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Course Descriptions

Explore FWIS Course Topics from Pop Music to Sports

Course Schedule


Fall 2020 Courses


Blind Spots

FWIS 102, Luis Duno-Gottberg, TTh 1:30-2:50

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, MWF 4:00-4:55

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. 

Greek Myth in Words

FWIS 105, Hilary Mackie, TTh 3:10-4:30

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.)

Reading Innuendo

FWIS 110, Evan Choate, MWF 11:00-11:55

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.

College Campus Culture

FWIS 111, Amanda Johnson, TTh 4:50-6:10

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.  

Exploring Biological Research

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

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.

Fiction and Empathy

FWIS 120, Burke Nixon, Section 1: MWF 2:45-3:40 / Section 2: MWF 4:00-4:55

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 4:50-6:10

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 4:50-6:10

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 1:30-2:25

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, MW 5:15-6:35

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.

King Arthur in Popular Culture

FWIS 127, Jacob Herrmann, TTh 9:40-11:00

This writing-intensive seminar examines how medieval Arthurian literature has been re-imagined within 19th, 20th, and 21st century contexts.  Beginning with foundational readings from Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, we will examine and discuss how the Arthurian tradition has been translated into various mediums, including the novel, poetry, art, comic books, and film.  In doing so, students will be introduced to the basics of cultural studies and film theory.  This course develops critical reading, writing, and presentation skills with an emphasis in rhetorical flexibility—adapting communication style into various mediums for multiple audiences. Students will produce three formal written papers and two oral presentations.  In addition, students will also write several short (1-2 page) reading response essays and low-stakes presentations that will serve as scaffolding for larger assignments.

Inner Dimensions

FWIS 128, Katerina Belik, TTh 3:10-4:30

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.

The War on Drugs

FWIS 131, William Suarez-Potts, TTh 9:40-11:00

The “War on Drugs” is a rhetorical phrase that we hear repeatedly. President Nixon first articulated it in 1971, and since then government agencies have carried out domestic policies to suppress drug use, which have affected public health, civil liberties, and national security. Outside the U.S., this “war” intertwines with foreign interests. This seminar will focus on the current situation and its recent past in the U.S. and regions of Latin America from where illicit drugs are imported. It will pose a fundamental question: “how did we arrive at this situation”? Students will explore answers to the question by closely examining various genres of text: government statements, congressional laws, court opinions, newspaper accounts, literary prose, and historical scholarship. Through close readings and by tracing policies from a historical perspective, the seminar will show how historical knowledge and textual analysis can contribute to more reasoned debates on public issues.

Pop Music & American Culture

FWIS 137, Andrew Klein, MWF 8:30-9:25

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 2:45-4:05

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.

Literature and Environment

FWIS 141, Jade Hagan, MWF 1:30-2:25

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.

America Through Foreign Eyes

FWIS 147, Julie Fette, MW 2:45-4:05

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.

The Optics of Kinship

FWIS 149, Virginia Thomas, TTh 11:20-12:40

How has photography shaped our idea of family? How does the family photograph inform who we understand as our kin? Which kinships fall outside of the family frame? This course will look at the history of photography as a powerful force in constructing the politics of family in the United States. By looking at photographs from historical archives, photographic artwork, and our own family photography, students will gain an understanding of the ways that photography has shaped not just familial norms, but race, gender, sexuality, and national belonging.  At the same time, we will investigate the various possibilities and limitations of photography as a technology people have harnessed to forge queer, decolonial, and other kinships outside of familial norms. Students will have a chance not only to hone their writing skills, but also to practice their photographic skills, in this course.

The Holocaust in History

FWIS 158, Daniel Cohen, TTh 1:30-2:50

This course will examine the history and historiography of the Holocaust from early accounts to recent reconstructions of the origins, implementation, and aftermath of the “Final Solution.” We will also analyze documents, testimonies, memoirs, trial records, and various forms of representations and commemoration of the Shoah. The “textbook” for this course is Saul Friedländer’s Nazi Germany and the Jews, volumes I-II. A second crucial “text” for the course is Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah and the text of the film published under the same title, which is on the required readings list. Students need to have watched the entire film (some 8.5 hours) and to have read the text by Week 12.  

Ways of Walking

FWIS 164, Andrew Klein, MWF 12:15-1:10

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.

Science Fiction & Shakespeare

FWIS 165, Lindsay Sherrier, MWF 8:30-9:25

William Shakespeare is scattered throughout the science fiction genre, from episodes of Star Trek to the 1956 film Forbidden Planet to Stan Lee’s graphic novels. There is even a translation of Hamlet into Klingon! Compelled by this surprising fascination, this course explores why Shakespeare and his works are so prolific in science fiction. How does science fiction capture and expand Shakespeare’s exploration of what it means to be human? In what ways does science fiction use Shakespeare’s works to address scientific and technological advancements, such as robotics, genetic engineering, and time travel? And, finally, what is it about Shakespeare’s works that make them so adaptable to different time periods and geographical locations (both real and imagined)?

Seeing Surveillance

FWIS 175, Jessica Lauren Bray, TTh 11:20-12:40

This course requires students to 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 a local example in written, oral, and visual assignments.

Ecology & Spirituality

FWIS 180, Timothy Grieve-Carlson, MWF 9:45-10:40

What is a lifeform? What is an environment? How are humans impacting their environment in dangerous and unexpected ways? Taken at face value, these questions appear to be obviously within the domain of the biological and ecological sciences. Upon closer consideration, however, these same questions appear throughout the history of human religious thought: Who am I? Where did I come from? Who are these other beings around me, and what are my ethical responsibilities toward them? This course will teach students to write critically about their world and their place in it, as they read material from religious studies, the ecological and biological sciences, philosophy, and popular culture to better understand the ways in which religious, scientific, and ecological ideas overlap in history and in culture. 

In Pursuit of Beauty

FWIS 182, Darren Medeiros, MWF 9:45-10:40

In the age of Instagram we are bombarded by images of idealized beauty: celebrity bodies that have been surgically and digitally altered.  Regardless of race, gender, and sexuality, we all feel pressured to have flawless skin, a plump derrière, or perfectly chiseled muscles.  Beyond personal beauty, we value the beauty of art, of nature, and of literature.  But what makes each of these disparate things beautiful—are these different types of beauty, or is there something in common between all beautiful things?  And while commercialized norms of beauty may have a negative influence on our lives, what role do other types of beauty have in enriching human life for the better?  In this course, students will engage with texts from a wide span of the history of philosophy, from past to present, in pursuit of an answer to the question: what is beauty and why does it matter? 

Virtual Victorians & Steampunk

FWIS 183, Lindsay Graham, MWF 9:45-10:40

Replete with top hats and tech, pistons and petticoats, Steampunk both revises the past and comments on our contemporary technological moment. But how much have we actually altered our attitudes about the human-machine relationship since the 19th century? Are we virtually Victorians? To answer these questions, we will explore the 19th century techno-scientific imaginary and will consider how those ideas continue to shape our understanding of information, circulation, and artificial intelligence. In addition to surveying Victorian and Steampunk texts, students will virtually engage with the 19th century through a variety of ongoing digital humanities projects. As we work to understand the ethics and complexities of the human-machine hybrid ecology, we will practice the skills of close and distant reading and will strengthen our writing and editing across academic genres. In so doing, we will learn the vocabulary of academic discourse alongside strategies to become critical researchers, readers, and writers.

Baseball and American Identity

FWIS 184, Clint Wilson, MWF 11:00-11:55

Like America itself, baseball has long been the subject of eulogies and postmortems. At a time of renewed policing regarding who or what “counts” as American, baseball provides an opportunity to reflect on not only the game of baseball, but also what baseball teaches us about writing's ability to build community. This FWIS will seek to cultivate its own community through shared readings, discussions, film screenings, and field trips. We will ask how the act of writing—even and perhaps especially "sports writing"—shapes notions of nationhood, gender and sexuality, and critical approaches to race and class. In addition to exploring texts across multiple genres and media forms, students will follow a single professional baseball organization throughout the semester, exploring both its history and its ongoing presence in public discourse. Finally, we will survey debates surrounding new technology, economic models, and performance-enhancing drugs as topics for original, research-based writing.

Caribbean Ecologies

FWIS 186, Ania Kowalik, TTh 9:40-11:00

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 9:40-11:00 / Section 2: TTh 11:20-12:40

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.

Post-Apocalyptic Lit and Film

FWIS 189, Laura Richardson, TTh 3:10PM-4:30PM

Our culture is fascinated with its own destruction. From zombies to nuclear war, ecological disasters, aliens, disease, and killer machines, Armageddon takes many forms. Structured around ways in which we have imagined the world ending, this course charts the cultural consciousness of apocalypse. What’s at stake in envisioning annihilation? We will take a multimedia approach to the end of the world, exploring works as diverse as Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, the Wachowski siblings' The Matrix, and Max Brooks’ World War Z. As a writing intensive course, Post-Apocalyptic Literature and Film will teach you college-level critical writing and reading skills, along with a healthy dose of doomsday phobia.

Art and War

FWIS 195, Jane Celeste, TTh 1:30-2:50

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.

Visualizing Demons

FWIS 198, Layla Seale, MWF 9:45-10:40

This course examines beliefs about demons and devils and analyzes their influence in different visual mediums, such as: medieval manuscripts, Renaissance frescos, nineteenth-century gargoyles, and recent TV programs and films. Key questions this course considers: What is a demon? How does the demon body reflect a specific time period, region, and culture? What is the role of gender, sexuality, race, or class in these representations? In examining the demonic body, students will also unpack how and why certain categories humans are demon-ized. Thus, the relationship between demons and humans in both the medieval and modern imagination will be a core question in this course. Students will learn how to “read” works of art and effectively communicate their ideas through written essays and oral presentations. We will also read, analyze, and compare key texts from the perspectives of feminism, critical race theory, and posthumanism.