Spring 2019 Topics

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

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  • (HOUSE)KEEPING INEQUALITIES: Maids, Affect, and Social Class through Film and Literature

    Vazquez, Karina

    This course is an interdisciplinary and comparative exploration on the representations of live-in maids in social imaginary, with an emphasis on theoretical reasoning about social exclusion and identity. We will analyze the verbal and visual rhetoric that configure the social perceptions of domestic workers and their environment, paying particular attention to the relationship between maids and employers. We will approach the reproduction of material life by shifting attention from what and how maids are, to the interactive dynamics by which their existence fits within particular social and economic orders and symbolic economies. The course will trace and identify the invisible threads of power, violence, and exclusion upon which social class distinction, gender politics, and racialization of work take place. The main purpose of this course is to raise questions about class/gender/race identities from a perspective that focuses on the notion of the body as inherently connected with the environment. The course is an opportunity for students to explore the materiality of the symbolic representations. We will explore the sensorium that underlays the ways in which seeing reproduces discourse and saying enacts ways of looking at.

  • A GENERATION OF CYNICS: Bias, Neutrality and the Internet

    Cunningham, Sojourna Guss, Samantha

    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.


    Skerrett, Kathleen

    This first year seminar approaches anxiety as an existential or spiritual condition that is entwined with the condition of freedom. We will read and discuss late modern philosophers, theologians, and creative artists, who explore how ethical lives are intricately woven with the challenges that anxiety presents. We will also research mindfulness practices and the contemporary literatures that recommend them. Authors may include Eric Fromm, Paul Tillich, Toni Morrison, Pema Chodrun, Simone Beauvoir, Viktor Frankl, Derrick Bell, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Ruth King.


    Szymanska, Agnieszka

    This seminar examines the lives of Christian ascetics in late antique eastern Mediterranean. In the narrow sense, asceticism denotes various forms of abstinence, including fasting, sleeplessness, and celibacy. Monastic texts portray ascetic practitioners as athletes of piety. They thus allude to classical models of physical and intellectual training. Instead of the well-defined body of Greek and Roman athletes, the monks emaciated bodies stood for spiritual fitness. Students will explore ways in which a system of beliefs can affect the human condition. How do pursuits of an ideal, this seminar asks, shape notions about body, gender, social structures, and built environments?


    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.


    Ashe, Bertram

    Why record a song or make a film that’s already been made? Revisions are odd artistic texts: both singular and dual at once. Since the revised text must be either a source or a repetition of that source, each of the literary, musical, filmic, or theatrical texts this seminar discusses will essentially be in flux, either on their way to—or having been—re-conceptualized: “new” but also not-quite-new. We’ll discuss Otis Redding’s “Respect”—and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”—and Whitney Houston’s revision. Dion Boucicault’s 1859 play The Octoroon—and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s 2014 play An Octoroon. Perhaps 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—and Guess Who (2005). These revisions must somehow be both similar enough to be recognizable, but different enough that it has the artist’s own aesthetic stamp. We will identify, parse, analyze and critique these texts for their expansive, revisionary complexity.


    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.

  • CLASSICAL THEATRE: The Modern City

    Rankine, Patrice

    Students in this course will read a series of classical plays from Greece and Rome and will attend plays. 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 explore how we are all performing roles - professor, student, man, woman, etc. - and how that reality influences how we interact with each other, and how we might experience a particular text or performative experience. The class is fun, interactive, and on some evenings, involves live theater, exceptional company, and good food. Some key terms that we will discuss are: actor, adaptation, audience, classics, classical, drama, embodiment, identity, media, media specificity, performance, performativity, reception, role(s), theatre.


    Browder, Laura

    In this class we will be looking at court cases and media coverage of crimes that have become flashpoints in American history the foci for popular, political and scholarly discussions about what constitutes crime and what social meanings the event has, as a way of discussing what it can teach us about race, gender, power and class in America. We will also be examining popular fiction as a way of asking why crime entertains us and what these entertainments suggest about our cultural obsessions.


    Shaw, Miranda

    Introduction to varying cultural constructions of sexuality, ancient and modern. As we examine classical sources and popular media, students will learn to recognize and critique sexual norms and gender roles by engaging in historical, cross-cultural, gender, and feminist analysis.


    Watts, Sydney

    What does the history of eating tell us about who we are? How has eating out changed over time? This course examines the range of economic, social, cultural, and environmental influences that have shaped our dietary regimes from 1491 to the present. We will be investigating the histories of prepared foods, food trades, cooks and culinary professionals, focusing on the places where, and the moments when, meals take center stage. Class readings, writing, and independent research will draw on a variety of texts (historical cookbooks, menus, food memoirs, gastronomic treatises) employing various research methods (historical analysis, participant-observation, cooking and tastings) to address the larger questions of how the prepared meal shapes and is shaped by our social values and shared identities at different periods in American history.


    Hanaoka, Mimi

    This is a first year seminar that focuses on dreams and visions in Islamic societies. 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 Shias; 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.

  • Ecotourism: A Sustainable Option?

    Finley-Brook, Mary

    This seminar explores diverse global and national landscapes and geographies while analyzing alternative approaches to sustainable tourism. Travel to unique Virginian ecotourism sites allows us to record firsthand how social, economic, and ecological processes are interconnected.


    Schlatter, N.

    This class will focus on how we engage with contemporary art and how we express that engagement, as well as considering what types of art could be described as engaging. Students will learn about and practice different methods of interacting with art, explore different ways of verbally responding to and writing about art, and begin examining how others, specifically critics, historians, and artists, also express their own viewpoints, biases, and insights. As much as possible, students will encounter art in person, utilizing the University Museums collections, as well as field trips to other museums, galleries, and individual artists studios.


    Taylor, Porcher

    We'll ponder several critical thinking-rich questions in our innovation journey. How do entrepreneurs and innovators with unceasing drive and incentive innovate and create breakthrough ideas that meet the test of the marketplace? Why is the nation of Israel itself a role model of a start-up company? How did Thomas Edison lay the foundation for America's global leadership in innovation? How can non-conformist thinking gain innovators a competitive advantage? Lastly, we'll explore how innovators can overcome the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration.


    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?

  • Expansion of Europe & Asia into Africa

    Kapanga, Kasongo

    The seminar will be a critical examination of the main ideas that underlay the expansion, first of Europe into the New World (notably Africa), and then these days of China and India into Africa. It will examine the nature of subsequent relationships that resulted from these encounters. The seminar will look at the rationalizing ideas as they evolved from the Renaissance (humanism) to their alterations of the 19th and the 20th centuries, then into the 21st century with the rise of new power centers in Asia. The course will start with Montaigne's famous essay "Of Cannibals," a discourse that ran counter to the then common beliefs upon which Western society functioned and acted in major global explorations during the Renaissance. The subsequent texts will be read as arguments between two camps pitting, on the one hand, Europe or Asia as the initiator of the encounter, on the other hand, a more egalitarian approach on behalf of Africa on the ground of ideals of equality and individual rights. Mandela's South Africa will serve as a practical test case of our days. The seminar will therefore end with questions scrutinizing how today South Africa is grappling with issues of equality on economic, social, legal and environmental fronts in a more and more challenging globalized world where China and India play important roles.


    Kocher, Craig

    Religious faith is central to the daily life and identity of a majority of the population in the United States. 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 student's own commitments and beliefs, those of others, and the increasingly diverse society in which we live.

  • FILMS OF THE 1960’S

    Schoen, Walter

    The decade begins with the first live televised debates between U.S. Presidential candidates. But this election would unleash a decade of turbulence in all facets of American life that made some in this country long for the not too distant past when enemies were clearly delineated and children were, indeed, seen but not heard. Woodstock, Vietnam, assassinations, the Beatles and assorted acronyms like ARPANET, NET, NOW, SNCC, and SDS would become part of the cultural lexicon. And through it all Americans flocked to the movies. But was movie popularity only fueled by the need to escape the unsettled world, as it was presented on television, or were the films of the 1960's a means by which people could somehow deal with the upheavals in their lives?


    Lascu, Dana-Nicoleta

    Consumers will play an important role in any career you might pursue; you may refer to them as clients, stakeholders, stockholders, patients, patrons. This course offers an introduction to consumer-related theory and practice in international marketing while presenting a socio-culturally inspired analysis of consumption. The course explores consumer culture concepts that confront today's business at all levels of market involvement. Both cases and a term-long project are used to explore the different dimensions of the problems and opportunities facing the firm as it deals with a changing consumer culture. In this course, you will analyze business cases, and persuasively write about consumption and culture. The course also addresses 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. The course engages in a critical analysis of global consumerism based on readings from industry and from popular culture sources.


    Mayes, Ben

    Tracing the voyage of Semester-at-Sea around the world, this course examines how public problems are defined, how different policy solutions are crafted, and the ways in which we judge their effectiveness. 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 ("what should be"). 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. Morality, in so many words, represents the ideal way that people want (usually others) to behave. Public policy?influenced by economics, psychology, philosophy, politics, culture, tradition, and religion?reflects essentially the same aspiration, but is based on the way people actually behave. Also, personal opinions are helpful, but operate better as starting points for creating testable theories and arguments about what the best policies are for, say: improving education, strengthening national security, lowering unemployment, increasing health, expanding employment, decreasing poverty, protecting the environment, preventing crime, and consuming limited resources. In its purest form, the goal of any public policy is to make life better for as many people as possible. What makes public policy so challenging and interesting, though, is that people disagree over what constitutes things such as equality, fairness, effectiveness, and causation.


    Yanikdag, Yucel

    This course explores the history of eugenics, an early-to-mid 20th century movement, which proposed a variety of policies for supposedly improving the hereditary quality of race by controlling human reproduction. It claimed that most problems such as criminality, alcoholism, pauperism, prostitution, insanity, and others were transmitted genetically from parent to child. Eugenicists aimed to reduce the numbers of these defective, or dysgenic people while trying to increase the number of those judged to have good genes, or eugenic people. The course will examine the history of the development of eugenic science, its policies and practices, and connections to other movements and public responses.


    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 and wealth inequality, but we also will investigate inequality in lifespan/health. 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. Increasing inequality will be contrasted with improvements in other measures of well-being.


    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 and environmental sustainability.


    Pribble, Jennifer

    Prior to the 1980s, democracy had a difficult time taking root in Latin America. Most countries in the region oscillated between authoritarianism and restricted versions of democracy. In this class we will explore development, democracy, authoritarianism, and regime transitions in the case of Chile. The course will push you to ask big and important questions about the political world, including: what is democracy?; why do democratic regimes sometimes break down?; what brings about democratic transitions?; how do democratic regimes address the human rights violations carried out during dictatorships?; and how can states in the global periphery build stable and representative democracies?


    Gruner, Elisabeth

    "Reader, I married him." With those words, Charlotte Brontë speaks for her character Jane Eyre, directly to her readers, both inviting readers directly into the experience of the story and, at the same time, reminding them that they are reading a novel. In this course we will explore the ways metafictions--novels that remind us that they are novels--both invite and distance their readers, teaching their readers how to read and even how to write at the same time that they invite them into vicarious experiences of alternate lives. The course invites students to think about how fiction works. What goes on in the mind of the reader engaged in a book? How do stories--words on paper--come to seem so real that we literally feel “lost” in them? Students will read a variety of metafictional texts from across the centuries as they grapple with these questions. They will also read varieties of literary and literacy theories that engage with these issues, taking up cognitive criticism, “theory of mind,” and the concept of the literacy narrative, among other topics.


    Geaney, Jane

    This course explores the writings of Marx, Nietzsche, & Freud, three highly original modern thinkers (Masters of Suspicion) whose skeptical questions revolutionized the dominant discourse in many fields. The texts we study will provide insight into their enormous influence on twentieth-century thought and their continuing impact on the intellectual world in which we live. The course serves as a foundation for further courses in philosophy, psychology, religion, history, and economics, among others.


    McCormick, Miriam

    Have you ever wondered what makes a person's life go well? Or have you ever wondered how you might make your own life go well? This course is a quest to identify the features of a good human life. In our quest to unravel the components of such a life, we will also gain some insight into how we can improve our own lives by, for instance, instilling our lives with greater meaning and finding ways to become happier. Some more specific questions we will consider are the following: What things are worth pursuing? What is the relationship between a good life and a life of pleasure, happiness and virtue? What are some barriers to living a good life? Is there any meaning or purpose in human existence and can such meaning be found without a faith in God or religion?


    Stubbs, Jonathan

    Many lawyers become leaders and serve in roles ranging from heads of local civic and religious institutions, to President of the United States. This course explores the relationship between the law and leadership. It will challenge students to define 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.

  • NOBLE BEASTS: Animals in Our Lives and Literature

    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 each other?


    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.

  • Regarding Disability

    Weist, Caroline

    Disability is an aspect of identity that can be remarkably flexible across time and that rests both on physical realities and cultural assumptions. Accordingly, this course asks students to think critically about the establishment, performance, and maintenance of identity, particularly as it pertains to the categories of ability and disability. Students will acquire the analytical tools necessary for that inquiry by working with a combination of theoretical texts and cultural engagements with disability, including examples from literature, film, law, medical discourses, architecture, and pop culture. As part of the class, students will produce work that is both scholarly and creative, as well as visit relevant locations and cultural events in Richmond.


    Singal, Jack

    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?


    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.


    Gale, Sylvia

    Why do stories matter? What difference can stories make in the context of larger efforts towards systemic change and social justice? 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 storytelling in contexts of 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 the context for and social impact of mass incarceration. This is a community-based learning class; students will also grapple with these concepts by participating in a peer story-sharing project with local incarcerated youth.


    Roberts, Daniel

    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 inter-generational education. Then 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.

  • Telling the Past: Epics, Legends and History

    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", "memory" when examining such texts as Virgil's Aeneid, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, the lays of Marie de France, Arthurian Romances, Dante's Inferno, and others. A central question will be how historians can use narratives to understand the cultures we study.


    Bell, Lloyd

    It is estimated that more than 3 trillion photos will be shared over the Internet in 2018. As photography becomes more ubiquitous in society, the ability to deconstruct how our brain processes images become 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.


    Kachurek, Lynda

    This course explores the past, present, and future role of books as a significant part of the world's cultural heritage. As a transmitter of literacy, knowledge, and culture, a book's impact can be profound, but as an object of worth, desire, or artistic beauty, its value extends beyond the text and even the printed page. By exploring the multifaceted history of the book, students will engage in their own exploration of how they interact with books as well as develop an understanding of the complexity, artistry, and cultural and technological effects on society and culture.


    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?


    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. In reading critical and primary texts students will appreciate the impact design can have on our experience of place. This semester our class will participate in the East End Collaboratory with projects exploring not only the cemetery, but also the places where individuals lived in the city of Richmond. 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 and ourselves?


    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.


    Tate, Mary

    This course is an examination into causes and consequences of wrongful convictions in America. It delves into how race and class impact our criminal justice system at a structural level. We study cases of wrongful convictions and make efforts to understand forensic science, the role of the prosecutor, police practices, and other elements of the criminal justice system.