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 2023
Consult your Course Schedule Planner for specific times and locations.
American Inheritance: Paul Robeson and Beyond
Paul Robeson, America’s Leonardo DaVinci. Among the greatest luminaries in Western history, few know the scope of Robeson’s soaring talent, intellect, and social conscience— despite his being Rutgers' most famous alum. Students in this class are invited to explore not just Paul Robeson the man—but all dimensions of American and European life touched by his inspired genius both then and now. From performance and activism to language and law, his quest for justice and commitment to human dignity— how does Paul Robeson’s life continue to resonate and inspire today? What can he teach us? What have we yet to learn?
Blade Runner. The Matrix. Artificial intelligence has long been the subject of science fiction. But now—with the advent of Siri and Alexa; self-driving cars; machine learning that informs corporate decision-making; chat bots that generate conversation indistinguishable from that of a human; AI-generated art that wins awards; Elon Musk’s efforts, with his company Nueralink, toward a computer-brain interface—artificial intelligence has become a very real part of our lives. And it promises, in the future, to become even more so. In this course, students will explore a range of ethical quandaries posed by both the utopic and dystopic potential of AI. Drawing from a variety of texts, from film to philosophy, we’ll ask the question that lies at the heart, perhaps, of all fears of artificial intelligence: What does it mean to be human? And in asking this question, we’ll be asking—in the spirit of Morpheus, with his blue and red pills—what is the nature of the real.
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. Yes, 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?
Creative Rebellion: Art and Activism
This course will invite students to ask why and how art contributes to social change by creating counter-narratives that can inspire and ignite. And yet, while having long been a tool for self-reflection and inspiration, for building communities, as well as a medium for acute and emotive social critique, art has also been frequently undervalued as a political or ideological force. Drawing from the fields of art, literature, history, and ethics, this course will explore the ever-entwined relationship between Art, Rebellion, and Social Change. From Oscar Wilde, to Picasso, to Banksy’s Graffiti; from portraits in art galleries to painted bodies, and from defiant symphonies to underground music, students will explore how art often plays a fundamental role in challenging the status quo.
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.
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.
COVID quarantines collapsed the difference between public and private and made us reevaluate what “everyday life” means. Writers and scholars emerging from previous profound social disruptions turned to a study of the “everyday”: this section of 201 will invite you to develop a research project from your study of how everyday “stuff” – routines, ideas, images, objects, written work, or memories – can be used to reconnect pieces of the present with a fragmented social world, rediscovering sources for routine and stability, and ties to past values or histories.
We will look at strategies that connect individual experience to sociological principles (the micro to the macro or the personal to the structural), that study events and objects to gain access to collective dreams, or to fill gaps in existing archives, or to challenge authoritarian definitions of “who we are,” or to reconstruct an exploration of an interior life.
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.
Senet. Gladiator games. Chess. Poker. College Football. Monopoly. The Legend of Zelda. Call of Duty. Pokemon Go. Games have been an integral part of human affairs since the days of prehistoric Egypt, and although they have continuously evolved since, they are arguably more pervasive than ever. What is it about “games” and “play” that humans find so appealing? In what ways have individuals (or entities) endeavored to harness the elements of game-play, and to what ends? Research topics may include video game addiction, gamification in business or education, the use of simulation games for training, the impact of massively multiplayer online games on human behavior, and the rise of “serious games.”
Girls Like Me: Race & Gender in America
This course examines the complex experience of Black women in America. Students explore a subject of their own choosing that examines the social structures and attitudes that marginalize and create obstacles for women-of-color at home, in the workplace, and throughout society.
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.
Human Ecology in the 21st Century
"How do humans live with our environments – both the ones that we build (the city, the suburb, the agricultural landscape) and the ones the earth provide for us? How do humans change the earth, and how does the earth change us? These are central questions for the holistic and transdisciplinary field of Human Ecology, an approach to environmental studies that invites participation and perspectives from ecology, psychology, public health, the fine arts, anthropology, literature, law, engineering, journalism, philosophy, and beyond. In this course, we’ll learn the critical research and writing skills you’ll want to write about the relationships between humans and our built and wild environments. Your topics are boundless: wherever humans live on earth, there’s a topic to discover and explore; these can range anywhere from questions about living under the Anthropocene (the end of human time forever and always?), to environmental racism and climate justice, tree-bathing, apocalyptic imaginaries, space travel and Afro-futurism, the fungal networks that cover entire states, tar sands mining and oil pipelines, sacred geometries, religious approaches to earth stewardship, women’s ecofeminist collective farms in the 1970s, the behavioral economics of climate change mitigation, sea walls and coastal restoration, representations of nature in literature, film, and art, the queer farmers' movement and gay rodeos, Indigenous rights and epistemologies. If you can find the human-nature connection, there’s nothing you can’t dig into for a truly imaginative project, unbound by disciplinarity!"
Law and Culture
We sometimes think of the law and legal language as occupying its own specialized domain – law offices, courtrooms, or halls of government. In this course we will explore legal documents, like Supreme Court cases and the US Constitution, to look for the ways they represent and impact daily life. This means reading the law alongside acts of cultural expression: works of art, film, music, and protest. Our focus will be on the legal and cultural meanings of moving freely through public space in the U.S. – as well as on the protest movements in American history that have demanded freedom. We will read widely about “freedom movements,” and you will be encouraged explore your own interests by researching deeply into a particular moment in history, a particular legal or cultural document, or a particular movement.
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.
Love & Sex
Countless songs, novels, and movies focus on the same theme: love. How can we define love? What is the difference between loving someone and being in love? In this course, students will investigate the ways in which love and sex affect cultural traditions, gender norms, and the human condition. We will look at controversial issues that arise when people defy, redefine, or revisit cultural and social norms associated with love and sex. Possible topics include acts of flirtation, gay marriage, public displays of affection, serial killers and necrophilia, sexuality in comic books, female genital mutilation, Internet sex addiction, sexual predators, and pornography.
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.
The Psychology of Conflict
“Can we all get along?” Rodney King touched the soul of the nation in 1992 with this simple but insightful question because it poses fundamental human concerns: why do we fight with our family, friends, and loved ones? Why is argument the basis of so much of education and business? Why do gender, class, race, and ethnic groups sometimes fight over core values and backgrounds? Why do nations go to war? “Psychology of Conflict” will allow students to address these issues and more. Conflict may not always lend itself to resolution, but resolution can often be managed. Investigation of techniques for conflict resolution can provide an additional avenue for student research.
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, 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.
Science, Technology , & Digital Personas
What lies hidden behind the TikTok haircut, or behind the humble brag? This course explores the frontiers of selfhood in the wake of the digital revolution. To what extent is modern personhood defined by smart phone ownership, or social capital by social media curation? In this age of finstas and AI-generated content, what counts as authentic personhood or self-expression? Who among us truly belongs to cringe culture, cancel culture, or toxic fandoms? What traces of digital identity lurk within shadow data or the dark web? In what ways are algorithms shaping our behavior or conceptions of reality? How are virtual avatars transforming human embodiment? What impacts does the digital world have on subcultural affiliation, social organizing, and political activism? And what does digital selfhood look like in popular sci-fi movies, anime, or comics?
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.
Stories We Tell
What is your personal narrative? What are the stories you tell and listen to that make you who you are? Storytelling shapes identity and can be first-person accounts about relationships, honoring the dead, journeys, adventures, faith, politics and accomplishments. It is also living history as in the thousands of stories that make a culture’s collective identity. Storytelling is digital, written, oral, image, song, and dance and never before have so many diverse fields used the power of the story in their work. Storytelling played a role in evolution, and today is practiced at every cultural level, manifest in uprisings in Africa and cover ups in boardrooms, on porches in rural America and hospitals in urban centers, in the rituals of churches, mosques, temples, the courthouse – and your house. Past research topics have included how story relates to voodoo healing, an Indian epic tale, cigarette ad campaigns, Palestinian exile, photos from the civil rights era, classical music, the paintings of Jacob Lawrence, dementia treatment, hip hop dance, and chocolate. Yes, chocolate.
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?