Humanities

Design that Understands Us (Winter)

Ge Wang (Music and Computer Science)

What is the nature of design—and the meaning it holds in human life? Why do we bother to design beauty into useful things?  This course examines the nature, purpose, and meaning of design in human life, and asks the fundamental questions of what design is, why do we do it, and the ways in which the fashioning of technology can speak to who we are as humans.  It asks whether it is sufficient to design from practical needs (as we are often taught), and examines the idea of designing from the values underlying our needs. Students will learn about different aesthetic frameworks and the fundamental language of design so that you can begin analyzing everyday examples of media, tools, toys, and games—and apply them to the act of design conscientiously.  They will also learn to think critically about the design of social networks, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robots, virtual reality—in terms of needs and values, pragmatics and aesthetics.  

CANDIDATES should be able to help students think through philosophical concepts through concrete examples and literary texts. Candidates will also work with students in applying the ideas explored in the course to creative projects. Experience with design software is a plus.

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Mary Shelley, Frankenstein: or, the Modern PrometheusBruno Munari, Design as Art; Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things; Ge Wang, Artful Design: Technology in Search of the Sublime 

Education as Freedom (Autumn)

Lanier Anderson (Philosophy), Dan Edelstein (French & Italian/History),  Kathryn Gin Lum (Religious Studies)

What is college for? In most countries, its goal is professional: college trains students for a career. In the United States, by contrast, college is designed to give students a “liberal education.” From the Latin word for “freedom” (libertas), a liberal education prepares citizens for life in a free society, while also freeing their minds from social conventions. In this course, students explore different accounts of liberal education from classical antiquity up through the present, comparing canonical arguments with contemporary practices. The course considers the importance of liberal education for all areas of study, from STEM to the arts. 

CANDIDATES should be able to help students examine their own educational choices, write reflective essays, and practice arguing for their views on liberal education while respecting those of others. 

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me; Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things; Montaigne, “On the Education of Children"; Tara Westover, Educated; Martha Nussbaum, Not for Profit

Healing, Illness and Narrative (Winter)

Audrey Shafer (Medicine) and Laura Wittman (German Studies)

This course focuses on multiple genres of narratives about illness and recovery: memoirs, graphic novels, poetry, fiction, essay, and documentary film.  It asks what the power, if any, of narrative is in healing. Do stories heal by creating a bond between others? Are they necessary for self-reflection and thus self-transformation?  Drawing upon the fields of literature and the practice of medicine, students will begin to grapple with the power of stories in illuminating the experience of illness and disability and in offering the possibilities for (self) transformation.

CANDIDATES should develop students’ skills in careful and critical reading of varied genres, including analyzing and connecting different kinds of texts and other forms of media.  They should also be comfortable supporting students in their writing of both analytic and more creative work.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Jo Walton, My Real Children; Brian Fies, Mom’s Cancer; Steven Soderbergh (dir.), Gray’s Anatomy; Rita Charon, Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness.

Justice and the University (Autumn)

Pam Karlan (Law School), Rob Reich (Political Science)

How do the fundamental purpose of the university, the pursuit of knowledge, and the pursuit of justice coincide?  Or do they conflict and pull us in different directions? Our goal in this class will be to focus on the intersection of justice and knowledge by examining how issues of liberty, equality, and security arise on college campuses. University campuses have a long history as sites of activism across a wide variety of domains and this course will cover a number of them including trigger warnings and “safe spaces”; free speech; ethics in research; Dreamer Act and college access for undocumented persons.  Our goal in this course is to get students to think critically about tradeoffs among society’s most treasured goals. When these goals come into tension, how should decisions be made about which goal must give way? We aim to teach students how to identify and think about these conflicts and how to craft arguments—both written and oral—in support of their positions, using a variety of source materials.  

CANDIDATES should be able to develop students’ skills of close reading and analytic writing.  They should be able to guide students form the level of abstract political theory to an examination of legal cases and their implications and help students craft persuasive oral and written arguments.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty; Court cases on affirmative action (Bakke, Grutter, Fisher), freedom of speech (Tinker); William G. Bowen and Derek Bok, The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions.

Race in American Memory (Autumn)

Allyson Hobbs (History), Shelley Fisher Fishkin (English and American Studies)

This course focuses on how Americans negotiated issues of cultural memory and national identity through a close analysis of historical texts, novels, poems, films, paintings, cartoons, photographs, and music.  Our interpretations will foreground the particular themes of race and nationhood; freedom and citizenship; and changing notions of individual and collective identity.  

CANDIDATES should develop students’ abilities in close reading of historical, legal, and literary texts; paintings, photographs and cartoons; and films and television series. Candidates should be able to guide students through complex discussions of race and racism in the U.S., and debates about who should be included in the national community.   

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Frederick Douglas, Narrative of the Life of a Slave, Written by Himself; Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave (1853); Twelve Years a Slave (film, dir. Steve McQueen); Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose;  Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Stories Everywhere (Autumn)

Adam Johnson (English), Blakey Vermeule (English)

Why do stories matter to us so much?  And how do they work?  This course introduces students to the basic engineering of story-telling through a lively engagement with literary texts, and with stories in other media and disciplines.  We want to develop a real-world appreciation of the humanities by demonstrating the diverse ways that stories shape our lives and the world we live in and ultimately, encourage students to develop their own story-telling skills. We plan to focus on the subgenre of creative non-fiction, although we will also discuss fictions and other kinds of stories like myths, pieces of propaganda, conspiracies, collective delusions, and so on.

CANDIDATES should be able to help students develop analytical skills for investigating the structural principles of texts and films. They will also be asked to guide students in developing, presenting and evaluating creative assignments. Note: No formal training in creative writing is required.

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: O’Nan, Last Night At the Lobster; Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five; Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do; Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; Virginia Wolf, To the Lighthouse (1927); Adaptation (2012)

Understanding China through Film (Winter)

Ban Wang (East Asian Languages and Cultures)

This course approaches the history and representation of China through film.  The course encourages students to see films as part of an ongoing project of a people making history, and to even consider film as a metaphor for history itself.  The course will highlight four major 20th century historical periods, beginning with the May Fourth Cultural movement (1919-1930) through the Communist revolution and ending with the Reform, post-socialist era.  Students will view films either from these periods or which represent stories set during these period of major social and cultural transformation.  

CANDIDATES should be able to help students learn to analyze films as a medium by deploying appropriate concepts and terminology (frames, mise-en-scene, point-of-view shots, long takes, etc.).  Candidates should have some familiarity with Chinese history and culture and be able to guide students in thinking about films as both products and representations of history.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: William Phillip, Film: An Introduction; Films: Song of Youth (1959); Stage Sisters (1964); To Live (1994); Hero (2002) 

What Makes Music Classical? (Autumn)

Stephen Hinton (Music)

What constitutes a music’s “classical” character?  Is it an inherent quality? Is it about survival over time? Or is it the result of elite ideology? Classical music means different things to different people: it is variously cherished and critiqued as part of European high culture. It sometimes connotes Western art music of a particular era.  Or it refers to the association with certain social institutions, such as the concert hall.  By exploring these different connotations, this course asks you to consider how you judge works of art and how certain works of art become a part of a “canon.”  We will consider different ways to listen, discuss, and write about classical music—from an appreciation of aesthetics to historical analysis and cultural critique.  Students will be encouraged to develop their own interpretive understandings of the answer to the course’s central question.  .

CANDIDATES should be able to guide students with a wide range of experience with music (from none to years of training) in analytic written assignments. Candidates should feel comfortable with musical notation and working with students on interdisciplinary approaches to the classical canon.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Beethoven, “Ode to Joy"; TS Elliot, “What is a classic?” (1944) ; JM Coetzee, “What is a classic?” (1991); Ingmar Bergman’s screen adaptation of Mozart’s Magic Flute (1975); The Fifth Element (1997)

Worlds of Sound: Learning to Listen (Winter)

Ari Y. Kelman (Graduate School of Education), Gabriella Safran (Slavic Languages and Literatures), Heather Hadlock (Music)

We live in a world of sound. In ways that we do not always see, our social practices and machines lead us to understand certain sounds as signal and filter out others as noise. Drawing on thinking from linguistics, musicology, science and technology studies, and literature, this class challenges freshmen to become aware of their own listening practices and to learn how to listen actively and critically. We ask students to think about how listening can give them knowledge about themselves; how it relates to memory and identity; and how it is like or unlike reading. We will then introduce issues related to listening and technology: how technology influences the perception of sound; the perceived lack of fit between noise and an individual’s perception of it.  We will also include various listening cultures including classical Western music, Slavic epic song, contemporary popular music; noise; language; and the sounds of haunted machines.

CANDIDATES should be able to guide students in analytic assignments focused on sound and listening including an aural autobiography, an ethnographic analysis of listening practices, and the use of sound in text, film, or other aural situations.  Fellows should also be prepared to work with students on creative assignments that draw on ideas elaborated in the course.  

SELECTED COURSE MATERIAL: Hari Kunzru, White Tears; Stephen  Kuusito, Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening; Michael Chion, “The Three Listening Modes”; Steven Feld, “Rainforest Acoustemology”; John Rickford, “Suite for Ebony and Phonics”; Joseph Glen, Making Beats: The Art of Sample-Based Hip Hop; Anton Chekov “Gooseberries”