Emily Balch Seminars Course Descriptions Fall 2020

Section 001
Sense and Nonsense
Instructor: Jen Callaghan
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 pm
Format:  In person

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells….” said children’s author Dr. Seuss. “It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” In this seminar, we will think deeply about the playful illogic of silliness, absurdity, poppycock, and gibberish in order to tease out their whys, hows, and what-fors. What is nonsense? Is it possible to make sense of nonsense? What purposes beyond entertainment can nonsense serve? To help us critically examine nonsense, we’ll also consider some ways in which humans try to make sense of the world and what role our senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) play in our understanding of it. Our inquiry will draw on texts from literature, philosophy, visual art, film, and science. Topics may include the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey; InspiroBot and Buddhist koans; the avant-garde art movement Dadaism; political satire; and cryptography. 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.

Section 002
Short Stuff and Small Things
Instructor: Betty Litsinger
Mon-Thurs 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format: Online

As Shakespeare famously wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” but perhaps it is also the soul of philosophy and a key to interpreting the world. This course is an invitation to indulge in the guilty pleasures of reading extremely short works and thinking about the seemingly inconsequential and nearly imperceptible. We will begin by studying aphorism. Using Andrew Hui’s A Theory of the Aphorism: From Confucius to Twitter as a guide, we will explore the ways in which pithy, enigmatic statements have opened minds and cultures to new ways of thinking. Next, we will consider the difference between the merely witty and the profound as we sample quips, memes, tweets, six-word memoirs, various short poetic forms, and chengyu (four character Chinese idioms). We will end our study of literary short forms with an exploration of flash fiction (stories as short as one sentence in length), focusing on works by Lydia Davis. Moving on to the three-dimensional, we will consider the appeal of smallness—the aesthetics of minimalism, twee, and miniaturization. Finally, readings from How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch will inform our conversation about privacy, introversion, and the option of making ourselves small. Students will engage in peer-informed revision of their essays, improving their thinking through writing and discussion and improving their writing by rethinking.

Section 003/004
Performance and Self
Sec. 003 Instructor: Gail Hemmeter  
Format: Online

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. We will look at the ways artists and writers construct performances that convey these social and political aspects of identity. Our texts come from a variety of sources: philosophy, psychology, theater, fiction, poetry, and film. They may include examinations of the self by Freud and Emerson, and expressions of gender performance in the poems of Tony Hoagland; in a play by Susan Glaspell; in European paintings; and in films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  We’ll consider performances of ethnicity in Henry David Hwang’s M. Butterfly and in the writings of Gloria Anzaldua; and we’ll analyze dramas of class in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. The end of the seminar will provide an opportunity to create a short project around course themes. Discussion will be less about right or wrong answers, more about exploring ideas in all their complexity. Because writing is also a performance, we will pay attention to how we present ourselves on paper. Students will write frequently, confer individually with me, and have opportunities to revise their work.
          In this online course, classes will combine synchronous discussion, work done in breakout groups and tutorials, and asynchronous activities.  

Sec. 004  Performance and Self
Instructor: Linda Caruso Havilland
Mon – Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m
Format:  In Person


See the course description for Sec. 003.  This section of “Performance and Self” will meet in person for three weeks before migrating to an online format.  

Section 005
The Human Animal
Instructor: Willow DiPasquale
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  In person


In this seminar, we will consider the question of identity by way of the animal kingdom. What makes us human? What makes an animal not like us, or maybe very like us? Where do we draw that line (or should we) between ourselves and animals? As a class, we’ll explore animal texts from a variety of sources—scientific, popular, philosophical, literary, and artistic—including medieval bestiaries; recent fantasy literature, film, and television; and news articles covering animal welfare issues. Our purpose will be to examine how these texts can illuminate the values, challenges, and unique experiences of both humans and animals, and to consider what we can learn about ourselves through exploring the lives of animals. Topics may include animal rights; environmental and habitat crises; animal satires; “otherness;” veganism; discrimination; intersectionality; animal cognition and behavior; race, gender, and other markers of identity. Students will engage with short, exploratory writing assignments, as well as more developed analytical essays. These compositions will support students’ writing processes via planning, drafting, and revising. Regular class discussions will also encourage students’ development of academic discourse, critical thinking, and expression of ideas.

Section 006
Money and the Good Life
Instructor: Thimo Heisenberg
Tues-Fri 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  In person

What role should money, and its pursuit, play in our lives? Is it unethical to do things “just” for the money? How does having money change someone’s character? How does it affect their relationships to others? And, does money make us happy? In this seminar, we will examine these questions from a sociological, psychological, literary and philosophical perspective. Texts for the seminar may include selections from works such as Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Marx’s “Money in Bourgeois Society,” Simmel’s Philosophy of Money, Sherman’s The Anxieties of Affluence and Bijleveld/Aarts’ The Psychological Science of Money. Through intensive class discussions, longer writing assignments and frequent peer-review, students will learn how to write and talk about ethically resonant ideas in an interdisciplinary setting.

Sections 007/008
Dreams
Instructor: Mariah Min
Sec. 007   M/Th 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Sec. 008   M/Th 2:30-4:00 p.m.
Format:  Online

“Why do we dream?” is an intriguing question, but ultimately one for science to answer. On the other hand, “what can we do with dreams?” is a question that human beings have approached from an almost limitless number of perspectives over thousands of years. In this course, we will practice the principles of academic writing through an engagement with various cultural texts about dreams. Whether envisioned as a source of philosophical insight, a refuge for unspeakable desires, or an experience to be intentionally manipulated, the space of the dream is an unfailingly fascinating one—and the works that have been created to explore it are equally as fascinating. Our texts may include Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, Kon Satoshi’s Paprika, and Christopher Nolan’s Inception. No previous experience with literary traditions or ability to remember one’s own dreams necessary. Students will produce short pieces of written work throughout the semester, with frequent opportunities for revisions, peer workshops, and one-on-one conferences.

Section 009
Dictators, Democrats and Development
Instructor: Michael T. Rock
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

Why do some dictators and democrats see growth and development in their own interest while others use their control of the state to enrich themselves and those in their entourage? How do developmentally-minded dictators and democrats go about creating and sustaining pro-growth with equity development political coalitions? Why has the transition to democracy been so much easier in East Asia and so much harder in the Middle East? How does religion—Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and Islam—affect the developmental and democratic aspirations of dictators and democrats? Is Confucianism responsible for the developmental successes of China, Korea and Taiwan? Is Islam anti-developmental and anti-democratic as some contend, or is it an incubator of development and democracy? The aim of this seminar is to begin to answer these questions by looking at the democratic and developmental experiences of a number of countries in East Asia and the Middle East. We will explore these questions in film, longer texts, and journal essays. Students will engage with these questions in short papers, class presentations and class discussion.

Section 010/011
Family Secrets
Sec. 010 Instructor: Bethany Schneider
Sec. 011 Instructor: Kate Thomas
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m. 
Format:  Online

Why does every family have a secret? It might be as sweet as a recipe for walnut cake or as cruel as a stolen birthright. It might be as tiny as a buried doll or as heavy as a murder. It might—like Thomas Jefferson’s secret—unmask both a family and a nation. But whatever it is, however important or horrible or humorous, every single family has one. From slavery to sexuality, from crime families to royal families, we will look at the power of family secrets, and ask what “family” means when it is founded on that which must remain unspeakable. We will approach writing as a way to communicate and persuade, done best when you engage your creativity and curiosity. You don’t have to come to class with answers—only questions, an interest in what makes families tick, and a nose for a good secret!

Section 012
New and Improved: Adaptations of Stories from Around the World
Instructor: Shiamin Kwa
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

If we live in an age that prizes innovation and rewards originality, why is it that so much of our entertainment takes the form of adaptation? This course will examine adaptation as a form that looks forward into the future while maintaining a connection to its origins. We will look at different forms of adaptation practiced by authors, artists, and composers in a variety of media, such as poetry, film, comics, and opera, and explore how to develop arguments for interpreting adaptations through different analytical lenses. Adaptations of poetry, fairytales, and plays from around the world will give us the opportunity to look at adaptation across space, time, and media. Required texts include The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, Mulan: Five Versions of the Classic Chinese Folktale, Frankenstein, and Romeo and Juliet. Through a portfolio writing process, students are encouraged to borrow from the principles of adaptation in their own critical essay writing process, and will also create their own adaptation in class.

Section 013
Making Memory Matter
Instructor: Lisa Saltzman
Mon-Thurs, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  In person


Think of a fossil. Then think of a photograph. Each contains a trace of the past. Yet only one is an intentional object. Not nature, but culture. If photographs make particularly vivid the ways that works of culture can capture the past, summon history in visual form, they are by no means the only such vessels of memory. All works of culture, be they art or artifact, come to us from a moment in time. That said, only some make remembrance their explicit subject. This seminar will explore those cultural objects that make memory matter, from the contested monuments and memorials that define and defile public space in the present to the paintings and photographs, video projections and installations that negotiate those historical subjects that at once defy yet demand representation.  Among those works to be considered: Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial and An-My Lê’s Small Wars; William Kentridge’s Monument and Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hiroshima; Shimon Attie’s The Writing on the Wall and Anselm Kiefer’s Sulamith; Kara Walker’s A Subtlety and Mark Bradford’s Tulsa; Doris Salcedo’s Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic and Oscar Muñoz’s Project for a Memorial.  

Section 014
Walking
Instructor: Jennifer Walters
Mon-Thurs, 8:00-9:30 a.m.
Format:  Hybrid

This course explores the literature, art, politics, philosophies, and science of a distinctive human activity: Walking. Through the critical examination of scholarly and scientific writing, creative non-fiction, poetry, music, and film, we will consider how one’s experiences of time, identity, thinking, emotions, political action, and the natural and built world are shaped by how humans move our bodies from place to place. This course involves critical reading, attentive listening, learning how to give constructive feedback, and presenting one's work. Our texts may include work by Rebecca Solnit, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf and Thich Nhat Han. Students will have frequent short writing assignments with opportunities for peer review, consultation with the instructor and revision of work. 

Section 015/016
Poverty, Wealth, and American Culture
Instructor: Matt Ruben
Sec. 015:  Mon-Thurs, 8:00-9:30 a.m.
Sec. 016:  Mon – Thurs 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online


Whether dramatized by images of the Great Depression, Coronavirus-related unemployment figures, major disparities in wealth and income, or unequal access to opportunity along lines of race and class, poverty is one of the most persistent problems and controversial issues in the United States. Along with its 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 18th and 19th centuries all the way up to the present. Using work from authors and directors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, Barbara Ehrenreich, 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 meetings outside of class.  Course materials are drawn from a variety of genres and fields, and are meant to promote rich, open-ended interpretation, writing, and discussion.

Section 017
Facts about Fiction
Instructor: Martín Gaspar
Mon-Thurs, 8:00 – 9:30 a.m.
Format:  Online

Fiction is not just a literary matter. Knowingly or not, we model our personal and social lives through narratives we come to accept or decry—narratives that don’t always claim or need to be faithful to truth in the ordinary sense. Fictions also enable and entice analysis and speculative thinking: they allow us to visit alternative and faraway worlds, for example, or discuss a far-fetched behavior, or explore our morality and political beliefs and our notions of truth and reality. In this course, we will examine how fiction is viewed in various areas of knowledge. We will engage questions coming from philosophy (In what sense can we say that “Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant detective” is and isn’t a true statement?), historiography (Given that a book of history organizes events according to a constructed plot, aren’t historians writing fictions?), cognitive science (How come we agree that a yeti is “less fictional” than a dragon?), economics (For, aren’t currencies (and bitcoins) agreed-upon fictions of value?), political science (How much of “the nation” and “the People” is fictional?), and the sciences, always concerned with identifying reality and grounding opinion and speculation based on it. We will be reading essays from these disciplines, and especially from literature: short stories, essays, poems, and a play. After all, literary writers and scholars have been tackling questions of fiction for a while, creating arguments and a conceptual toolkit to examine the nature of verisimilitude, plots, fictional entities, “non-fiction,” identification, alternative worlds, and stories we imagine and live by. Students will examine the presence of fiction in academic disciplines and everyday lives and argue about it through a series of short analytical and argumentative writing assignments that lead to longer essays.

Section 018
Imagining Childhood
Instructor: Eleanor Stanford
Tues-Fri, 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

Childhood has been variously conceived as a time of innocence, a stage of innate wisdom, and a feral state. How do we define childhood as a social category? What do these definitions say about the culture and historical moment from which they arise? In this course, we will consider depictions and ideas of childhood across cultures and time periods; literary representations of childhood in fiction and poetry; and scientific findings about brain development. Texts may include The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Alison Gopnick's The Philosophical Baby. Other possible topics include legal ramifications (Pennsylvania’s ruling that minors cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole, for example, or the argument for lowering the voting age); helicopter parenting, free-range parenting, and the relatively recent use of “parent” as a verb in general; and how technology is changing our ideas about childhood.

Section 019
Building Bryn Mawr
Instructor: Alicia Walker
Mon-Thurs, 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format:  In-person


Can architecture shape the way we feel, think, live, and learn? Do the buildings in which we work or study affect the ways 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 architectural planning and development on Bryn Mawr’s campus. In particular, we explore the ways in which the founders of Bryn Mawr understood architecture as a key aspect of the institution’s image and aspirations. We consider Bryn Mawr’s High Victorian Gothic and Collegiate Gothic buildings in relation to nineteenth-century debates surrounding the acceptability and appropriate form of women’s higher education; trends in architectural styles at the other women’s colleges established in England and the United States around this time; and the ways in which M. Carey Thomas (the first Dean and second president of Bryn Mawr) promoted architecture as a crucial aspect of the reputation and goals of “her” new institution. In addition to recent studies in architectural history, readings will include nineteenth-century letters, architectural treatises, and institutional archival documents as well as literary works such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Princess (1847) and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892). We will also read selections from Victorian social and medical treatises that address women’s perceived physiological and intellectual limitations. Course assignments emphasize critical thinking and writing skills as well as the cultivation of personal voice.

Section 020
Schooled
Instructor: Amanda Barrett Cox
Tues-Fri, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

What does it mean to be educated? “I never let my schooling interfere with my education,” Mark Twain famously quipped. Decades later, Albert Einstein wrote, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” If education isn’t schooling, what is it? Is it a body of knowledge to be mastered, a process that unfolds, or something else? If it’s a body of knowledge, what do you need to know? If it’s a process, how does it happen? If it’s something else, what is it? And who gets to decide? In this course, we will explore these and other questions as we think deeply about the relationship between education and schooling. We will draw on a diverse array of sources to inform our thinking and writing—from poetry and spoken-word performance to films, speeches, autobiographical pieces, and your own observations. Our texts may include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son,” excerpts from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, films such as Dead Poet’s Society, television series such as The Wire, and podcasts such as This American Life. We will engage in discussion and writing, not with the goal of getting to the “right” answer, but with the goal of sharpening our thinking, organizing and supporting our ideas, and improving our writing. Students will complete regular short writing assignments and will engage in cycles of revision and peer review. In addition to regular consultations with the instructor, the course will include several film viewings outside of regular class time.

Section 021
The Urban Gothic
Instructor: Chloe Flower
Tues-Fri, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

Since the late nineteenth century, the city has been a symbol of fear and aspiration, of ruin and regeneration, and authors, artists, and filmmakers have figured it as a site synonymous with modernity. This class will focus on the particular genre known as the “urban gothic,” posing the question of how writers and artists have used modes of the fantastic or supernatural to examine the emergent, real, though often unspoken, anxieties about the conditions of city living. The new arrival’s anonymity amidst the urban crowds offered thrilling opportunities for romantic and economic possibility. Why, then, did the gothic--a genre long associated with foreign travel and desolate country houses--move into cities in the twentieth century? How does the urban gothic register new cultural anxieties about race, sexual mores and class mobility? How do the emerging discourses of imperialism and degeneration, contagion, occultism and psychoanalysis register the fears and desires associated with urban life? We will consider early hallmarks of the genre such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Other texts for the course may include works by N.K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Carmen Maria Machado, and selected theoretical pieces. We may also discuss examples from film noir by Jules Dassin, Fritz Lang, and Howard Hawks. This class will focus on literary analysis, critical writing, engaged class discussion and argument formation. Through a series of short writing assignments, students will become familiar with the processes of analysis and revision.

Section 022
Locked Up
Instructor:  Chiara Benetollo
Mon-Thurs, 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

What does it mean to be free? Can we be free while incarcerated, or caged while technically free? How do restrictions in our freedom of movement and in the interaction with other people affect our experience of time, our understanding of ourselves and the others? In this course, we will explore representations of incarceration and isolation across different periods, genres and media. We will ask how race, gender, and socio-economic factors shape the carceral experience for millions of Americans today, but we will also go back in time to read the stories of political and religious prisoners, from Malcom X to Dostoevsky and the 17-century Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella. We will ask what (and who) gets to define our image of prisons and prisoners, and we will explore metaphorical imprisonment alongside literal incarceration, reading reportages on the experience of quarantine as well as poems that describe the feeling of being trapped in one’s body. Through reading, writing and group discussion, we will learn to approach critically a broad range of sources, developing strategies to analyze texts in their contexts and asking whose voices are heard and whose voices are forgotten or silenced. We will explore different strategies to convincingly develop an argument that takes into account audience expectations and the context in which we are writing.

Section 023/024
Forms of Celebrity
Instructor: Sara Bryant
Sec 023  M/Th 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Sec 024  T/Fri  4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online

We are sick of celebrities: We know that popular fame can be a pervasive nuisance or a harmful distortion of cultural values. Yet we also can’t get enough of celebrities, who continue to attract attention, sell products, and champion the social good. This seminar explores how different media—print, photography, film, television, and the Internet—have given rise to changing forms of celebrity. We will investigate both the underlying bases of celebrity and the varied cultural, artistic, and economic functions that this kind of fame performs. Our overarching focus will be how celebrities and celebrity-hood shape the public sphere and our collective discourse. Texts and topics of inquiry might include: late-Victorian celebrity Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; glamour and star-making in the golden age of Hollywood; rhetorics of privacy and visibility during the Cold War; cultures of fandom; Lauren Berlant’s take on “Diva Citizenship”; celebrity politicians; and fame in the era of social media. We will develop conceptual questions and arguments through close readings, engaged discussions, short essays, the revision process, and classroom presentations.

Section 025
Media Literacy: The New Yorker, The New York Times and Beyond
Instructor: Dan Torday
Mon-Thurs 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  Online


We live in a moment in which journalism—magazines, newspapers and online magazines—is as important, and as scattered, as it has ever been. In this course we'll take a close look at the magazine and newspaper that have, more than any, defined the endeavor in this country for the past hundred years, The New Yorker and The New York Times. How does a massively diverse group of writers including Zadie Smith, Atul Gawande, Karen Russell and George Saunders approach the pages of these magazines and newspapers? How did Truman Capote go from reading a small piece in the Times about a murder in Kansas to writing the iconic "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood? And how can staying informed by and about these and similar sources help combat the dizzying influence of social media and the myriad sources we face every day? In this course, in addition to a close focus on our own writing, we'll read and question the way we receive all the information that crosses our desks and phones every day.

Section 026
Reimagining the Possible: Education, Imagination, and Social Change
Instructor: Kelly Zuckerman
Tues/Fri, 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format: Online

Educational philosopher Maxine Greene once posited, "Imagination is the capacity to think of things as if they could be otherwise." Framed by Greene's words, this seminar will explore the interplay between education, imagination, and social change. How do we approach critical issues in education with criticality and creativity? How can, if at all, standards and accountability coexist with imagination and innovation? What is the role of risk-taking, failure, and fear in educational reform? What about close observation, collaboration, and reflection? In our exploration, we will place our own educational autobiographies in conversation with the works and thoughts of Maxine Greene, John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks, among others. Through close reading, critical self-reflection, and class discussion, as well as a variety of writing assignments—expository, persuasive, narrative, and descriptive—we will give imaginative shape to a more just and equitable educational system and world. 

Section 027
Curiouser and Curiouser
Instructor: Mark Lord
Tu/Fri 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Format:  In person

Curiosity might be considered the engine of our selves, of our culture, and of our species. It drives creativity in the arts, discovery in science, and innovation in business and industry. It’s also the mechanism we use to come to know ourselves deeply and to understand the ways in which we might thrive in our environments. But our capacity to be curious creatures might actually be changing as changes to our environments, media, and modes of interaction open up new possibilities for awareness and, perhaps, challenge more traditional modes of paying attention. In our seminar, we’ll be curious about the nature of our own curiosities, about the ways that curiosity drives inquiry, and also about the curious nature of curiosity itself.
     Although we will look at some theoretical, historical, and science-based materials to fuel our discussions, we will primarily use works of art in many media (film, literature, drama, visual art, television, new media) to instigate our consideration of this topic. We will think together about the ways in which our curiosity creates connections between us and the works of art with which we engage. We will look at the ways that these cultural documents create pathways for our attentions, to lead us into the world of the art but also into the world of the artist. And we will ask important questions about the ways that these modes of curiosity model the sorts of inquiry we want to pursue in academic writing.
     In addition to cultivating skills in traditional modes of reading, discussion, and critical writing, students in this seminar should be interested in occasional explorations of other sorts of classroom activities and assignments, including personal writing, photography, collaborative work, meditation, collaborative work, and (very gentle and unthreatening) theater games.

Section 028
Cicero: His Life and Times, from Modern Novels and Ancient Sources
Instructor: Walter Stromquist
Tues-Fri 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Format:  In person

The Roman Republic was about as close as the ancient world came to a modern national democracy. It was a society and culture very different from our own, but people faced the same challenges that people face everywhere today. In the middle years of the first century BCE, the republic was degraded by corruption, dictatorship, and civil war, until it finally collapsed into permanent one-man rule. These times were a catalog of the hazards that face any large-scale democracy, and those who try to preserve democracy must now answer to how we can succeed where the Romans failed. We will visit this world in the company of Marcus Tullius Cicero, a lawyer and politician who devoted his life to his defense of the Republic. We will meet him first by reading modern novels, including Saylor’s Roman Blood, in which Cicero presents the defense in a salacious, politically-charged murder case, and Harris’s Imperium, in which he blows the whistle on a corrupt provincial governor and then becomes a candidate for the high office of Consul. These novels make history come alive, and they give us the background we need for a critical reading of historical accounts and ancient sources, such as Cicero’s own version of the murder trial and Cicero’s campaign manager’s secret election strategy book. Did the novelists get it right? Did Cicero? There will be no shortage of provocative subjects to write about.