Signature Courses unite a diverse range of undergraduates in the exploration of compelling challenges or “big questions” of our time. These courses--taught by our most renowned scholar-teachers--highlight Duke's particular strengths in promoting active interchange among faculty and students in the humanities, natural and social sciences, arts, and engineering. Signature courses are designed to integrate curricular and co-curricular engagements, and to foster the skills that prepare you for life-long learning. Drawing explicit connections between the past and present, these courses provide you with an informed analytical context for understanding significant social, cultural, political, or scientific issues, events, or historical moments.
What's so special about a Signature Course?
- Address large, enduring themes, “big questions,” or compelling challenges of our times
- Appeal to large numbers of students across wide array of disciplines
- Make explicit connections between past and present
- Expose students to a range of perspectives and methods of analysis from one or more disciplines
- Connect to larger intellectual community through co-curricular events, activities, or experiences (e.g. speaker series, performances, exhibits, etc.)
- Employ pedagogies that foster habits of mind and intellectual practices for lifelong learning (e.g. collaboration and teamwork, research, critical thinking and reading, written and oral communication skills).
Fall 2017 Courses
Course title: Three Big Ideas in Evolution (Signature Course)
Course Number: ARTS&SCI 190-01, cross listings: Bio 190-01
Curriculum Codes: STS/NS
Instructor Name: Dr. Daniel McShea
“Three big ideas have dominated thinking about evolution. One is Charles Darwin’s idea that organisms are collections of adaptations – like the webbed feet of ducks – that help them survive and reproduce. The second big idea, from paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, is that organisms are collections of historical accidents. Five fingers on each hand and certain aspects of our intelligence might have more to do with chance than with adaptation. The third is what biologist Stuart Kauffman calls self-organization. Our ability to maintain ourselves and to evolve might not be adaptations, but rather the inevitable properties of complex systems.
Which view is right? (All.) Is there some viewpoint that reveals all three to be aspects of a single process? (Yes.) Can that viewpoint help us understand the factors that govern our lives? (Maybe.)”
Course title: Democracy Ancient & Modern (Signature Course)
Course Number: Arts& SCI 275-01, cross listings: CLST 275-01; PolSci 211-01; History 234-01; Ethics 275-01
Curriculum Codes: CCI/EI/CZ/SS
Instructor Name Dr. Jed Atkins
Examines democracy in its ancient and modern forms, with special attention to Athenian and American democracy. Does modern democracy fulfill the promise of ancient democracy, or betray its fundamental tenets? Topics may include freedom, equality, and rights; democratic institutions; citizenship; rhetoric; democratic knowledge and decision-making; foreign policy; corruption; religion; and hope.
Course title: How Does Biology Work? The Physical and Chemical Underpinnings of Biological Nanomachines (Signature Course)
Course Number: ARTS&SCI 302-01, cross listings: BIOPHYSICAL CHEMISTRY 302-01
Curriculum Codes : NS
Instructor Name: Dr. David Beratan
An introduction to biophysical chemistry and molecular biophysics. Explores principles that underpin biological structure and function through such topics as: how the structure and function of biomolecules can be studied at the level of single molecules; how biomolecular machines capture energy and do work; how biomolecules function within networks to convey signals, act cooperatively, and form patterns. Requires one year of introductory chemistry, physics, and calculus, and familiarity with some of the molecular foundations of biology.
Fall 2016 Courses
Hashtags, Memes & Digital Tribes
Course No. LIT 302 / WOMENST 320/ VMS 324 / AMES 302 / AMI 302
Curriculum Codes: ALP, CCI, STS
Instructor: Professor Negar Mottahedeh
Hashtags, Memes and Digital Tribes aims to track the digital life and creative expression of groups online in a close study of images, captions and hyperlinked tags. As such, the course examines the rituals, symbols, linguistic innovations and cultural patterns that structure the everyday life of global digital tribes online and investigates the impact of digital and social media (smartphones, digital cameras, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Periscope etc.) on the constitution of communities online and offline.
Students will research the political and natural forces, activities, ideas, interests and upheavals that forge online communities such as those that have formed around the hashtags #occupy #parisattacks #vanlife #climatechange #WhyIstayed #prisonwife #blacklivesmatter #iranelection #droneoftheday but also the mythic imaginings, laws, cultural understandings and historical contexts that shape groups and their collective behaviors. The students’ own semester long independent research projects will drive the course inquiries into the underlying myths, rituals, linguistic innovations and cultural symbols that connect groups of people online and that constitute people’s digital belonging to such communities. The course thus links current online communities to their historical emergence and to their mythical imaginings of the past. Here, Homer’s mythic rendition of the life of Penelope and her Odysseus exemplifies one such narrative that shapes the patterning of images, captions and hashtags (e.g. #waitinggame #holdingonforever) that shape the community of the #prisonwife on Instagram. In a radically different example, the David and Goliath myth ritually informs the tweets, video captures, and images that document the struggles and gains of global #climatechange activist against major corporations on Twitter and Periscope.
As students initiate the first phase of their research into the historical and cultural backgrounds of the global digital groups they study, they will meet with digital anthropologists and members of online groups and communities in different locations around the world using video conferencing /and screen share platforms to discuss and elaborate their research. Thus team work is not only modeled by the community life that the students study in their research and class case studies, students’ participation in semester-long masterminds and research presentation groups provide sustained examples of the benefits of collective exchange and team learning and team supported projects. The course is valuable for students interested in questions of literary and historical significance, government, policy, social change and revolutionary upheaval, cultural anthropology, visual and cultural studies, gender and sexuality, studies of the environment, contemporary media, markets, psychology and international comparative studies.
The History of Terrorism
Course No. HISTORY 279D / PUBPOL 279D / ARTS&SCI 279D
Curriculum Codes: CZ, CCI
Instructor Professor Martin Miller
Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Americans have awakened to the threat of terrorism on a scale unimagined by previous generations. In the aftermath, the USA Patriot Act was approved by a nearly unanimous margin in Congress, and President George W. Bush proclaimed a global War on Terrorism. What conditions led to this extraordinary situation?
The purpose of this course is to explore the historical roots of modern political violence. Contrary to popular belief, terrorism is not a recent phenomenon traceable to extremist factions or pathological individuals. It has, in fact, been an integral part of the policies of many governments and societies around the world for centuries. Insurgent terrorist organizations can be found in ancient Israel, twelfth century Islam, and fourteenth century India. In Europe prior to the 19th century, Christian religious justifications dominated the use of violence against declared heretics and dissenters. The modern era of Western history, which traditionally begins with the French Revolution in 1789, inaugurated the use of violence to achieve political objectives in a secular context. The combat between state security agencies and insurgent organizations over issues of rights, liberties and legitimate governmental authority emerged in full force during the 19th and 20th centuries, setting the stage for our contemporary dilemmas.
The course will proceed chronologically. We shall first read portions of the ancient and medieval theological discussions of "tyrannicide," which offer important insights into the genesis of modern of secular and religious justifications of terrorism. The main focus of our readings will concentrate on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on trends of political violence in Western Europe, Russia and the U.S. Attention will be directed throughout to the interrelationship between instances of terrorism exercised by government security forces and insurgent movements dedicated to the use of violence. The course will conclude with an analysis of the American terrorist organizations of the 1960s and of the subsequent rise of Muslim jihadi violence.
In addition to our readings, students will view a number of documentary films. With regard to the U.S., they include the secretly produced “Underground” (1974) in which members of the radical Weather Underground seek to examine and explain why many American campuses became sites of terrorism, accounts of Ku Klux Klan violence, and the 1979 Greensboro, N.C. “massacre.” Students will write response papers and a research paper due at term’s end.
An important feature of the course will be our Scholars in Residence, several specialists in various fields of terrorist studies. They will be our guests as they spend several days at Duke providing their expertise in lectures and engaging with students in more informal settings outside of class.
Global Development: Politics, Policy and Practice
Course no. POLSCI 125D
Curriculum codes: SS, CCI
Instructor: Professor Erik Wibbels
Why are some countries rich and some poor? Why are some households rich and some poor? This course introduces students to the intellectual tools for understanding why development varies as it does across the globe and the practical tools for designing and evaluating policies aimed at alleviating poverty. To that end, the course is organized into three parts. The first part focuses on the big picture: the macroeconomic and political foundations for sustained economic growth, including historical legacies, technological innovation and political institutions. The second part focuses on the micro-picture: the household-level dynamics of poverty and development, including access to food and credit, the role of health and education, the transition from village to city life, and day-to-day governance. The third part of the course introduces students to the practicalities of designing and evaluating the efficacy of governance and poverty relief interventions and policies. The focus will be on the use of field experiments to study interventions to promote better governance and household wellbeing. Over the course of the semester we will have three Wednesday evening conversations and dinners with development practitioners from the World Bank, RTI International, and USAID in order to better understand the relationship between academic learning and the international development industry.
The class will be taught with an eye toward gathering both abstract knowledge and specific skills. To promote the latter, we will use Friday section meetings to work on exercises and activities that will develop your ability to work with data, develop country expertise, develop experiments, and design/evaluate governance and anti-poverty programs. In doing this work, the underlying data will come from a place (a city, a region, or a country) that you care about, and your applied research on caloric consumption, social mobility, etc. will come from your own experience. Thus, the hard skills you will be developing will be deployed on places, issues and people that you care about. These sessions will be hands-on, and you will need to work with data. Since these sessions will take some preparation on your part, I have taken it easy with the reading load for the class.
Race, Genomics and Society
Genetics is among today’s most cutting-edge and far-reaching sciences, and has been at the forefront of discourse concerning the concept of “race” in humans. This course explores human history, human variation, human identity and human health through a broad range of enduring and emerging themes and challenging questions related to race and genetics (and now, genomics) on a global scale. Do biological human races exist? How do we explain variation in skin color and other physical features typically used to identify races? What are the distinctions between biological and social constructions of race, over time and in different societies? Are racial differences in athletics and academics due to genetics? What does genetic ancestry testing tell us about race, ethnicity, and identity? What is the role of genetics in racial and ethnic health disparities? Should medicines be developed for specific racial groups?
Race, Genomics and Society is for students at all levels from any discipline in the arts, humanities, and sciences (natural, social, formal, and applied). Course materials are selected from various fields and sources (e.g. academic literature, popular press), and include key texts, films, case studies, and other works that represent topics within the modules of the course. The course employs a wide range of pedagogies and assessments, such as reading and writing assignments, quizzes, debates, charrettes, student-led discussions, creative projects, and community engagement that cultivate independent scholarship, collaboration and teamwork, and skills in research, critical reading and thinking, and written and oral communication. By design, the course connects students to the larger intellectual community through engagement with a variety of scholars and scientists at Duke and outside of Duke, as well as members of the broader Durham community. This serves to promote exchange of knowledge, ideas, and experiences among students, faculty, and diverse publics, and prepare students for life-long learning.
Spring 2016 Courses
ARE THINGS GETTING BETTER? THE QUESTION OF PROGRESS IN WORLD AFFAIRS
Course no. POLSCI 234D / PUBPOL 233D / ICS 252D
Curriculum Codes: SS, R, W
Instructor: Joseph Grieco
This course addresses an important question about world affairs: are governments and their respective societies making progress in building a more peaceful and just global order? To pursue this question the course will have three main sections. The first will demonstrate that the question of international progress is driving important contemporary debates about foreign policy and world affairs, and has long commanded the attention of writers in the fields of politics, history, sociology, and philosophy. The second part of the course will assess the presence or not of international progress in three key areas of world politics: peace and war, democracy and human rights, and economic development. The final section of the course will examine several possible causal mechanisms that may be contributing to or impeding international progress: global culture and reason/empathy, industry and technology, democracy, global capitalism, and U.S. hegemonic leadership. During the semester we will devote several class meetings to writing workshops centered on the preparation of successive sections of a 20-page research paper. Students will constitute small working groups, typically four students to a group. Prior to each workshop, students will send the relevant section to the members of their working group electronically. At the workshops, students will provide feedback to one another and will receive suggestions from the TAs and the instructor. This course will be of particular interest to students who wish to pursue an internationally oriented career in government, business, with an NGO, or in the media.
HOW DOES BIOLOGY WORK? THE PHYSICAL AND CHEMICAL UNDERPINNING OF BIOLOGICAL NANOMACHINES
Course No.: CHEM 302
Curriculum Codes: NS
Instructor: David Beratan
Schedule: T-TH 10:05am – 11:20am
This course drills into the physical principles that underpin the function of biological machines. Utilizing an introductory knowledge of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics, we will explore three topics:
(1) How can we determine the structure and function of biomolecules "one-by-one" at the nanometer scale, rather than by studying an astronomical number of molecules in an ensemble? (2) How do living systems capture and transform the energy of sunlight and food, and how do molecular motors further exploit this energy to perform mechanical work? (3) How do biomolecules function within networks to convey signals with high fidelity, act cooperatively, and form patterns?
This course is an introduction to biophysical chemistry and molecular biophysics. It is aimed at undergraduates in Trinity and Pratt who have had one year of introductory chemistry, physics, and calculus, and are familiar with some of the molecular foundations of biology. Our aim is to bring mathematical, physical, and molecular reasoning to bear on biological phenomena and processes. The course will be self contained in order to accommodate students with diverse backgrounds. In addition to using multiple textbook resources, we will read papers from the scientific literature, will use computers programs and computer visualization, and will become expert at making order of magnitude estimates associated with biological function.
CONTEMPORARY DOCUMENTARY FILMS, FILMMAKERS, AND THE FULL FRAME FILM FESTIVAL
Course No. AMI 205 / DOCST 270 / POLSCI 276 / VMS 264 / PUBPOL 374
Curriculum Codes: ALP, CCI, STS
Instructor: Tom Rankin
Contemporary Documentary Films introduces students to documentary film history, theory, and criticism as well as with the richness of offerings at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April. Featuring films from the 1960s to the present, the course draws much of the content from films that have been featured at Full Frame over the past decade and a half. Visiting documentary filmmakers will attend class, screen their work, discuss their motivations and methods, and engage with students around both the content and the form of their work. With a goal of exploring the art form, style, and technology of contemporary documentary films and issues of autonomy and power, politics, and public policies, the course advances a very interdisciplinary approach to documentary. A central premium of the course is student attendance to select screenings at Full Frame in downtown Durham with support for tickets through the Signature Course designation. Throughout the semester we will analyze the form, technique, and impact of documentary filmmaking.
Course No.: ROMST 204D / ICS 204D / ARTS&SCI 204D.
Curriculum Codes: CZ, SS, CCI, EI.
Instructor: Laurent Dubois
This course explores the history of soccer and of its premier competition, the World Cup, in order to understand how and why it has become the most popular sport in the world. We will examine the development and spread of the game, the institutions that have grown up around it (such as F.I.F.A.), and the economics of the sport. We will also study the biographies of legendary players and the return to legendary World Cup games stretching from the 1930s to 2015. Throughout the course, we will focus particularly on the way in which soccer condenses, channels, and at times transforms politics. Our examples will be drawn from Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. We will read works of history, anthropology, literature, journalism, as well as memoirs and biographies, and watch several documentary and feature films as well as clips of classic games.
The writing for the class will focus on producing material for the Soccer Politics Blog (sites.duke.edu/wcwp), which already includes many materials and is widely read as well as cited by media outlets. In anticipation of the 2016 European Cup, students will work on research on this tournament and the broader history of European football, as well as examining the politics and economics of European professional football leagues including the Spanish La Liga and the English Premier League.
Students will be able to participate in smaller discussion sections, either in English or in one of several foreign languages – French, German, Spanish, or Portuguese. In the foreign language sections, students will work with instructors to gather journalist and literary materials in the language and prepare portions of the Soccer Politics website in that language with the goal of dialoguing with fans and constituencies in the relevant countries.
Fall 2015 Courses
RACE, GENOMICS AND SOCIETY
Genetics and genomics are among today’s most cutting-edge and far-reaching sciences, and have been at the forefront of discourse concerning the concept of “race” in humans. This course explores human history, human variation, human identity and human health through a broad range of enduring and emerging themes and challenging questions related to race and genetics (and now, genomics) on a global scale. Do biological human races exist? How do we explain variation in skin color and other physical features typically used to identify races? What are the distinctions between biological and social constructions of race, over time and in different societies? Are racial differences in athletics and academics due to genetics? What does genetic ancestry testing tell us about race, ethnicity, and identity? What is the role of genetics in racial and ethnic health disparities? Should medicines be developed for specific racial groups?
Race, Genomics and Society is for undergraduates at all levels from any discipline in the arts, humanities, sciences (natural, social, and formal), or engineering. Course materials are selected from various fields and sources (e.g. academic literature, popular press), and include key texts, films, case studies, and other works that represent topics within the modules of the course. The course employs a wide range of pedagogies and assessments, such as reading and writing assignments, quizzes, debates, charrettes, and community engagement that cultivate independent scholarship, collaboration and teamwork, and skills in research, critical reading and thinking, and written and oral communication. By design, the course connects students to the larger intellectual community through engagement with a variety of scholars and scientists at Duke and outside of Duke (including other countries), as well as members of the broader Durham community. This serves to promote exchange of knowledge, ideas, and experiences among students, faculty, and diverse publics, and prepare students for life-long learning.
MARXISM AND SOCIETY
Course No.: LIT 380/CULANTH 203/ EDUC 239/ SOCIOL 339/ POLSCI 371/ ARTS & SCI 380.
Curriculum Codes: SS, CZ, EI
Instructor: Michael Hardt
Social, economic, and political inequality is not a result of the capitalist system working badly. It is the inevitable outcome of it working “well.” Karl Marx’s critique of capitalist society is still – and perhaps newly – relevant for understanding the causes and nature of inequality. But Marx does not focus only on economics. He also provides an original vision of what it means to be human and how we can relate differently to each other and our world. His work continues to inspire those who, like him, want not only to interpret the world but also to change it.
In addition to analyzing Marx’s writings, the class will consider the effects it has had in different academic disciplines by reading, for example, a Marxist historian, a Marxist cultural critique, and a Marxist philosopher. In the course of the semester we will also conduct a series of discussions via video link with scholar/activists in other parts of the world to understand how they approach and make use of some of his central concepts, such as alienation, commodification, and revolution. Exchanges with activist/scholars in locations such as Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Berlin or Beijing will help us formulate how knowledge in the service of society can have transformative effects in today’s globalizing world.
BUDDHIST MEDITATION IN HISTORICAL, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MEDICAL PERSPECTIVE
Course No.: RELIGION 323/AMES 315/ ARTS & SCI 323.
Curriculum Codes: CZ, CCI, EI
Instructor: Richard Jaffe
Mindfulness meditation practice is widespread in contemporary America. The practice of mindfulness is now advocated in a wide range of publications, from Self to AARP Magazine, and promoted in such prominent venues as Aetna and Google’s corporate offices, as well as schools, college counseling offices, and medical centers across the country. During the last several decades, a range of scientists, including neuroscientists, psychologists, and medical doctors have created an impressive and still growing body of research literature in an effort to verify a range of effects and benefits from Buddhist-derived mental cultivation techniques. There is little question that Buddhist meditation practices are being woven into the fabric of twenty-first century life around the globe.
In the course we examine in detail the Buddhist roots of these popular meditation practices, trace their spread into medical and other settings, and examine the medical and scientific literature on mindfulness. Along the way we will study the ways that Buddhism is affecting our culture and how the medicalization of meditation is transforming Buddhism in the process, all the while meditating on the question of what it means for a set of religious practices “to work.”
Our guest lecturers will include some pioneers of the mindfulness movement and scholars studying its growing impact in contemporary America. Several of the speakers from the Duke community will speak about how they are using Buddhist cultivation techniques in their psychiatric and medical practices. During the Fall 2015 semester, we also will be joined by Dr. Erik Braun, who will speak about the invention of modern Buddhist insight meditation techniques, Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, who recently has published a book on the history of the mindfulness movement in America, and, as our last speaker of the semester, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Full Catastrophe Living and creator of the system of medical Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction techniques that is now taught in medical centers around the world.
THE PROBLEM OF LOVE IN WESTERN LITERATURE
Course No.: ROMST 205/ ITALIAN 225/ LIT 205/ ARTS & SCI 205.
Curriculum Codes: ALP, CZ, CCI, R. Offered: Tues. & Thurs. 10:05-11:20 a.m.
Instructor: Martin Eisner
From the Trojan War to reality TV, love causes problems. It can inspire lovers and drive them mad; foster alliances and destroy friendships; provoke war and broker peace. Far from being an issue of self and other, love impacts communities, and, in some philosophies, binds the whole cosmos. Because love raises fundamental questions about the meaning of human life, the amorous discourse of the past can help us to understand what we talk about when we talk about love today. We will read Plato on the erotic ascent, Virgil’s deceived Dido, Ovid’s rules of seduction, Dante’s mourning for the dead Beatrice, Boccaccio’s legitimation of female desire, Petrarch’s frustrated pursuit of Laura, Michelangelo’s homoerotic poetry, Leonardo’s sublimated impulses, the libertine lust of Don Giovanni and Casanova, the tragic obsession of Foscolo, the comic uncertainties of Svevo’s modern lover, and the love from afar of Montale. In two millennia of discourse about love, what changes and what persists?
Spring 2015 Courses
DEMOCRACY: ANCIENT AND MODERN
Course No.: CLST 275 / HISTORY 234 / POLSCI 211 / ARTS&SCI 275.
Curriculum Codes: CZ, SS, CCI, EI
Instructor: Jed Atkins
The ancient Greeks invented democracy, and it remains their most famous legacy. How can understanding democracy as it was conceived and practiced in ancient Greece contribute to our own understanding and practice of democracy? Does modern democracy fulfill the promise of ancient democracy, or betray its fundamental tenets? In this class, we will explore these questions through a comparative study of Athenian and American democracy. The goal of the course is to promote critical reflection on central aspects of democracy that continue to be matters of concern and debate, including freedom, equality and rights; constitutions and institutions; citizenship; rhetoric; decision-making; foreign policy; corruption; religion and hope.
Several sessions of the course will be taught by outside visitors: Jon Favreau (President Obama’s former chief speechwriter) and Charles Hill (former special consultant on policy to the secretary-general of the United Nations and expert on the Middle East) will join Professors Ryan Balot and Melissa Schwartzberg (leading scholars working on democracy) to help students relate expert knowledge to real-world experience. Students will have the opportunity to interact with these guests inside and outside of the classroom before, during, and after their visits to Duke. As part of a year-long initiative on Democracy and Law: Ancient and Modern, students in this course will play an integral role in a wider, interdisciplinary discussion of central issues and challenges related to our democracy. The course and broader discussion to which it contributes should offer students with a wide range of interests (e.g., politics, public policy, ethics, law, literature, history, the ancient world) a unique opportunity to look at democracy through a fresh lens.
Course No.: ROMST 204D / ICS 204D / ARTS&SCI 204D.
Curriculum Codes: CZ, SS, CCI, EI.
Instructor: Laurent Dubois
This course explores the history of soccer and of its premier competition, the World Cup, in order to understand how and why it has become the most popular sport in the world. We will examine the development and spread of the game, the institutions that have grown up around it (such as F.I.F.A.), and the economics of the sport. We will also study the biographies of legendary players and the return to legendary World Cup games stretching from the 1930s to 2006. Throughout the course, we will focus particularly on the way in which soccer condenses, channels, and at times transforms politics. Our examples will be drawn from Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. We will read works of history, anthropology, literature, journalism, as well as memoirs and biographies, and watch several documentary and feature films as well as clips of classic games.
The writing for the class will focus on producing material for the Soccer Politics Blog (sites.duke.edu/wcwp), which already includes many materials and is widely read as well as cited by media outlets. In anticipation of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, we will focus particular attention on the history of women’s football, and students will work collectively to create a set of online resources aimed at increasing the visibility and attention paid to the competition and to players from throughout the world. The course will include class visits and culminate in a symposium on the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Students will be able to participate in smaller discussion sections, either in English or in one of several foreign languages – French, German, Spanish, or Italian. In the foreign language sections, students will work with instructors to gather journalist and literary materials in the language and prepare portions of the Soccer Politics website in that language with the goal of dialoguing with fans and constituencies in the relevant countries.
THE NOVEL, LIVE!
Course No.: ENGLISH 277 / ARTS&SCI 277.
Curriculum Codes: ALP
Instructors: Thomas Ferraro, Michael Moses
Professors Moses and Ferraro are reuniting to read with you recent novels—the greatest works, as it were, of contemporary fiction written by Nobel, Man-Booker, National Book, and Pulitzer Prize winners and their friends. By our professedly campy title we mean several things. The authors in play are still living; indeed, a couple of them are planning to visit, read from the works and spend time talking with you. You may not have heard of the novels we are featuring, up-to-date though they be, but we guarantee that each and every one is exquisitely, even terrifyingly alive--earthy and ecstatic, funny and fantastic, knowing and wise. And what happens in the classroom, a give-and-take Socratic conversation among teachers and students, will be unlike anything you have experienced, intellectual theater that not only interrogates but, at an analytic level, re-enacts the storytelling at hand. This is not a lecture class, a beta-test, or a laboratory experiment, but the thing itself: each novel a story of how life is lived or might be lived -- presented as a vital on-going conversation about our collective futures and pasts.
In all probability, we will venture into the back of beyond, where Natives and Empire Builders confront one another on the razor’s edge of civilization and those who would not wield power must find a way to persist; we will deal with what really happened on the Mississippi of Huck's time (The horror! The horror!), and with what might have happened on the Napoleonic continent of revolutionary Europe if a cross-dressing Venetian courtesan had gotten into the war; and we will contend with a seventeen-year-old convent virtuoso who loves Christ in all senses of the word. So too, we will follow certain genders around twists and bends, ethnicities in discomforting formation, and the romantic follies of our social-network, chip-implanted, cloned and streaming future. And while we’re at it, we’ll ask the big questions: What is the meaning of love and death? When the end of the world comes, will I be ready? What is it that we call “human nature,” and how do we define it? Is there a spiritual or personal quest that is my calling and that will make of my life a whole? What is the purpose of art? Can it save lives to come, or at least illuminate their difficulties? Can true justice ever be established in the realm of earthly politics? When I am alone, am I alone with myself or with the divine?
The books we’ll read are likely to include: Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go; Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy; Toni Morrison, Sula; Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story; Jeanette Winterson, The Passion; Jon Clinch, Finn; Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian; Steve Erickson, Zeroville; J. M. Coetzee, Life & Times of Michael K; and Joan Chase, During the Reign of the Queen of Persia. And we just may feature one season of a television masterpiece--David Chase's The Sopranos, David Simon's The Wire, or David Milch's Deadwood--a genre that is the 21st-century reincarnation of the 19th-century novel and that requires, it would appear, a showrunner whose first name is David. We will choose six or seven of these novels with newcomers to English especially in mind. We believe literature is the bread of life on which future CEOs, investment bankers, public policy makers, consultants, entrepreneurs, attorneys, doctors, and scientists must depend; it sustains and nourishes all who want to live a truly higher and more intense life.
THE UNIVERSITY: WHAT IT IS, AND WHY IT MATTERS
Course No.: ENGLISH 190-1 / ARTS&SCI 290.
Curriculum Codes: ALP, CZ, EI
Instructors: Thomas Pfau and Reinhard Hütter
The American public is presently engaged in what some are calling the “War on College.” In an age of cyber-space academic degrees, why would one choose to spend the time, money, and energy to attend an on-campus university? What is college or the university for, and why does it matter? Asking questions about the values and aims of higher education should be an integral component of its pursuit; and any intellectually curious and critical student ought to develop a comprehensive understanding of the university and to explore how, at various points in time, the purposes and ends of the university have been diversely articulated. This course will enable students to understand the contingent historical evolution of the university and the character of the institution today.
To that end we will explore different incarnations of the university and how they reflect fundamentally different modes of advanced study, its aims, values, and ends or, on occasion, fail to articulate these goods in coherent and meaningful form. Such an exploration cannot shrink away from the question of whether a university education should also attend to the students’ moral and spiritual formation. Guest speakers and documentaries will connect students to the larger intellectual community. The course will, however, abstain from all forms of infotainment and rely rather on the classical venues of intellectual inquiry: the study of central texts, lectures, and discussion. If you want to study at this modern research university with open eyes and critical awareness and, thus, achieve true intellectual freedom, -- i.e., not as a consumer of information but as an active and committed participant in the process of learning and reasoning—then you might want to consider this course.
Fall 2014 Courses
HISTORY354D Race - A World History (Instructor Adrienne Lentz-Smith)
This course considers what work race has done in world history by looking at the encounters, labor systems, and evolving systems of power that have been so crucial to shaping the early modern and modern worlds. Drawing from cultural and intellectual history, the course emphasizes that race is a biological fiction with day-to-day import: arbitrarily-defined as it may be, race has social reality and material effects. Across locales and epochs, it has helped to organize resources, define community insiders and outsiders, and rationalize exercises of power. To get at this, students will approach the subject through such topics as “Race and Migration,” “Race and Labor,” “Mixing Races,” and “Perpetuating Race.”
ITALIAN225 / ROMANCE STUDIES 205 - World Masterpieces Made in Italy (Instructor Professor Martin Eisner)
Virgil, Dante, Giotto, Boccaccio, Machiavelli, Monteverdi, Galileo, and Primo Levi all created works of art that have become world masterpieces because they continue to speak to us, often centuries after their original production. How might their investigations of the relationship between man and the divine, the variety of human action, the politics of power, the seductions of narrative, and the lure of art help us to reconsider our contemporary world? This course examines these literary, visual, musical, and cinematic works both in formal terms and as products of particular Italian contexts with the help of specialist visitors, performances, and site visits. For example, we will visit the North Carolina Museum of Art to examine Giotto's extraordinary Peruzzi Altarpiece as well as other significant works in its collection such as Rodin's sculptures of scenes from Dante. We will also attend the Anonymous 4 performance of Marie et Marion on 27 September.