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Spring 2020 Courses

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Expository Writing Courses for Spring 2020

American Genius: Modern Identity and the Case of Gertrude Stein

Section 009: MW 1:30-2:45

Instructor: V. Nicholas LoLordo


Over a career path of twenty years, the American writer Gertrude Stein moved from celebrity, to obscurity, to celebrity again.  Along the way, she gained allies among the artistic avant-garde in New York City, the literary luminaries of the Lost Generation in Paris, and, ultimately, the general American public—including that of Oklahoma.  In 1935 a Daily Oklahoman reporter observed that “her accent is like that of your next door neighbor...[she] prides herself on being the most ordinary American, though she is the most extraordinary woman of letters.”

Down-to-earth yet larger-than-life:  the reporter identifies the paradox of what this course proposes to call “American genius", which we'll use to explore contexts such as the impact of Cubism and other modern artistic movements on America, the relationship between democratic artistic publics and cultural elites, and the very idea of literary or artistic greatness. In each unit, Stein’s own voice will play a significant role; equally significant will be our selection of related texts, by figures ranging from Pablo Picasso to Ernest Hemingway.  We will examine the debates that Stein’s work catalyzed through the perspectives —to name a few!—of American literature, art history, gender & women’s studies, professional writing, and public relations/journalism.  Finally, this course will challenge students to self-consciously explore the relation between creative inspiration and the “professional” rules of expository prose. Who gets to break those rules?


American Writers in Paris

Section 007: TR 1:30-2:45

Instructor: Timothy Bradford

Paris, The City of Light, has long attracted crowds of American writers and artists hungry for artistic freedom, inspiration, and camaraderie, as well as cheap food and lodging. This course will examine specific push and pull factors related to individual writers and artists, their experiences with the bourgeois and bohemian poles of the city, and the influence of its society and culture on their work. George Catlin, Mark Twain, Isadora Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Sidney Bechet, Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Sylvia Beach, Man Ray, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, and Dorothea Tanning are some of the figures we will encounter, and primary and secondary sources, including art monographs, maps, and films, will be used to explore the terrain while developing critical reading, thinking, researching, and writing skills.



Deconstructing Gender

Section 015: MW 3:00-4:15

Instructor: Eric Bosse

How does gender intersect with race, class, ability, sexuality, education, and other axes of identity? How does society define, interpret, and regulate gender? What are the impacts of gender-exclusive fraternities and sororities on college life?

Gender confers privilege and power on some and subjects others to oppression. This course explores gender roles, feminism, privilege, oppression, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, misogyny, and the complexities of “allyship” across intersectional identities. 

From Spirituals to Hip-Hop

Section 004:  TR 9:10:!5

Instructor: Timothy Bradford

African Americans have created some of the richest, most vibrant musical genres in the world as evinced by spirituals, gospel, work songs, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, and hip-hop. How did a relatively small group of people, who started in such difficult circumstances, survive, innovate, and even thrive in a country that was, and in ways remains, indifferent if not openly hostile? And what can we learn about African American and American history and culture by examining these music forms? With these questions in mind, we will explore this music and related literature from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century with an emphasis on their roles in survival, innovation, identity, pride, and leadership. Amiri Baraka’s Blues People, Kevin Young’s The Grey Album, selections from The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, a Spotify playlist, and various documentaries will serve as the main texts for the course and as inspiration for asking great questions that we will attempt to answer while developing critical reading, thinking, researching, and writing skills.

Migration and the World

Section 005:  TR 12-1:15 PM

Instructor: Al Harahap

What does it mean to move from place to place or community to community? Do we distinguish between "moving" and "migrating"? How so? How do the concepts of nation-states and borders complicate the idea of moving around in our world? What are the reasons people purposefully choose to migrate? What are the reasons people do so because they are forced to? In this course, we will begin by first trying to define the ideas of migration, emigration, immigration as it has occured throughout different geographical regions and time periods. We will then look at how language in pop culture and mass/online media portrays migration, the causes, the effects it has on those who move and the areas to which they move, and the interplay between various socio-economic and sociopolitical current events happening both at locations of origin and destinations that impact this human flow around the world. The final project of the course will ask students to focus on a specific issue within the larger umbrella of migration to assess, analyze, and argue.

Texts: Anderson's Imagined Communities, Robinson's Introducing Political Philosophy, Sardar's Introducing Foucault, online articles, and documentaries, movies, novels to be determined by class.

Music, Sound & Noise

Section 012: MWF 12:30-1:20 (Honors)

Instructor: Robert Scafe

This course examines political and social struggles over music and the sonic environment. Students will be asked to tune into the music, sounds, and noises of their daily lives, and to write about how their experience is shaped by the “soundscape” in ways that often go unnoticed. Assisting us in this effort will be the anthropologists, historians, and sociologists who have written about music from its folk origins through classical and contemporary “pop” and “alternative” genres. Why do people identify so strongly with their musical tastes—and react so strongly to music they dislike? How has music informed social movements and regimes of oppression? Who owns the soundscape, and how should we negotiate disputes over public “noise”? 

Politics of Everyday Life

Section 003: TR 10:30-11:45

Instructor: Al Harahap

What is "politics"? Is it just limited to issues that politicians and the media speak about once every two or four election years? Why do we create moments where and when we deem politics as appropriate or inappropriate? Can we just turn it on and off? How do we integrate it beyond civic duty into different situations such in our personal and professional lives in meaningful ways? In this course, we will begin by first trying to define what "politics" is from the ways it has been defined and practiced differently throughout different geographical regions/cultures and time periods. We will then look at how language in pop culture and mass/online media covering this year's political campaigns conveys the political that in some cases may be overt and in others may be more subtle for audiences to uncover. The final project of the course will ask students to choose a specific political issue situated in their major or profession to analyze, assess, and argue.

Texts: De Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, Robinson's Introducing Political Philosophy, Sardar's Introducing Foucault, online articles, and documentaries, movies, novels to be determined by class.

Truth to Power

Section 014: MW 1:30-2:45

Instructor: Eric Bosse

This course focuses on the work and writings of past and contemporary civil rights leaders and social justice activists. In particular, students will explore issues related to human rights, overlapping social identities and systems of oppression (intersectionality), the deconstruction of "toxic masculinity," the roles of allies in social movements, and the implications of protest and dissent for those involved. Through a sequence of short and longer writing assignments, students will be challenged to move beyond their initial thoughts toward more fully developed arguments, and to examine what it means to take a stance, no matter how controversial it may be.

Roots of Performance Poetry

Section 010:  MW 3:00-4:15 PM

Instructor:  V. Nicholas LoLordo

In “The Roots of Performance Poetry” we’ll move from classical bards to beat poets, from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe to the Instagram poets of today, from orality to print and back again.

Considering the relationships between page and stage, speech and music, poem and oratory, and tracing a history of poetry’s connection to the human voice and body, we’ll explore the past to inform our thinking about how and why poetry matters now.

Violence & the Sacred

Section 013:  MWF 9:30-10:20  

Instructor: Robert Scafe

Beginning with Biblical human sacrifice and extending to the contemporary phenomenon of suicide bombing, this course examines how human communities have used symbolic violence to forge a common identity and to establish boundaries between themselves and others.  Why do cultures create "scapegoats" in times of crisis?  Why do religions of peace produce prophets of terror?  Why do secular states cloak their wars in sacred language?  We will address these questions by reading first-hand accounts and literary interpretations of violent episodes such as the medieval crusades, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and Jihadist terrorism.

Course texts include Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the legend of Romulus and Remus in Livy’s History of Rome, the accounts of Cain & Abel and Abraham & Isaac from the Book of Genesis, and films such as Hotel Rwanda and Apocalypse Now.

What is Work?

Section 001: TR 1:30-2:45

Instructor: Catherine Mintler


You know what work is—if you’re old enough to read this

you know what work is, although you may not do it.

—Phillip Levine, “What Work Is”


When you were younger, how did you answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Were your aspirations tied to vocation, education, career, title, skill, salary, or social class? Was your decision based upon the mental or physical labor that different kinds of work involve?

In this course we will explore the interconnectedness of work, value, and identity. Why, for example, do we ask people what they do when we mean: “How much money do you make?” Why do we try to avoid doing work, yet find the activity of working satisfying? Why do we privilege certain work for ourselves, yet take for granted or undervalue the work that others undertake that we find beneath us, dangerous, or exploitative? Why are the most difficult, dirty, or dangerous jobs so poorly paid? What is work anyway?

Philip Levine, an American working class poet and 2011 US Poet Laureate who died in 2015, starts to answer the question asked in our course title in his poem “What Work Is.” Beginning with Levine, your reading, thinking, research and writing—your work in this class—will enter into conversations about the Language of Work, Gender and Work, the Alienated and Exploited Labor of Work, and the Future of Work. We will examine some controversial contemporary work issues like “right to work” vs. unions, workaholism, DWYL, increasing the minimum wage, white-blue-pink collar work, the plight of the low-wage working poor, invisible labor, Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement, the wage gap, the glass ceiling vs. the glass escalator, slavery (past + present), universal basic income, and discrimination in the workplace.

Wolves of Wall Street

Section 002 TR 3:00-4:15

Instructor: Catherine Mintler

In this course, we will examine Wall Street historically and as a construction of the American cultural imagination tied to the American Dream and American class identity. Our exploration will include several historical and fictional “wolf” figures that have represented, influenced, and continued to haunt our understanding of Wall Street not only as a place but also as an institution of capitalism: fictional wolves like The Great Gatsby’s Meyer Wolfsheim and Jay Gatsby, Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko, and American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman; and historical wolves like Charles Ponzi, Bernie Madoff, and the self-named “wolf of Wall Street,” Jordan Belfort.

Historically seismic financial events, like the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the 1921 burning of Black Wall Street, and the 2008 crash and recession will provide stopping points on our historical timeline. Of course, Wall Street has also inspired economic critiques and inspired social and economic progress.  Along this path of inquiry, we will research, analyze, and write about Wall Street as a symbol of and trigger for protest movements found in fictional stories like “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street “—arguably the first occupation of Wall Street—which inspired, in reverse, the ethos of the Occupy Movement.