An Update On Poop 101
Editor's note: a few weeks ago I posted the syllabus for a course being taught this semester at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The focus of the course is, of course, poop. Here's an update, as well as some background on how the class came to be.
Because my university's required summer reading this year was Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map (which chronicles Dr. John Snow 1854 discovery of the link between cholera and fecal contamination of water), and because I was slotted to teach a class on "writing in the disciplines," and because my sense of humor tends toward the puerile, I decided to make poop the theme of my class. My own research focuses on the body in culture, and the theme of poop, I thought, was the most democratic possible. Therefore, my reasoning went, any student needing to learn to write in their own discipline would definitely find a way to connect with the issue of poop -- an issue that's important to environmental, medical, civic, and economic concerns, to name a few.
The Ghost Map would provide a vivid illustration of many of these concerns, and show that our ethical obligations to one another and to ourselves lie in the filthiest places, embedded in our sheer physicality.
It was luck and several Amazon searches that led me to Dave's book -- which, as you know, discusses many ways in which poop touches our lives. Coupled with The Ghost Map and Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, as well as assorted articles -- peer-reviewed and popular, serious and jokey -- I thought we would have a great conceptual, anecdotal, and multi-disciplinary start to some excellent student discussions and projects that take as their starting point (rather than as their goal) both the utter hilarity and the deadly seriousness of poop.
Students have met and exceeded my expectations. Thanks to prodding from some articles I borrowed from Poop Culture's bibliography (thanks, Dave), as well as others I found in my various library searches (thanks, LexisNexis and ScienceDirect), students have made connections between nodes in the poop matrix -- including the individualistic nature of disgust and wide-scale sewage policy. And they have creatively drawn analogies between Freud's idea of the id kept under wraps and sublimated at the peril of the ego and the barges of human and industrial waste headed out to sea at the peril of the future life on Earth.
Students were at first a bit surprised by and curious about the topic. But now they have devoted themselves to it, as they see the importance of poop in everyday lives. (Plus, they are intrigued by a class in which it is appropriate to share stories about the crap sandwiches they made for their friends as a joke.) They are very enthusiastic and energetic.
As the syllabus describes, students will produce final projects that contribute to knowledge about the lower half of the digestive system from the perspective of their own major. Various projects individual students are working on include a paper on the obscene in art, managing finances for sewage infrastructures in aging cities, an electronic anal sphincter for people with lower-body disabilities, and removing heavy metals from sludge in order to better use it as a source of fuel. Hopefully they'll be submitted for publication and review on the most important of all poop-related academic journals: this very site. Hooray for poop!