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PWR 2JU: Haunted: The Rhetoric of Ghosts

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A seated woman with a man in the background by an unidentified photographer, 1865, via Wikimedia.

Catalog Number: PWR 2JU

Instructor: Julia Schulte

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: PWR1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement


You believe in ghosts. Maybe not the moaning, chain-rattling wraith that floats down the basement staircase (but maybe?!). But you do believe that the past operates in the present: that memories of people long gone still influence our lives, that historical events and social shifts shape our understanding of the world, and that historical trauma haunts our communities. These forces mark us deeply, though sometimes we have to squint to see them at all. Ghosts blur the boundary between life and death, but also between reality and imagination, the visible and invisible, the spoken and unspoken, and that’s how they help us think and talk about our fears and anxieties as well as our hopes and dreams. They might take their most distinct forms when we try to explain mysterious events, long for a missing loved one, grapple with disturbing history, and imagine worlds beyond. The most ominous specter as well as the most helpful spirit guide teach us something about ourselves and our world.  

In this course, you’ll become a ghost hunter and engage in a quarter-long research project focused on a particular corner of the spirit world. You’ll identify a topic which features a conceptual and/or rhetorical connection to our theme and inform yourself about this topic through secondary and possibly primary research. You’ll also practice and sharpen your writing and public speaking skills when you share your findings and present your own arguments about this topic to your colleagues.

Examples of Research Topics

You could take on the world of the paranormal and track how the legends around the Winchester Mystery House developed in historical news accounts, or the reporting on how Jane Stanford’s spiritualism helped found the university. Maybe you’ll look at how depictions of the haunted house have changed in film, or the cultural significance of Victorian spirit photography. You could venture into more contemporary territory and learn about phantom limb pain in amputees or the vacuum left by the dwindling Black Rhino in its ecosystem. You might also investigate the rhetorical function of ghosts: What does it mean to ‘ghost’ someone? Is it accurate to describe human consciousness as a ‘ghost in the machine’?

PWR 2 Assignment Sequence                                                                             

Research Proposal 

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words; reflective memo of 250 words): In your proposal, you'll outline a research project related to your take on ghosts. You will articulate your research question(s) and methods, establish the significance of the project, and present existing scholarship and information from relevant sources.

Written Research-Based Argument 

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages; reflective memo of 250 words): In this RBA you’ll explore answers to the questions you asked in your Research Proposal. You’ll draw on various published texts and your own analysis to produce your own complex, provocative argument that contributes to the existing conversation about your topic.

Delivery of Research

 (10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support; reflective memo of 250 words): In this oral presentation, you will share your research conclusions and argument, using appropriate media (props, music, film, slides, etc.).

Genre/Modes assignment 

(300 words/one page): You’ll share your own short ghost story or ghost art.