Spring 2014 Topics
Seminar topics are subject to change every term.
What can modern short stories tell us about a multicultural world? In this seminar we shall study a series of short stories written by authors belonging to vastly contrasting cultures. Focusing on nineteenth and twentieth century literature we shall consider topics relevant to short story writing and criticism from around the globe.
Stem cell therapy. Human cloning. Genetic testing. Organs for sale. Physician-assisted suicide. Constantly in the news and at the forefront of political, legal, and religious agenda, these phrases are associated with strong emotions and opinions. How do we develop decisions about these critical issues? What information and principles guide ethical decisions in medicine and what are the consequences for humanity? In this seminar, we will study ehtical questions in medicine and biomedical research. We will learn to approach problems in bioethics from a variety of perspectives, guided by ethical principles and centered on an understanding of relevant concepts in human biology and scientific technology.
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, Joh Kenneth Galbraith, William Julius Wilson, and Barbara Ehrenreich.
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.
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.
CRN: 24725 and 24726
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.
It is not hyperbole to say that the Federal budget deficit has been the most vexing domestic policy problem since the 1960's. If the Federal government continues on its present course of deficit spending, which most experts consider to be "unsustainable," the problem and its consequences are bound to get much worse. Today's college students will be among the many Americans who will inherit the mounting debt. This seminar will explore the fiscal, political, and moral dimensions of the Federal budget deficit and the compounding debt left in its wake. Most importantly, the seminar will consider the manner and extent to which a democratic regime can address sufficiently the problems of deficit spending. Thus ultimately the course is about the capacity of democracy to deal with a large and complex problem, an issue that raises questions about representation, equality, and fairness.
This course will introduce students to the complexities of American democracy and American history through close study of two of its leading students and critics, Alexis de Tocqueville and W.E.B. DuBois. Particular attention will be paid to the fundamental contradiction between the epochal significance of emergent norms of white male democracy in the United States and the reality of race-based oppression and domination, before and after Emancipation. In the first half of the course students will read virtually all of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, both volumes. In the latter part of the course students will read a selection of DuBois's most vital work including his biography of John Brown, The Souls of Black Folk, and excerpts from Black Reconstruction and Dusk of Dawn. Secondary reading will be quite limited and may include excerpts from Sheldon Wolin's study Tocquevill Between Two Worlds and Lawrie Balfour's Democratic Reconstruction: Thinking Politically With W.E.B. DuBois. The course will consider each thinker in depth on his own terms, and in dialogue with one another. Connections to contemporary issues in American society will be made in discussion throughout the course, but the primary aim is to give students a deeper grounding for thinking about American society in their subsequent coursework.
This course will examine the history and role of K-12 education in our American republic. From the vision of Thomas Jefferson for common schools in Virginia to the No Child Left Behind legislation, public (and private) education has been crucial in educating for citizenship, moral character, and for productivity.
Religious faith is central to the daily life and identity of a majority of the population in the United State. As a result of globalization, individuals and communities with diverse worldviews - both religious and secular - interact more closely than ever before, with results ranging from insightful dialogue to violent discord. Furthermore, religious convictions shape debate about a range of policies in domestic affairs, leading at times to unified action for peace and justice, and at other times to rancor and mistrust. This course will investigate these tensions in light of students' own commitments and beliefs those of others, and the increasingly diverse society in which we live.
This course will examine the people and stories behind some of the key experiments in physics. We will focus on experiments which have radically altered our views of the world or universe around us or which have radically altered our civilization by the technology they enabled. Inspired by and loosely based on the text "The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments" by George Johnson the course will explore great physics experiments from history as well as some of the more amazing experiments underway.
This course will explore the cinema of the acclaimed German director Wim Wenders. We will use his films to explore different topics: the identity of Berlin as a city filled with war memories and post-modern interrogations in Wings of Desire (1987), the American landscape and the kind of stories it produces in Paris, Texas (1984), Cuban music in Buena Vista Social Club (1999), or moden dance as an art for in Pina (2011), to give only a few examples. Since Wenders has worked with different styles of films, and in different countries, we will also look at what unites his work as a cinematographer, from his recent interest in 3D technology. Wim Wenders' work also offers a systematic reflection on what distinguishes film as a medium from other narrative forms. From his very early beginnings, Wenders dealt with the relationship between film and literature. In 1972, he adapted Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter to the screen and in the same year directed The Goalkeeper's Fear of the Penalty, a film based on a short-story by Peter Handke, with whom Wenders has worked in the decades since. One important aspect of the course will therefore be exploring the role of cinema as an alternative way of telling stories and as a tool for reflecting on the power of language, images, and music.
This course focuses on the principles of games and gaming; the relevance of game theories to societies, history, and geopolitics; and on the importance of these principles to issues of leadership and leadership studies. We will use a variety of games - board games, psychology games, videogames, and game theory - to examine significant concerns and issues relevant to discussion of leadership theories and practices. For example, the course might examine how the board game Monopoly brings to light issues of economics and class inequalities, as well as the way in which its mechanics enforce social and economic behaviors in the players.
Is the doing of science objective? If so, does it matter who does it, or, as a human endeavor, is there subjectivity in science? Why is the doing of science largely considered to be a masculine enterprise? Has it always been this way? How does science define and describe gender and sexuality? Does this have an influence on how society defines and describes them? How do people from sexual minorities define their own genders and sexualities? What is the impact of having science and society define and describe them differently? This course will address these and other questions as we explore how scientific knowledge is constructed as well as how it establishes and affects our understanding of gender and sexuality.
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.
CRN: 24984 and 24985
This course is both a first year seminar and one of the Tocqueville seminars focused on studying the U.S. from a comparative or international perspective. The United States has a more limited and targeted welfare state than most other wealthy, industrialized countries and has stood out as the only country among its peers without universal access to health care coverage. This course will look at the differences in health care policy and politics between U.S. and countries such as Canada, Japan, and those of Western Europe. It will cover the comparative historical development of various health care systems and the relative role of the private sector and the government in providing, paying for, and regulating access to health care. It will also look at how recent health care reforms in the U.S. compare with the policies developed in other countries and how various political forces such as organized labor, doctors' organizations, and legislative insitutions shape policy.
Jazz music was born in the United States around the beginning of the 20th century as a creative mixture of African rhythms and European harmonies. But the jazz aesthetic has spread far beyond mere music: American creative writers of the 20th century - particularly those of the Beat Generation - wewre deeply influenced by jazz in several ways: jazz as subject matter, jazz as formal influence, and jazz as cultural commentary. The chief tension in American jazz has to do with using jazz as a chaotic primitivist release, using jazz to open cultural space in order to escape middle class values and/or middle America, vs. jazz as a discipline, as a musical art form, and as a valid cultural medium for blues transcendence. This course will address ways that the Beat Generation, among others, responded to jazz and African-Americans, and will also explore ways that the jazz community and American cultural critics responded to the Beats. Ultimately, we will use the relationship between jazz and the Beat Generation to explore the way jazz, musically and culturally, "spoke" to 20th-century Aamerica.
Anti-Judaism has been a reality for Jews since prior to the emergence of Christianity, but with Christianity a new form of anti-Judaism emerged, i.e., theological anti-Judaism. Through readings and discussions we will seek to understand this phenomenon historically. The period of the holocaust served as a pivotal change of focus. Prior to the holocaust rampant anti-Judaism existed but with little attention given to its curtailment ecclesiastically. The holocaust and its aftermath convinced many Christians of an ecclesiastical complicity with what happened to the Jews during this horrendous period, and thus during the post-holocaust period many Christian bodies have sought to express in formal papers the relationship of the churches to Judaism. Is there light at the end of the proverbial tunnel? To seek answers, we will analyze Biblical and non-Biblical materials, written and artistic, and their impact upon Jewish-Christian Dialogue.
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.
For most of the 20th century, Latin America was characterized by unstable political and economic regimes. Indeed, in countries as diverse as Argentina and El Salvador, democracy had a difficult time taking root, and repressive authoritarian rule was common. Latin America also faced significant economic challenges throughout this time period, experimenting with several development models; many of which produced volatile growth, high debt, and severe boom-bust cycles. By the turn of the 21st century, however, the political-economic landscape of Latin America appeared to have shifted. Beginning in the 1980s, the region began to witness unprecedented democratic stability and by the early 2000s economic growth had begun to pick up steam. Still, the countries in the region continue to face several difficult challenges, including high levels of inequality, organized crime, and citizen discontent. This course will explore the region's turbulent politics, focusing on core concepts from comparative politics, including revolution, dictatorship, democracy, development, and the state. The course will combine both written analysis and film to introduce students to the region and to the field of Political Science.
Translation seems to be a straightforward concept, but has many applications and meanings. In this course, we will explore how translation affects the communication of ideas across languages, cultures and time. In the process, we will investigate how translation requires sensitivity to linguistic nuance, social mores, cultural values, historical understanding, political organization and heirarchical power relations. Where are the points of cohesion and collision in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic encounters? What does calculated mistranslation and feigned obtuseness reveal about social values? How are translators/interpreters perceived under conditions of colonization and conflict? What methods can be applied to the process of translation? What are the goals of translation? How can translation generate a greater appreciation for the connections between language, culture and history?
CRN: 24918 and 24919
This course analyzes the Great Recession of 2008-2009 and the role that changing ethical norms may have played in causing the financial market collapse. We begin by addressing basic concepts from ethics, economics, history and philosophy. The intellectual backdrop for our work is provided by philosopher/economist Adam Smith. Here are some of the questions students will pursue: How do natural instincts combine with humanly-devised institutions to create economic success (or failure)? Did greed play a role in creating this recession? Does the invisible hand of the market depend on greed? Is self-interest virtuous or vicious? Are human actions always rational? Can institutional reforms prevent another financial collapse?
An introduction to central questions of moral philosophy through the study of classic texts. The central thinkers examined will be Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Mill and Nietzsche. Some of the fundamental questions we will investigate through these texts are the following: What things are worth pursuing? What constitutes a good life? What constitutes a moral life? What is the relation between the two? How do we reason about what to do? Can reason determine how one ought to live, or how one ought to treat others? Can reason motivate us to act in accordance with those determinations? What are moral judgments, and why are we influenced by them? Can moral judgments be objective; are there any moral truths? Is true altruism possible or are all our motives ultimately self-interested? Can virtue and morality be taught? Throughout the term we will take note of the ways in which our authors differ, not just in the answers they give to these questions, but in the questions they take to be most central.
This course will examine the role of women in bringing change to modern Islamic societies. We will read books about several Muslim countries, and focus in depth on the role of women in modern day Turkey. The books written by Muslim women will provide students with firsthand knowledge about women who adhere to their faith while living in a progressive society. We will also read books written about Islam and women, watach movies about the lives of women in Islamic countries, and carry out "long-distance" research by interviewing women living in Turkey.
Story plays a central role in creating our senses of identity and relationship. Narratives of various forms help establish who we believe we are, how we see ourselves in relation to others, our personal ideologies, and our behavior in interactions with those around us. Gender, race, social class, ethnicity, ability, friendships, family, sexual identity, profession, religious beliefs...these and countless other aspects of our lives are in many ways given meaning through the narratives in and around us, and they are brought to life in our communication behavior. In this course, we will explore in depth the role of narratives in shaping who we are and how we interact with others.
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.
Open Water will explore the influence that the world's oceans have had on literature, art, history, politics, society, and science. Using a variety of sources, students will be asked to evaluate how and why a land-based, large-bodied mammal would be so reliant on the marine world. Through detailed and critical analysis of a variety of primary sources, students will gain a better appreciation of the visible and invisible influence marine habitats have on their daily lives.
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.
For Russians, St. Petersburg is much more than just another pretty face. The city lives and breathes the spirit of what makes them and us who we are since we are ultimately the same. Exploring the differences between the myth and reality of Petersburg through the arts locates us in the very place where those differences are born and find expression in the metalanguages of literature, music, and painting. The very process of mythmaking as an alternate reality is where we discover ourselves, our highest aspirations and our darkest fears and, thanks to the Russian genius, the beauty of both.
CRN: 24969 and 24970
This course explores the ideas of some of the most skeptical and original thinkers in the world. We read the works of ancient and modern authors, who raise questions that challenge conventions in the fields of philosophy, science, and religion. The course investigates their questions about things like the value of morality, the difference between human and non-human, and the possibility of reliable knowledge. This is a course for students who seek to question things.
This course will concern the reappraisal of one of ancient Greece's best known figures, Socrates, whose historical significance, it may be argued, is obscured by his fame. The philosophical dialogues written by Plato give so many vivid images of Plato's mentor that we can hardly help believing that Socrates looked and sounded and thought just as Plato says. The ancient sources, however, are not unified on the question of the historical Socrates, and they gave rise to contrary traditions of Socratic influence that have been as important as Platonic philosophy.
In particular, countering Plato was Isocrates, a devoted follower of Socrates, a teacher of rhetoric, and a founder of the 'liberal arts.' The tension between Isocrates and Plato in the fourth century B.C.E. amounts to a conflict between interpretations of the meaning of Socrates' life and death. It is no less a conflict between world views and theories of educational philosophy. After studying the nature of this conflict, we will observe its reemergence in later times, in ancient Rome and early Christianity. We will also be able to analyze the roots of the distinctively American brand of education, also called 'the liberal arts.'
This course will examine three occasions in the history of Western thought when the conception of the size of the Universe underwent large expansions: 1) The transition from an Earth-centered to Sun-centered view of the Universe, which led to an enormous increase in estimates of distances to stars, and hence in the scale of the known Universe; 2) The gradual understanding, in the early 20th century, of an expanding Universe filled with billions of galaxies; and 3) Contemporary ideas of the multiverse, according to which our observed environment is only a tiny fraction of all that exists. The most extreme and controversial versions of the multiverse hypothesis propose that the very laws of physics vary throughout the Universe, and that our observed patch may be quite atypical. In the course of examining the amount of space in the Universe, we will examine ideas about the nature of space, which also underwent major shifts during each of these periods.
This course explores the role that life narratives—“stories”—play in shaping a community’s shared sense of identity and in enacting social change. Using a rhetorical lens to read a variety of life narratives produced at crucible moments in American history, we will consider how distinct storytelling methodologies have been used to inscribe, enforce, and/or upturn specific community norms and identities, and to mobilize or restrict change. Texts will include as-told-to and self-authored narratives, “imposter” narratives, oral histories, stories archived using digital media, and secondary sources on narrative storytelling, narratives and social movements, and community literacy.
CRN: 25039 and 25040
Taking it to the Streets will examine a variety of old and new media technologies. It will review the resources available to public scholars for taking an informative and enlightening message to the general public. The course will elucidate ways in which the humanities will help students master the traditional tools of research and turn them to their advantage for intergenerational education. Then working alone or in teams, students will build some multimedia means of information dispersal. They will craft accessible messages for a non-academic audience and then deliver them as research dossiers and oral presentations.
What do fantastical stories of heroes and lovers, travelers and monsters tell us about Antiquity and the Middle Ages? This seminar challenges students to consider the meanings of "history", "fact", "fiction", "literature" when using such texts as Virgil's Aeneid (30-19 B.C.), Beowulf (ca. 8th c. A.D.), The Song of Roland (ca.12th c.), the lays of Marie de France (ca. late 12th/early 13th c.), Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (ca. 14th c.), Dante's Inferno (ca. early 14th c.), and Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini's The Two Lovers (15th c.). A central question will be how historians can use narratives to understand the cultures we study.
History is everywhere, saturating everything from textbooks to television, from music to movies, from historic sites to video games, from academic journals to reenactments, from websites to radio. This course will explore the range of media to understand why we think what we think about history, what each medium reveals and conceals, what each has to contribute. It will focus on American history, especially the history of Richmond, where an especially rich, concentrated, and problematic past surrounds us.
CRN: 24983 and 25081
Frequently hailed as a television masterpiece, “The Wire” created a vivid and detailed portrait of Baltimore that focused on its police, drug trade, shipping docks, city hall, public schools, and newspapers. In the series, one reviewer said, Baltimore stood for the parts America “where drugs, mayhem, and corruption routinely betray the promise of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” "The Wire” ask audiences to look at places, people and stories that mainstream television--and other media--customarily ignores. Students will analyze the series, and they will research and write about the problems that face urban America.
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.
This seminar explores the world of work in modern America, using a variety of sources ranging from U.S. Supreme Court opinions to first-person narratives. We will consider workplace questions of rights, social justice, motivation, challenges, social behavior, and economic necessity. Topics include legal foundations of the employment relationship, how that relationship has been modified by the courts and Congress, the broad spectrum of employment situations in which people of all ages perform their work, the dynamics and perils of the work environment, and how the working world has been portrayed by outside observers and employees.
In the United States, there have been over 240 exonerations achieved through advances n 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.