College Signature Courses

Signature Courses are intended to introduce College students to exciting themes, ideas, and materials in the humanities and social sciences, and afford unique and memorable learning experiences, exemplary of humanistic inquiry.

They are designed as gateway courses that open up fields and disciplines for further exploration. Thus, Signature Courses have no prerequisites and are open to all College students. While they are conceived as general elective courses, they may count towards departmental major and minor requirements.



Courses for Spring 2018


Roman Law
Clifford Ando

The course will treat several problems arising in the historical development of Roman law: the history of procedure; the rise and accommodation of multiple sources of law, including the emperor; the dispersal of the Roman community from the environs of Rome to the wider Mediterranean world; and developments in the law of persons. We will discuss problems like the relationship between religion and law from the archaic city to the Christian empire, and between the law of Rome and the legal systems of its subject communities. (SIGN 26017, CLCV 25808, HIST 21004, LLSO 21212), TR 2:00-3:20PM

Theater About Theater
John Muse

This course is a transhistorical study of changing ideas about representation, explored through the lens of early modern and twentieth-century plays that foreground theatrical form. Every play frames time and space and in the process singles out a portion of life for consideration. The plays we will consider this term call conspicuous attention to the frame itself, to the materials and capacities of theater. What happens when plays comment on their own activity? Why might they do so? Why has theatrical self-consciousness emerged more strongly in particular historical periods? What might such plays teach us about the nature of art, and about the nature of life? To what extent can we distinguish between art and life? We’ll explore these and other questions through plays by Marlowe, Kyd, Shakespeare, Maeterlinck, Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, Genet, Peter Weiss, Handke, Levine, and Baker; and through theoretical work by Abel, Puchner, Hornby, Sofer, Fuchs, and others. (SIGN 26020, ENGL 24412, TAPS 28431), Lecture: TR 2:00-3:20PM, Discussion: F, 10:30-11:20

Grimm's Fairy Tales and the Construction of Childhood
Christopher Wild

This course will study fairy tales within the broader context of the history of childhood and practices of education and socialization.  Therefore, we will address issues such as the varying historical conceptions of the child, and the role of adults – parents and pedagogues – in the shaping of fairy tales for the instruction of children.  In addition to our main focus on the socializing forces directed at children we will explore different interpretive approaches, including those that place fairy tales against the backdrop of folklore, of literary history, of psychoanalysis, of the history of gender roles. While we will consider fairy tales drawn from a number of different national traditions and historical periods, we will concentrate on the German context and in particular on Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s contribution to this genre.  In order to reflect on the specific mediality of fairy tales, we will examine the evolution of specific tale types and trace their history from oral traditions through print to film.  Last but not least, we will have to consider the potential strategies for reinterpreting and rewriting a genre that continues to shape the cultural imaginary today. Readings and discussions in English (German texts will be available in the original). (SIGN 26025, GRMN 25413), TR 9:30-10:50AM

Arab America
Ghenwa Hayek

In this course, we will read a variety of texts that imagine or represent the Arab experience of exile to and diaspora within the United States, focusing on the ways that these texts re-construct and imagine the key dialectic of home/diasporic space, specifically within the framework of the complicated and dynamic relationship between the Arab world and the United States. Throughout the quarter, the readings would enable us to engage with several key concepts related to the Arab (and broader) immigrant experience in the US, including race, memory and nostalgia, language, and second-generational post-memory, as well as the role of the immigrant community in forming the ‘homeland’s’ vision of itself. We would begin with a historical overview of emigration from the Arabic-speaking world, beginning with the vast emigration of Lebanese and Syrians from Mount Lebanon and Syria in the mid-nineteenth century, but will pay particular attention to moments in which this identity has been or become particularly fraught, for example, following such events as the 1967 war, the 9/11 attacks, or the recent Executive Order by the Trump Administration (1/2017). Texts in this class would include readings from the early twentieth century New York-based Pen Association, and writing by post-1967 literary figures as Halim Barakat in addition to novels by Arab-American writers Rabi‘ Alameddine, Mohja Kahf and Randa Jabbar, poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye, Samuel Hazo, and Suheir Hammad, and more recent writing by Egyptian authors Miral al-Tahawy and Ala’ al-Aswany and Iraqi Inaam Kashashi, as well as films by Cherien Dabis, and Nicole Ballivian. Theoretical readings will include a number of key articles from prominent journals such as Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies, and readings from such texts as Akram Khater’s Inventing Home: Emigration, Gender and the Middle Class in Lebanon 1870-1920, Ghassan Hage’s writing on diaspora, Carol Fadda-Conrey’s Contemporary Arab-American Literature, and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. If possible, we will take a field trip to the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, MI. (NEHC 20921, SIGN 26026), TR 2:00-3:20PM

Listening to Movies
Berthold Hoeckner

This course shifts our critical attention from watching movies to listening to them.  Amid a strong emphasis on cinema—ranging from musical accompaniment during the silent era to sound in experimental films; or from classical Hollywood underscoring to Bollywood musical numbers—we will consider the soundtrack of moving pictures within a growing variety of audiovisual media, including television, music videos, and computer games. Interactive lectures (Mondays and Wednesdays) and discussion sections (Fridays) combine a historical overview with transhistorical perspectives. Supplemented by screenings and readings, the course will address a variety issues and topics: aesthetic and psychological (such as representation, narration, affect); cultural and political (such as race, ethnicity, propaganda); social and economic (such as technology,  production, dissemination). (SIGN 26021, MUSI 20918), MWF 11:30-12:20PM

Making and Meaning in the American Musical
Thomas Christensen

In this signature course, we will look—and listen—closely to four different American Musicals from the 20th century, studying their creative origins, while also analyzing their complex social meanings as revealed through the story, music, lyrics, staging, and dance.  Musicals to be covered:  Show Boat (1927), Oklahoma! (1943), My Fair Lady (1953), and Company (1970). (SIGN 26009, MUSI 24417, TAPS 28467), TR 9:30-10:50AM

Malynne Sternstein

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul, Lolita: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate, to tap at three on the teeth.” Popular as Nabokov’s “all-American” novel is, it is rarely discussed beyond its psychosexual profile. This intensive text-centered and discussion-based course attempts to supersede the univocal obsession with the novel’s pedophiliac plot as such by concerning itself above all with the novel’s language: language as failure, as mania, and as conjuration. (SIGN 26027, FNDL 25300, ENGL 28916, REES 20004, GNSE 24900), TR 12:30-1:50PM

Introduction to the Middle East
Fred Donner

This course offers an overview of the region's rich cultural, religious, political, and historical legacies, stretching back six millennia. It addresses and provides background helpful for understanding recent developments in the Middle East, and insight into the area's stunning cultural diversity and dynamism, including its music and literature. (SIGN 26005, NEHC 10101, HIST 15801), MWF, 10:30-11:20