Fall 2018 (un)common reads

Please use the UF Schedule of Courses to find times, places, and other course information.

These courses are discussion oriented, one credit seminar courses centered on a book.

Books are listed in more than one category, but please peruse them all.

Full listing of all courses:

Course  Class Number  Title Sect Instructor Syllabus
IDH2930  18211 The Galileo Affair 2159 Agnelli, Sara  The Galileo Affair 
IDH2930  18304  Homer The Odyssey  22DG  Kostopoulos, Chrysostomos  Homer The Odyssey 
IDH2930 18203  Physician Writers in the Postmodern Era  22B4 Cogle, Christopher Physician Writers in the Postmodern Era 
IDH2930 18372  Reading Anton Chekhov's The Seagull 22GE Rylkova, Galina Reading Chekhov's The Seagull 
IDH2930 18329  Boccaccio's Decmeron 2201 Watt, Mary Boccaccio's Decameron 
IDH2930 18209  Dante 2143 De Simoni, Alberto Dante
IDH2930  21840  Experiencing Hamlet As an Actor 3D77 Homan, Sidney  Hamlet 

Physician Writers in the Postmodern Era

This course introduces students to physician-writers in the Postmodern Era. Students will be exposed to short stories, poems, essays, movies and stand-up comedy sets written by physicians in the middle to late 20th Century and beginning 21st Century. We will discuss the physicians’ unique points of view and choices of topic. We will examine how physicians express their ideas about technology, humanity, and self in the Postmodern and Pre-Digital Age. We will compare the use of non-fiction and fiction, and scrutinize various literary devices by physicians in their communications to the public.

Homer The Odyssey

For more than twenty-five centuries, Homer’s Odyssey has profoundly influenced literature, art and thought in the Western world and beyond. It is a monumental artistic achievement, admired and still imitated by artists today. In the story of the Odyssey, the arduous homecoming trials of the wandering hero Odysseus are intertwined with captivating adventures in the Mediterranean stormy-seas and terrifying encounters with one-eyed giants, witches, and seductive princesses. The hero’s endurance, restlessness and crafty intelligence fascinates the reader who cannot but marvel at the sheer genius of the poet who started European literature.

The goal of the proposed course is to provide the student with the opportunity to read the Odyssey and reflect on a variety of topics that are fundamental to our understanding of the poem. Themes addressed will range from literary to cultural. In addition to an extensive examination of the story of Odysseus, we will also deal with broader topics ranging from questions of gender and religion as well as the reception of Homer’s poetry across various genres from Antiquity to present day.

Learning goals:

•        to give students an appreciation of the importance and continued influence of the Odyssey in literature and art up to the present day.

•        to enable students to practice close readings and informed literary analysis and criticism, including considerations and interpretations of character, plot, and structure.

•        to give students a better understanding of the religious, political, and social background of the Odyssey with particular attention paid to the way history is reflected in ancient legends and mythology.

Textbook: Homer, Odyssey, translated by Barry B. Powell, Oxford University Press (2014)

Evaluation: In the middle of the semester, students will write a short four pages essay on a topic of their choosing that relates to Homer’s Odyssey and the themes discussed in class. Feedback will be provided and this should ultimately serve as the basis for a 15 minutes presentation due at the end of the semester.

Reading Anton Chekhov's The Seagull

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to one of the greatest plays of all time – Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896). Chekhov is the second most popular playwright after Shakespeare, and The Seagull is one of his most popular plays. During my recent trip to Moscow, Russia I saw seven different productions of The Seagull, with one of them being the most popular theater event of the season (2/3 of the audience were people in their 20s, some of whom claimed to have seen this specific production 3-4 times).  UF School of Dance and Theatre presented their version of The Seagull in the fall of  2017 (all tickets were sold out in advance). This is not surprising. The Seagull is one of the key texts that deal with issues of creativity and success and, more specifically, with what it takes to realize one’s talent. The characters of the play fall into several categories: accomplished actors and writers, people who contemplate writing and acting careers, and people who want to offer their lives to writers so that they would describe them in their works. The questions of what and how to write and how to pace oneself in order to become an accomplished writer were not merely speculative for Chekhov.  For most of his creative life he was the sole breadwinner for his large family and was also sick with tuberculosis, which forced him to make hard choices about his priorities. Apart from the play, we will read and discuss various literary sources of The Seagull, including Hamlet, Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms, and Maupassant’s Afloat. We will also discuss the state of Russian/European theatre at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. We will explore the phenomenon of Chekhov’s extraordinary popularity with writers, composers, painters, and film and theatre directors and discuss various stage and film adaptations of The Seagull (including operas, musicals and ballets). The course should appeal to anyone interested in drama in general and in Chekhov in particular.

Format: The class will be a combination of lectures and discussion. No knowledge or Russian is required.

"We Found Love in a Hopeless Place" Boccaccio's Decameron

This course will take students back to the time of the Black Death (the bubonic plague of 1348), to join ten young men and women as they escape the apocalypse in Florence and take refuge in a Tuscan villa. Students will listen as the group of survivors pass the time telling stories - novelle – ten stories a day for ten days and learn about love, death and adventure while mankind teeters on the edge of annihilation. The primary source will be Boccaccio’s Decameron but the course will be enhanced with visual materials and will make full use of the many digital resources devoted to the study of Boccaccio and the Middle Ages.

The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History

One of the most celebrated moments in the history of science is the trial of Galileo Galilei for his support of heliocentrism. Galileo Galilei is the Italian scientist and philosopher whose contributes to astronomy, physics, and scientific instruments and methodology in general were so numerous and crucial that, of the several founders of modern science, he is usually singled out as the “Father of Modern Science”. 

In 1633 the Roman Inquisition condemned Galileo Galilei for heresy. The trial was the end of a process which began two decades earlier (in 1613) and included another series of Inquisition proceedings in 1615–1616. The condemnation of 1633 marks the end of Galileo’s trial, but it sets off a new controversy about the Galileo affair, its causes, its implications, and its lessons. The phrase “Galileo Affair”, therefore, means the historical developments of 1613–1633, and the long-lasting debate that ensued from those events.

Finocchiaro’s book contains a collection of the essential texts and documents about both the key events and the key issues. To facilitate the independent reading, interpretation, and critical evaluation of the documents, students will be provided with an overview of the events and issues of the Galileo Affair, together with some of its historical background and a sketch of a philosophical approach to its study. Reference and comparisons with contemporary anti-scientific approaches will be a subject of discussion.


The course will cover a significant anthology of cantos from Dante’s Inferno. In class the text will be analyzed in its main points, with occasional incursions into the original text in Italian and with a special attention to its poetic form. The course will lead the students alongside Dante’s character in the poem, and they will understand the journey of knowledge of mankind the poet-character has embarked on. Through the stories of the souls he encounters, Dante wonders, as he wanders down into the depths of hell, about the main themes of human existence: love, politics and human society, knowledge and the pursuit of truth. With his eschatological perspective, Dante is able to encompass all aspects of human experience, and inquiring into their meaning for man’s life. Reading Dante constitutes a challenge and a gift. Understanding the political, cultural, and religious context in which Dante operated and which he represented in his poem, might seem overwhelming, but through his (at times) extremely ‘local’ experience, the power of his poetry shines even brighter in its capacity to reach extremely ‘universal’ themes and problems. Such is the experience of reading great literature. Hence, countless readers along the centuries have been moved and engaged by Dante’s poetry.

Experiencing Hamlet As an Actor

In October a five-person acting company will stage Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Philips Center; we will see their performance and then interact with the actors.  In a seven-week course before that visit, we will explore the play as actors, with each student’s having a partner and staging a scene (memorized) from the play weekly, with fellow students playing both audience and director.  In essence, we will “study” Hamlet by doing it.  No previous stage work is required, for I am confident I can help class members discover the actor in themselves.