Course Listings, Fall 2014
Section 001 Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Ours
Instructor: Jane Hedley
As Hamlet is dying he asks his friend Horatio to “absent thee from felicity a while, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story.” Four centuries later that story is still being re-told and re-envisioned, on stage and on film. How to explain its uncanny staying power? Harold Bloom suggests that “you can make of the play . . . pretty much what you will; push any stance or quest into it and the drama will illuminate what you have brought with you.” We’ll test that hypothesis by reading some of the classic interpretations of Hamlet’s story and of his character, including Goethe’s and Freud’s, and by screening several twentieth-century film adaptations and spinoffs of Hamlet, including Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. We’ll also test the play’s interpretability for ourselves, in weekly writing assignments and “table readings” of key scenes from the play.
Section 002 Not Quite Human
Instructor: Jennefer Callaghan
Puppets and robots and zombies, oh my! Through means of art or science, humans have created an array of simulated versions of ourselves. In this seminar, we will critically examine humanoids and forms of artificial life in order to explore the following questions: What makes us human? Why do we find simulated humans so appealing…or so creepy? What purposes do they serve? And what are our ethical responsibilities toward them? Our inquiry will draw upon readings from literature, philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, film, and popular science. Texts may include Freud’s “The Uncanny,” Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Spike Jonze’s film Her. Through frequent short writing assignments that lead to longer analytical and argumentative essays, students will learn strategies for generating and organizing ideas, drafting, and revising.
Sections 003/004 Performance and Self
Instructors: Linda Caruso Havilland, sec. 003; Gail Hemmeter, sec. 004
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
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 easily discard or change at will? What does it mean to perform ourselves--in life, on stage, in film, in dance, in texts? Do we perform a social or cultural role in a script that has already been written for us? Or do we create ourselves through desire, passion and will? In this seminar, we will use a variety of texts to examine the ways we perform ourselves in daily life at the intersections of gender, race and class. We will also look at the ways artists and writers construct performances that convey these social and political aspects of identity. We will draw our texts from a variety of sources: philosophy, psychology, theater, dance, fiction, poetry, and film. They include examinations of the self by Freud and social scientist Ervin Goffman; poetic expressions of gender performance by Tony Hoagland and Gloria Anzaldua; analyses of gender in ballet and modern dance and in films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch; depictions of race in Henry David Hwang’s M. Butterfly; dramas of class in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation and in the writing of Barbara Ehrenreich. Our final project will provide an opportunity for groups to create a short performance around themes and ideas generated by the class. Because writing is also a performance, we will pay attention to how we present ourselves on paper. Students will write frequently, participate in occasional projects and peer review groups, and have opportunities to revise their work.
Section 005 Building Bryn Mawr
Instructor: Alicia Walker
Can architecture shape the way we feel, think, and live? Do the buildings in which we work or study affect the way others perceive and judge us? Can an institution’s reputation and identity be forged in part by its physical environment? This course examines these questions through study of the early stages of development of Bryn Mawr’s campus, exploring the ways in which the founders of Bryn Mawr understood architecture as a key aspect of the institution’s image and aspirations. We will consider the buildings of Bryn Mawr in relation to nineteenth-century debates surrounding the acceptability and appropriate nature of women’s higher education; current trends in architectural forms at the new women’s colleges established in England and the United States at this time; and the ways in which M. Carey Thomas (the second president of Bryn Mawr) understood architecture to be a crucial aspect of the reputation and goals of “her” new institution.
Section 006 A Medieval Education: The History of the Liberal Arts
Instructor: Elly Truitt
Did you know that the university is a medieval institution? And that the bachelor’s degree is a medieval credential? The liberal arts education, in fact, stretches back to classical antiquity. In this course, students will investigate the formation of the liberal arts and the evolution of the curriculum as well as the locations of learning—religious institutions and early universities. Additionally, students will learn about the medieval production of knowledge, through commentary, annotation, exegesis, and manuscript books. In conjunction with the topics of this course, students will also consider what it means to be engaged in a noble pursuit that stretches back over a thousand years.
Section 007 The Art and Science of Taming Plagues
Instructor: Susan White
Focusing on epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and flu, we will examine artistic, behavioral, and scientific approaches to controlling diseases. We will explore the debate between purely medical and behavioral approaches to controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, America and Asia. Who should be in charge of deciding which methods to use? Via a first-hand account as well as web sources, we will trace the recent evolution of Ebola outbreaks. The flu pandemic of 1918 will be discussed using archival material from Bryn Mawr College and contrasted with contemporary resistance to vaccination campaigns. One overarching question we will consider is whether our modern lifestyle has made disease outbreaks inevitable without always providing cures. In addition to print texts, we will use videos as sources; and we’ll also explore texts authored by Fall 2014 campus speakers.
Section 008 Clash of Cultures (?): East and West in European and Middle Eastern Literatures
Instructor: David Kenosian
In this course we will examine European, Middle East and North African literature from the 1700s to the present to see how conflicts have shaped the cultural relations between East and West. While the primary focus of discussions will be novels including one by Orhan Pamuk, we will also look at excerpts from travelogues, an Iraqi blog, historical studies, and two films: Lawrence of Arabia and The Battle of Algiers. Questions for discussions include the following: How and why does the West see itself as different from its Middle Eastern neighbors? To what extent does imperialism prevent an understanding of shared cultural and religious history? Have conflicts provided the incentive to question one’s own culture. The course is designed to help students improve their analytical writing. We will examine ways posing insightful analytical questions. One way of facilitating students’ ability to develop questions will be the journal in which students will write brief responses to and questions about the readings. In addition, we will stress the revision of writing as a means of refining and deepening the arguments presented in essays.
Section 009 Anxious Masculinity
Instructor: Raymond Ricketts
Certain figures of masculinity grab center stage in our cultural memory, whether they are actual or mythical, heroic or vicious: the chivalrous knight, firemen, stoic cowboys, dandies, the mob boss, the tomboy, the bad boy, the family man, the computer geek, “Rosie the Riveter.” Far from expressing any timeless essence of masculinity, these examples reveal the highly contingent and emotionally fraught nature of masculinity, especially in relation to history, politics, the body, sexuality, and popular culture. In this course, students will focus on this malleability through interrogating how we often define masculinity by opposing it to femininity; we’ll explore masculinity as a concept that can be detached from the male body, and ways in which social and cultural forces construct both genders. In examining the ongoing cultural construction of masculinity, specifically, we may conclude that its only “timeless” aspect is its constant vulnerability to subversion and change. Topics will include the important connections among masculinity, race, and class; the roots of recent phenomena such as the sensitive man, the men’s movement, “bear” culture, and the increased visibility of female-to-male transgender expression; homoeroticism, queer masculinity, and female masculinity; and representations of masculinity in popular culture. Texts may include Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, Susan Faludi’s Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, Susan Bordo’s The Male Body, C.J. Pascoe’s Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School, Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity, and others. We’ll also read autobiographical accounts of female-to-male transgender people, as well as screen the 2001 documentary Southern Comfort. Students will write frequently, contribute to class discussion, and have the opportunity to revise their work.
Section 010 Political Philosophy: Articulating the Modern West
Instructor: Stephen Salkever
Modern Western political philosophy arose as an attempt to make sense of the profound, tradition-shattering changes in European society and politics that came to a head in the 16th and 17th centuries. What changes? One was the emergence of modern nation-states in place of feudal authorities. Another was the development and spread of a new kind of science and philosophy that was independent of organized religion (later known as “the Enlightenment”). And finally the gradual shift for large numbers of people from rural to urban society, from an agricultural life within a long-standing and seemingly changeless traditional social hierarchy, to a commercial life (later known as capitalism) organized around relatively impersonal, changeable, and self-regulating markets. We will read a variety of short but substantial texts from this political and philosophical project, including works by Machiavelli, Locke, J.S. Mill, Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. We will also look at some applied philosophy in the form of recent Supreme Court cases. Our classes will be discussions of the presuppositions and implications of these texts, and of how they reinforce and (often) challenge one another. In general they all agree that freedom should be the ultimate political goal, but they differ radically over what this “freedom” should mean. Frequent short papers, with opportunities for rewriting, will give students the chance to join in this often contentious philosophical conversation about the meaning of modernity, and to go one step further by asking whether this modern “West” is now being transformed by our globalizing present into something very new.
Section 011 Good Science, Bad Science and Nonsense
Instructor: Mark Matlin
This seminar will explore the differences between legitimate science and its “evil twins” – bad science, pseudoscience and others – as exemplified by “miracle” cures, cold fusion, homeopathy, and astrology among other examples. We will learn about the scientific method – the self-correcting process by which hypothesis is compared with evidence and refined as a result. We will investigate the ways that bad science imitates real science, and learn how to spot science imposters. We will also address the personal and sociological factors that play a role in the conduct of science. Finally, we will consider how beliefs in unsubstantiated ideas originate and why so many people are willing to believe in them. Texts may include Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted World, Robert Park’s Voodoo Science, Kendrick Frazier’s Science Under Siege, Thomas Gilovich’s How We Know What Isn’t So, and Thomas Kida’s Don’t Believe Everything You Think.
Sections 012 and 013 The Journey: Art and Metaphor
Instructor: J.C. Todd
Section 012 TTh 11:25-12:45
Section 013 TTh 12:55 – 2:15
Why do we travel? What happens when a journey goes wrong? How can we journey while sitting still? These and other questions will arise as we investigate how a journey can be seen as a manifestation of freedom, of resistance, of oppression, of intellectual engagement. Our aim is to develop critical insights into the journey and its structure as an act and as a metaphor. We will use a variety of sources: literature, history, cultural studies, science and our own travels, beginning our investigation as the first humans began their travels—on foot, examining the relationship of walking to consciousness. We will explore spaces where travelers might rest and reassess or wander: Bryn Mawr’s green spaces, cloister and labyrinth, as well as the public squares and walkways of Philadelphia. Among the texts we will explore are classics such as the Sumerian myth of “The Descent of Inanna,” and more contemporary essays, fiction, graphic novel, film and poetry by writers and artists such as Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Jessica Abel, Allen Ginsberg, Jane Jacobs and Agnès Varda. Engagement with these written and visual texts will lead to discussion, fieldwork, journaling, and analytical writing and revising toward final portfolios. Each student’s writing in this course will become a map of the journey of her critical engagement with the idea of journey. In addition to conferencing with the instructor, students will form a community of readers, commenting supportively on the writing of their peers. The campus is our primary walking space, but we will take one Saturday afternoon field trip to Philadelphia; date TBA.
Section 014 Forms of Desire and Love
Instructor: Ali Madani
This seminar considers how philosophers, authors, and filmmakers have conceived of love and desire—its origins, forms of expression, constraints, and complications. From where, for example, do modern clichés and love tropes—the pains of desire or the phrase “my other half”--arise? We will begin with origin myths, both ancient (Plato’s Symposium) and modern (Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), in order to think about the ways in which love and desire are interlinked. The seminar will then turn to poetry to consider how verse form conditions expressions of amorous (Shakespeare’s As You Like It and Sonnets) and divine love (Song of Solomon; Donne’s Holy Sonnets). How, for example, is the desire for the beloved related to the desire for God? We will conclude in the modern era by reading selections of Freud’s psychology with accompanying Ovidian myths and by viewing a few recent films (Madden’s Shakespeare in Love and Kiarostami’s Certified Copy). What happens when predictable forms of desire break down in the modern era? Does it matter if love is ‘real’? These questions will be taken up in the context of this writing intensive seminar.
Section 015 and 016 Across Genders, Across Cultures: Transgenderism Around the World
Instructor: Casey Miller
Section 015 TTh 11:25 – 12:45
Section 016 TTh 2:25 – 3:45
Although every society defines what it means to be male or female, each does so in its own way. Similarly, in every culture there are people and communities whose gender identities do not fall neatly within a simple male/female binary and who call into question what it means to be a man or a woman. This seminar introduces students to important issues in the cross-cultural and anthropological study of transgenderism. What role does culture play in shaping and regulating gender and sexuality? How are the experiences of transgender individuals and communities around the world both similar and different? What does the study of transgenderism reveal about how gender and sexual norms are created, continued, and challenged? Together we will look for answers to these and other related questions by discussing and writing about a range of contemporary, historical, ethnographic, and fictional texts and films that explore transgender lives and cultures from across the globe, including Oceania, Asia, Africa, Europe, South and North America. Possible texts include Don Kulick's Travesti: Sex, Gender and Culture among Brazilian Transgendered Prostitutes, Gayatri Reddy's With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India, and Esther Newton's Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Topics and themes to be studied include concepts like "third gender" and "transgender;" intersexuality; the intersection of transgenderism with class, race, ethnicity, and nationality; drag developing strategies to engage with difficult texts, create original and insightful arguments, and effectively communicate them to others through drafting and revising short essays and longer papers.
Section 017 Travel Tales and Understanding
Instructor: Peter Briggs
This seminar covers a varied group of readings, all involving travel, exposure to new cultures, and the kinds of learning that come with exposure to unfamiliar and often thought-provoking values. Some readings are set in everyday contexts, while others are more unusual: captivity narratives, imaginary travels, a temptation narrative, and even a descent into madness. Readings will include Zitkala-Sa's American Indian Stories, Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats, Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders, Charlotte Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, and Julia Alvarez's How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. This rich reading fare guarantees lively class discussions, often centering on the social and personal values of different cultures; the readings also provide many writing opportunities--chances to look into new values or conflicts among values on paper. This is a seminar without “right answers.” It prizes ongoing explorations above arrival at a final destination.
Section 018 Critical Thinking and Social Justice
Instructor: Jessica Payson
You are signing up for a course designed to enhance your critical thinking skills. But why is critical thinking important? This course will ask you to consider the ways in which your capacity to think critically is not only valuable to you, but also important to society. What is the connection between a successful democracy and an informed and critically engaged people? Is being unaware or sloppy in one’s reasoning a failure in one’s political responsibility? In what ways might a lack of critical thinking perpetuate social injustice, such as sex- or race-based oppression, and in what ways might careful critical practices undermine such injustice? This course will ask students to reflect on these and other related questions by reading texts in political philosophy, ethics, feminism, and critical race theory. Particular theorists may include Socrates, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Paulo Freire, and Judith Butler. Texts may also include contemporary political punditry in the form of daily newspapers (The New York Times), radio broadcasts (NPR’s This American Life), or TV programs (The Rachel Maddow Show or The Colbert Report). Students will develop their own capacities for critical thinking through class discussions and writing assignments that require them to analyze, interpret, evaluate, and build compelling arguments.
Section 019 Bloodlines
Instructor: Emily Weissbourd
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
We describe gifted musicians and athletes as bearing talent “in their
blood,” and explain our loyalty to our relatives with the phrase “blood is
thicker than water.” But how did the imagery of “blood” as a carrier of
personal and group traits develop? And what can tracing its history teach
us about our understanding of family, kinship and identity today? Readings
will span a variety of genres, geographies, and historical periods, and may
include texts on renaissance Spain’s “pure blood statutes,” Shakespeare’s All’s
Well that Ends Well, short stories by Kate Chopin, and excerpts from Harry
Potter and The Mortal Instruments series that depict the inheritance of
magical “blood.” You will respond to these texts in several different ways:
primarily by writing academic essays, of course (you will draft and revise
a few of these) but also through blog posts, book reviews and oral
presentations. Throughout, we will consider how formal conventions and
implied audience differ across these genres, and how this knowledge can
help you to express your ideas clearly and persuasively.
Section 020 Innumeracy
Instructor: Amy Myers
MW 1:10 – 2:30
Which of the following pronouncements would you be least likely to hear at an informal social gathering? (A) “I was never any good at math.” (B) “I simply don’t have a head for numbers.” (C) “Reading was always difficult for me---I never quite figured it out.” Very few people living in the United States today would openly admit to option (C), yet large numbers of us shamelessly proclaim options (A) and (B). Where does American innumeracy come from, how innumerate are we, and why should we care? We will use New York Times bestseller Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences by Temple University Math Professsor John Allen Paulos as a basis of discussion for this unsettling phenomenon. Other readings include “The Case for Quantitative Literacy” by Lynn Arthur Steen and several short essays. Throughout the course students will write about their own experiences, opinions, and reactions to assigned readings through an explicit process of drafting, peer review, and revision.
Section 021 Stranger Than Fiction: From Realism to the Fantastic
Instructor: Daniel Torday
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
While we often think of fiction and nonfiction as distinct genres, the lines that divide them are not always so clear. How do we read George Orwell’s account of seeing a man executed by hanging differently if Orwell actually witnessed the event--or if it was “only a story,” as he claimed long after “The Hanging” was published? How can reading both the fictional accounts of the Russian Red Cavalry found in Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry Stories and earlier accounts of the same events found in Babel’s diaries help us understand why some writers of war narratives present their texts as nonfiction, while others write fiction clearly derived from first-hand experience? And what’s with W.G. Sebald’s crossing the lines between memoir and novel? In this course we will use close readings of a group of stories, novels, essays, and films that blur the lines separating nonfiction and fiction--in form and in content--to make inquiry into the nature of the dialectics of the reporting of empirical facts, memory and storytelling. While engaging these texts, we will develop and hone the writing skills expected on the college level.
Section 022 Humanity and Technology
Instructor: Douglas Blank
T/Th 11:25– 12:45
In this seminar, students explore predictions from science and science fiction on the relationships between humanity and technology. Readings may include Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology; David Stork’s HAL’s Legacy: 2001 Computer as Dream and Reality; Cory Doctorow's The Rapture of the Nerds: A Tale of the Singularity, Potshumanity, and Awkward Social Situations; Zoltan Istvan’s The Transhumanist Wager; and films Transcendent Man and Blade Runner.
Sections 023 and 024 Poverty, Affluence and American Culture
Instructor: Matthew Ruben
Section 022: TTh 12:55-2:15
Section 023: TTh 2:25-3:45
Whether dramatized by images of the Great Depression and post-Katrina New Orleans, or by the number of Americans lacking health insurance or facing foreclosure, poverty is one of the most persistent problems and controversial issues in the United States. Along with its obvious economic dimensions, poverty has a wide variety of political and cultural meanings. Through a selective, critical examination of scholarly works, journalism, novels, and movies, this Balch Seminar will explore the related themes of poverty, wealth, and the American Dream in the U.S., from the 1860s to the present. Using work from authors and directors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sandra Cisneros, Spike Lee, and Richard Wright, the course will look at how poverty, poor people, and class mobility have been discussed and represented in the United States, and it will provide an opportunity to explore how class and economic advancement impact how we see the meaning of America.
As an Emily Balch Seminar, this course involves critical reading, in-class discussion and cogent, idea-driven academic essay writing with one-on-one writing conferences outside of class. Course materials are drawn from a variety of genres and fields, and are meant to promote rich, open-ended interpretation and discussion. Students will write a series of papers and will have the opportunity to revise their work.
Section 25 Not My Nature
Instructor: Ellen Stroud
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
Nature is not always what one expects it to be, and is often the most interesting when it is confusing, surprising, or funny. In this seminar, we will be exploring the quirky side of American nature writing, with an eye toward questioning common assumptions about both the natural world and the role of people within it. We will be reading and writing about ways in which nature has caught American writers off guard, surprised them, made them laugh, and terrified them. In doing so, we will challenge ourselves to think in new ways about the environments in which we live. What makes something natural or unnatural? What does it mean to be wild? And what do our answers say about ourselves? Readings may include selections from John Muir’s My First Summer in the Sierra, Henry David Thoreau’s The Maine Woods, Mary Austin’s Land of Little Rain, Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson, Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, and essays by environmental historians William Cronon, Jennifer Price, and Harriet Ritvo.
Section 26 Environmental Social Problems
Instructor: Nate Wright
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
This course examines how people have understood and addressed or failed to address problems in their surrounding environment. By “environment,” we’ll mean both our natural surroundings and our built environments, commonly understood as the world as it naturally presents itself and the world as it is manipulated and built by humans. Historically, the course begins with the radical environmental changes at the dawn of modernity as people became less influenced by the local scenes in which they found themselves and were more influenced by factors far removed from them in both space and time. Next, we’ll explore the massive urban social problems experienced in urban areas due to rapid industrialization and growing rates of poverty and vice. The course then moves through a series of more contemporary case studies of environmental problems (including both single-event “disasters” like Hurricane Katrina or catastrophic floods from careless mining practices in Appalachia and ongoing slowly developing ever-present realities like global climate change) that demonstrate the importance of both critical academic understanding of the problems and engaged practice in applying this understanding to real world situations. Readings will include both theoretical and empirical pieces from sociology, anthropology, political science, economics, and non-scholarly news media and best-selling popular non-fiction.
Section 27 Arguing with Songs
Instructor: Michael Tratner
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
This course will focus on how popular songs persuade us to act and think in certain ways and on how we might “argue back.” We will start with songs that overtly present arguments: critiquing consumerism (Kanye West, “All Falls Down”); breaking gender roles (Dar Williams, “When I was a Boy”); presenting solutions to social problems (John Lennon, “Imagine”); criticizing the global political order (Fela Kuti, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”); resisting sexism (Queen Latifah, U.N.I.T.Y.); turning political speeches into songs (Will.I.Am. and others, “Yes We Can”). We will examine how such songs are structured as arguments, and we will write songs and essays using those structures. To generalize from songs to other arts, we will consider how arguments appear in images, videos, architecture and even landscaping. To understand the power of the arts to persuade, we will read some theories of how the arts tap into the unconscious and prescribe identities for us to inhabit. Finally, we will consider what it means to live in a media-saturated society: to be yourself, do you need to find ways to answer all the arguments washing over you every day?
Section 28 and 29 Changing Our Story: Shifting Identities, Altering Environments
Instructors: Jody Cohen, sec. 28; Anne Dalke, sec. 29
TTh 11:25 – 12:45
Grounding ourselves in the domains of identity matters and ecological studies, we ask how different dimensions of human identity (such as race, class, gender, sexuality and religion) affect our ability to act in the social and natural worlds; simultaneously, we look at how these spaces shape and re-shape our identities and actions, individually and collectively. Our cross-disciplinary approach re-examines personal experiences through the differing orientations of the humanities, social sciences and sciences. Seeking fresh understandings, we revisit well-known examples of children’s literature, alongside Eli Clare's memoir, Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness and Liberation; Elizabeth Kolbert’s “unnatural history,” The Sixth Extinction; and one novel; as well as essays by community activists and educators Teju Cole, Paulo Freire, Van Jones, and Eve Tuck.