The Common Curriculum

Sophomore Research Seminar: 2014-15

Fall 2014

  • Slavery in the United States | 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.

  • Moral Revolutions | Professor Robert Baker

    A historical-philosophical analysis of successful and failed moral revolutions. This course is designed to give students a chance to develop their research and presentation skills through the interdisciplinary exploration of the concept of a moral revolution. Students will choose a topic and then work in historian-philosopher/political scientist two-person teams to analyze such candidates for a moral revolution as: the abolitionist campaign to abolish Negro slavery in Britain and the US; the abolition of foot binding in China; the WCTUs campaign to prohibit the production and sale of alcoholic beverages, the MADD campaign to prohibit "underage drinking" before the age of 21; the campaign to decriminalize the same of cannabis and opiates in the US; the UN campaign to criminalized female circumcision, the campaign to decriminalize physician aid in dying (physician assisted suicide) or the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage. Readings: Common readings for the course will include an essay by feminist Kathryn Pine Parsons (Addelson), THE HONOR CODE: HOW MORAL REVOLUTIONS HAPPEN by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah; and THE STRUCTURE OF SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS by historian of science, Thomas Kuhn. Teams will develop and present their initial research and their final analysis of a moral revolution in presentations to the entire class.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 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.

Winter 2015

  • Analyzing Genders and Sexualities in French Cinema from 1950 to Now | Professor Michelle Chilcoat

    In this course, students will train their eyes on how sex and gender are represented in popular French films (and several US remakes) explicitly concerned with “sexual orientation.” More specifically, the course will be divided into three sections, with the first addressing the “male gaze,” constructions of femininity, lesbian desire, and “heterosexualization”; the second, constructions of masculinity, homosexuality, and the family order; and the third, transgender/sex, intersexuality and “gender dysphoria.” After each section, and informed by readings drawn from a variety of disciplines, including film theory, queer theory, race studies, anthropology, psychoanalysis, feminism, and masculinity studies, students will write a “critical film analysis” paper (for a total of three 5-6 page papers), a form of scholarship integrating research into a film’s context (historical, ideological, social, cultural, etc.) with close film analysis. Students will be encouraged to work toward refining one of their essays for submission to Film Matters, UNC-Wilmington’s high quality peer-reviewed undergraduate magazine now published by Intellect/University of Chicago Press.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Gender, Race Ethnicity, and Class in the American Civil War Era | Professor Andrea Foroughi

    On the Fourth of July 1861, President Abraham Lincoln characterized the conflict dividing the Union and Confederacy as "a people's contest." In the ensuing 150+ years, historians have studied not only how the Civil War tested the country's political principles but also how people on and off of the battlefield -- women and men, enslaved and free, native and foreign born, rich and poor, northern and southern -- experienced and understood their roles in the war. Students in this SRS will pursue research in printed and on-line Civil War diaries, letters, newspapers, and speeches to explore how gender, class, and race were integral to the "people's contest" and its outcome.

  • Sex and Gender in Classical Antiquity | Professor Tommaso Gazzarri

    Sex and Gender in Classical Antiquity | Professor Tommaso Gazzarri

    This seminar tackles modern debates about human sex and gender from a historical perspective, and examines in detail a wide range of different texts that provide us with evidence about sexual practices and ideologies in classical antiquity. Particular emphasis will be given to the thorough study of primary sources, both literary and archaeological, from the Greek and Roman worlds. Major questions addressed will include but will not be limited to:

    • What does it mean to be male, female, masculine, feminine, man, woman, boy, girl?

    • What can we discover about you from the way(s) you have sex, and with whom?

    • How all these things relate to life, love, power?

    The student’s progress will be assessed through a series of activities, supervised by the teacher, which include: 1) presenting a reasoned research proposal; 2) providing an annotated bibliography; 3) presenting a structured paper outline; 4) first paper draft; 5) final version of the paper.

  • 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.

  • Contested Sites and Stolen Art | Professor Louisa Matthew

    Art and architecture have always played an important role in the symbolism of political, religious and cultural hegemony. Why do states appropriate sites and buildings and why do they steal art? How and why do they transform the meanings and uses of what they have appropriated? We will examine four historical moments when art and architecture played a role in struggles for domination. In some of these cases the effects are still reverberating today. Our subjects are the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Napoleon’s looting of art from Italian states, including the Vatican, in the early nineteenth century, and the complex question of art stolen, sold, and appropriated by the Nazis during World War II.

  • Imagining India: British Colonialism and Indian Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries | Professor Rajashree Mazumder

    Aimed at students with no previous knowledge of the Indian subcontinent. Examination of key moments in modern Indian history (c. 1757-1947). The main questions that we will address are: how did the establishment of British rule in India fundamentally alter the nature of Indian economy, polity and society? What are the new identities created in this process? How was India “imagined”? We will read classic pieces of literature written from this period and watch cinematic adaptations (with English subtitles) of many of these works during the term. We will try to understand how contemporary political and social concerns informed the creation of these works. We will try to hear the many different voices in these accounts: the British colonial official, the declining ruling nobility, the rising Hindu and Muslim middle class in the cities, the lower caste leader and the modern Indian woman. By the end of this course, students will trace and question the legacies of many of these developments during the colonial period, which are present even today.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • African Migration: Borders, Violence, and Identity | Professor Cheikh Ndiyae

    This course examines the critical terms of home and elsewhere through the lens of African migration to Europe and North America. African youth who are under overwhelming socio-cultural and economic pressures migrate to Europe and North America in search for greener pastures. In the course of these migrations, successful stories are often overshadowed by traumatic and violent experiences and identity crisis. Our study of African migration will be undergirded by an in-depth examination of the notions of border, exile, trauma, violence, and identity. We will use critical texts, works of fiction, films, and documentaries for that purpose. One of the goals for this course is to hone student's critical thinking and writing skills. Thus, students will read, discuss, present, and write about both primary and secondary sources.

Spring 2015

  • On Death and Dying: Reflections on Death and What it Means in Our Lives | Professor Robert Baker

    In this course we read the reflections of physicians, philosophers, theologians--and people approaching death--about what the fact of death means for our lives. We also visit a cemetery and write about tombstones and write our own obituaries. We also think about killing and mass killing by terrorists and in war, and by governments in the form of capital punishments. You will read a book that won the National Book Award, HOW PEOPLE DIE, and an Oxford reader on death, dying and killing. In addition to reading about, discussing and debating issues about death, dying and killing, you will also develop a research project and, with the help of the instructor, hone you skills in researching, developing resources (books, data, etc.), and debating, presenting and writing about your position on some topic related to the course.

  • Brilliant Minds, Embattled Souls: Scientists in Conflict With Their Governments | Professor Valerie Barr

    This course will focus on a number of scientists (Alan Turing, Jacob Appelbaum, James Hansen, Don Francis, Rachel Carson, Robert Oppenheimer) who found themselves in some way in conflict with their governments. Students will read sections of biographies of Turing and a few of Turing's papers, consider some of his key theories, such as Turing Machines and the Turing Test, and try these out yourself. In a sense, in the context of computer science, working with Turing Machines and the Turing Test is a form of primary research. Second, Turing and the others will stand as examples of scientists who found themselves in conflict with the governments they served. Their lives will serve as a touchstone as each student studies an individual scientist and writes a critical biography. This will involve secondary research about the scientist and his/her particular research area and conflict. Students will use the research materials available through the Schaffer Library. This may include, depending on the scientist, special collections, on-line databases, and print materials from the stacks.

  • Sport and the American Identity | Professor Denis Brennan

    Three years after the U.S. Census Department announced that a fixed line demarcating the American frontier could no longer be drawn, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his famous address, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." For Turner, the existence of the frontier had defined the rugged independence of the American individual, i.e., self-reliant, optimistic, adaptable, and ingenious. Furthermore, he warned that with the loss of the frontier the nation required a new means of defining American character. Concurrent with this development, the last decades of the 19th century witnessed an explosion of interest in sports. Long distained, especially by those who held Victorian values, athletic activity and sports developed during this period into an important institution with a vital social purpose in American life. In particular urban, middle-class men and women envisioned sport as an activity that taught the values fundamental to American identity, the values of a frontier society, the values of the rugged individual, of free enterprise, of community, of adaptability, of creativity, and of success. The intertwining of sport and American identity (whether by class, gender, ethnicity, or race) only deepened during the whole of the 20th century. The linkage of sport to the development of the distinctive traits often associated with American identity can be researched from a variety of perspectives. In addition to the expansion and acceptance of particular sports (perhaps especially professional baseball and college football) as well as the lives of late 19th and 20th century sports heroes and personalities, social reformers, business executives, and political leaders embraced and popularized this relationship.

  • The Self | Professor Chalmers Clark

    This Sophomore/Scholars Research Seminar (SRS) will focus on the problem of personal identity in the history of ideas, especially in the history of religion and philosophy. We will be examining various doctrines on the soul, the self, the subject, the agent, and the mind, as well as the purported relation between such concepts and that of the “body.” Special attention will be paid to discussions concerning the self in Western Philosophy and Classical Indian Thought. SRS courses integrate skills with content. Our exploration of the self will provide the context for instruction in basic writing and research methods. The entire course is in fact geared toward the production, for every student, of a 4,000-word research paper of his/ her own device.

  • Art and Politics | 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.

  • 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.

  • '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 definitely 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. In honor of the ten year anniversary of Katrina, this year's class will focus particularly on the city's complex struggle to recover and rebuild. Each student will research and write a paper on a specific sociological issue concerning the hurricane.

  • Jewish Graphic Novels | Professor Judith Lewin

    Jewish Graphic Novels is a course with a specific focus: reading graphic novels written by Jews on “Jewish” subjects, learning critical analysis and to write either a traditional research paper or a graphic criticism based on your research. 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. 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 orally and textually. We will also present our findings publically in a poster session at Union. You will strive to improve your reading and writing skills and understand what it means to write analytically in general and to make an argument about graphic literature in particular.

  • 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.

  • New Worlds: Revolutionary Discoveries of Moons, Planets, and Solar Systems | Professor Francis Wilkin

    This course gives an introduction to research and writing on scientific and science-related historical topics, built upon the exciting discoveries of new worlds: moons, planets and asteroids in our solar system, and other solar systems. No background in math or science is assumed beyond a high school education, but students are expected to immerse themselves in the discoveries and discovery techniques, resulting in a broad understanding of our solar system and other solar systems. This is a seminar and students will be expected to participate in discussion of assigned readings, as well as to lead the discussion on a topic of their choosing from an extended list provided by the instructor. The final outcome of the course will be a term paper examining the chosen topic.