Effective Date of this Description/Syllabus: Fall 2016

Prepared by: Dr. Rhonda Wilcox

Honors House 104, 678 359-5296


Fall Office hours: M-R 11:00-12:15, TR 1:00-2:30


Course Description/Syllabus

Course Designation (discipline abbreviation & number): COLQ 2994H

Course Title: Colloquium in the Humanities

Class hours per week:   3

Laboratory hours per week: 0

Credit hours: 3

Division offering course: Humanities

Course description for college catalog: A colloquium on selected topics in the humanities emphasizing the development of critical thinking skills

Course Topic: Joss Whedon’s Firefly: Genre and Culture

Prerequisite: Honors status or permission of the instructor


Course objectives and description: Joss Whedon’s television series Firefly was broadcast for only three months in 2002, but it is still being studied by scholars and celebrated by fans. We will study its episodes in terms of its genre-crossing (Western and Science Fiction), which is embedded in culturally significant, well-drawn characters whose actions reveal notable themes. We will consider: (1) genre definition; (2) narrative, style, character, and other elements of traditional literary analysis; (3) rhetorical analysis of visual and musical elements; and (4) cultural studies analysis in terms of gender, ethnicity, and other elements. We will study the series in part by analyzing the episodes themselves and in part by reading some of the many essays published on the subject by scholars. Will you agree with them or disagree? What makes this series so memorable to so many? The overall purpose is to learn from each other (teacher and students alike), to enjoy the art that we encounter this semester, and to propel ourselves to further exploration after the course is ended.


Required texts:


Whedon, Joss, et al. Firefly: The Complete Series. Twentieth-Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2005. DVD.

Wilcox, Rhonda V., and Tanya R. Cochran, eds. Investigating Firefly and Serenity: Science Fiction on the Frontier. London: I. B. Tauris, 2008. Print.



Participation (including attendance, quizzes, and other work):  20%

Midterm Exam:                                                                                    20%

Short Essay (800 words or more, typed):                                       20%

Honors Project:                                                                                    20%

Final Exam:                                                                                          20%


Standards: A=90-100; B=80-89; C=70-79; D=60-69; F=below 60; B+ =88; B =85; B- = 82; C+ =78, etc.

Short Essay: You will have a private planning conference with me at least a week ahead of the due date for this 800-word (or more) essay, which will be based on your own opinion supported by copious primary source evidence and some secondary source evidence.

Honors Project:

            Your honors project should be developed over the course of most of the term. You are required to have at least one planning conference with me and are welcome to have more; feel free to show up at my office. (Bring your friends!) You may, if you wish, write a term paper on any of a variety of subjects: there is a considerable body of written scholarship on our topics, and you could discuss any work’s class or socioeconomic themes, gender presentations, visual representation on screen (visual rhetoric), music, or many other topics. You may also, if you wish, plan another type of project that demonstrates thoughtful exploration of the subject. For example, you could yourself write a piece of fiction that serves as a brief sequel to one of the episodes, if you like. You could attempt a set of songs (words and music) appropriate for the characters. You could create a videogame based on the characters’ experiences (N. B. Remember copyright laws.) You could do an audience study, devising a set of questions on matters important to you and surveying and videotaping responses of various readers and/or viewers of a particular romantic comedy. You could draw maps or illustrations, writing a commentary to explain your choices. You could even create a very brief play or film or graphic novel yourself. Whatever you choose, you will need to include some non-fiction prose explaining your thinking process (more details on this later).

You have great freedom in shaping your project. Start thinking now, and talk to me about your thoughts soon. Especially if you feel a bit lost, talk to me soon. After we bounce ideas around, you should be able to come up with an idea for something you would be happy to share with others. Then you can slowly develop it throughout the semester.


Students will be required to produce essays, and possibly other assignments, on a computer (available in the Instructional Complex and the library; or students may use their own).


A student must pass the in-class final exam to get a C or better in the course.


ADA and 504

If you have a documented disability as described by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, you may be eligible to receive accommodations to assist in programmatic and/or physical accessibility.  The Counseling and Accessibility Services office located in the Student Center, Room 212 can assist you in formulating a reasonable accommodation plan and in providing support in developing appropriate accommodations to ensure equal access to all GSC programs and facilities.  Course requirements will not be waived, but accommodations may assist you in meeting the requirements.  For documentation requirements and for additional information, contact Counseling and Accessibility Services at 678-359-5585. 

Title IX

Gordon State College is committed to providing an environment free of all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.  If you (or someone you know) has experienced or experiences any of these incidents, know that you are not alone. All faculty members at Gordon State College are mandated reporters.  Any student reporting any type of sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking must be made aware that any report made to a faculty member under the provisions of Title IX will be reported to the Title IX Coordinator or a Title IX Deputy Coordinator.  If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, you must contact the Counseling and Accessibility Services office, Room 212, Student Life Center.  The licensed counselors in the Counseling Office are able to provide confidential support.


Gordon State College does not discriminate against any student on the basis of pregnancy, parenting or related conditions.  Students seeking accommodations on the basis of pregnancy, parenting or related conditions should contact Counseling and Accessibility Services regarding the process of documenting pregnancy related issues and being approved for accommodations, including pregnancy related absences as defined under Title IX.


Student evaluation of instruction (Your chance to grade the teacher!)

    Near the end of this course, you will be asked to evaluate the instruction of the course by filling out a standard form that is used college-wide. Your honest responses on the form will assist the faculty of the college in providing the best possible educational experiences for Gordon students. In other words, your evaluation of my work can help me to improve, just as my evaluation of your work can help you to improve.


Plagiarism, Cheating:

    The English faculty of Gordon College views any form of cheating as a serious violation of commonly accepted standards of honesty. All student work must be solely that of the person submitting the work. Any giving or receiving of unauthorized help from others or from notes or other materials during the course of taking a quiz, test, or exam or in writing a paper will result in an F on the work; any use of forbidden materials such as rough drafts during the course of in-class writing will also result in an F for the assignment. Note that an F on the work involved in cheating is the minimum punishment; if justified by aggravating circumstances, the matter may be referred to the Academic Dean and/or the Judicial Committee or (according to a rule approved by the full faculty in Spring 2010) the Dean of Students.

Moreover, when source materials are used in the writing of papers, the student must document such use of sources both by clearly indicating material being used as quotation and by giving proper recognition when ideas or information has been paraphrased or summarized; the following principles enunciated in the section on avoiding plagiarism in James D. Lester's Writing Research

Papers: A Complete Guide, 8th edition, should be scrupulously observed:

1. Acknowledge borrowed material by introducing the quotation or paraphrase with the name of the authority. This practice serves to indicate where borrowed materials begin.

2. Enclose within quotation marks all quoted materials.

3. Make certain that paraphrased material has been rewritten into your own style and language. The simple rearrangement of sentence patterns is unacceptable. [It is unacceptable to simply rearrange sentence patterns.]

4. Provide specific in-text documentation for each borrowed item. For example, MLA [Modern Language Association] style requires name and page for all in-text references. Requirements differ for other fields.

5. Provide a bibliographic entry on the Works Cited page for every source cited in the paper.

6. Omit sources consulted but not cited in [your paper]. This point is important. You do not want your instructor leafing back through the paper trying to find your use of a source that, in truth, was not cited. (140-41)

Note that the indention of the six rules above is another method of indicating that material is quoted from someone else; when you have a long section to quote, then instead of using quotation marks, according to MLA rules, you indent. My indention of the six rules indicates that they are the exact wording by James D. Lester on pages 140-41 of his book.


Furthermore, you must avoid collusion. Here is a definition from the head of the Humanities Department:

Collusion is defined as receiving excessive help to the point that a work can no longer be considered the product of a single author and therefore cannot be accurately assessed an individual grade. If I suspect a submitted work to be the result of collusion, I reserve the right to refuse credit for that work if the claimed author is unable to demonstrate sole authorship. A good way to avoid this problem is to get help from the Student Success Center rather than from family or friends.

I may or may not decide to have you submit some of your work to Turnitin.com. Terms and Conditions of Use may be found at http://www.turnitin.com/static/usage.html.


LIBRARY HOURS: Mon-Thu 8:00 am--10pm; Fri 8:00 am--5 pm; Sun 2--10 pm; Saturday 10 am—2 pm

Library study lounge near ending machines will be open till midnight Sunday-Thursday.


Participation and professionalism: Without class discussions and lectures, you might as well just watch on your own. You will find that experiencing a group’s reaction is something that cannot be recreated through merely reading class notes. This is not just a lecture class. (The root of the word “colloquium” refers to conversation.) You can contribute to the class: thoughtful questions can be just as valuable as insightful comments (though they should be the questions of a person who has viewed/read the material). Missing classes will reduce your ability to contribute and will therefore lower your class participation grade. (Significant tardiness will do the same.) Furthermore, specific in-class activities will be used to help establish your participation grade, and in most cases these activities must be carried out during a particular class period. People that miss more than three weeks of classes normally cannot keep up and fail the course as a result. If you must miss a class, let me know beforehand if you can (or leave a phone message or email message as soon as possible); ask me or a classmate about assignments so you can prepare in case there is a pop quiz when you return to class. My home landline phone number is (404) 373-5328. If you cannot contact me or a classmate, then do the next assignment on the syllabus.

Cell phones, Blackberries, and other electronic devices: So that we can make the best use of our limited time together, silence your cell phones and any other electronic devices before class begins,. Exception: Emergency personnel may leave theirs on and slip out of class to take phone calls in the hall when necessary. If you have a job as an EMT (or similar work), notify me during the first week of classes and be sure to sit near the door. Also, if you have some other sort of emergency situation for which you wish to stay in cell phone contact, speak to me about the problem before the relevant class period in order to be granted an exception. All students should remember that they will receive a class participation grade, and cell phone interruptions disturb discussion. Furthermore, texting during class implies that you don’t really think our class needs your full attention. What kind of impression do you think that will make on the teacher?

Late papers: Late papers are penalized five points per calendar day. I am very strict about this policy. On the other hand, I am very reasonable about giving extensions (without grade penalty) for good cause IF you arrange the matter in a timely fashion before the due date. If you do not get an extension beforehand, then the penalty will stand unless you can produce evidence of flood, earthquake, avalanche, or other natural disaster intervening in the writing process. (I.e., you must provide evidence of a serious problem.)

Feel free to visit me to talk about the course (whether you have a problem or just an interest). You may also leave messages on or under my door. You may call me at my office at 678-359-5296. My email address is rhonda_w@gordonstate.edu. If you find yourself involved in an English Emergency, you may also call me at home (404-373-5328). I have kept my landline for my students’ convenience. In general,




Read or view the assignments before the date on which they are listed. “Ch.” refers to Investigating Firefly…


Week 1 (8/10) Introduction


Week 2 (8/16) “Serenity,” Parts One and Two; (8/18) Introduction to television studies: pp. 1-13 of Why Buffy Matters (on reserve in library); Ch. 2, Susan Mandala: “Representing the Future: Chinese and Codeswitching in Firefly”; Jes Battis, “Captain Tightpants: Firefly and the Science Fiction Canon,” Slayage 7.1 (available online)


Week 3 (8/23) “The Train Job”; (8/25) Episode commentary on “Serenity”; Ch. 6, David Magill, “’I Aim to Misbehave’: Masculinities in the ‘Verse”


Week 4 (8/30) “Bushwhacked”; (9/1) Agnes B. Curry, “ ‘We Don’t Say “Indian”’: On the Paradoxical Construction of the Reavers,” Slayage 7.1; Ch. 10, J. Douglas Rabb and J. Michael Richardson, “Reavers and Redskins: Creating the Frontier Savage”


Week 5 (9/6) “Shindig”; (9/8) Commentary on “Shindig”; Ch. 4, Laura L. Beadling, “The Threat of the ‘Good Wife’: Feminism, Postfeminism, and Third-Wave Feminism in Firefly


Week 6 (9/13) “Safe”; Ch. 3, Alyson R. Buckman, “ ‘Much Madness Is Divinest Sense’: Firefly’s ‘Big Damn Heroes’ and Little Witches”


Week 7 (9/20) “Our Mrs. Reynolds”; (9/22) Ch. 1, Cynthea Masson, “ ‘But She Was Naked! And All Articulate!’: The Rhetoric of Seduction in Firefly”; Short Essay due


Week 8 (9/27) “Jaynestown”; (9/29) Ch. 15, Christopher Neal, “Marching out of Step: Music and Otherness in the Firefly/Serenity Saga”; Rhonda V. Wilcox, “ ‘Every Man Ever Got a Statue’: Public Statuary in Whedon…” (handout)

Monday 2/29: Last day to drop classes without WF


Week 9 (10/4) “Out of Gas”; (10/6) Commentary on “Out of Gas”; Ch. 9, Mary Alice Money, “Firefly’s ‘Out of Gas’: Genre Echoes and the Hero’s Journey”


Week 10 (10/11) Fall Break; (10/13) Midterm Exam


Week 11 (10/18) “Ariel”; (10/20) Ch. 7, Sharon Sutherland and Sarah Swan, “ ‘The Alliance Isn’t Some Evil Empire’: Dystopia in Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity


Week 12 (10/25) “War Stories”; (10/27) Ch 8, Lorna Jowett, “Back to the Future: Retrofuturism, Cyberpunk, and Humanity in Firefly and Serenity


Week 13 (11/1) “Trash”; (11/3) Ch. 16, Barbara Maio, “Between Past and Future: Hybrid Design Style in Firefly and Serenity


Week 14 (11/8) “The Message”; (11/10) Commentary on “The Message”; Elizabeth L. Rambo, “Metaphoric Unity and Ending: Sending and Receiving Firefly’s Last ‘Message’” (on reserve in library)


Week 15 (11/15) “Heart of Gold”; Ch. 5, Andrew Aberdein, “The Companions and Socrates: Is Inara a Hetaera?”; Dee Amy-Chinn, “ ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore: Postfeminist Prostitution in Joss Whedon’s Firefly’ (library)


Week 16 (11/22) “Objects in Space”; Ch. 12, Rhonda V. Wilcox, “ ‘I Do Not Hold to That’: Joss Whedon and Original Sin”; Ch. 14, Neil Lerner, “Music, Race, and Paradoxes of Representation: Jubal Early’s Musical Motif in ‘Objects in Space’”(11/24) Thanksgiving Holiday


Week 17 (11/29) Honors Project due; Serenity; Thursday Dec. 1 will be a campus-wide study day.


Final Exam (20%, in-class): Monday, Dec. 5, 1:30—3:30 pm

Throughout the semester, additional readings and writing may be assigned.

Any variation in syllabus policy is at the instructor’s discretion.