21W.730 Writing on Contemporary Issues: Social and Ethical Issues

As taught in: Spring 2010

This is a photograph of a 12 year old girl, Addie Card. She worked as a spinner in the North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill.

Photograph of Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. (Image courtesy of wikipedia.org)




Dr. Andrea Walsh

Course Features

Course Description

Our best writing happens when we care passionately about our topics. That sense of passion often emerges in relation to social problems, such as poverty, homelessness, injustice, or environmental crisis, that deeply concern us. Writing offers a critical avenue of civic engagement so that we can understand issues more profoundly, communicate that understanding to the public, and advocate for change. This course seeks to provide a supportive context for students to grow significantly as writers by discovering and engaging with issues that matter to them.

Writing on social issues, we can see ourselves within a tradition of authors such as Charles Dickens, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, George Orwell, Rachel Carson, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., who have used the power of the pen to inspire social change. Throughout the semester, we will read selections from these authors, as well as contemporary writers such as Marion Wright Edelman, Alan Dershowitz, Susanna Kaysen, Jonathan Kozol, and Robert Putnam.

21W.730 also focuses on the visual power of photography and film, which combined with print media, help raise awareness of social problems and advocate for solutions. We will analyze classic documentary photographs by Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, and will screen some more recent documentary and feature films (e.g., One Woman, One Vote, Dead Man Walking, and Girl, Interrupted). In discussing these texts, we will explore the ways in which an artist's era, biography, political perspective, and rhetorical purpose may influence the choice of topic and style in addressing audiences. During the course, we will often raise the question of how individuals from different gender, racial, generational, religious, political and economic groups may understand the same social and ethical issues.