Geek Writing Seminars at Penn

Fellow Annenberger Deb L. emailed me a scan from the catalog of freshman writing seminars happening this semester at Penn. I was able to scrounge up full descriptions from the Critical Writing course listing.

ENGL 009 314 TR 1:30pm-3:00pm Smith
Brains, Jocks, Burnouts, and Rebels

What is a nerd? A Jock? Have these identities always existed in school, or are they new? Do they exist across cultures, or are they a uniquely American phenomenon? How is it that unique individuals embrace these categories or are pushed into them? This course will explore identities as they exist in high schools, and students will engage in critical writing around the creation and definition of identity categories, both generally and in terms of personal experience.

“Brains, Jocks, Burnouts, and Rebels” is about high school hierarchies (with a description starting with the words “What is a nerd?”), and “Freaks and Geeks” is about fandom (“Most of us would admit to being a freak or a geek about something—in other words, a fan”).

ENGL 009 319 MW 3:30pm-5:00pm Cook
Freaks and Geeks

Most of us would admit to being a freak or geek about something — in other words, a fan. This is a class about fan culture, in which we will think critically about the idea of the fan and his or her relationship to literary and cultural production. Using critical essays, documentary films, novels and websites, we will study the theory and practice of fandom. We will examine the ways fans creatively demonstrate their enthusiasm for literary classics like Shakespeare and Austen, consider the communities created by contemporary phenomena like Star Trek and the Harry Potter books, and explore the idea of a cult classic and what it means to be part of a cult following. In short weekly assignments and several longer, formal essays, students will discuss their own experience as fans and reflect upon the ways in which fandom constitutes a unique mode of reading a text, whether it be a novel, television show, film, or piece of music.

I’m fascinated that in two pages you get such different takes on practically the same concepts. One conceptualizes nerdiness as part of a distinct social category, and the other assumes that we all have a certain amount of geekiness, our “own experience as fans.” It’s often quite intentional to refer in one case to “nerds” and in the other to “geeks,” although there’s little ambiguity about the oddity associated with the word “freak.”

If you’re a Penn student, note that the last day to add a writing class is September 14th!