Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

Reading in Slow Motion

Reading in Slow Motion (Application Required-Not open to incoming freshmen)


Index# 20148

Professor Richard Miller

M/H 1:10-2:30

BRT SEM 110 College Ave Campus

Will Count Towards SAS- English MAJOR
Will Count Towards SAS- English MINOR

In this course, we will read one volume of nonfiction prose, Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby. Solnit is an essayist, an independent scholar, a memoirist, a theorist, and an activist who has mastered the arts of curiosity: her interests range over natural disasters, crime, gender relations, the history of photography, environmentalism, wandering and getting lost. In The Faraway Nearby, Solnit contends with loss—of memory, of family, of connection—and she meditates on why we rely so heavily on stories to rescue us from despair.

Why one book? We learn not by reading, but by re-reading. And yet, you could scan university syllabi the world over and you would find few, if any, courses where students are given the time necessary to reread a text that has already been covered. In this seminar, we will be learning about how we read by moving slowly through a text that is rich, challenging, and unsettling.

Why this book? Solnit is writing about a question at the heart of the human endeavor: what is the relationship between meaning and mortality? 

What else will we read? We will build the rest of the reading list together as we move through Solnit's text, following her lead. We will read the works she is reading and we will become better and better at seeing her work as being in dialogue with a host of other works.

What will you do besides read? This is a course in essayistic thinking. As such, it is a course designed to cultivate curiosity and original, research-based writing. There will be daily, graded, in-class responses to the day’s reading; there will be brief formal submissions along the way, as we make our way through Solnit's book. And there will be a final, research-based paper that explores a question of the student’s choosing.

Who should take this course? Anyone who wants to be a better reader. Anyone who wants to learn how to write creatively about the real world. Anyone who wants to acquire the habits of the creative mind. STEM students, students in the social sciences, and students in the humanities all will find much of interest in Solnit’s work.

Please note: admission to this course is by permission only. Interested students should fill out the application form, which may be found here. Applications will be read in the order received. Admitted students will receive a special permission number.

About Professor Miller

Richard Miller has co-authored Habits of the Creative Mind (2015) with Ann Jurecic. This collection of essays works with the idea that writing is a technology for thinking new thoughts and that one learns to use writing for this purpose through practice. The second edition is scheduled for release in Spring 2019.

Professor Miller's most recent work, On the End of Privacy: Dissolving Boudaries in a Screen-Centric World (UPitt, 2019) looks at the personal, educational, and cultural consequences of the shift from a paper-based to a screen-centric world. He is in the early stages of a project on the untold stories of the institutionalized. Both projects are centrally concerned with curiosity and archival exploration.

Professor Miller is also the author of Writing at the End of the World (2005) and of As if Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education (1998). He has delivered over one hundred invited talks across the country and abroad on a range of topics related to literacy, technology, and higher education. Professor Miller published exclusively on his blog,, from 2008-2016, pursuing a project he called, "An Experiment in Learning in Public." During this time, he wrote extensively about "the end of privacy" and how education is being changed as a result of the proliferation of hand-held devices that enable instant publication and global distribution of anything that can be seen or heard. He focused on news coverage of Tyler Clementi's suicide, campus violence, and evolving forms of literacy in the digital age. He also composed a graphic narrative following the misadventures of Professor Pawn, erstwhile expert in Exlification.

Professor Miller regularly teaches "The Coming Apocalypse," a large lecture-format course which provides an introduction to narratives of the end of the world. "The Coming Apocalypse" was designated a School of Arts and Science's Signature Course in the Spring of 2016. SAS's video about that course may be found here.