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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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Winter 2023 Signature Courses

    Instructor: Elaine Hadley

    Description: Current political and recent academic debate have centered on income or wealth inequality. Data suggests a rapidly growing divergence between those earners at the bottom and those at the top. This course seeks to place that current concern in conversation with a range of moments in nineteenth and twentieth century history when literature and economics converged on questions of economic inequality. In keeping with recent political economic scholarship by Thomas Piketty, we will be adopting a long historic view and a somewhat wide geographic scale as we explore how economic inequality is represented, measured, assessed and addressed. Charles Dickens, Richard Wright, HG Wells, will be among the writers explored. (Fiction, 1830-1940, Theory)

    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: 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.

    Instructors: Martha Feldman, Anne Monique Pace

    Description: Open to all undergraduates. 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: David Wellbery

    Description: Our main task in this course is to explore in detail one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. But this novel is also a window onto the entirety of modern European thought, and it provides, at the same time, a telling perspective of the crisis of European culture prior to and following on World War I. It is, in Thomas Mann's formulation, a time-novel: a novel about its time, but also a novel about human being in time. For anyone interested in the configuration of European intellectual life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Mann's great (and challenging) novel is indispensible reading. Lectures will relate Mann's novel to its great European counterparts (e.g., Proust, Joyce, Musil), to the traditions of European thought from Voltaire to Georg Lukacs, from Schopenhauer to Heidegger, from Marx to Max Weber.

    Instructor: Sofía Torallas Tovar

    Description: The five continents of the Modern World are multilingual areas, some countries even have more than one official language. Individuals in different communities use daily two or three languages to communicate at home and in society. The same was true in the Ancient World. The Mediterranean, the Roman Empire, Africa, Asia, the Ancient Americas, were the stage of different cultures and languages, many of them lost forever, others surviving in written sources and transmitted literature. In this class we will explore the types of sources we have for the study of ancient languages, methods to study them, the decipherment of lost languages and writing systems, and the application of modern linguistics to dead languages. We will also study the approach that the ancients had to their own languages and the languages of the other, and the different sociolinguistic situations of multilingual spaces in Antiquity, with a special emphasis on the Mediterranean.

    Instructor: Bill Brown

    Description: This course focuses on the future as imagined by American science fiction of the 20th century. On the one hand, we will pay attention to the scientific, political, and cultural contexts from which particular visions of the future emerged; on the other, we will work to develop an overarching sense of science fiction as a genre. We will deploy different analytical paradigms (Formalist, Marxist, Feminist, &c.) to apprehend the stakes and the strategies for imagining future worlds. After some initial attention to the magazine and pulp culture that helped to establish the genre, we will spotlight major SF movements (Afro Futurism, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, etc.) and major authors (including Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, Samuel R. Delaney, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler). Finally, we will use this 20th-century history to think about 21st-century SF work in different media (e.g., film, radio, graphic narrative). (Fiction, Theory)

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