Class Matters: Probing the American Dream
Janet Casey, Professor of English and Director, First Year ExperienceAmerican Dream of upward mobility for everyone has long enabled the perception that classes do not exist in our nation—or that, if they do exist, they are relatively fluid. Yet this popular narrative, and the larger-than-life examples that have long supported it (think Abraham Lincoln), is frequently at odds with the socioeconomic realities of life in the U.S. This seminar will consider the various ways that class is signaled and understood, and will ask such questions as the following: What does it mean to be underprivileged in our country, and who gets to speak for and represent the largely unheard underclass? Alternatively, what do we mean when we claim a middle-class identity? How are we shaped, subtly and unsubtly, by class aspirations and class-oriented fears?
Environment and Object: Recent African ArtLisa Aronson, Associate Professor of Art History
Why must the inhabitants of the Niger Delta of Nigeria endure devastating environmental pollution from local oil production, while receiving none of revenues from what is Nigeria's primary export? How is it that deforestation goes unchecked, causing the rapid disappearance of the African rain forests? How can one reconcile the fact that there is so little clean and healthful water to drink in Africa when so much water is available? What does one make of plastic bottles and other detritus that litter the African environment? These are among the environmental issues in Africa that the seminar will address, using my exhibition at Skidmore's Tang Museum Environment and Object • Recent African Art as the primary focus of our inquiry.
Weddings: Rite, Metaphor, System
Sarah Goodwin, Professor of English & Associate Dean of Faculty
Reverend Thomas Davis, Professor Emeritus of Religion
Chrys Ingraham, Visiting Professor of Sociology
The seminar explored the wedding as legal, social, psychological, metaphorical, economic, and esthetic event. Starting with a series of paintings in a solo show by Julia Jacquette (Skidmore '86) at the Tang Museum, students then launched into a multidisciplinary analysis of wedding culture. Readings included selections from the following: the Song of Songs and The Book of Revelation; White Weddings by Chrys Ingraham; Shakespeare's The Tempest; Spenser's "Epithalamion"; Northrup Frye's Anatomy of Criticism; readings from the current debate about gay marriages; Freud's Civilization and its Discontents; Austen's Pride and Prejudice; and Lawrence Stone's The Family, Death, and Marriage in England.
Words Making Worlds: The Act of Constitution
Beau Breslin, Assistant Professor of Government & Director, Law and Society
Tadahisa Kuroda, David H. Porter Professor of History
Grace Burton, Professor of Spanish & Dean of Studies
This course examined what constitutions do and what purposes they serve. It took as its launching point the assumption that constitutional texts, while differing dramatically in how well they manage politics, do not differ widely in their functions. By studying a variety of constitutions from nations around the world, students explored the extent to which these different constitutions carry out similar tasks. But this course also explored the larger problem faced by any constitution-makers: the challenge of creating a stable, legitimate political regime out of mere words on a page.
Ways of Looking, Ways of Being: Disability Narrative and Theories of Self
Prof. Susannah Mintz, English
This MALS seminar offered students an exploration of embodiment, identity, and the transformative potential of life-writing. Focused on selected contemporary disability narratives, the course investigated what the status of "anomalous" bodies—bodies that don't fit established categories—tells us about dominant attitudes toward (and anxieties about) subjectivity. Because disability is the one marginal category to which all people are susceptible, the lines of demarcation between able and disabled bodies are tenuous in the extreme, and many people will cross those thresholds more than once as they age. A study of why cultures construct some bodies as ideal and others as afflicted stimulated a conversation about the cultural frameworks that shape who we are and how we understand ourselves in relation to the larger community.
Journeys Through the Maze
Marc-Andre Wiesmann, Professor of French
Penny Jolly, Professor of Art History
Hedi Jaouad, Professor of French
The course was a survey of the most salient avatars of labyrinths in the West. Through chronological investigation spanning from Greek Antiquity to a 21st century U.S. college campus, students gained a sense of the continuity of an imaginative tradition which has invested the motif of the labyrinth with an astounding spectrum of signifying possibilities in a wide variety of domains: visual and verbal arts, opera, literary theory, gender theory, philosophy, psychology, politics, cultural studies, and more. Students studied how the labyrinth functions in a multiplicity of historical, cultural, social and even spiritual contexts.
The Many Faces of Carmen
Michael Mudrovic, Associate Professor of Spanish
Grace Burton, Professor of Spanish & Dean of Studies
Given her portrayal as an indifferent seductress, many consider the figure of Carmen the female equivalent of Don Juan. In dialogue with Evlyn Gould's study, The Fate of Carmen, this seminar was designed to explore the representation of this intriguing figure in three different genres: Merimé's short novel, Bizet's opera, and Carlos Saura's flamenco dance film. In addition to the basic issues of textuality and representation, students examined Carmen from a variety of viewpoints. One of the major issues raised by these works concerns the definition of national identity: What is Spain and how does Carmen embody Spanish culture? From the perspective of gender studies, why is Carmen a 'femme fatale'? How does this stereotype confirm or alter conventional images of both women and men? Other approaches were explored, such as the historical, political, and cultural situations at the time these works were produced.
Prof. Joel Smith, Philosophy and Religion
This seminar was a study of classical and contemporary Tibetan Buddhism that examined how Tibetan Buddhist ideas are intertwined with religious praxis. The course focused on the Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism that is the central element in the culture of Tibet, as well as its Mahayana Buddhist background in India. Emphasis was on the central ideas of wisdom, compassion, dependent arising, and the two truths and how these ideas are expressed in the practice of religious art, institutions, meditation, and rituals.
Brain, Self, Culture
Gerald Erchak, Professor of Anthropology
Gus Lumia, Professor of Psychology
Sue Bender, Professor of Anthropology
Sheldon Solomon, Ross Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies & Psychology
Jack Conway, Professor of Sociologyn
This seminar focused on the brain and its role in evolution, in adaptation, and in the creation of human behavior. Human beings are existential paradoxes, locked in a dualistic phenomenology. On the one hand, humans are animals like any others, products of genetic evolution, seeking survival and the maintenance of life itself. On the other hand, humans possess higher consciousness and create the world within which we dwell; on this level, the maintenance of human identity is our key concern. This dualism is the source of many debates about the nature of humans and human culture: nature/nurture, heredity/environment, even sciences/humanities. It is the brain that makes us uniquely human, and it is the brain that links the two planes of human existence. Human conscious-ness is the brain; it is the linchpin of our existence.
Fin de siecle Mentalities
Prof. John Anzalone, Foreign Languages and Literatures
The end of the late nineteenth century in France was a time of great social upheaval in many spheres: social, artistic, scientific, psychological. In a very important sense, the fin de siecle period ushered in changes we still struggle with today, at the same time as it presented us with new tools for the analysis and understanding of those changes. This seminar examined the mentalities that collided with one another one hundred years ago by reading the novel L'Eve future/Eve of the Future Eden, by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. L'Eve future is not only a novel that mirrors the most significant nineteenth century artistic and technological developments, it invites cross-disciplinary discussion to resituate and better decipher its ideological discourse on the feminine.
Critical Perspectives on African Literature
Hedi Jaouad, Professor of French
Lisa Aronson, Professor of Art History
Johari Harris, Professor of Philosophy
Chris Whann, Professor of Government
This seminar gave students a sense of the changes that have occurred in African societies as a result of European colonial presence. Students gained insight into these changes by exploring such themes as cultural alienation, quest for national identity and the problem of colonialism, language, and culture. Novels, films, as well as readings in political science, anthropology, and history provided a framework for understanding and discussing these social, cultural, and psychological changes.
Civil Rights: Changing Meanings of Freedom
Prof. Joanna Zangrando, American Studies
Prof. Leslie Brown, American Studies
The seminar focused on the Civil Rights Movement, a broad and complex time period. As a discipline history asks questions about change: what changed; how it changed; who was responsible for the changes; and what were the outcomes. Students considered change on a variety of levels, moving from the broad to the specific and back again. The class took the approach of social history, focusing less on the political/legal aspect of civil rights and more on the people involved: how did African Americans effect change and how did change affect them? Students considered three or four moments or case studies in civil rights: school desegregation, direct action protests, and political participation.