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.
This course will explore the profound changes in our conception of space and time brought about by Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity. As a University Seminar, it will also integrate writing and discussion about these topics into the class and explore the philosophical and technological context in which the ideas were developed.
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.
This seminar will focus on the issues and methods of restoring the Great Lakes, with particular emphasis on public action and decision-making processes. Students will learn about the environmental history of the lakes, as well as current challenges to improving water quality and related aspects of the ecosystem. Technical experts, field trips, and other informational resources will enable seminar participants to engage in lively debates on the best ways to address those challenges. Opportunities for observation of and/or direct collaboration with key stakeholders in the restoration process will enhance students’ understanding of the processes by which key environmental decisions are made and implemented.
This course will focus on how we learn, discover, and make conclusions about life in the deep past. What types of life were present? And how can we understand their extinction? A principal focus will be how extinctions in North and South America have affected both the land and its animals and, consequently, the course of human development. We will look at megafauna from the local area in conjunction with the “Extreme Mammals” exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, read about the fossil boom, study the Dodo, and look at scientific ways in which animals are currently being completely re-imagined via technology (computer bone/muscle articulation, eating habits, climate models, etc.). We will also look at the cultural ways in which we view these “dinosaurs” (movies, children’s books, museum exhibits) and see if it helps or hurts our scientific and historical understanding of them. At heart, our main question will be: can you really understand a time, space and creature that has been extinct for millions of years? How? Why? And why do these “monsters” hold such fascination for us? Does their disappearance bode well of the human race?
In this course, we will explore the development of the atom bomb and its historical ramifications. Our guides through this history will be the scientists themselves. Our goal will be to understand their work as well as their motivations, travails, internal conflicts, and the consequences of their achievement.
This seminar provides students an opportunity to explore U.S. national parks and their history of displaying both nature and culture. This discussion-based, writing- and research-focused class requires students to examine a park system that is both extraordinarily popular and rife with controversy. We begin with several recurring questions: Where did the national parks idea come from? How has the park mission evolved and adapted? Can parks be “read” as texts, and if so, how does our point of view determine what we see? How do parks arrange displays of cultural and natural worlds, and how do they display interactions therein? How can changing park philosophies be reflected in their physical apparatus and infrastructure? Students will participate in regular class discussions, occasionally lead these same discussions, complete formal writing assignments, and develop a final research project. The course readings will alternate between historical and present-day selections, so that we explore the history of U.S. national parks while simultaneously considering challenges and controversies that matter very much today. Early readings will include John Muir and Gifford Pinchot; current trends will be explored in the writings of William Cronon, Alfred Runte, and Jennifer Price, among many others. We will view significant portions of Ken Burns’ recent PBS series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The ultimate “text” for the class, however, is an actual national park. Each student will choose a national park as the basis for their semester-long project. Students will begin with description and history of their park, and then they will explore controversies or other issues in the park, developing their own argument. Next, students will have a chance to play architect/landscaper/park-superintendent, as they propose a change to the park that would address an existing problem or enhance the visitors’ experience. Finally, students will gather these pieces into a single coherent project, submitting a 10-15 page final essay as well as producing an engaging class presentation
Please note there is a Study Abroad component and a course fee of $1700 will apply.
In this seminar, we will investigate the London, England-area Thames watershed and its associated concerns, like urban development, watershed management, aquatic species conservation, and habitat engineering and restoration. A critical part of this seminar will be a spring break field trip to London. On the field trip, we will focus on London’s rivers and their history and ecology. We will study the Lea River Valley (where the 2012 summer Olympic Village is located), the Fleet River and various water-related constructions, such as Docklands, Regent’s Canal, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Nature Reserve, each from historical and ecological standpoints. Emphasis will be on how humans have treated the watershed historically, from using the rivers as sewers and transportation links, to restoring their ecosystems, as is the current case in the Lea River Valley. Course readings will be a mix of cultural history, London newspapers archives, and scientific studies on riparian corridor management. Students will keep field journals in London and will write an experiential learning essay about how the field trip intersected with the readings we’ve discussed in the seminar. They will also write a 10-12 page research paper on one of the ecological issues witnessed in London and its significance.
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.
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?
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).
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.
The systems that deliver fresh, clean water and take away dirty water are marvels of engineering. The advancement of societies and improvement in the human condition is intricately linked to our ability to engineer water. Will there be enough drinkable water to satisfy future needs? What is the state of water treatment and delivery, and is it secure? What are the political and social implications of water scarcity? This course will explore the history of water supply, developments in infrastructure, and emerging technologies to meet water needs.
Varied and extensive observations over the past century have dramatically changed our understanding of the universe and led to the current era of precision cosmology. Despite the immense progress, several key puzzles about the nature and makeup of the universe remain. How do we make sense of our universe? Why do these questions persist, even with our continued efforts and advanced technologies? In this course, we will consider many of the “big questions” about the cosmos, how our views of it have evolved, and speculate on some of the outstanding problems in modern cosmology. Our inquiry will range from Pluto’s planetary status to the Big Bang model and the evidence for dark matter and dark energy, with a special emphasis on the challenge of elucidating these complex phenomena to a wide audience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects or “things” embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enable these objects to collect and exchange data. Example objects include garage door minders that send texts when we have forgotten to close them or cars that report driving habits to insurance companies. This class proposes to explore the question “What is involved in creating an ‘Internet of Things’ device and what might the future of the IoT look like?” Virtually everyone benefits from the Internet of Things, but for most individuals the IoT is little understood. The goal here is to demystify the IoT by engaging students in a guided hands-on IoT project that begins with data acquisition and concludes in a working device. Through the project, readings, and discussion, students will be challenged to consider a future world that is even more connected than today and to consider the practical, societal and ethical issues that the IoT creates.
Silicon is the second most abundant element found on our planet. Over the last century, science has allowed us to figure out how to take something as common as beach sand and to use it to create the sophisticated products on which our modern society depends. In this seminar we will explore the use of silicon in everything from transistors to complex microprocessors to smartphones to solar cells and sensors. We will seek to understand the following sorts of questions: What properties make this element so useful? What are the processes by which we take this material and turn it into the technologically sophisticated devices? How did people figure out that silicon could be used to make these advanced devices? Did they anticipate all these uses? Are there other materials that might in the future replace silicon for these purposes? What are the benefits and drawbacks of silicon relative to other materials? To help students more fully understand how silicon devices work, they will work in groups to design a simple device.
This course will investigate the science behind assessing water quality, the effects of poor water quality and poor availability on communities, and explore the competing interests for water resources. Using a framework of integrated natural resource management students will evaluate contemporary examples of water based social conflicts such as the construction of Belize’s Chalillo Dam, farming and conservation efforts in Oregon and California¿s Klamath River Basin, and algal blooms in Lake Erie. Students will then use this framework to critically evaluate a contemporary issue of their choice.
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 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.
Can science provide answers to the deeper puzzles of human existence, or do some questions lie beyond the scope of the scientific world view? Specifically, can science explain human consciousness, free will, and morality; and can it reveal the origins of religion? Students cannot, nor will they be expected to, provide a definitive answer to these questions. Instead, this seminar will provide students with an opportunity to engage in a conversation with each other against a backdrop of some of the most interesting and provocative research in cognitive science. In addition to learning about relevant psychological and neuroscientific research, students will engage with philosophical issues and arguments. This course aims to stretch student’s beliefs about what they know now, and what they think can be known. The seminar will aim to cultivate productive and rhetorical skills, especially analytical thought, oral expressiveness, and writing skills, all of which will be useful in future pursuits. It will help students to develop a more nuanced view of human nature and the ability of science to transform our view of it
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.
This class examines the reciprocal relationship between material culture (technology) and non-material culture (society and social structure) as they produce social change. The class is organized by major areas in the development of technology as well as chronologically in terms of major epochs of technological and societal development.
Throughout history, the figure of the courtesan has embodied seduction, performance, and mystery; occupying the private spaces of the real and the imaginary across cultures. The impact of the courtesan on society can be seen in travelogues, poetry, and historical treatises, as well as in texts written specifically about courtesans themselves. Those cultures which had a courtesan class frequently experienced varying degrees of social discomfort. Within the culture, there was tension between those who patronized courtesans and those who considered them a social menace. From without, cultures which had courtesans were believed to be either excessively decadent or highly civilized, depending on the cultural standpoint of the observer. In this seminar, we will study real courtesans as well as examine the figure of the courtesan within the context of literature, religion, music history, and gender theory. The seminar will begin with an overview of the origins of the courtesan, focused on the roles of women and slave musicians in the court and temple in Egypt, India, Greece, and Mesopotamia starting in 3,000 BCE. Then, we will explore factors leading to the development of a courtesan class and compare the roles of courtesans and their place in their culture in Europe, India, Asia, and the Middle East. Readings and class discussion will encompass issues relating to the impact of gender on performance, literary genres, education, and social and legal status, as well as continuing questions related to translation of primary sources, colonialism, and religious movements. In addition to the readings, we will also study images of the courtesan from antiquity to the present, listen to music by and about courtesans, sample some of their writing, and watch films about “real” courtesans. The primary goal is not only to look at the impact of courtesans in history, but also to engage issues related to gender and performance from a variety of different disciplinary and cultural points of view.
For many Americans, the most familiar type of slavery is plantation slavery of the Americas and the horrific consequences to the indigenous peoples and transplanted peoples from Africa. The longevity of the institution of slavery, and acceptance of the practice by many different cultures and belief systems, however, reaches from antiquity to the present day. In addition to providing physical labor and domestic services, slaves have been used as entertainers, civil servants, led armies and served in temples. Slavery is a complex legal, religious, moral and social institution, and the relationship between slave, state and owner/slaver is equally complicated; so much so that understanding the bond between them, and what the actual boundary was between “free” and “un-free”, is still difficult to determine in some cultures. In this seminar, we will use a chronological framework to examine the institution of slavery, uses for slaves, methodologies and sources for studying slavery and the slave trade in world history. Beginning with slavery in the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece and Rome, the class will include slavery and the feudal system in medieval Europe, indentured servitude and concubinage, slaves in the early Islamic courts, the Ottoman slave trade, the African slave trade and slavery in the Americas, and the current problem of human trafficking. Within each section, students will read primary texts and recent scholarship examining the social, economic and religious rationales behind slavery. We will also study different methodologies and the impact of gender, race and social class on the study of world slavery. As many slaver cultures had different definitions for what it meant to be a slave, we will address questions related to translation, interpretation and perception when dealing with primary sources. The primary goal of the course is to provide a broader context for the institution of slavery in world history as a means not only to understand the impact of slavery has had on American culture, but on other cultures as well.
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.
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 seminar is a fundamental study of theatre from the standpoint of developing the critical acumen of a potential audience. It covers each ingredient of the theatrical experience-audience, playwriting, acting, directing, theatre architecture, design and technology-and attempts to help students define a reasonable set of standards to judge that part of the experience as an audience member and to clearly communicate their feelings and thoughts regarding that experience.
In addition to class discussions, lectures, and readings, students are also required to attend four live performances-two theater productions offered by Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Theater and two productions at the Cleveland Play House. The students will write critical essays about their experience as an audience member in relation to a particular aspect of the performance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Live music engenders the full spectrum of reactions from its audiences. There are the sublime intimate moments aroused by these examples of human creativity and artistry. There are also the scandals, impropriety and riots that would be more typical of political or athletic spheres. What are the conditions that produce such extremes and how do responses differ across time, geography, and culture? What is the audience member’s role in the performance contract–observer, co-creator, participant, or something else? What factors determine the kind of behavior appropriate to an audience in a given performance situation? Where do conventions such as the modern concert-hall etiquette come from and could it be adapted to be more responsive to today’s audiences? Tackling questions such as these, and observing audiences at their best and worst, this seminar looks at pivotal moments and general trends in the audience/performer relationship. Drawing on primary and secondary historical sources, recent scholarly discourse and incorporating perspectives from mass and social media as well as personal experience, students will try to make sense of the complex and ephemeral phenomenon of experiencing live music. The methods, in part, will be those of historians, sociologists, philosophers, and analytic journalists. Students will utilize a wide array of sources and experiences to posit meaningful connections. Specialist musical knowledge is by no means a prerequisite, and while the discussions will be focused initially on the Western Classical tradition, the diverse interests and experiences of the class will greatly shape the direction of this course.
Since the late seventeenth century, American readers have been endlessly fascinated by the subjects of crime and punishment–and especially by murders and other heinous offenses committed in their own communities. Much as Americans today “consume” crime through movies, television shows, newspapers, magazines, mystery novels, “true crime” books, websites, and popular music, so also did Americans of the 1670s through 1850s “consume” crime through a variety of popular genres, including execution sermons, criminal (auto)biographies, trial reports, and murder ballads. Since most convicted criminals in early America came from nonelite backgrounds (and often belonged to oppressed or otherwise subordinated social groups), such publications not only shed light on crime, punishment, the legal system, normative social values, power relations, and popular culture, but also provided historians with some of their most valuable sources on the day-to-day experiences of ordinary men and women. This seminar explores all of these topics. Each week, students will read topically-related clusters of early crime publications, usually in conjunction with relevant modern scholarship drawn from the fields of social history, legal history, psychology, criminology, and literary studies. The types of crimes explored include witchcraft, piracy, burglary, robbery, and various types of homicide, such as infanticide, familicide (cases of men murdering their wives and children), and sexual homicide (or courtship murder).
How and why did the most religiously and ethnically diverse kingdom in Europe, Spain, become the most homogenous & least tolerant area within two generations? To what extent did “the people” guide the Reformations of Europe? Was there a correlation between political structure and the form of Christianity adopted by various rulers in Early Modern Europe? This course will examine the upheavals that the Western European social, religious, and political landscapes underwent in the Early Modern period, c. 1500-1650, with an emphasis on religious change and conflict. Students will explore the various Protestant and Catholic Reformations and their origins in late medieval European society by examining the writings of religious and political leaders from this time period. Students will also examine the particular problems of bias that have affected historians of this era. Students will gain familiarity with genres of documents common to the field of history, such as historical monographs, journal articles and research papers, and learn how to do research in the field of history.
In the modern period, we have witnessed spectacular scientific and technological achievements. We have also experienced devastating climate change and massive biodiversity loss that threaten life on Earth as we know it. Is it possible that the solutions to these problems are not scientific or technological, but rather cultural? How have other cultures, whether from the present or the past, dealt with sustainability challenges? How might an examination of indigenous or traditional cultures, some of which have existed sustainably for thousands of years and even enhanced the biodiversity of their environments, lead to a clearer understanding of the deleterious attitudes and actions of our own modern culture? How can we integrate the wisdom of these cultures to ensure the survival of our own? In this seminar, we will use these questions to enhance our understanding of the relationship between human culture and the natural world, as well as the ways in which a deeper understanding of cultural ecology can promote sustainability.
Manufacturing has been an important source of economic growth and innovation in a variety of nations. In many countries, it has helped create a middle class, by providing both well-paying jobs and cheap goods. In recent decades, however, manufacturing has declined in the US. Should we be concerned about this trend? Does off-shoring of production to places like China threaten or enhance US technological strength? Do efforts to protect manufacturing in the US hurt people in developing countries? How will the development of “maker space” (such as CWRU’s Think[Box]) affect the way products are produced? How does high-wage Germany run a trade surplus in manufacturing? Does environmental regulation help or hurt manufacturing? In this seminar, we will address these questions both practically and theoretically. In addition to reading engineering, historical and literary depictions of manufacturing, we will visit factories and speak with leaders from industry, labor, and government. We will also consider broader economic policy questions by reading the works of prominent economists and political scientists. We will draw on the instructor’s recent experience serving on the White House staff and as Chief Economist of the Department of Commerce.
Clothing is one of the most visible and accessible means through which we express our identities. Hence, it is hardly surprising that political and social tensions are embedded and embodied in dress. As an expressive medium, clothing and appearance are crucial in the construction of political identities and in serving as a means of control, oppression, as well as protest and resistance. This seminar will examine the links between clothing, sartorial practices and political significance, particularly within the context of American culture. How did the ideals of equality and democracy manifest themselves in clothing? How did slaves use their appearance to resist white supremacy? What are the relations between the fashion industry and class politics in America? How did clothes function in struggles for civil rights, feminism, and globalization? Can we really talk about an American style of dress? In addressing these questions, we will focus especially on the role of clothes in negotiating and constructing gender, racial, class, sexual, and national identities from the 18th century to the present. Students may not earn credit for both this course and HSTY126.
Guided by the aspiration to provide equal opportunity to all and initiatives like No Child Left Behind, the US educational system has defined itself as a free and open system that rewards accomplishment and nourishes every student¹s potential. It is based on a philosophy that stands in stark contrast to the foreclosed and explicitly stratified educational systems of many European countries. Why then is it the case that, compared to other advanced postindustrial societies, the US has extraordinary levels of inequality? This course will examine in detail the processes that regulate social inequality and the educational system. We will analyze how differences between students¹ social, cultural, and economic capital create a stratified educational experience that shapes not only how students are educated, but also the value of that education in the labor market. We will also trace how thee inequalities that exist in the US education system from primary school through college play an important role in the reproduction of class inequality, challenging the myth that education is a vehicle for socioeconomic mobility. This course also explores how these inequalities in education run along the axes of race, class, and gender.
This course examines the historical, psychological, and cultural approaches to the self-perception of one¿s own body. We will explore how body standards have changed throughout history and across cultures, and how this is reflected in portraiture. Additionally, we will investigate psychological studies on body image, acknowledging the challenges in an evidence-based approach and considering medical diagnoses when distortion in self-perception occurs. Finally, we will analyze current body standards perpetuated by the media in regards to body size, shape, and gender. Through reading and discussion, students will gain a deeper understanding of healthy body image and strategies for applying it to their own lives.
When we hear the term “Latin American” who do we typically envision? Do we include the millions of Afro-descendants in the region, or do we adhere to a vision of a melting pot Latin America, where race does not exists and where differences are a matter of ethnicity and language? In this course we will look at the vital role played by Afro-descendants in the history, culture, and politics of Latin America and begin to unpack some of our entrenched notions regarding the place of Afro-descendants in Latin America. We will especially focus on South America and the Spanish speaking Caribbean, with some attention given to diaspora networks in the English speaking Caribbean and the United States. As a class we will tackle a range of questions grounded in themes of history, identity, and ongoing socio-political processes. These include: what were the experiences of enslaved Africans and their enslaved descendants in Latin America? How did Afro-descendants fundamentally shape the economies of various Latin American countries? What did citizenship look like after the end of slavery and into the twentieth century? And how did eugenics, white supremacist ideologies, state violence, and neoliberal policies specifically target Afro-descendants in Latin America? Much of the class will also be focused on how Afro-descendants and their broader national communities responded to practices of exclusionism and discrimination. We will thus examine how Afro-Brazilians contended with the myth of racial democracy, how LGBT Afro-Cubans made community within and outside of Cuba, examine how Afro-Colombians used labor organizing and political work to call for more inclusive citizenship, and explore the influence of migration (of people, music, and ideas) throughout Latin America, and from Latin America to the United States, in the calls for change made by Afro-descendants across the Americas. The end goal of the course is to leave you with an overview of some of the key questions that have shaped the writing, remembering, and activism of African diaspora lives in Latin America. The course should likewise leave you with some key conceptual questions about the making of race, nationalism, activism, and belonging in our twenty-first century world. Students may not receive credit for this course and HSTY 299 on the same topic.
This course examines the social and cultural impact of soccer in the modern world. While the history of soccer begins in the early Renaissance in Italy, it was only in the last decades of the 19th century that it became the most popular sport on the planet–just as it is today. We will explore the many reasons for soccer’s popularity among people from every social and economic class, and we will consider why, to its large crowds of followers, it is more than a game. We will also trace the various ways in which soccer influences different cultures and societies, seeking to understand how its consequences can be so diverse when its rules and infrastructure are the same all over the world. In addition to classroom discussions, readings, and writing assignments, the course will include documentaries about the history of soccer, its reception among various social classes, and the music genres soccer fans adopt to support their favorite teams.
A seminar on the earliest mathematical proofs. The Greek Thales studied with Egyptian priests and gave the first geometric proof. Pythagoras went to Egypt, on Thales’s advice, then founded a mathematical religious colony in Italy. Plato took much philosophy and mathematics from the Pythagoreans. Aristotle took only mathematics. Their arguments over mathematical science echoed in the world-city of Alexandria, where even slaves were encouraged to be scholars. There Euclid wrote the standard mathematics text for the next 2,000 years. The great Archimedes synthesized Platonic and Aristotelian conceptions. His mathematics inspired Galileo’s and Newton’s physics. His war machines inspired a Roman soldier to kill him on sight. A woman, Hypatia, later became the leading mathematician and Platonist philosopher of Alexandria and was torn to pieces by a mob for her pagan ideas. What did mathematics mean to these people? What can we learn about religious freedom, or about the science of war? Why do we all accept mathematics form 200 BC whole only specialist scholars remember the physics, biology, or religion of ancient Greece?
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.
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.
Through a study of texts that exploit “new world” images like the castaway, the cannibal, the wild man, and the exotic woman, this course explores the ideologies that propelled nineteenth-century imperialism, particularly regarding the British in Australia and South Africa. The class will consider how British settlers made “homes” in hostile and unfamiliar climates, how they addressed the problem of unfriendly and unequal contact with indigenous peoples, and how contemporary novelists reevaluate the historical past. The course will work under the premise that contemporary geopolitical realities have been shaped by the imaginative work of British colonialists who, under the principle of terra nullius or “no man’s land,” claimed the land and the resources of these southern territories and dismissed the very existence of the indigenous peoples that populated them. The scope of the course will be broadly historical, exploring works that participated in British imperialism, as well as those that take a modern perspective. Course materials will be drawn from a variety of genres, including fiction, poetry, film, ethnography, natural history, history, and criticism. Ultimately, students will consider how narratives participate in the shaping of reality and of real-world relations of power.
Following the interregnum in England, William Shakespeare began a long, sustained trajectory as a cultural icon, first in England, but eventually among all English-speaking cultures. In the process, Shakespeare’s works have been reinterpreted, adapted, re-contexted, commoditized, and re-purposed for the sake of art, educational relevance, and entertainment. In the process, Shakespeare has often become the tool of unabashed commercialism, a practice which has come to be known as “Shakesploitation.” But why is Shakespeare’s work so frequently purloined? Why are out of context references to him so ubiquitous? Why do people tend to equate the name of Shakespeare with qualities of genius? Why have his works been continually adapted (often shamelessly) not only for the stage, but into other genres, including operas, paintings, novels and films? How do we account for the proliferation of Shakespeare-based self-help books such as Shakespeare on Leadership? Why is the infant stimulation video Baby Shakespeare a best-seller? This course will explore these questions not only by reading a selection of Shakespeare’s most enduring works, but also by examining criticism, adaptations, and marketing strategies that have been applied to Shakespeare’s image and works over the last four centuries.
“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.
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.
In this course we will utilize spatial theory and other approaches to explore the settings in which religious activities occur. We will investigate how space is used by diverse religious traditions. We will do this by looking at mapping, memory and movement related to these practices. Spatial practices may include pilgrimage to, and construction of, religious sites, ritual procession, walking, devotional observances, community activism, and artistic endeavors. Course requirements include student participation in field excursions to religious sites in the Cleveland area and the development of a photo essay or a mixed media project.
Through a discussion-based consideration of selected tragedies and histories of William Shakespeare, the seminar will view his plays both as literary texts and scripts intended for performance on the stage. A combination of close reading, critical analysis, and research inquiry will address such questions as: How does Shakespeare relate the struggles and interpersonal dynamics of a family to events of national identity and international scope? How do Shakespeare’s dramatist skills interrelate form and content to spark the emotion and intellect of his audience? To what extent can artistic presentations of historical events influence public opinion on politics and social issues? How do the mechanics and rhetoric of Shakespeare’s verse and prose work to convey layers of multi-dimensional meaning? What are the distinctions between “art” and “propaganda”? How do such distinctions become blurred? Can censorship ever be considered an ethical form of a government’s actions?
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.
To gain a better understanding of the experience and history of slavery from the perspective of the enslaved, we will read the works of Octavia Butler. She knew that the problem with the historical narrative was that slaves did not write it. As a science fiction and fantasy author, Butler spent her career giving voice to the enslaved by recovering their experience and exposing it to the reader through the lens of imagined and symbolic worlds. By reading her work, we will come to understand a different way of viewing history. We will join the historical narrative with the science fiction narrative to arrive at a deeper understanding of the human experience with subjugation and oppression. The class readings will have time travel, vampires, and aliens. However, the most frightening monsters of all will be human.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this seminar, we will read selections of poetry, short stories and books by winners of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards and use them as a framework to discuss diversity, social justice and identity. For 80 years, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, sometimes called “the black Pulitzer,” have honored the best fiction and non-fiction books that deepen our understanding of and appreciation for cultural difference. Questions we will consider over the semester include: What is social justice? What does it mean to be tolerant? What is acceptance? What does diversity encompass? How are these questions addressed in literature? How do our personal and cultural experiences of race, class, gender and identity impact our perception of these questions? By engaging the lived experiences of these authors, as well as the themes of their texts, students will have a deeper understanding not only of contemporary literature, but also of the importance of social justice to a liberal arts education. Students who have taken FSSO 153 may not receive credit for this course.
Is it reality or is it spin? We all know the terms–“it’s spin,” “it’s P.R.,” “he’s a flack”–and none of them are said kindly. Yet, over the past century public relations has become an often invisible multi-billion dollar manipulation of our collective perception of reality. Sometimes this manipulation is benign. But just as often it can weaken our democracy through weapons of words, images, and argument. This seminar will explore the origins and consequences of this silent, symbolic revolution. We will look at the uses of P.R. today in business, politics, and popular culture; examine the tools used to construct and sell those perceptions; and look into the values underlying these activities. We will do so through both academic and media materials, as well as through writing, research, and discussion. All of these are intended to deepen your critical thinking and writing skills, and build your research, discussion, and oral presentation strengths. Students who have received credit for USSO 260 may not receive credit for this course.
The image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara is embossed in many a t-shirt, poster, and bumper sticker across college campuses. Guevara’s writings and, more specifically, select catchy quotes, also have circulated in websites and popular films for the last couple of decades. In this course we will examine the myths surrounding men like Guevara by tracing the history of conquistadores, nuns, mystics, insurgents, and revolutionaries in Latin America from the colonial to the modern period. Toward this goal we will look at an array of personal letters, diary entries, government documents, religious texts, essays, prose, and works of literature written by women and men who viewed themselves, and were viewed by others, as speaking to, or ushering in, transformative change. As a class we will also examine the connections between imperial projects and calls for action in colonial and early modern Latin America and the Caribbean, explore the relationships between slavery, gender norms, and capitalism, and assess the changing nature of what freedom, reform, and revolution meant to various actors from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century. Indeed, our end goal as a class is to map out what some of our assumptions have been regarding what it means to be a guerrilla fighter, connect it to how calls for change have manifested themselves across time, unearth the ironies and allure of radical frameworks, and investigate what this understanding can do for us as we tackle questions of change and possibility.
Viewers now experience manufacturing sites, waste repositories, and other massive built landscapes with a sense of awe once reserved for natural phenomena like the Grand Canyon. In response to industrial developments of the past three centuries, writers and filmmakers have drawn our attention to the capacity of large-scale, human-made objects to evoke these feelings of wonder and fear – a power we might call the built sublime. China’s Three Gorges Dam, vast desert landscapes bisected by border walls, 1500-foot oil tankers that dwarf even the largest of cruise ships, electronic waste processing sites that have subsumed rural towns, and the tenuous networks of people, buildings, and channeled resources that comprise the world’s largest cities stand as just a few sites where complex human transformations of the natural world can be illuminated by the concept of the built sublime. How do writers and filmmakers use their art to prompt audiences to think anew about nature and our relation to it? How have these relationships changed in the wake of globalization? What shared concerns are illuminated by encounters with the built sublime? How might such encounters spark creative responses to daunting landscapes and social conditions–and how might these responses factor into the choices that shape our daily lives?
As cities around the globe mark the centennial of World War I (1914-1918), this seminar will explore the relationship between that watershed moment and the varieties of literature and art it inspired. In what ways did “the Great War” shape the direction of twentieth-century culture? How was language itself altered, as new vocabularies emerged (e.g., “shell shock,” “the home front”) and previously venerable terms such as “honor” and “sacrifice” acquired radically different connotations? What strategies did writers and artists evolve in order to contend with the magnitude of the conflict and its unprecedented human cost? Assessing the war’s impact on Western thought, the poet Philip Larkin famously wrote, “Never such innocence again.” That loss of innocence, however, also coincided with the birth of new forms of literary and artistic expression. In this course we’ll discuss and write about such innovations as they occurred in the visual arts–painting, sculpture, film–and in literary works by Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and other writers who used the resources of imaginative literature to grapple with the Great War and its consequences.
The atom is a solar system. Death is the mother of beauty. God is love. Understanding one thing in the terms of another is the basis of metaphor, but how does metaphor affect the way we live our lives? Is metaphor just a trick of language, or does it determine the way we think? This course examines the ways that metaphors operate in three contexts: science, literature, and religion. We will ask questions about the cognitive roots of metaphorical thinking, the constraints and affordances of figurative language, and the human appreciation of metaphor as art and experience. We will pay attention to metaphors in everyday speech as well as in rarified literary and scientific forms, developing meaningful questions and looking for answers in the work of scientists, poets, novelists, religious writers, and secular theorists, paying particular attention to developments of the last 150 years.
Why do so many stories end with a wedding? Our course will consider the form of the marriage plot: we will look at how stories often begin with young(ish) people meeting and falling in love, and how the process of storytelling denies (or frustrates) their initial connection. Through the telling of the story, however, the young lovers overcome obstacles in myriad forms: controlling parents, financial insecurity or class differences, religious difference, even magical spells. We will think about what these stories do for their readers and viewers. We will also think about how various other stories–of riots, of government, of dissatisfaction with life–get couched in marriage plots. What is it about a marriage plot that ensures stability, satisfies our desires, and gives us such necessary closure? How does the form of “comedy”–for this is the overarching genre that relies so heavily upon marriage plots–work with and reshape the marriage plot over time? We’ll also briefly ponder how supporters of marriage equality have used the marriage plot. Finally, our investigation into the marriage plot will look at marriage plot comedies that refuse to conform to the typical marriage plot: dark humor from a novel like Villette to films like Harold and Maude or The War of the Roses. This course investigates the presence of the marriage plot across multiple literary genres: dramas, novels, film, and television. We will also read and view courtship narratives from across historical periods from the Renaissance until today.
The complicated relationship between drama and politics dates back to at least ancient Greece. Today, playwrights continue to use political conflict as the basis for dramatic action, as well as use their plays to spark political protest–at times even risking imprisonment or exile. In this course, we will read a collection of protest plays alongside accounts of the protest movements that the plays and playwrights either depicted or participated in. As part of our investigation, we will ask the following questions: What do these plays tell us about the performative and emotional work done by protest? What role does theatricality play in the acts of persuasion, criticism, and direct action normally associated with political protest? Do these plays simply reproduce the goals and criticisms of protest movements? Or does drama invite a style of social critique that sets it apart from other forms of political speech? Do these plays present protest as focused on the personal grievances of characters, or do they criticize larger social systems like class, gender, and racial hierarchy? We will also spend some class time discussing a few more modern protest movements like “Occupy Wall Street” and “Take Back the Night,” exploring the aesthetics and theatricality of protest and the extent to which they further (or possibly hinder) political change. Texts are likely to include William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Ngugi wa’ Thiongo’s I Will Marry When I Want, and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues.
Since at least the 1895 publication of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, science fiction has been a project of imagining the future–and a great deal of that imagining has been bleak. From zombies to robots to societal decay to nuclear meltdown, apocalypse has been one of the most consistent features of futuristic imaginings. In this course, students will read, watch, and critically analyze a selection of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives to gain an understanding of how mainstream fears, paranoia, and nostalgia shape projections of the future. The central question explored in this course will be: What do the representations of society in futuristic, (post-)apocalyptic texts suggest about societal anxieties and desires? The course uses a variety of theoretical frames to consider how these texts reflect and revise the categories of race and gender. We will focus on the relationships between and among tradition, scientific thought, and societal inequality.
oney is morally suspicious–the root of all sorts of evil. This suspicion isn’t merely that bad people do bad things with money; it is that somehow the use of money helps make otherwise good people bad. But money is everywhere, pervasive and practical, and so a technology we both need and distrust. Money prices give us reasons when deciding what to do. But we think that money often gives us “good” reasons to do bad things and bad reasons to do good things. And sometimes assigning certain things monetary values at all seems unreasonable. We use money to express our values, yet complain money often distorts them, or has become a value itself. We use money to relate to each other in mutually beneficial commerce and trade, but worry that money degrades our relations. In this interdisciplinary course we’ll investigate the birth of both money and the idea of its badness. We’ll survey history, literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, film, and the day’s news for culturally varied expressions of, and reactions to, this suspicion. We’ll first ask, “What is money?” (“How do things like rocks, metals, shells, or data-bits become, and continue to be, money?”) and “What is morality?” (“What might we mean when we claim some act, person, situation, or system is morally better or worse?”). We’ll then consider specific suspicions and morally evaluate them, along the way raising questions such as: Why can I rent myself out as a landscaper but not as a prostitute? Is the Iranian kidney market better than U.S. waiting lists, or “bio-violence?” Should Americans with slave ancestors be paid for their family past? Is there a moral difference between a corporate raider and a pirate? What is Aristotle’s explanation for why Capitalists often produce crap? Why might Nietzsche think Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko might be right that “greed is good?? What does Marx mean when he claims money-driven markets are “alienating?” If money expresses our values, ought anything be above money? Is anything beyond price?
This seminar will focus on what the mathematical field of probability theory says about our everyday experiences of chance and randomness. We will survey a wide variety of topics, in which the primary interest is the way that mathematics can describe, and be used to analyze, the real world. Emphasis will be on situations in which testable hypotheses can be formulated (and actually tested!). Students will do projects in which they produce a hypothesis related to some occurrence of randomness in everyday life, gather data to test their hypothesis, analyze the data, and discuss their conclusions. Specific topics to be treated may include: perception and psychology of chance and randomness, randomness and the stock market, coincidences and rare events, game theory, political predictions, and randomness in evolution.
It is commonly understood that African-American women are doubly marginalized due to both race and gender. This seminar raises the question of whether this social position might in fact offer a unique and important perspective from which US culture can be understood. It is through this perspective that African American women have been able to analyze and act back on the symbolic meaning of all racialized and gendered bodies in modern culture. This perspective has allowed individual African American scholars and activists to represent the concerns and aspirations of their own communities, but also to speak to the situations of those who are marginalized throughout the world. In this course, we will read historical and current works of social theory and philosophy by African American women, using these texts to examine basic philosophical questions such as the meaning of justice, the purpose of government, acceptable standards for private and public liberty, the value of sexuality and kinship ties, the relationship of truth to error and systematic deception, and the place of history and memory in knowledge. In gaining this deeper understanding of the complexity and variety of African American women’s thought, we will also develop our own ideas regarding identity and struggles for social justice.
Perhaps more than ever, we are surrounded by images, ideas, and stories that we identify with the Gothic. From eyeliner and black nail polish to big-screen vampire romances, the Gothic pervades culture, literature, and popular media. It is the genre that refuses to die. Where did it all come from, and why won’t it leave? Just when it seems like it has all been done, another spin on haunts and doppelgangers comes around and recreates the appeal all over again. What is it about the Gothic that continues to hold our attention as other movements fade away? Why does one generation insist on reviving it as soon as a previous one has sealed up the mausoleum for what it swears will be the last time?
This course investigates the Gothic genre as a site of cultural undeath and rebirth from its early appearances in the late 1700s to its contemporary forms in poetry, novels, and film. Along the way we will examine the Gothic’s common traits and themes, as well as some critical approaches that expose how the genre is used to “say the unsayable”–to explore the things and topics that people cannot confront directly. It also explores the influence the Gothic has had on modern culture, even in works one would not typically consider “Gothic”.
This course examines the role of specious and misleading claims in social, political and economic life. Colloquially, “bullshit” is the label we place on egregiously false statements, but as a verb, “to bullshit,” the concept is more nuanced. It denotes indifference to truth rather than an active desire to deceive. Empirically, though, distinguishing between a “lie” and “bullshit” can be as difficult as separating either from truth. This course will examine logical fallacies, scams, conspiracy theories, and the analytic techniques necessary to distinguish truth from bullshit. The course will provide introductory instruction in probability theory, statistics and proper interpretation of statistical data, as well as research design and causal inference. Previous work in statistics is not required.