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Course Descriptions

Explore FWIS Course Topics from Pop Music to Sports

Course Schedule


Fall 2021 Courses


The Bible in Popular Culture

FWIS 101, Brian Ogren, W 1:00pm-3:30pm

What do Bob Marley and the Hebrew Bible have in common? How was Moses utilized by civil rights activists like Martin Luther King, Jr.? Why was Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah so controversial among Evangelical Christians? What does Donald Trump know about the Bible? This course will address such questions as we introduce ways in which the Bible plays a significant role in contemporary popular culture. By analyzing biblical references found in music, film, art, and the media, we will discover that even in today’s seemingly secular pop culture, the Bible continues to influence our artistic, social, and political landscapes. This class should be of interest regardless of background. Anyone can study the Bible, whether she or he is Jewish, Christian, of a different religion or of no religion. In this course, the Bible is explored as a cultural text; all we require is an inquiring mind.

Blind Spots

FWIS 102, Luis Duno-Gottberg, TTh 8:00am-9:15am

The blind spot of "the act of seeing" is its social construction, its ideological nature. This seminar unveils the various historical, political, economic, and social “filters” that condition our decoding of visual information. This writing seminar aims at developing skills to de-naturalize the "act of seeing." Students will learn various theories and acquire the necessary tools for engaging critically, the visual world around them. 

Women Artists

FWIS 103, Layla Seale, First Section - MWF 4:00pm-4:50pm/ Second Section - MWF 2:00pm-2:50pm

This course examines female-identifying painters, sculptors, performance artists and musicians from the early European Middle Ages through modern-day United States. Each week we will read and write about the work of a different artist and discuss their ongoing cultural impact. Key questions this course considers: What factors influence the success of a female artist? How do these artists reflect or respond to their specific time period, region, and culture? What is the role of gender, sexuality, race, or class in their artistic production? Students will learn how to “read” and analyze visual and performative artworks and effectively communicate their ideas through written essays and oral presentations. We will also read, analyze, and compare scholarly readings and different forms of argumentation. Course readings include critical theoretical essays, artists’ statements, art historical articles, and museum exhibition catalogues.

Writing the Senses

FWIS 106, Lina Dib, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

In this course, we’ll take a historical and anthropological dive into a variety of social movements from across time and from around the world. We’ll take seriously the role of media, technology, and infrastructure in the development of diverse strategies, as well as the importance of both individual and group identity formation. We’ll analyze advantages, risks, and affordances that vary along lines of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. Along the way, we’ll think critically about the communicational tactics of each one, analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and why. Using this knowledge, students will choose an issue important to them, develop a communicational strategy for addressing this issue and—if they desire—put it out into the real world!

In the Matrix

FWIS 107, Philip Wood, TTh 1:00pm-2:15pm

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.

Waste, Trash, Pollution

FWIS 114, Katie Ulrich, TTh 4:00pm-5:15pm

How do we as a society know that something is waste or garbage? How does something valuable later become trash, or vice versa? This course looks at waste, trash, and pollution from the perspective of culture and sociality. Through examining ethnographic and social theory texts on such materials, we will consider how waste is a sociocultural construct that draws social boundaries and enacts cultural meanings. By denaturalizing waste in this way, the course will ultimately explore how we can understand human culture by looking at our relations with the things, and the people, we treat as disposable. We will read about topics such as: trash collectors and recyclers in Brazil; waste-to-energy biotechnologies in Turkey and China; the politics of landfills in the US; the global circulation of e-waste; how certain human lives are devalued; and the relationship between pollution and colonialism.

Exploring Biological Research

FWIS 115, Beth Beason-Abmayr, T 1:00pm-3:50pm

In this course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE), teams of students work on investigative, client-based projects with opportunities to design experiments, analyze data, and communicate their findings. This course is recommended for students interested in majoring in the Biosciences. A major objective is to prepare students who have limited laboratory experience for advanced labs and/or independent research. Students will formulate a hypothesis, design experiments, learn fundamental laboratory skills, follow standard protocols, and collect and analyze data. Scientific communication skills emphasized include maintaining a laboratory notebook, writing a scientific paper, and giving a research presentation. Mutually Exclusive: Cannot register for FWIS 115 if have credit for NSCI 120.

American Journeys

FWIS 116, Randall Hall, Th 1:00pm-3:30pm

The narratives of travelers in the US are a window into history. Drawing on authors like Crèvecoeur, Tocqueville, Trollope, and Kerouac, the class will discuss and write about themes such as Indian life and territorial expansion, democracy, slavery, civil war, western settlement, and 20th-cent. social movements.  This course is eligible for credit toward the major in history.

Islam and Politics

FWIS 118, Waleed Rikab, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

Together, we will examine developments in religion and politics in the Islamic societies of the Middle East, from the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s reign in Medina to the fall of the Ottoman Empire early in the 20th century. In the process, we will evaluate different Islamic intellectuals’ conceptions of religion, from classical thinkers such as al-Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah to modern writers such as Qasim Amin and Mahmud Muhammad Taha. We will also consider how these conceptions inform politics today, both within Islamic societies and in the non-Islamic world. By the end of the semester, we will come to appreciate the richness of Islamic political thought in both its local and global dimensions.

Leaders and Leadership

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

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.

Witnessing the Holocaust

FWIS 124, Astrid Oesmann, MWF 1:00pm-1:50pm

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 (film, memoir, drama) 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.

Your Arabian Nights

FWIS 125, Paula Sanders, TTh 1:00pm-2:15pm

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.

Inner Dimensions

FWIS 128, Katerina Belik, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

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.

Writing Everyday Life

FWIS 130, Lina Dib, 1st Section - TTh 10:50am-12:05pm/ 2nd Section - 1:00pm-2:15pm

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.  

Global Crises and Politics

FWIS 134, Jared Oestman, MWF 10:00am-10:50am

This course examines the role of political actors and institutions in managing and resolving global crises. Students will learn about the nature of international politics, identify how global actors can coordinate actions to respond to different global crises such as pandemics, armed conflict, and climate change, and analyze the consequences of different policy responses. Key assignments for this course consist of group discussions of assigned readings, short reaction papers, and a student-led simulation involving a mock global crisis.

Pop Music & American Culture

FWIS 137, Andrew Klein, MWF 9:00am-9:50am

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.

Photography & Film in Medicine

FWIS 139, Brooke Clark, TTh 10:50am-12:05pm

From hysterical women to the African American men in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study to queer individuals affected by AIDS, medicine has used photography and film to capture moments of innovation, catastrophe, and confusion. While photographic and cinematic images appear to record the world objectively and mechanically, people—along with their subjective, social biases—frame, develop, and curate them. Thus, medical photographs and films are not only visual pieces of scientific documentation but also pieces of historical, cultural, and aesthetic significance and interpretation. The crucial tension between science and aesthetics is the focus of this course and will lead to questions concerning how gender, race, sexuality, disability, class, and mental health operate within clinical and popular representations of medicine and public health. We will learn how to read and write critically about medical images together and study how images inform the way we see medicine and the way medicine sees us.

Film, Fiction, and History

FWIS 140, Scott Derrick, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

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?

Water and Cities

FWIS 142, TTh 9:25am-10:40am

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.

America Through Foreign Eyes

FWIS 147, Julie Fette, MW 2:00pm-3:15pm

The United States has always been a source of fascination – both attraction and repulsion – for many people around the world. The course covers the perceptions and interactions of five regions – Africa, China, France, Mexico, and Russia – with America. It offers ways to approach cross-cultural study and concludes with a segment that “reverses the gaze” by analyzing American opinions of other cultures. "America through Foreign Eyes" addresses four overarching themes: 1) democracy and modernity; 2) globalization and capitalism; 3) racism and immigration; and 4) intellectual and cultural life.

Ways of Walking

FWIS 164, Andrew Klein, MWF 10:00am-10:50am

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.

Describing the Abstract

FWIS 173, Austen James, TTh 9:25am-10:40am

Mathematics is beautiful, but too often the elegance of its ideas and puzzles is hidden behind a curtain of technical language and prerequisites. It is possible to write about a theorem or conjecture in a way that draws in the reader and invites them to share in the delight of discovery and confusion, even if they are entirely unfamiliar with the mathematical techniques behind it, and the goal of the course is to do just that. Students will develop the skills to describe mathematics, ancient to cutting-edge, with accurate, exciting, and compelling prose. Along the way, they will learn about mysteries and solutions from pockets of the diverse and flourishing world of mathematics.

Surveillance, Security, and Society

FWIS 175, Jessica Bray, TTh 10:50am-12:05pm

In the course, students will read, write, and explore the nature of surveillance, security, and society by asking: What is surveillance? Why does it happen and who does it happen to? Government surveillance is widely regarded as a system of control and classification. Yet, surveillance seems to indicate a weakness in the security state. Against this backdrop, we will analyze how examples of surveillance shape and reshape cultures across the world. In particular, we will explore surveillance in the context of contemporary examples of the post-9/11 security state, colonial settings where the tools of surveillance were birthed, the ways gender, race, and other social identities become imbricated within surveillance, and resistance movements against surveillance. Overall, students will be better at closely analyzing surveillance as a concept, theory, and action by applying the tools from the course to an ethnographic example in written, oral, and visual assignments.

Short Fiction

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

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.

Writing for Social Justice

FWIS 180, Baird Campbell, MWF 10:00am-10:50am

In this course, we’ll take a historical and anthropological dive into a variety of social movements from across time and from around the world. We’ll take seriously the role of media, technology, and infrastructure in the development of diverse strategies, as well as the importance of both individual and group identity formation. We’ll analyze advantages, risks, and affordances that vary along lines of race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. Along the way, we’ll think critically about the communicational tactics of each one, analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and why. Using this knowledge, students will choose an issue important to them, develop a communicational strategy for addressing this issue and—if they desire—put it out into the real world!

Caribbean Ecologies

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

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, Deirdre Hunter, Section 1: TTh 9:25am-10:40am / Section 2: TTh 10:50am-12:05pm

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.