We will analyze the roles and impacts of major technological innovations within their cultural and historical contexts, while seeking to understand how these contexts shaped and were shaped by the technologies. In doing so, we will highlight the ways in which technologies articulated, exacerbated, and undermined social identities and relationships of power. The course is divided into five themes: communication, transportation, power and war, gender and race, labor and class. Each theme acts as a lens through which to view historical changes in technology and culture.

Pop Music & American Culture

FWIS 137, Andrew Klein, Section 1: MW 2:00-3:15 / Section 2: MW 4:00-5:15

This course will explore the world of popular American music by looking at a number of recent albums and songs as well as many critical and journalistic writings about music. Ranging from Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love to Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, and from a novelistic portrayal of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality to a memoir of the Riot Grrrl movement, these texts will also allow us to think critically not only about music itself, but about what other issues (race, gender, sexuality, class, taste, etc.) we talk about when we talk about music. Assignments will include album reviews, song analyses, genre/region presentations, and personal essays.

Mindfulness and Medicine

FWIS 138, Jade Hagan, MW 2:00-3:15

What is mindfulness and how can it make you a better writer? What are the health benefits of mindfulness? How might mindfulness offer a new perspective on old medical issues? This course explores various ways of answering these questions through an introduction to the study and practice of mindfulness and the medical humanities, combined with writing instruction. Mindfulness is a way of purposefully attending to your experience of the present moment without judgment. As the research on mindfulness grows, scientists are discovering the ways that mindfulness can positively impact our lives and work by encouraging an openness to experience and growth mindset that can help us handle life’s daily challenges. For our purposes, those challenges will primarily consist of various writing assignments, culminating in a research paper on the medical applications of mindfulness. Students will also explore mindfulness through a diverse range of scholarly and literary texts, films, and excursions.

Film, Fiction, and History

FWIS 140, Scott Derrick, TTh 1:00-2:15

In an important text from several decades ago, Benedict Anderson argued in Imagined Communities that nations construct their identities around shared narratives that necessarily mythologize and simplify their national pasts. Indeed, it’s unclear that a perfectly objective account of something as complex as a national history is even possible (though scrupulous historians do the best they can). Obviously, then, the contemporary crisis of “fake news” may simplify a complex problem if the implication is that the “real news” is easily within our grasp. The premise of this course is that in the twentieth century and beyond, movies and television have been an important ongoing source of mythologized national historical narratives, from war movies, to westerns, to “biopics” of figures such as Kenneth Turing, and Winston Churchill, to Ken Burns-style documentaries. Are their patterns of distortion at work we can identify? How do we correct them?

Literature and Environment

FWIS 141, Jade Hagan, MWF 1:00-1:50

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.

Magic, Medicine, and Miracle

FWIS 149, Charles Schmidt, MWF 4:00–4:50

This course will focus specifically on the categories of medicine, magic, and miracle in antiquity (5th century BCE––5th century CE). During this time, people were convinced that they could achieve help and healing through medicine, magic, and miracle, but they were also quite certain that there were differences between these approaches. In this course we will analyze and compare ancient Jewish, Christian, and “pagan” texts (e.g., stories of healing, medical theory, medical case studies, recipes for specific ailments, tales of magic and miracle, and biographies of wonder-workers), looking for the criteria by which such distinctions were made (e.g., What healing methods were employed by each? By what power or knowledge were their healings enacted? How were practitioners in each domain trained and regarded by society?). We will frequently consult modern scholars’ discussions of magic and miracle in antiquity (medicine is often left out of the picture in modern conversations—why?!). While some scholars maintain hard distinctions between the magic and miracle, others find no difference whatsoever. We will examine how these scholars make their arguments and test their theories and categories with our own reading of the evidence.

Modern Castaways

FWIS 151, Mark Celeste, MWF 1:00-1:50

You need not be stuck on an island to be considered a “castaway.” This course will challenge us to think about isolation, alienation, and survival in a global age. What happens to those left behind, those cast out, and those seemingly out of place? How (if at all) do they assimilate and survive in a new world? Where do these “modern castaways” stand with respect to particular national, racial, social, and historical identities? Our readings will move us through a range of literary forms, critical conversations, and historical moments, asking us to consider how issues of nationality, race, gender, and class change across time and space. We will grapple with topics such as colonialism, immigration, feminist history, the anthropocene, and the refugee crisis – topics that will invite us to reflect on the moral and political dimensions of “castaway” figures.

Know Thyself

FWIS 159, Rachel Harmeyer, MWF 11:00-11:50

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.

Ways of Walking

FWIS 164, Andrew Klein, TTh 2:30-3:45

For most of us, walking is an activity of necessity: we put one foot in front of the other in order to move from Point A to Point B. For others, however, the act of walking holds far greater potential. Whether it's a pilgrimage, a nature hike, a city stroll, a protest march, or something else altogether, a walk can be much more than just a walk. In this course, we will explore the cultural history and significance of walking by looking at a wide array of interdisciplinary texts, ranging from a study of the marathon monks of Mount Hiei to Romantic poetry and from urban planning policy to experimental art practices.  These readings will be accompanied by integral writing assignments that will allow students to develop their abilities to write clearly and persuasively in a number of different genres. There will also be a number of field trips in and around the Houston area.

Speculative Fiction

FWIS 166, Lindsay Sherrier, MWF 9:00-9:50

Speculative fiction are stories of possibility, of what our world might look like in another time and place. These authors use their literature to not only entertain—after all, androids and resurrected dinosaurs are fascinating—but also to speak to the developments and challenges of the present moment. Through novels, short stories, television episodes, and films, this course explores the complex literature of speculative fiction—tracing its history, learning about its different overlapping genres (science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, dystopia), and engaging with the various philosophical and cultural questions these texts ask.


FWIS 167, Mark Celeste, MWF 3:00-3:50

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.

Genetic Eng & Human Evolution

FWIS 170, Melia Bonomo, MWF 9:00-9:50

“The power to control our species’ genetic future is awesome and terrifying. Deciding how to handle it may be the biggest challenge we have ever faced.” This course explores the field of genetic engineering, the broad discourse surrounding it, and the aforementioned challenge quoted from Jennifer Doudna, a pioneering biochemist. The course is divided into three sections: 1) an introduction to the science and history of genetic editing, 2) an examination of the conflicting and converging perspectives on this biotechnology among the various stakeholders, such as biochemists, policy-makers, faith leaders, citizen-scientists, and patients, and 3) an exploration of the future of human evolution. We will also discuss the importance of science communication, both among scientists and with the general public. This seminar emphasizes critical reading of scholarly literature, analysis of popular media, cross-disciplinary discussion, and research-based writing.

Writing Social Media

FWIS 176, Baird Campbell, MWF 10:00-10:50

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.

Short Fiction

FWIS 179, Deborah Harter, TTh 4:00-5:15

If science treats us to graceful discovery and earthly knowledge, the pages of fiction record the triumphs and the suffering of the human. They speak to us about love and death, guilt and redemption.  And they remind us of those obstacles, sometimes imagined, that stand in the way of our content.  They are obstacles that we might call dragons.  They breathe fire across our paths.   And if they sometimes lead to our undoing—Ahab cannot survive his obsession with one particular whale—we also slay them, as does Faulkner’s Sarty when he gives up his father in order to break with a world of violence he cannot bear. This will be a course that studies expressive writing and the art of reading as we enjoy short fiction from Kafka to O’Conner and as we track those dragons that wander freely in the corridors of art and the lives we live.

Caribbean Ecologies

FWIS 186, Ania Kowalik, TTh 9:25-10:40

In "Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies," Spanish explorer Bartolomé de Las Casas gave an earnest indictment of the atrocities perpetrated by the colonizers in the Caribbean: after the carnage, the islands were “transformed into one vast, barren wasteland.” The Caribbean suffered an unprecedented intervention into its environment and has experienced increasing ecological vulnerability. And yet, Caribbean artists have affirmed the archipelago as a space of life and creativity where nature helps us imagine alternative ways or being with our human and non-human others. This course examines the complicated ecological relationships in the Caribbean from different perspectives: colonial encounter narratives; memoirs of the Haiti earthquake and Haitian ‘salvage art’; works inspired by the Caribbean Sea; and stories about food and diasporic history. We will also ponder this more general question: How can literature and art help us reimagine who we are and how we relate to the world?

Eng Design & Communication

FWIS 188, Matthew Wettergreen, Deirdre Hunter, Section 1: TTh 9:25-10:40 / Section 2: TTh 1:00 - 2:15 / Section 3: TTh 1:00 - 2:15

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.

Astronomical Ambition

FWIS 198, Alexander McAdams, MWF 10:00-10:50

Despite the fact that we live in a world of near-constant scientific discovery, much of human history has been defined by imaginative speculation about how the world functions. Indeed, the dividing line between science and humanities disciplines is largely a modern construction. This course traces the defining features of scientific investigation and imaginative exploration by studying the one medium that has melded the two for centuries: literature. The seminar then asks: Is it possible to have science without fictional imagination? What does literature have to do with science anyway? In asking students to contend with these questions, this seminar will embolden students to learn how to write critically about these separate yet co-evolving disciplines. Going beyond reading these materials as works in the genre of science fiction, this course asks students to consider how the humanities and scientific disciplines approach truth, knowledge, and new dimensions of space, time, and thought.