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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 2020 Signature Courses

Instructor: Sarah Johnson

Description: Through a survey of texts by and about Sally Hemings, Phillis Wheatley and Tituba, “the Indian,” we will consider the lives of three black women in colonial America. In this period of expansion and contraction of the concepts of race and bondage, what kind of “tellings” were possible for these women? By reading texts written as early as 1692 and as late as 2008, we will also consider how representations of these women have changed over time. Simplified by history as a witch, a poet and a mistress, the details of the lives of Tituba, Phillis and Sally resists these epithets. This course will ask why and how they remain present in the written record today, and what this teaches us about the formation of literary and historical canons.

Instructor: Daniel Moerner

Description: An investigation of the applied ethics of technology in the 21st century. Fundamental debates in applied ethics are paired with recent technological case studies. Topics covered include moral dilemmas, privacy, consent, human enhancement, distributed responsibility, and technological risks. Case studies include self-driving cars, geo-engineering, Internet privacy, genetic enhancement, Twitter, autonomous warfare, nuclear war, and the Matrix.

Instructor: Ada Palmer

Description: This course will consider the foundational transformations of Western thought from the end of the Middle Ages to the threshold of modernity. It will provide an overview of the three self-conscious and interlinked intellectual revolutions which reshaped early modern Europe: the Renaissance revival of antiquity, the "new philosophy" of the seventeenth century, and the light and dark faces of the Enlightenment. It will treat scholasticism, humanism, the scientific revolution, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Diderot, and Sade.

Instructor: Jacob Eyferth

Description: The history of Maoist China is usually told as a sequence of political campaigns, from land reform to the Cultural Revolution. 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 better living conditions, 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 persistence of an older material life under a new socialist veneer. In this course, we will analyze workplaces 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?

Instructor: Orit Bashkin

Description: The class explores the history of Iraq during the years 1917-2015. We will discuss the rise of the Iraqi nation state, Iraqi and Pan-Arab nationalism, and Iraqi authoritarianism. The class will focus on the unique histories of particular group in Iraqi society; religious groups (Shiis, Sunnis, Jews), ethnic groups (especially Kurds), classes (the urban poor, the educated middle classes, the landed and tribal elites), Iraqi women, and Iraqi tribesmen. Other classes will explore the ideologies that became prominent in the Iraqi public sphere, from communism to Islamic radicalism. We will likewise discuss how colonialism and imperialism shaped major trends in Iraqi history. The reading materials for the class are based on a combination of primary and secondary sources: we will read together Iraqi novels, memoirs and poems (in translation), as well as British and American diplomatic documents about Iraq.

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: Bill Nickell

Description: Over the past 200 years, various political and cultural regimes of Russia have systematically exploited the gap between experience and representation to create their own mediated worlds--from the tight censorship of the imperial and Soviet periods to the propaganda of the Soviet period and the recent use of media simulacra for strategic geopolitical advantage. During this same period state control of media has been used to seclude Russia from the advancement of liberalism, market economics, individual rights, modernist art, Freud, Existentialism, and, more recently, Western discourses of inclusion, sustainability, and identity. Examining this history, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the architects of Russian culture have been hopelessly backward or shrewd phenomenologists, keenly aware of the relativity of experience and of their ability to shape it. This course will explore the worlds that these practices produce, with an emphasis on Russia's recent confrontations with Western culture and power, and including various practices of subversion of media control, such as illegal printing and circulation. Texts for the course will draw from print, sound, and visual media, and fields of analysis will include aesthetics, cultural history, and media theory.

Instructor: John Muse

Description: This course traces the history of the double-edged notion that the world might resemble a stage from its ancient roots to its current relevance in politics, social media, and gender expression, among other areas. We will explore these questions by reading performance texts and performance theory from classical to contemporary, by attending plays and watching films, and by visiting non-theatrical events in order to consider them as occasions for performance.

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