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Contemporary Topics and Multidisciplinary Writing

The purpose of Studies in Multidisciplinary Writing is to give students the opportunity to trace one central theme across multiple disciplines. The readings highlight the ways in which disciplinary writing differs in the way it frames questions, constructs arguments, and presents evidence. In this course, students will:

  • Learn how to approach disciplinary writing as a rhetorically situated practice
  • Recognize important genre features across disciplines
  • Practice writing different genres for a variety of audiences

Previous Topics

Everything Matters: How to Integrate Everything We Know and Write Into Our Climate Emergency

This class focuses on how writing works in and across disciplines when a complex issue demands an integrated response - in this case, the issue is global heating. Students will create writing portfolios that draw on their own majors and those of their peers to represent a holistic understanding of this vital issue and communicate it to general readers.

Why (and How) We Fight: Origins of Conflict and Interdisciplinary Writing

This upper level writing course assumes that the most important topics are often the ones that are best understood via the multiple disciplinary approaches. In this case, the important topic is Conflict: how does it arise, how should we understand and manage it, what are the limits of what we can hope for in mitigating it, and what can we learn from how we conduct and experience it. Students will examine different aspects of conflict through various academic lenses ranging from chemistry, biology, and neuroscience to anthropology, sociology, history, and psychology, as well as perspectives from literature, philosophy, fine arts, and even a few professional disciplines like law and public policy. During this whirlwind tour we will examine how each field constructs knowledge and imagines and deploys writing, and consider ways the disciplines can usefully complement each other as well as how we can translate their insights for general readers. If we have to fight, we should know what we’re doing and why.

"White Trash" and Rural America

The course theme, “White Trash” and Rural America, is suitable for this course because white trash is consistently figured as a problem across several disciplines. White trash is a journalistic oddity, criminal threat, public health problem, and the perpetual historical underclass. The differences in how these writers describe the white trash problem and persuade us of the possible solutions point to important distinctions in how academic genres build knowledge.

Climate, Crisis, and Interdisciplinarity

What are academic disciplines? Why are there so many of them? What are the relationships between them (if any)? How is a major also a philosophy or theory of knowledge? Why is writing central to the disciplines? How do those disciplines treat writing similarly or differently and why? What can be gained by writing in, across, and through these disciplinary differences?

This class offers a meaningful synthesis and analysis of the rhetorical structures and conventions by examining them via the theme of climate change and crisis. Climate is uniquely useful for thinking about these questions, because its global effects are inextricable from local conditions, and that combination of the local and global poses challenges and requires efforts from all fields of inquiry and scholarship.

In this course, we will address the following questions. What are the basic physics of climate? How does climate determine oceanographic and terrestrial properties, and vice versa? How do these interactions shape biology? How do species cope with climate change – and how does the human species induce that change? What stories do we tell about climate, and how does it influence our history? When we seek to address it, what political and economic mechanisms do we use, and how do we approach the problems from an engineering perspective? How do individuals and populations imagine and reckon with climate change? And finally, how does climate change challenge our ethics and our philosophies?