The Common Curriculum

Sophomore Research Seminar: 2006-07

Fall 2006

  • Designing As If People Mattered | Professors Aaron Cass and Chris Fernandes

    Think about things you use every day: your DVD player. A microwave oven. A restaurant menu. Your iPod. A paper clip. A roadmap. A webpage. These things all have one thing in common — their designers tried to make them useful. Some succeed. Some don’t. This sophomore seminar focuses on good design: how to do it, how to recognize it, and especially how to evaluate alternatives. Using texts such as Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things, we’ll explore the process of design by drawing on your experience and interest in a wide range of fields. In cross-disciplinary terms, you’ll design new usable systems, evaluate systems through hands-on experiments, and present your results in both oral and written form.

  • Was It A Civil War?: Including Gender, Race, and Location in the United States Civil War | Professor Andrea Foroughi

    The American Civil War is one of the most studied topics in United States history. With the abundant (and growing number of) sources related to the war available, students in this seminar will pursue research projects related to the overarching question, “Was it a civil war?” We’ll discuss the various meanings of “civil” in the context of war and consider how historians have approached this question. At this point, students will pursue their own research, investigating the wide variety of primary and secondary materials available at Schaffer Library, including Special Collections, historical on-line databases, print materials in the stacks, and government publications.

  • Photographing Culture | Professor Sharon Gmelch

    This course explores the uses of still photography in anthropology and in contemporary American society and examines some of the issues and problems involved in analyzing and interpreting historical and contemporary photographs. Questions we will explore include: To what uses has photography been put? What biases, stylistic conventions, and power arrangements shaped what was recorded? Who controlled and created the historical images we see today? How useful are photographs in reconstructing the history and culture of other peoples? How much do images taken by indigenous photographers differ from those taken by outsiders (e.g., travelers, missionaries, anthropologists)?. We will also look at how we photograph ourselves and think about the role photography plays in contemporary American life.

  • Impossible Missions Design Teams | Professor William Keat

    This course will explore and exercise the engineering design process as a universal approach for conducting research and designing solutions to tough problems in all fields of endeavor. The philosophical and practical arguments for the universality of the engineering method will be discussed. Student research will be aimed at testing these arguments by contrasting the engineering method with design methods that have evolved in other fields. However the best way to understand any method is to practice it. In this spirit, multi-disciplinary student teams will be confronted with a series of design challenges that will lead up to a culminating project experience.

  • Protest Movements in the United States | Professor Melinda Lawson

    The course will take an interdisciplinary approach to the history of protest movements in the United States between 1830 and 2005. Students will learn in rough outline about some of the major social movements in the U.S., including abolitionism, the women’s movement, Populism; the anti-lynching movement, the Civil Rights movement, and the Vietnam Anti-War Movement. Focusing on these movements, we will ask such questions as:

    Who joined these protest movements and why?

    Why have protest movements in the U.S. emerged at particular points in time?

    What institutions and resources are necessary for a movement to develop?

    What tactics and strategies – moral suasion, legislation, accommodation, confrontation, political violence - have different movements adopted? Have some been more effective than others?

    Do protest movements pass through predictable stages?

    What changes have different protest movements in the United States brought about?

    Students will write a research paper on a movement of their choice (see list of suggestions below). This paper will be rooted in secondary and primary sources and will be completed in stages, with feedback from the professor and at times their peers. Over the course of the term, students will submit a topic proposal, a secondary bibliography, a 3 page report of the movement rooted in secondary sources, a thesis question, a primary bibliography, a thesis statement, a first draft of the paper, and the final 15-18 page paper.

    Students can choose from among such movements as abolitionism, anti-lynching, Populism, labor movements, socialism, women’s movement (mid 19th century, early 20th century, or 1970s-80s) African-American Movements (early 20th century, Civil Rights Movement; or Black Power Movement), labor union movement (19th century or 1930’s), American Communism, Vietnam anti-war movement, the environmental movement, Indian rights movement, Mexican-American movement, Asian American Movement, Gay and Lesbian Rights Movement.

  • Cuba and The Cuban Revolution | Professor Teresa Meade

    The focus of the course is the history of Cuba from the 1959 triumph of a revolution led by Fidel Castro and the July 26 Movement, through the several decade-long period in which Cuba was the site of tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, and into the current decades since the end of the Cold War and emergence of Cuba as an influential, non-aligned socialist state. The course will examine changes within Cuba in revolutionary ideology, problems of scarcity and tensions among different sectors of Cuban society, gender and race relations, economic and political relations with the US, Latin America, and the rest of the world.

    Seminar participants will present at least one oral report in class, based on an assigned reading. The report will briefly draw out the important pieces of information from the reading and present a critique of the book’s strengths and weaknesses. This oral report will be accompanied by a 5-page paper.

    Secondly, participants will write a 15-page research paper based on both primary and secondary sources. The paper will be completed in stages, with feedback from the professor and other class members on the topic, outline, bibliography and first draft. A final draft of the paper, with revised abstract and bibliography will be due at the end of the course. Students will attend a class in Schaeffer Library on locating sources.

    Since this is a seminar in which everyone is expected to participate in every class, your participation grade will count significantly toward your final grade.

  • Trash and Transgression: Spanish Surrealism and Popular Culture in Dalí, Lorca and Buñuel | Professor Pilar Moyano

    How was it that such a traditional country as Spain produced some of the most avant-garde figures of the twentieth century? This course inquires into the fascinating world of Surrealism, a revolutionary movement born of Freudian theory and stimulated by the anti-bourgeois ethos of Marxism. Major creative figures are studied in three separate genres, Buñuel as film director, Lorca as poet, and Dalí as painter. This variety illustrates the different facets of Surrealism and its distinctiveness in the Spanish context.

  • Scottish Witchcraft Trials, 1590-1660 | Professor Steven Sargent

    This seminar will examine the phenomenon of witch hunting in Early Modern Europe through a detailed study of several Scottish Witch Trials between 1590 and 1660. Scotland had no medieval witch trials. Only after the Reformation, when witchcraft became a secular as well as religious crime, did the trials begin. Course readings will include a general history of early modern witchcraft, two early treatises on witch hunting (the infamous Hammer of Witches [1486] and James VI’s Demonology), a collection of original documents concerning the so-called North Berwick Witches (1590-93), and trial records from several seventeenth-century cases. Using these resources, the course will reconstruct the political, social, economic, intellectual, religious, and gender context of the witch trials with the goal of understanding why people were willing to burn their neighbors for crimes they not only did not commit, but could not have committed.

    Readings consist of Levack, Brian. The Witch-hunting Early Modern Europe, Summers, M. (ed.) The Malleus Maleficarum(1486), Barstow, Anne. Witchcraze, Normand, L. & Roberts, and Gareth. Witchcraft in Early Modern Scotland.

  • 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.

Winter 2007

  • Anno Mirabilis: The Extraordinary Year of 1453 | Professor David Baum

    Within a few months either side of 1453 the French and English concluded Europe’s longest war (and England’s longest civil war ensued), Constantinople fell to the Turks, Gutenberg invented the printing press, the Portuguese first explored the South Atlantic, Mantegna finished his Paduan fresco cycle, modern diplomacy was born in the Italian town of Lodi, Pope Nicholas V began the restoration of Renaissance Rome, and future historical greats, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus, Ferdinand, Isabella, and Lorenzo the Magnificent were born. All-in-all, it was a formidable year. This seminar will examine the year 1453 in detail, focusing on its principal personalities and events as a means to understanding the extraordinary sweep of the Renaissance in Europe during the 15thcentury. Among our readings will be first hand accounts of both the Hundred Years war and the Siege of Constantinople, as well as the scholarly accounts of these events by Jonathan Sumption and Steven Runciman, Elizabeth Eisenstein’s Printing Revolution, Vespasiano da Bisticci’s Lives of the Artists, and Garrett Mattingly’s Renaissance Diplomacy.

  • Research in Gender, Work and Family | Professor David Cotter

    The shifts in gender roles, and their repercussions for family life and in the workplace are among the most important changes of recent decades. This course will apply the skills and tools of social science to the investigation of change in gender, work and family. The social sciences in general, and sociology in particular, seek to answer questions about the causes and consequences of social change. They deploy a set of skills and tools (methods) that seek to link ideas (theories) with evidence (data) to investigate those changes. We will examine a series of recent articles by social scientists on the issues of gender, work and family and a short book on research methods in the social sciences.

  • Drugs and Cultures | Professor Joyce Madancy

    Virtually every society has its favorite drugs. We all consume them – for aches and pains, for pleasure and recreation, to alter mood, to wake us up, to help us sleep, and to mark important occasions, among other things – but cultural, economic, and political factors determine whether those drugs are considered beneficial or dangerous, are freely obtained or regulated, etc. Our goal here is to examine several drugs over time and in particular geographical and cultural contexts to analyze how and why those factors emerged and interacted, as well as how they affected popular attitudes. We will focus primarily on opiates in East Asia, Great Britain, and the British Empire, but will touch on other drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • Sacred Space: Architecture and Religion | Professor Louisa Matthew

    The three great “Religions of the Book”, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all employed architecture to mark sacred locations, provide spaces for essential rituals, and make prominent visual statements about their beliefs. This seminar will examine the construction, decoration and use of a number of key monuments from the early history of all three religions, including the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock, the church (later mosque) of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and the church of Old St Peter’s in Rome. Major themes of our study will include how and why the three religions and their architects borrowed from one another, and in some cases used each other’s buildings, and how they shared or appropriated each other’s sites – issues that are still resonating in the twenty-first century. We will examine not only architectural design and building technology but also techniques of architectural decoration such as mosaic, marble, fresco painting and architectural sculpture. Our sources will be the actual visual record of the structures, early written accounts by travelers and pilgrims, and studies by historians of art and architecture.

  • Japanese-American Internment During World War II | Professor Andrew Morris

    his research seminar will focus on the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens in the United States during World War II . Within the confines of a relatively narrow topic it offers the chance to explore a variety of important issues with contemporary resonance: the tension between national security and civil liberties during wartime, the impact of racism on the shaping of American wartime policy, ethnic identity and assimilation in the United States, resistance and accommodation by minorities facing discrimination, and the evolution of American attitudes toward past injustices.

    This case study of wartime policy and experience also offers the possibility for examining a range of types of primary sources, including government documents, newspapers, legal documents, photographs, camp newsletters, oral histories, and memoirs. Internment also has a well-developed and accessible historiography, so students can read from a common set of secondary sources and yet be able to branch out into a range of research topics that might capture their individual interest.

  • Cognition in the Wild | Professor Stephen Romero

    Students will read two conflicting accounts (Into Thin Air, and The Climb) of the 1996 mountaineering tragedy on Mt Everest, along with key papers from cognitive psychology regarding human perception, memory, performance and reasoning. Class discussions and assignments will focus on understanding and resolving key conflicts between the two accounts as well as understanding the causes of the tragedy by applying the findings from the key papers from cognitive psychology.

  • The Beats and Contemporary Culture | Professor Jordan Smith

    This seminar will investigate the sensibility of the writers of the Beat Generation and their relationship to popular culture, with special attention to the work of Bob Dylan and the role of Beat figures and concerns in the development and persistence of a post-war American counter-culture. We will consider the success of the entrepreneurial members of the Beats, especially Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the role of both mainstream and independent media in popularizing the Beat image and the permission the Beats offered for do-it-yourself cultural endeavors

  • National Socialism, World War II, and the Holocaust | Professor Mark Walker

    This seminar will focus on the National Socialist (NS) movement in Germany during the first half of the twentieth century. Topics will include: the rise of the NS movement during the Weimer Republic; the establishment of a dictatorship; the NS goal of a “People’s Community”; the NS policies of “racial hygiene” and autarky (national self-sufficiency) and their consequences; military expansion and war; genocide; and the postwar “denazification” of Germans. Readings will include primary sources—letters, speeches, reports, film and images from the NS period—and selections from secondary accounts—articles and books written by historians. Students will both interpret the primary sources for themselves, and compare and contrast how various historians have written the history of NS.

  • ‘Many’ and ‘Few’ are too Indeterminate Expressions: Counting in History | Professor Robert Wells

    This seminar focuses on using records susceptible to quantitative analysis to understand research in and analysis of the past. The following are some possible topics, not necessarily in the order they will be discussed: demographic data including censuses and surveys; recurring patterns and the “unique”; inherited or constructed data sets; analyses of literary sources, visual materials and pop culture; strategies of presentation including tables, charts and graphs.

  • Power, Resistance and Emancipation | Professor John Zumbrunnen

    Suppose that a professor persuades you to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon washing and waxing his or her car instead of going to a movie with your friends. Has the professor exercised power over you? If my child sees a television advertisement for a particular toy and then demands that I buy that toy, does the advertiser (or the television station? or the technology of television itself? or the capitalist system in general?) have power over my child? Over me? On a broader political level, what sorts of power—visible and invisible, blunt and subtle—do majority ethnic, racial or cultural groups exercise over minorities? To what extent and in what ways does economic inequality give power to the well-off?

    Such questions about the nature of power are central to the study of politics: How do we know when someone or something has power? How can we tell when power has been exercised over a person or group? Our answers to these questions in turn bear upon our understanding of when power is legitimate or just; how--if at all--we can resist illegitimate and unjust power; and, ultimately, whether human emancipation or freedom is possible. This seminar will consider a variety of theoretical perspectives on power, the application of these perspectives to particular cases of power relationships, and the possibilities of resistance and emancipation left open by these ways of thinking about power.

Spring 2007

  • Anno Mirabilis: The Extraordinary Year of 1453 | Professor David Baum

    Within a few months either side of 1453 the French and English concluded Europe’s longest war (and England’s longest civil war ensued), Constantinople fell to the Turks, Gutenberg invented the printing press, the Portuguese first explored the South Atlantic, Mantegna finished his Paduan fresco cycle, modern diplomacy was born in the Italian town of Lodi, Pope Nicholas V began the restoration of Renaissance Rome, and future historical greats, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus, Ferdinand, Isabella, and Lorenzo the Magnificent were born. All-in-all, it was a formidable year. This seminar will examine the year 1453 in detail, focusing on its principal personalities and events as a means to understanding the extraordinary sweep of the Renaissance in Europe during the 15th century. Among our readings will be first hand accounts of both the Hundred Years war and the Siege of Constantinople, as well as the scholarly accounts of these events by Jonathan Sumption and Steven Runciman, Elizabeth Eisenstein’s Printing Revolution, Vespasiano da Bisticci’s Lives of the Artists, and Garrett Mattingly’s Renaissance Diplomacy.

  • 19th Century Blogs: The Partisan Press and the Shaping of American Democracy | Professor Denis Brennan

    By the beginning of the 19th century, the partisanship of the first political party system undermined 18th century support for newspaper impartiality and neutrality. Editors and publishers successfully redefined the meaning of the “free press” guarantee of the First Amendment and increasingly saw themselves and their newspapers as more than auxiliaries to the political leadership of the “natural aristocracy.” By the election of Andrew Jackson, these editors re-defined the meaning of democracy and contributed significantly to the creation of the United States’ modern political party system. Not unlike the way in which the energy and technology of today has created a variety of blogs reflecting the spectrum of political debate, early 19th century energy and technology employed a strident and partisan political press to re-shape American democracy. Students will examine this change through course readings on the origins of the modern understanding of “free press” concepts and the democratization generally associated with the Age of Jackson. Using primary sources available both physically and electronically (especially newspapers, collections of letters, and diaries), each student will construct a research project that will examine a particular personality or aspect of this definitive period of American democratic transformation.

  • The Radical Bible | Professor John Cramsie

    The Bible is one of the most radical texts ever created; ruling elites have always understood that and have stopped at little to control and contain its messages throughout history. This seminar will study the radicalism of the early-modern English Bible, especially the King James Bible (c. 1611). We will analyze King James I’s attempt to neutralize Reformation Biblical radicalism in Britain by creating an official “authorized” version for his subjects. We will then consider how, despite this attempt by King James, the Bible played a central role in the revolutionary conflicts in Britain between 1637 and 1660, including the execution of James’s own son, King Charles I, as a godless “man of blood”.

  • 1963: Betty Friedan and the Rebirth of Feminism | Professor Andrew Feffer

    This class begins with what some consider the most politically important book published in the U. S. after the Second World War, Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique. After reading and discussing the text in its entirety, the class will work historically through Friedan's sources, in the vast "archive" of popular magazines, TV shows, films and advertising of the late 1940s through early 1960s. The class will then read some of the literature that responded to and elaborated on Friedan's argument and comprised the "Second Wave" of American feminism. We will also look at some of the literature from the era critical of Friedan's approach. Research projects will use Life, Time, Ladies Home Journal, House Beautiful and other magazines in Schaffer and Schenectady public library, as well as other cultural artifacts to reassess Freidan's conclusions about the effects, extent and nature of the "feminine mystique." Work will be evaluated in stages -- research design and proposal, outline of paper, first draft and final draft. Assigned texts for the class will include (besides Friedan's) a collection of selections from magazines and women's literature (as preparatory to the process of archival investigation), a book of oral history and memoire on the early years of second wave feminism and a book of feminist writing of the next generation of feminists.

  • The Big Picture: From Particle Physics to the Universe | Professor Jay Newman

    This seminar will focus on three of the most exciting and compelling areas of modern science: quantum mechanics of the nanoworld, relativity, and our ideas on the nature of the universe. Readings will include popular books by some of the major players in these areas: Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking, among others. In each area we will discuss the major scientific and philosophical ideas as well as some of their historical context. The scientific ideas include the ultimate quantum mechanical description of matter, the meaning of time and space, the content (including black holes, dark matter and energy), size, age, and future of the universe, and the recent connections between cosmology and particle physics.

  • European Imperialism and Colonialism in Africa | Professor Brian Peterson

    This course will explore the history of European colonial rule in Africa from the period of exploration and conquest during the nineteenth century to the era of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. The course will explore different interpretations of imperialism and colonialism, through a careful examination of case studies drawn from British, French, Belgian, German and Portuguese colonial contexts. Topics will include technology and empire, colonial warfare, colonial occupation and African resistance, colonial government and economics, and religious and cultural change under colonialism. The central questions for the course will be: How and why did Africans lose control over their lands following the wars of conquest? What impact did European colonialism have on Africa? How did colonial states manage to stay in power.

  • American Slavery | Professor Stephen Schmidt

    In the 50 years before the Civil War, the United States was divided into two sections, one whose economy and society were based on slavery and one based on free labor. In this course we will consider slavery as an economic and social institution that played a dominant role in determining the history of the period. We will examine why the South developed an economy based on slavery and the North did not, whether slavery contributed to the South’s slower economic development relative to the North, and how slavery disrupted the American political process leading to the war. The course will be divided about equally between the economics of slavery and its social/political effects. Readings will include American Slavery by Peter Kolchin and Without Consent or Contract by Robert Fogel.

  • Global Perspectives on Energy | Professor George Shaw

    Energy supply in industrial countries is becoming increasingly problematical with depletion of fossil fuel resources and concerns about global warming. This course examines the basics of energy use and conversion, the energy supplies available for various end uses, the available amounts of various energy resources, and the energy alternatives. Issues to be considered include rates of depletion and projected lifetimes of non-renewable energy resources, environmental impacts associates with energy resource production and use, limitations on alternative resources, implications of various policy options, limitations on policy choices and likely scenarios for future energy supply.

    There is a good introductory level text on energy covering everything from history of energy use to more technical discussions of energy resources: Energy and Society by Harold H. Schobert. There will be several readings assigned from websites, many from M. King Hubbert Center for Petroleum Supply Studies, which has several good articles covering oil supply. Additional readings from the Energy Information Administration website. These sources can also be used for writing the research paper.

    The research paper will focus on some area of energy supply/policy chosen by the student after a series of introductory lectures/discussion. Students will be assisted in selecting a topic appropriate to their existing level of expertise. For example, a mechanical engineer would be encouraged to pursue topics for which he/she has special preparation, and a political science major would similarly be encouraged to capitalize on his/her interest/background. This would NOT preclude a student from making a selection outside such area.