Spring 2019 UW1020 Courses

For class meeting times and room assignments, please see the Schedule of Classes.

Hybrid courses blend face-to-face classroom instruction with online learning to improve learning outcomes. Hybrid courses thus move a significant amount of course work to an online environment.

Service-learning courses address a community need through direct or indirect service and community-based research.

Course Offerings

Course Descriptions

Writing with Sophistication about Elementary Mathematics

Abrams, Lowell

Elementary mathematics can be deceiving. We learn it as young children, and are often left with the impression that it is a conceptually shallow collection of mindless procedures. That impression is very unfortunate, as elementary mathematics actually contains the foundations for deeper notions related to concepts such as operation, process, categorization, relationship, and abstraction which have life-long significance, and are of particular relevance to writing itself. In this course we will take a close look at elementary mathematics and writings about it in order to get a closer and more sophisticated view of this critical part of everyone's education. By developing a research project on elementary mathematics through the lense of philosophy, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, pedagogy, or even mathematics itself, students will hone their skills in critical thinking and effective written communication while developing a new and rich perspective on what they already know.

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#AmWriting: Researching, Authoring, and Audience in the Age of New Media

Azar, Tawnya
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

From the way we consume our daily news and learn the best method for applying eye shadow to the way we fund a campaign or publish a book, New Media not only shapes our experience of modern life, but also our roles as producers and consumers of ideas. The digital technology boom has changed our access to information in a move that some say is turning us into screen zombies and others say is responsible for some of the greatest accomplishments in human history. But how exactly has New Media changed us---students, teachers, and administrators---and what we do as producers, consumers, gatekeepers, and curators of information and ideas? The widespread impact of New Media in our everyday lives prompts us to consider critically how technology has changed and is changing the academy. Does technology succeed in breaking down the perception/reality of an "ivory tower"? What happens to academic freedom and research when professors become microcelebrities? How has New Media changed the perception of professors as traditionally producers of knowledge and students as traditionally consumers? And how can we develop and navigate a working ethics for New Media research? 
We will begin by contemplating what New Media means, its history in the larger narrative of 20th and 21st century communication, and its relationship to writing strategies and conventions. We will also begin by probing some of the ethical implications of New Media, such as issues of copyright, capital, and privacy. Throughout the course, we will write about New Media and for New Media, utilizing a variety of digital platforms to explore digital writing conventions, community guidelines for a digital audience, and the impact of digital knowledge production and consumption on the modern research process. We will then reflect on and evaluate our New Media productions and conclude the course with a research project in partnership with the Wikipedia Education Foundation.

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Writing Science and Health:  Women's Health as Point of Inquiry

Barlow, Jameta

The space that resides between STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and society is a precarious one. STEM thirsts for knowledge to expand and build while the public desires STEM for its application, utility and effect. The latter is most often discussed in public spheres. Yet, this co-dependent relationship has the potential to ignite innovation, question moral ethic and inherently prompt moments of resistance. This course will operate in this precarious space and interrogate its very nature, with specific focus on science and health and using women's health as a case study.
We begin the course practicing self-reflexivity and exploring the role of privilege and standpoint in the development of philosophies of science. We engage in critical perspectives and decolonizing methodologies to interrogate traditional approaches in science and health.We end the course with a focused application of these approaches and concepts. This writing intensive is an interdisciplinary study of women’s health from a holistic perspective that builds on socioeconomic, political and biological aspects of women’s health. It explores the relationships between health and gender under political, biological, economic, spiritual, cultural and/or socially constructed influences. Students will engage in a comprehensive overview of health literature in public health, feminist and cultural studies, psychology, sociology, anthropology, medicine, and popular literature and social media. Students will use lectures, class discussions, readings, popular culture analyses, journaling, peer-reviewed group work, and in-class activities to explore writing on and about science and health.

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(De)Constructing the Non-Human

Bieda, Casey

With the vast proliferation and popularity of science fiction in video games, comic books, and popular literature at large, the actor of the “non-human” (or “other”) has cycled through a vast number of representations. These representations have long been the subjects of theological, political,  philosophical, sociological, and scientific debate. These debates have raised larger issues of “humanity”, creationist responsibility, animate/inanimate “life”, “animacy” hierarchy, anthropomorphism, and technological supremacy.  What is “human”? In this age of technology and exploration, how do we define ideas of “human”, “post-human”, and “non-human”? What happens when those definitions touch, blend, or oppose one another? What narratives do they create? Who gets to tell those narratives, and why are those narratives important in how we engage with our contemporary culture?

In this course, we will investigate points in literature, film, graphic narratives, and other media forms where the familiar and unfamiliar touch and analyze how humans both react and interact with these non-human entities. Through these points of contact we will grapple with larger discussions of scientific advancement, animal rights, and how the world expands (or contracts) when we consider life beyond the purely “human”. We will investigate, challenge, and report on several sources of interest ranging from Medieval poetry, to 1950’s science fiction, to contemporary podcasts and graphic narratives  through several concentrated writing assignments and classroom discussion. We will also write a final intensive research paper focused on one subject from/or based on our classroom material.

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Speaking of Animals:Thoughts on Human and Animal Nature

Botts, Eric
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; classroom and online instruction.

Over the past century, many psychologists and linguists have tried to teach forms of human language to great apes. Whether they have succeeded has been a question of intense controversy. The arguments that grew out of these studies turned into a bitter war of words less about science than about humanity’s place in the world. The underlying anxiety was this: If language is not uniquely human—nor the use of tools, nor the capacities for compassion, morality, and self-recognition—then what unique role can humanity possibly serve in a worldview that presumes human uniqueness?
This course takes a different tack: Rather than presuming humans to be either masters or stewards of the natural world, and rather than presuming that we are unique among other animals, we ask a variety of questions to help define what role we want to play in that world. These questions will be rooted in a wide range of fields: science, philosophy, psychology, engineering, art, business, agriculture—it all depends on how we, as a class, choose to direct our thinking. In other words, this is an interdisciplinary course, meaning that you will get to explore ideas within your major, but you will also be expected to engage ideas in other fields.
We’ll read works by classic and contemporary authors like Charles Darwin, Elena Passarello, Jeremy Bentham, Temple Grandin, David Hume, Annie Dillard, and Virginia Woolf. We’ll explore topics of diet and conservation, as well as less obviously related topics, like slavery, urban planning, gender equality, and musical taste. And we’ll even look at topics that, at first, might seem totally unrelated, like the gullibility of modern media audiences. And in the process, we’ll develop your skills in writing, reading, critical thinking, research, collaboration, and technology.
To test those skills, you will produce three essays: an opinion piece, a personal essay, and a feature article; each of these should be written in a voice and style appropriate for a popular magazine or newspaper. To prepare for these projects, you will write weekly blog posts, which I encourage you to incorporate into your larger projects as appropriate. This is a highly collaborative class, so you will workshop each other’s writing in small groups to help with revision, and you will decide, as a class, on a final collaborative project. This could be a magazine, a podcast, an organized event—anything that can be accomplished within a semester that will exercise and demonstrate the skills that this course is designed to teach.
Yes, this class will be tough. We’ll read and think and read and write and rewrite and think harder and… you get the idea. But it will also be fun. You’ll experience new ideas, probably make new friends, get super-nerdy about your research, and that final project, whatever it is, you’ll love it!

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An Empirical Approach: Writing in the Social Sciences

Fletcher, Wade
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Media portrayals of social science research, such as a Time Magazine report on “how laughter can boost one’s attractiveness,” often result in sensational claims made in limited contexts, which some scholars say devalues the important work being done in fields such as sociology, psychology, and education. How is social science research relevant to our daily lives? What ethical implications accompany such research? How do disciplinary conventions function in social science disciplines, and how do these differ from those with which we are more accustomed?

In this course, we will seek to better understand how knowledge is constructed in the social sciences, explore how this knowledge is communicated rhetorically, and consider how tenets of social science research and writing can inform our own work in other areas and disciplines. Assignments will include three papers of increasing length—a genre analysis, a rhetorical analysis, and an argumentative research paper on a current issue in a social science discipline—as well as short projects, a poster presentation, and contributions to an online class discussion forum.

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Reading Without Words: The Image as Text

Fletcher, Wade
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Are images texts? Can images be “read?” What does it mean to “read” an image?
As individuals, we are confronted with, interpret, process, and ignore a multitude of images every day. Via these images, visual narratives and arguments manifest across many spectrums, from business, advertising, and politics, to popular culture, art, and fashion, with each image vying for our attentions. In this course, we’ll intersect with the study of visual culture and visual rhetoric, considering the role images play in our culture(s), while exploring what it means to examine something as an "image" and investigating how visual narratives and arguments are formed, composed, and realized. To this end, we’ll also examine images alongside written texts, exploring the parallels between the two forms.
Our subject matter will include two graphic novels, visual art (specifically the collections at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum), and iconic and cultural images, the latter of which will potentially comprise photographs, advertising, branding and marketing, iconic images, and much more. Assignments will include three essays of increasing length, each focusing on a particular image (or set of images)–a blog critique, an analysis of a visual argument, and an argumentative research essay–as well as short visual projects and contributions to an online class discussion forum.

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Legacies of the Holocaust

Gamber, Cayo
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Every UW1020 course requires ‘finished’ writing, developed in a rigorous composition process often consisting of pre-draft preparation, drafts, and revisions based on instructor’s advice and classmates’ comments. In this course, the series of tasks you will perform – including  writing a research paper that integrates both primary and secondary sources – are designed both to help you become familiar with an array of research efforts as well as familiar with writing an authoritative study of your chosen topic. In this course, we analyze primary documents from the Shoah – photographs and oral histories, in particular.  I ask that we engage with these materials because such research encourages us to value the research findings of others; to acquire research skills; to recognize the ways in which primary materials are central to both the research process and the conclusions one draws; and, perhaps most importantly, to realize our analysis allows us to make meaningful additions to the academic conversation about a given topic.  The range of research topics is wide, from the role art played in the Holocaust to the workings of a particular concentration camp; or from the role liberators played (or failed to play) to what is known about the "bearers of secrets," the Sonderkommando, who were eyewitnesses to the Final Solution.  While we may not be able to make amends for the Holocaust, I believe that through the careful study of the lives of those who perished and the words of those who survived, we become witnesses for the eyewitnesses, witnesses who are willing to be bearers of the stories and history of the Shoah.

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Environmental Advocacy

Greenberg, Adam
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

In this course students will consider the environment through their own active engagement with local spaces and communities. Is there a fundamental difference between natural landscapes and curated landscapes? How do notions of the environment, or what is natural, inflect our views of ourselves and others? Are individuals separable from their environments and contexts? As we explore and grapple with notions of natural and artificial environments, students will make visits to public spaces in Washington DC (e.g. gardens, parks, squares). Students will also conduct research on rhetorical “ecologies” (groups, forums, structures, technologies, architectures, etc.) in local communities while considering how these circumscribe and intersect with environmental ecologies in question.
Over the course of the semester, students will have the opportunity to write many kinds of texts. From proposing an architectural re-design of a local public space to writing “public” documents that respond directly to other local texts (emails, flyers, blueprints, speeches), students will learn to read environments rhetorically as texts and to read all texts as emerging from a field of possibilities and contexts. Students will engage local communities and locate public documents as jumping off points for their own advocacy. In this class, nothing will be assumed to be “natural” or conversely “unnatural,” and the boundaries between natural and artificial environments—like the boundaries between writer and audience, between individual and community—will not be taken as given.

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Existentialism and the Rhetoric of Authenticity

Gretes, Andrew

Few philosophical movements have sparked the popular imagination as vividly as existentialism. But what precisely was (is?) existentialism? Was it merely what we call “emo” in embryo, or was there something of more substance underneath all those black turtlenecks and ennui bumper stickers? In this course, we’ll trace the origins of 20th century existentialism and attempt to answer this question by exploring such concepts as despair, angst, authenticity, freedom, and mass-man (aka “sheeple”). In particular, we’ll take a close look at the language which existentialists deploy in order to persuade and “seduce” their readers to re-conceptualize their possibilities and thus, in turn, their responsibilities. We’ll also analyze the various rhetorical stages which existentialists choose to audition their ideas—be they novels, aphorisms, parables, or analytic essays—and how such genres entail specific appeals and strategies.

Throughout the semester, students will engage in a variety of writing projects, from a rhetorical analysis to a research-based essay on the legacy and influence existentialism has held on the popular culture of contemporary America.

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TV Culture: America in the 1960s

Herer, Lisbeth
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

Television has been called many names: some good, many bad. Perhaps when you watch television, if you do, you feel you are tuning out and not tuning in. Maybe like Groucho Marx, you feel you should read a book instead? Fair enough, but TV’s broad reach – by 1960, one television in 9 out of 10 households; today 120 million households – is undeniable. TV shows as cultural artefacts allow us to plumb the depths of a given historical moment to illuminate the desires and anxieties of the culture from which it emanates. This course will look at American culture and history of the 1960’s through the lens of iconic and lesser-known 60’s sitcoms and use these sitcoms as points of departure to explore such issues as class, gender, race, agrarian-technology dichotomy, the space race, and Cold War tensions. Through rhetorical analyses, we will explore how these issues, which reflect political, social, and cultural struggles, were cast and (re)constructed as we move through time, attempting to unpack the ways in which TV supports and undermines normative values. The course will offer students an opportunity to develop their academic writing and research skills. Assignments will include an annotated bibliography, a short sitcom critique, a character study, and a research paper. 

Communicating Climate Change

Jacoby, Lindsay
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

The past three years have seen incredible changes in the debate about climate change, from a renewed surge in climate denial at the highest levels, devastation by climate-intensified disasters in many states and countries, children marching in the streets demanding climate action, and young representatives in Congress demanding a “Green New Deal.” What kinds of communication about climate change’s causes, effects, and solutions can alter people’s attitudes and behaviors toward the climate? In this course, we will examine how scientific information is used in climate change debates and discuss the role that scientists have played in sharing ideas with the public and countering climate denial. We will also delve into the dynamics of environmental racism, the powerful rhetoric of the climate justice movement, and the role of morality in arguments about climate change. You will develop a deeper understanding of effective climate change communication by analyzing films, scientific writing, journalism, social media, and other popular texts of your choosing. And, you will get to explore effective responses to climate change by assessing your own carbon footprint and taking a personal or political action in response to this environmental crisis. Assignments include an analysis of scientific communication, a research-driven project, and an action proposal. This course is a fully hybrid course that meets online for the Friday studio.

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The Sonnet, the Text, & the Tweet

Keller, Katherine
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

We have become accustomed to expressing our thoughts and feelings in a limited number of “characters,” in increasingly confined spaces.  Our phones draw a box for us and require us to abbreviate inventively if our message is to get to its recipient. In much the same way, many years ago, my editor taught me to write magazine fashion copy by drawing a box on typing paper and requiring that all the words I typed fit inside it.  These are practical messages: “r u ok,” “a shiny belt marks a high waist.” But what if we want to say more than that?  Can we still do it and stay “inside the box”?
One group of writers has always written “inside the box” while simultaneously conveying meaning far beyond the apparent.  Poets have set themselves limits: the number of lines, the pattern of rhyming, the number of syllables, the interaction of words and sounds.  Within those limits they can and do say anything about anything in ways that are often unforgettable.  In the European lexicon, one of the most durable poetic “boxes,” and one of the smallest, is the sonnet.
Most of us know Shakespeare’s sonnets and perhaps those of the 19th Century English poets.  Do we know that the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty is a sonnet?  On June 20, 2018, the New York Times reviewed a book of sonnets by Terrance Hayes, calling it: “among the first fully fledged works to reckon with the presidency of Donald Trump.”  Politics aside, the remarkable point about the book is that Hayes is using a form invented in a royal court in 12th Century Sicily to address a 21st Century reality.  We will explore how and why the sonnet has retained its relevance over those 10 centuries, why this “box” has been used to hold a variety of messages, and why it has retained its extraordinary power.  
Using the sonnet and its history as our subject, we will also look at the “boxes” that students will have to master in their time in college and beyond.  How can we most effectively write within the “box” of the ten page essay, the research proposal and research report, the analysis, the abstract, the introductory essay. 

Africa and the African Diaspora

Kristensen, Randi
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Black Panther. Black Panthers. Black Lives Matter. Slavery. Colonialism. Modernity. Afro-futurism. Afro-pessimism. These and many more signifiers of Black life in the 21st century are widely circulated, and their meanings and significance are widely debated. In particular, the relationships between African, Caribbean, African-American, and Black European peoples are complex and ever-evolving. In this course, we will bring our critical reading, thinking, and writing skills to bear on these relationships and signifiers of contemporary Black life.
Africa itself occupies a special place in the Western imagination, so part of this work will involve a critical examination of Western notions of "Africa." Another part of the work will be reading and viewing contemporary representations of the cultures of people of African descent in the Americas and Europe. We will also question the implications of doing research within and across cultures; for example, what is the significance of our research and writing for those about whom we research and write? What are the effects of our choices of language and form? 
As readers, writers, and thinkers, we will develop our skills in recognizing and articulating that complexity, and will produce original and effective writing that reflects our close attention to class texts and contexts. Major assignments include an autoethnography, a Wikipedia entry, and a carefully researched, documented, and argued research paper on a writer-selected topic that increases our understanding of contemporary Black life. At the end of the semester, we will showcase our work for each other and the wider community.

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Media Fandom: Geeks, Fanboys, and Stalker Chicks

Larsen, Katherine
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Lonely Trekkies in Vulcan ears, hysterical Twilight fans weeping at the sight of Robert Pattinson, basement dwellers, pale in the glow of a computer screen. These are our stereotypes of media fans. They make us laugh, they make us nervous, they are objects of derision, but who are they really?

A better question might be who we are – since we are all fans of something – and how do we consume culture. How do we talk back to it, reshape it, pull it to pieces and then put it back together? The answers to these questions have the potential to offer insight into what we value (or devalue) as a culture and why. What captures our imaginations? Why do we love Sherlock or Doctor Who or Mass Attack or One Direction? Why do others look down on us for loving them? If we all consume so much media why do we have such a problem with fans?

This writing and research intensive course will begin with an examination of the current research on fans and fan communities. We will then look closely at fan practices in online fan communities and analyze a range of fan generated media, especially fan fiction. Student research will involve close examination of an online fan community.

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Conspiracies, Secrets, and Lies

Luman, Douglas
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

An alarming number of Americans buy in to conspiracy theories. And, these alternate realities are not merely the preoccupations of people with nothing better to do. Belief in conspiracy theories cuts against traditional markers of identity; no one group has a monopoly on the kinds of thinking that develop a conspiratorial mind.

But, conspiracy and misleading propaganda are not contemporary inventions. From an age of rampant forgery in the 18th century to more contemporary hoaxes of corporate entities pulling the levers of power, conspiracy theories' blend of truth, half-truth, and falsehood change views about a broad array of events. Even writers such as William Shakespeare took the notion of conspiracy seriously, demonstrating the human cost of such thought.

In this course, we will read fiction, drama, poetry, and nonfiction by authors such as Shakespeare, Gabriel García Márquez, Haruki Murakami, Elizabeth Cohen, and others who pursue the both the qualitative and quantitative origins of conspiracy, and write three essays: 

  • (1) an analysis of a conspiracy in literature, 
  • (2) an essay comparing literary and non-literary representations conspiracy, 
  • (3) a researched essay exploring the genesis and development of one theory.

Together, we will explore the impact, rhetorical nature and construction of conspiracies, and the dark worlds of secrets and lies that fuel them.

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Wakanda Forever: Africans and African Americans - Reaching Across the Diasporic Divide

Marcus, Robin
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

This course will examine the separation, estrangement and reconciliation of Americans who descended from stolen and subsequently enslaved Africans and West Coast Africans who came to America under their own volition in the 20th century.

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Translation as Transfer & Transformation: (Re)Looking at Language

Martinez, Marcos
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Language matters. Correspondents, diplomats, and heads of state serve as interlocutors—often bridging ideas or policies across languages. Filmmakers contend with issues of dubbing, subtitling, adaptations, and remakes. Scientists engaged in multinational research have to contend with the nuances woven into digital chat. Machine translation software only goes so far without human interaction. How can the practice of translation (the transfer of meaning from one language to another “mode”) help shape our understanding of communication? How can our understanding of “code-switching” provide fresh insights into the prism of our unique identities?
As we investigate our relationships with literacy, we will also explore issues of identity, migration, globalism, and transnationalism. Readings include excerpts from Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands / La Frontera, Jonathan Stalling’s Yingelishi, and Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Assignments will include a literacy essay; a group digital soundscape project translating a Washington, DC neighborhood into an audio narrative; and a research project, including an option for translating a literary work and analyzing your process.
Proficiency in a foreign language is NOT required for this course. Instead, we will unbind our ideas of literacy and revel in the positive discomfort of confronting tongues in unfamiliar ways. Throughout the semester, we will focus on the idea of language itself (textual, as well as images and sounds in multimodal compositions). We will consider the concept of “translation” from three perspectives:
the processes of transfer from idea to text (written, audio, and visual texts),
critical analysis of discourse communities to glean understanding of lexis and intercommunication, and
transformation through the act of translation (across languages, and across genres).

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Writing IRL: Composing Texts in the University and at Work (and What Happens in Between)

McCaughey, Jessica
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; classroom and online instruction.

“I remember having a tough time pivoting from the way you wrote your assignments in school to writing business communication. It wasn’t the same at all and nobody made that distinction for me at the end of school as I was preparing to graduate and set out for a career… I think it was a lot of effort spent on making sure we got you out of here, and got you a job after you graduated, and then you’re on your own after that.” 
– Patrick, Marketing Director, from an interview in the Archive of Workplace Writing Experiences
What knowledge and skills are required to write a marketing proposal? A research project in an international affairs course? A Facebook post for a nonprofit organization? A media assessment of a political campaign? A protest sign?“Good” writing looks dramatically different from one context to the next, and no matter how adept we become in one specific writing situation, we often still struggle to adapt—whether that’s in future coursework or, eventually, in our professional lives. Why is shifting from one writing context to another so challenging? What questions, strategies, and ways of thinking can help? This course seeks not only to answer these questions, but also to provide you with the tools and ways of thinking that are central to becoming a more prepared, flexible, effective writer—in school andat work. 
In this section of UW1020, we will consider your future writing lives through the lens of “transfer,” or the way we apply or adapt previous skills and strategies in new or unfamiliar writing situations. We will not only practice asking the questions necessary to move from one form writing to another, but we will also work to make more instinctive the ways of thinking about arguments, audiences, and evidence that we know to be beneficial as we progress along in our writing lives. You’ll explore academic, professional, and personal/social texts as well as the narratives of real workplace writers in a variety of fields as we work to make sense of conventions and constraints, how “good writing” can look so different from one area to the next, and how we can adapt swiftly among them. 

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Imagining the Future: Genetics in Popular Culture

McReynolds, Leigha

From the mainstream news media to Hollywood, our obsession with genetics suggests that some of our strongest fears surround the human ability to manipulate DNA. Our cultural preoccupation with this issue is rooted in the birth of eugenics at the end of the nineteenth century. Since then, scientific progress has led us to contemplate the potentially threatening consequences of technologies from cloning to gene therapy. Imagining dystopic futures where genes determine one’s destiny or where expensive procedures create a genetic underclass is far more common than depictions of progressive futures where a democratic society is enhanced by access to lifesaving therapies. In this class we will explore where these fears come from; what, exactly, we are so afraid of; and how our fears about and the promises of genetic research and technology are represented and manipulated.
We will begin the class by performing cultural analyses of popular culture artifacts that center around or draw on genetic science. We will consider the purpose of these artifacts — why do they use genetics and what message are they presenting to the audience? — as well as the developments in science and technology that have enabled these representations. Then you will research in-depth an aspect of genetics that is of particular interest to you; you will trace its development through history and science as well as various popular media such as comics or cinema culminating in a review essay. We will end the semester with a final project in which you present an original contribution on the ways that culture is shaped by and in turn shapes advances in genetics.

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Music as a Reaction to Societal Ills and as a Source of Community

Miller, Bruce

From homemade banjo-like stringed instruments employed by rural Malawians, Florida musician Moses Williams fashioning a one-stringed instrument out of a door, to Nigerian Afro beat pioneer Fela Kuti’s slogan that “music is a weapon”, various types of sound art have been used to stare down poverty, radicalize groups of people into a movement for social justice, or simply allow us all to recognize something about where we come from and what we have in common. In this course, we will survey readings, performance, video, documentary, and no doubt some deep listening in order to craft our own writing, and perhaps opinion, on the subject. Along the way, we’ll take on everything from urban free jazz, rural folk and the complexities inherent in semi-known folk-pop hybrids from Mauritania to Thailand.

Students will craft papers that trace anything from origins of a particular musical form and how it was shaped by environment, to musical statements both cultural and political, to various folk traditions, and how they are either preserved or threatened. Topics may deal with movements such as Rock Against Racism, and Riot Grrrl; we will check in with the West Blue Nile People of Sudan and note their ability to harness song and dance in order to fight back against a government that bombs its own people. There will also be a chance to write short reviews or other commentary on the importance of an artist or style.

Texts may include:

  • Alan Lomax’s The Land Where the Blues Began (video)
  • Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life
  • Francis Bebey’s African Music: A People’s Art
  • Photo collections of early phonograph memorabilia from around the globe
  • Reebee Garofalo’s Rockin’ The Boat: Mass Music and Mass Movements
  • Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony

…and of course, select recordings to enhance what we discuss and write about.  

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Playing at Life

Mullen, Mark
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

In a variety of professional contexts, simulation is employed as a powerful learning and training tool.  The military uses elaborate war-games to simulate physical combat while also employing sophisticated tactical simulations to train military planners.  Airline pilots routinely train for unexpected and potentially disastrous scenarios in simulators that replicate the cockpit and behavior of a chosen aircraft down to the last detail.  Climate scientists construct elaborate computer models of weather patterns.  Many videogames features extremely realistic simulations of environments, weapons, social and political systems, and even human interactions.  
At its core, however, simulation is simply the ability to model a system, and there are many ways to do that, many of which don’t involve high tech digital tools.  This class will focus initially on board games, which during the last decade have experienced a major resurgence in popularity.  Many of these games are complex simulations of everything from the spread of disease pathogens to the insurgency in Afghanistan; soldier bonds during WWI to the courtship rituals in Jane Austen’s novels.  We will be playing, analyzing, critiquing, and writing about many of these games.  
Above all, however, we will be using our engagement with simulation board games to develop your writing skills.  We will, first of all, be exploring the ways in which learning about writing is in fact a complex simulation activity and—perhaps—the ways in which education itself can productively be regarded as a game.  By asking you to engage with new modes of writing and analysis, this class will develop your writing, research, and critical thinking skills.

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Fashion Emergency!: Clothing and Global Capitalism

Myers, Danika
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Did you wake up this morning and feel like you had nothing to wear? How can that be, when you’re standing in front of a closet full of clothes? Or maybe you feel like you "pay no attention" to what you wear—yet what you “thoughtlessly” put on still tells the world something about you.
This class will start by exploring the cultural meanings that articles of clothing acquire: how can clothes communicate a sense of humor, morality or religious beliefs, an appreciation for certain types of music or culture, lifestyle, class, and even politics? From there, we will begin to consider how economics and modes of production shape our desire for clothing that communicates the “right” message while layering our clothing with additional social and cultural meanings.
Over the past decade, fast fashion, off-shore manufacturing, and shortened design “seasons” have all put pressure on consumers to purchase more and more clothing, while “slow fashion”, DIY movements, and small retailers that advertise ethical labor practices and environmentally sustainable manufacturing have grown. Paradoxically, these movements “sell” themselves as a way to defy the pressures of a global capitalist fashion industry while tapping into a different set of consumer desires.
Over the course of the semester you will first familiarize yourself with some of the questions scholars ask about how clothing fashions mean and matter in the contemporary economic and cultural landscape, and then develop an original research project that takes a closer look at some aspect of clothing, exploring how and why it communicates meaning, and identifying those economic and cultural forces that shape our complex relationship with clothing.
Assignments in the class will include an analysis of a fashion text, an annotated bibliography, and a final research project.

The Demagogue in American Politics

Pliskin, Richard
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

In his history of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounts a debate in the Athenian Assembly over the fate of the rebellious citizens of Mytilene. The upstart politician Cleon, whom Thucydides describes as “the most violent man at Athens, and at that time by far the most powerful with the commons,” argued for the slaughter of the men and the enslavement of the women and children. Cleon was a venal demagogue whom the comic playwright Aristophanes described as a new type of political figure, a crass outsider who rose not from the landed aristocracy but from the commercial class. Aristotle said he was “the first to shout during a speech in the Assembly [and to] use abusive language while addressing the people …”
Sound familiar? American political history is pockmarked by the swaggering boor who commandeers the ship of state, runs it aground, and leaves wreckage in his wake. In politics, think Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace; in literature, Willie Stark and Buzz Windrip; in crime fiction and film, Sonny Corleone.
How about Donald Trump? A brash political outsider from the commercial class, Trump has been charged by critics with having shattered the norms of both politics and governance by personalizing political and policy differences in particularly nasty fashion. But as we know from Thucydides, Aristophanes and Aristotle, he’s not only normal; he’s an archetype of democracy as old as the polis.
What makes a demagogue? How does he seize and retain power? What is the source of his appeal? What ideological principles does he espouse? Does he believe anything he says? What does he achieve, build or destroy? What mark does he leave? And why does he always seem to be a he and never a she?
To help answer these and other questions, we will read speeches, novels and plays and watch a few good movies. Assignments will include essays of varying lengths that seek to deepen our understanding of the current moment by analyzing and understanding the past. And we will learn to write clearly, coherently, persuasively and with respect for the conventions of grammar, usage and mechanics.

Framing the Visual World of Shakespeare

Pollack, Rachel
NOTE: Friday classes meet at the Folger Shakespeare Library. See department for details.

“Such was the very armour he had on.” “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.” “I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another.” These three memorable quotations are examples of the importance of appearances in Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Horatio recognizes the king’s ghost by the armor he has on. Polonius gives his son Laertes fatherly advice on how to dress properly during his journey to France. Hamlet admonishes Ophelia for changing her face with cosmetics. Whether it was through armor, flashy clothing or make-up, this world of appearances described by Shakespeare was full of common cultural references which would have been easily understood by a contemporary audience in Shakespeare’s day. The visual world of art and culture in the Shakespearean Age was as rich and complex as Shakespeare’s own poetry and prose.

In this course, we will explore the visual arts created during the Shakespearean Age. From a rich array of mediums spanning Elizabethan and early Jacobean portraiture, book illustrations, tapestries, sculpture, clothing, jewelry, and armor, we will visually reconstruct the world that inspired Shakespeare’s oeuvre. During the first half of the semester, the class will read Shakespeare’s Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. Each student will then select an art object from Shakespeare’s time and write an additional chapter (~8-10 pages) to add to this book. During the latter half of the semester, students then will design in groups of four or five a museum exhibition based on a Shakespearean theme. Each student will select two objects to include in his or her group exhibition and will write a catalogue entry for each object (~2-3 pages each). Finally, each student will individually write an essay (~10 pages) on a topic related to the theme of his or her group exhibition.

Class will frequently meet on Fridays at the National Gallery of Art, Folger Shakespeare Library, and other museums and art collections throughout the Washington Metropolitan area. These field trips are intended to enhance the students’ understanding of the visual arts that shaped Shakespeare’s world.

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Dutch Painting at the National Gallery of Art

Pollack, Rachel
NOTE: Friday classes meet at the National Gallery of Art. See department for details.

In this course we will develop writing skills through careful observation and analysis of 17th Century Dutch painting at the National Gallery of Art. Each student will write 2 polished catalogue entries (2-3 pages each) of works from the National Gallery collection, a short exhibition review (3-5 pages), a short research paper (5-7 pages) and a larger research project (15-20 pages). Artists such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals will be the central focus of class discussion, as well as various landscape and still life masters. We will explore issues of technique (i.e. materials and methods) and art historical interpretations. Why do we consider Rembrandt a "genius?" Did Vermeer use the camera obscura? How did the new wealthy middle class affect art patronage? Together we will read a selection of scholarly articles related to each subject, as well as visiting the museum collection firsthand. Through critical writing, class discussion, and individual research, each student will learn to see and appreciate the art of the Dutch Golden Age.

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Writing Lives: Composing Consciousness and Service Learning

Presser, Pamela
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; classroom and online instruction. This is a service learning course, for more information see http://serve.gwu.edu/information-students.

To what extent is your sense of self shaped by your culture, circumstances and location? How does where you are living and working influence what you dream? Does performing service, and writing about your experiences, change your ideas about who you are?

Such questions fall within the domain of consciousness studies, an interdisciplinary field which will be the subject of this class. Because consciousness studies in its present incarnation is a new and largely uncharted field, most questions its scholars are asking remain unanswered. This course, then, will be best suited for curious students eager to explore inner and outer space. Indeed, the course requires a willingness to leave the GWU bubble, since students will be required to perform 20 hours of community service off campus, with a non-profit organization.

Assignments may include, but will not be limited to, collaborative projects, an annotated bibliography, a journal in which you engage in meta-cognitive writing, and a final paper combining research on service and consciousness. This is a hybrid class, and will include a significant amount of on-line instruction and discussion. Class texts will be drawn from several genres and will include academic essays, autobiographies, and graphic narratives.

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Embodied Inequality: Rhetoric of Race and Racism

Quave, Kylie
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

Scientific writing about human variation has created and upheld racialized inequality for centuries. In this course, we will critically read and write on the histories and futures of race and racism through natural and social sciences. In the first half of the semester we will read and interpret scientific studies on human biocultural variation and the history of scientific racism (race is not a biologically identifiable category). The second half of the course examines the biological impacts of racism. Readings from biology, public health, and anthropology will model scientific research design and discourse. Assignments include responses to readings and peer writing, original research writing, collaborative and independent revision, and graphical display of information (tables, charts, and infographics). Students will rhetorically evaluate scientific arguments and respond to them in socially relevant ways.
Scientific writing about race and racism in particular helps us understand the roots of the most urgent health issues facing much of the world today. This course--with its biocultural approach to a complex topic—offers students the opportunity to integrate and compare various disciplinary perspectives and to critically evaluate how writing those disciplines has created social inequality. In turn, by conducting one's own research and crafting text and graphics, students will personally engage in the act of public science communication. Students will become critical consumers and producers of writing on human variation, race, and racism.

The Digital Lives Project

Riley, Matthew

This course will mark the inauguration of the Digital Lives Project in which students will address issues that have arisen as a result of how technology has affected our modern lives.  In recent years, experts have claimed that the Internet is changing how we date, make friends, read, consume news, and vote, usually for the worse.  Others are raising questions about the food we eat, sleep, and view the natural world, while those in the political realm point to attacks on elections, privacy, and the news.  And still others are looking at the potential for artificial intelligence and robots to take over our lives.
In the course, students will identify one such object of study and take a stand on whether it is a threat or not.  Then students will do an in-depth study and review of existing literature to write an extended, research-based analytical argument that supports or modifies their stance.  Finally, the successful essay will be entered into a research database to be challenged, modifies or further supported by future students taking the course.  Students will be entirely responsible for deciding to what extent these issues are a threat to our lives.

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Enthusiastic Consent: Love and Romance in Contemporary American Culture

Schell, Heather
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting.

In the era of incels, swiping left & #metoo, we might be forgiven for thinking that romantic love is in the midst of a terrible crisis.  Critics worry that this new environment will ruin sex, or that it frames everyone as either a victim or a villain.  Some conservative pundits are still panicking over same-sex and interracial marriages, which they see as the threat to the very existence of the family.  What we’re witnessing is a historic, complex transformation in how Americans understand their intimate relationships.  Many of these changes are being driven by young people.  Our cultural representations of love reflect these shifts, with popular romance novels, rom-coms, songs, comics, computer games, and so forth, exploring new protagonists, new scenarios, and even new subgenres. 

How will modern love reshape our culture?  What changes should we foster, and which should we resist?  This course will explore the issue by studying the perspectives of romance novelists, scholars, intellectuals, and other experts, as well as some novels and films.  As this is a hybrid class, you will regularly participate in online discussions about our course reading.  Your big writing project will invite you to formulate and systematically investigate some key research question about a specific issue related to our changing cultural understanding of romance, love, or relationships.

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Democratizing Science: Science Writing and Communication in the 21st Century

Sterns, Frank

In November 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui shocked the world by announcing that he had used the new CRISPR-Cas9 technology to edit the germline of twins Lulu and Nana thus making them resistant to HIV. Not only did he bypass traditional ethics boards, but he side stepped communicating his work in a peer reviewed publication. Instead, he announced his results in a hastily assembled press conference. This decision only served to increase confusion around a scientific technique already fraught with ethical concerns and public controversy.

Jiankui’s case speaks to the challenges of communicating science. In this course, we will read texts, such as scientific papers and news articles, written about controversial scientific topics such as biotechnology, vaccine hesitancy, and evolution in order to examine how science writers deploy different rhetorical strategies based on context and audience. Not only will we compare how various news outlets might cover a topic such as gene editing, but we will also read competing scientists’ perspectives on such topics. The aim is to equip students with the ability to not only separate fact from fiction when forming opinions but also to empower them to effectively employ strategies that will convey their opinions in a compelling way, persuading a given audience while respecting the objectivity and neutrality that science prides itself on. Students will also practice scientific writing through themed writing assignments directed at different audiences and with different goals. Such writing assignments may include press releases, news coverage, white papers, and a research project which focuses on the issue of their choice related to the course theme. These writing assignments will emphasize the fundamentals of science – basic logic combined with skeptical and critical evaluation of evidence – important skills for professional scientists and informed citizens.

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Writing Wellness: Issues in Health and Medicine

Strong, JJ.

From the national debate on healthcare reform, to technological advancements in medicine, to the seemingly straightforward but infinitely complex patient-doctor relationship . . . ethical dilemmas abound in the health field. This course will provide students with hands-on, workshop-intensive guidance on the writing process by way of an investigation into the questions that have shaped and are shaping the future of wellness and medicine in America and throughout the world. We’ll begin by examining pertinent health-related issues in our own community and widen our scope as the semester progresses to consider the many ways our own and others’ health is protected and threatened. Doing so will allow us to develop the vitally interconnected skills of writing, critical thinking, and ethical inquiry.

Human wellness incorporates a broad range of issues and topics—there are few, if any, serious issues that are not in some way entangled with the health and well-being of those affected—and this wide scope will allow students a significant amount of freedom in what they choose to think and write about. Students will be encouraged, within the scope of the course’s theme, to pursue their own interests and curiosities. Consider the possibilities: the ethics of gene manipulation, the dynamics of medicine in war, representation of illness and/or medicine in art, the intersection of health and environmental ethics, the viability of alternative medicine.  Drawing from both popular and scholarly sources, we’ll read some of the best health-related writing out there—Atul Gawande, Oliver Sacks, Patricia Leigh Brown, Dennis Raphael—in an effort to both broaden our own perspectives on key dilemmas and to gain a reliable understanding of what successful writing in this realm looks like. The semester culminates in a research-intensive writing project that examines some pressing health issue of the student’s choosing.

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Winter Is Coming? Climate Change in American Popular Culture

Svoboda, Michael

Climate change is not coming; it has already arrived. Weather patterns are shifting; the destructive power of storms is increasing; and sea levels are slowly but inexorably rising as Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets melt. Climate change has also become a cultural force—as writers, artists, and filmmakers try to grasp the breadth, depth, and length of anthropogenic global warming. George Martin, author of the books behind HBO’s Game of Thrones, acknowledged that the scope and scale of climate change was on his mind when he conjured his song of fire and ice. 
In this class we will explore how our personal understandings and experiences of climate change are influenced by the re-presentations of climate change in popular culture. To do this, we will examine how we perceive and manage risk, how stories shape our thinking, and how our most widely shared stories have been shaped by history and culture. In the process, we will also examine the different styles of writing associated with these perspectives and practices.
Whatever discipline you plan to pursue at GW, you will face the challenges of living in a changing climate. Prepare for these challenges with the critical thinking, creative research, and reflective writing you will practice in this section of UW 1020.

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Fake News and Ironic Views: Satire as Social Critique

Tomlinson, B.

While satire has a long history of exposing social/political excess and human folly, never has it been so prevalent as in our current cultural moment. From The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to The Simpsons to the mockumentaries of Sasha Baron Cohen to the controversial Jutland Post Muhammad cartoons, satire is a potent and sometimes dangerous rhetorical tool for illuminating the absurdities of extremist views and partisan propaganda. This course starts with the question of why satire has become such a pervasive phenomenon and then moves towards an exploration of the value of, and potential problems with, satire as a rhetorical lens of social criticism.

This course will include assignments like a self-written and performed satire that critiques a relevant current issue, a rhetorical analysis of a scholarly article on satire, a critical reading of a satirical film or novel, and a capstone research project which will give students a chance to explore in depth a particular example of satire in contemporary culture. In all, this course will make the larger points that the language of satire and irony is our language and that laughter and seriousness are not mutually exclusive.

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Composing Disability: Crip Intersections

Wilkerson, Abby

This course brings together work in critical disability studies, intersectionality, and queer theory. Intersectionality “describe[s] how individuals located perilously at the intersections of race, class, gender, and disability are constituted as non-citizens and (no)bodies by the very social institutions…designed to protect, nurture, and empower them” (Erevelles and Minnear 2011). Meanwhile, the terms “crip” and “queer” share an “out and proud” attitude, rejecting conformist sensibilities. “Queer” affirms fluid and non-normative sexual identities. “Crip” is widely deployed by radical activists and cultural producers in the global movement for disability justice.

Why this topic for UW 1020? A crip/queer/intersectional conjunction is a rich site for exploring rhetorical agency—how meanings are created and struggles enacted through language, and how meaning-makers accomplish their goals through persuasion, argument, and expression. Ethnography offers a method of inquiry that grounds our experiences in specific settings where bodies interact with societal constructs. It also provides a valuable case study in academic writing and opportunities for advancing the complexity of student writing. Coursework includes studying a variety of queer/crip/intersectional texts, producing a collaborative ethnographic project, and analyzing this material using published studies.  

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Minding the Body: Writing in the Medical Humanities

Zink, Christine
NOTE: This course is a hybrid; in addition to classroom instruction, students are required to participate in course activities for 50 minutes every week in lieu of a Friday class meeting. 

Check the pulse. Record the numbers. Diagnose, close the chart, and move on. The work of medicine often concentrates on clinical action, but the world of the medical humanities has drawn our attention closer to the human inhabiting the body at study. How we reckon with life, death, and everything in between invites in equal parts science and art; to divorce the two is to create a false dichotomy that works against real-life standards of care.

Involving disciplines as wide-ranging as visual art and film, philosophy and bioethics, the social sciences, law, literature, and technology, the interdisciplinary field of the medical humanities recognizes that with each big innovation in health sciences come new critical questions about what it means to be human. Narrative science, a division in the field, increasingly examines the rhetoric of those stories in connection to scientific knowledge, not just as explanation but as active argument towards discovery. Research, critical listening and analysis, evaluating and interpreting evidence, coming to new understandings: the very talents needed for innovative practices in health and medicine are, in fact, present values shared with the academic writer. Rafael Campo, a physician and a poet himself, argues that “the work of doctors will always necessarily take place at the intersection of science and language.” Projects for this course, then, focus on that intersection, first studying texts from writers who bring together diverse perspectives on medicine and science and then creating our own research that argues for new, collaborative understandings of body and mind.

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