Research in the Disciplines is a Core Curriculum certified course that allows students to earn credit for the WcR or WcD requirement in Writing and Communication. We offer topics across most disciplinary fields at the university, so students can hone the skills of writing and revision through inquiry relevant to their major or interest. Many of our topics are interdisciplinary, and all engage with important and interesting questions for research.
Students in Research in the Disciplines select their own research topic, and work to advance the conversation about it from a critical and analytical point of view. They learn the process of searching for books, journal articles, and Internet sources; develop strategies for managing notes and citations; extend their synthetic and analytical skills; respond to instructor and peer feedback; and become able to differentiate between and assess scholarly, credible, and non-credible sources.
SAS Students: 201 is Core certified to meet either the Revision-Based (WCr) or the Discipline-Based (WCd) Writing & Communication goals. The course may be taken to fulfill either of these requirements, but not both.
SEBS Students: 201 meets Core Curriculum Requirements in Area VI: Oral and Written Communication
Other Students: 201 meets requirements for most schools at RU. Please check with your advisor.
Transfer Students: If you did not take Expository Writing at RU, you may wish to register for 301: College Writing and Research, which is designed specifically for transfer students and meets all the same core requirements as 201. Information on 301 may be found here: https://wp.rutgers.edu/courses/146-301
201 Topics Fall 2022
Consult your Course Schedule Planner for specific times and locations.
Activism and Social Change
How can citizens, individually and collectively, accomplish social change? Social movements are forms of collective action in response to inequality, oppression, and unmet needs. What do movements and social change look like? We will engage with readings, speakers, videos, case studies, social campaigns, music, and other visual media to study how change occurs. Students will have the opportunity to explore questions related to the history of social movements in the U.S., how movements begin, how they maintain momentum when opposed, and how traditional media and social media influence and facilitate policy change.
Architecture, Design, and Public Space
From shopping malls to student centers, war memorials to community playgrounds, historic buildings to iconic structures, places of worship and relaxation, place and space has a significant influence on our lives. How we construct and design our physical surroundings reveals a great deal about both who and what we are. This course invites students to explore the relationships between "space" and "place" by examining why different factors (e.g,, history, geography, religion) impact on the way individuals perceive and design the spaces they occupy in their physical world. Possible research topics include the politics of property rights and eminent domain; the redesign of urban centers, using concepts such as "defensible space:' and the representation of buildings, public squares, and monuments as evidence of cultural memory.
Being Human: Medical Humanities
What does it mean to be human? Is it the velocity of the blood in our veins, or the poetry we write that proves our existence? And, to whom do we address this inquiry—doctors, philosophers, scientists, artists, religious leaders, spiritual guides, community organizers, politicians, architects, sanitation workers, venture capitalists, grocery store clerks, software engineers, train conductors, sex workers? In this course we will explore the question of the “human” at the intersections of medical and humanistic study. Across a broad range of topics students will consider how medicine—the study and practice of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease—and the humanities—the not-entirely-quantifiable study of human thought, experience, and creativity— mutually inform one another and contribute to more complex understandings of human conditions. Possible areas for research may include: gender and medicine; race and medicine; access to care; medical photography and illustration; medical education; medicine and media; medicine and art; biomedical ethics; the business of medicine; religion and medicine; politics and medicine; histories of medicine; medicine and literature; health and urban planning; music and medicine; medicine and technology; medicine and consumerism.
Building a Sustainable Society
Climate change means melting glaciers; extreme weather; wildfires; rising sea levels; droughts and floods; extinction of species; pandemics. And there is a heavy human toll, counted in the millions of climate refugees, as people lose their homes, farms and livelihoods, especially in the developing world. Understandably, many despair. Yet, disasters like these, paradoxically, invite us to imagine more “sustainable” ways of organizing our world. “Sustainable” is not just a fashionable buzzword. According to the United Nations, it means a world without poverty and hunger; with “decent work and economic growth”; “quality education” and “gender equality.” The UN’s Global Goals envision a world with “clean water” and “clean energy”; “climate action” and “responsible consumption and production.” Students in this course will explore the possibilities of living in more ecologically sound and just ways and how to achieve these ideals.
JFK. Roswell. The Moon Landing. People seem to love a good conspiracy theory. Conspiracy narratives are important precisely because of the intense level of belief or disbelief that they provoke. By putting aside judgment as to whether a particular conspiracy theory is true or false, students will analyze just why certain conspiracy theories catch on so quickly and stay around for so long. Over the course of the semester, students will choose a specific conspiracy theory and examine its significance: What are the meaning-making structures that make it click? Why does it have such a hold on the popular imagination? What does this say about people who “want to believe,” as the X-Files put it? What does this say about those who refuse to believe? How do new conspiracy theories develop and what determines their future level of popularity?
Who are you? Is your identity fixed or is it always changing? How much of what makes you “you” comes from how others see you? How does identity intersect with values, beliefs, race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, language, religion, family, music, fashion, history and so on? This course explores multiple and overlapping ways humans perceive themselves, both as individuals and as part of a collective group, and how identity affects people’s lived experiences every day. We will examine the relationship between environment and psychological and biological selves. Possible areas of research include musical preference, fashion style, race relations, self-help books, plastic surgery, and national pride.
Exploring creativity! Where does it come from—the cosmos, the muses, our DNA? Do creative people think outside the “box?” What is the “box?” How do we break through to our innate originality and live it rather than conceal it in order to fit in? Are imagination, innovation, and inspiration the exclusive domain of the arts and sciences, or essential components for enriching our lives as well as our diverse profession? Those are some of the issues we’ll investigate. Research topics to consider include: creative ability and autism; effects of drugs on creative output; advertising and creative persuasion; the dark side and curse of creativity; left-handedness; the use of the Golden Mean—the mysterious number employed to establish order and beauty in art. Ultimately, you are free to follow your inspiration to discover other related topics.
Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, & Beyond
In 1934, a little-known outfit called Walt Disney Productions, Inc., launched their first ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It became the highest-grossing film of the decade. Flash forward almost ninety years and the American cultural landscape is transformed by the magic of Walt Disney World, Marvel Studios, Pixar, 20th Century Fox, Star Wars, Epcot Center, Tokyo DisneySea, and once-in-a lifetime Disney cruises. Disney in the American mythos has shaped not only the animation, film, and theme park industries but also cultural sensibilities from America to galaxies far, far away. What historical and social narratives does Disney convey or invent, and with what impact? How do Marvel and Star Wars films reflect and shape our attitudes about science? How do Disney parks' innovations in design, architecture, and engineering influence guest behavior and modern technology? What does Walt Disney's vision of utopia and progress reveal about his or our values? What and whose vision of America is on display in Disney films, parks, and products? Bring your lightsabers, your glass slippers, and your curiosity to go to infinity and beyond!
The Ethics of Food
"Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food," Michael Pollan advised in his bestselling book, In Defense of Food. In our busy contemporary society, we cram down French fries that don't grow mold if we forget to eat them for a month; foot long sandwiches stuffed with processed meats; fizzy drinks of a dazzling array of colors. This course will explore the ethics of food, in terms of its production and distribution. Possible topics of research include an investigation of the ethics of the fast food industry, genetically modified foods, factory farms, agribusinesses, organic foods, food waste, and the recent increase in interest for local produce in farmers' markets, and rooftop farming in urban areas.
The Ethics of Urban Development
Cities are dense fabrics consisting of people living in close proximity, and they are constantly changing through urban development. Ethics is the study of right and wrong, or, as applied to urban development, who wins and who loses, and do some groups seem to matter more than others? For example, using Eminent Domain, the construction of an expressway through a crowded residential neighborhood might hurt some of the residents of that area, but might give improved access to many city dwellers who use that road. Possible research topics for this course include the ethical implications of such urban developments as urban renewal, gentrification, suburban and exurban development, urban parks such as The Highline, the new urbanism, and Airb&b.
What does your family mean to you? What did your family look like growing up? What does a family look like in 2021? What does it mean to be part of the modern family? This class will explore the history of the family unit, exploring how our ideas about family have changed throughout the past century. We will consider the ways in which the family unit has evolved, and the ways in which the family has stayed the same. The potential individual research topics could include family and work, family at home, marriage and family, divorce, race and family, family life during Covid, gender and family, family and finances, politics and family, family separation at the border, families around the world, the extended family, adoption, children in family life, family in literature, family in movies and television, the future of the family.
How did something as essential as clothing evolve into something as frivolous as fashion, constantly changing and regularly discarded? How did the verb "to fashion", which means, "to make," end up as a noun that describes the latest and hottest garment to be worn, a word synonymous with change? This class will explore these questions. We will also examine how fashion is used to define individuals and how fashion is a form of communication and culture with rules, values, and prohibitions. From fashion design and designers, to beauty and marketing, to subcultures and politics, this course will look at fashion as a social and cultural language today. Some possible research topics are: the cultural significance of specific designers; an examination of fashion trends as subculture; or a history of cosmetic use and its evolution in the last 100 years.
E.T. The dance of death at sunset. Gangsters, hangovers, and martial arts. A slum dog millionaire. Perhaps no other art form in the last century has left an impact on culture the way that film has. Through the images on screen, audiences engage in their hopes and fears, find their heroes, and confront their demons. Hollywood, Bollywood, the indie, the foreign film, documentaries and animation--the categories that fall under the art form have left a lasting legacy on our imaginations. This course will explore the nature of film as an art form and look at its power to inspire and enchant. Students may write about the lasting influence of a particular film, a director, or the significance of a genre.
Film and Modernity
This course will look at life in the 21st century as depicted in contemporary film across a wide range of genres, from drama to comedy, to horror, to satire, to documentary among others.
What does it mean to be happy? How is happiness achieved? What are the differences between “the good life” and “a good life?” What forms does happiness take and which of these seem the most desirable or elusive? Readings from philosophers, essayists, journalists, and those in the “happiness-providing industry” will guide our journey to the answers--or, perhaps, leave us with even more questions.
Humor & Satire
Lol. That’s not funny. Just kidding! Is our laughter uniting or dividing us? In this course, we will examine various psychological and sociological theories of humor, assess the differences between comedy and satire, and examine the functions of laughter and play as well as ridicule and scorn. Possible research paths include: the evolution of laughter in mammals; gesture, embodiment, and exaggeration; polarization, political incorrectness, and the politics of punching down; the physiology of stress hormones, pain tolerance, and the immune system; the history of clowning, buffoonery, and class consciousness; sound effects, cricket chirps, and the rise and fall of the laugh track; Internet memes and post-modern absurdism; shamelessness, fake news, and the death of political satire.
Incarceration, Justice, and the Law
Americans make up only 4.22 percent of the world’s population, yet we house 22% percent of the world’s prison population. Our nation’s prisoners are majority black and Hispanic, nearly all come from poverty, and 45% suffer from mental illness. How can we as a nation commit to meaningful legal reform? What principles guide--or should guide--our judicial philosophies and legal statutes? How can we address violent vs. non-violent offenders and those suffering from addiction? What models exist for successful rehabilitation? In this course, we will analyze the mechanisms of law enforcement, the causes of mass incarceration, judicial interpretation and application of criminal law, and the rhetoric of criminal justice. Topics that students can explore in individual research projects include the economic incentives behind the carceral state, race and policing, the death penalty, drug offenses, prison abolition, ethical philosophies of justice, the reality of violent crime and its victims, wrongful conviction, mental health and prisons, the political and popular rhetoric of crime and incarceration in the United States, and more.
Leaders and Leadership
The history of human affairs has been a history often defined by the decisions and actions of leaders. We think of leaders as individuals who look beyond their own narrow interests and enhance the prosperity and wellbeing of others. Great leaders emerge and can be recognized across different cultures, historical periods, and political contexts. But what are the qualities necessary for leadership? Why are good leaders esteemed so highly? How do we differentiate between good leaders and bad ones? Do we need leaders at all? If leaders are exemplars for others to follow, what is the relationship between leadership and public opinion? Students will conduct research on the significance of leadership and leaders in a variety of different contexts, including: politics, science, military affairs, business, art, religion, among other topics.
Beyonce. Kris Jenner. Serena Williams. Jacinta Ardern. Michelle Duggar. Octomom. Soccer Mom. Mommy-Blogger. What does it mean to be a mother in 2020? From long-standing perceptions of the “angel in the house” to the “how-does-she-do-it” parent who “works outside the home,” or stays at home and battles “mommy ways,” “having it all” in the early twenty-first century has ushered in intense study on the shifting role and responsibilities of motherhood. These new paradigms develop, of course, with the advent of social media, increasing disparities in maternal- fetal childbirth outcomes along socioeconomic and racial boundaries, and new expectations for the role of motherhood--and mothering--in the twenty-first century. Research papers for this topic could include the economics of modern motherhood, social media and motherhood, celebrity mothers, mothers and political activism, increasing number of childless-by-choice women, global politics of motherhood and adoption, shifting public images of motherhood, health issues with pregnancy or childbirth, post-partum mental health, and more.
Music, Dance, and Performance
Performance is a multi-disciplinary and multi-sensory experience that draws from a variety of intentional and unintentional forms of expression. For instance, “Cacti” by choreographer Alexander Ekman, is not only an exhilarating contemporary dance piece, but it also blends elements of percussion, mime, orchestral music, and humor to create a comprehensive performance. The broad scope of this class is designed to facilitate original and impactful research on a wide variety of topics related to music, dance, and performance.
Nutrition and Exercise Science
This course gives students an opportunity to research nutrition and exercise strategies for optimal wellness from a humanities perspective. Research options include topics such as training techniques; sports pedagogy; training and diet for athletes; diet and/or exercise as treatment for or prevention of disease; nutrition and exercise for pregnant women; childhood obesity; occupational therapy; physical therapy; sports medicine; weight management; eating disorders; food insecurity; etc.
From perspicuous to penumbral, this course focuses on the direct experience of awareness called consciousness. Dismissed as naval gazing, defended as the refuge of spirit, the subjective dimension of experience demands our attention! Possible research paths include: flow, distraction, and peripheral attention; hypnosis and trance; artificial intelligence and virtual reality; panpsychism and non-human consciousness; trauma, memory, language, and integration; narrative immersion, dreams, and hallucinations; inebriation and psychoactive pharmacology; ecstatic religious ritual; gender and performance; race consciousness and code switching; ambiguity intolerance; meditation and metacognition; the unconscious, the subconscious, and the embodiment of perceptual awareness.
Science & Fiction
This course invites you to examine a multitude of speculative worlds created by diverse minds within the genre of science fiction. Taking this genre's promise to alienate us from our world to be able to cognize it with pleasure, as Darko Suvin suggests, we will explore today's questions with the guidance from our imagination of diverse tomorrows. The topics that we will explore will include colonization and decolonization, separation of the human from other species and cyborgs, novel and shifting tales of worldmaking, and ecocritical thought. Paying attention to the language, form, and the rules of the medium that we are offered to reside in, be it a novel or a film, we will explore the limits of different technologies and universes. In addition to asking questions pertaining to science, technology, cyborgs, you are also invited to explore anthropocentric thought and its limits, ecocritical approaches to worldmaking, cybernetics, AI, racial futures, ethics and politics of science fiction.
Science & Spectacle
What distinguishes the expert from the anti-intellectual, the skeptic from the optimist? Science and Spectacle investigates the intersection of advanced empirical activity and popular discourse. Broad contours of research projects include – Are nurses and physicians accurately depicted on television? Do comic books (and movies) do justice to quantum physics? Do politics, ideology, conspiracies, and other forms of magical thinking trump public health concerns? How does technology impact music creation and appreciation? Why has science fiction become “respectable”? What, empirically speaking, is “the good life”? Is STEM education underfunded? What is the evolutionary purpose of dreams, poetry, sports, celebrity?
Science, Medicine & Society
“Science, Medicine and Society” focuses on ethical, social, and political controversies in a variety of medical and health fields. Research topics include biomedical engineering, nursing, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, health care, mental illness, alternative and experimental healing techniques, hospice, hospitals, and midwives. Students can also study aspects of medical training and the doctor-patient relationship.
Sports and Athletics
Organized athletics trace back to the Ancient Olympic Games in 776 B.C. and included sports like track and field, boxing, and wrestling. Today, skill sports like basketball, baseball, soccer, and football are played in large stadiums and arenas, and the athletes are stronger, faster, and more business minded. Additionally, technology has changed the game by allowing spectators to witness sports in ways never thought possible. For example, according to “Topend Sports: the Sports and Science Resource,” the 2020 US Open Tennis Championships implemented the next level Hawk-Eye Live that made line calls in real time (www.topendsports.com). In this course students may research any aspect of sports and athletics including sports management, social issues in sports, sports equity, coaching and training, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), technology and sports, professional and amateur athletes, social media and branding, and sports injuries.
Stress and Mental Health
Are you stressed out? How does stress affect your writing process? How is stress created, defined, and experienced? Using psychological and sociological lenses, students will examine the way we use and manage stress. Through independent research, students investigate a contemporary issue in the field of Psychology or Sociology.
Taboos and Transgressions
What activities are we expected not to entertain publicly or even privately? Sexual deviance, death rituals, illicit drug use—why do certain taboos both appall us and appeal to us at the same time? And who gets to decide what's forbidden? In this course we will consider how our ideas of transgressions have changed throughout the years and what new codes of conduct we're expected to abide by today. Topics of exploration include all things offensive, disobedient, and unmentionable.
Technology sells the promise of doing more and more for us: one million apps and counting, drugs for all problems, TV on demand, self-driving cars, 3D printing, Internet in your glasses. Yet side-by-side with state of the art tech, we find mounting chaos: government gridlock; epidemic obesity; environmental degradation; privacy invasions; economic stagnation; debt crises, etc. This course offers students the opportunity to read and analyze research that may help connect the dots between the promise and the chaos, to step backstage and ask: Does technical progress really equal human progress? Or is the rising technical order at the expense of human/environmental chaos? Or both?
People have always been driven to explore mysteries. Some turn into obsessions. Why is the power of curiosity and the need to know such a motivating force? Are some mysteries ever fully solved or do we just find new ways to understand them? Are UFOs a religion? A myth? A very real extraterrestrial phenomenon? All of the above? Are crop circles a human meme, an extraterrestrial sign, or something else entirely? Is there a hypothetical Planet X in our solar system? Or is it maybe a small black hole? What is dark matter? Why should I care? Are you the type of person who just needs to know? Is there a mystery that you have always wondered about? Then this is the course for you!
"True Crime is crime fact that looks like crime fiction" --Mark Seltzer
Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song. Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. All are masterful works of true crime– a genre capable of riveting its audience like none other. Across film, literature, and TV, true crime is the fastest-growing genre of the 21st century, with the podcast Serial breaking iTunes records in 2014 and garnering 400 million downloads. How does true crime draw us into its storytelling vortex to evoke fear, compassion, empathy, outrage, incomprehension and even understanding? What are the ethical, legal, and psychological implications of true crime film, TV, podcasts, and books– both for audiences, and the victims and perpetrators they feature? Students may explore any aspect of the true crime genre including specific cases, portrayals, and controversies, as well as the psychosocial, ethical, cultural, and philosophical questions that arise from these investigations.
Villains, Violence & Heroes
Walter White. Cersei Lannister. Tony Soprano. Dwight K. Schrute. We love antiheros, and we love to watch them be bad. The recent Golden Age of Television has given rise to a number of characters that fascinate us with their depravity. Beginning with the readings from Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat and Maggie Nelson’s The Age of Cruelty, students will develop an original research project that deals with questions such as: Why do we root for the villain? How are flaws more relatable than virtues, and what does that say about contemporary morality? Is the experience of violence and evil in entertainment dangerous, or a necessary release? How does antiheroism make available new types of fictional narrative, ethics, and subject matter? What political, technological, and intellectual trends have come to undermine our love for traditional heroism?