COOL CLASSES: “How Stuff Works”

This writing seminar explores several pervasive systems that operate by virtue of being invisible, while emphasizing writing as a means of inquiry, analysis, and persuasion.

Class name: “How Stuff Works”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing Anne Balay

Here’s what Balay had to say about the class:

“How Stuff Works” is a writing seminar designed to expose and analyze invisible structures that shape our world. There are so many aspects of our lives that we take for granted, without understanding how they came to be, or how they shape what feels to us like obvious reality. Therefore, the class explores three such structures in depth: the internet, gender, and trucking/goods distribution. Students write several papers engaging each of these invisible structures, learning how to pose critical questions and how to argue effectively. For example, we visited Special Collections [see photo, above] to challenge our assumptions about what a book is, what a reader is, and how these concepts have changed through time. We found some surprising consistency, though. One student found his [bar mitzvah] Torah portion in a Torah hand-written in 1300s Spain. Another saw an embroidered wall-hanging and was able to read it, learning that it was a donation on the 100th anniversary of Haverford College from Chinese alums. Reading, we learned, establishes a relationship, and that process remains hauntingly consistent, regardless of the medium or context. We’ll use that insight going forward as we continue to explore “How Stuff Works.”


Photo of class visit to Quaker and Special Collections by Claire Chenyu Wang ’20.  

See what other courses the Writing Program is offering this semester.


Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience