Fall 2014 Topics
Seminar topics are subject to change every term.
CRN: 15570 and 15572
Narratives of Globalization in Literature and Film.: How do the contemporary storytellers, fiction writers and filmmakers alike, meet the challenge of representing America on the global canvas? Through what specifically literary and cinematographic techniques do they narrate the historic and contemporary ways in which American experience has been and continues to be intertwined with the world? In a careful study of selected novels and films by American and international authors, we will consider the effects of the increasingly transnational perspectives in contemporary literature and film on our understanding of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world.
CRN: 15634 and 15635
An obscure man in New York City’s dingiest neighborhood is reborn as an Old Testament prophet. An immigrant Jewish peddler struggles to practice his faith in Yankee New England. An enslaved African American receives visions of a bloody Christ that ignite an insurrection. Early America was awash in a sea of gods both old and new. In this seminar, we will explore the alternative religions that flourished in nineteenth-century America, then turn to the study of religion in contemporary popular culture. The course concludes with an extended journey through Neil Gaiman’s award-winning science fiction novel, American Gods.
Since Joan Kelly posed her question "did women have a Renaissance?" historians have spent the last few decades carefully considering the place of women in Renaissance society rather than continuing to exclude them to the periphery of the historical narrative. Based on studies of social and cultural norms categories of women have emerged. They are saints, sinners, humanists, mothers, daughters, wives, and even, when they have leadership positions or were active philosophers, unnatural Amazons. This course will explore these labels in a historical context to place their experiences more clearly into the larger history of their age.
CRN: 15576 and 15577
This seminar explores how baseball has been portrayed in American film and literature through four mediums: documentary, feature film, fiction, and non-fiction. The course will encourage four mediums: documentary, feature film, fiction, and non-fiction. The course will encourage students to think about the ways these mediums reveal how baseball has embodied critical aspects of American society including race and ethnicity, urbanization and suburbanization, business, labor-management relations, and media. While all the levels of baseball will be touched on, the primary focus will be Major League Baseball.
This course will consider how philosophers, economists, novelists, social reformers, and ordinary people have conceived of, promoted, opposed, and sought to reform capitalism since the Eighteenth Century. Focused on the Western world, the course will encourage students to think about the social and political meanings and impacts of capitalist and anti-capitalist ideologies. Readings will examine industrialization, imperialism, work, gender roles, class and racial hierarchies in the past and today. Authors may include Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Max Weber, W.E.B. DuBois, Edith Wharton, Emma Goldman, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith, William Julius Wilson, and Barbara Ehrenreich.
CRN: 15418 and 15419
What does it mean to be part of a global consumer culture? This course will undertake a socio-culturally inspired analyses of consumption, addressing global consumer culture from mutliple perspectives -- marketing (primarily), economics, communication, gender studies, anthropology, history, and sociology. We will examine the impact of globalization on consumers from low- and medium-income countries, and their consumption as a consequence of and in tandem with consumption patterns and rituals in high-income countries. Among others, the course will engage in a critical analysis of global consumerism based on readings from industry and from popular culture sources.
This course will explore the various ways that journalism has functioned as an instrument of social justice through identification and publication of issues that include poverty, racism, war, health, religion, education and other related topics. Students will study case histories in which journalists have brought public attention to important social concerns and the ways in which those concerns were resolved to bring about more just communities. Research includes identifying contemporary issues of concern and applying basic journalism training to create awareness of specific social situations. This fall, students will take part in a journalism department project to help produce work related to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Many developed countries are very concerned about the rapid, accelerating loss of the earth's biodiversity. In developed countries, there are many government programs and non-government organizations (NGOs) dedicated to conserving biodiversity, and these programs are most often focused on the developing world. Conservation projects often have economic development objectives intertwined with their conservation objectives, partly as a strategy to attract funding, especially in countries with active conflicts. This seminar will examine conservation programs from an interdisciplinary approach; from the basic science of conservation, to the economics of conservation, and the ways in which foreign policy objectives interact with conservation objectives.
This course will examine the visual art, poetry and music connected to or inspired by three important and influential world contemplative religious traditions. Though there are, at some levels, enormous differences between Zen, Sufism and Mystical Christianity, there are also surprising similarities in the aims, methods, approaches, and most importantly, the language used by great practitioners of these traditions. We will study a selection of primary texts, and since these texts explore religion at an esoteric level, they are very challenging. We will also devote a limited amount of time reading from scriptures, including Buddhist Sutras, The Old and New Testaments, and the Quran.
This course will examine popular representations of police and crime within a variety of genres, from reality TV to news. Through a critical analysis of primary source materials collected through independent research, students will engage with fundamental questions of media representation as they relate to issues of race, class, and gender.
"Crime and Punishment in Russian Fiction and Film" examines the acts of transgression and retribution, two long-standing preoccupations of the Russion intelligentsia. This course specifically investigates how writers, artists and cinematographers have depicted the changing boundaries of propriety and criminality since the early 19th century. An interdisciplinary course, it includes with its historically-informed framework not only short stories and novels, but also poetry, opera and cinema. Important shifts in expression and representation are identified during the emergence of imperial Russian civil society; the 1917 revolution; the Stalin period; later Soviet stagnation; and after the collapsse of Communism in 1991.
This course will investigate the historical, social, political, and philosophical contexts of American schools and debates about school reform. Through readings, discussions, volunteer work in Richmond Public Schools, autobiographical essays, and an individual research project, students will explore the complicated - even contradictory - relations between schooling and democratic life in the U.S. Readings will begin with essays by "Founding Fathers" Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush and conclude with a unit on how the OCCUPY movement (especially in NYC and Chicago) intersected with grassroots activism by parents, students and teachers to resist the increasing corporatization of public schools.
“Entrepreneurial capitalism” is a form of capitalism where entrepreneurs, who continue to provide breakthrough ideas that meet the test of the marketplace, play a central role in the system. This capitalist system is punctuated by large numbers of the actors within the economy who not only have an “unceasing drive and incentive to innovate” but also undertake and commercialize revolutionary innovations and inventions. Is entrepreneurial capitalism “a new view of the wealth of nations” and an innovation pathway to global growth during this jobless recovery? This seminar will explore how entrepreneurial capitalism can advance both economic growth and national security.
CRN: 15297 and 15299
Smallpox, malaria, yellow fever, lungsickness and other maladies were central to imperial conquests, colonialism, and modernization. And recent globalization has pulled attention back to problems from cholera to polio and HIV/AIDS. Using varied case studies, this seminar asks how have such illnesses--epidemic, endemic, epizootic and pandemic--mattered during the years of imperial conquest and globalization? Why do they happen and what do they mean? How are they social and cultural diseases? How did people re-make themselves and their societies to cope with the challenges they posed then and pose now?
This course uses lectures, discussions and research to examine scenarios where unspeakable acts by seemingly ordinary people become routine and accepted. The effects of these acts, where ordinary people perform evil actions on individuals and society are discussed in detail. The effects on perpetrators, victims, observers and society at large are considered. Questions of whether these instigators are evil, whether they become evil when associated with evil leaders and groups, or feel that they are innocents who disassociate themselves from evil are examined. Cases include military scenarios throughout history.
Human behavior can be attributed to a complex interaction between the influence of our environment and our individual genetic complexity. Students will learn some very basic genetic principles to aid them in their understanding of genetic contributions to common behavioral disorders such as depression, psychosis, addictions, dementia and anxiety. Students will look at the effect of these behaviors on society as a whole, and also relate to them from a more personal perspective. Students will examine questions concerning the possibility that sometimes our behavior is out of our control and we cannot help how we behave. This concept has implications for criminal behavior as well as our everyday interactions with each other. Hopefully students will appreciate that the line between "normal" and "abnormal" is not easily defined.
This is a seminar in medical anthropology. The seminar examines how people in cultures from around the world regard and heal illness. While Western biomedicine is acknowledged throughout the world as effective, in some cases, people turn to traditional or ethnomedical cures. How people articulate their selections in these medically plural environments raises a host of questions we will explore throughout the semester: How do people discuss their illnesses? Do they use metaphors ("I'm fighting a cold")? What is their process of healing? Our readings will conclude with consideration of healing efficacy, spiritual healing and pharmaceutical testing of herbal curing.
Seminar participants will learn to identify patterns and processes of greening in institutions of higher education while developing research, writing and presentation skills. This campus sustainability seminar is divided into three parts. At the start of the semester, we will learn to analyze the foundations of environmental sustainability and each student will define their own notion of "ecological intelligence." The second part examines green/renewable energy and campus sustainability. Library research from this second part will inform individual and samll group research in the final part of the class. Students will develop a unique on-campus research project while having the support of a team of peer researchers and a faculty mentor.
Through the study of eight Hollywood films, this course examines how music in film narration creates a point of experience for the spectator. Students consider what music is doing in the movies in the first place, and then how it does what it does. Students also examine what and how music signifies in conjunction with the images and events of a story film. By sensitizing students to the fore-and background levels of musical meaning in film, they will begin to hear cinema's uses of music in order to read films in a more literate way.
This course will examine the evidence - evolutionary, social, neurobiological - for the presence of god, religious experience, and religion in the life and development of the human. We will cover the entire history of advanced life, and discuss how religion, early and present, shaped the human and its societies. One question: did god create man or did the brain create god?
There are many lenses through which to analyze the human experience. In this reading-intensive course of challenging texts, we will examine knowing on the one hand, and various ways of choosing in the face uncertainty and adversity on the other, as these concepts play out in selected classic texts. In the second part of the semester, we will examine the ways in which contemporary individuals seek to fashion happy and fulfilling lives, as we shift our focus to a 21st century situation of adversity that demands change.
Many lawyers become leaders and serve in roles ranging from heads of local civic and religious institutions, to President of the United States. This course explores the relationship between the law and leadership. It will challenge students to refine what leadership means to them in theory as well as provide practical experiences for reflection. The specific focal point for such thought and writing will be roles that lawyers have played in addressing social justice issues in America. The course proceeds on the explicit premise that leadership involves service to others for the common good.
This course will explore ritual practice in ancient Greece and its reflection in Greek myth. It will be of particular interest to students interested in classical studies, archaeology, history, art history, anthropology, religion, and literary studies. Some main goals will be for students to learn the meanings and functions of ritual practice in Greek culture and to see how myth may elucidate those meanings and functions. Primary sources will be both textual and archaeological/art historical. Primary textual sources will include Hesiod's Theogony, Homeric and Orphic Hymns, tragic plays, and ancient mythographers. Archaeological evidence from the sites of religious worship, and the depictions of ritual on vase paintings and other works of art will be the major non-textual sources. Readings from secondary sources will include selections from Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual, and several articles on narrowly focused topics. Topics will include: sacrifice (animal, human, other), pilgrimmage, boundary-crossing (oracles and divination, visiting the underworld, transvestism), hero and heroine cult, rites of passage (birth, the decision to keep or expose an infant, coming-of-age, marriage, death), mystery religions, and foundation myths.
Our relationship with animals has been both varied and long-standing. Indeed, for centuries, animals have served us as companions, servants, entertainers, and prey. Only recently, however, have scholars representing a variety of disciplines begun to pool their resources to extend our knowledge of the emotional and rational capacities of animals. Many are arguing, moreover, that this knowledge has significant implications for our own behavior. James Serpell is one of these. A faculty member at U. Penn's School of Veterinary Medicine, Serpell encourages us to consider both the contributions animals have made to our lives and the problems and responsibilities these experiences have incurred. In keeping with his charge, we will explore accounts from history, literature, and contemporary research regarding the ways animals have improved our lives (e.g. in protecting us, in providing models of communal interaction, in serving as sources of comfort, and in providing recreation and entertainment). In dealing with the problems of these relationships, we will explore such contemporary conflicts as those between defenders of "animal rights" and proponents of "animal welfare." We will also examine issues relating to the care and sustenance of animals, particularly with reference to advances in veterinary technology and medicine.
Is freedom valuable? Why should we care about it? In this course we will examine the nature and value of freedom. We will consider the value of different freedoms, such as freedom of expression and economic freedom, and explore the relationship between freedom and various public policy issues, such as immigration, hate speech, prostitution, drug use, and human enhancement. The readings will be philosophical papers on these topics.
This course will feature guided listening to and reading of modern poetry and modern music. Beginning with their romantic forerunners the course will work its way through a century of modernists including a few post moderns of late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Beginning with poetry of Emily Dickinson and music of Robert Schumann we will conclude with poetry of Billy Collins and music of John Adams. The key objective is the nurturing of reading and listening more critically for deeper experiences of these art forms.
Traditional psychological approaches to understanding diversity often located the root of inequality in overt negative attitudes. However, contemporary research into prejudice reveals that it is now expressed in much more nuanced and subtle ways and it persists because it remains largely unrecognized. Social scientists no longer solely focus on overt animosity directed toward minority individuals but now focus on how biases can arise from normal cognitive, motivational, and sociocultural processes. This course will explore the causes and consequences of social identity (race, gender, sexuality, class...) based inequalities by focusing broadly on the subtle nature of contemporary biases.
How do we deal with adversity and find happiness? In this course we will explore the process of resilience as a pathway humans use to cope with challenge in their lives. Using a multi-dimensional ecological perspective we will examine how cultural and contextual factors influence protective processes that underlie human wellbeing. From this framework we will study the special role that optimism plays in dealing with life events. Finally we will consider whether resilience and optimism lead to happiness or if happiness is simply a cognitive construction that can be found regardless of the adversity in our lives.
CRN: 15580 and 15581
This course is a historical and critical interpretation of how maps aided and complicated America's rise to international power. The processes, production, display, and circulation of maps gave way to a "geographic imagination" that constrained both policy and popular culture - in turn, Americans saw their place in the world in very spatialized ways. From a rhetorical perspective, maps gave us specific and partial perceptions of the globe and cartographers from a host of different institutions and with various national and international interests (government institutions like the State Dept., the CIA, the Department of Defense, academic institutions like the American Geographic Society, popular magazines like National Geographic and Time, and corporations as diverse as Rand McNally and Google) sketched the contours of American identity in both longitude and latitude. The course teaches students how to critique maps as systems of visual codes and also contextualizes for them how maps are used as rhetorical strategies by American elites and publics; by both the powerful and those challenging the powerful. Not only then is this a course on cartography; it's a course on the wild world-making processes of U.S. geopolitics and international space.
This course explores the idea of utopia and how it has been put into practice among several "intentional communities" in Europe and the United States. The course begins with the study of Plato's Republic and Thomas More's Utopia and continues with the hsitorical examination of several utopian communities of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The class will also visit and learn from communities in the richmond area that strive to make the world a better place.
Historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall contended, "...remembrance is always a form of forgetting, and the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement...distorts and suppresses as much as it reveals". Conventional stories of the American civil rights movement demonstrate that direct-action protests and non-violent resistance helped end Jim Crow segregation. In popular memory, we often attribute these freedom struggles and subsequent civil rights legislation to a handful of activists and policymakers. While Martin Luther King's eloquence inspired generations of activists and President Johnson's appeals for an equality of results standard shaped the civil rights bills, everyday people played an integral role in civil rights activism and policy creation. This course utilizes contemporary literature from the mid-20th century and recent historical scholarship to interrogate the essence of civil rights organizational strategies. To that end, we will examine how supposedly average Americans were central to the development of modern liberalism. The course will not only examine mid-20th century social movements, but also how civil rights legislation influenced American equality after 1965.
In this course, we will consider how literature depicts various kinds of physical and emotional trauma, exploring the ways that novels, poems, and plays can, as Shakespeare noted, "Give sorrow words." We will also examine how literature portrays the possibilities for recovery, and how it may itself become an avenue for renewal, offering both writers and readers ways to witness, record, and remember past traumas. Alongside the literature, we will investigate different psychological theories of trauma and its aftermath, and various approaches to recovery, from therapeutic treatment to historical efforts such as Desmond Tutu's South African Commission on Truth and Reconciliation.
Students will examine how the American media have covered wars starting with the American Revolution and progressing through the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Wars are a central part of American history. For better or worse, media coverage of those wars affected both the decision to wage war and the ways in which those wars were waged. The professor has covered the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the earliest natural forces to face human beings was water. It was a challenge, but more importantly it was the life giver and the life destroyer. Many cultures represented this ambivalent attitude towards water in their myths and literature. Water became through floods the means of destroying the old and giving birth to the new. In our modern times, we still gaze at water with similar ambivalence. We will look at the representations of this complex attitude to water in literature and other cultural forms that the human imagination has produced in response to the experience of water.
The country does not appear on a US flight map. To be Cuban does not mean that you are an American actor, or the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Cuba is a country, geographically so close, but philosophically and politically so distant. This course will explore the history and culture of Cuba through its music and dance. It will also explore the students' attitudes and beliefs toward Cuba and Cubans. We will read, write, listen, dance and eat Salsa! We will also study and listen to first-hand recordings and videos of Cuba exploring Latin jazz - a blending of American jazz with Cuban rhythms.
CRN: 15582 and 15583
This course is a semester-long study of the presidency as conveyed by chief executives in their own words, by official utterances from those appointed to speak on the president's behalf, by official public appearances and remarks of first ladies, speechwriters' recollections, mediated interpretations by members of the White House press corps and scholarly analyses of presidential discourse. We will explore foundational rhetorical precepts and introduce the nature and practice of rhetorical criticism via the genre of contemporary presidential speeches and commentary. Course objectives include: providing a rhetorical perspective of language, leadership, politics and media, introducing terms and practices fundamental to rhetoric; to encourage confidence in using them, and demonstrating the epistemological value of rhetorical inquiry.
In the United States, there have been over 240 exonerations achieved through advances in DNA testing capabilities. Seventeen of those DNA exonerations arose in cases where individuals were sentenced to death. There is an additional universe of wrongful convictions that involves cases where proof of innocence is not biological in nature. Such cases pivot around other sources of exculpatory evidence, including recanted testimony, mistaken identification or official misconduct. The production of wrongful convictions is a lens through which society can examine a plethora of important realities. Race, poverty, faith in science and reason, notions around punishment and redemption and the allocation of scarce resources are all fluidly and dynamically tied to the study of wrongful convictions.