2008-2009 Undergraduate Catalog

2008-2009 Catalog

College Seminars


Gail Hemmeter, Department of English

Steering Committee:

Jody Cohen, Education Program
Gail Hemmeter, English
Stephen Salkever, Political Science
Linda Caruso-Haviland, Dance Program
Kimberly Wright Cassidy, Provost
Michelle Francl, Chemistry
E. Jane Hedley, English
Karen Tidmarsh, Dean of the Undergraduate College (ex officio)

The College Seminars are discussion-oriented, reading- and writing-intensive courses for first-year students. All students are required to take a College Seminar during the first semester of their first year. Topics vary from year to year, but all seminars are designed to engage broad, fundamental issues and questions, ones that are not defined by the boundaries of any academic discipline. The purpose of the seminars is to help students become better close readers and interpretive writers. Course materials are chosen to elicit nuanced thinking and lively discussion, and may include, in addition to books and essays, films, material objects, social practices, scientific observations and experiments. Seminars offered in recent years include the following:

The City

In this course we will investigate life in the contemporary city. What makes urban life so compelling and also so complex? How do diverse people experience and express their experiences of the city? We will look at how life in cities is represented in essays, novels and drama, as well as in photographs and film. We will read texts such as Nella Larsen’s Passing and Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities; we will view films such as Crash and Anna Deveare Smith’s Fires in the Mirror. We will also consider the city of Philadelphia, exploring and writing about this shared site.

Classical Mythology and the Contemporary Imagination

The myths of the Greeks and Romans have provided an inexhaustible imaginative source for artists throughout the history of Western civilization, and each age has rewritten these myths (by translating them or adapting them) to reflect its own interests and anxieties. Writers have superimposed their visions upon the source myth, and in turn these visions have been examined by literary criticism, creating a kind of archaeology of interpretation on three levels. In the tension between the source myth and its reinterpretations lies the interest and the challenge for us as critics and as writers.

Performance and Self

When we use the word “self,”what do we mean? Are we coherent, authentic, natural selves, or is what we call “self”a role we’ve taken on and can discard at will? What does it mean to perform ourselves—in life, on stage, in film, in dance, in texts? We will examine the ways we perform ourselves in daily life at the intersections of gender, race and class. We will look at the ways artists and writers construct performances that convey these social and political aspects of identity. Our texts are drawn from philosophy, psychology, theater, dance, fiction, poetry and film.

Dance of the Spheres:  The Interplay Between the Arts and the Sciences in the Search for Knowledge

Using readings, models, and experiences from the sciences, arts, and literature, this course explores the varied and often unexpected interplay of different ways of knowing that have come to characterize the Western intellectual tradition. Among questions to be considered are these: How do we grow in our knowledge of ourselves and the universe? How do the ways of knowing that we construct affect what we know? Are all ways of knowing created equal? Readings include Dr. Faustus (Marlowe), Gulliver’s Travels, Part III (Swift), Herland (Gilman), Discourse on Method (Descartes), Body Art (Byatt), Frankenstein (Shelley), and Copenhagen (Frayn).

Reading Culture: Poverty in the United States

The subject of poverty forces us to think critically about how we define and understand the concept of culture. Through a selective, critical examination of fiction and nonfiction works addressing the theme of poverty in America, this course will explore key methods for studying and writing about culture. It will look at how poverty and poor people have been discussed and represented in the United States at various points during the last 125 years, and it will provide an opportunity to explore the many ways “poverty” and “culture” intersect and interact, each term affecting the meaning of the other.

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Updated August 25, 2008 by Tracy Kellmer