Core Writing Courses

As an important part of the Core Curriculum, all NYU Shanghai students take a series of two courses offered by the Writing Program. The first, Writing as Inquiry, is offered in the spring semester of the first year while Perspective on the Humanities follows in the fall semester of the second year. Both courses play a pivotal role in molding students' academic abilities and prepare them for the work expected of them within their chosen majors.

In Writing as Inquiry, the first-year workshop, students read texts and respond by writing their own. In doing so, they add their critical perspectives to ongoing academic and public conversations. Students work to write sophisticated and cogent prose, and learn to effectively incorporate written texts in the development of their own arguments. Class discussions include strategies for every step of the writing process—from invention and organization to research and revision. In a workshop setting, students analyze the work of their peers and respond to feedback on their own writing. By the end of the course, students should be able to recognize rhetorical strategies and genre conventions, dissect difficult textual material, and build clear and convincing arguments that matter both within and beyond academic contexts.

Following this foundational course, students advance to Perspectives on the Humanities, a thematic seminar with writing, discussion and workshop components. This course fulfills the Social and Cultural Foundations requirement within the Core Curriculum. Building on the critical thinking and writing skills cultivated in Writing as Inquiry, it introduces students to multidisciplinary approaches within the humanities. In this course, students not only acquire a nuanced understanding of the subject matter, but also practice advanced techniques of close reading and analysis. Compared with Writing as Inquiry, students tackle longer, more complex texts often in diverse genres or media forms, explore a broader spectrum of disciplinary perspectives, and apply their acquired content knowledge to produce written work of greater depth and sophistication.

In addition to our core classes, the writing program also offers creative writing courses, including a creative writing minor, and journalism courses.

Fall 2023 Perspectives on the Humanities Course List
PoH: Eating Your Words - The Rhetoric of Food

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Mark Brantner

How do we translate the rich taste of a wine into words? How do we capture complex sensory experiences, such as taste, in writing? How do we communicate feelings, such as love, through sharing food? Most of the time, our encounters with food focus on eating, but food is deeply enmeshed with language. This course will give you a taste of how language and food intersect. It will investigate the ways that we speak about food; the ways that we communicate through food; and the ways that food and foodscapes communicate both identity and difference. The language surrounding food and dining spaces create and perpetuate both individual and communal identities and values. We will read from various genres, including fiction and non-fiction, cookbooks, menus, ads, and proverbs. At the same time, we will further develop your analytical and writing skills. Over the course of the semester, you will strengthen your writing and reading skills that you learned in Writing as Inquiry. We will deepen our analytical skills and your engagement with scholarly research. More specifically, you will learn close reading strategies, research skills, and methods of analysis. Among other things, you will write a review and a researched analysis of at least two restaurants. Finally, you will contribute to a communal cookbook that draws from and reflects your own identity or history.

PoH: Memory, Identity, & Resistance in a Global Context

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Adam Yaghi

This course explores how and why 20th and 21st century authors, from across the globe and writing in different genres, depict, re-imagine, and problematize individual, familial, and group identities through tapping into memory. In the process, they offer nuanced representations of their nations. Yet, as the business of representing involves inscriptions and erasures, narratives rarely achieve consensus: some are disapproved by the author’s ethnic group, others dismissed by the dominant culture or banned by a despotic regime. Thematically dynamic and often formally innovative, some of these writings invite fascinating questions which the course aspires to investigate and will have students engage through writing responses and research projects. Some of the larger questions that we will unpack may include the following: Is there a close relation between national myths formation and othering of minorities? Is the imagined group identity fictitious or real? What role does remembering play in unveiling or perpetuating injustices? What solutions do some of the writers suggest to help communities heal or move forward in spite of the trauma? Why do certain women writers reclaim lived traditions and invoke indigeneity, orality, and matrilineal ancestral history? And can we, readers, serve as witnesses to the horrors revisited in a literary text? The course will continue to build upon the writing and critical thinking skills introduced in Writing as Inquiry. Students will be introduced to theoretical perspectives and will sample texts from different literary genres. They are required to produce close readings, analytical pieces, and research projects.

PoH: World-Building

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Marcos Martinez

This course will explore Margaret Atwood’s idea of creating an “Ustopia.” We will imagine building a better world—the roles governance, science, and the arts would take. Instead of relying on science fiction as escapism or impossible fantasy, Atwood describes her speculative fiction as exploring Ustopias: the liminal space between utopia and dystopia. Literary theorist Kenneth Burke argues that story features characters with a purpose (goal) encountering passion (trouble) and achieving perception (epiphany). Might we apply that story arc to our own human experiences, and by extension to social evolution? How might scientific advancements impact our efforts to build an ideal society? How do politics and law weigh personal freedoms against societal needs? How might globalization and translingualism shape an Ustopia? This course will extend writing skills and concepts learned in Writing as Inquiry by focusing on critical theory (including gender and critical race theory), close readings, and analytical essays. Texts will include fiction, film, and art to analyze how Ustopias are translated across genres. A capstone project asks writers to explore humanity’s potential via a research-based creative project.

PoH: Quantitative Literacy

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Jennifer Egloff

Numbers and mathematical arguments are so ubiquitous that we tend to take them for granted. Quantitative Literacy explores how numbers and mathematical arguments have been utilized—both practically and rhetorically—in a wide variety of cultures, from antiquity to the present. We will begin by engaging with seminal texts, including the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, Indian Vedas, Confucian texts from the Chinese tradition, Judeo-Christian Bible, Muslim Quran, and Maya Popol Vuh, in order to explore the significance of numbers in these highly influential societies. Next, we will analyze a variety of medieval, early modern, and modern texts from around the world. In addition to focusing on how individuals chose to utilize mathematical arguments as one of several rhetorical strategies, we will assess the ethics of their arguments, as well as the extent to which contemporaries would have been likely to have found them to be convincing. We will conclude by exploring the introduction and evolution of statistical arguments, particularly how twentieth- and twenty-first-century journalists, politicians, and advertisers deploy polling data to attempt to influence public opinion. Students will develop their writing skills through a variety of scaffolded assignments, while learning to critically assess the role of numerical evidence and mathematical arguments in historical and contemporary sources. In the process, students will learn to express themselves clearly—and to both utilize and analyze numerical evidence in arguments responsibly.

PoH: Language, Literacy, and Identity

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Yan Wang

In this academic writing course, we will explore the complex interrelations among language, literacy, and identity in multicultural contexts. Literacy, as an individual construct growing out of personal experiences, is otherwise culturally defined and framed by societal attitudes. By critically and strategically reading our texts on language, literacy, and identity, we will examine how language ideologies influence individuals’ literacy development and cultural identities. The readings in the class will serve as models or prompts for assigned essays exploring these issues: How do we use language to perform identities? What attitudes about language dictate the way we view others and ourselves? What’s the role of English and its relationship with other languages? How do cultural differences influence individuals’ view of and engagement in literacy activity? From the sociocultural perspective, we will analyze these questions and create others to form complex claims situated within an academic conversation. By engaging actively with critical theory, you will be guided to thoroughly analyze texts, incorporate them to craft inquiry questions, and then compose strategically for a variety of audiences and rhetorical situations, Over the course of the semester, you will have frequent opportunities to go back, revisit your own work, and think about your growth as a writer.

PoH: Nothing New Under the Sun?

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Sarah Snider

Nothing New Under the Sun? is an academic writing course that teaches critical research, writing, and thinking skills through investigating the concept and value of the “new.” Famously, innovation was already declared dead thousands of years ago with Ecclesiastes’s ancient assertion, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In fact, across literary, media, cultural, and theological structures, from teen rom-coms based on Shakespeare’s plays to major world religions’ reinterpretation of common biblical source texts, we can see recycling in action. On the other hand, we also find challenges to this narrative of the “same old” in theories of postmodernism, or new methods of structuring society like communism or democracy. In a city like Shanghai, there are things all around us that strike us as novel, from technology to buildings to fresh ways of interacting with each other. Or are these, too, in the words of contemporary poet Eileen Myles, just “old things, re-released”? Searching through comparative examples in literature, film, visual art, music, architecture, and religion, we will exercise our writing and critical interpretation skills in our attempt to get to the bottom of questions including: What makes something “new,” and can it still be done? What is it about humans that causes us to revisit the same ideas or structures? And what is the value of chasing the “new,” at its heart? This course will extend writing skills and concepts learned in Writing as Inquiry, focusing on critical theory, research, and academic writing and expression in the humanities. The primary assignments will be analytical essays and a digital expressions project.

PoH: Untranslatables

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Lin Chen

Writing in the humanities typically requires intensive work with texts, oftentimes challenging texts that readers must grapple with in order to come up with worthy ideas of their own. A central goal of this course, then, is to help students master such text-oriented writing skills as identifying problems, screening and collecting evidence, synthesizing sources, framing an argument and so on; it will do so by inviting students to investigate a coherent set of problems pertaining to language in cross-cultural studies. Specifically, it will use what I shall call “untranslables,” i.e. terms and ideas that do not easily travel across linguistic boundaries, to bring to light fundamental cultural differences that have all too often been forgotten or ignored in a world increasingly dominated by English. To make this topic relevant to the majority of the student population at NYU Shanghai, this course will concentrate mainly on the work of those, historical personages as well as contemporary academics, who seek to bridge the cultural gap between China and the West. Through a close examination of such historical evidence, students will develop a sense of the rhetorical and conceptual difficulties in intercultural communication that is essential to their success as linguistic and cultural mediators. Knowledge of Chinese is not required, although some familiarity with the language will help tremendously. Students will complete a series of short writing exercises in the first eight or nine weeks. The skills they practice in doing these exercises will prepare them well for the completion of the final project. This project will ask students to develop an argument concerning an untranslable of their own choosing, using sources found through their own research. They will present their thoughts and research findings to the class in the last part of the course.

PoH: Animals and Automatons

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Jingsi Shen

In this writing course, you will keep honing the composition skills acquired in WAI while exploring representations and theoretical discussions of two distinct kinds of non-human others—the animals and automatons (or self-movers, i.e., robots). You will read and analyze literary, theoretical, and filmic texts, and also respond to them by building your own arguments. In this class, you will encounter complex and sometimes ambiguous texts that explore the natural and the technologically altered beings. Together we will examine the cultural-historical, moral-philosophical, as well as scientific implications of creating beings that blur the boundaries between humans and non-humans. Readings include texts from ancient Greek mythology as well as Chinese classics, novels such as Frankenstein and Klara and the Sun, as well as a set of sci-fi films from Metropolis to Blade Runner.


Class discussions and assignments will emphasize critical interpretation and writing strategies. How do we close read fiction, theory, film, and other visual media? And how do we use textual evidence across a variety of media to create an argument? You will be asked to compose a total of three essays culminating in an academic research paper where you put your own interpretation in conversation with scholarly texts. Furthermore, through drafting and revising, you will be asked to think critically about your writing. 

PoH: Illuminating Stupidity

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Fernando Romero

If we pursue illumination to combat stupidity, we should heed the ancient adage: know your enemy. But if stupidity limits thought and knowledge, how do we know and address it? Can we reliably identify stupid ideas and actions? How does our cultural and technological environment, accumulating artifacts and information, affect stupidity? Often as humor, stupidity can also make us see the world in unexpected or new ways. How might it shed light on our knowledge, practices, and values? This writing course will enhance your interpretation and composition skills by investigating stupidity as represented or implied in fiction, satire, multimedia, scientific literature, philosophy, and social theory. We will use these materials as models, objects, and lenses of analysis to demystify stupidity and supposed counterparts like reason, sense, rationality, cunning, and self-interest, while becoming acquainted with knowledge production in the humanities. Ambitiously, course readings and discussions will probe stupidity’s roles in collective action, morality, judgment, conflict, and other complex social dynamics, in the fertility of “stupid questions” for knowledge breakthroughs, in the “dumb luck" of biological mutations and evolution, and in survival and creativity strategies across different cultures. Journal exercises, student-led discussions, and workshopped analytical essays leading to a researched creative project will hone your close reading and academic expression agility and help you reflect on your writing development throughout the semester.

PoH: The False Smile of Radical Optimism

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Kyle Muntz

"Just stay confident, and you can do anything," goes the old saying. In America, many believe that being relentlessly positive isn't just a way to feel good, but an essential key to success, and an entire self-help industry suggests it’s possible to “manifest” better fortune through simply feeling good—a culture which has increasingly spread to young professionals around the world. Many writers feel a pressure to focus only on positive aspects of their topic or give their stories a happy ending. Individuals reflect on themselves, and often the notion of a decent life rather than a great one is unbearable. But is extreme positivity truly an effective means of representing reality? Is a person who refuses to acknowledge weaknesses or problems truly at an advantage? And does the alternative—pessimism—offer the answer, or merely act as positivity’s dark mirror in obscuring the nuance of lived experienced? In this class we will read a broad selection of works from the fields of cultural studies, social science, philosophy and psychology in an attempt for every student to craft their personal answer to these questions. Along the way we will build on the techniques introduced in the Writing as Inquiry course, deepening our analytical abilities and tuning our facility for close reading as we cultivate the skills to produce a final research essay.

PoH: Legacies of the Enlightenment

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Peter Weise

This course addresses the legacies of the eighteenth century for us today. This period is often called the Enlightenment, one that has been celebrated for its development of the scientific method and for the global spread of democracy. But scholars have complicated this legacy by pointing to the emergence of global finance, global warming, and modern imperialism in this same period. This course asks, How do various genres, including philosophy, prose fiction, poems, and the visual arts, suggest ways of altering the practices and modes of thinking developed in the Enlightenment? We will develop different approaches to doing research on these problems, including drawing from the fields of philosophy, history, and literary criticism, with a particular focus on the place of China in the world. This course builds on Writing as Inquiry. A sequence of papers, including comparison and contrast, as well as analysis of argumentative essays and primary sources, will provide opportunities to work on specific skills, all of which taken together will lay the groundwork for writing the final research paper. Papers will go through a drafting process with various forms of workshops.

PoH: The City as a Text: Cosmic, Colonial, and Smart Cities in Southeast Asia

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Ruth Llobet

We can read a city as if it were a text, and when doing so, some questions arise: What is "the language" of the city? How do spatial practice and spatial representations shape this "text"? How do cities, like texts, differ culturally, politically and socio-economically depending on their geographic and historical context? The course will examine how contemporary Southeast Asian cities, including megacities like Bangkok, Manila, and Singapore, as well as provincial cities like Surabaya, and Chiang Mai have developed and changed over time. Southeast Asia is known for its high cultural permeability and capacity for transforming what was foreign into local forms. Thus, to better understand how those cities have changed over time while also demonstrating continuities with their pre-colonial and colonial pasts, we will examine and "read" those cities through a set of key topics and their historical trajectory, such as urban identities, gender, architecture, art, city planning, economy, transportation, and urban morphology through different lenses. The course will emphasize visual and academic texts. We will analyze these cities using relevant theories and methodologies, while also honing and deepening our research and writing skills learned in Writing as Inquiry in research essays.

PoH: The Rhetoric of Anxiety

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Sarah Hakimzadeh

In this course, students are introduced to scholarship in disability studies which works to remove the stigma from anxiety and mental health conditions more generally.  Rather than defining anxiety as a personal defect, students are assigned readings and writing assignments to investigate anxiety from all angles.  The readings by the anxiety expert Rollo May consider anxiety from a philosophical perspective, establishing connections between anxiety, creativity, and freedom.  The first-person narratives by Wendy Chrisman and Sarah Fawn Montgomery, both English professors who have diagnosed anxiety disorders, upend the misconception many students have that the university is exclusively a place for the very able.  Students will reflect on their attitudes toward mental health conditions in short writing assignments, and in a longer writing assignment, will interview an on-campus professional whose work in some way involves working with anxiety.  Especially in these readings but also throughout the course, we will explore the connection between rhetoric and the deliberate formation of (disability) identity.  In their third long writing assignment, students will provide an analysis of how their identity has taken shape by analyzing two images from their past and by connecting their analyses to a narrative that gestures toward the future.

PoH: Written in the Stars

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Jay Ludowyke

For millennia, the night sky has evoked a sense of wonder and curiosity that transcends culture. At the same time, different cultures shape and are shaped by their cosmological beliefs. This academic writing course introduces you to the interdisciplinary field of cultural astronomy, with an emphasis on examining the diverse ways that astronomy and cosmology have been expressed through art and literature. We focus on deepening your critical thinking, close reading, and scholarly research skills and introducing you to interpretive modes of inquiry and analysis through historical, anthropological, literary, and cultural studies critical approaches. The course begins by delving into the skywatching practices of ancient Greece, Egypt, and China, including a field trip to Shanghai Astronomy Museum. Then we consider how various cultures and indigenous peoples have interpreted celestial phenomena and how this has influenced customs and beliefs, both ancient and modern. Finally, we analyze a variety of texts, including primary sources—The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Ptolemy’s Almagest, and the Zhou Bi Suan Jing—as well as myths, poetry, literature, and visual representations of the cosmos in art and architecture (archeoastronomy). Through a draft-review-revision process, we will foster your writing ability as you produce a field trip reflective essay, a comparative textual analysis in a digital expressions project, and a research essay on a cross-cultural astronomy topic of your choice.

PoH: Streams of Consciousness

WRIT-SHU 201 | 4 Credits| Instructor: Bican Polat

Stream of consciousness is a narrative technique used for presenting the thoughts and emotions that pass through the mind of a narrator or a character. It allows for characterizing lived experience with varying degrees of psychological depth and emotional intensity. This PoH course will explore the technique of stream of consciousness in literature and the arts, drawing on modern works produced in China and the West. Class material will encompass fiction, poetry, film, and popular music, including The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) by T. S. Eliot, The Sound and the Fury (1929) by William Faulkner, Intersection (1993) by Liu Yichang,  In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar-wai, Mirror (1975) by Andrei Tarkovsky, Kaili Blues (2015) by Bi Gan, and songs by Courtney Barnett. A few academic texts in literary analysis, film studies, and philosophy will serve as our theoretical framework for interpreting this material. The course will build on skills you have acquired in Writing as Inquiry. You will learn how to close read excerpts from a variety of media and mine for evidence to create an academic argument. Through drafting and revising, you will develop an essay supported with strong evidence and sound reasoning.