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PWR 1RD: Good Old Days: The Rhetoric of Nostalgia

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Fall 2021: Section 1 MW 11:30AM-1:15PM, Section 2 MW 1:30PM-3:15PM

Winter 2022: Section 1 MW 11:30AM-1:15PM, Section 2 MW 1:30PM-3:15PM

Spring 2022: Section 1 MW 11:30AM-1:15PM, Section 2 MW 1:30PM-3:15PM

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement

Nostalgia is everywhere. It fills our popular culture with reboots (Ghostbusters, She-Ra), period pieces (Stranger Things, Mad Men), and other forms of meta-commentary (Deadpool, Bojack Horseman). It defines our politics, for good or ill, as rival parties debate what elements of our history should be honored, acknowledged, or repudiated. And it shapes our most cherished personal relationships with one another, particularly across generational divides. Considered an infectious disease in the eighteenth century, nostalgia often seems to us a fact of life. At all times and across all stages of life, even adolescence, many of us cannot help but look backward with fascination. But what exactly do we see? And how—and why—should we describe it?

This course invites students to think deeply about the innumerable uses of nostalgia. Drawing on a wide range of textual sources, we will study the structure and effect of different appeals to former times, thereby learning strategies for enhancing our own rhetorical technique. Through classroom discussion, exercises, and assignments focused on the rhetoric of nostalgia, we will practice thinking about the past not as a fixed structure that we merely gesture toward, but as one that all of us construct, piece by piece, with our language.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) You will choose one textual artifact (an episode of your favorite show, a magazine article, or a tweet, among many other options) and analyze its dependence on nostalgia. How, and to what purpose, does this text create an image of the past? This assignment will enable you to discover a topic or guiding question to be carried forward into subsequent assignments—though you are welcome to pivot toward a different artifact and topic later if you wish to do so. Pick anything that excites you! The goal here is to understand how your artifact relies on a particular evocation of the past to convey its meaning.

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) You will gather research materials on a topic or research question related to a text that interests you—whether the same text from your Rhetorical Analysis or something new. In assembling your own personal bibliography, you will discover a network of facts and theories that represent contemporary thinking on your topic. Your objective is to represent that network as clearly and expressively as possible, paying close attention to where positions differ and what direction the conversation has taken over time. In so doing, you will develop a background for your final major assignment, the Research-Based Argument.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) Using resources and insights collected during the Texts in Conversation assignment, you will write an argumentative essay on your nostalgia-related topic. You may want to explore the role of classic sitcom tropes in WandaVision, debates surrounding statues and public institutions that represent Confederate generals, or the neurological effects of homesickness (this is your brain on nostalgia). In any case, this Research-Based Argument represents the culmination of your work throughout the quarter, and should bring forward a nuanced argument that participates fully in the conversation from your TiC assignment.