Sweetland’s newest course, Writing 405, began as a conversation about how to develop further one of Sweetland’s areas of strength: understanding writing in and across academic disciplines. While there are many courses that offer the opportunity to focus on one discipline at a time, there were no courses that gave students the chance to place different forms of academic writing in conversation with one another. How can our understanding of disciplinary writing reveal how academic disciplines think, pose questions, and build knowledge? A working group comprised of Sweetland faculty members Anne Gere, Shuwen Li, Raymond McDaniel, Dana Nichols, and Carol Tell formed in summer 2017 to address this gap in our curriculum.
Writing 405 uses a different approach than other writing in the disciplines courses. Rather than situating the class in a particular academic department, this course is housed in Sweetland to focus on the connections between writing and developing academic knowledge. The class focuses on one contemporary topic, and examines that topic across the genres, conventions, and styles of different academic disciplines. Students build a subtle understanding of how those disciplines create knowledge through their approach to the topic, the questions they pose, and the constraints of what discrete disciplines can learn on their own.
Raymond McDaniel debuted the course in winter 2019 using the theme “Climate, Crisis, and Interdisciplinarity.” The class drew students from across LSA, including many from STEM disciplines, who were invested in the issue and eager for the opportunity to explore climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective. Dana Nichols is offering Writing 405 for the second time in winter 2020 with the theme “’White Trash’ and Rural America,” which examines how disciplines have imagined and constructed this American group as an economic, political, public health, and social problem. Writing 405 has been a welcome addition to Sweetland’s slate of courses, and we look forward to future offerings that encourage students to conceptualize the complexities and nuances of some of our thorniest contemporary problems.