Mobility manifests itself in myriad forms in our everyday lives: when we walk to class, when we fly back home, and when use Facebook Messenger to communicate across campus or around the globe. But movement and transportation also become the focus of conflict and negotiation: borders disrupt the travel rhythms of nomadic communities, airlines define multiple classes of passengers, and the debate concerning net neutrality may fundamentally shape Internet accessibility. In this Writing Seminar, we explore what mobility can tell us about past and present societies. What effects does increased mobility have on social cohesion? How do different forms of moving through space shape the way we see the world? We begin by analyzing the movements of medieval shepherds in Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s book Montaillou and of corporate travelers in the movie Up in the Air. Next, we explore how the railroad—the nineteenth-century’s quintessential mobile technology—transformed modern America. For the research paper, students develop an original argument about mobility in a discipline of their choosing. Possible topics include travel narratives like the one by the medieval globetrotter Ibn Battutah, the fluidity of transitional spaces like the train station, the advent of technologies like Google Maps, and the contemporary refugee crisis.

Antonio Ruiz, Bicycle Race, 1938 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)


Selected Course Evaluations:

  • "Very specific and targeted feedback. Professor really took the time to understand my essay and my argument."
  • "Comments and conferences were incredibly helpful not only for my development as a writer, but also in helping me to make progress in the course."
  • "Really fantastic course. I learned a lot from it, and I am a much better writer. I strongly recommend this writing seminar."
  • "Patrick is a great teacher and I enjoyed having him as my instructor in this course. His enthusiasm for the topic was great and he did a good job of picking readings which one could use to create an argument, despite the historical nature of the essays."
  • "The conferences were amazing. Almost all the times that I attended one, I got out having developed a better understanding of what I am writing about."
  • "Class was engaging and fun. Not too strict, but you also fostered an environment where it was easy to speak out loud."
  • "I came in with a lot of preconceptions about writing seminar, many of them negative. I ended up enjoying the class a lot and feeling a lot more confident about my writing."