The Common Curriculum

Scholars Research Seminar 2013

Winter/Spring 2013

  • Arab Spring | Professor Michele Angrist

    Together we will explore the set of uprisings referred to as “the Arab Spring.” These began in December 2010 in Tunisia, a small Arab country in Northern Africa, and then spread to Egypt, and then Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. In a region that had known almost exclusively authoritarian forms of rule for 5+ decades – including during the 1980s and 1990s when most other regions of the world were witnessing significant transitions to democratic rule – suddenly, masses were mobilizing to confront dictators and demand increased political freedom. How can we understand these uprisings? Why did they spread in these six countries but not to the other 16+ Arab countries? What outcomes will emerge from the Arab Spring?

  • Baseball and American Character | Professor Denis Brennan

    In a unique way, more than any other sport played in the US, baseball reflects our national character. Why is this so? Walt Whitman’s answer was simple, “Well-it’s our game … America’s game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere.” In this course, students will search for their own answers regarding how baseball, beyond merely being a game, has permeated our national character. The course will link baseball to the social history of the United States as well as discuss myths, rituals, cheating and ethics in baseball, the integration of African-Americans, and women’s quest for acceptance in the game. An equally important objective of this course is to teach the fundamental standards and methods for conducting academic research. Students will study basic research principles, learn how to access a variety of information resources, and construct a research document on a baseball topic of their own choosing. The concepts and skills learned in this course are highly relevant to further academic endeavors, including the Sophomore Research Project and Senior Thesis ... not to mention lifelong learning.

  • Bodies | Professor Michelle Chilcoat

    and regulating our own inner life and experience," and he goes on to clarify that "the quality of humanness derives from our ability to use words to express what we are observing in the outer world as well as what we are examining in our inner world" (1). This use of words to express as well as imagine bodily experience is what we will be considering throughout this course. I suggest that as our environment becomes more precarious, the attention to bodies becomes more poignant, particularly as we may begin to think more often that human bodies, as well as the environment they live in, need greater protection and care in order to survive. While some imagine ways of recovering what has been lost, others imagine human bodies transforming to adapt to new, perhaps less hospitable conditions. No matter what the outlook, however, there is almost always some element of anxiety that comes with putting (our) bodies under the microscope, so to speak. But this is precisely what the authors we will be reading for this course do, and part of our challenge will be to decipher the messages they are trying to communicate to us in this age that some philosophers and theorists now refer to as "post-human."

  • Art in Ritual Context | Professor Sheri Lullo

    Many of the works we see on display in museums, from African masks and Buddhist statuary to Chinese bronze vessels and Egyptian relief carvings, were not simply considered “art” in their original contexts. Though they were often created to be pleasing to the eye—in many instances, the most expensive and precious materials available were used—these works were primarily intended to provoke and activate much more profound feelings or emotions related to the spiritual, and were frequently intended to facilitate communication with participants beyond the human realm. This research seminar aims to explore and restore the use contexts, performative spaces and architectural frameworks that are frequently lost when works of visual culture are hung on museum walls or placed within a glass case. We will read about anthropological and art historical approaches to art and ritual and analyze case studies of the ways in which ritual practice, both sacred and secular, can be integral to our understanding of how the works of art were created, used, viewed and experienced across global contexts. Your research project in this course will focus on an object chosen from Union’s own rich collection of works.

  • Alexander the Great: Use and Abuse of History | Professor Mark Toher

    Despite the fact that Alexander the Great has now fallen victim to an Oliver Stone cinematographic epic, he will remain an important and epochal figure of history. To quote a recent comment of a recognized authority on Greek history who doesn't produce movies but can read the ancient sources, "Alexander is one of those very few genuinely iconic figures, who have both remade the world they knew and constantly inspire us to remake our own worlds." In less than ten years Alexander conquered "the known world", extending his empire from mainland Greece to the western borders of modern India, and yet, most likely a clinical alcoholic and possibly mentally unbalanced, he died at the age of 33 in Babylon. The career and conquests of Alexander the Great influenced the political and cultural development of Mediterranean world for over a millennium. The effects of his legend resonated throughout history down to the early modern era, and until the 15th century he remained the standard of comparison for all generals and most statesmen in the West. To this day, Alexander is still prayed to for aid by fishermen in Greece, he is cursed as a "thief" in Iran, and worshipped as a saint in the Coptic Church of Egypt. After Jesus Christ, no figure from Classical antiquity has had such a wide-ranging and enduring impact on our own culture, and cultures far removed from our own. The primary purpose of this seminar will be to introduce students to the problem of composing a "history" of a famous man and his era. Students will read the existing four accounts of the history of Alexander by ancient authors and analyze how they differ from one another and why they do so. Furthermore, the seminar will examine how modern perceptions affect the reading of ancient evidence in order to determine how leading scholars of different eras have presented widely divergent views of Alexander.

  • Research to Improve Union’s Energy Efficiency | Professor Cherrice Traver

    The focus of research for the class will be energy efficiency. The course will consist of a number of short research projects, leading to a major collaborative research project using the Union College campus to address the issues of future energy needs. Specifically, the course objective is to recommend ways to improve Union’s energy efficiency. This Scholars’ Research Seminar is inspired by the idea of utilizing data to help make the world a better place, under the broader umbrella of creating what IBM calls a “Smarter Planet.” The course is also designed to advance Union’s goal of integrating engineering and the liberal arts, and will be team taught by faculty from those areas.