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Scientific understanding has evolved over the years. There are very few beliefs about the natural world that have remained intact over the past few centuries, or even the past few decades. The chief goal of the course will be to give students an understanding of how scientific ideas change and how newer ideas supersede the old. Questions to be investigated include: What is Science? How do disciplinary scientific communities (physicists, chemists, biologists, etc.) form and identify themselves? How does the community of scientists within a discipline come to a consensus that it is time to adopt a new paradigm: What scientific, social, political, and cultural factors come into play during the periods of transition? The course will be in seminar format. The students will be given opportunities to explicitly develop critical thinking skills (the specific skills to be developed will be selected by the class from an explicit list) and writing and speaking skills. Class meetings will be used to share their research results and to study the assigned texts and papers. The students will be required to demonstrate their understanding in a variety of ways.
Intended to challenge conventional thinking about “progress”, this course will examine the evolution of food production and consumption in the U.S. over the past 50 years. We will begin with the topic of food, itself. We will explore fundamental questions such as, What is food? Why should we care? Where does food come from? Why does it matter what we eat, and equally important, what we eat eats? Students will explore their own eating habits by keeping a journal of what, when, where, and how they eat. Discussions will focus on the social, cultural, nutritional, and technological aspects of food.
This seminar course will explore the nature of time from many stances, including those of Psychology, Biology, Technology and Philosophy. Yet time is central to Physics, and in Physics we will orient our explorations of time. Our understanding of time has sharpened a great deal in the last few centuries, the most obvious markers being Newton’s Absolute time, which remains entrenched in modern culture, and its subsequent physical overthrow by Einstein’s relativity. Given the physical primacy of Einstein’s time, many questions arise: How malleable is the concept of time? Is there a fact of time? Can the present be defined? The past? The future? The successes of modern Cosmology lead us to ask: Was there a beginning of time? Will time end? The symmetry of fundamental physical laws with respect to the direction of time, counterpointed by asymmetric phenomena, lead to: Is there a master arrow of time? Is the flow of time an illusion? In this course we will investigate what “Time” is telling us about the natural world and ourselves.
This course will examine the role of epidemics (of all types) in human history. Disease has shaped our society in many ways and continues to do so. Despite the plethora of antibiotic and antiviral drugs since 1940, 90% of the decrease in (First World) infectious disease is due to simple public health measures and better hygiene. But overuse of antibiotics increasingly is causing the rapid evolution of “superbugs” that threaten new plagues and epidemics. Both historical and modern epidemics of plague, smallpox, Salmonella, cholera, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS will be examined. The interaction of these epidemics with societies and how the epidemics influence society, cultures, art, and literature will be major topics of discussion. The course is primarily discussion with short student presentations. In addition, 3-4 short “Front Lines” talks by and discussion with CWRU and University Hospital clinicians will explore today’s realities of epidemics, infection, and antibiotic resistance in the United States, Uganda, South Africa and elsewhere.
In this course, we will investigate the history, theory and practical design of green space in cities. We will focus on types of green space and their community function, relationship to commerce, aesthetics, recreation, ecology, and health in particular. Students will engage in group projects where they locate all underused space in Cleveland (vacant space, gray or brown fields) and will propose a new use for it as green space of some kind. Individual research projects will be related to that site. Lively class discussion and frequent reading responses required. Mandatory field trip to sites in downtown Cleveland.
This course examines the interplay between history and plague outbreaks. Course readings draw largely on the writings and experiences of scientists, physicians, and public health officials. By taking a historical approach to the study of the relationship between human history and the history of disease, students will learn about the development of the scientific method (namely the slow process by which humans learned to identify, categorize, and respond to disease), how science develops in specific historic contexts, the consequence of scientific inquiry, and what humans do when they are faced with imminent death. A tentative list of plagues includes: the Athenian Plague, Black Death, Yellow Fever, TB, Malaria, Influenza in 1918, and AIDS.
The goal of this course is to encourage students to be well informed and critical consumers of the media reports about the influence of genes and environment on human behavior. This course involves the book by Matt Ridley titled, “Genome: The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters.” Ridley has a Ph.D. in zoology, worked as a journalist, science editor, and national newspaper columnist. The book devotes a chapter to each pair of human chromosomes. Each chapter focuses on the role of a gene. Ridley’s book was published in 1999; therefore, students will conduct their own research to update each of the chapters in Ridley’s book. The first few weeks of class will be used to provide a background on genetics research through field trips and guest lectures from CWRU genetic researchers. We will have several writing workshops spread throughout the semester to offer “Just in Time” tips needed to write critical evaluations and literature reviews. Each student will present twice during the semester. The first oral presentation will revolve around a summary, critical evaluation, and an update of the human trait presented in the Ridley book on their assigned chromosome. The presentation will be about 15 minutes with 5 minutes left for questions. Students not presenting will be assigned one of the three chromosomes (chapters) covered that day and they will each write a seminar question to pose to the class. In addition, each student will also serve as a reviewer for one of the presentations to provide constructive feedback to the presenter. The second presentation will consist of new material found by each student about genes on their chromosome. They must find another trait on their chromosome and present the most current information available on that trait. In place of a final exam, each student will turn in a research paper on their assigned chromosome. We will build these papers throughout the semester with a series of graded “checkpoint” assignments.
Commentary on the relationship between science and religion tends to take one of the following perspectives: (1) science and religion are incompatible; (2) science and religion are compatible; (3) science and religion are not fundamentally different kinds of things. This class will critically examine each perspective by looking at the history of the relationship between science and religion and the philosophical issues that have arisen therein. We will then use what we have learned to see if we can make progress on contemporary debates surrounding science education.
From the laboratory to the museum, science is a dominant way in which we make sense of the world. This seminar examines the cultures of science. Drawing on the fields of anthropology, sociology, history, and science and technology studies, we explore the interplay, exchange, and fertile ground between “culture” and “science.” We analyze the cultural practices of scientists, the relationship between scientific and indigenous ways of knowing, and ethics of scientific knowledge, as well as scientifically mediated understandings of personhood, nation, legality, and truth. We will consider case studies from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia that reflect on contemporary intellectual debates and public concerns. The course considers the following questions: Is science cultural? What does objectivity mean? How are scientific facts produced? Do our understandings of citizenship and the nation have any connection to science?
Through exploring human emotional, practical, and epistemological ties with animals, this course examines what it means to be animal as well as what it means to be human. Humans have an incredibly complex relationship with (non-human) animals. We eat some animals and consider other animals members of our family. We worship some animals and vilify others. This class examines the complexities of our relationship with (non-human) animals. Through exploring human emotional, practical, and epistemological ties with animals, this course examines what it means to be animal as well as what it means to be human. We analyze the following questions. How do we come to know and understand animals? What are the issues surrounding the use of animals in scientific speculation, classification and experimentation, such as vivisection, cloning and the human-animal relationship in technoscience? Do some non-human animals possess material culture, social morality, and emotions such as grief and sadness? Why do animals populate our popular culture and art?
We will explore the critical role of transportation in the development of our cities, regions, states, and nation. The course will consider the historic role of transportation, its current role, and what role it might play in the future. Transportation will be viewed in the context of national policies, overall political will, and our culture at large. Since colonial times, transportation, in its many forms, has been the subject of intense debate, governmental policies, as well as the subject of public and private investment. We will see how certain individuals and groups used ego, power, and wealth to use transportation for shaping the nation’s commerce, travel patterns, and physical appearance. We’ll also see the evolution of government and business in transportation decisions and funding. Finally, because of transportation’s daily impact, we will look at current issues as part of every class. We will especially focus on the transportation issues of northeast Ohio, a microcosm of national transportation issues. Some of these issues include funding, decision-making, land use, “suburban sprawl,” and economic development. We’ll also look at transportation issues specific to the University Circle area such as the Health Line and the proposed “Opportunity Corridor.”
Scientific breakthroughs in genetics, neuroscience, and behavioral psychology have allowed us to learn more about ourselves than ever before. But how much do we really want to know – and who gets to decide? Is DNA our destiny? Should the quest for scientific knowledge trump cultural belief? How does society balance risk to a few in the face of the needs of the many? Using a blend of historical documents and literary examples, we will examine the evolution of the ethical standards that govern how doctors experiment on their patients. We will also debate the hard choices that medical researchers make when the quest for scientific truth intersects with cultural belief. Finally, we will apply what we have learned to find solutions to real-world ethical problems in medical research.
We begin by identifying Environmental Justice as a convergence of social justice and environmental movements, and while we recognize that these movements have deep roots, we focus on developments in the last fifty years. In 1962, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking work Silent Spring, helping to usher in a new era in which thinking about the environment was no longer limited to thoughts of pristine wilderness, but instead focused on the ways we had actually begun to poison our environment and ourselves. Moreover, writers and activists who followed Carson connected environmentalism to social justice, showing how poor and minority communities have been disproportionately exposed to toxic sites. We will explore Environmental Justice as a political movement and as a scientific subject, but we will also investigate and engage with local community projects and issues. These investigations help to constitute the idea of Environmental Justice as a “practice.” Students will collaborate with peers in researching a local site or problem, and everyone will produce an independently written argument that proposes a specific course of action. For our purposes, the environment of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio happens to be a great laboratory for studying pollution, recovery, and other Environmental Justice issues. With a long history of industrial production, a burning river that led to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a host of forward-thinking community groups, Cleveland will provide ample opportunities for hands-on student-directed projects.
Discovery has always enticed us. From the ocean voyage to the space mission, from the discovery of electricity to gene-splicing, men and women have sought to explore the boundaries of knowledge. However, such explorations often come at a cost. New scientific discovery in the 18th century–from neurology to reproduction to electricity–caused as much fear as excitement. The Enlightenment focus on clarity and rationality harbors a dark double self that appears as monstrosity in early Gothic fiction. This course will explore the ways cultural anxieties are re-interpreted through fictional narratives and reflect on what this says about our own scientific explorations today.
How do changes in science and technology affect American life? How do cultural ideas shape scientific practice? Is technological progress inevitable, or do we get to decide what changes we want and which ones we don’t? How do we make ethical choices about science and technology in a world with inherent power imbalances? This course provides an introduction to thinking through these questions by presenting works by historians, anthropologists, political scientists, philosophers, journalists, and others to explore a range of social issues in modern science and technology. After two weeks of introduction, the course is divided into four sections: (a) Biology, Biotech, and Biomedicine; (b) Science Policy and the Politics of Science; (c) Problems in Social Science; and (d) Computers and Other Thinking Machines. While the course’s content is arranged around these topics, its main purposes are to develop critical thinking skills around ubiquitous and contentious subjects of science, technology, power, culture, and values as well as to hone skills in reading, speaking, research, and essay writing.
This course seeks to raise awareness of contemporary geopolitical issues that are bound to shape the world in the coming decades. The book we will use as background is “The Quest: Energy Security and the remaking of the Modern World,” an outstanding work by Daniel Yergin who is currently regarded as among the most influential voices on energy and an authority on international politics and economics. The questions we will consider are: Do you think the world as a whole is sufficiently aware of the issues surrounding the energy challenge? Is something concrete being done to deal effectively with energy-environment-social issues and their interrelation? What do you think will be the next challenge we will all face as a society both in the US and in the world as a whole? Has technology been able to reduce the energy requirements for human activities without jeopardizing the quality of life? Are we becoming better at predicting the future?
Over the past 100 years, scientific discoveries and social movements have pushed us to develop a rich vocabulary and conceptual framework for understanding “humanity” and “human diversity.” As a result, we have often assumed these are recent or modern ideas. However, people in earlier eras and cultures did have their own understanding of and approach to these concepts. In this seminar, we will study how humanity and diversity were defined and constructed in the ancient and medieval world, from approximately 3,000 BCE to the 12th century CE. Drawing on scientific, philosophical and religious texts from diverse cultures, we will engage such questions as these: How did people in the ancient world define humanity? What differentiated humans from the rest of the natural world? How did people in the ancient world understand human differences? How did they formulate concepts such as race, gender and sexuality? What scientific and philosophical frameworks were constructed around taxonomies of difference? We will compare Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Arab and early European theories of biology, geography and medicine, and examine how these cultures defined race/ethnicity, dis/ability, sexuality and gender. By exploring different historical and cultural approaches to defining diversity, we will not only learn about the variety of ways in which science has been used to construct social systems; we will also gain insight into the roots of our own.
Americans spend billions annually on diet products and lifestyle plans, many of which promise that we can “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!” or “Eat anything and still lose weight!” While such claims sound too good to be true, millions of Americans buy into these rapid weight-loss plans, quick fixes, and popular diets. How have misinformation and mythology trumped scientific evidence when it comes to identifying strategies for sustainable weight and health management? How can we use physiology to separate advertising hype from scientific fact? In this seminar, students will learn to distinguish between rapid weight-loss fad diets and sustainable long-term diet and lifestyle plans. Using a basic understanding of human physiology, we will research and evaluate the safety and efficacy of a variety of dieting strategies. Topics include gross analysis of the normal physiological mechanisms of weight loss; evaluation of the rationale and components of popular diets; consideration of behavioral, cultural, and economic factors influencing popular weight management trends; and analysis of the feasibility and sustainability of these practices for population in the CWRU community.
In our wired society, energy storage for the distribution of electric energy is a major “game changer.” Efficient and economic large-scale energy storage will help facilitate the growth of renewable energy in the market, as well as increase the overall efficiency of our current electric energy resources. So what needs to happen before we can begin to enjoy these benefits? This course will examine the broad challenges of large-scale energy storage. In what ways do our current technologies prevent us from storing large amounts of energy efficiently and conveniently? How has the marketplace helped or hindered technological improvement? How might government policy encourage advancements in energy storage technologies? Major topics of the course include the global and US energy outlook; the relationship between energy storage, delivery, and use; the role of energy storage for renewable energy implementation; characteristics and challenges of different energy storage technologies; the potential political, public policy, economic, and environmental impact of large-scale energy storage; and approaches to energy storage in other parts of the world. Although this course is designed for students from all disciplines, all students will be expected to do some quantitative analysis.
Throughout history and across cultures, the act of creating and enjoying music remains a prominent and defining element of the human species. What is its purpose and role within our lives? To what extent do we actively and passively engage with music on a daily basis? Do perceptions of music differ from individual to individual and culture to culture, or can we consider music to be a universal language? This course will utilize neurological findings and representative case studies to examine the cognitive processes associated with the perception of music and to investigate the basis of our obsession with music. Topics may include the development of musical preference, how societal influences affect our perception of music, and the role of expertise in the consumption of music.
Every day, people who are not trained scientists nevertheless learn–or think they learn–scientific facts by reading or watching various kinds of fictions. For example, they might learn about forensic science from crime novels, human physiology from medical dramas, or technological advances from science fiction. What are the consequences of learning scientific knowledge by consuming fiction, rather than by observing the natural world directly? Is fiction a useful way to disseminate scientific ideas? Are there risks to learning this way? What about the reverse impact that fiction might have on scientific fact? Can fiction inspire or influence the advancement of scientific knowledge? This seminar examines the interrelationship between fiction and scientific fact, culminating in a research project in which students investigate an example of a fictional “fact” that potentially could be made into real technology or scientific knowledge. Students also will be asked to consider the consequences of turning the fiction into fact. To pursue this line of thinking, we will read not only the primary materials that create this knowledge, but also secondary materials that evaluate that knowledge and how it is used.
This seminar introduces students to the development and successes of green technologies in Germany. We will examine the proactive development of renewable energy and energy conservation technologies, commonly referred to as Energiewende, that was started by the German Green movement and promoted by Germany’s innovative renewable energy policies. We will consider such questions as: What are the implications of this German success story, both for the US and the rest of the world? What lessons can be applied to other situations? What factors might limit the utility of those lessons? In the process of our investigation, we will examine such important issues as globalization, resource finiteness, and sustainability challenges, including economic crises, climate change, energy insecurity, and global competition.
We live in an increasingly technological society. Advances in technology improve our lives in countess ways, but they sometimes produce problems and challenges that are so complex that the average business or political leader cannot understand them–and therefore cannot make effective decisions to address them. Whether the problem is what to do about climate change, how to identify investment-worthy energy sources, how to provide sufficient and sustainable food and energy to the world’s population, or how to determine if an investment trend is a dangerous bubble, we will find better solutions if we have leaders who have an adequate understanding of basic physical principles and how physical “laws”–such as conservation of energy, exponential growth and decay, and gravity–can dictate the sagaciousness or feasibility of various solutions and applications. This course is designed to equip students with that knowledge. Using very little math, we will consider how an understanding of basic physical principles related to energy, force, space, electromagnetism, waves, and exponential growth can help us make sense of some of our most pressing technological problems. In addition, we will also examine issues related to the social uses of technology, including realistic timelines for technological development, incremental versus radical improvements, rapid estimation, identification of need, cost-benefit analysis, identifying spin in news reports, intellectual property rules, and ethical citation of sources. Class time will consist of group discussion, student presentations, and “Fermi Problems” (complex, creative problem solving with order-of-magnitude estimations).
These days we are exposed through advertising and through the media to conflicting claims about our health and the welfare of society and what we should do to improve them. Often such claims refer to scientists and the evidence they produce, and make use of conclusions which may be based on statistical analysis. Do you know how to interpret such claims? Have you learned to think critically about them and assign levels of belief to them? It helps if you possess a strong background in the field of science relevant to the claim, but this is not always required and can take a long time to build. In fact, most scientific findings, interpretations, claims, or conclusions can be understandable to non-experts when they are well presented. In this course we will look at examples of poorly thought out or purposely misleading media articles, advertisements, and other presentations that purport a basis in science. We will look at examples of poorly written presentations of science and discuss what it is that makes them opaque or uninteresting. Students will analyze at least one example of a misleading science-based claim, or a poorly written presentation, as the basis of a substantial research paper. In their own writing, students will demonstrate the ability to apply the principles of classical writing that give clarity to their message. These principles will be discussed throughout the course.
This seminar is designed to explore the exciting new advances in genetic testing technologies and their implications for patients and families. The seminar will begin with a general overview of genetics and genetic testing technologies such as whole genome sequencing, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and non-invasive prenatal testing. This seminar will then move to discussions of the ethical and social implications of genetic testing and testing technologies. These discussions are likely to include topics such as: personal responses to risk; a patient’s “right to know” vs. a doctor’s “duty to protect;” who has a right to genetic information; and the ethics of genetic testing in the prenatal setting. Readings and assignments will include overviews of genetics, current genetic testing technologies, and their application to modern medicine. In addition to reading, discussing, and writing on genetic testing, this course will use role-playing as an experiential means of understanding the ethical dilemmas in clinical genetics.
The control of systems has been crucial to technology development since antiquity and has been the key to ushering in some of the biggest transformations of the world including the industrial revolution, the age of aviation, and the modern computer era. Control systems permeate our world and many of the technologies we take for granted and modern life as we know it would not be possible without them.
This seminar examines the questions of “What is the role of feedback control in both creating technology and understanding the natural world?” and “How have these roles evolved and interacted with one another?” To this end, beginning with control in antiquity and early industrial control systems and continuing into the present, the design and implementation of feedback to regulate system behavior and control programs to direct processes will be explored.
Early industrial control systems corresponding to feedback control systems and control programs, respectively, and their continued evolution will be traced and the impact of their integration in the modern era will be used to expose the roles of observation, information, and computation in achieving control objectives. Finally, this seminar will address the future of control systems including the incorporation of new design paradigms such as biomimetic and biologically-inspired control systems, their application to large scale systems and networks, and the new understanding of biological systems engendered by these new developments and applications.
This course focuses on a systematic analysis of the relationships between society, and the specific institutional elements of technology and technological innovation. It describes the social aspects of computers and related technologies and explores the ways in which these technologies influence and impact organizations and individuals. The course explores the design, use and cultural significance of technologies and uses a historical focus to assess the integration of technology into all aspects of our society. The restructuring of traditional human interaction by information technology will provide a contemporary focus for the course. Offered in a seminar format, the course will provide opportunities for scholarly discussion, systematic inquiry and written communication.
Who we are informs the ways in which we act in the world. How we respond to society in the individual, local, and global community is impacted by the way we see ourselves, the way others see us, and the way we see others. Who am I? How do I look at myself in relationship to others? How does the way in which society views me affect the way I think of myself? How have writers, historians, and philosophers dealt with the challenges of self and group identity? We will explore these issues through readings from the Civil Rights Era, the Holocaust, and the period of decolonization in Africa.
As evidenced by the tragedy that unfolded in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we ignore the consequences of endemic poverty at our peril. How do you evacuate a city filled with thousands of people too poor to own cars? Where do you house them after they’ve been rescued from their drowned neighborhoods? Although Cleveland won’t likely be erased by flood, it’s one of the poorest big cities in the nation making it vulnerable to disaster in times of crisis and an incubator for a host of thorny social problems. Often, it’s up to journalists to bring attention to these issues, give voice to the voiceless and force policymakers to come up with solutions to seemingly intractable problems. In this seminar, we’ll read and dissect the works of journalists who’ve written stories about complex social problems and have done so using many of the conventions employed by writers of fiction. Writer Ben Yagoda described this literary journalism as “making facts dance.” We’ll spend our time researching numerous social issues and learn to write about them in a clear and compelling voice.
This course will provide an introduction to Hindu thought and culture. We will read a wide range of texts and secondary sources. Two readings, the Ramayana and Samskara, will focus on issues of ethics and proper dharma. We will also be watching Deepa Mehta’s Fire. There will be a visit to the Shiva-Vishnu Temple in Parma. Heavy emphasis on research and writing.
This course explores important themes in the study of law, lawyers, and legal institutions by regarding their representations in movies. We will cover such issues as race/class/gender and the law, legal ethics, legal education, the adversarial system, and the image and status of the lawyer in American culture. We will also look at the ways in which law and the legal profession affect popular culture and, conversely, the ways in which poplar views of legal problems and lawyers affect law.
Today, the term “education reform” may bring to mind standardized tests and No Child Left Behind. Many believe that our schools must become more rigorous, with stricter rules and definable goals. “Reform,” however, used to be defined differently. John Dewey, Maria Montessori, and Paulo-Freire, for example, struggled to make schools freer and more humane. They hoped not to make the classroom less challenging, but more child-centered. Some disciples of such reformers, discouraged by schools’ resistance to change, eventually turned to homeschooling–pulling kids out of school and educating them with real-life learning experiences. In this seminar, we will explore progressive educational theory and connect it with contemporary alternative schools and homeschooling. Visits to nearby Montessori and Waldorf schools and discussions with homeschoolers will make real-life connections to seminar reading and classwork. Challenging assumptions about how well our schools work and raising questions such as, “How do we learn?” and “What is good teaching?” will provoke thought, conversation, and interesting writing.
The purpose of this course is to explore how individuals become creative. What are the most important qualities, emotional and cognitive, that are related to creativity? Is there a creative personality? What is the difference between artistic and scientific creativity? How does creativity relate to mental illness? How can we foster creativity in people? The course will study creativity in children and adults and will include research studies as well as descriptions of creativity from creative individuals. We will also discuss how different cultures view and effect creativity and the ethical issues involved. This course is a seminar and will use a discussion format.
This SAGES seminar will explore advertising in America, its social and cultural roots, and its impact (or lack thereof) on our values, tastes, and behavior as consumers and citizens. It is hard to find a space in the contemporary world that is not plastered with ads–from the Coke cups next to the judges on “American Idol” to stencils on the sidewalks we walk on. This blizzard of advertising images may, in fact, define our age. We will examine the forces that created this giant American industry and ask: Why do we have advertising? How is it created? What social functions does it serve? How has it changed? Where is it going? Central to this seminar is discussion, research, and writing to analyze and critique this in-our-face, but little understood, social institution. Some of our discussions will flow from advertising industry news (e.g., the Super Bowl ads), a contemporary or early 20th century ad campaign, or the backstage insights of a guest from one of Cleveland’s major ad agencies.
Developing countries make up at least three-fourths of the world population. This course focuses on international aspects of economics of the developing world. Questions we will ask include: why are the poorest countries failing to thrive, what can be done about it, and can the rich afford to help the poor? The term “developing country” means a country that exhibits low per capita income, high poverty level, little industrialization, or low life expectancy. However, these problems also affect developed countries. Why, then, do we study poor countries’ economies separately from those of industrialized nations? The answer lies not in the types of problems but in the severity and causes of these problems. It is these issues, the causes and consequences of global poverty, and solutions to help the world’s poorest, that concern us here. Raising people out of poverty requires economic growth, a more even income distribution, investment in education, health care, and infrastructure, social safety nets, honest political leaders, reliable social and financial institutions, and international aid from rich countries.
Can the fight against environmental degradation lead to an improved civic culture and political reform in developing nations? Developing nations typically sacrifice environmental protection in favor of economic development. Only when the costs of environmental degradation become obvious do nations consider a sustainable development regime that includes environmental protection. This seminar addresses whether implementing a sustainable development model requires a new civic culture that encourages political reform. In doing so, students will examine and write about literature on economic development, environmental degradation, and several international initiatives that encourage reforms to aid sustainable development. The seminar will use the People’s Republic of China as a case study, but will also draw on evidence from other developing countries.
This seminar is structured to expose students to the opportunities and challenges of working in and running non-profit organizations. Students will explore the importance and significant roles non-profit organizations play in our society. The class will learn how non-profits are organized and regulated and the importance of the organization’s mission is to determining the impact of the non-profit organization in the community. Additionally, the students will learn how non-profits are funded and how these organizations maintain their financial stability and sustainability in the community. These goals will be accomplished through group analysis of non-profit organizational principles, and investigation of existing non-profit organizations.
This course will explore the cross cultural, self-care approaches to health problems. It covers substance-based (e.g., herbs, acupuncture), mind-body (e.g., yoga, qigong), spiritual (e.g., prayer) and social (e.g., communal, family) approaches that have been used to manage chronic diseases and promote wellness in various cultural settings.
Having lived through the devastation and consequences of World War I, you might think that Americans would have been appalled by the violent murders that marred the 1920s. To be sure, they were. Americans were also drawn to the infamous murders as though understanding these crimes would enable them to explain the changes in society, such as changes to gender rules and urbanization, brought about and accelerated by the war. In this class, we will examine the major crimes of the decade in the hopes of gaining the insight that the people at the time sought. The course readings include secondary sources that provide an analysis of the decade and primary sources from the murder cases themselves. In addition, students will become familiar with the historical context and scientific advancements that gave birth to modern forensics.
The American economy is made up of three sectors: government, business, and nonprofit. It’s pretty obvious what government and business do, but the activity of nonprofits, while it is everywhere, is much more subtle. A nonprofit is most likely where you were born, went to school, attend church, or adopted your family dog. If you became an Eagle Scout, watched “Sesame Street,” attended a benefit concert, or participated in a walk for a cause, you were engaged with a nonprofit. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to the way the organization was structured, where it gets its money, or what kind of an impact it’s really having. In this seminar, students will learn what nonprofits are, how they operate, how they influence everyday lives, and their role in advancing social change and a civil society. We will consider the economic impact of nonprofits as well as their role in protecting culture, environment, values, and heritage. We will also look at the key challenges facing nonprofits today and how they are addressing them. Writing assignments will include a grant proposal for a new or existing nonprofit. The seminar will feature guest speakers and class visits to nonprofits in the Cleveland area.
This seminar introduces students to the recent major green transformation in China and elsewhere in the world, focusing on the way the green changes took place in relation to globalization, environment and climate protection, technology innovation, income redistribution, domestic consumption, and education, to meet the challenges of financial crisis, climate change, energy insecurity, and international competition. The seminar will also assess the impacts of various aspects of green transformation and globalization on today’s and future world and vice versa. This seminar promotes broad knowledge of-and increased appreciation of the importance of diversity in China’s cultural past, social frameworks, economic conditions, and natural environment. In a close connection to the primary readings, which include several recent relevant works, the students will be exposed to a variety of related primary and secondary materials (such as texts, photos, film clips, music, songs, and websites). In addition to receiving informative yet concise instruction, the student will also be involved in practice in critical reading and thinking, in writing and orally presenting research papers. In these activities, the students will be introduced to basic methods and concepts critical to the understanding of important economic, social, and cultural developments and changes as products of movements rather than isolated incidents.
The role of the firearm in modern society is one of the most polarizing issues in the United States today. This course will attempt to unpack the sometimes dizzying array of information and misinformation surrounding the Second Amendment debate in the country. As with many emotionally charged issues, such as reproductive rights or same sex marriage, any people come to the discussion with firmly entrenched beliefs. This seminar will challenge students to identify their belief systems, then deconstruct and critically examine them in their writing assignments. At the same time, students will critically examine and research the merits and fallacies of opposing views and discuss these as well. The unique role the personal firearm has played in our history and culture will be explored, along with its role in cinema and video games and its symbolic place in our national psyche. The internet, scholarly articles and current news stories will serve as sources to fuel discussion. Finally, different types and calibers of handguns and general firearm safety will be discussed. Students can choose from a wide variety of topics for writing assignments.
This seminar addresses two major questions: How do the contexts in which we live or work affect ethical behavior? And how can we manage to struggle through personal and organizational challenges if we find they present us with something ethically compromising? In this course, we look to religion, spiritual teaching and cultural upbringing to understand sources of personal values and standards of behavior that might help structure one’s life in the midst of difficult contexts. One way we consider this is through practical exercises including development of your own personal code of ethics, an iterative process designed to help you articulate the principles of your own moral construction. These can serve as a foundation for leadership integrity and moral courage for ethical decisions throughout life and work.
This course examines the role of law in society, inviting students to think critically about how the law shapes social norms and how social norms shape the law. We focus on judge-made law -cases in which a judge is interpreting the Constitution or statutes, or is applying precedent through the common law. Judges understand law as a social construct and, either explicitly or implicitly, respond to their perception about social beliefs, sometimes lagging behind the formation of social beliefs and sometimes leading in the creation of social beliefs. We will examine a series of social issues concerning individual rights and social cooperation to interpret the law’s response to those issues through various theories about the way judges interact with society in the formation of social beliefs. Among the social issues we will discuss are racial discrimination, religious discrimination, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, internet piracy, interpersonal fairness and social cooperation. Among the theories we will discuss the theories of judicial pragmatism, the law’s expressive function, judicial politics, social norms, and social change. Each student will pick a social issue that interests the student and will write a series of reflection papers discussing that issue in light of the theories we are discussing. Their final paper will theorize about the relationship between law and society in the context of the issue the student has studied during the semester. Grades will be based on class participation, including a final presentation, and written work. Students will emerge from this course with a greater appreciation of how a society forms its social values.
When can the government or private individuals and institutions demand and gather information about us? Can these groups monitor and demand access to your social media? Could you be denied a job because of something you posted to your friends? Under what circumstances do we have an expectation and a right of privacy that prevents others from accessing information and regulating our behavior? This seminar will explore these questions, and more, through literature, popular culture, and legal analysis.
Increasing complexity is a hallmark of contemporary human life. In environments across the globe, elaborate and varied material conditions are linked to fast-paced, globalizing changes in economic, social and cultural arrangements. This course is concerned with struggles for justice in such spaces and places of globalization. How are people now formulating their interests, having them heard and getting them satisfied? What are the shapes assumed by contemporary struggles for justice? We will approach such questions of “the social” by first considering theories and models of complexity and globalization. Students will consider how material, economic and socio-cultural forms are integrated, how these arrangements are tied to global processes, how they change, and how political processes fit in. These theoretical concerns will then be fleshed out through extended case studies of social life in the rainforests of southeastern Madagascar and the urban neighborhoods of Cleveland, Ohio. In Madagascar, we will look at the attempts by indigenous Tanala (People of the Forest) to keep their land and hold on to their way of life in the face of international conservation groups managing a national park. In Cleveland, the focus will be on poor African-American communities living on the city’s east side who try to gain a voice in city planning issues. The instructor has carried-out long term field and historical research in both locations, and insights and and examples culled from his work will be employed throughout the term. The course will also take an interdisciplinary approach, employing theories and methods from the fields of anthropology, sociology, geography, ecology, and urban studies. Readings, extended class discussion, focused writing projects and research presentations will help prepare students for a required research paper on a specific society living with issues of complexity.
The British Empire took control of Palestine after driving the Germans and Turks from the region near the end of World War I. From that moment on, the British had an increasingly difficult time administering the region. Jewish colonists had already been settling in the land for decades, and with their takeover, the British gave them and other Zionists reason to believe that the Empire would facilitate Jewish efforts. At the same time, the indigenous Arabs of Palestine appealed to the British to protect their very birthright, to keep their country from passing into someone else’s hands. The British gave Arabs, too, reason to believe that they would recognize and defend their claims. In the few decades that the British Mandate governed Palestine it oversaw riots, revolution, and terrorist bombings. When it withdrew from Palestine, its legacy was a brutal war between Arabs and Jews; and the legacy of that war holds an iron grip on the course of world history to this day. Had the British Empire not been in Palestine, and not made the fateful decisions that it did, there would be no Israel and no Arab-Israeli conflict as we know them. Course materials include histories of Zionism, pre-Zionist Palestine, the British Mandate years, the British Empire in other Arab lands, and the 1948 war and aftermath. Primary sources from the perspective of British officials on the ground in Palestine receive much attention. The histories of engineering and agriculture are highlighted alongside traditional social and political perspectives
Why do we keep asking this question? You dunnit. Readers have an investment in finding answers to puzzles and to threatening narrative situations. In this course on one of the world’s most popular literary genres, you will not only learn of its origins, but about theories of why you keep reading these stories. The texts begin with the Memoirs of Eugene-Francois Vidocq and stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and run though contemporary novelists such as Sara Paretsky and Natsuo Kirino. Why is this genre appeal so popular in so many cultures? There will be a strong comparativist slant to the course; students will be encouraged to explore the cultural context of Natsuo Kirino’s and Stieg Larsson’s novels which, like many of the classics, provide fertile ground for comparison to film adaptations.
From the beginning of the National Socialist Party in 1919 until German Unification in 1990, everyday Germans had to deal with the reality that, regardless of their own political beliefs, many neighbors and even relatives embraced the doctrines of National Socialism. This seminar explores this complex reality from the rise of National Socialism, through the crimes of the Third Reich, and the stumbling and mixed efforts of the postwar Germanies to cope with the presence of Nazis in German society. Ranging from the defeated and divided society of the Weimar Republic, through the Nazi triumph, crimes, and defeat, to the recivilization of Germans after the war, we will examine how Germans dealt with the fact that to some degree, there were always Nazis next door.
Political Losers shifts the usual focus of political science research, from who wins and the factors that explain the victory, to who loses, why they were defeated, and what impact defeat has upon the losers. The course considers the effects of losing on voters (what happens to voters whose candidates never win?), on candidates (can electoral defeat position a candidate for future success?), on political parties (do small parties lose forever?), on social movements (what happens when a social movement loses badly?), and on nations (can defeat in war benefit the losing party?). Exploring political losers through books and articles, videos, and interviews, we will draw our own conclusions about what it means to be a political loser…and why losing might not be a bad thing.
The central question of this course is “How does music create community?” Together we will seek to answer this question through observations, class experiences, and readings that examine a range of musical communities nearby (undergraduate a capella groups) to far (musical communities of drummers in The Gambia, West Africa). Students will experience community-building musical events including listening, movement, singing, and music games; read materials on musical communities around the world; discuss the role of music in social, cultural, and political settings and movements; and observe musical communities on and near campus. For the final paper, students will describe and analyze a musical community based on a field observation using ethnomusicological research techniques; analysis will be informed by course discussions, experiences, and readings. The theoretical lens through which a student analyzes the observation may be sociological, psychological, and/or anthropological, based on the student’s interests and the salient issues arising from the observation.
Understanding our emotions may initially seem straightforward. After all, we know when we are happy or sad, surprised or bored, proud or embarrassed. This course, however, begins with the idea that our experience of emotions is in fact surprisingly nuanced. How does the brain make cognitive sense of physiological sensation? How do we know, for example, whether we are attracted to something or merely interested in it? And how do we make sense of others’ emotional experiences? How do our brains process information to determine whether a person is angry, as opposed to disgusted or fearful? Do all cultures experience the same emotions? Do all emotions look the same regardless of culture? To guide our inquiry, we will engage theoretical perspectives from psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers. To help us test these ideas, we will also examine the appearance of emotional experience in news footage and documentaries, as well as how artists can manipulate our perception of emotions in visual art, film, and stage productions.
In April 2014, at the start of the climbing season, 16 Sherpas working for commercial operators died in an avalanche on Mount Everest. This event precipitated an unprecedented crisis: after tense negotiations with their Western employers and clients, the Sherpas brought the spring climbing season to an abrupt close. Although this action seemed sudden, it had been a long time coming. Conditions on the mountain had by all accounts been deteriorating for decades: ugly trash heaps, tensions caused by economic disparities between Western guides and their indigenous counterparts, and ever more demanding–yet often under-prepared–Western clients indicated that what had once been the site of adventure and achievement had devolved into crass commercialism and exploitation. What is Everest for anyway? To whom does it belong? This course will chart the history of the “conquest” of Everest. We will ask the following questions: What prompted Westerners to venture into landscapes that their ancestors had previously shunned? When and how did the West’s aesthetic appreciation of high mountains begin? When did this appreciation morph into a competitive drive to scale ever higher peaks in far-away lands? How does this history overlap with that of colonialism? Is mountaineering an ethical endeavor?
In measuring the cultural profile of a metropolitan area, the presence of a successful symphony orchestra is often used as a model to determine cultural sophistication and refinement. In recent years, however, the model of the orchestra has encountered significant challenges. Using the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra as a paradigm, this seminar will examine the orchestra in contemporary culture and attempt to answer the questions: what will the symphony orchestra be in the near future and what must it become to sustain its cultural importance? In this seminar, we will focus our seminar-style discussions, formal presentations, and research-based writing on the following topics: defining evolving cultural norms and the place of the orchestra in today’s culture as compared to previous eras; discovering how technology has affected the institution of the orchestra, including performances, recordings, marketing, and communications; analyzing changes in fund-raising techniques and searching for ideal future models; examining the financial challenges and bankruptcies of orchestras in recent years and analyzing their causes; describing the orchestra audience of the future based on social and cultural trends; and defining the ideal balance of orchestral repertoire for tomorrow’s listeners. We will also attend orchestra concerts and write concert reports, and host occasional guests from the Cleveland Orchestra and other University Circle institutions who will provide a direct cultural perspective.
Although frequently characterized as a country with a past that was marked by insularity and disdain for all things foreign, until the West “opened [it] up,” China’s engagement with the world has been long and deep. China–Chinese emperors, Chinese governments, and Chinese people across the social spectrum–have energetically engaged with the broader world, permitting, encouraging, and seeking the circulation of foreign ideas and goods. This course is about how China has taken measure of the world and the goods and ideas that have flowed into and out of China during the past several centuries, from roughly the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries. Students will examine one topic in depth as an historical case study during the semester-long course. Possible topics from which the case study will be drawn include the Opium Wars, meanings of revolution, gender and sexuality, religion and political ideology, the environment, nationalism, history of science and technology, etc. Focus on a single thematic topic serves as a microcosm of social, political, and economic exchanges that highlight the complex ways in which understandings of China and the world have shifted over time.
We tend to associate censorship with the prudish values of the Victorian era. In many ways, this association is grounded in historical fact. Before 1870, there were only a handful of obscenity cases in America and England, but after 1870 there were numerous works prosecuted for obscenity in both countries. Obscenity laws were a reaction to a perceived threat to the status quo and normative standards. Literature, in particular, was targeted because it was thought that its enduring and effective popularity was a threat to public morality and a corrupting influence on young minds. This was before the time of television, the internet, and other influential forms of media. Literature was the subversive way to communicate ideas. But literature continued to function as a cultural battleground between the status quo and radical thinkers well into what we imagine to be the more liberated twentieth century. Works like Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), and Henry Miller’s The Tropic of Cancer (1934) all faced charges of obscenity and were subject to obscenity trials in England and America. Why were these works targeted? How can we use the controversies that surrounded these novels to understand the social norms of the time, as well as how those norms were changing? How can we use these historical examples to better understand our own cultural moment?
The health of a democratic society depends on an informed electorate. And yet the attack ads, unverified accusations, sound-bites, and carefully scripted and staged media events that fill television and the Internet tend to misinform, confuse, and disengage voters. How might we reverse this trend? How can we meaningfully enter into political conversations? How can we listen to others, form our own beliefs, and then communicate them respectfully and with purpose? To help answer these questions, we will return to modern democracy’s ancient roots, using the lens of classical rhetoric to explore contemporary political debate. While the word “rhetoric” is often used today to deride precisely what’s wrong with political discourse, as when a policy proposal is dismissed as mere “campaign rhetoric,” it more properly denotes the techniques of effective persuasion. By learning how rhetorical devices are used, we can empower ourselves to analyze policy debates and to make our own contributions. As part of this investigation, we will research issues, debate and develop positions, read and evaluate speeches, write about our own positions, participate in public conversations by writing letters to representatives and opinion pieces for newspapers, and prepare an oral presentation. We will also complete a research project in which we analyze the different perspectives on an issue of interest, formulate our own positions on an issue, and reflect on our internal processes as we take on a belief and act on it.
Even in a free and democratic society such as the US, individuals and even entire groups can be systematically marginalized: they are blocked from various rights, opportunities, and resources that are normally available to others. One especially important consequence of marginalization is diminished health and well-being. This seminar examines the social factors associated with marginalization and health in American society. Why are some individuals and groups at risk for marginalization? How does marginalization produce health inequalities? What can be done about them? Using quantitative and qualitative research methods and careful analysis of current scholarly literature, students will critically examine the current evidence related to these inequalities and generate their own social justice strategies to address them and their causes. In addition, students will have the opportunity to hear from guest experts in the field and participate in off-campus learning activities.
Each year, people seeking to improve their lives spend millions of dollars on self-help books, classes, and programs. Why? How are they useful? And if they work so well, why do people continue to need them? This course uses some basic theories and research of human personality and behavior to investigate whether and how self-help works. In addition to using this information to investigate the claims made by self-help gurus, students will provide students with strategies they can apply to their own lives, including how to change unwanted behaviors, how to cope with stress, and how to promote overall health and wellness. The course will be conducted in a seminar-format to allow for scholarly discussion and facilitate critical thinking. Students will demonstrate their knowledge of the course material through the writing of a scientific paper reporting results of a self-experiment and an oral presentation discussing the merits of a self-help book.
This course focuses on the evolution of running from survival to competition to recreation. The appeal of running has transcended time and provides a rich historical backdrop from which to explore themes of diversity, innovations in running technology, relationships and community activism through running, and running health and fitness. We will ask questions such as: What inspired Nike technology and the appeal of mainstream recreational running? What is the intersection between the sport of running and “Boston Strong?” What is the physiological impact of running from a gender perspective? To address these questions and more, emphasis will be placed on cultural, societal, socioeconomic, and technological aspects of the diverse world of running. In addition to discussion-based lectures and use of on-line media, students will engage with a local running club, have an opportunity to document race day through volunteer opportunities, and interview local runners, particularly faculty, staff, and administrators.
It has rarely been more dangerous to be a war correspondent. The beheading of journalist James Foley in 2014 in Syria came 12 years after the beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, and between their deaths hundreds more reporters have been killed, kidnapped and tortured. This course will examine the history of the war correspondent with an emphasis on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have raged for the majority of our students’ lives. We will read about the reporters’ experiences and will speak to several war reporters via Skype. Because even though today’s war correspondents know the danger, they also know there has rarely been a more important time for them to bear witness.
This course examines the lives of the ethnically and racially diverse women and men, skilled and unskilled, and rural and urban laborers that produce the goods and provide the services that society consumes. At crucial moments, working people have joined social movements in an effort to improve some aspect of their lives. We therefore will assess workers in relation to several known and less known American social movements, such as the eight-hour day movement during the late nineteenth century, the peace movement during WWI, and the Civil Rights movement in the wake of WWII. As we study these social movements through the lens of labor history, we will focus on making sense of periods of conflict and cooperation between European American, African American, and Mexican American workers. Throughout the course we will also discuss the politics of time-managed work, the role of unions within a competitive market economy, the influence of public policy and government institutions, and the relationship between industrial economies and blue-collar communities.
Created in 2005, YouTube, in a mere decade, has changed how we perceive and interact with the social world. This course will focus on the cultural significance of YouTube and its reflection of 21st-century values, propensities, and ideas. Discussions and research will focus on such topics as the uses of YouTube as a communication medium, the impact of YouTube on the roles of media producer and media consumer, YouTube as an instrument for social and political change, and possible futures of YouTube.
Many aspects of the modern, Western city as we know it today emerged in Europe between 1850 and 1918. We will examine the changes in urban planning, architecture, economics, social relations, culture, and fine art that defined this change. We will seek to answer questions such as: What does a modern European city look like? How do residents of a modern(izing) city relate to each other? How do newcomers come to understand their surroundings in a modern city? What makes commerce different in a modern city from a pre-modern city? How were modern European cities depicted in art? While the phenomena that we consider occurred, to some degree, in almost every city in Europe, we will concentrate on Paris, Berlin, London, and Vienna.
At the beginning of the Renaissance, about the year 1400, an important new theme arose in painting, sculpture and printmaking–the theme of art about art. At a time when the status of artists in society was rising, new subjects began to appear in western European art that depicted both the artist and the process of making art. Self portraits of artists, depictions of Saint Luke painting the Virgin Mary, images of women as artists and muses, classical and mythological stories of art making (Pygmalion and Galatea, Apelles painting the mistress of Alexander the Great), depictions of painting and sculpture studios and of art academies and instruction, scenes of art galleries and collections, still lifes about art, all reflected this new cultural interest in art as a topic in itself. This seminar will look at individual works of art and subject types to understand what they tell us about the role of the arts and the changing status of the artist in the Renaissance and early modern period, up to the eve of the French Revolution, about 1789. The works we study will thus be understood as symbolic indicators of social status and ideas about what art meant to European society.
The purpose of this seminar is to explore how individuals construct and present the self. The class will explore what we know of the self from historical, sociological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives. We will examine how the meaning of the self has changed over time. We will also explore where the self comes from, and the role of parents, peers and society in making a person who they are. Finally, we will explore how the self is defined for others, whether through an online presence, fashion choices, or the names that people prefer for themselves. Specific topics will include Freud’s view of the self as unavailable to consciousness, the importance and fallacy of high self-esteem, individualist and collective societies, and the ethics of self-presentation. Students should expect to develop their critical thinking as well as writing and oral presentation skills through this class.
“The Birth of the Modern: 1905-1925” will attempt to answer the question “What is the modern?” by exploring some of the breakthrough works of literature, music, art, and scientific theory in the first decades of the twentieth century. We will study what characterizes the new modes of thinking or “language” of modernity, developed in experimental work across the arts, the sciences, and the social sciences. We will be examining some of the major manifestos of and statements about the nature of Modernism in order to see how they illuminate, for example, a novel by James Joyce or a painting by Picasso, a composition by Stravinsky, a scientific theory of Einstein’s, or a psychological theory of Freud’s. At the conclusion of the seminar, students will present their findings and write a research paper about “the modern” as it relates to a field of particular interest to them.
This course examines the relationship between medicine and narrative by exploring the representational structures and narrative conventions that have been used to understand and communicate the experience of illness, to tell stories about the human body, and to diagnose and treat disease. The course focuses on literary texts (including novels, plays, short stories and memoirs) written by doctors, patients, nurses and creative writers, as well as on medical case histories from different cultures and historical periods. It examines such topics as the uses of narrative in medical practice; the uses of metaphor in conceptualizing and representing disease; the ethical dilemmas posed by medical research and practice; the therapeutic value of narrative; the structural similarities (and historical links) between detective fiction and medical case histories; the imaginative function of illness in literature; the cultural myths and iconography of disease in different historical periods; the representation of physical and mental illness and the human body in language and art, and cultural responses to major health crises such as bubonic plague, syphilis, and AIDS.
The history of the comic book is a vital site for critical questions about intersections of art and popular culture in America. In this course we will not simply read “funny books,” but will examine a genre that is as unique as its many colorful protagonists: from Popeye to Superman, Wonder Woman to the X-men, comics have given us larger-than-life characters who are often caricatures of dominant (and sometimes subversive) American ideologies. We will learn not only the history of this unique genre, but will interrogate what it means to truly read comics artistically, politically, culturally, and symbolically. At heart, reading comics in an exercise in interpretation: given visual symbols, what meanings can we take from them? What can comics tell us? And how can we write about them in intelligent, critical ways? In this course we will learn to approach comics through critical thinking strategies; that is, questioning what they are, what they say, and where they come from.
Images and texts shape rather than merely reflect the world and its geopolitical structures. Novels, films, and myths make significant contributions to the varied ways that people make sense of continents, nations, and other (often too conveniently used) geopolitical categories such and the East and West. After considering the ways in which the European continent has been imagined over the centuries, we will explore texts and films that have contributed to the invention of East Central Europe and the Balkans and continue to shape our understanding of the eastern parts of Europe. The class will include analyses of current news coverage of this area to unpack representations disseminated by the media and to reflect on the forces that aim to shape our understanding of geopolitical entities. Ultimately, the course hopes to address geopolitical assumptions, evaluate cultural contexts, and help you think critically about the constructed nature of geopolitical categories.
Taking a historical approach, this course will examine the relationship between the evolution of social and medical attitudes toward mental illness and fictional representations of madness in literature. Beginning with the early modern period, students will compare period sociological and medical narratives on mental illness to fiction works with representations of madness. In so doing, students will consider how the interactive dynamics of art and science contribute to cultural and social thought. Specific areas of inquiry will include: the development of psychology and its effect on societal perceptions of mental illness; cultural developments that occurred in response to changing perceptions of mental illness over the centuries; and the use of representational structures and narrative conventions in understanding and communicating the experience of mental illness. Other interrogations will include the imaginative function of mental illness in literature (e.g., melancholy’s role in creativity); the cultural myths in iconography of mental illness in different historical periods; and ethical dilemmas regarding mental illness as reflected in both medical and literary narratives.
“Puzzled” will look at the practice of puzzle making and puzzle-solving and explore the meaning of puzzles for different cultures throughout history. We will read works from the disciplines of math, history, anthropology, philosophy, and literature. We will explore why certain types of puzzles became popular and how puzzles have transferred from one culture to another. We will examine the role of code writing and code-breaking in the military and in the world of business. We will read examples of fiction and watch films that adopt the form of the puzzle as a narrative device. We will think about the function of puzzles as instruments to exercise the faculties of reason and logic and as a means of leisure or pleasant distraction. Students will be asked to both solve and create puzzles over the course of the semester. They will write analytical essays on topics related to the practice and history of puzzle making and puzzle solving, and they will pursue a research topic that revolves around an issue or problem that has “puzzled” them.
The great number of food-related TV-shows indicate an unprecedented interest in questions about and fascination with food; in fact, these TV shows allure viewers with the appeal of a myth: eating involves discovery (Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, On the Road Again with Mario Batali, Planet Food), thrill (Bizarre Foods), or “supernatural” competition (Man vs. Food, Top Chef). These television shows and food-related writings that accompany them in earnest “worship” food and often promote ideas of multiculturalism by which exciting and novel locales, foods, and meal preparatory techniques are discovered. The objective of this course is to “indulge” in these shows and food writings and scrutinize them: What explains such fascination with the viewing of and reading about food? In what ways can food-exploration trips expand on ideas and critiques of multiculturalism and globalization? What explains the centrality and “mythical” nature of food in the twenty-first century? To begin these conversations, we will touch on a plethora of food writing works including works motivated by environmental and health concerns such as Michael Pollan’s essays. Then we look at the world of cookbooks (including the cookbooks of Julia Child and Rachel Ray), food blogs and TV-shows, and essays by Bill Buford and Calvin Trillin among many others.
Over 10 years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, politicians, economists, artists, and educators continue to use the umbrella term “post-9/11” to describe our general cultural sensibility. Yet, what does it mean, specifically, to live in a “post-9/11” America? How have the cataclysmic events of that day altered our political and intellectual points of view? In this course, we will explore these questions by considering how novelists, poets, and other writers have and continue to represent September 11th. We will analyze techniques used to narrate the story of 9/11, investigating how American cultural values–or critiques of such values–influence the aesthetic choices that writers make. Our course will begin chronologically at “Ground Zero,” as we examine representations of the immediate urban trauma while exploring the tensions between memorial and commemoration, spectacle and commercial pursuits. We will then focus on works by both American and international authors addressing the days and months following the attacks. We will examine how America is depicted with respect to its foreign policy and domestic politics, paying particular attention to the space of the “home.” In addition to novels, short fiction, and poetry, we will read cultural criticism and some philosophy. Students will be given additional opportunities to explore film and other visual or new media representations of 9/11.
Since the late eighteenth century, Paris has been a favorite subject for visual artists and writers alike, as well as the birthplace of several seminal artistic movements, such as Impressionism, Cubism, and the New Wave. This course will use representations of Paris in the arts as lenses through which the identity and recent history of this major city will come into focus. Further, stories, photographs, and films that stage the city of Paris and its people will also allow us to explore the broader relationship between art, the city, and the plight of modern man. The course will include a wide range of artworks, from mid-nineteenth century photographs documenting the destruction of Medieval Paris and the advent of a rational capital, to stories chronicling the fate of hopeful newcomers, and films where the city is treated either as intimate landscape or impersonal grid. The course will be both discussion based and writing intensive: students will be encouraged to envision class participation and writing assignments as means to analyze collaboratively, as well as individually, the material at hand.
When we make a record of a journey to an unfamiliar place (regardless of whether or not we really went there), we are framing difference. On the one hand, we create a record of what we see and experience, while on the other, we reveal our own cultural standpoint based on how we represent that experience. In this seminar, students will read a selection of narratives from antiquity to the late medieval era that purport to depict a “real” journey into the unknown, with the intent of examining how the representation of different cultures by the traveler, whether real or imaginary, shapes and defines cultural boundaries. Our focus will be on journeys within the cultures of the Mediterranean and Europe (including Britain), and will include texts from Greek, Roman, Middle Eastern, and Western travelers. Students will consider the texts in relation to their context and audience, evaluate the authority of the author’s account using primary source material, and draw on subsequent scholarship. By undertaking a symbolic journey through the eyes of different travelers, students will learn not only to examine texts from several perspectives, but also to recognize the ways in which cultural differences and “otherness” are constructed. We will begin with the concept of the journey in the ancient world, particularly how different cultures traveled and how their mode of transport (horse, boat, foot) and mode of living (nomadic, sedentary) influenced their perception of the people they encountered. As we move from antiquity into the medieval era, we will trace how religious, political, and economic changes influenced representations of other cultures. In addition to written texts, we will study visual references, including illustrations based on the seminar’s required texts as well as early maps.
In this course, students will study works in which the authors and artists have experimented with traditional linear forms and created stories that are, for instance, labyrinthine, framed, collaged, geometrical, digressive, and even networked. While both print-based and digital texts offer spaces for diverse and deeply engaging written or visual performances, they also require further critical inquiry into the ways in which they create, reflect, or resist social and cultural values. Our focus in this course will be exploring how stories (and other texts) – in print, on screen, on canvas, in digital formats – that don’t follow or that play with conventional rules of order encourage us to participate in making sense of our contemporary world. The goals of the course include: exploring the relationship between form and content in written and visual productions, developing a critical perspective from which to enjoy, assess, and respond creatively to traditional print and multimedia presentations, and making excellent use of research resources at CWRU and cultural resources at University Circle. In addition, students will work to develop their writing and presentation skills and to innovate novel models of research writing.
The American and Chinese economies are the two biggest economies in the world. The Chinese economy is the fastest growing large economy in the world. The dynamic American economy is unique in its combination of large multinational enterprises and small entrepreneurial firms. The American economy is characterized by a vast private sector, the rule of law, and the largest private capital markets in the world. The Chinese economy is 30 years into a period of reform from communist industrial organization to “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, which includes a significant role for the private sector. The Chinese economy is still an experiment. The established American business system exists within a democratic political system, where corporate lobbying has a significant influence on the creation of laws and government policy. The Chinese economy is still under the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party, a one-party dictatorship. When Americans go to China to do business, they find the cultural, social, political, and moral systems vastly different than what they are familiar with. Transparency International Ranks China 27 out of 28 of the most corrupt large economies in the world. In China, bribery of government officials and kickbacks to sales and purchasing managers is common. Key questions we will investigate are: 1. In what ways are the two business systems similar and different? 2.What is the nature of Chinese social relations? How do they differ from American social relations? What effect do they have on business? 3. What is the nature of the Chinese political system? What impact does it have on business in China? 4. How do American business people negotiate the Chinese business system?
This writing-intensive course examines the roles that noise has played in political discourses throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its charged bookends – Beethoven and Jimi Hendrix – invite students to challenge supposed differences between “Art” and popular music and examine relationships between music and society. “Who does ‘Art’ serve?,” “Is it possible to distinguish between ‘Art’ and noise?,” and “Is sound capable of influence at all?” are among the chief questions this course explores. The curriculum’s historical breadth allows students to consider these larger questions through a variety of case studies, including (among others) the bombast and nationalism of Beethoven’s ninth symphony; the Marxist-inspired “emancipation” of sound, as presented by Arnold Schoenberg; the gender-bending metal of Eddie Van Halen; and the protest-by-distortion of Hendrix’s national anthem at Woodstock. By the end of this course, students will gain more awareness of the ways in which the music surrounding them seeks to shape society.
Published just over 20 years ago, Naomi Wolf’s influential study “The Beauty Myth” significantly influenced popular thinking about body image. Analyzing both cultural trends and empirical data, Wolf argued that as women made unprecedented advances in public life in the latter half of the 20th century, they were at the same time held to increasingly unrealistic standards of physical beauty. Wolf’s study not only contributed to extant analyses of sexism in the media, but also introduced to mainstream readers the politics of the representation of women’s bodies in popular culture. This course will examine to what extent Wolf’s original claim hold true today. In other words, what physical standards must one meet in order to be considered professionally and personally successful? In exploring this question, we will look at the origins and current workings of the American beauty industry, considering the changing representation of the ideal body throughout the 20th century. We’ll read texts by historians, philosophers, novelists, poets, cultural critics, and journalists who examine the politics of beauty. To both (re-)define and trace the continuing effects of beauty myths in the 21st century, we’ll consider the rhetoric of ideal womanhood as it shows up in popular texts such as websites promoting anorexia, TV shows about plastic surgery, diet books, magazines, and guides for mothers. Students will have opportunities to define the beauty myth more broadly, exploring its effects on men and its mediating presence in other cultural sites.
This course will explore how various Indian writers have responded, in both form and content, to India’s post-independence period. The class will grapple with fundamental but thought provoking questions: is there an Indian literary tradition? What should be the language of the Indian novel, as the nation has several linguistic states? What makes an Indian novel Indian? A political novel is often understood as not having aesthetic concerns; that is, the writer is not seen as an artist moved by beauty or driven by images, but rather fueled by social vision. For such a writer, politics comes before art. But is this necessarily the case? To investigate, but not solve, the debates surrounding political versus non-political art, we will use Indian literature to explore universal questions such as What is Political Literature? What is a protest novel? What is the role of a writer in society? Should that role be didactic? We will also explore issues related to Indian culture specifically, including gender inequality and bride burning, the quest for self-identity, Britain’s impact on Indian literature, the globalization of Indian culture, changes in social and ethical values, the influence of feminism and the rise of “Dalit” (lower caste) power, the expansion of the Indian diaspora, communal violence, and national and international terrorism in the wake of liberalization and globalization.
Religious persecution during the early modern period (16th-18th centuries) compelled Jews to attend Mass, Muslims to baptize their children and Protestants to count Hail Marys on a rosary. European exploration of Asia, Africa and the Americas inspired an Englishman to pass himself off as Taiwanese and an African to present himself as a European. The choice between marriage and a convert led one woman to cut off her hair, sew her skirt into britches and make herself into a conquistador in Peru. In pursuit of social mobility, courtiers remade themselves to suit the conventions of the court. Posing, passing and pretending, these early modern Europeans crossed lines of religion, gender, race and class. Today we might call some of these figures impostors but praise others as self-made men and women. What was the difference between lying and self-fashioning in early modern Europe? What forces and phenomena compelled people to remake themselves? Was the early modern period of the age of dissimulation? This course explores these questions by reading memoirs, handbooks, inquisitorial documents and plays from the period in light of contemporary theoretical literature.
In this seminar, we will explore the meaning of things great and small, from the largest buildings and greatest distances, to nanotechnology and the smallest viruses. The seminar’s goal will be to inspire critical thinking by confronting our fascination with things expanding and contracting, growing and shrinking, things speeded up and things slowed down. We will approach the subject from a variety of disciplines – cultural history, psychology, mathematics, philosophy, literature, economics, and the sciences – with the intention of unpacking both the topic itself and the tools that we use to explain our world. We will ask questions about why we find gigantism and dwarfism unsettling; how we define ugliness and beauty; how we understand the odds and statistics of horrific or wonderful things happening to us; and how this determines our behavior. After examining theory and examples of things “out of proportion”, students will produce a research project that combines primary and secondary sources and will make an argument in behalf of an example that they find compelling.
Have you ever been to a play and afterwards said to someone, “That was terrible!”, or hopefully, “That was incredible!” but found yourself unable to clearly communicate what made it good or bad? In theater, word of mouth is the best advertising and your words have the power to make or break a production. This course will examine the role of ‘audience as critic’, as well as the role of the professional critic, and the influence each has on the success of live theater. The student will learn critical skills that will allow them to clearly identify what made a particular production a rousing success, or a dismal failure. The student will learn the process by which actors, directors and designers bring a play to life, and the analytical skills a critic uses to either keep the play alive, or bring it to an untimely end. The student will have the opportunity to see live productions of the plays we will discuss in class. The student will be required to attend at least five theatrical productions over the course of the semester at CWRU’s Eldred Theater, the CWRU/CPH MFA collaboration, The Cleveland Playhouse, and other local theaters. We will compare and contrast these productions with past productions at other regional theaters and on Broadway. Actors, directors and designers of these local productions will come to class to discuss their process and defend their artistic choices. We will speak with local, professional theater critics and discuss their praises, and their pans! With the skills learned in this class the student will have the power to help a theater sell out every show, or force them to close the doors forever!
Understanding the human place in the universe has been a goal of all human civilizations. This course looks at the historically close relationships in the Western world between scientific descriptions of the natural world on the one hand and the religious and ethical implications drawn from those on the other. In particular the course will look at how Western thinkers thought about the human condition by observing the larger structure of the cosmos as revealed by the heavens. Throughout the semester we will look at not only how observations of the heavens influenced religious thinking, but how religious convictions shaped how celestial phenomena were described by scientists. Together scientists and religious thinkers fashioned a symbolic world to explain why humankind is as it is. During the course the students will read a variety of scientific and religious writings from Classical Antiquity up to the modern period and will include Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and secular thinkers. Written and oral work will provide students with an opportunity to synthesis and relate scientific, quantitative and philosophical/theological concepts.
The form and nature of the novel has changed a lot since the nineteenth-century. There’s been the modern novel, the post-modern novel, the experimental novel, the graphic novel, and who knows what’s coming next? This course is about what the continental novel was like in the nineteenth-century, the Golden Age of the genre. Its major premise is that you don’t have to be a literature major to read, enjoy, and profit from the old-style classic novels. We will read novels by Balzac, Flaubert, Turgenev, and Tolstoy in modern translations, and we will take our time with them, looking closely at the component parts: narrator, plot, setting, character, dialogue, where the meaning comes from. The course offers, in part, obviously, a chance to read some of the great European novels of the nineteenth-century. It also provides a chance to go at a slow enough pace to allow time to study and discuss in detail the techniques these masters of the novel used so brilliantly. Students who complete the course, therefore, will become both familiar with classic texts and more knowledgeable and skillful readers of any and all narrative fiction.
Since its founding, the US has embraced the ideal of religious pluralism. But its government and people have also struggled with putting that ideal into practice and disagree about how to respond to religious difference. Those struggles continue today. Members of one religion have objected to the teachings of another. Sometimes religions have doctrines or practices that conflict with the law and secular norms. Certain religious practices have been considered so alien to mainstream culture that practitioners faced stereotyping and discrimination. How has religious pluralism as an ideal changed over time? What are some of the ways that US citizens and their government have resolved these conflicts successfully? Under what conditions does it become especially challenging to live up to the ideal of religious pluralism? In this class, we will explore interactions between different religions in the US (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Buddhism). Students will analyze different practices of pluralism and religious engagement, including interfaith initiatives, theological debates, foreign policy measures, and conflict. To help give us perspective on these questions, we will consider comparative examples from France and Indonesia. We will also visit several religious institutions in the Cleveland area.
The visual arts not only offer a unique window onto the history of Western medicine, but also provide an unparalleled opportunity for budding medical professionals to develop the vital critical skills of thoughtful observation, visual analysis, and articulate communication. This course will explore the history of medicine in Europe and the United States through a series of case studies in the visual arts from the early Renaissance to the present. Topics may include: the sacred altarpiece as devotional object in early hospital chapels; dissection and anatomical studies as training tools for artists and doctors; the pseudosciences of physiognomy and phrenology in medical diagnosis and racial politics; Romanticism and the exploration of mental illness; prostitution, the fallen woman, and the surveilled body; the ethics of photography as a medical instrument; phenomenology and the contemplation of death; and the AIDS crisis as a flashpoint of the culture wars. Classes will meet regularly in the galleries of the Cleveland Museum of Art, taking advantage of their rich collections in order to develop the skills of active visual analysis and reflection through close engagement with art objects. Utilizing group discussion, verbal presentations, and written assignments, students will investigate issues of socio-political awareness and cultural bias centered upon the healthy and diseased body. The class will also consider the role of ambiguity and variance in the interpretation of visual evidence in the scientific and medical context. The class may also incorporate visits to other Cleveland medical institutions, such as the Cleveland Clinic Art Program and the Dittrick Medical History Center.
For a generation of Americans, 9/11 was a defining event, the kind that slices life into before and after. The reverberations of that singular event continue to dominate our lives today, in ways we can readily recognize, and in ways that we cannot. In this class, we will examine how the discourse around 9/11 has shifted over the course of a decade, from the urgency of screaming newspaper headlines the day after, to the more elegiac responses shaped by novels and films over the years. We will also examine how different media–from graphic novels to films to novels–have responded to the same event and how these responses have shaped, and continue to shape, our collective narrative about the meaning of that event.
You don’t hate it. In fact, you probably already love poetry, even if you don’t know it. You might copy moody indie rock lyrics into your journal or quote the rhymes in a rap verse to your friends. You might hum advertising jingles to yourself; you speak in slang and think in metaphor. Why do we tend to treat only some of these instances of figurative language as poems? Is there a difference between poems and poetry? What can our individual attitudes about poetry reveal about what and whom we value on a cultural scale? In this course we will ask these and other questions about our collective love/hate relationship with poetry. All of this attention to how poems and poetry work will help us understand how our own writing should work. This course also focuses on the development of independent research skills and the creation of complex, analytic, well-supported arguments. We will write in a variety of lengths and genres; our reading and research will culminate in a project challenging students to compile an anthology of essential “poetry” with a critical introduction.
You’ve studied mathematics, but have you really experienced it? In Love and Math, author and mathematician Edward Frenkel says that, for him, the experience is tantamount to love. Acknowledging that his field suffers from the reputation of being dry and inaccessible, he challenges this negative view by sharing the passion, beauty, and adventure from his career as one of the leading researchers in the groundbreaking Langlands program, the so-called grand unified theory of mathematics. Like Frenkel, we will discuss the appreciation and enjoyment of mathematics. Furthermore, we will consider other ways in which it is useful and interesting to talk about “experiencing mathematics.” The question of what that phrase means is central to the approach we will take toward the various topics covered in class. We will examine cultural representations of mathematicians and mathematics. Similarly, we will investigate the culture of mathematicians themselves, with particular attention to their ideas about community, collaboration, fairness, and aesthetics. We will also look at the ways, from Big Data to fractal fashion, that the work of mathematicians actively shapes contemporary society and technology. In addition, the course has an experiential component during which we will practice problem-solving techniques for contest mathematics; this activity requires no more than a pre-calculus background. You will not be graded on mathematical problems. Instead, you will both reflect on your own problem-solving process and present on interesting problems you encounter.
When we watch a quarterback deliver a 45-yard pass into the hands of a lunging wide receiver for a touchdown, we may remark, “That was a beautiful play.” While we might be praising the technical skill of what we witnessed, we are more likely to be praising the play for its apparent artistry. We have moved, in other words, to a judgment of aesthetics, the philosophical exploration of art, beauty and taste. Given that, it may be no surprise that artists and writers have often identified with athletes and sought to represent the thrill of sports in their creations. Aesthetic theory, however, has traditionally avoided a direct consideration of the actual action of sports. In this course, we will focus on those few scholars who have explored the relationship between aesthetics and athletics. Using their ideas, we will examine both sporting events and artistic representations of them as aesthetic phenomena. What is, we will ask, beautiful or sublime in sports? What is the appeal that sports have for writers and artists? Can we consider athletes themselves to be artists? How do discomforting realities about athlete’s lives (e.g., physical and psychological sacrifice, crippling injuries, immoral personal conduct) affect our pleasure in watching sports? To explore these questions, we will study various examples of athletic artistry including the dramatic arc of Muhammad Ali’s boxing strategy, the dangerous virtuosity of gymnastic training, and the purposeful sculpting of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body. The seminar will be reading- and writing-intensive, and culminate in a research paper that explores the conceptual issues developed in our conversations.
The present environmental crisis has given rise to diverse imaginative visions of the future. Dystopian novelists and directors have created texts that portray a disastrous future in which humanity refuses to deal with global warming, ocean acidification, and overpopulation. For writers like Aldous Huxley, the future involves a grim vision of a depleted Earth and a human population under threat from its own political madness. Alternatively, writers and filmmakers have imagined hopeful visions of a human future in which we collectively remake society in order to live in harmony with nature. Although dystopian thinkers far outnumber utopians, we will investigate both visions of the future. More specifically, we will examine these possible futures as ways of thinking about the inter-general ethical obligation that we have to leave behind positive and sustainable conditions for future generations living on Earth. This seminar will tackle that challenge by analyzing ecotopian visions of the planet’s future and by defining ways of creating a sustainable society. Possible novels and films include Brave New World, Ecotopia, The Road, Snowpiercer, Cloud Atlas, and Final Fantasy VII.
The term secularization often refers to the historical process by which religion loses its authority and significance in a society, to be replaced by other nonreligious values and institutions. Yet artists, scholars, and theologians have made the case that this apparent weakening has strengthened the cultural conditions favorable to religious belief and practice. In an era when the internet and cellphones seem to shape shared social space more than either an official church or the state, religious belief is flourishing across the globe. So which is it; does the process of secularization help or hurt the culture of belief? Much of the answer lies in how we define secularization. While some view secularization as the linear march of progress in which rationality and science replace belief and superstition, others see it as evidence of moral and cultural decay that inevitably leads to a breakdown of social order. Similarly, some claim that the US is a secular society void of once-cherished Christian values while others assert that it continues to be dominated by precisely those same values. How might a better understanding of the terms of the debate lead us beyond the shouting matches and blanket assertions that too often characterize it? It will give special emphasis to the historical conditions from which the idea of secularization arose, debates about where it is headed, and how it shapes the conditions of belief in contemporary experience.
At nearly 17% of the U.S. population, people of Hispanic origin now make up the largest ethnic minority and by 2060 are projected to be nearly 30% of the total U.S. population. Ironically, discussions about the presence of Latinos in the United States often seem unable to move beyond discussions of immigration, either forgetting or ignoring the fact that people of Hispanic origin have maintained a continuous presence in what is now the United States since 1565. This course aims to explore in more detail the Hispanic heritage of the United States. More specifically, it will ask students to interrogate, consider, and research what it means when we use the term Latino. To frame this question, we will and likewise, how that experience has been impacted by its urban context. Course readings will include fiction by writers like Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros as well as work by scholars in Latino Studies, Cultural Geography, and Urban Studies. Along with the course readings, students will examine important moments in Latino cultural history including the Los Angeles Mural project, the salsa music scene of the 1970s in New York City, and the emergence of what has been called “Latino” literature. While discussing the Latino experience, this course will be considering more broadly how the urban environment shapes social experience. The course will culminate in a class research project focused on the urban cultural history of “Latino” Cleveland.
In 1927 the German science fiction classic Metropolis showed filmgoers a mechanized dystopian nightmare in which humans took on the roles of cogs and levers in a giant machine. Years later, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four depicted a totalitarian regime reshaping post-war England in a similar way, using surveillance and repetitive activities to turn the population into something less than human. Appropriating science fiction motifs, dystopian narratives have forced us to reconsider how science and technology are used to complicate and at times augment our notion of what it means to be a social animal. In this class, we will consider a range of texts, including novels, short stories, films, and comic books, to explore the interaction between people and the things that they invent. The first half of the course will emphasize traditional utopian texts and readings will include selections from works like Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing World (biological utopia), Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (mathematical dystopia), and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (technological dystopia). During the second half of the semester we will discuss utopian and dystopian worlds in popular fiction and film, such as science fiction short stories by Harlan Ellison, Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, and Wall-E, to consider how the utopia/dystopia changed in the latter half of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century.
Authors from Geoffrey Chaucer to Primo Levi have used chemistry (and alchemy, its ancestor) as a central subject for their literary work. But as disciplines, are chemistry and literature related? At first, it would seem not. Chemistry is the investigation of the building blocks of the natural world, including the discovery of elements and their interactions among each other. It is a science that values data and hard evidence and the acquisition of knowledge through empirical observation. Literature privileges the study of formal elements of narratives and stories, taking as central the work of the imagination. What if, however, this distinction between chemistry and literature doesn’t hold? Can we study chemistry as we would literature, acknowledging its use of the imagination to create and catalogue the world? And how might we study that use of the imagination? What are the benefits of using the tools of literary analysis to evaluate how chemistry is written in lab reports, memoirs, and peer-reviewed articles? In this course, we will analyze writing in chemistry, using the techniques of close reading and critical analysis, as we move from Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table to Hugh Aldersey-Williams’s Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, from Arsenic to Zinc. We will view the Periodic Table as a kind of story, as it organizes and connects the world. Finally, by examining scholarly work within chemistry, we will investigate how chemists–including students–use literary elements in lab reports, articles, and other narratives of experimentation and discovery.
When we assume a debt, for example by taking out a student loan or mortgaging a house, we do so with the understanding that we will have to pay it back. It is not just the law that compels us to pay. We feel it as a moral obligation. Where does this sense of obligation come from? It seems self-evident, yet it is precisely the origin of this basic moral and legal assumption that this course seeks to examine. Why do we have an obligation to pay our debts and why do we think that it is self-evident that we do? This will be our guiding question for the semester. We will begin by considering the ways in which the concept of debt has shaped how we understand ourselves as individuals and how we conceive of the structure of ethical, political and economic life. If the philosopher Maurizio Larrarato is correct in arguing that debt has become the archetype of social relations, then we should consider whether there are possible alternatives, ones that do not restrict us to the roles of creditor and debtor. As part of this inquiry, we will examine the impact of debt within a contemporary socio-political context. Our analysis will draw on a variety of sources, ranging from theoretical texts to contemporary activism–from Nietzsche to the debt-forgiveness project of the Rolling Jubilee. On this basis, we will attempt to critically address the issue of debt that stands at the center of many contemporary crises, from the ongoing fallout of the financial crisis of 2008 to the mounting crisis of student loan debt in the United States.
Over the past thirty years, creative work that returns to the past to imagine alternatives to our own present–forms of retrofuturism–has established a new category of genre fiction and arguably a subculture, “steampunk.” Unlike forms of science fiction that look to possible futures or to other worlds, retrofuturism looks to the past–and particularly to late Victorian and Edwardian styles, grammars, and modes of presentation and representation. It does so at least in part in order to construct alternative, critical histories of our own day. What is at stake in a returning to the past in order to gain critical perspective on the present? And why does the period from roughly 1885-1914 seem to provide contemporary forms of retrofuturism and steampunk their most compelling material? Such questions will guide our exploration of texts that have become central to conceptions of steampunk both as a mode of genre fiction and as a cultural style. We will pay close attention to steampunk’s roots in the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras. Over the course of the semester we will treat popular literature from this period, including writing by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and George Griffin, as well as contemporary writing by authors such as Michael Moorcock, Cherie Priest, Tim Powers, and George Mann, and related works such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Bioshock Infinite. We’ll also spend some time thinking about the role of periodicals such as Pearson’s Weekly in the nineteenth century and Steampunk Magazine today in the shaping of retrofuturism’s diverse ways of presenting alternative history. The course will balance archival work, critical analyses, and creative production in its major writing assignments.
The literary genre of pastoral has long depicted the simplicity of life in a natural environment–a place situated at a time before environmental exploitation, colonization, and urbanization. These pastoral retreats are often given the generic name “Arcadia.” As many critics and authors have noted, however, literary depictions of Arcadia often expose the delicate balance of conflicting realities: peace and war, rich and poor, rural and urban. In this seminar, we will investigate what happens when external reality disrupts Arcadia’s Edenic space. Is the creation of these idyllic settings a way of masking the disturbing realities of class inequality, political power, and environmental degradation? Or are authors attempting to articulate an alternative to them? As part of our investigation, we will consider how the pastoral genre has evolved over time, noting especially how depictions of Arcadia have responded to various cultural, commercial, and political changes. We will also examine how the idea of Arcadia shapes contemporary culture and our own understanding of the relationship between nature and society in the modern world.
Why do laughter and revenge so often go hand in hand? In the third act of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, the play’s title character–shortly after learning his daughter has been raped and mutilated, being presented with the decapitated heads of two of his sons, and cutting off his own hand in a failed effort to save them–laughs uncontrollably. When asked why he’s laughing, Titus gives two reasons. First, he says he has “Not another tear to shed,” and second, he says it’s because continuing to cry would keep him from taking revenge on his enemies. This course will explore a series of artistic works where characters are victims and perpetrators of extraordinary acts of violence and injustice, and the response–either from the characters themselves or the audience–includes a grotesque laughter. We’ll explore the reasons for this odd conjunction of laughter and revenge, asking the following questions: Is artistic violence, when exaggerated or extreme, ridiculous rather than shocking? Is revenge, despite its violence, something to be cheered rather than mourned? Can laughter, as Titus suggests, help correct and fight injustice, where tears and depression do not? Class discussion will focus on the formal, ethical and social implications of art and literature. This is to say, we will not only discuss how authors get audiences to laugh at murder and dismemberment (and whether or not they do this intentionally), but also the political and ethical results of inviting laughter at things like violence against women, slavery, and capital punishment. The reading list will likely include Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and Hamlet, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Franz Kafka’s In the Penal Colony and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.
In his seminal work on illness and narrative, The Wounded Storyteller, sociologist Arthur Frank asserts that illness is a “call for stories.” On a practical level, when one becomes ill, he or she must tell others such as family, friends, and doctors what is happening. However, Frank argues that illness is also a call for stories with a more personal function: “to repair the damage that illness has done to the ill person’s sense of where she is in life, and where she may be going.” In other words, we need to tell stories in order to transform the clinical, often dehumanizing experience of sickness into a personal and meaningful life event. For example, survivors of breast cancer who have had mastectomies are confronted with physical changes to their body that challenge social definitions of beauty and femininity. People diagnosed with HIV face physical challenges as well as social stigma all while managing the emotional trauma of diagnosis and long-term medical care. Individuals diagnosed with mental illness also face social stigma while seeking treatment through medications and therapy. To these and other conditions, people have responded through storytelling; sometimes these stories are shared with a small audience of family and friends, but other times, the stories reach national audiences and shape public perceptions of illness. In this seminar, we will examine how people tell stories to make meaning of their illnesses and why those meanings matter. Why do so many individuals diagnosed with a serious illness write memoirs? What is the role of storytelling in the healing process? Are there differences between narratives told in words and narratives told through images? We will examine published first-person stories shared in a variety of media including memoirs, graphic novels, and photography collections, as well as secondary sources from sociology and the medical humanities. This course promotes critical thinking about the meanings, interpretations, and significance of illness as a personal life event as well as a shared social experience.
On the surface it might seem that a jazz concert, a medical procedure, and a religious sermon have little in common, but this course examines how all three in fact share certain significant traits. One of these traits is improvisation–the ability of a performer to create a performance spontaneously and/or from unusual material. Another trait is the tension between specialization and integration that develops whenever a highly-trained expert performs with or for non-experts, as in the exchange between musicians and audience, doctors and patients, or clergy and congregants. How might a deeper understanding of improvisation and specialization in one field be applied to performances in other fields? How might this awareness affect how we think about what it means to perform well in our own fields of interest? To answer these questions, we will attend jazz concerts, medical lectures, and church services.
Risk is everywhere. Some risks are visible and can have potentially significant consequences, such as committing a felony or choosing a life partner. Other risks can have equally serious consequences, but might not be so evident: eating breakfast cereal made from genetically modified crops or ignoring that funny-shaped mole on your shoulder, for example. Sometimes we take risks in situations where we have a lot of control, like deciding to jaywalk when there is no traffic; other times we face risk where we have little control, like choosing a major without being able to predict whether there will be any jobs in that field by the time you graduate. How do we decide what risks are worth taking? Are some methods for assessing risk better than others? How can a better understanding of risk help us improve our decision making, both at the individual and public policy levels? In this course, we will use simple conceptual frameworks from decision theory and behavioral research to show how we measure risk. We will also examine how scientists combine historical records, scientific theories, probability, and expert judgment to assess risk. In addition, we will ask students to respond some of the well-known logical paradoxes, and explain the meaning if their decisions. Finally, we will apply what we learn about risk to a variety of examples from the fields of health, public safety, environmental studies, manufacturing/industrial processes, systems sciences, and finance.
This course examines how ancient Romans represented violence in their visual culture, and why. How did works of art and architecture respond to institutionalized violence such as gladiatorial combats, capital punishment, and war? Why were sometimes startling acts of violence, such as beheadings and torture, displayed on public monuments in Rome and across the empire, and what were the social ramifications of these displays? When, and to what social effect, was violence used as entertainment? How did monuments incite violence, and why were statues and painting sometimes the subjects themselves of violent acts? We will consider the many contexts in which violence appears in Roman art and architecture created by people from different social classes and geographic regions in the Roman world. Through case studies of specific artworks and monuments, close reading of primary and secondary sources, and visits to the Cleveland Museum of Art, students will gain a deeper understanding of how art both reinforced and subverted social norms of violence in ancient Rome–and of how art continues to play this role in our society today.
How have race and sexuality mutually constructed each other throughout American history? These two potent categories are often intertwined: for example, at the heart of Jim Crow segregation was the fear of interracial sex. In this course students will learn how an analysis of race, sexuality and power can help us understand American identity and the trajectory of the nation. We will examine subjects in U.S. history such as colonization, slavery, lynching, rape, miscegenation, sexology, eugenics, the fight for reproductive freedom, the rise of LGBTQ identities, feminism(s), and representations of race and sexuality in popular culture. Throughout the course we will discuss how sexuality has functioned historically as a form of knowledge and as a site of complex power relations, as well as a source of pleasure.