Spring 2018 Topics

Seminar topics are subject to change every term. Courses cannot exceed 16 students.

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    Abreu, Dixon

    What can a story tell us about the world, about our selves, about others like us, about others different from us, about our roles in the world, about the role of stories in the world? There is no better way to explore these questions than reading stories and discussing their values within our own cultural and multicultural moment. Engaging meaningfully and analytically with these texts, as diverse in time/epoch and medium as they are in style and geographical origin, will provide students with the perfect opportunity to reflect upon our fluid global community as they pertain to the most important story of all: the story of us.


    Cunningham, Sojourna Guss, Samantha

    The purpose of this course is to explore the creation, consumption, and dissemination of information. The Internet has globalized and democratized access to information. Critical literacy has not kept up with that access, contributing to a generation that is either too wary or too accepting. Using a mix of scholarly and popular sources, students will explore their own information seeking behaviors, think about biases, and ultimately begin to place themselves as both consumers and creators of information.


    Cassada, Kate

    Students will explore the complex lives, expectations of, and pressures on middle school children, including social, physical, developmental, and emotional challenges that are unique to adolescence during the middle school years. The class will investigate learning styles, autonomy and independence, and expectations for this age group. Students will determine whether they find legitimacy in the popular concept that boys and girls learn and should be taught differently, and how adolescence might influence learning styles and academic success. Students will visit public and independent schools, single-sex and coeducational classrooms, and after-school programs to develop positions for and participate in a series of debates regarding educational issues that affect adolescents. We will also have fun studying and recreating popular fictional adolescent literature in a diary format.


    Skerrett, Kathleen

    Undergraduate students report high rates of anxiety and its distressing impact on their lives. This seminar approaches anxiety as an existential state that is braided with the experience of freedom. We will focus on philosophical and spiritual approaches that treat anxiety in the context of ethical formation. We will consider practical ideas for reducing or countering the impact of anxiety on our personal and collective wellbeing. In response to shared readings, we will consider the questions: Is anxiety a meaningful condition of freedom? How is anxiety responsive to social, environmental, and political contexts? What opportunities and challenges does anxiety present for responding to those contexts? Can we identify transcendent or transformative dimensions of freedom that anxiety inspires? Are their tragic contingencies associated with freedom that inspire anxiety? We will explore meaningful connections between experiences of anxiety and our formation as free and ethical beings.


    Kenzer, Robert

    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 levels of baseball will be touched on, the primary focus will be Major League Baseball.


    Givens, Terryl

    The fastest growing religious affiliation among young people in American is the "nones," i.e., no religious affiliation at all. This course will explore the sources of modern disbelief from its beginnings in the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and the writings of David Hume, through the developments of nineteenth century geology and Higher Criticism, and examine the impact of science on religious faith from Darwin through the New Atheists. Against those contexts, we will read a number of literary works that depict the wrestle between belief and doubt in the individual soul.


    Feldman, Sharon

    From the literature of Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, and Merc Rodoreda to the visual culture of Robert Capra, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Mir, the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) has captivated the imagination of writers and artists from within Spain and beyond. Indeed, Spain's civil war has been immortalized, mythologized, and even romanticized in the creation of an enduring cultural legacy, for it was, in essence, a struggle for freedom and for utopian ideals. In this seminar we shall contemplate a diverse set of portrayals of the Spanish Civil War, along with its aftermath, on the part of writers, filmmakers, and visual artists from the past, as well as more contemporary times. Our focus will bring to light a broad range of issues that includes oppression, freedom of expression, human rights, exile, migration, trauma, cultural identity, and historical memory, all of which have far-reaching implications with regard to how we perceive our own place in the world today. Why has the Spanish Civil War so often been an exceedingly enticing source of artistic inspiration? What happens when art and literature are converted into political sites of resistance? What types of artistic strategies do writers and artists use to establish a critical discourse when constrained by the limits of censorship? How does exile exert an influence upon the artistic imagination? How might the Spanish Civil War enrich our understanding of our own current political landscape and that of contemporary Spain and Europe? These are some of the questions that we shall consider in this seminar.


    Brown, Mavis

    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 adversity and uncertainty on the other, as these concepts play out in selected literary texts.


    Mullen, Thomas

    In this course, students will learn that journalists don't just report the news - they often have a responsibility to tell stories that inspire social change. This course explores the role and responsibility of journalism in identifying social issues and uncovering ways to resolve them.


    Rankine, Patrice

    Students in this course will read a series of classical plays, from Greece and Rome, like "Oedipus the King," to classics of modern theater, such as "A Raisin in the Sun." Students and the professor travel at least once a month to watch a live production of a play, in RVA. Students explore the distinctions between text and stage, embodied experience and the words on the page. 'Embodiment' encompasses the experiences of what it means to be a woman, man, or otherwise, in particular societies at particular times; experiences of race, class, and gender; and the reality of being in shared, physical space with one another. We ask how we are all performing roles - professor, student, man, woman, etc. - and how that reality influences even how we interact with each other, and how we might read a particular text. The class is fun, interactive, and on many evenings, involves live theater, exceptional company, and good food.


    Brandenberger, David

    "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.


    Cheever, Abigail

    The hard-boiled novel produced some of the twentieth century's most famous movies, spawning a new visual style (film noir) and establishing the detective film as among the medium's most celebrated genres. This seminar pairs novels such as Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, Chandler's The Big Sleep, and Mosely's Devil in a Blue Dress among others, with their subsequent film adaptations and homages to enable an in-depth consideration of the genre of the detective story and concept of film adaptation. Students will read, watch, analyze and research 1) the 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.


    Winiarski, Douglas

    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.


    Tilton, Lauren

    The course will focus on the relation between activism and media in the 1960s. Activists turned to a variety of cultural forms - film, photography, underground press and TV - to build their communities, highlight social injustice, and argue for social change. How did corporate media represent activism? How did activists represent themselves and for what ends?


    Hanaoka, Mimi

    This course is designed to explore several key topics in the study of dreams and visions in Islamic societies, and the topical content the course includes: the religious milieu of the Late Antique Near East; the prophet Muhammad; the emergence of Islam; fundamental concepts in Islam; the relationship between revelation, prophecy, and dreams; Sunnis and Shi'as; sayyids and sharifs in dreams; mystical Islam and Sufi brotherhoods; popular piety and saint veneration; modern developments in Islam; dreams in contemporary Egyptian society; and dreams and visions in the contemporary world.


    Shields, Thomas

    The student will learn about the history of K-12 education and equity in America. The student will be able to analyze the interaction of citizenship and democracy through American education. The student should have an enhanced understanding of the concepts and practices of education in a pluralistic and diverse society. The student will understand the relationship between school reform and education policy. The student should be familiar with the kinds of questions asked by education scholars, policy makers and practitioners. The student will examine the importance of schooling in the global marketplace.


    Lefkowitz, David

    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?


    Schoen, Walter

    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 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?


    Delers, Olivier Sulzer-Reichel, Martin

    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 modern dance as an art-form 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.


    Shaw, Miranda

    Students will be introduced to a range of cultural constructions of sexuality and the spheres of life associated with sexuality in different cultural worlds. As we examine varying views and roles of sexuality through multiple interpretive lenses, students will gain historical background and analytic resources to develop a critical perspective on the sexual meta-narrative and gender-coded sexual scripts encountered in popular media.


    Damer, Erika

    What role can literature from and influenced by the Roman world play in universities in the 21st Century? Ovid's Metamorphoses will guide a careful examination of gender violence in the Roman world and in contemporary U.S. universities. Gender, Violence, Rome will study the ways that Ovid's Metamorphoses has offered solace and resistance against gendered violence, and been read as supporting power hierarchies that enable violence against women and men. In this course, students will meet Roman literature, and films, drama, and novels inspired by the tradition of Roman culture in Shakespeare, the Godfather, and in Toni Morrison's novel, Love.


    Mayes, Ben

    Following the path of the Spring 2018 Semester-at-Sea program that goes from Hawaii to Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Myanmar, India, South Africa and Morocco, this course examines how public problems are defined, how different policy solutions are crafted, and the ways in which we judge their effectiveness in the U.S. and around the world. As the art of political decision-making, public policy reflects the reality that: (1) penalties and incentives ("sticks and carrots") are what primarily drive much of modern life; (2) information is key to structuring effective penalties and incentives; and that (3) thinking analytically and empirically, knowing what to measure and how to measure it, is as important as thinking normatively. This course uses the countries we visit "in class" to illustrate the different ways that countries craft public policies, why they do so, and what the tradeoffs and consequences are.


    Forsyth, John

    This course surveys what we know (and don't know) about groups. People have wondered about the nature of groups and their dynamics for centuries, but only recently has the scientific analysis of groups by researchers from psychology, sociology, and related disciplines provided answers to such questions as: Why do humans affiliate in groups? How do groups sway their members? Why do so many groups make such poor decisions? What gives rise to a sense of esprit-de-corps versus intragroup conflict? This course does not teach ?group skills," but students will work in learning teams.


    Howell, Yvonne

    The planet-altering discoveries of our era, now called the Anthropocene, are startlingly recent. It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that the widespread use of radio, electricity, airplanes, radiation technology and so forth began to shrink time and space, expand lifespans and personal horizons. In Russia, the dawn of a new scientific age corresponded with a communist revolution that claimed to usher in a new form of society that was spiritually, socially, and scientifically progressive. Our course explores the surprising masterpieces of 20th century Russian/Soviet writers, who articulated the revolutionary dreams and terrible miscalculations of this moment in history.


    Clikeman, Paul

    This course will examine the writings of notable educators from the last 2500 years. We will discuss the evolution of the modern university, controversies over curriculum, the competing objectives of liberal-arts and vocational education, and the future of higher education.


    Craft, Erik

    This First Year Seminar investigates inequality in the United States and the world, both historically and in the present. The course will focus on income inequality, but we will investigate inequality in lifespan and education as well. While most of the course will emphasize understanding the level and causes of inequality, we will spend some time acquainting ourselves with normative views on inequality, that is, what should be equalized and to what extent something should be equalized. The course will include discussions of possible responses to various forms of inequality.


    Wight, Jonathan

    The 2008 global economic crisis was potentially the worst macroeconomic event in 80 years. We will try to understand its multiple causes, specifically whether it was the result of random events, systematic market or regulatory failings, moral failures, or some other cause or causes. Addressing this question is important if we are to learn from the calamity. Students from all backgrounds are welcome in the course, even those brand new to economics. We will use primary texts and Socratic dialogue to address related and controversial questions such as "Does the market always self-correct?" "Is unemployment voluntary?" "Is greed good?" "How does the invisible hand work?" Early readings emphasize the work of Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics and the most famous user of the phrase "the invisible hand" of the market. Smith's meaning is different from modern usage, and provides an important perspective on the economic collapse.


    MacAllister, Joyce

    This course explores accounts from history, literature, and science about ways animals have improved our lives by protecting us, working for us, and serving us as sources of comfort, recreation, and entertainment. It also examines the problems and conflicts that can arise with reference to our responsibilities to animals (e.g. in terms of their rights, their welfare, and their health). Our study will be guided by questions such as the following: What do we know about animal nature and intelligence and how do we know what we know? What do we get from our relationships with animals? What are the relative influences of training, instinct, and intelligence upon animal behavior? What are the implications of this knowledge for our relationships--both with animals and with each other?


    Browder, Laura

    As the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond is a city particularly invested in memorializing civil rights (and their suppression). In this course, we will engage the current debates over Confederate statue removal (or contextualization) and visit museums and other sites of memory in order to address why and how civil rights are represented here and to consider what a just representation might look like.


    Barney, Timothy

    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.


    Singal, Jack

    Science, Pseudoscience, and anti-Science: Perspectives for Future Leaders: Scientific knowledge and advancement underlie every aspect of contemporary life. Yet in many ways the misunderstanding of science and the acceptance of anti-scientific ideas have never been more prevalent. We will journey across modern society to explore the issues at the heart of this paradox: 1. What defines science? Why is science beneficial? 2. Contemporary manifestations of pseudoscience and anti-science 3. What are the limits of science? Can science address morality? 4. Why do pseudoscience and anti-science have the wide appeal and traction that they do? 5. How are conspiracy theories at the intersection of anti-science and politics?


    Gale, Sylvia

    Why do stories matter? Can stories change the world? Can stories effect something as systemic as mass incarceration? This course explores the ways that stories, particularly life narratives, contribute to a community's shared or imposed sense of identity, and considers whether and how storytelling is a tool for social change, with an emphasis on the intersections between storytelling and incarceration. We will consider how storytelling methodologies are used to inscribe, enforce, and/or upturn specific community norms and identities, to humanize and to dehumanize, and to mobilize or restrict change. Texts will include a variety of life narratives, contemporary collective storytelling projects, and sources on narrative storytelling, narratives and social movements, and community literacy. This is a community-based learning class; students will also grapple with these concepts by participating in peer mentoring through story-sharing with local incarcerated youth.


    Hayter, Julian

    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.


    Drell, Joanna

    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.


    Henry, Brian

    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? This course examines how the language of poetry both originates in and differs from conventional language. Students will read and listen to poems from the past and the present while also learning to recognize poetic language in non-literary sources (such as political speeches and song lyrics) as well as in fiction and nonfiction.


    Bell, Andrew

    It is estimated that more than 3 trillion photos will be shared over the Internet in 2017. As photography becomes more ubiquitous in society, the ability to deconstruct how our brain processes images becomes more relevant. By knowing more about the workings of the brain in general and of the visual brain in particular, one can attempt to develop the outlines of a theory of aesthetics that is biologically based. This course uses the core concepts of neuroscience to give students the tools to critically think about the photographic stories they see and share.


    Snaza, Nathan

    This course will examine contemporary practices of sexual education in schools, and the controversies surrounding them, in light of a longer history of sexuality as a concept, drawing on biology, sexology, political history, educational philosophy, and feminist and queer studies. We will track the emergence of "sexuality" as a scientific and political concept in the nineteenth century, and examine how state-regulated institutions--especially the school and the hospital--have operationalized sexuality as a means of regulating the behavior of individuals and the "health" of populations.


    Knouse, Laura

    Psychological scientists study human behavior and mental processes across levels of analysis from neurons to culture. The dramatic effect of some psychoactive drug molecules on behavior challenges “common sense” views of human agency while culture plays an enormous role in patterns of drug use and whether users are glorified or vilified. In this course, students will examine drugs and drug use from these diverse perspectives and will apply their developing understanding of the psychology of drugs to key drug-related debates in medicine and public policy. They will be challenged to think critically about the use and abuse of drugs, their benefits and harms.


    Bowie, Jennifer

    This course will tackle important and controversial questions surrounding criminal procedure and the role of the Supreme Court in the development of the rights of the criminally accused. Topics include (1) The Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, (2) The Fifth Amendment's privilege against self incrimination, double jeopardy issues, and grand jury requirement, (3) The Sixth Amendment's right to an attorney, impartial trial, and speedy trial, (4) The Eight Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. We will focus on understanding the limitations the Constitution puts on the government when it comes to police practices, grand jury practices, evidence, investigations, interrogations, juries, trials, and punishment to name a few. We will question the policy implications of how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments. What does cruel and unusual punishment mean? What are the consequences of secret grand jury proceedings, what reforms should we consider and why?


    Whitehead, Marcia

    The Search for the Self explores what we mean by a "self." How do we recognize or create one; maintain or develop it through changing time, space, and circumstance; and communicate it to others through our interactions with them and our social environment? We will explore these questions and others from many disciplinary perspectives, including philosophy, sociology, psychology, literature, and neuroscience. Our readings will include essays, memoir, fiction (both long and short), and articles from both academic and non-academic sources.


    Davis, G.

    Tolkien as medievalist and its impact on his creative work


    Wittig, Carol

    This course will ask students to think about themselves as information consumers and producers. Students will explore issues of trust and expertise in a media-saturated world. Through critical reading, writing, and research, students will explore questions such as how is expertise determined? Who gets to decide who has expertise? Who do you trust?


    Simon, Stephen

    No question about the universe is more fundamental than why there is one in the first place. Virtually all of the time that we're navigating the world, we naturally take its existence for granted. That's precisely what we won't do in this course. Instead, we'll examine major answers to the question of what constitutes reality's ultimate foundation, including: science; mathematics; goodness; randomness, non-physical laws or principles, and divinity. We'll also consider responses that reject the question as meaningless, recognize its unanswerability as a significant feature of our relation to the world around us, or embrace its mystery through expressions of awe. By engaging strengths and weaknesses of competing frameworks and exploring implications of limitations on our knowledge, we'll learn more about our own deepest commitments while improving the ability to think through and defend positions on challenging inquiries.


    Keefer, Jeannine

    This course will explore the various roles architecture, building, and design play in shaping how we live, work, play and interact with one another. We will read texts covering a variety or periods and points of view, as well as view/analyze documentaries devoted to the built environment. As students learn to read buildings, plans and even cities as primary texts they will appreciate the impact design can have on our experience of place. Questions we will address include: Can we fix a broken society through design? What is the role of the architect or planner in shaping society? What are the roles of old and new structures in our understanding of place?


    Baughan, Elizabeth

    From sacrificial feasts to private dinner parties, banqueting played a critical role in ancient societies. Food and drink were shared with the gods, the dead, and the living community. Ways of eating and drinking served to construct, define, and negotiate relationships of power, status, and friendship. In this seminar, we will explore the social and cultural significance of banqueting and conviviality in the ancient Mediterranean world, from the Bronze Age through the Byzantine era, using primary ancient sources that depict and discuss eating, drinking, and partying.


    Allred, Stephen

    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.