Current Course Descriptions

Explore FWIS Course Topics from Pop Music to Sports

Fall 2022 COURSES


Photo of blue human iris

Blind Spots: Critical Approaches to Visual Culture

FWIS 102, Louis Duno-Gottberg, MWF 8:00am - 8:50am

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.

Image of red fingerprint and magnifying glass

Whodunit? Investigating True Crime and Crime Fiction

FWIS 103, Els Woudstra, MWF 4pm - 4:50 pm

It was Colonel Mustard, in the library, with a candlestick! In crime fiction, readers can investigate the crime alongside the fictional detective by following the clues sprinkled throughout the narrative. But while a crime fiction writer like Agatha Christie can plot her murders ahead of time, journalistic and legal investigations of true crimes depend on the careful, ethical examination and interpretation of forensic evidence. When we read or listen to crime stories, how can we know if the story accurately presents the facts? This course investigates the construction of evidence in crime fiction and true crime, by studying several classic crimes, and their adaptations in film, literature, and podcasts. By becoming familiar with the rules of evidence in true crime journalism and crime fiction, we will examine how the presentation of evidence in a crime story influences our understanding of the case, and navigate the distinctions between ‘truth’ and ‘accuracy.’

Maye West and Gilbert Roland

Reading Innuendo: Representing Sexuality in Golden Age Hollywood

FWIS 110, Evan Choate, Section 1: MWF 9am-9:50am / Section 2: MWF 10am-10:50am

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.

John Belushi from the film "Animal House"

College Campus Culture

FWIS 111, Amanda Johnson, TTh 4pm-5:15pm

The American university is a funny place. One the one hand, it fosters world-changing scientific discovery, while on the other hand, it remains indebted to a medieval philosophy of higher learning. It can also be a petri dish for radical activism and social change, while still clinging to institutional traditions passed down through generations. Perhaps for these reasons, most U.S. college graduates still remember "college" as a uniquely transformative period in their lives and continue to identify with their alma mater years after graduation. 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 and will transform us, on and off the page. Click the following link for a video about this course from Dr. Johnson

image of lighted road sign read Abolish Coalonialism

Waste, Trash, Pollution

FWIS 114, Katie Ulrich, MWF 4pm-4:50pm

How do we as a society know that something is waste? 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 reading ethnographies, we’ll analyze how waste draws social boundaries and enacts cultural meanings.

Exploring Biological Research

Exploring Biological Research

FWIS 115, Beth Beason-Abmayr, TTh 9:25am-10:40am

In this course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE), teams of students work on investigative, client-based projects with opportunities to frame a research question, perform experiments, analyze results, 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 learn fundamental laboratory skills as they follow standard protocols to generate data. Scientific communication skills emphasized include maintaining a laboratory notebook, writing a scientific paper, and giving a research presentation. Because of the collaborative, lab-based nature of this course, attendance at all class meetings is essential. (Course content has overlap with NSCI 120 Introduction Scientific Research Challenges and FWIS 188 Introduction to Engineering Design and Communication.)

Image of movie post north by northwest

I Spy: Espionage in Film and Literature

FWIS 118, Bren Ram, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

Through an investigation of spy media in all its forms, this course examines the commonalities and differences among a diverse array of spy stories. With a focus on literary and filmic analysis, we will use the classroom as a collaborative space to discuss and identify the techniques that make spy stories so compelling. This course uses spy stories as a lens through which to view transformations in the public imagination of intelligence, deception, international relations, and war. Spies’ ubiquity in film and literature speak to a timelessness or even archetypal quality to their stories; at the same time, however, the specific content of spy stories changes over time to reflect changes in socio-cultural priorities. From American Revolutionary dramas to Cold War romances to 21st-Century counterintelligence, the figure of the spy has something to say about every modern socio-historical issue—and, as such, the spy provides fertile ground for students to explore stories that are both exciting to read and politically prescient.

Image of people as bristles on toothbrush

Writing Everyday Life

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

This course is dedicated to the poetics of everyday life. It draws from the forms and colors of what surrounds us day-to-day, from landscapes, to bodies and objects. Students develop research and writing skills through creative fieldwork assignments and workshops. This course is eligible for credit toward the major in anthropology.

Image of four posters for movies depicting slavery

Slavery on Film

FWIS 132, James Sidbury, MWF 10am-10:50am

This course will look at the ways major Hollywood (or equivalent) films have dealt with chattel slavery in the United States. We will explore the general question of how feature films deal with controversial historical issues by analyzing more specifically how Hollywood has dealt with American slavery. We will seek to identify aspects of the films that are historically inaccurate, not in an effort to 'debunk' the films, but to ask why filmmaker choose to depart from the known truth and thus to think about the different kinds of truths and interpretations one might look for in film and in historical writing.

Pop Music in American Culture - A vinyl record being played on a record player

Pop Music & American Culture

FWIS 137, Andrew Klein, Section 1: MWF 9:00am-9:50am / Section 2: MWF 10:00am - 10:50am

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.

Technologies of Taste - Flavor wheel

Technologies of Taste

FWIS 141, Els Woudstra, Section 1 MWF 1pm-1:50pm / Section 2 2pm-2:50pm

Does pineapple belong on pizza? Does red Gatorade taste better than blue? Many of our favorite flavors are produced and marketed by food science and the food industry, through technologies of taste ranging from taste tests that quantify the subjective experience of flavor and smell into objective measures, to food advertisements that appeal to our tastebuds. This course investigates how technologies of taste shape our palates and the ways we think and write about what we eat. Through case studies and in-class tasting sessions of tea, chocolate, and other flavors, students will learn to analyze the sensory experience of foods, and examine the ways in which presentation, packaging, and advertisement of food appeals to our tastebuds. With assignments that include a flavor journal, academic essays, and creative projects, this course invites students to examine how their sensory perceptions influence the language they use, and how language can shape their perception.

Image of aqueduct

Water and Cities

FWIS 142, Alida Metcalf, 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.

Image of museum

Museums in World History

FWIS 145, Kerry Ward, MWF 10am-10:50am

What is a museum? What role do they play in the modern world? This course fosters critical thinking about how and why museums were important institutions. They emerged as sites of identity within and between local, regional, national, imperial and global networks. Globally, a diverse number of museums are at once beloved and controversial, commanding and irrelevant. These contradictions aren’t new. To address the future of museums we must understand the evolution of these institutions in their global pasts.

The Art of Sportswriting

FWIS 148, Leo Costello

This class is designed to introduce students to sports writing as a vehicle for conveying complex ideas and stories, and investigating difficult issues. Students do not need to have any prior knowledge of sports to take this class. It is not a sports journalism course, moreover, but rather one focused on story-telling through and about sports. We will read a variety of fictional and non-fictional writing about sports as a means to learning about how to look deeply into the world and the people around us. Through these selections, taken from publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, and others, we will see how sports writing is an entrance into rich, compelling considerations of many of the key issues of our day, touching on race, gender, class, politics, ethics and religion.


Image of medieval book illustration

The World of Medieval Science

FWIS 150, Claire Fanger, W 2pm-4:30pm

How did medieval Christians understand and treat mental and bodily illness? How did their experiences of pain, sex, childbirth, and death interact with larger concepts of God, nature, and the heavens? What role did angels and demons play? This seminar will explore these issues through close reading of medieval texts.

Making Sense Of Ourselves

FWIS 151, Burke Nixon, Section 1: MWF 1pm - 1:50pm / Section 2: MWF 3pm - 3:50pm

Before “essay” became synonymous with school assignments and college applications, it meant something very different. When Michel de Montaigne popularized the form in the 16th century, his "Essais" were an attempt to better understand himself and the world. His version of the essay wasn’t boring or formulaic; it was a vehicle for discovery, critical thinking, and self-scrutiny. Inspired by Montaigne’s example, this course will explore and examine the essay form in all its variety and flexibility. We’ll read the work of great essayists past and present, from Montaigne to 21st century writers like Kiese Laymon, Leslie Jamison, and Zadie Smith. And, of course, we’ll write our own essays, attempting to make some sense of ourselves and the world around us, while also investigating the key differences and surprising similarities between personal and academic essays, using this knowledge to become more thoughtful and engaging writers in any genre.  



Introduction to Infinity: Engagement with Infinity from Antiquity to Today

FWIS 153, Ethan Gwaltney, TTh 10:50am - 12:05pm

Historical attitudes towards infinity have evolved dramatically. Aristotle denied “actual infinity,” but the renowned 20th century mathematician and philosopher Hermann Weyl dubbed math “the science of the infinite.” More than just attitudes have changed. What was once only a philosophical concept now rigorously supports research spanning the sciences and inspires creative writing and art. How has this growing relationship with infinity shaped the way we see the world today? This course presents mathematical and cultural perspectives on infinity from a diversity of times, places, and peoples. No background in mathematics is required for this course. Through written reflections, oral syntheses, and short essays we will identify some of the influences on our personal attitudes towards infinity and articulate the difficulty in our predecessors’ wrestling with it. A final written project and presentation will investigate a particular application of infinity or historical development in the understanding of infinity.

Writing Asian Food

FWIS 155, Sonia Ryang, TTh 10:50am-12:05pm

This course exposes students to the exercise of writing about Asian food. Students engage in the activity of "converting" multi-sensory experience, i.e. eating food, into writing on the one hand and think about transnational Asian food in the context of globalizing world.



Voicing Dissent: Music and Social Movements

FWIS 159, Tamar Sella, TTh 9:25am-10:40am

Wherever social movements take place, music and musicians are sure to be found. As participants, leaders, and narrators, musicians help propel, sustain, and give voice to various forms of organized dissent. This seminar offers an introduction, through a musical lens, into some of the key popular grassroots social movements that have taken place around the world in the last century. Music serves as a stepping stone to discuss both the broader histories of the movements and the foundational relationships between art and social change. Throughout the semester, we analyze the social histories of global struggles for human rights, liberation, abolition, and decolonization in response to interconnected racial, colonial, and heteropatriarchal systems of power in the modern world. At the same time, we reflect on the ways in which music and sound are central to dissent, whether as protest chants, oral/aural testimonies, or movement anthems.



Image of James Baldwin book cover

Contemporary LGBTQ+ Literary Classics

FWIS 173,Brooke Clark, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

At first glance, the terms “LGBTQ+”—as an underrepresented population shaped by an array of sexes, genders, and sexualities—and “literary classics”—as a set of traditional, timeless, and widely read novels—may not seem to mesh well together. However, novels written by and featuring gay, lesbian, queer, and trans individuals have become more visible along with the increasing public and political presence of the LGBTQ+ community. In this course, we will read American, African American, and Asian American novels from the 1950s to the present day that have had transformative impacts on art, public thought, and political activism. We will learn how to read and write critically about these novels' contents and styles as well as question how artistic portrayals of LGBTQ+ experiences and the idea of the classic can work together to create not only new stories to tell but new ways to tell these stories.

Sounding The City

FWIS 174, Andrew Klein, MWF 11am-11:50am

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 horror poster

Oh My God! Vampires, Ghosts, and Zombies: Examining Horror and Religion in Popular Culture

FWIS 175, DeAnna Daniels, MWF 11:00am-11:50am

How and when is something articulated as horror? In what ways and for whom? Are horror and religion connected? If so, how is it expressed in popular culture? Horror and religion have always been interrelated, even if not critically addressed. Both horror and religion create spaces for people, writers, and artists to ask difficult questions about the who, what, and why of human existence. This class will examine the interconnections of religion and horror as articulated in the literature, film, and music in popular culture. Through an in-depth look at how religion is entangled with horror and simultaneously produced within culture, we will see how they utilize similar languages and how each possesses the narrative potential to transform our lives and culture.

Social Media Icons in stacked blocks

Writing Social Media

FWIS 176, Baird Campbell, MWF 1pm-1:50pm

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.

Writing for social justice

Writing For Social Justice

FWIS 180, Baird Campbell, MWF 3pm-3:50pm

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!

Torchy Brown, African-American graphic novel

African-American Graphic Novel

FWIS 181, David Messmer, TTh 1pm-2:15pm

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.

Understanding Religion and Politics in the U.S.

FWIS 184, Enrique Quezada, TTh 2:30pm-3:45pm

While proponents of secularization theory believed religion would cease to be an important force in society, we see that religion continues to play a role in contemporary American politics. From the rise of the Christian Right in the 80s and 90s, the role of Christian nationalism in the last election cycle, and the growth of religious minority groups, political divisions along religious lines are still present. However, popular discourse often excludes important historical context and fails to think about what aspects of religion matter and why. This course will cover the relationship between church and state; the relationship between an individual’s religion (i.e., their beliefs, their behaviors, and their affiliations) and their politics; as well as the intersection of race, religion, and politics. Students will learn about these topics through readings, group discussion, and writing.



Crossing Borders - Brad Spencer Relief Sculpture

Crossing Borders

FWIS 187, Hubert Rast, MWF 1pm-1:50pm

Humans are in a constant state of transformation and face numerous extrinsic as well as intrinsic barriers over the course of their lives. We learn about crossing real and imaginary borders, about uprooting and losing identity, about the traumatic loss of homeland and self, and the subsequent acquisition of a “foreign” language and culture. We will examine the ways in which we negotiate these borders and barriers in geographically and temporally diverse texts (from Europe to the Americas, from the Berlin Wall to the US/Mexico border). We will read timely texts about the travails of a virus that does not recognize borders to the nervous system of a schizophrenic with its fluid borders. Lastly, we will turn to the struggles of growing up in a rural, masculinist culture and eventually finding a new (queer) identity in an urban setting.

Eng Design & Communication - Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen

Eng Design & Communication

FWIS 188, Deirdre Hunter, Section 1 TTh 9:25am-10:40am / Section 2 TTh 10:50am-12:05pm / Section 3 TTh 1:00pm-2:15 pm

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.

Gender Bending in Popular Culture from the Renaissance to RuPaul

FWIS 190, Evan Choate, MWF 11am-11:50am

In 2019, Merriam-Webster’s word of the year was “they,” fueled by an increasingly mainstream questioning of gender binaries and gender roles. At the same time, the political right has escalated legislative attacks on trans and nonbinary people. These are urgent conversations in the present, but they are not new. “They” has been used as a gender-neutral pronoun for six hundred years, and popular culture has always been fascinated with challenging, subverting, and pushing the limits of traditional notions of gender. This course will read the long history of gender bending—both in expression and identity—in popular culture from crossdressing thieves in Renaissance plays such as Thomas Middleton’s The Roaring Girl to modern hits such as RuPaul’s Drag Race. By attending to ways that gender has been explored and expressed over the centuries, we will reflect on how our own writing can respond to and even shape our world.

Law and its trangression

Law And It's Transgression

FWIS 195, Hubert Rast, Section 1 MWF 9am-9:50am / Section 2 11am-11:50am

Even in democratic societies, the rule of law is a very fragile and frequently threatened “belief” system that is continuously challenged, negotiated and re-negotiated. In this course, we will analyze the fragile state of the rule of law and its transgressions, its relationship to the concepts of rights, justice, guilt and innocence in selected texts as well as films from varying historical and political contexts. We will read literary and historical texts from first successful slave uprising (Haiti) and a discussion of human rights in the aftermath of the French Revolution, to Kafka´s literary musings about the tension between law´s finality as judgment and its always contested grounding. We will pursue the topics of guilt and delayed justice in a larger political context (Germany in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust) as well as the at times precarious concepts of guilt and innocence in contemporary crimes stories.

Image of statue of liberty

Business in the American Imagination

FWIS 196, Scott Pett, MWF 9am-9:50am

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.

Image of climate change demonstration placard

From Climate Change to Climate Justice

FWIS 198, Kelly McKisson, MWF 11am-11:50am

For the so-called “climate generation” the need to take action and address dire outcomes projected by climate science is clear, especially given environmental effects we are already facing. What makes climate change so difficult to act on, however, is that it is not only an environmental problem but also a social, economic, and political one. In this seminar, students will learn about these elements of climate change, ask how environmental issues intersect with ideas of justice, and investigate various appearances, contexts, and critical uses of the term “climate justice.” Varied examples of climate communication will help us to see the climate crisis as a moment for action and will provide us with models of actionable strategies to join in the discussion.


FWIS 100 Course Topics

Review these topic descriptions before choosing your FWIS 100 section