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 Autumn 2018
Censorship, Information Control, and Revolutions in Information Technology from the Printing Press to Internet
Adrian Johns and Ada Palmer
The digital revolution is triggering a wave of new information control efforts and censorship attempts, ranging from monopolistic copyright laws to the "Great Firewall" of China. The print revolution after 1450 was a moment like our own, when the explosive dissemination of a new information technology triggered a wave of information control efforts. Many of today's attempts at information control closely parallel early responses to the printing press, so the premodern case gives us centuries of data showing how diverse attempts to control or censor information variously incentivized, discouraged, curated, silenced, commodified, or nurtured art, thought, and science. This unique course is part of a collaborative research project funded by the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and is co-organized with digital information expert Cory Doctorow. The course will bring pairs of experts working on the print and digital revolutions to campus to discuss parallels between their research with the class. Classes will be open to the public, filmed, and shared on the Internet to create an international public conversation. Rather than writing traditional papers, students will create web resources and publications (print and digital) to contribute to the ongoing collaborative research project. (SIGN 26035, HIST 25425), Fridays, 1:30 to 4:20 PM.
Critical Videogame Studies
Since the 1960s, games have arguably blossomed into the world's most profitable and experimental medium. This course attends specifically to video games, including popular arcade and console games, experimental art games, and educational serious games. Students will analyze both the formal properties and sociopolitical dynamics of video games. Readings by theorists including Ian Bogost, Roger Caillois, Nick Dyer‐Witheford, Mary Flanagan, Jane McGonigal, Lisa Nakamura, and Katie Salen will help us think about the growing field of video game studies. (SIGN 26038, ENGL 12320), Tuesdays/Thursdays, 11:00 AM to 12:20 PM.
Climate Change in Literature, Art, and Film
If meteorological data and models show us that climate change is real, art and literature explore what it means for our collective human life. This is the premise of many recent films, novels, and artworks that ask how a changing climate will affect human society. In this course, we will examine the aesthetics of climate change across media, in order to understand how narrative, image, and even sound help us witness a planetary disaster that is often imperceptible. Our approach will be comparative: what kind of story about climate change can a science fiction novel about a dystopian future tell, and how is this story different than, say, that of an art installation made of melting blocks of Arctic ice? Do different media tend to emphasize different aspects of ecological crisis? Readings and discussions will introduce students to some of the ways that humanities scholarship is contributing to climate change research. (SIGN 26014, ENGL 12520), Mondays/Wednesdays, 1:30 to 2:50 PM.
Everyday Maoism: Work, Daily Life, and Material Culture in Socialist China
The history of Maoist China is usually told as a sequence of political campaigns: land and marriage reform, nationalization of industry, anti-rightist campaign, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc. Yet for the majority of the Chinese population, the promise of socialism was as much about material transformations as it was about political change: a socialist revolution would bring about two-storey brick houses, electric lights and telephones (loushang louxia, diandeng dianhua), new work regimes and new consumption patterns. If we want to understand what socialism meant for different groups of people, we have to look at the "new objects" of socialist modernity, at changes in dress codes and apartment layouts, at electrification and city planning – or at the absence of such changes and the persistence of an old patterns of material life under a new socialist veneer. In this course, we will analyze workplaces and labor processes in order to understand how socialism changed the way people worked, and look at rationing and consumption in the households to see how socialism affected them at home. We will look at how specific objects came to stand in for the Maoist revolution, for socialist modernity, or for feudal backwardness. The course has a strong comparative dimension: we will read some of the literature on socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, to see how Chinese socialism differed from its cousins. Another aim is methodological. How can we understand the lives of people who wrote little and were rarely written about? To which extent can we read people's life experiences out of the material record of their lives? What does a material history of Chinese socialism look like? (SIGN 26046, EALC 24256, HIST 24512), Tuesdays/Thursdays, 12:30 to 1:50 PM.