When historian Daniel J. Boorstin noted in 1962 that “a celebrity is a person known for his well-knownness,” he was implying that true fame lacks significant meaning. After decades of following the stars from TV to YouTube, perhaps today we have a different understanding of celebrity’s ability to generate and transmit values, from Lady Diana’s ethical royalty to Beyoncé’s African-American feminism. But how is it that stars like these carry such personal significance in our lives and such influence in the public sphere? And how do celebrities—and fans—negotiate the boundaries between privacy and fame? This Writing Seminar examines the meaning of celebrity and how it relates to our social lives. We begin by using theories about charisma to shed light on Kanye West’s self-fashioning as a hip-hop star and iconoclastic genius. Then, taking Albert Einstein as our case study, we make sense of how public figures can become enduring icons that transcend their initial professional spheres. For the research paper, students investigate the political, economic, or cultural influence of a celebrity figure or phenomenon of their choosing. Possible topics include Oprah Winfrey’s transformation from local talk show host to national icon, animal celebrities like Fiona the Hippo, and Amelia Earhart's heroic exploits

Arthur Sasse, Albert Einstein, 1951 (Sasse/AFP).

Selected Course Evaluations:

  • “Writing seminar has significantly changed the way I approach essay writing. I have a much better understanding of what a motive and scholarly conversation are, two things I never even knew about in high school. Revisions are so important and are a crucial step in the writing process. Although the essays were difficult at times, I found the topic of celebrity culture to be fascinating and I truly had a wonderful experience learning in this class!”

  • “Professor De Oliveira is a very thoughtful and engaging professor and I truly enjoyed my time in his class. The intriguing topic of the class helped make all the writing assignments much more interesting.”

  • “The in–class experience was probably my favorite. The facilitation was effective and purposeful, yet not stifling or strict. The students got along well and were eager to participate in discussions and the professor encouraged student participation while giving constructive feedback throughout the class.”

  • “My writing has greatly improved because of this class. As the class progresses, students will notice that it is not only easier to write large essays, but that their writing is improving as well.”

  • “One of the most helpful parts of this course was the feedback I received on drafts. It was always very thorough and detailed and pointed me in a specific direction to frame my argument or steps to proceed with my revision.”

  • “I loved meeting with the professor––we really engaged in fascinating conversations. Without getting feedback, I would have struggled.”

  • “I have learned the importance of writing with incisiveness and curiosity. I have become a more structured and advanced writer.”