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 2017

Big:  Monumental Buildings and Sculptures in the Past and Present
James Osborne

Why are so many societies – including our own – obsessed with building monumental things like pyramids and palaces? What do we learn about cultures past and present from the monuments they create? This course explores famous monuments from around the world to answer these questions through the lens of archaeology, architecture, and art history.  (SIGN 26000, NEHC 20085)

Self-Creation as a Philosophical and Literary Problem
Agnes Callard

Can we choose who to be?  We tend to feel that we have some ability to influence the kind of people we will become; but the phenomenon of ‘self-creation’ is fraught with paradox: creation ex nihilo, vicious circularity, infinite regress.  In this class, we will read philosophical texts addressing these paradoxes against novels offering illustrations of self-creation. (SIGN 26001, PHIL 21834)

Christopher Kennedy

Alternative facts" and "fake news" have fueled growing concerns that we are entring a "post-truth" society. But what exactly is truth, and why should we care about it? We will address this question by examining the role of a truth convention in meaning and communication and the ways in which it can be exploited, criticisms of the value of truth and their appeal, expressions of skepticism about "objective" truth, truth paradoxes and their significance, and what value (if any) truth contributes to the well-lived life. (SIGN 26007 LING 26020)

Science and Aesthetics in the 18th-21st Centuries
Robert Richards

Science and art seem antithetic, but they are related at several levels. We’ll examine four ways in which science and aesthetics interact since the Renaissance. First, science has been the subject of artistic representation, in painting and photography, in poetry and novels.  Second, science has been used to explain how art affects its audience. Third, aesthetic means have been used to convey scientific conceptions. Finally, philosophers have stepped back to consider the relationship between scientific knowing and aesthetic comprehension. Much of the discussion of this latter will focus on how images represent, for instance how do Picasso’s non-realistic paintings represent a subject?  In this course, we will consider all of these relationships. (SIGN 26003 HIST 25506)

Richer and Poorer: Income Inequality
Elaine Hadley

We hear about it in the news on a daily basis: increasing income or wealth inequality. Data suggests a rapidly growing divergence between those earners at the bottom and those at the top, especially within the US and the UK but between countries, as well.  This course seeks to place that current concern in conversation with a range of moments in nineteenth and twentieth century literary history when literature and economics converged on questions of inequality.  We will ask: Is it a problem?  Is it the right problem? What does the literary text have to offer to this discussion? We will read literary texts by Charles Dickens, Upton Sinclair, H.G. Wells, Richard Wright, Carolyn Steedman, Aravind Adiga, and smatterings from economic and political texts by John Stuart Mill,  R.H. Tawney, Thorsten Veblen, Karl Marx, Piketty, Joseph Stiglitz, and Amartya Sen. (SIGN 26004 ENGL 26250)

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)

Traditional East Asian Literature: Ghosts and the Fantastic
Judith Zeitlin

What is a ghost? How and why are ghosts represented in particular forms in a particular culture at particular historical moments and how do these change as stories travel between cultures? This course will explore the complex meanings, both literal and figurative, of ghosts and the fantastic in traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean tales, plays, and films . Issues to be explored include: the relationship between the supernatural, gender, and sexuality; the confrontation of death and mortality;  collective anxieties over the loss of the historical past;  and the visualization (and exorcism) of ghosts through performance. (SIGN 26006, EALC 10600)

Japanese History Through Film and Other Texts
James Ketelaar

Time, history, and representation: a close reading of films produced in and about Japan coupled with primary and secondary materials on theories of time, images, and national history will highlight the historicity and history of both film and Japan. No knowledge of Japanese is required. (SIGN 26008, HIST 24601)

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). A visit to the Lyric Opera production of My Fair Lady is planned. (SIGN 26009, MUSI 24417)