Navigation + Search
Home / Spring 2017 Course Descriptions

Spring 2017 Course Descriptions

Thinking About the Natural World

USNA211 – Einstein, Space and Time. Jeff Kriessler. TR 1.00-2.15

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.

USNA228 – Time. Peter Kernan. TR. 11.30-12.45

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.

USNA237 – Landscape History and Conservation.  Erika Olbricht. TR 4.00-5.15

Human history is intimately intertwined with the natural landscape on which it occurred.  From coastal preserves and their beach communities to Midwestern farmland and the preserved site of Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin, and at places like the Grand Canyon, the American landscape itself holds many clues to our country’s natural, ecological, and cultural history.  This course will investigate the lived landscape in two ways (which have a multitude of shades to them):  as a place where humans shape the natural for their own memorial, productive, and aesthetic uses, or as a natural place that humans set aside or conserve.  We will read landscape history and conservation theory, and we will consider global practices of conservation through UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.  Class work will entail a process-oriented project on the Cleveland landscape, which students are encouraged to approach through the lens of their major.  We will visit the Wade Oval and the cultural gardens of Rockefeller Park as an example of current conservation practices working to protect the natural and cultural value of the local landscape.

USNA249 – Restoring the Great Lakes. Glenn Odenbrett. MW 5.30-6.45

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.

USNA265 – Thinking National Parks. Eric Chilton. TR 4.00-5.15

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

USNA271 – Genes and Behavior. Lee Thompson. TR 1.00-2.15

The goal of this course is to encourage students to be well informed and critical consumers of the media reports about the influence of genes and environment on human behavior. This course involves the book by Matt Ridley titled, “Genome: The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters.” Ridley has a Ph.D. in zoology, worked as a journalist, science editor, and national newspaper columnist. The book devotes a chapter to each pair of human chromosomes. Each chapter focuses on the role of a gene. Ridley’s book was published in 1999; therefore, students will conduct their own research to update each of the chapters in Ridley’s book. The first few weeks of class will be used to provide a background on genetics research through field trips and guest lectures from CWRU genetic researchers. We will have several writing workshops spread throughout the semester to offer “Just in Time” tips needed to write critical evaluations and literature reviews. Each student will present twice during the semester. The first oral presentation will revolve around a summary, critical evaluation, and an update of the human trait presented in the Ridley book on their assigned chromosome. The presentation will be about 15 minutes with 5 minutes left for questions. Students not presenting will be assigned one of the three chromosomes (chapters) covered that day and they will each write a seminar question to pose to the class. In addition, each student will also serve as a reviewer for one of the presentations to provide constructive feedback to the presenter. The second presentation will consist of new material found by each student about genes on their chromosome. They must find another trait on their chromosome and present the most current information available on that trait. In place of a final exam, each student will turn in a research paper on their assigned chromosome. We will build these papers throughout the semester with a series of graded “checkpoint” assignments.

USNA287K – Human Research Ethics. Michael Householder. MW 3.20-4.35

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.

USNA287T – Conflicts in American Science and Technology. Peter Shulman. MW 12.45-2.00

How do changes in science and technology affect American life? How do cultural ideas shape scientific practice? Is technological progress inevitable, or do we get to decide what changes we want and which ones we don’t? How do we make ethical choices about science and technology in a world with inherent power imbalances? This course provides an introduction to thinking through these questions by presenting works by historians, anthropologists, political scientists, philosophers, journalists, and others to explore a range of social issues in modern science and technology. After two weeks of introduction, the course is divided into four sections: (a) Biology, Biotech, and Biomedicine; (b) Science Policy and the Politics of Science; (c) Problems in Social Science; and (d) Computers and Other Thinking Machines. While the course’s content is arranged around these topics, its main purposes are to develop critical thinking skills around ubiquitous and contentious subjects of science, technology, power, culture, and values as well as to hone skills in reading, speaking, research, and essay writing.

USNA 287V – Constructing Ancient and Medieval Knowledge. Lisa Nielson. MWF 10:35-11:25


USNA 288C – Physics and Technology for World Leaders. Ed Caner. MW 4.50-6.05


Thinking About the Social Order

USSO266 – Law in the Movies. Terri Mester. MW 3.20-4.35

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.

USSO285L – Hollywood Cartoons, American Society. Daniel Goldmark. MW 12.45-2.00

This class provides a history of mainstream animation produced in the United States during the 20th century, emphasizing in particular the output of the Hollywood animation studios of the 1930s-1950s, the shift to television animation in the 1950s, and the rebirth of animation in the 1980s. In addition to the general history of the field and key periods of creative development in the genre, we will discuss various sub-genres or narrative fads within animation, cultural and social movements of the 20th century and how they are reflected in contemporaneous popular culture, issues of art versus commerce in the creation of popular animation, the intersection of animation and politics, and the representation of race, gender, sexuality and religion. Since this class focuses on visual media, we will also spend a great deal of time both watching films and discussing how to watch animated films with a critical eye.

USSO285T – Why People Believe Weird Things. Jennifer Butler. TR 11.30-12.45

How, in such a skeptical age, can people maintain questionable beliefs regarding urban legends, alternative medicine, superstitions, and paranormal phenomena?  How do cults manage to attract and maintain large memberships?  How can so many seemingly normal people come to the conclusion that they have been abducted by aliens?  We will explore the idea that these behaviors are not examples of pathological thought processes, but rather natural consequences of the biases that characterize everyday reasoning.  Emphasis will be placed on critical examination of questionable phenomena with a goal of understanding why people might want to hold such beliefs.

USSO286L-100 & USSO286L-101 – Exploring Nonprofit Organizations. Barbara Clemenson. MW 3.20-4.35 and MW 4.50-6.05

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.

USSO286V-100 & USSO286V-101 – Management of Chronic Disease. Amy Zhang. MW 12.30-1.45 and MW 2.00-3.15

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.

USSO288E – Music in Early Childhood. Lisa Koops. MWF 11.40-12.30

This course develops critical thinking, writing, and discussion skills through guided inquiry on the subject of music in early childhood.  Researchers in the areas of child development, linguistics, sociology, psychology, and music education have documented children’s musical development and noted the interplay of musical development with many other spheres of child development and interaction. What is the role of music in a child’s holistic development? Could enriching musical experiences provide needed interventions to children considered “at-risk?”  What is the “First 2000 Days” movement and how does music enter the equation? What types of music therapy are available for young children in medical, educational, and social settings, and what impact have we seen in these areas? In this course, students will explore these questions through reading, research, guest lectures, and observations of young children.

USSO287H – Vocation and Life. Jeremy Bendik-Keymer. MW 3.20-4.35


USSO287Z – Slaves and Exiles. Lisa Nielson. MW 12.45-2.00

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.

USSO288T – Coffee and Civilization. Annie Pecastaings. MW 10.00-11.15

Whether you enjoy an occasional cup or sip throughout the day from a bottomless mug, did you know that since its introduction in the Western world coffee has been intimately tied to sociability and intellectual life? In this seminar, we will explore coffee’s civilizing history, from eighteenth-century coffee houses buzzing with political dissent, to 1920s establishments crowded with avant-garde artists and our modern bookstore cafés. We will also explore the human and ecological costs of our taste for coffee by investigating the enduring connections between coffee, slavery, North-South geo-political relations, and notions of fair trade.

USSO289C – Ethics for the Real World. Susan Case. TR 1.00-2.15

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.

USSO290S – Cultural Ecology and Sustainability. Richard Smith. TR 10.00-11.15

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.

USSO290T – Making: Innovation, Work and Competition. Susan Helper. TR 8.30-9.45

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.

USSO290V – Education and Inequality in America. Mary Erdmans. TR 2.30-3.45

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.

USSO291E – Is College Worth It? Beth McGee. MWF 11.40-12.30

Here you are at CWRU–you probably know how you got here.  But what do you expect out of the experience? University education evolved over time to meet certain social and economic needs, and different universities have differing missions of education. Are you curious about the history of higher education? Do you know how universities function?  What is the function of a tenured professorate, and is it an antiquated idea? Today, many people are questioning whether the educational models of the past have outlived their utility and need to be replaced by ones that are better aligned with our modern economy and technology. Does a liberal arts education prepare you for the workforce? Should it prepare you for the workforce?  By examining these questions, you will gain clearer insight into your own reasons for pursuing a college degree and how to get the most out of your experience. The decisions you make now affect what happens after you graduate.  How do you make the best decisions? This course will discuss these topics and students will submit additional topics about higher education for discussion and study.

USSO291F – Legacies of Colonialism in East Asia. James Bonk. TR 2.30-3.45

East Asia’s present is haunted by its colonial pasts. Disputes over islands in the South China Seas, tensions between Muslims and Han Chinese settlers in Xinjiang, and protests against Japanese mistreatment of Korean comfort women bear the traces of the violent and expansive colonial empires that dominated much of East Asia from the 17th to the mid-20th centuries. This course explores the ways in which these colonial empires–Manchu, European, and Japanese–left their mark on the territories, bodies, and histories of modern East Asia. It considers, furthermore, how governments and citizens of modern East Asian nations have come to terms with both the trauma and potentials created by the colonial past.

USSO291G – China’s Environment. Paul Schroeder. TR 11.30-12.45

Global warming, air and water pollution, deforestation and other environmental issues often transcend national boundaries. But the causes of these problems originate in the economies, domestic policies, and structure of policy implementation at local levels.  Any attempt to address these problems at an international level, therefore, must consider the socio-economic conditions and political policies of the individual nations. In the last few decades, China has become a role model for other developing nations trying to replicate its economic success.  But this success has created substantial environmental degradation locally and globally. For instance, China now emits more carbon than any other nation. This seminar examines the legacy of Mao Zedong’s “war on nature,” sweeping policy swings since 1949, and three decades of rapid economic development. It also investigates the effects that unchecked environmental degradation has had on several sectors of Chinese society, including economic sustainability, public health, bureaucratic structure, politics, and political dissent. Each is a critical issue for the Chinese government, which constantly worries about its political legitimacy and which sees the host of environmental problems and the mass protests this engenders, as helping create a fragile nation.

USSO291H – Stereotypes and Decision Making. Nance Dale. TR 11.30-12.45

This seminar explores the nature of stereotypes, profiles, and other generalizations about behavior and their use in decision-making. We address the following questions. What is it about stereotypes and profiles that makes them potentially objectionable? When (if ever) is reliance on a stereotype, profile, or other generalization appropriate in creating or applying a rule or otherwise engaging in decision-making tasks? We will consider a series of policy examples–such as the regulation of ownership of particularly dangerous dog breeds, minimum or maximum age requirements for certain activities, gender requirements for admission to military academies, and the use of profiles for detecting terrorists trying to enter the country–many of which have reached the level of legal disputes

USSO291I – History of Childhood. Renee Sentilles. TR 1.00-2.15

Children have been growing up in the United States since it was declared independent, in 1776, but how adults conceive of (and therefore legislate and interpret) children and childhood constantly changes to fit current circumstances.  The experiences of children themselves have varied not only in terms of race, class, gender, and religion but also depending on specific events (ie, coming of age during the Civil War versus the Civil Rights movement) or geography (ie, growing up in rural Hawaii vs. urban New Jersey).  We cannot cover all of those histories in one course, so this seminar course instead focuses on exploring the interplay of ideas about children and the expressed or historical experiences of children. When the puritans and plantation members (slave, bonded and free) came to the Atlantic shore, they brought with them particular ideas about what it meant to be a child, and to experience childhood.  They encountered already established residents who also had ideas about childhood.  How did those concepts adjust/meld/contrast over time, and how do we see those ideas reflected or reshaped by actual experiences? This course engages particular lines of inquiry: How and why do understandings about what is “natural” for children change over time? How do variables like race, class, gender, etc., shape such concepts?  What is the role of the state in children’s lives and how has that changed over time? What is the impact of mass culture on modern childhood?

USSO291L – Food, Agriculture, Society. Narcisz Fejes. MW 12.45-2.00

Where does our food come from? Who grows it? What technologies have enabled the emergence of our current food system? In this seminar, we will ask and ponder these and similar questions as we address the achievements, ills, and sustainability of our global food system. We will explore wide-spread concerns about the ecological consequences of industrial agriculture, its future opportunities, the livelihood of the world’s farmers, food waste, and health issues caused by contemporary dietary habits. In our inquiry, we will focus on both neighborhood communities in Cleveland and various geopolitical entities including Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia to observe food corporations’ power to control food choices. In the second part of our class, we will examine community organizations’ efforts to give these choices back to people. To this end, we will participate in various food-movement activities on or near campus and visit some local food-related organizations such as farmers’ markets, soup kitchens, and restaurants.

USSO291M – Partition in South Asia. Ananya Dasgupta. TR 4.00-5.15

On the Indian subcontinent, decolonization in the twentieth century occurred with the partition of British India, and the formation of two new nation-states–India and Pakistan. Partition and post-colonial state formations were accompanied by the displacement of millions of people and a scale of violence hitherto unprecedented on the subcontinent. This seminar examines Partition in South Asia through a series of related questions: Was Partition inevitable? Why did it trigger massive violence? How did it impact national and personal memories? What are the enduring legacies of Partition on national and sub-national identities, as well as India-Pakistan relations?

USSO291N – African Literature on Colonization. Gilbert Doho. TR 10.00-11.15

This seminar introduces students to the process of nation building in former French African colonies. It focuses on the impact of literature on the colonizers and the colonized. It is well established that writers in African colonies used their pens as cannons against a dehumanizing colonial system. Nor did they refrain from asking themselves what kinds of nations would replace the colonial society once it had been overthrown. More precisely, their works questioned the kind of political, economic, educational, and cultural systems that could help shape the social structures and people that would inhabit these post-colonial nations.

USSO291O – Empathy, Identity, and the Moral Emotions. Kevin Houser. MW 4.50-6.05

We are often told to be true to ourselves. We are also told to care about others. There are times when it is difficult to do both at the same time. If being myself causes others’ pain, should I care? Is it possible that caring for others is an important piece of who I am? Or is it a threat to it? In such cases, our separate identities seem to challenge morality’s insistence that we should not remain estranged from others or their concerns. Such challenges raise a question about the value of empathy–the ability to share the viewpoints and feelings of others. Empathy seems to explain why we care for one another, and this speaks to who we should be. Yet empathy also seems to be a threat to morality and identity, inasmuch as it might lead us to identify more with some persons than others, and so cause us to be less objective and fair. Likewise, identifying too strongly with others might undermine identity, as Stockholm syndrome and other pathologies of self-loss suggest. In this seminar, we will examine the concepts of identity, empathy, and morality through a variety of philosophical, historical, scientific, and literary texts in a collaborative attempt to understand who we are who we ought to be.  This will be a discussion-driven, writing-intensive course, ranging over religious, historical, philosophical, literary, and scientific literature, as well as music and film. Together we will examine these three concepts in all their historical, cultural, and trans-disciplinary diversity, in a collaborative attempt to understand and evaluate empathy’s importance to matters of who we are and who we ought to be. 

Thinking About the Symbolic World

USSY211 – Beethoven and the Age of Revolution. Brian MacGilvrey. TR 2.30-3.45

Beethoven’s music is symbolic of the age and spirit of change which reached its zenith with the French Revolution. Fueled by political, social, and emotional reactions, his oeuvre was remarkable in every way.  From the early works, imitative of Haydn and Mozart, through his truly unique later compositions, Beethoven was revolutionary in his person and in his music.  The course will center around specific Beethoven masterworks which are being presented by University Circle Institutions, and student attendance at these concerts will be required.  Class sessions will involve discussions concerning the historical and cultural setting, influences, and analytic investigation into these masterworks.  Readings will be taken from Joseph Kaman and Alan Tyson (The New Grove Beethoven), Frida Knight (Beethoven and the Age of Revolution), and George Marek (Beethoven: Biography of a Genius).  This course is directed towards the general university student, and no specialized knowledge of music is necessary, although certain rudimentary aspects of musical discourse will be covered.

USSY280 – Passport to Eastern Europe. Narcisz Fejes. MW 3.20-4.35

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.

USSY284 – Madness. Barbara Burgess-Van Aken. MW 12.45-2.00

Taking a historical approach, this course will examine the relationship between the evolution of social and medical attitudes toward mental illness and fictional representations of madness in literature. Beginning with the early modern period, students will compare period sociological and medical narratives on mental illness to fiction works with representations of madness. In so doing, students will consider how the interactive dynamics of art and science contribute to cultural and social thought. Specific areas of inquiry will include: the development of psychology and its effect on societal perceptions of mental illness; cultural developments that occurred in response to changing perceptions of mental illness over the centuries; and the use of representational structures and narrative conventions in understanding and communicating the experience of mental illness. Other interrogations will include the imaginative function of mental illness in literature (e.g., melancholy’s role in creativity); the cultural myths in iconography of mental illness in different historical periods; and ethical dilemmas regarding mental illness as reflected in both medical and literary narratives.

USSY286S – Shakesploitation. Barbara Burgess-Van Aken. MW 3.20-4.35

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.

USSY286U – Puzzled. Bernie Jim. MWF 11.40-12.30

“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.

USSY287X – Paris in the Arts. Annie Pecastaings. MW 4.50-6.05

Since the late eighteenth century, Paris has been a favorite subject for visual artists and writers alike, as well as the birthplace of several seminal artistic movements, such as Impressionism, Cubism, and the New Wave.  This course will use representations of Paris in the arts as lenses through which the identity and recent history of this major city will come into focus.  Further, stories, photographs, and films that stage the city of Paris and its people will also allow us to explore the broader relationship between art, the city, and the plight of modern man.  The course will include a wide range of artworks, from mid-nineteenth century photographs documenting the destruction of Medieval Paris and the advent of a rational capital, to stories chronicling the fate of hopeful newcomers, and films where the city is treated either as intimate landscape or impersonal grid.  The course will be both discussion based and writing intensive: students will be encouraged to envision class participation and writing assignments as means to analyze collaboratively, as well as individually, the material at hand

USSY288R – Cultural issues in Chinese business. Steve Feldman. TR 4.00-5.15

The American and Chinese economies are the two biggest economies in the world.  The Chinese economy is the fastest growing large economy in the world.  The dynamic American economy is unique in its combination of large multinational enterprises and small entrepreneurial firms.  The American economy is characterized by a vast private sector, the rule of law, and the largest private capital markets in the world.  The Chinese economy is 30 years into a period of reform from communist industrial organization to “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, which includes a significant role for the private sector.  The Chinese economy is still an experiment.  The established American business system exists within a democratic political system, where corporate lobbying has a significant influence on the creation of laws and government policy.  The Chinese economy is still under the tight control of the Chinese Communist Party, a one-party dictatorship. When Americans go to China to do business, they find the cultural, social, political, and moral systems vastly different than what they are familiar with.  Transparency International Ranks China 27 out of 28 of the most corrupt large economies in the world.  In China, bribery of government officials and kickbacks to sales and purchasing managers is common.  Key questions we will investigate are: 1. In what ways are the two business systems similar and different? 2.What is the nature of Chinese social relations?  How do they differ from American social relations?  What effect do they have on business? 3. What is the nature of the Chinese political system?  What impact does it have on business in China? 4. How do American business people negotiate the Chinese business system?

USSY289I – Art & Science in the Early Modern World. Erin Benay. TR 10.00-11.15

This is an interdisciplinary course that will explore the intersection between two disparate but often-connected fields, the history of art and the history of science.  Although these fields are separated on college campuses today, they share a history that is united by a common philosophical question: how do we evaluate and know the world around us?  The documentation of that knowledge is often visual–whether written or painted, tabulated or carved–images play an essential role in the shaping and recording of information. Beginning with the Renaissance revival of Pliny’s Natural History (c. 77-79 BCE) this class will focus on the complex ways in which science and art overlap and enrich one another. Topics explored in this course include: mathematical theory and linear perspective; anatomical dissection and naturalism in figure painting; optics, lenses, and realism; Copernicus, Galileo and religious painting; botany and scientific illustration; natural history and fine art collecting, etc. Classes will be supplemented by visits to the Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Dittrick Museum of Medical History.

USSY290C – Out of Proportion. Bernie Jim. MWF 9.30-10.20

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.

USSY290U-100 & USSY290U-101 – Poetry for People who Hate Poetry. David Lucas. TR 11.30-12.45 and TR 4.00-5.15

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.

USSY292M – Imagining Impossible Things. Mary Grimm. TR 1.00-2.15

Literary scholars and critics sometimes dismiss works of fantasy literature and speculative fiction as juvenile, unserious, or even immoral entertainment that diverts attention from the pressing problems of the real world. But as the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy suggests, escapist fantasy serves an important function. “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory,” Tolkien wrote. “If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”  In this course, we will test Tolkien’s idea by reading a variety of fantastical texts, including novels, comics, TV shows, and movies (including works such as those by Neil Gaiman, N.K. Jemison, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip Pullman). Does this type of literature hold up a kind of mirror to society? If so, how? In what ways do such works change the way readers see themselves and their world? In what sense might reading fantasy literature be thought of as a “duty” and how might we encourage others to join us in this escape?

USSY292P – Hamlet: Page to Stage to Screen. Maggie Vinter. MW 4.50-6.05

This course asks what makes Hamlet recognizable as Hamlet. Is it a story about a man who needs to revenge his father? Is it “To be or not to be?” Is it Laurence Olivier wearing black and holding a skull? Or is it Simba confronting Scar? Over the course of the semester, we will be studying the changing forms Hamlet has taken. We will think first about the inspirations for Shakespeare’s play in Danish sagas and Roman tragedy, and subsequently read Hamlet alongside a variety of reinterpretations and revisions in different media (from short stories, to films, to videogames) spanning 400 years and hailing from across the globe. We will learn about the cultural, social, and political contexts that shape how adaptations are produced and received. We will also think critically about the elements that constitute a particular work of art in a particular medium, and about the processes through which new works can be made out of old ones.

Page last modified: October 27, 2016