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Seminars 2010-2011

Fall 2010

201   American Places:   An Introduction to American Studies
William Gleason, Department of English

An interdisciplinary introduction to the materials and methods of American Studies, focusing on the significance of place in U.S. history, society, and culture. Using a variety of interpretive lenses--including social history, urban history, and cultural studies--this year’s course will examine specific types of places: cities, suburbs, shopping malls, amusement parks, cemeteries (to name a few possibilities). Critical issues will include such topics as race and the built environment, suburban sprawl, and the production of leisure. Texts and contexts will range equally widely, drawing on film, photography, architecture, history, and fiction.

305 / POL 305    Law and Work
Paul Frymer, Department of Politics

This course examines both what people want, and historically have wanted, in the workplace, and how American laws provide/fail to provide these rights and opportunities.   Emphasis is on the legal regimes created by the Wagner Act of 1935 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.   The categories of rights that were created in these eras are constantly being re-designed and understood.   We will look at how the law has interpreted these rights, and how far the expansion of workplace rights extends.   Is the workplace best seen as a site for individual opportunity and personal growth, a furthering of American democracy, or an avenue to making money?

317   The Fear of God:   American Horror from Jonathan Edwards to Cloverfield
Terrence Rafferty, Anschutz Distinguished Fellow, Department of English

This seminar explores the evolution of American horror fiction and cinema, from the religious roots in the Puritan sensibility to the present day, when horror addresses a somewhat wider range of dreads—including, but not confined to, the traditional fear of damnation.   Works selected reflect a constant oscillation between the moral and amoral ends of fear-generation.   The seminar will investigate this irresolvable ambivalence about the relative merits of salvation through fear versus fear as a perverse form of entertainment.

325 Urban Education Reform
Leslie Gerwin, Program in Law and Public Affairs

This seminar focuses on issues involved in improving educational opportunities for children in urban schools.   Students will analyze the historical and contemporary writings on issues fundamental to student educational performance, with emphasis on understanding the barriers and pathways to reform.   Students will also apply their readings to case studies of selected urban school districts exploring the policy and political dimensions of various reform initiatives.
Click here for related remarks by Leslie Gerwin at the 2011 Reunions panel.

331 Intellectual Property:   Theory, History, and Policy
Steven Wilf, Program in Law and Public Affairs

Intellectual property law is concerned with the legal regulation of mental products.   It affects such diverse subjects as the visual and performing arts, new plant varieties, electronic databases, advertising, insulin producing bacteria, and video games.   This course seeks to mix theoretical, historical, and policy approaches to the regulation of knowledge.   Through approaching intellectual property as a regulatory system, it will examine the balancing of incentives to foster human creativity with the concern about unduly restricting its diffusion.

340 (AAS 340/ENG 391)   Shades of Passing
Anne Cheng, Department of English; Center for African American Studies

This course studies the trope of passing in 20th century American literary and cinematic narratives in an effort to re-examine the crisis of identity that both produces and confounds acts of passing.   We will examine how American novelists and filmmakers have portrayed and responded to this social phenomenon, not as merely a social performance but as a profound intersubjective process embedded within history, law, and culture.   We will focus on narratives of passing across axes of difference, invoking questions such as:   to what extent does the act of passing reinforce or unhinge seemingly natural categories of race, gender, and sexuality?

346 (LAO 200)  Latinos in American Life and Culture
Edward E. Telles, Department of Sociology

This course will consider how Latinos are transforming the United States socially, politically, and culturally even as they themselves change in the process.  Topics to be examined include the social and cultural significance of "Latino" or "Hispanic" as an ethnic or racial category, how Latinos fit into the American social system, ethnic and cultural identities, the implications of the unprecedented geographic dispersal of Latinos, and their growing contribution and impact on mainstream and other types of culture including music, literature, and language.

350 (WWS 325)     Civil Society and Public Policy
Stanley N. Katz, Woodrow Wilson School
Civil society is the arena of voluntary organizations (churches, social welfare organizations, sporting clubs) and communal activity. Scholars now tell us that such voluntary and cooperative activities create “social capital” – a stock of mutual trust that forms the glue that holds society together. The course will be devoted to the study of the history of these concepts, and to the analysis of their application to the United States and other societies. This will be an interdisciplinary effort, embracing history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology and other disciplines.

393 (ENG 410/THR 368)   Jewish Identity and Performance in the U.S.
Jill S. Dolan, Department of English and Program in Theater
Stacy Wolf, Program in Theater
What does Jewishness mean?   Is it ethnicity or religion?   Identity or culture?   Belief or practice?   How do performance and theater answer or illuminate these questions?   We’ll consider plays and performances, bodies and texts, performers and spectators, history, memory, and the present.

396 (CHV 396/POL 310)   The Idea of America
John Seery, Center for Human Values

This course explores from various angles, periods, and points of view the idea of America as:   an experiment in republicanism on a scale never before attempted; the New World; a promised land; a frontier space; a slave nation; or a dream (albeit often dashed).    It examines critically the shifting images, ideologies, and mythologies surrounding the idea of America as portrayed through fiction, film, music, sports, art, poetry, and political theory.

Spring 2011

302/ART 379    Pictographic Modernity in the United States

Michael Golec, Anschutz Distinguished Fellow, Department of Art & Archaeology

The American visual landscape is replete with graphics dedicated to encouraging and detailing the reform of city, country, housing, farming, factory work and housework, health, and culture. This seminar will study the history of the tabulation of statistical data and its graphic representation in the form of pictographs, charts, diagrams, plans, maps, and other methods of illustration and inscription. Students will gain a thorough understanding of how it was that graphical methods worked to influence policy makers and to fix reforms in the minds of the American public.
353/ENG 355   Moby-Dick Unbound
William Howarth, Department of English, Emeritus                        

This seminar undertakes a close reading of Moby-Dick (1851), often acclaimed as the greatest American novel. Why was this story of a tragic sea voyage so neglected in its day, and so celebrated by later generations? To explore its twin lines of action--Ahab's drive to kill a white whale versus Ishmael's quest to know it--we use the methods of history, literature, art, religion, economics, philosophy, and ecology. Of special interest are the ways Melville anticipates recent environmental thought, depicts a globalized culture, and dramatizes the national struggle to reconcile faith and fact, race and justice. 
354 (ENG 357)   The Supernatural in American Literature
Sarah Rivett, Department of English
Check the Registrar's Office course offerings website for the English Department course information
The 1692 Salem witch trials defied rational explanation. How does one reconcile invisible specters flitting through the night or inflicting harm on young girls with religious orthodoxy and scientific modernity? Beginning with the crisis exposed by Salem, this course charts how a supernatural domain of sleepwalking, ghosts, and transcendence persists throughout American literary history. We read novels about Salem alongside the more general appearance of supernatural phenomena in slave narratives, Native American prophecies, and ghost stories. Oscillating between spirit and matter, the supernatural interrogates what haunts America.
365 (ENG 356)   American Jewish Writers
Esther Schor, Department of English
Check the Registrar's Office course offerings website for the English Department course information
Reading fiction, poetry, essays and graphic novels from the 18th to 21 centuries, we will examine how American Jewish writers have left a mark both on American letters and on Jewish literature. Topics include immigration and assimilation; city Jews; Jewish feminism; secularity vs. religious observance; and the Jew in multicultural America. Texts include films, video, and song lyrics as well as Yiddish-language poetry in English translation.
376/ART376   American Art and Culture: The 1960s
John Wilmerding, Department of Art & Archaeology, Emeritus
An examination of the dominant art movement of the 1960's, Pop Art, through its major figures (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenberg, Wesselman, Indiana, and Segal), and the interrelationships with contemporary advertising, e.g., imagery of sex, automobile culture, cigarettes and food, art and signs. The course will look at parallels in other cultural expressions, such as fiction, journalism, rock music, and film, to explore some of the defining social and artistic concerns of a very turbulent decade. 
380   Roads Not Taken: Some Critics of American Society, 1880-1960
Alan Ryan, Department of Politics
Many commentators during the 1950s gave the impression that postwar liberal-democracy was the 'natural' state of the USA. This obscured the work of many interesting, non-mainstream critics of modern industrial America, ranging from insurrectionary socialists to melancholy conservatives, few of them writing from the academy, and including novelists, journalists, and activists. The course aims to give students the chance to read these writers and decide for themselves whether they deserved to have more influence than they did, or perhaps even less. 
398 (ENG 396)   Other Worlds: Science Fiction and Discourses of Alerity
Ricardo Montez, Society of Fellows
Check the Registrar's Office course offerings website for the English Department course information
The development of science fiction as a literary genre is deeply connected to a history of colonialism and anthropological projects that sought to document contact with so-called primitive cultures. Students in this course will examine science fiction within this historical framework as a means to understand how the concepts of exploration, discovery, expansion, and civilization have been mobilized by science fiction writers as a means to critique oppressive conditions of otherness while imagining new possibilities that transform the world in which they write.
402   Remaking American Studies
Anne A. Cheng, Department of English
Hendrik A. Hartog, Department of History
This seminar is an experiment that engages its members in two questions: What should every student know about a mysterious and impossible subject of study, America? And second, how best to go about approaching and formulating (even as we interrogate) this knowledge? The seminar offers an opportunity to think about what American Studies is today, as a set of practices. It considers conceptions of nationhood, as well as changing notions of individualism, identity, subjecthood, race, and class. It confronts the problem of interdisciplinarity in humanistic study. It also takes seriously the internationalization of “America.”