BIS 300C: Introduction to Interdisciplinary Inquiry

Fall Quarter, 2009, Monday and Wednesday    5:45-7:50   UW1-202 (new room; we’ll move during break October 5)

Colin Danby, University of Washington, Bothell
Office: UW1-245     (425) 352-5285     danby@u.washington.edu
Office Hours
Monday and Wednesday 4:00-5:00 PM, and by appointment.

This course is an introduction to the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences program.  One goal of higher education is to help you become a more critical consumer of knowledge, and a producer of knowledge yourself.  This means learning to think carefully about claims are made, and paying attention to what questions are being asked.  In this class we will stress close, attentive, and critical reading.  In your writing you will be asked to discuss, interpret and critique readings. 

In the past, you may have been asked to write summaries.  You may also have learned to write "personal" essays that express an opinion.  Summaries and personal essays are fine things, but they are not what we do in this class. 

Pure fact


  • summaries
  • reports
  • regurgitation
  • "information" in the sense of a lot of facts

Interpretation, analysis

  • logic and relationships between ideas
  • evidence: relationships between ideas and facts
  • interpretation that provides insight -- not just "what I think" but why I think
  • careful questions

Pure opinion

  • viewpoints, perspectives that are not further developed
  • "what I get out of it"
  • relativism - "we all have our own perspective"

This class is all about the middle category. Interpretations and analyses are not simple, easily-ascertainable facts, and intelligent people of good will can have different interpretations. But on the other hand, they are not just about making stuff up. We will be interested in how you assess interpretations. 

Universities combine teaching and research; they create knowledge as well as communicating it.  As you move into the upper levels of an undergraduate education, you come closer to what are sometimes grandly called the "frontiers of knowledge."  This is the difficult project of trying to figure out what the world is like and how it works.  This class will give you a better sense of what scholars do, and better abilities to interpret and think critically about what scholars write and say.  Just because something is printed in a book or journal doesn't mean it's true or right or even carefully thought out, and one of the benefits of a good university education is that you will develop better defenses against bad arguments, spurious evidence, and inappropriate claims of expertise.  

This is one reason that we will stress questions as much as answers.  If there is one thing that I would like you to get out of this class, it is the ability to identify the question or questions that people are responding to.  This class is, in a lot of ways, at right-angles to a traditional course. It is not "about" anything in the sense that it covers no set subject area. (If it makes you more comfortable to name a theme for this class, the theme is truth.)  We are interested in uncovering rather than covering, circling back for another look rather than moving on, rereading, rewriting, rethinking. It will frustrate you at times, because it's different from what you're used to. The commitment I can make to you is that (a) if you keep up with the work, engage with the material in class, and talk to me whenever you have questions you'll do well and (b) this class will help you do better in future IAS courses.

This is a portfolio-based course, designed to give you a good start in keeping a portfolio of your work as you move through the IAS program.  We will spend considerable time on the collection, reflection, and assessment of a portfolio.


  • Come to class, on time and return from breaks on time. Absences and late arrivals disrupt your progress and the work of the class.
  • Bring a printout of that day’s reading with you to class and be prepared to discuss it.
  • Do readings and assignments on time.  Successful in-class work is built on careful out-of-class work.
  • Participate actively and thoughtfully in class.
  • Ask me questions when anything is not clear.  Assignments are not meant to be puzzles.
  • Keep written work in a portfolio.
  • Meet with me at least once, some time after the first essay is returned.

Above all, engage with the course.  Talk back to it.  Talk back to me.  My hope is that you will see this course as a way to take a more active role in your own education. 
Keep me informed about how the course is going for you.



  • Participation: 15%
  • Response papers: 15%
  • Three Essays: 55%
  • Portfolios: 15%


Participation includes small-group work in class as well as larger discussion; it also includes our library session  work and in-class writings that we will do from time to time.  I am interested in quality of participation at least as much as quantity, and I am always impressed when people respond thoughtfully to each other.  Response papers will be assessed on the seriousness of the effort grapple with the assignment, and a good effort should get full credit.  With the three essays, I will grade more stringently on organization, clarity, insight, and quality of writing.  The first two essays can be resubmitted, for a better grade, within one week of when they are returned to you.  Portfolio assessments will evaluate of the level of care and sophistication with which assignments are being done, and the care with which your own assessment is written.  

Late work: The first two essay assignments will be subject to my normal late-paper policy, which is that late submissions will be penalized 15% (of the total possible grade) up to the first week they are late; 30% thereafter.  They will not be accepted after the last day of class meetings (Dec. 9 2009).  Due to the volume of short assignments that this course produces, no other late work will be accepted, but I will review late-completed assignments as part of your portfolio.  It's your responsibility to organize your life so work gets done on time, reliably.  Please do not tell me about malfunctioning computers and so forth.  There are no exceptions to the late-work policy -- there simply is no way that I can fairly assess the personal emergencies, job pressures, and other factors that impinge on different people's lives, and adjust their assignments accordingly.  Please do not try to show me doctors' notes, court orders, or anything like that.  There is however one appeal: if you feel that for any reason, part of your grade does not reflect your learning in the course, write me a short e-mail explaining why, and I will take that into account when assessing the final grade.

We will use this electronic drop-box to submit assignments.  They will be due at 5:45 PM on the relevant day.  If you have computer difficulties I’ll accept assignments on paper before the beginning of class.

There is no reason to tell me if you are going to miss class.  However if a serious illness or personal emergency is going to affect course work over a week or more, please tell me so we can plan how to get you back on track as quickly as possible.   For a few other points see Occasionally-Asked Questions, How I Assess Writing, and Notes on Formats for written work.

Our scheduled classes are times for work.  Focusing on the task at hand is vital for your own learning; it also makes you a better participant in small-group discussions and other activities that will help others learn.  It is therefore expected that you will use class time for class work, and most importantly that you will not do anything to distract other students from class work.  This means, for example, avoiding private conversations and noisy food, and turning off and putting away cell phones and any other portable electronic devices.  In the interest of avoiding distraction this will be a laptop-free classroom, and when we work with computers at the library, you are asked to confine your activity to the work at hand.   If you have to arrive late, please walk in the back door as quietly as possible.  It is my responsibility, and prerogative, to determine what is appropriate classroom behavior. 

If you believe that you have a disability and would like academic accommodations, please contact Disability Support Services at (425) 352-5307 425.352.5303 TDD, 425.352.3581 FAX, or at dss@uwb.edu.. After an initial intake appointment, you should be prepared to provide documentation of your disability in order to receive assistance. See www.uwb.edu/students/services/dss/index.xhtml for more information.

You are reading a web document.  It can usually be located by putting "danby" into the faculty directory accessible via the main uwb page, or by putting "colin danby" into a search engine like google.   Changes in readings or assignments will be made on the web version, as well as being announced in class.  If you miss classes, you need to check for any modifications to assignments.

I find contact with students outside of class extremely useful in improving what I do in the classroom, and I encourage you to see the regular class time as only part of the service provided to you in this course. Please feel no hesitation contacting me outside of class, using the scheduled office hours, and setting up meetings at other times. Aside from visiting during the scheduled office hours or chatting after class, the best way to get in touch is e-mail.  I don't use the voice mail system.  On e-mail: the university provides you an e-mail account.  You’re responsible for your own forwarding arrangements if you use multiple e-mail accounts, and for service interruptions if you forward to an outside provider.  E-mail that I receive from non-university addresses may be harder for me to identify amid the daily flood; please be sure that any e-mail account you use to contact me shows your full name in the “from” field.  On response times: I’ll usually get back within 24 hours during the M-F week.  If I can, I’ll be faster, and I often check in during weekends, but don’t depend on that.  Given that (a) e-mail is hard to control and (b) there are federal laws around educational records disclosure (google FERPA), I think it’s best not to use e-mail to discuss grades or anything sensitive.

Academic Integrity: This course includes writing, and it is assumed that written work is your own, and that when another person’s ideas or words are used they are fully acknowledged.  Please see the UWB General Catalog, the documents you signed upon admission to IAS, and the policy statements at http://www.uwb.edu/academic/policies/academic-conduct  for crucial information regarding academic integrity.  The writing center has a useful page at http://www.uwb.edu/writingcenter/writing/plagiarism  and the library also has useful website with resources at http://library.uwb.edu/guides/research/plagiarism.html.  You are responsible for knowing what constitutes a violation of the University of Washington Student Code, and you will be held responsible for any such violations whether they were intentional or not.  Proper crediting boils down to two things: 

·         First, in anything that you hand in, your own writing must be clearly distinguished from other people’s writing.  The normal way to do this is with quotation marks around the words that are not yours. 

·         Second, quoted material, or anything that you got from another source (a fact, an idea, something paraphrased) must have a reference clearly attached to it that tells your reader precisely where it came from.

See these additional notes on plagiarism. On the positive side, we will spend some time in this course practicing different ways to bring other people’s voices into your writing.


Writing: A Few Notes

  • Always assume an audience (me and other course participants) who has read the text or texts that you are writing about, and who has them at hand. This means that you do not have to rehash the text.  I will never give you an assignment that can be completed by writing a summary of a reading.  If you find yourself getting drawn into extended summarizing, step back and ask yourself how you are addressing the assignment.
  • You do not need to write a general introduction to "interest the reader." I am already interested.  I promise you that I will read every word that you write.  Instead about an initial paragraph that signals to the reader what your essay does and what makes it distinctive. You will probably want to write, or at least rewrite, the opening paragraph after the rest of the essay is done.
  • While you do not want to recreate or simply summarize the text you are writing about, you do want to use evidence from the text when you make assertions about it. This requires practice, but in general get in the habit of using page references and short quotes from the text to illustrate your points. You can even put in longer quotes if you are really going to analyze, say, a paragraph of the text. But be careful of just filling space with long extracts from someone else's text.
  • Endings are hard. My advice is simply to summarize what you've accomplished in the essay and get out. But if you want to put in a further reflection, or an additional question, this is a good place to do it. Do not feel that your ending needs to resolve the world's problems, or tie everything up with a bow. You don't need to generalize at the ending, or provide an uplifting sentiment.
  • Expect to have to rewrite a few times before essays come into focus. These are not assignments that you can knock off in a half hour. Writing is rewriting.



  • Portfolio Keeping: A Guide for Students.  Nedra Reynolds and Rich Rice, 2nd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s.  In the UWB Bookstore.
  • Electronic reserve The rest of our readings are here, free of charge.  But you are responsible for printing out class readings, and bringing those printouts with you to class.  Two more notes on e-reserve: (a) the course e-reserve list includes some texts that we will not read, so don’t go printing them all out, (b) I try to give you direct links below to the readings, but for those links to work an initial “cookie” has to be set on your computer.  The technical details are too boring to describe, but you may sometimes have to go directly to the UW Library Website and follow links to the course’s e-reserves from there.
  • If you don't have one yet, please consider buying a real dictionary -- a serious reference book intended for academic use.  The best dictionary of American English is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary.  (The name "Webster," by itself, is meaningless.  It's not copyrighted and anyone can use it.)  Other good dictionaries are the American Heritage Dictionary and Oxford American Dictionary.  You will from time to time come across words you don’t know in readings, and you need to look them up.



Electronic Forum: https://catalysttools.washington.edu/gopost/board/danby/13052/  I’ve found it helpful to have an easily-accessible space where I can put things up, and where we can sometimes pursue discussions that overflow class time.  It’s a good place when there is a question that really interests only a few people in the class.  All of you have access to it and can post anything course-related you like.  On the other hand there is no requirement to participate in this thing.  Do remember that whatever you post here is public: that is, accessible to anyone with a UWNet ID. 




Topics, Readings, and Assignments

The schedule and assignments may be changed as we go along, but you will always know at least a week in advance what you need to do. 


in-class work and readings 
(readings should be done before class)


(assignments should be done before class and submitted via the e-submit dropbox for this course.)


September 30

1. Uses of Education
Course introduction, writing exercise

Right after class: Please go to the electronic drop-box for this class and test it out, so we can be sure it’s working for everyone.  If you can, please send me a file with something in it about yourself, including a picture, to help me start learning names.


The dropbox is set up so that anyone with a UWNet ID can access it.


The assignment I ask you to respond to is called “Trying this out.” 


October 5

Paulo Freire, The “Banking” Concept of Education

Response Paper: Due to budget cuts, your acceptance by the IAS program has been rescinded.  But there is good news, perhaps: IAS Director Bruce Burgett has been dismissed, and Paulo Freire has been appointed in his place.  Professor Freire has the power to re-admit students.  Your assignment is to write him a letter making your case for your re-admission to the program.  Aim for at least 750 words, and use whatever style you think will work.  Doing this successfully means writing to Paulo Freire, not to a generic bureaucrat.


October 7




October 12

Plato, Republic, Book 3


Response Paper: At the end of Book 3 of the Republic, Paulo Freire, who has been eavesdropping on Socrates and his pals,  joins the discussion.  Write another 1,000 words of dialogue.  Feel free to have the discussion loop back to earlier themes in the chapter, or loop forward to other concerns.  Doing this really successfully means using the dialogue to explore an interesting question.


If you paraphrase or quote Freire, be sure to credit and cite the language you are using or paraphrasing.  But you’ll be more successful if you don’t try and build this out of Freire quotes.  Try and get into Freire’s head, imagine how he would respond to the discussion, and take it from there.


October 14

Portfolio Keeping, pages 1-31. Visit by IAS Director Bruce Burgett



October 19

Allan Bloom, selections from The Closing of the American Mind

You are Allan Bloom.  Write about Paulo Freire’s “The Banking Concept of Education.”  Write about 750 words, all of it in Bloom’s voice.  Try to be persuasive.


October 21




October 26

2. Making Knowledge
Library session: LB1-222

(in the library, 2nd floor)


First essay due


October 28

Evelyn F. Keller, “Transposition”



November 2

Evelyn F. Keller, “A Different Language”

Response paper: Keller invokes Albert Einstein on page 150 around the theme of "vision."  But Einstein's vision was not perfect -- he was wrong about some things, sometimes stubbornly wrong.  So we can't simply conclude that there are a few geniuses gifted with perfect insight into the workings of the universe.  Does Keller make things too easy for herself by choosing someone to write about (Barbara McClintock) who turned out to be right?

Aim for about 500 words in which you probe how Keller uses the theme of vision in these two chapters.

Wed November 4

Lab: corn genetics

Assignment: Assess your portfolio thus far

1. Look over the work you have done thus far in the course. This should include assignments that you turned in and got back, assignments that you completed late or did not turn in, and in-class portfolio writings

Please turn in the in-class writings to me on November 2, or earlier (and be sure your name is on them).

2. Write about 500 words assessing your portfolio. Consider:

• How is the writer of this portfolio positioning her/himself with respect to the texts under consideration?

• How does this writer begin pieces of writing?

• How does this writer end pieces of writing?

• How do this writer's pieces develop and unfold?

• How does this writer use evidence?

• Does this writer take risks?

• Is this writer changing what she/he does over the course of this portfolio?

To be absolutely clear: “this writer” is you. 


November 9


Anna Tsing, The Economy of Appearances

Response paper: Write a short essay of 500 words or so on Tsing's endnotes.  (The endnotes, to be clear, are numbered 1-35 and appear on pages 278-282 of the electronic-reserve file.)  You might consider her purposes in writing those notes, and how those purposes fit with, or differ from, her purposes in the chapter itself.

Wed November 11

Veteran’s Day Holiday



November 16

3. Organizing knowledge

Second Essay Due (see drop box)


November 18

Library session: LB1-222




November 23

Reading: Donna Haraway, Teddy Bear Patriarchy

Response paper: Choose one of these three questions.  Write about 750 words.

1. You're Akeley.  Write a response to Haraway.

2. Use Haraway's concepts to critique a museum exhibit that you've seen.

3. Compare and contrast "Teddy Bear Patriarchy" with one of our previous readings.

Wed November 25

Immanuel Wallerstein, Historical Origins of World-Systems Analysis, pages 1-11 only



November 30

Julie Thompson Klein, Mapping Interdisciplinary Studies

Imagine that we have invited Immanuel Wallerstein and Julie Thompson Klein to campus to speak on a panel (this is not too far-fetched -- Klein was here a couple of years ago).  Imagine that they say more or less what is in our readings by them.

After they are both done, a third member of the panel speaks, as a "discussant."  A discussant's job is to reflect critically on what the panelists have said, and pose them some difficult questions.


(1) suppose the discussant is you, as an outstanding student in the IAS program.  You might reflect on your own experience in the IAS program to examine the arguments of Wallerstein and Klein about interdisciplinarity.

(2) bring back one of your favorite other authors from this course (Bloom might be good) and put them in the role of discussant.

Either way, write about 500 words critically reflecting on what Klein and Wallerstein have said and posing them some questions.  Don't spend a lot of time summarizing them or saying nice things about them.


December 2



December 7

Library session: LB1-222: Archives


Brown,.Duguid, “Reading the Background”

Response paper: It's 2109, and you find our course syllabus in a digital archive.  What research questions could you address to it?  See how many you can list, and then pick a couple.  For those, write a paragraph about what other artifacts you would need to assemble to answer the question.

Aim for around 400 words.

Wed December 9


 Optional draft-workshopping session



December 16

(no class: This is exam week)

Final Essay Choices

1. Set two or three of our authors into conversation with each other.  Write this up in any way you want; the aim is to draw further insight into these authors from this juxtaposition.

2. Write a critical essay about one of our readings.

3. Take the analytical insights of one of our authors and apply them to a new question.

4. Some other question that you clear with me via e-mail.

Aim for about 1,000 words.  In all of these questions, the aim is to use writing to think more carefully about a text.  Here is the handout on questions to ask a text.


Final Portfolio Assessment

Look over the work you have done in the course. This should include assignments that you turned in and got back, assignments that you completed late or did not turn in, and in-class portfolio writings

2. Write about 500 words assessing your portfolio. Consider:

• How is the writer of this portfolio positioning her/himself with respect to the texts under consideration?

• How does this writer begin pieces of writing?

• How does this writer end pieces of writing?

• How do this writer's pieces develop and unfold?

• How does this writer use evidence?

• Does this writer take risks?

• Is this writer changing what she/he does over the course of this portfolio?


Evaluation of the assessment will be especially attentive to use of evidence.


due in the electronic drop-box or at my office (UW1-245) by 8PM.




This course is a collaborative effort.  I have borrowed freely from the work of colleagues who have taught it before me.  My thanks to Professors Constantin Behler, Bruce Burgett, JoLynn Edwards, Bruce Kochis, Ron Krabill, Diane Gillespie, David Goldstein-Shirley, Dan Jacoby, and Linda Watts.  Thanks also to students who took this class in past years for all their interest and work, which has taught me a lot about what can be accomplished in this kind of class.