Spring 2016 Topics
Seminar topics are subject to change every term.
This course will examine the writings of notable educators from the last 2500 years. Students will examine the evolution of the modern university, controversies over curricular content, competing objectives of liberal arts and vocational education, tensions between religious and secular viewpoints, and the role of extra-curricular activities.
This course explores how we process and interpret what we see, providing an introduction to the methods of effective visual display of information. The course covers the display of quantitative data, information that describes maps of buildings, people, or other things and information that has a motion component or shows action, such as the cloud development, dancing, and sports formations. We will illustrate how effective visual displays allow observers to summarize complex thoughts, make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena and be persuaded by visual as opposed to verbal or written argument. We will teach students how to organize information for display, how to use an artistic perspective to make displays more effective, and how to recognize misleading presentations of information.
This course will combine intellectual and social history, philosophy, and literature. Our focus will be on the extended crisis of faith inaugurated in the West by the Enlightenment, and its ramifications and reflections in literature over succeeding generations. This syllabus will require us to confront these issues: how does fiction illuminate the unwritten boundaries of acceptable religious diversity? How have reflective writers framed the conflict between faith and doubt, and what solutions have emerged? What is the role of human agency in belief and doubt? Is the religious impulse one that is, ultimately, amenable to social or intellectual control?
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 ethical 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 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.
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.
The hard-boiled novel produced some of the twentieth century's most famous movies, spawning a new visual style (film noir) and establishing the gangster and detective film as among the medium’s most celebrated genres. This seminar pairs novels such as Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Chandler's The Big Sleep, among others, with their subsequent film adaptations and homages to enable an in-depth consideration of the genre of the crime and detective story and concept of film adaptation. Students will read, watch, analyze and research 1) the formal properties that define detective novels and films 2) the literary and film traditions, historical circumstances, and cultural contexts from which these genres emerged, and 3) the differences that emerge when literary texts are translated into the predominantly visual medium of narrative fiction film.
"Crime and Punishment in Russian Fiction and Film” examines the acts of transgression and retribution, two long-standing preoccupations of the Russian 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 within 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; late Soviet stagnation; and after the collapse of Communism in 1991.
The purpose of this course is to critically examine the substantive and procedural aspects of criminal law through the study of key decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. In particular this course will focus on the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eight, and Fourteenth Amendment protections of the criminally accused. Emphasis will be placed on the approaches taken by the U.S. Supreme Court to balance law enforcement’s goals against constitutional protections afforded to individuals. We will study the decisions of the Supreme Court and law enforcement practices with a critical eye in understanding the real world implications each has on the criminal justice system.
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—and 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.
Witches and heretics, religious prophets and confidence men, Indian captives and murdering mothers, cat massacres and slave conspiracies: these are the subjects of “microhistory,” a distinctive approach to the study of the past that seeks to reveal broader forces of historical change through detailed stories of obscure individuals and seemingly bizarre events. In this seminar, students learn how scholars research and write these gripping historical narratives and work in teams to develop their own microhistories based on rare archival documents from eighteenth-century New England.
When and how do ordinary people have the power to effect real changes to the system? How can we "live truthfully" in a complicated global economy and ecologically fragile world that seems to demand collusion and moral compromises? This course takes its title from an influential essay by Vaclav Havel, the playwright, rock music fan, and political prisoner who helped bring down the Iron Curtain and become Czechoslovakia's first democratically elected President. Readings include fiction and essays from Eastern Europe as well as a selection of “core” philosophical and political texts.
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.
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.
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?
CRN: 26322 and 26323
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.
The students will be asked to "read" films as cultural relections of the times in which they are created. This "reading" will include analysis of narrative as well as cinemagraphic 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 provides an examination of the making of the United States Constitution, focusing on the political ideas that led to the creation of the American republic; the Constitutional Convention of 1787; the ratification debates, and the adoption of the Bill of Rights. Through our readings and discussion, we will undertake a critical examination of the lofty ideals and pragmatic compromises that produced the framework of American government.
Game theory studies strategic behavior. For example, a mouse makes food choices. Will the mouse choose to eat what tastes good, is most nutritious, or is least likely to result in confrontations with other mice? What foraging strategies might a mouse adopt to avoid predation? Is there room in a population of mice for several different strategies to coexist, each with high probability for reproductive success? More interestingly, are what appear to us as choices actually hard-wired behaviors that are inherited through natural selection? Students, with guidance from a behavioral ecologist and a mathematician, will explore these questions through a variety of case studies.
CRN: 26300 and 26301
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?
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 the 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 institutions shape policy.
From both a social science and humanities perspective we will explore the meaning and significance of heroes and villains. We will read Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, examining the various elements of the hero myth and approaching the study of heroism using a comparative mythological framework. We will analyze Paul Johnson's Heroes: From Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar, focusing on pivotal historical moments and contexts that help shape and define heroes. We will also read excerpts from my book Heroes and Villains: Who They Are, Why We Need Them, which approaches good and evil from a social psychological perspective. The issues we will address will include the social construction of heroes and villains, the types of human motivations that draw us to these figures, and the role that heroes and villains play in shaping society.
We’ll ponder several critical thinking-rich questions in our Entrepreneurship and Innovation journey. How do entrepreneurs and innovators with “unceasing drive and incentive to innovate” create breakthrough ideas that meet the test of the marketplace? How do they commercialize revolutionary inventions and innovations? Why is the nation of Israel itself a role model example of a start-up company? Why is economic power dramatically shifting from the producer-in-control to the customer-in-control, and how might that drive innovation and disrupt virtually every industry? Will 3D-printing usher in the Second Industrial Revolution?
The course is a survey of various fictional representations, in literature and movies, of Italian organized crime. In particular, it intends to call students’ attention to the differences between the representations of mobsters in Italy and the United States. We will focus on the historical and socio-anthropological peculiarities of mafia representations in order to explain these differences as we compare fiction and non-fiction sources.
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.
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 picked 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.
In this course, we will be researching how to research and collaboratively create community-based documentary projects. While our readings and viewings will range broadly, we will focus on a specific, fast-growing community—Latinos in Richmond. We will attend readings and panel discussions at community forums, and ultimately conduct a “history harvest” at a Latino cultural center in Richmond, interviewing and collecting “evocative objects” from members of the Latino community. The stories and photographed objects we collect will become an important foundation of an exhibition to be staged at the Valentine, Richmond’s premier history museum.
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 hierarchical 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?
This course will emphasize writing and arguing mathematics. Contrary to popular misconceptions, mathematics is not about computing but about struggling with abstract mathematical concepts and arguing as to what makes them true. The venue for this will be a selection of fascinating abstract mathematical topics from Greek antiquity to the Millennium problems such as: infinity of the primes, bisecting and trisecting angles, Euler's characterization of polyhedral solids, regular polyhedral solids, Fermat's last theorem, the four and five color problems, set theory, notions of infinity, and Goodstein's theorem.
We will also discuss questions such as
(i) Are mathematical concepts invented or do they already exist and we just discover them?
(ii) Who has the burden of proof in a mathematical argument, the author or the reader?
(iii) Are some proofs better than others?
(iv) Do computer calculations give a satisfying mathematical argument? How do we know the computer was programmed correctly?
(v) Does mathematics need to be practical?
Since this course emphasizes mathematical writing and arguing, and will not depend on any prior knowledge of calculus or statistics, it will be open to all first-year students.
In this seminar, we will explore the different ways that we experience, imagine and represent physical space both in the theatre and in the world around us. We will consider how the configuration of space influences our thinking, our behaviors and our feelings. Why do we tend to gravitate to certain locations in our houses, our workplaces and public spaces? In what ways does the configuration of space seem to curtail our movements and control our behaviors? In what ways does it invite play? In what ways does it convey a sense of welcome or a sense of exclusion? In what ways is our sense of identity linked to specific locations? What can space and place ‘mean’? What stories does it tell? In what ways do the geometries of space have the power to touch the human heart?
CRN: 26316 and 26328
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.
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.
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 explore the changes made to the campus built environment resulting from the GI Bill, the Cold War, shifts in curriculum, as well as advances in construction methods/technology and style. We will look at rural, suburban, and urban campuses focusing on their plans, building programs, specific designs, and the role they played in shaping the identity of the institution and engagement with the surrounding community. Special focus will be given to the regions in and around Philadelphia and Richmond as locations where all three types of campuses exist.
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.
The course will explore various avenues for finding or creating an identity as expressed in texts representing several literary genres, including novels, poems, memoirs, short stories, and philosophical works. Students will analyze and discuss texts from a wide range of cultural settings and will be asked to look beyond their assumptions of personal autonomy or "nature/nurture" dichotomies. Texts are likely to include most of the following: Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart; Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions; Rich, Adrienne Rich's Poetry and Prose; Augustine,Confessions; Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents; Beauvoir, The Second Sex; Sophocles, Oedipus Rex; Borges, Labyrinths.
How do you imagine what you consider a *better* place, where everyone lives together in harmony? What does this society look like and how does it operate? How do you know your vision for a better world will succeed? 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. We will read and discuss examples of utopian literature, conduct primary research on utopian communities of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and write intensively about these topics. The class will also visit and learn from local communities that strive to make the world a better place.
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: 26337 and 26338
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.
Have you ever wondered why time sometimes seems crawls when waiting for a class to end? Or why it seems to stand still during an important moment, even while your watch is ticking? Have you ever had a memory that unexpectedly intruded on the present, fracturing your sense of continuity? This course explores the nature of time by studying musical works in conjunction with literary, philosophical, and scientific texts.
G. Scott Davis
This course undertakes a reading of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in light of the medieval texts Tolkien worked on, including Beowulf, the Ancrene Wisse, and the Gawain Poet, as well as some of Tolkien's biographical and critical writings.
CRN: 26344 and 26348
A comparative literature course focusing on nineteenth-century literary tendencies in Spain and the United States. Readings --drawn from romantic, realist, and naturalist traditions -- will include the work of Cadalso, Becquer, Poe, Howells, Perez Galdes, Crane, and Pardo Baxen, among others.
War requires the expenditure of many resources. Whether human and physical, financial, political, or moral, war’s costs call for any state that would wage one to define it, to explain its benefits, and to justify it to citizens. In this class, you will learn to be scholarly critics of war rhetoric in the many forms it takes, including the symbolic work of government actors, media personalities, writers, TV producers, photojournalists, news networks, or protestors. We seek to draw informed conclusions about how American-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere have been constituted, defended, and maintained.
CRN: 25444 and 25446
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.
Mary Kelly Tate
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.