Instructor: Dr. Brian Pietras
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumAs a course in the Writing Program, WRI 182 aims to introduce Princeton freshmen to academic writing and the scholarly conversation. There’s a deep emphasis on thesis, structure, and analysis, in addition to breaking away from high school writing habits. The excessive wordiness, filler writing, and rushed thinking you had formed from 45-minute 5-paragraph papers? You will grow aware of them and begin to cast them away. The development of the concept of nostalgia, and its use in politics, effect on history, and portrayal in the media are all things that you will read about and analyze. A fairly detailed syllabus for the entire course, and a detailed syllabus for the first unit, is made available within the first class. However, the full details of the second and third unit, including specific class agendas and when to have specific readings done, are not made available until corresponding units have begun. There is one paper to write for each unit. You will have to do the readings and watch the shows/movies on your own time. Be sure to analyze them carefully, taking notes on the author’s stance, and paying attention to your own questions, reactions. and opinions in relation to the author’s. Please do not come into class unprepared and not having done the readings. In class, we will often discuss and reference the readings in some way, and there’s a lot more to be gained from class/partner discussions, from both sides, if everyone has thought carefully about the ideas in the texts. For every unit, you will write and submit a draft with a cover letter. The professor will read and comment on both the drafts and the revisions, so it’s in your best interest to write a complete draft and note any questions you have or improvements you want to make in the cover letter. For the final revision, you will have to submit another cover letter detailing how you’ve improved throughout drafts. Every person will get one of their uploaded drafts workshopped in class once. You will also have, in the words of the syllabus, “one individual draft conference, two group conferences and, in the third unit, an individual conference on your research proposal”. Workload outside of class contains readings, pre-drafts (to help you think about the ideas in the readings), writing and revising drafts, writing cover letters, reading classmates’ papers (those of whoever was chosen to be critiqued for that class), writing response letters to those classmates’ papers (400+ words each), a Dean’s Date Assignment (500-600 words), and an End-of-Term Cover Letter. In the first unit, you will read Svetlana Boym's The Future of Nostalgia, excerpts from Audre Lorde's Zami, and watch the "San Junipero" episode of the famous show Black Mirror. You will then write a short paper using either Zami or "San Junipero" to critique or expand on Boym's arguments. In the second unit, the syllabus explains that you will: Make an argument about how either Pleasantville or Mad Men’s pilot episode depicts nostalgia for the 1950s. Develop your own idea by entering into conversation with one of our Shared Secondary Sources, plus at least two Exploratory Secondary Sources of your own choosing. The Shared Secondary Sources are required readings for everybody in the class, while the Exploratory Secondary Sources can be found on Blackboard when the professor uploads them. There should be three folders, including history, politics, and media, and you can choose to work with two sources from any combination of disciplines. However, the title of this unit is to "Enter into an Interdisciplinary Debate", so choosing sources from two different disciplines is highly encouraged (but not required). In the third unit, you will write a short research paper with at least 6 sources. The topic will have to be related to nostalgia, but is of your choosing. Examples of previous topics include nostalgia therapy for patients and how President Trump's nostalgic rhetoric appealed to Southern priests, so you can write for any discipline as long as it contributes to the conversation around nostalgia, but keep in mind that the instruction revolves around writing in a style best suited for humanities/social science.
Learning From Classroom InstructionThere are instructional classes and workshopping classes. In the instructional classes, you will do writing exercises such as reverse outlining and looking at and breaking down characteristics of writing excerpts from past students. The professor will take questions and answer to the best of his ability, but unless you are referencing a specific example of writing, it’s often difficult to come up with a helpful answer to questions along the lines of “What’s the hard line for x vague writing technique”. In the workshopping classes, you will parrticipate in a a class discussion about good things about the students’ paper, and things that can be improved on. Constructive criticism is greatly encouraged in this class. When you’ve read a student’s paper and written a thoughtful cover letter about it, and then hear what other students have to say (sometimes completely different) about that same paper, it really forces you to think deeply and specifically, first about that student’s paper, then about how you can apply that advice to your own writing. During workshops, it’s very effective to ask questions about specific approaches someone used in their writing, and if they were appropriate or what could be improved about them.
Learning For and From AssignmentsDo not start last minute, whether it’s a draft or a revision that’s due. This sounds like obvious advice, but countless Princetonians have fallen in this trap and wondered why this class was so hard! In fact, start thinking about potential draft ideas immediately after you do the readings. If you start thinking about the ideas deeply, and early, you will have much more information to work with, and more time to refine. You will end up scrapping many potential paper concepts. It’s much better to focus on critiquing on one specific area of thinking which could use a different approach/outlook, than to attempt to attack an esteemed scholar in the field. In addition, pitch ideas to classmates (who will have done the same readings for the first and second units) and see what they think and suggest. Be careful of the honor code though- always mention people who helped you in the acknowledgements, and when critiquing friends’ papers, don’t nitpick; it’s always more helpful to focus on broader improvements that can be made. In addition, leave a full day or more to do the cover letter, because in the process of rereading and thinking about improvements that you would like to make to your paper, you will often find that they are actionable to some extent in the moment. While workshopping other students’ papers takes up a lot of class time, and isn’t focused on your personal paper, don’t think of it as busywork! There’s a lot to be learned from other students’ papers, and the professor’s comments indicate what you should and should not do in your own writing. You will note patterns in the way different people express ideas, and as freshmen, we came here straight out of high school so we’ll often have the same problems. Please sign up for office hours appointments or writing center appointments! There’s nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. The professor and writing center are both immensely helpful and will give specific feedback on your writing. You will inevitably encounter writer’s block and other ruts in the process, and they will help you clear your head and give you direction, in addition to critiquing work that you’ve already written or ideas that you pitch to them.
External ResourcesThe Writing Center website Make a Writing Center appointment and get help in any stage of the writing process! This will also be useful outside of Writing Sem. Tortoise From their website: “Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy is an annual journal that publishes excerpts of student scholarship from within the Princeton community.... Excerpts of exemplary academic writing are curated with reflective commentaries on the research and writing methods underpinning the prose. Tortoise’s ambition is thus not just to share student writing with a wider audience but also to demonstrate how it works and how it was developed.” Lots of examples of good and in-progress writing with helpful commentary!
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionWhile Writing Sem is one of the most bemoaned parts of freshman year, you can definitely take advantage of WRI 182 as an opportunity to advance your writing skills and gain knowledge on the seemingly niche topic of nostalgia, which has actually generated quite a lot of scholarly discussion and political relevance! (See Lana Del Rey, Donald Trump) The writing techniques offered definitely lean humanities/social science, but I believe this is common throughout the Writing Program. If you are interested in nostalgia, definitely give this course a try.
The Politics of Nostalgia