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Expository Writing Courses for Spring and Summer 2016

Alcohol In America

Section 008: MWF 1:30-2:20

Instructor: David Long

Ambivalence toward the consumption of alcoholic beverages has always been a defining tension in American social and cultural life. Alcohol's popularity as a recreational drug that enhances sociability has co-existed with concerns about alcohol as a threat to health, morality, and productivity. Course topics will include the various rites of social drinking; drinking as a source of class, gender, and racial stereotypes; nationwide efforts to curb or ban alcohol consumption, such as the 19th-century temperance movement, Prohibition of the 1920s, and AA, MADD, and modern rehab clinics; the commercialization of alcoholic beverages; and the physiological and psychological effects of alcohol consumption.

(De)Constructing Gender

Section 006: MW 1:30-2:45

Section 005: MW 3:00-4:15

Instructor: Eric Bosse

How does gender shape our lives? And how does gender intersect with race, class, ability, sexuality, religion, and other axes of identity? How does society define, interpret, manipulate, and regulate gender? How do we respond to those who do not conform to our culture’s traditional gender binary? Gender confers privilege and power on some and subjects others to subtle and not-so-subtle acts of oppression. This interdisciplinary course explores debates surrounding traditional gender roles, feminism, privilege, homophobia, sexism, misogyny, and intersectionality, through texts drawn from women’s studies, men’s studies, LGBT studies, psychology, neuroscience, journalism, legislation, public policy, literature, and popular culture.

Modern Monsters

Section 011: MWF 10:30-11:20

Instructor: David Long

Our world and our minds have always been populated by monsters.  Not only do they both horrify and fascinate us, but monsters may be said to shape and express the lives we lead—socially, politically, and psychologically.  From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to Nazi death camps to 70s horror films and beyond, this course will investigate the birth and career of the modern monster in the Western world.  What is a monster?  In what ways are the monsters of a scientific, technological age different than their ancestors?  What do those differences reveal about the times in which we live?  How does our sense of what’s monstrous change as we move from fictional narrative and to actual history?  Why are monsters indispensable to our culture?  And why, no matter how fast we run or how carefully we bolt the door, can we never really escape them? 

Myth and Hero

Section 002: MWF 2:30-3:20

Instructor: Liz Locke

After discussing some of the ways in which scholars define and think about the word “myth,” we meet two classical heroes, Theseus and Luke Skywalker, leading us to discover the iconic American Cowboy Hero. We then explore the significance of comic book superheroes (especially Superman, Black Panther, and Hancock) in our popular, moral, and political cultures: How do “truth, justice, and the American Way” figure in our current narratives about American identity, power, law, vigilantism, masculinity, heroism, and race? Finally, we look at representations of women superheroes, still asking: How do both our new and traditional hero myths mold our thinking about power, leadership, individual autonomy, community, suffering, justice, violence, and virtue? How do they influence our behaviors and attitudes about gender, ethnicity, class, citizenship, conflict, and peace? In addition to regular class attendance, we’ll be viewing five films: Shane (1953), The Black Panther (2008),      Hancock (2008), Wonder Women! (2012), and Miss Representation (2012).

Paris through the Ages

Section 015: TR 12:00-1:15

Section 014: TR 1:30-2:45

Instructor: Sam Temple

In this course, students will explore the back alleys and boulevards of Paris, one of the world’s great capital cities. Best known as a tourist destination today, Paris played a key role in the forging of the modern era. Medieval kingship and absolutism met its end on the Place de la Concorde, just as modern mass democracy was taking its first steps at the gates of the Bastille. The origins of modern terrorism can be glimpsed in the rubble of cafés and concert halls blown up by anarchist bombs. It suffered the pains of foreign occupation and became a city of both resistance and collaboration, its trains helping deport thousands of French men, women and children to German death camps. But Paris also gave us some of the finer things in life—cuisine, fashion, and cabarets to name a few.  Through a selection of historical and contemporary sources, students will create their own “spatial histories” of this fascinating city, culminating with a collective digital “map” of Paris that highlights each student’s particular interest. 

Poets 2 Rockstars: The Creative Artist from Fame to Celebrity


Instructor: Nick LoLordo

Why do so many famous artists have famously difficult lives? Why do we hunger for every possible detail about those lives? And does our obsession help us understand their art?  Beginning with the Romantic poet Lord Byron (who was called "mad, bad, and dangerous to know"--by his own lover!), and ending with Tupac Shakur (who remains famous enough to need no further advertisement), we will explore these and related questions, seeking to better understand the co-dependent relationship between art and fame that characterizes modern cultural life.


Seeing Is Believing: Privileging Vision and Visual Culture

Section 003: MW 1:30-2:45

Instructor: Catherine Mintler

The expression “I see” commonly conveys knowing, yet overshadows the empirical knowledge gained from touch, hearing, and smell. What is the relationship between what we see and what we know? Beginning in the 17th century, the invention of optical devices like eyeglasses, prisms, microscopes, and telescopes aided the naked eye in observing existing, hidden, miniscule, and distant worlds: the printed page, the spectrum, one-celled organisms, and galaxies. Subsequent advances in visual technology like cameras, mirrors, optical illusions created by trompe l’oeil in painting, the dreamscapes of surrealism, and the precursors of moving pictures, introduced new ways of seeing, looking, and observing but also harnessed and managed human vision not only in terms of what, but also in terms of how, the eye could see.

Our course will begin by examining the exhibits and resources in Galileo’s World as we learn and write about optical devices that removed the limitations of sight and empowered visual knowing. We will then turn our attention, and our pens, to some of the critiques that responded to the dominance and power of privileging vision and to the overreliance on sight-dependent knowledge: Michel Foucault’s theory of Panopticonism, the disciplinary surveillance of subjects who cannot see the observer, and Guy Debord’s idea of the spectacle, images that distract and harness vision as a way to control human behavior in, for example, consumer culture. We will end by questioning worlds that we can see and even inhabit, such as the Internet and virtual reality games, where what is observably on display is in reality generated by hidden circuitry and code that circulates inside machines and in cyberspace, which brings us full circle to the microscope and telescope—as metaphor. In light of these investigations into the history of science, philosophy, literature, and visual culture, students will work out their own answers to the following questions: How does visual culture facilitate our knowledge of self, others, and the empirical word? When is visual technology emancipatory and when does it tether us to objects or behaviors, or prevent us from actually seeing? How does dominant visual culture affect our identity, subjectivity, and agency? Can we trust what we see? What is the relationship between seeing and believing?    

Violence and the Sacred

SPRING 2016 TRADITIONAL COURSE (Section 012) MW 3:00-4:15


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 The 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.

Women in the Muslim World

Section 016: TR 10:30-11:45

Instructor: Nyla Ali Khan

This course will examine and interrogate cultural formations of gender, with a particular focus on the experiences of Muslim women throughout the world. A broad range of Muslim women, some who identify as feminist, others who do not, consider Islam crucial to their gendered identity. There are also feminist women who were born Muslim, some of whom continue to practice Islam, others who do not, who consider Islam as oppressing their gendered identity. Whatever their positions, it is crucial that these women discuss their relationships, as women, to Islam. In this current historical and cultural moment, critics and proponents of Islam often speak on behalf of Muslim women, while Muslim women remain silent. In this class, we will read Muslim women writing, in their own words, about their religious practices, their feminist practices, and how these practices affect their lives and perspectives. 

Building Arguments

Section 007: TR 9:00-10:15

Instructor: Jennifer Shaiman

This class will focus on the spaces around us as individually meaningful, socially constructed, and historically situated. We’ll make arguments for the relative merits of different embodiments of a type of space. We’ll investigate the history of the campus spaces most immediate to us and interrogate their current usefulness to life as we now live it. Finally, we’ll seek to share what these places mean to us as individuals who travel through them every day. While our focus will remain on the built environment, we’ll complicate our viewpoints with works from a variety of fields, including marketing, sociology, history, geography, and architecture.  

“Keepin’ It Real”:  Poetry and the Language of Authenticity

Section 017: MW 1:30-2:45

Section 019: MW 3:00-4:15

Instructor: Nick LoLordo

“I have chosen subjects from common life, and endeavoured to bring my language near to the real language of men.” Here the Romantic poet William Wordsworth describes his artistic project in terms that would prove immensely influential in shaping literary values we hold today. Now, move forward two hundred years. “What is keeping it real? That term is so lost. It's a forgotten term. You know what keeping it real is?” asks the rapper Ja Rule.

These two quotations bookend a long history, from which this course will examine a series of episodes. We will focus on the ideas that authentic language is something valuable and that it can be found by looking hard into one’s self. Debates about these beliefs, in the 19th and 20th centuries, invariably approach paradox. On the one hand, the expressive power of “real” language is linked to personal authenticity; on the other, this power is understood not as something natural, but as something one struggles to achieve. The first of these arguments joins language to “life”; the second joins it to “art”—and the way that poetry moves mysteriously between these two categories will be our subject.

In this seminar, we will look at poems, lyrics and other texts that exemplify the problem of authentic language; we will also sometimes adopt analytical and philosophical perspectives on these texts, using the lenses of race, class, gender and national identity.  Our writing in the course, from short responses to full-scale academic essays, will engage with the various, ongoing conversations that revolve around the topic of authenticity and art.  Possible texts include: Wordsworthʼs Lyrical Ballads and Romantic literary journalism, poetry in various English-language dialects, Hélène Cixousʼ idea of écriture feminine (womenʼs writing), translations of the Japanese Hiroshima survivor “Yasusada,” slam poetry, and “gangsta” rap.