Fall 2015 Topics
Seminar topics are subject to change every term.
CRN: 16179 and 16180
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 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, novelists, social reformers, economists, and ordinary people have understood, promoted, opposed, and sought to reform capitalism since the eighteenth century. Focused on the history of the United States, the course will encourage students to think about the social and political implications of capitalist and anti-capitalist ideologies. Readings will examine inequality, work, gender roles, and class and racial hierarchies in the past and today. Authors include Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Franklin Roosevelt, Milton Friedman, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Thomas Piketty.
CRN: 16111 and 16112
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 multiple 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.
CRN: 16059 and 16060
This course introduces students to college level work by requiring them to read and think critically about the topics of sustainability, nutrition, poverty, modern day slavery, free and fair trade, and the role of multinational corporations in the production and consumption of chocolate. We will examine botanical, cultural, economic, and ethical issues associated with chocolate from its origin 4000 years ago until the present. We will do so by conducting academic research, making connections to existing programs on the UR Campus, local activist organizations, and local businesses that have chocolate as a main product.
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 uses museums as a way to investigate how societies collect their pasts and the stories they want to tell of themselves. It asks students to think seriously about the act of collecting, and how value – whether historical or cultural – are ascribed to certain objects. This course foregrounds the particular power of material culture to act as physical evidence around which societies construct narratives of their past. In paying attention to the politics of collecting, students are introduced to the processes by which the historical pasts are constructed and represented.
Through literary texts, inscriptions, and monuments from the ancient Mediterranean (including Egypt and the Near East as well as the Classical world), we will explore ancient approaches to death and memorial and what these may tell us about ancient beliefs, social structures, and ideologies. Primary source material will be drawn from: Egyptian tombs and funerary texts; Gilgamesh and Near Eastern funerary monuments; Greek and Latin poetry (works of Homer, Pindar, Bacchylides, Sophocles, Vergil, Propertius, and others); Greek and Roman historical accounts (such as Herodotus, Thucydides, and Suetonius); Greek, Etruscan, and Roman funerary art and epitaphs; and archaeological evidence for burial rituals. Themes to be explored include: death and the "hero," the tomb monument as a source of memory, the language of burials, the symbolism of funerary rituals, the significance of funerary banquets, war memorials and communal graves, and beliefs concerning the "underworld" and afterlife.
It is not hyperbole to say that the Federal budget deficit has been the most vexing domestic policy problem since the 1960s. 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 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.
“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.
This course will focus on ethical issues raised by war, international economic inequality, and immigration. Among the questions we will discuss are: What makes people morally liable to attack in time of war? What, if anything, justifies so-called collateral damage? Can terrorism ever be morally justifiable? Are the enormous economic inequalities between states morally justifiable? Is it just to treat as more important the economic wellbeing of our co-nationals or fellow citizens than the economic wellbeing of foreigners? Finally, what if anything justifies states in placing restrictions on immigration? Are there any criteria for restricting immigration that are morally impermissible?
The students will be asked to "read" films as cultural reflections of the times in which they are created. This "reading" will include analysis of narrative as well as cinamagraphic techniques used in the creation of movies. The course will be driven by the question, "Can a popular medium such as film be a primary source for understanding history?
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.
CRN: 16198 and 16199
The history of Italy from the end of the Renaissance until the formation of the nation state in 1861 has received far less attention from the academic community than its more prosperous past has. We will explore a deeply divided Italy and carefully consider the view that the peninsula went through a steep economic, political, social, and cultural decline during these centuries. The course will explore the larger themes of degeneration and revival within the framework of dynamic leadership and historical memory in the context of the creation of modern national identity.
There are many lenses through which to analyze the human experience. In this seminar we will examine knowing on the one hand, and various ways of choosing in the face of uncertainty on the other as these concepts play out in selected literary texts. Toward the end of the course, we will shift our focus to ways individual human beings go about fashioning their lives that will hopefully lead to human happiness and fulfillment.
Poetry has been described as “a language within a language” as well as “a language of inquiry.” This course examines how the language of poetry both originates in and differs from conventional language. What makes a poem? What makes something “poetic”? How does poetic language function? What is possible in poetry that is not possible elsewhere? What possibilities does poetry offer for other kinds of writing? Students will read and listen to poems while also learning to recognize poetry in non-literary sources (such as political speeches and song lyrics) as well as in fiction and nonfiction.
CRN: 16190 and 16191
This course will explore important themes in political and legal philosophy by examining novels, plays, and short philosophical works that pose such questions as the following: What, if anything, gives some people authority over others? When, if ever, is breaking the law justified? What distinguishes the rule of law from sheer power? How do we come to have rights? What is freedom, and how important is it? Is there such a thing as the public interest; and if there is, do citizens have a duty to promote it?
In this seminar we will try to read (or view), discuss, and write about eight written texts and three films (or filmic texts) that deal with the topic of love in divergent ways. The authors of the various texts all assume that love - of one or another type - is central to human happiness, but they also all believe that people typically encounter serious impediments in the search for fulfillment in love. In one of its important meanings, the word "complications" in the title of the seminar refers to such impediments and to the strategies that people use in trying to overcome them. The various texts have been chosen in part not only because each of them presents a distinctive perspective on the seminar topic, but also because they reflect some of the important kinds of writing or film-making that influential thinkers (a philosopher, a founder of modern psychology) and artists (both literary and cinematic) have chosen as means of exploring the topic of love. Which is to say that the texts we'll examine are all quite demanding (their complexities reflect the complexities of the ideas they explore) and are meant to help you become stronger readers and thinkers - college-level readers and thinkers. We'll begin by learning about some of the ideas propounded by two of the most influential theorists of love in the history of Western culture, Plato and Sigmund Freud, and then go on to examine a considerable diversity of literary and cinematic texts--novels, a play, a group of poems, and three films--in which the complexities of love are explored, not at a theoretical level, but at the level of actual human or personal experience.
Many lawyers become leaders and serve in rolesranging 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 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. (See attached preliminary reading list). The key objective is the nurturing of reading and listening more critically for deeper experiences of these art forms.
CRN: 16178 and 16291
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. In this course, 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.
CRN: 16192 and 16193
J.R.R. Tolkien had an excellent understanding of how what we pursue and what we possess can define us. This class will investigate issues of possession and control over property beginning in literature and film with Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and moving on to understanding of property and possession in law and social science.
The Pious and the Profane explores Christian monasticism from its fourth-century origin in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria through the creation of the Jesuit order in the sixteenth. It traces how the ascetic practice embraced by individual hermits outside the established church became, in its communal Benedictine form, an integral element of the medieval church. The course delves into monastic reform (Cluniac, Cistercian), crusading monastic orders (Templars, Hospitallers), mendicant monasticism (Franciscans, Dominicans, Poor Clares), and the depiction of monks and nuns in medieval vernacular literature (e.g., Chaucer, Boccaccio). The course concludes with the portrayal of medieval monasticism in modern popular culture.
Why do certain accents sound good or bad?
Who decides what is “proper” English?
Why do we change our speech style?
Students will learn that our views about accent are linguistically arbitrary. Students will expose language prejudices in the world around them, starting with television and film. Next, they will explore the construction of “standard” language and debunk popular notions about “African American English” and “Spanglish.” They will learn about educational practices that either support or disenfranchise speakers of nonstandard varieties. Finally, students will learn about how linguistic style constructs identity and shapes social interaction. They will analyze their own speech and discover their prejudices about language.
What are we to make of the sentence "I am lying now" or the possibility that there is an infinite amount of stuff in the universe or that if backward time travel were possible, it seems you could prevent your father from ever meeting your mother? This course will explore potential solutions to these conundrums and the methodology of producing solutions. Other problems tackled may include puzzles concerning reference, ambiguity, infinity, causation, freedom, reasoning, and probability.
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.
CRN: 15923 and 15924
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: 16195 and 16196
Biblical stories and characters offer guidelines for believers’ moral lives, but they also offer inspiration for theological challenge and artistic expression. This course explores ancient and modern rewritings of biblical stories that expand stories, change points of view, and fill in narrative gaps, all in an attempt to tell a new story that is filled with new meaning. The course analyzes the ways retellings—for example, legends, films, TV documentaries, plays, and novels—draw on, depart from, and compete with the original stories as they reflect and construct new political, social, and theological worlds.
An investigation of the meaning of, relationship between, and practical value of two prominent, but apparently contradictory precepts of Western moral thought: one which asks us to realize our fullest potential as unique individuals; another which commands us to sacrifice ourselves to some greater good. To achieve this we will (except for the Greeks, where the procedure is reversed) follow a pattern of reading a theoretical statement on one side of the other of the question, then following it with consideration of works, mostly fictional, that test the applicability of such principles to life. Authors to be considered will include Homer, St. Paul, Goethe, J.S. Mill, and Camus.
Historically, Western societies' main mechanism for regulating sex and reproduction was marriage. In recent decades, the criterion for socially legitimate sex has shifted from marriage to consent. What is consent? If non-consensual sex is bad, does that mean that all consenual sex is good, or at least neutral? How does, and how should the law shape sexual culture? This course uses legal theory, mindfulness meditation and communication practices, and creative writing to examine these issues, with a special focus on the implementation of Title IX on college campuses generally, and at the University of Richmond in particular.
This course explores the historical and fictional examples of social utopias. We begin by asking ourselves, “What does utopia look like?” and then learn what some the greatest Western thinkers have imagined when asking themselves the same question. Our study of Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, and Rousseau’s Second Discourse on Inequality will focus on utopian thinking as a thought experiment, utopia as a social and political critique, and the realization of social utopia as a problem of individual will as much as the common good. Finally, we will turn to the study of nineteenth-century utopian socialism and feminism as a response to revolutions in France and Britain.
Focusing on poverty in the United States, this course examines how people can suffer from food insecurity in a nation so materially affluent and so blessed with cheap and abundant food. It is an examination of federal anti-poverty, agriculture, and supplemental nutrition policies, and it asks students to critically analyze the links between federal policies, on the one hand, and hunger and health problems in low-income communities, on the other hand. The course concludes with an examination of recent citizens’ movements aimed at bringing healthy, affordable food to the poor (farmer’s markets, urban gardens, food trucks, and feeding programs) and considers whether these citizen efforts are sufficient.
This course will consider social issues in America from the 1880s to 1940 through primary and secondary texts, photographs, and films. We will analyze how each of these mediums narrate stories, authenticate experience, communicate ideologies, and impact the reader/viewer. We will look at the ways in which texts and images overlap, intersect, and sometimes contradict each other.
Does everyone have a story? Do we tell ourselves stories? Are they true? This course explores the role that stories play in forming our own identity, forming relationships with others, forming community, and forming the structures through which we understand our world. We will learn about folktales and fairy tales through research, critical reading, critical writing, and telling them aloud. We'll consider where oral storytelling is happening currently aided by the internet. Students will also grapple with these concepts by participating in peer mentoring through story-sharing with local incarcerated youth.
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”. Mid-20th century social movements not only repudiated de jure and de facto segregation, but they also rejected firmly entrenched ideologies (e.g., scientific racism, social Darwinism, etc.) that helped perpetuate dispossession throughout America’s vulnerable communities. As it happened, these social movements instigated a culture of rights that changed the relationship between Americans and the state. This culture of rights also helped bring about legislation that not only protected African Americans, but also America’s women, impoverished, mentally ill, and physical challenged. Yet, we attribute these freedom struggles and the actualization of civil rights legislation to a handful of activists and policymakers. 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, this course is designed to examine how Americans became active agents in the promotion of a more inclusive America. We will also study the impact civil rights legislation has had on American life.
CRN: 16122 and 16123
This course is an introduction to Seville as one of the most important cities in the history and culture of Spain, from its ascendancy during the Roman Empire to its decline in the 18th century. The course focuses on Seville as  an ideal entry point to learn about both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic history of Europe up until the eighteenth century, and  one the major fantasy sites of European and North-American Romantic orientalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
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.
This course is an introduction to listening, broadly conceived, from a variety of philosophical and cultural perspectives. Just as does architecture, the soundscape of a place both reflects and influences human behavior and thought. How can we be more fully aware of our soundscape, its meanings, and implications? What do privilege, poverty, and capitalism (for instance) sound like? Students will have the opportunity to study the traditional musics (on authentic instruments) of several cultures to help illustrate the ways in which the aesthetic and philosophical ideals of a people are embodied (and occasionally resisted) in their music. instruments etc., we will also discuss music’s relationship to social life through its capacity to shape and be shaped by social structures and customs. We will study music as culture—music as a symbol of social values and of cultural, group and individual identity—through conducting original ethnographic projects.
Despite increasing educational and employment opportunities for women in recent decades, the representation of women in science and technology remains low. Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers said he was being provocative when he stated that innate differences between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers; the controversy surrounding these comments ultimately led to his resignation. We will explore these issues and related questions, including: Does the American educational system adequately prepare girls to succeed in science? Who are role models for the next generation of women scientists? How does the media portray women scientists?