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Humanities Signature Courses

Signature Humanities Courses are faculty-taught courses in the Humanities or humanistic Social Sciences that afford students unique and memorable learning experiences, exemplary of humanistic inquiry. Designed as lecture courses, they allow students to sample the best that the various humanistic disciplines and fields have to offer. While open to majors and minors, they are aimed at students across the College and are ideal as general electives.

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Autumn 2019 Signature Courses

Instructor: Sarah Nooter

Description: This course will travel through the great dramas of ancient Greece, including works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. Moreover, it will show how the history of contemporary thought has been shaped by reflection on Greek tragedy, starting from the philosophy of Hegel and Nietzsche, the psychoanalysis of Freud and Lacan, the feminist critiques of Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler, works of structuralism and poststructuralism, and finally the recent material and affective turns in scholarship. Along the way, we will draw insights on modern movements of the performance arts from adaptations, including those in dance (Martha Graham), in film (Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lars von Trier), and in drama itself (Anne Carson). As this course will demonstrate, there is hardly an intellectual or artistic movement of recent history that has not taken its cue from Greek drama. All reading will be in translation.

Instructor: Chris Kennedy

Description: This course investigates the nature and use of codes and ciphers: what they are, how they are constructed and solved, and the significant roles they have played throughout history. We will begin by looking at the development of writing, the most basic tool for encoding thought and experience, and at the techniques for deciphering it. We will then turn to a deeper examination of the ideas and methods of cryptography and cryptanalysis, and their roles in concealing and revealing information in different areas of humanistic inquiry, including literature, religion, and philosophy. Finally, we will turn to the role of code making and code breaking in contemporary society, with particular focus on the development of computation and computational theories of intelligence and the relation between encryption, privacy, and freedom of information in a democratic society.

Instructor: Patrick Jagoda

Description: 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.

Instructor: Jason Riggle

Description: In this course we will examine the language of deception and humor from a variety of perspectives: historical, developmental, neurological, and cross-cultural and in a variety of contexts: fiction, advertising, politics, courtship, and everyday conversation. We will focus on the (linguistic) knowledge and skills that underlie the use of humor and deception and on what sorts of things they are used to communicate.

Instructor: Yousef Casewit

Description: This course examines Islamic mysticism, commonly known as Sufism, through an exploration of English translations of some of the greatest masterpieces of Sufi literature in Arabic and Persian. The goal is to gain first-hand knowledge of a broad spectrum of literary expressions of Islamic spirituality in their historical context, and to understand exactly what Sufis say, and how they say it. Each of the units will comprise of lectures and close readings of excerpts from the text in Arabic/Persian and English translation.

Instructor: Alain Bresson

Description: Is the market system a new invention linked to the recent development of modern European societies? Is the market the hero or the villain of the story? Is everything marketable? Is the market the driver for economic development? We will address these and other questions in a deliberately comparative way, focusing on the cases of ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Greece and Rome, and medieval and early modern Europe. We will read excerpts from Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Weber, Polanyi, Braudel, Wallerstein, Geertz, Horden, and Purcell. We will examine the controversies in which these scholars were involved and the echoes they still have in our own contemporary debates. Assignments: Two papers, two quizzes.

Instructor: Larry Zbikowski

Description: This course explores research on music in the mind and brain sciences as it has developed over the past three decades. During this time, we have come to an increasingly refined understanding of the ways the brain processes sound. It remains the case, however, that not all sound is music, and in this course we will investigate how musical sound is organized to make it musical, and how this organization reflects the capacities of the human mind. Interactive lectures (Mondays and Wednesdays) and discussion sections (Fridays) will engage both scientific and humanistic literature. Among the topics the class will engage are the origins and functions of music, absolute pitch, music and memory, how music shapes emotional responses, movement and music, connections between music and images, and the relationship between music and language.

Instructor: Martha Feldman

Description: Over the course of the last hundred and twenty years, opera and cinema have been sounded and seen together again and again. Where opera is commonly associated with extravagant performance and production, cinema is popularly associated realism. Yet their encounter not only proves these assumptions wrong but produces some extraordinary third kinds-media hybrids. It also produces some extraordinary love affairs. Thomas Edison wanted a film of his to be "a grand opera," and Federico Fellini and Woody Allen wanted opera to saturate their films. Thinking about these mutual attractions, "Opera across Media" explores different operatic and cinematic repertories as well as other media forms. Among films to be studied are Pabst's Threepenny Opera (1931), Visconti's Senso (1954), Powell and Pressburger's Tales of Hoffmann (1951), Zeffirelli's La traviata (1981), De Mille's Carmen (1915), Losey's Don Giovanni (1979), Bergman's The Magic Flute (1975), and Fellini's E la nave va (1983). No prior background in music performance, theory, or notation is needed. Students may write papers based on their own skills and interests relevant to the course. Required work includes attendance at all screenings and classes; weekly postings on Canvas about readings and viewings; attendances at a Met HD broadcast and a Lyric Opera live opera; a short "think piece" midway through the course; and a final term paper of 8-10 pages.

Instructor: Richard Rosengarten

Description: The decision of a person to present what they take to be their selfhood has proven to be an enduring form of human articulation, and of crucial significance to modern religious expression. This course explores the phenomena of autobiography by tracing its roots in early Christianity (Paul and Augustine), followed by readings in a range of modern authors who take the classic form of the "confession" and adapt it to their particular contexts (Rousseau, Tolstoy, Douglass, Gandhi, Nelson). We'll conclude by studying the adoption of the confessional mode in the graphic novel, which introduces not only visual representations of selfhood but a pluralism of voices (Spiegelman, Satrapi).

Instructor: Leah Feldman

Description: This course traces the intellectual genealogies of the rise of a Global New Right in relation to the contexts of late capitalist neoliberalism, the fall of the Soviet Union, as well as the rise of social media. The course will explore the intertwining political and intellectual histories of the Russian Eurasianist movement, Hungarian Jobbik, the American Traditional Workers Party, the French GRECE, Greek Golden Dawn, and others through their published essays, blogs, vlogs and social media. Perhaps most importantly, the course asks: can we use f-word (fascism) to describe this problem? In order to pose this question we will explore the aesthetic concerns of the New Right in relation to postmodern theory, and the affective politics of nationalism. This course thus frames the rise of a global new right interdisciplinary and comparatively as a historical, geopolitical and aesthetic problem.

Instructor: Rachel Galvin

Description: War is a defining phenomenon of the twentieth century, yet there is no consensus on how to represent it. How can the experience of extremity or atrocity be described? Who might provide a more trustworthy account of events-a soldier, civilian eyewitness, news reporter, or philosopher? How do political bias and propaganda complicate our understanding of the reliability of war stories? We begin by evaluating arguments about war and its representation by a range of international writers including Wilfred Owen, W.B. Yeats, and Tim O'Brien. Next, we explore the intellectual's role in witnessing war by reading Primo Levi's autobiographical account of Auschwitz, The Drowned and the Saved, alongside critical texts by thinkers such as Giorgio Agamben, Jean-Paul Sartre, Edward Said, Susan Sontag, and Judith Butler. We'll examine a range of classic writings on war by Karl von Clausewitz, Immanuel Kant, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, and others. In the last part of the course, we consider responses to U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Texts may include Nick Flynn's memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb and poetry from writers such as Don Mee Choi, Mónica de la Torre, Philip Metres, Solmaz Sharif, Juliana Spahr, and C.D. Wright. We conclude with a look at representations of war in painting and photography, and a discussion of Sontag's controversial New York Times article about the American use of torture at Abu Ghraib prison.

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