This module, like all others in the Writing and Critical Thinking domain, has the primary objective of helping you to become a better writer of academic essays. An “academic essay,” or what is sometimes also called an “argumentative essay,” may not be something that you have encountered before. For one thing, its chief purpose is not to summarize or paraphrase other people’s ideas. Instead, an academic essay advances an original thesis, one that is clearly motivated and expressed, through the close reading and analysis of primary evidence. Put another way, an academic essay convinces its readers (often through research) that there is an interesting problem to be solved, and then goes on to solve it by examining relevant evidence.

In order to write good academic essays that fit the above criteria, you must therefore learn to think critically about a delimited subject. After all, you will only have something original to say about a topic if you spend some time reading and thinking about what other writers, with whom you are essentially entering into a dialogue, have already said about it. That’s the way to figure out what are the intriguing problems in the field—by critically reading texts on the subject—and how to solve them. Furthermore, in this class, writing is not just a way to represent or communicate the solutions that you formulate in your head; writing is instead a way of helping you come up with those solutions and arguments. Writing will be a way of thinking through the problems.

In addition, this module will help you acquire some “technical” skills: not so much grammar, but the protocols of academic writing (citations, formatting, working with sources), as well as methods of conducting research. These are all important skills that should come in useful for the rest of your time at NUS, and perhaps beyond.

The “delimited subject” we will think, read, and write about in this module is tourism. Tourism is a relatively modern phenomenon, since it depends on the invention of easy and affordable modes of mass travel. It also implicitly depends on several other things: the perception, for example, that there are appreciable between places and nations (and the people of these places), and that such appreciation is somehow enriching, valuable, or at least pleasurable. To think about tourism is therefore to explore issues such as modernity, nationality, self and other, identity and culture.

Because tourism is a huge topic, we will further focus on tourism and the philosophical issue of authenticity—of tourist sites, of tourist cultures, and of the tourist self. What, to begin with, is tourism? We will start by looking at definitions, and the history of tourism; interestingly, these accounts are almost immediately suffused with a sense of loss and nostalgia, and with anxieties about authenticity. They will raise, or prompt us to raise, questions such as: Are tourist sights and attractions, as well as all their representations (such as souvenirs), fake? Does this in turn imply that the cultures that are on display in tourism—or more precisely, in heritage and cultural tourism—are inauthentic, or even that cultures become impure, diluted, and inauthentic as a result of such tourism? How does this possibility relate to the longstanding belief that we can become or be transformed into better and more authentic versions of ourselves when we travel?