The Common Curriculum

Sophomore Research Seminar: 2012-13

Fall 2012

  • Slavery in the United States | Professor Kenneth Aslakson

    The topic of this course is Slavery in the United States, but its primary objective is to teach you to become fully versatile in conducting research and fully competent in writing long research papers. In the first few weeks of the course you will become familiar with the issues and debates that have driven the scholarship on American slavery. This will provide the necessary context for you to conduct primary source research on the topic. The course will then turn its attention to research and writing. To this end, you will be responsible for a research project which defines a topic related to Slavery in the United States, locates sources, analyzes these sources in an appropriate way, and presents the results in an accessible fashion.

  • Identity and Security in a Technological World | Professors Anastasia Pease and Shane Cotter

    The acquisition and storage of biometric data (fingerprints, face images etc.) are crucial in personal identification and forensic investigations of crimes. In this SRS, students will learn about how biometric and forensic systems currently work, and explore their uses, merits, and limitations.

    Students will also ponder a future world where all biometric and personal data, including genetic and healthcare records, as well as shopping patterns, etc. will be easily accessible in real time. The technologies that allow the tracking of individuals anywhere in the world also bring forward questions of security, privacy, and identity. Reading Science Fiction stories, along with news and science articles, students will explore the ethics, the dangers, and the advantages of a Big Brother world.

  • Sex and Race in Colonial Asia | Professor Cheong Soon Gan

    The seminar looks the role sexual mores and racial stereotyping played in the various colonial projects in Asia in the 18th to 20th centuries. The early part of empire building was carried almost exclusively by men, some of whom took indigenous mistresses or frequented brothels. In the latter part of colonial rule, more and more women from the metropolis travelled to the colonies either as tourists, wives or reformers. We will explore how the authorities policed prostitution and venereal disease, and regulated gender relationships in the colonies. By the end of the course, students will have completed an original research project using primary sources such as travel writing, short stories, reportage and newspaper articles, as well as secondary sources. Students will have mastered how to critically read primary sources and place them within larger historical, geographical and thematic contexts.

  • Unpacking' Hurricane Katrina: What Can Social Science Tell Us | Professor Janet Grigsby

    In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast and devastated the city of New Orleans. For weeks after, the popular media framed the almost total failure of institutions to adequately prepare for and respond to the disaster and raised stark questions about the role of race and class. New Orleans' history of social problems was painted in ugly terms. Katrina was a social as well as a natural disaster.

    Since then, social scientists have been studying the many issues raised by these events. In this seminar, we will attempt to 'unpack' the Katrina disaster by examining this research and by doing some of our own. We will use content analysis techniques to examine television representations of the disaster, documenting their key themes. Then we will explore what social science has learned about the adequacy of media images of disaster. How do sociologists define disaster? How does TV news work and what role does it play in disasters? How do our popular myths about disaster compare to reality? How do the existing social structures of race, class and gender in a community make its members more or less vulnerable to disaster? How do communities go about recovering from disaster? How did these issues play out in New Orleans before, during and after Katrina? Each student will research and write a paper on a specific sociological issue concerning the hurricane.

  • 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, but will touch on other drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • Socialisms | Professor Teresa Meade

    This course will examine the history of socialist thinking, and its life as an economic and political practice. To its critics, socialism has been the tragic, and even moral, failure of the twentieth century. Others have argued that the demise of socialism has left in its stead a capitalist era marked by rising inequality, environmental devastation, and war. Widespread protests, spearheaded by the Occupy Movement, have seen the reemergence of discussion around anti-capitalist alternatives, including debates over new forms of socialist planning. Is this a viable alternative? Why does the idea of socialism, despite its obvious failures in Eastern Europe, refuse to die?

    In this course we will read some of the founding texts of socialist thought, including Engels and Marx (although the latter wrote very few pages on socialism), and the main critics of what came to be known as “Marxist” ideology, especially from free-market economists such as Friedrich Hayek. We will look at thinkers who have argued for socialist answers to the problems of sexism, racism, and imperialism, paying particular attention to current debates surrounding the feasibility of capitalist growth. Students will write a research paper on a range of topics, including the relevance or irrelevance of socialist theory, the success or failure of socialist states, the possibilities of post-capitalist alternatives, among other subjects.

  • 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 diverse colonial contexts. 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? The course will be structured as a seminar, which means the focus will be on the discussion of readings. Furthermore, we will spend considerable time focused on student research projects.

  • The Emergence of Sexuality | Professor Patrick Singy

    At what time, in what context, and under which conditions have human beings come to identify as “heterosexuals,” “homosexuals,” etc.? Through a combination of primary and secondary sources, this Sophomore Research Seminar will explore the different ways sex has been regulated in the Western tradition, from ancient Greece until the present. The course will focus on the historical emergence of some key concepts of sexuality, in particular “the sexual instinct” and “sexual identity.” We will read authors from a variety of periods and fields, such as religion (St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas), medicine (Tissot), psychiatry (Krafft-Ebing, Freud), philosophy (Marcuse, Foucault), and law (Lawrence v. Texas).

  • 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.

  • Social Philosophy: The Construction of Social Reality | Professor Leo Zaibert

    his course deals with the construction of social reality, not with the social construction of reality. That is, we will investigate how it is possible for facts which depend for their existence on human conventions to exist. For example, the fact that you are, say, a United States citizen depends on the previous decision by a group of humans to stake claims over a piece of raw land, call it “United States” and then create all sorts of political institutions that would be rise to nationality. Contrast fact about nationality, or about civil state, with facts such that water is H20, or that Angel Falls are the tallest waterfall on earth. What are the differences? How do we create, and maintain, the latter? How many people need to believe that a certain piece of land is, say, a country in order for it to become a country?

    In addressing these and related questions, we will be guided above all by the seminal work of John Searle in his highly influential The Construction of Social Reality, though other readings will be announced in class.

Winter 2013

  • Anthropology of Addiction | Professor Paul Christensen

    Addiction, addict, and addicted are terms frequently used in the United States to talk about a wide range of behaviors. At the innocuous end we are casually addicted (or say we are) to coffee, Facebook, or chocolate - and typically suffer few, if any, consequences for such “addictions.” Of greater social and individual concern are addictions to alcohol, tobacco, sex, gambling, or body modification. Finally, the addict/junky exists as a label for individuals whose addicted behavior is understood as destructive, damaging, and likely to eventually end in death for themselves and others. Yet what do we really know about addiction? Especially when its use as a definitional category spans such a range of substances, actions, social positions, and outcomes. This course looks at addiction from a variety of positions to better understand this complex term and cultural concept.

  • Research Ethics | Professor Chalmers Clark

    The course will be focused on the ethics of biomedical research. A short list of the topics to be considered are and the history of biomedical research ethics, the Hippocratic Oath, the AMA Principles of Medical Ethics, medical research as a public trust, and the Belmont Report. Also, we will look closely at cases arguing (pro-con) about the Willowbrook Hepatitis Study, the ethics of Randomized Clinical Trials (RCTs), the Tuskeegee Syphilis Study, The Gelsinger Case and Gene Therapy, as well as the ethics of animal treatment in biomedical research for human beings.

    (1) To work carefully and deliberately through Chapter 1 of Munson’s Text on “Research Ethics and Informed Consent.” Further topics will be explored as time permits.*
    (2) Supplemental to (1) will be basic logic work (and testing) and basic ethical theory (and testing).
    (3) The course will be further developed by partnering with a librarian who will lead us in developing a fuller appreciation of quality academic research and its methods. (Library course component will take place: TBA [during regular class time]).

    *Schedule of topics subject to modification according the interests and progress of the class.

  • 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 its messages throughout history. This seminar will study the radicalism of the early-modern English Bible between 1550 and 1660. We will begin with the English Bible and King James VI & I’s attempt to neutralize biblical radicalism in Britain c. 1600. James did so by using biblical arguments in his political tracts and by supporting the creation of an official ‘authorized’ version for his subjects, the famous King James Bible (c. 1611) that celebrated its four hundredth birthday last year. James particularly feared for the safety of monarchy and a ruling order dominated by ‘the 1%’. James was astute in fearing biblical radicalism. It drove the men and women who opposed his mother Mary Queen of Scots and drove her from the throne in Scotland while James was just a boy of one. It encouraged political and religious opponents during his lifetime. And, it inspired the revolutionary subjects who took up arms, executed James’s own son, King Charles I, as a godless ‘man of blood’, and abolished monarchy itself. We will explore this historical background in the first part of the course. In the second part of the course, each student will identify a radical threat inspired by the Bible between 1550 and 1660 and analyze it through original primary sources of the period. Your own hands-on research will culminate in an original research paper and SRS poster presentation to the campus community.

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

    This class begins with Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, considered by some the most politically consequential book published in the U.S. after the Second World War. 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.

  • Global Remix Culture | Professor Christine Henseler

    We remix. We mash-up. We create, read, and watch a host of sarcastic, parodying, and wildly innovative works uploaded onto YouTube and Facebook every minute. Remix culture is all around us. We find it in video, photography, literature, music, games, machinima, and net art. Its history can be traced to the beginning of the nineteenth century in sound and image collages, cut-up poems and mixed music. What is the history of the remix? How is it shaping contemporary culture worldwide? How is it affecting everything from art and engineering, to everyday life? In this class students will read about the remix phenomenon and its cultural effects, they will listen to music, watch remixes, write blogs, share material, and engage in a research project on a global remix cultural product (music, video, fashion, literature, and so on) of their choice.

  • African-American Protest Movements | Professor Melinda Lawson

    This course will examine the history of African-American protest movements. Students will learn in rough outline about African-American struggles for freedom from the earliest slave revolts to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. We will examine such struggles as Gabriel's Rebellion (considered perhaps the largest slave conspiracy in Southern history), abolitionism (with a focus on the strategies of David Walker, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, and Frederick Douglass), the anti-lynching movement, Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, W.E.B. DuBois and the Niagara Movement, Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance, the struggle to integrate sports such as boxing and baseball, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, and the Black Power Movement. Students will write a research paper on the movement of their choice.

  • The Incarceration of Japanese Americans During World War II | Professor Andrew Morris

    This research seminar will focus on the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens in the United States during World War II. This topic offers the chance to explore a variety of important historical 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. We will address these issues by examining a wide range of types of primary sources, including government documents, newspapers, legal documents, photographs, camp newsletters, oral histories, and memoirs.

  • Import/Export/Convergence | Professor Timothy Olsen

    Selected texts will examine three related topics: globalization and America's appetite for cheap foreign imports; one of America's most important exports-the blockbuster movie; and the convergence of traditional and new media in our ever-shrinking, information-overloaded world. The reading consists of three books of general, non-expert interest: Pietra Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy; Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood; Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.

  • Nazism | Professor Mark Walker

    This seminar will focus on the National Socialist (NS) movement in Germany during the first half of the 20th century. Topics will include: the rise of the NS movement during the Weimar 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. Reading 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.

  • Six Second Wisdom: Cartoons, Comics, and American Society | Professor Robert Wells

    Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey” once observed that readers of cartoons spend only six seconds on each panel or strip. Yet in that six seconds we are amused and even enlightened by a comment on our society. In this SRS we will explore the history of cartoons and comics in the United States, and examine what they tell us about our society, past and present, using items that appeared in magazines and newspapers. Editorial/political cartoons and those that appear on “funny” pages will be the main focus. Brief note will be made of graphic novels, but we will not examine animation. Possible areas of research include: artists/creators (e.g. Thomas Nast, Charles Schulz), particular strips or panels (e.g. “Hogan’ Alley,” “L’il Abner,” “Far Side”), magazines or newspapers (e.g. New Yorker, The Masses, Schenectady Gazette), periods (e.g. 1920-1945, Cold War), themes or topics (e.g. family, gender, work), genres (e.g. editorial, adventure, children), or artistic styles and devices.

Spring 2013

  • “Chaos” across the Disciplines | Professor Nicole Calandra

    In Greek and Roman mythology, “chaos” is the word used to describe the origins of our universe. In 20th-century scientific and mathematical discourse, chaos theory emphasizes, among other things, the often untraceable and disproportional impact of original conditions on future outcomes--a notion made famous by Edward Lorenz’s assertion that “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil” just might be able to “set off a tornado in Texas.” In this course, we will explore why the science of chaos appeals so strongly to scholars in the humanities and social sciences, asking what insights follow from the use of chaos theory to understand our modern age of decolonization (and neocolonialism), international migration, and globalization. Conversely, we will explore the limits of applying evolving scientific concepts (either as metaphors or as models) to work in other disciplines: namely literature, history, and cultural studies. Students will write a research paper on the subject of chaos in the 20th and 21st centuries in the context of at least one of the disciplines we explore in class.

  • Anthropology of Addiction | Professor Paul Christensen

    Addiction, addict, and addicted are terms frequently used in the United States to talk about a wide range of behaviors. At the innocuous end we are casually addicted (or say we are) to coffee, Facebook, or chocolate - and typically suffer few, if any, consequences for such “addictions.” Of greater social and individual concern are addictions to alcohol, tobacco, sex, gambling, or body modification. Finally, the addict/junky exists as a label for individuals whose addicted behavior is understood as destructive, damaging, and likely to eventually end in death for themselves and others. Yet what do we really know about addiction? Especially when its use as a definitional category spans such a range of substances, actions, social positions, and outcomes. This course looks at addiction from a variety of positions to better understand this complex term and cultural concept.

  • Art and Politics of the Modern Era | Professor Lorraine Cox

    The relationship between art and politics has a long and rich history from Equestrian portraits of Emperors to revolutionary broadsides. Focusing mainly on the 20th century to the present with a geographic focus on the Americas, this course will explore the theoretical underpinnings which structure both the thinking and practice of art of social conscience. We will broadly consider the 'meaning' of political art in modern and post-modern discourse, the relationship of politics to the creative process and the democratic potential of protest art. Weekly topics will cover specific social movements and causes that have produced and inspired artist from the suffragette movement to feminism and AIDS; visual technologies of persuasion from abolition broadsides to WWII recruitment posters; monuments and memory from the Vietnam War Memorial to Oklahoma City; and public murals painted in Mexico and Los Angeles.

  •  Greenwashing, Green Parties, and Greenbacks | Professor Kara Doyle

    Which is more important – maintaining our environment or growing our economy? Should we preserve natural resources or aim for energy independence? Is hydrofracking a good or a bad thing? Should we choose to be frugal consumers or green consumers? The answer in each case, of course, is “both” – but finding the balance between them often proves elusive. In this course, you will acquire and hone research skills, analytical thinking skills, and communication skills (both written and oral) as you pursue a research project about an environmental issue of your own choosing. We will take as our starting point recent and current debates about environmental concerns, and examine the arguments being made on opposing sides of the arena – represented at the outset by Al Gore and by climate change skeptics such as Bjorn Lomborg. We will closely examine the way both sides use and present scientific and other evidence to support their economic and environmental claims, looking at them both as bad and good models, and discuss how to move past “either/or” thinking into the complexity of real world scenarios. Along the way you will develop an interest in a particular environmental problem, which will become the springboard for your project. In the second half of the course, after having narrowed your initial idea down to a manageable size, you will work intensively on your own project, researching it thoroughly in order to present a possible solution.

  • Harlots, Heretics, and Hell-Raisers: Badly Behaved Women in the English-Speaking World, 1500 to the Present | Professor Angela Ellis

    In 1976, well-known American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich observed, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich was writing a scholarly article about funeral sermons eulogizing women in pre-Revolutionary New England. She never intended to coin a female-empowerment catchphrase. Yet, the popular consciousness subsequently has latched onto Ulrich’s statement, or slight variations thereof, and turned it into a feminist slogan that adorns merchandise from bumper stickers to T-shirts, coffee mugs to tote bags, and beyond.

    In this research seminar, we will investigate how women who challenged tradition and authority made history. We will look at various examples of “badly” behaved women in the English-speaking world, 1500 to the present. These include seventeenth-century English witchcraft accuser Anne Gunter, eighteenth-century Irish-American pirate Anne Bonny, and twentieth-century American Civil Rights protestor Anne Moody: three women connected by little but their shared first name and the outraged response, justified or not, that their refusal to be “good” elicited. We will consider, for example, some of the prevailing expectations for women’s behavior over the centuries, the consequences for failing to live up to those cultural norms, and how both have (and have not) changed over the centuries. In sum, we will examine at how badly behaved women continue to infuriate, intrigue, and even inspire us.

  • Jewish Graphic Novels | Professor Judith Lewin

    Jewish Graphic Novels is a course focused on reading graphic novels, most of which will be written by Jews on Jewish subjects, but are these criteria necessary to the definition of “Jewish graphic novel’? We will be learning critical analysis of primary texts + images, learning to dig up and assess what critics have written on the genre, and learning to construct our own arguments in college-level research presentations and essays. As a class, we will investigate the creation of the “graphic novel” genre, its terminology and visual and textual logic and why and how it became associated with Jews and Jewish issues. What makes these works so popular? To whom do they appeal and why? Are they a legitimate object of study at the college level? Why might some people think so and some not The graphic novel offers a special combination of narrative devices and unusual rewards to its readers that this course will help us to appreciate and to articulate. You will strive to improve your reading, research and writing skills and to understand what it means to write “a college-level essay” in general and to make an argument about graphic literature in particular. We will devote class time, library time and individual conferences to this goal.

  • Rethinking Iran: Images and Realities | Professor Eshragh Motahar

    The 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, in which Iranian university students held U.S. citizens in captivity for 444 days inside the American embassy in Tehran, has left an indelible mark on U.S.-Iranian relations. In this course we will study the economic, political, cultural, historical, and other factors that have shaped today's Iran. We will take, as our point of departure, one of the most important events in modern Iranian history: The CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953. We will study this event, and the subsequent 25 years of repression and de-democratization, in the context of Iran's anti-colonial struggles and modernization efforts of the previous 150 years or so. This approach will illuminate the genesis of the 1979 revolution, the hostage crisis, the evolution of the Islamic Republic since then, and the many aspects of the current multifaceted relationship between Iran and the rest of the world.

    The goal is to enable students to contextualize, and thus better understand, current issues such as the role of petroleum and nuclear energy in Iran's political economy and in its relationship with the rest of the world, the role of Islam in Iran, the position of women in society, the emergence of the "Green Movement," and related issues. In this journey, students will develop an appreciation of Iran as a complex, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, modern, vibrant society with an ancient history and a rich cultural heritage.

  • Time: Changer of Seasons | Professor Anastasia Pease

    From ancient calendars to the theory of relativity, humanity has always been preoccupied with Time. And human ideas about Time have changed through the ages. Time has been perceived as linear or cyclical, as a flow or as another dimension of the universe. But what *is* Time really? What is the "space-time continuum"? How did our species learn to measure time? From sundials to hourglasses to cellphones, how were timepieces invented and perfected? How were they used? How do different cultures view time? Why does time seem to slow down when you're bored? Why does it fly when you're having fun? These and many other questions will be explored in this section of the SRS. Students will be encouraged to research related topics of particular interest to them. The SRS will encompass Physics, Astronomy, Sociology, History, Biology, Psychology, Geology, Theology, Philosophy, and Literature.

  • Computer Simulation and Virtual History | Professor Steven Sargent

    This SRS will help students acquire the skills of controlling how computer software works, using software to produce useful data, and analyzing that data to provide insight into how the world works. Students will 1) select an historical event simulated on commercially available software; 2) find out what game parameters are player controlled and become familiar with how changes in each parameter affect the outcome of the game; 3) fully research the historical situation represented in the game and use the game parameters to replicate the historical situation as accurately as possible; 4) use the parameters to drive the simulation into the most counterfactual configuration possible; 5) play trials, collect data, analyze data;and 6) write a research paper examining the results for what they tell us about which parameters were most responsible for the historical outcome and how likely it was that things could have turned out differently. I expect this course to increase students’ interest in computer simulation as a tool to study a broad range of human phenomena.

  • Witches, Harlots, Saints: Gender, Sexuality and the Body in Late Ancient Religion | Professor Olga Solovieva

    What kinds of fantasies did people in Late Antiquity construct about sexuality, and what can those fantasies tell us about their society and culture? What conceptions of gender roles, human psyche, cosmos, and deities are reflected in the erotic magical spells? What are the social, cultural and ideological contexts for, and implications of, the practice of sexual renunciation? What images and valuations of the human body appear in late ancient literary works, and how do those variant descriptions relate to their contemporary religious landscape? In this course we will explore these and other questions related to the constructions of sexuality and gender in Late Ancient religions. Our focus will be on the religious traditions that flourished in the Mediterranean world during the first five centuries of the common era (known as Late Antiquity or the Hellenistic Age), including Graeco-Roman mystery cults and magic, “Gnostic” sects, and early Christianity. These ancient traditions present us with a variety of ways of conceptualizing the body and sexuality which continue to inform and to haunt Western culture. The interpretive assumption that will guide our research is that the body and its sexual experiences, however “natural” and basic they may be, are also historical categories which must be understood within—and help us understand something about—particular societies and cultures. Our primary sources will range from ancient erotic novels and biographical accounts, to the canonical and extra-canonical scriptures, personal diaries, and epigraphic sources and artifacts such as curse tablets, amulets, and magical papyri. We will also read some of the classic works written by historians of Late Ancient religions.

  • Biological Thinking, Ancient and Modern | Professor Patricia Wareh

    What ways of thinking did the Ancient Greek physicians and philosophers of nature develop in their attempt to understand the principles and nature of living organisms? How do these ancient discussions combine attention to still-important philosophical and biological issues with assumptions that derive from ancient cultural conditions and values? We will study the writings of the Hippocratic medical writers, Aristotle, and the Pre-Socratic theorists of nature (guided by David Sedley’s book, Creationism and its Critics in Antiquity). We will also read Kim Sterelny’s account of the conflict between two contemporary views of evolutionary biology (Dawkins vs. Gould: Survival of the Fittest) and seek connections between ancient and modern theoretical dilemmas in biology.

    Students will build on these shared readings in order to research, discover, read, and analyze additional theories (primary texts of ancient and modern biological thinkers), biological facts, and problems. The goal will be a research paper that grapples with facts, theories, and historical conditions that go beyond the class’s shared reading list. Attention to the cultural context of biological thinking will be encouraged, and students may choose projects that focus on eccentric or apparently dead-end lines of biological thinking.