Fall 2016 (un)common arts and reads
Please use the UF Schedule of Courses to find times, places, and other course information.
These courses are discussion oriented, seminar courses centered on a performance or exhibit (arts) or a book (reads).
(un)common arts courses
The Problem with Political Jokes is they Get Elected
...and also the Capitol Steps
|1||DEPT||Baron, Kevin||IDH3931 HNR Arts: Political Satire|
|IDH 3931||Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR ARTS Beyond Memory Holocaust|
|IDH 3931||War and Its Aftermath||1||DEPT||Jacobs, Matthew|
|IDH 3931||From Page to Stage: Adapting the Modern Musical||1||DEPT||Pufahl, Jeff||IDH3931 HNR ARTS Page to Stage|
(un)common reads courses
|IDH 3931||The Man who Loved Dogs||1||DEPT||Little, William||IDH3931 HNR READ Cuban Novel The Man Who Loved Dogs|
|IDH 3931||An Introduction to Lying||1||DEPT||Hagen, Stephen||IDH3931 HNR READ Intro to Lying|
|IDH 3931||Being Mortal||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Being Mortal|
|IDH 3931||Blink of an Eye||1||DEPT||Stoyan-Rosenzweig, Nina||IDH3931 HNR READ Blink of an Eye|
|IDH 3931||Cradle to Cradle||1||DEPT||Delfino, Joe||IDH3931 HNR READ Cradle to Cradle|
|IDH 3931||Crazy Love and the Bible||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Crazy Love and the Bible|
|IDH 3931||Dante's Inferno||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Dante's Inferno|
|IDH 3931||Do Black Lives Matter? W.E.B Du Bois and African-American Politics||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Black Lives|
|IDH 3931||Give and Take||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Give and Take|
|IDH 3931||Great Proofs||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Great Proofs|
|IDH 3931||Home Culture, Identity, and Schooling Experiences||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Home Culture, Identity, and Schooling Experiences|
|IDH 3931||Madagascar - The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in a Lost World||1||DEPT||
|IDH3931 HNR READ Madagascar|
|IDH 3931||Media, Morality, Mortality||1||DEPT||
|IDH 3931||Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming||1||DEPT||Donnelly, Anne||IDH3931 HNR Read Merchants of Doubt|
|IDH 3931||Reviving Ophelia - Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls||1||DEPT||Pigg, Morgan||IDH3931 HNR Read Adolescent Issues|
|IDH 3931||Sex and Regulation in the American City||1||DEPT||Black, Joel||IDH3931 HNR READ Sex American City|
|IDH 3931||Stone Speak: Nature and Humanity in Conversation||1||DEPT||Best, Todd||IDH3931 HNR READ Stone Speak|
The Disappearing Spoon:
And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements
|1||DEPT||Fanucci, Gail||IDH3931 HNR READ Disappearing Spoon|
|IDH 3931||The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest||1||DEPT||Stewart, Greg||IDH3931 HNR Read Hornet's Nest|
|IDH 3931||The Science of Starshoop Troopers||1||DEPT||Dickrell, Dan||IDH3931 HNR READ Starship Troopers|
The Problem with Political Jokes is they Get Elected...and also the Capitol Steps
The course will include a trip to attend Capitol Steps at the CPA on November 7.
Political comedy and satire have been viable forms of communication for centuries, providing an outlet for transmitting political commentary and opinion in both flattering and unflattering ways. In the contemporary era, there has been a rise in the use of political comedy on television, but there are numerous other outlets where satire and comedy shed light on political realities. Political cartoons, stand-up comedians, blogs and websites, social media and memes, and music or other live-art performances have the power to convey information, form or shape opinions, and even influence or motivate political participation.
The purpose of this course will be to explore the connections between comedy and satire, and politics. As American politics have become more hyper-partisan and bitter, it would seem that political comedy has increased in attention, becoming more popular. This course will function seminar-style, using historical and contemporary examples of political comedy and satire to drive conversation around the impacts that comedy has on politics directly, and indirectly by informing, influencing and motivating political behavior. Students will be assigned readings, videos, and other multi-media or web-based content to explore each week, and will meet for one hour a week to discuss and explore ideas and perspectives. With a presidential election happening in November, this course is a perfect time to observe how comedy is utilized around the election. The last few weeks of the course, each student will give a presentation based on the subject matter discussed.
Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust
This course will include a trip to Judgement at Nuremberg on Monday October 24.
This course invites students to learn about the Holocaust and use their knowledge to inform their creative work – literary or artistic. In the first part of the semester, students will be introduced to the history of the Holocaust as it is recorded in UF’s Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica collection. We will discuss how discrimination against Jews and other groups led, through persecution, to genocide in the first half of the twentieth century and how this historical knowledge shapes our perspective about politics, international law, and ethics. In addition, students will read literary works and memoirs that capture the Holocaust from many different angles, not only in an academic historical manner. We will examine how the historical context and the personal impression intertwine and depart from each other in the memoirs we read together and in our own lives. Likewise, we will look into how individuals and institutions choose to memorialize traumatic events through other media, including art, photography, music and film. At midsemester, students will be invited to watch the performance Judgment in Nuremberg, which will give us the opportunity to revisit the topics discussed earlier: how the Holocaust shapes academic studies, art, and politics today. The second part of the semester will be dedicated to students’ individual creative projects. They will write, draw, sculpt, photograph – whatever medium or combined media they feel comfortable with – on a chosen topic related to Holocaust memory and commemoration. By the end of the semester, they will produce a short written essay or a piece of art in their chosen medium, which they will present to the class at our last meeting.
War and its Aftermath
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had an enormous impact on the United States, but more importantly for this class on the cultures, economies, politics, and societies of the people and places where they were fought. This class will build on a photographic exhibit, titled Aftermath, that will be open at the Harn Museum of Art, through the fall semester. We will use that exhibit as a vehicle for examining the contexts of the two wars and their impacts. Please note that while most of our class meetings will take place at the assigned course time and in the assigned classroom, there will be some required events and meetings at the Harn.
From Page to Stage: Adapting the Modern Musical
The course will include a performance of RENT on either Tuesday or Wednesday October 4 or 5.
What makes a musical sparkle? Is it the music or the book? Or is it a mystical combination of both? A song can be great, but if it doesn’t tell a good story, will the audience be moved? Where do musical theatre writers find their stories and why are so many musicals based on plays and novels? In this course students will explore a selection of musicals based on plays and novels that are significant to the musical theatre genre, and, through analysis and discussion develop an understanding of the process of how plays are made and how musicals are adapted from sources.
Students will form small groups and prepare a presentation for the class on a selected musical/source play combination. This presentation will contrast and compare the two works of theatre with a focus on what elements were retained in both versions and what elements were not. Students will submit a written analysis of both shows and present their findings to the class using visual aids (visual plot comparison chart), video clips, and other creative methods. Presentations will be 30 minutes in length and will be followed by 20 minutes of class discussion.
Students will be required to attend a performance of Rent on October 5/16, 8pm, at the Phillips Center as part of the class.
Presentations will address the following:
• Discuss the historical significance of both works including: performance history, box office success, length of run, impact on the genre, etc. and discuss the similarities and differences of both works.
• Chart out the plot of the source play and corresponding musical and compare. What is the structure of each work? Does the structure fit an existing model?
• Discuss the theme and main idea of both works. Discuss the thematic similarities and differences in each work. How was the theme manipulated in the musical version to strengthen the thematic relevance?
• Discuss the setting (location, era, etc.) of each work. How is the setting different from play to musical? Era? Location? What liberties did the musical take? How does changing the elements of era and setting change the delivery of the main idea? Why do you think this is the case?
• What material (scenes, subplots, etc.) from the play was left out of the musical? What was added? What material from the play was turned into song? Why?
• Prepare a detailed character analysis of the main characters in the play and the characters in the musical. What characters were changed? What characters remained the same? Were characters added? Why?
The Man who Loved Dogs
The course explores the magnum opus by the renowned contemporary Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, The Man Who Loved Dogs (2009). Padura is a journalist and detective fiction writer who was sentenced to two years of internal exile in the 1970s for an “adjustment” of his political views; nevertheless, he has continued to live and publish in Cuba. The Man Who Loved Dogs is structured around three equally balanced and interlocking themes with their respective characters, all three of whom love dogs. The first and framing theme concerns an aspiring young Cuban writer who suffers the political oppression and physical misery of Cuban life from the 1970s until his death in 2004. The second theme arises when the writer encounters the Spanish Leon Trotsky’s assassin in Cuba. The third interpolated theme concerns the writer’s research into the history and politics of the Soviet Union, whereby Stalin ordered Trotsky’s murder in 1940. This postmodern novel has elements of a detective novel at the same time that it implicitly exposes the political cul-de-sac of the Cuban regime.
An Introduction to Lying
When is it okay to tell a lie? Is it wrong to tell small lies? Can one have an obligation to lie? Is it even possible to live a normal life while telling only the absolute truth?
Most of us have pondered these questions in private life. But larger, more public lies are taking a toll on our society. We have all seen the quality of our public discourse cheapened and degraded by internet trolls and sock puppets, cable television blowhards, nontroversy and corporate shills. Intentional misinformation seems rampant in politics and media. As good citizens we should think more about truth and falsehood. What is the difference between a lie and simple wrong information, or misinformation? How do our institutions permit or even facilitate the persistence of big lies that impact millions? What is the responsibility of an individual when a lie is being promulgated in the public sphere? In this course we will examine public lying in different but overlapping contexts, such as science, politics, media, religion, commerce, and academia. Our goal is to clarify the meaning of lies, understand the mechanisms by which they flourish in the private and public spheres, and explore our own individual obligations when lies are told.
Students will read Lying (2011), by author and neuroscientist Sam Harris, and On Bullsh*t (2005), by philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt. Each student will document, through a written blog or journal, his/her own experience of truth and falsehood in everyday life. Students will discuss highlights of their journals in class from time to time. Each student will also present for the class one example of an important lie that has had recent impact in the public sphere, researching both the lie and the related truth, and leading a discussion of this example from the perspective of the above course goals.
In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.
Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.
Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.
Join us for a weekly discussion of what it means to live with serious illness in our current health care system. We will read Being Mortal over the course of the semester and engage in activities and dialogue to deepen the meaning of our own life stories. In addition to reading the book, students will prepare for class by watching documentaries, reviewing websites, and writing brief reflective papers. Attendance and engaged participation are vital to an enriching course experience.
Blink of an Eye
Telling stories is innately human and, as it turns out, innately healing. This class will investigate the lengths people go to tell their story, and how that process can help bring resolution and health, as well as helping to order and celebrate life. Through two books- The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; and A Blessing in Disguise, through skype sessions with one of the authors, and through pushing the boundaries of narrative, this course will explore how and why people tell stories. In reading and experiencing a range of narrative forms- graphic novels, games, video and others, it also will explore the impact of these stories on all of our lives.
Cradle to Cradle
This book is one of the core reading materials in the field of sustainability. Written by an architect [McDonough] and chemist [Braungart], the book combines elements of design with principles of materials composition. UF now has a variety of sustainability oriented course offerings, a major and minors that have sustainability content. The book cradle to cradle supports concepts embodied in many of sustainability courses. The book “explains how products can be designed from the outset so that, after useful lives, they will provide nourishment for something new. They can be conceived as “biological nutrients” that will easily reenter the water or soil without depositing synthetic materials and toxins. Or they can be “technical nutrients that will continually circulate as pure and valuable materials within close-loop industrial cycles, rather than being “recycled” – in reality downcycled – into low-grade materials and uses.” The author’s concept of “upcycling” was published in 2013 under the title The Upcycle where they discuss in some detail, how they put the lessons of cradle to cradle into practice.
Crazy Love and the Bible
This course will explore the most passionate and sometime erotic book in the bible, a parable about the love of God and the magnitude of the human spirit. The course will include a reading of the song, some phrases from the song in the original Hebrew, and some literary and musical adaptations and references to the Song of Songs.
On the night before Good Friday, in the year 1300, the thirty-five years old Dante is lost in the dark wood of his sins. His soul is unable to gain the way to salvation, malicious beasts are assailing him, and he is doomed to fall more and more deeply into perdition. His only hopes lies in Virgil, the great Roman poet, who rescues him and guides him through the circles of Hell: in this allegoric journey toward God, Dante will observe the fate of the damned souls, depicting a magnificent and immortal vision of the afterlife.
Inferno is the first of the three parts of the Divine Comedia, one the greatest masterworks of Italian and world literature. Dante’s lines offer a magnificent portrait of the medieval culture, philosophy, and theology, with a prominent interest in the history and politics of contemporary Italy. In this course we will read a selection of the most popular Canti of this poem, in English translation, with an eye to the Italian original. We will deal with the literary and historical background of Dante’s work and the peculiarities of his style; the reception of Inferno in modern art will be taken into account as well. The main core of this course, however, will be the direct reading of Dante’s verses: following in Dante’s footsteps we will focus on immortal character such as Paolo and Francesca, Pier della Vigna or Count Ugolino, in a fascinating journey through the realms of the dead.
Do Black Lives Matter? W.E.B Du Bois and African-American Politics
W.E.B. Du Bois is a central figure in the history of African-American political thought and African-American activism. Founder of the NAACP and main theorist of African-American political movements, Du Bois define racism as the main problem affecting America. This course will study one of Du Bois’s main works, The Soul of Black Folks, will explore his main ideas and see how they relate to todays African-American struggle for justice.
Give and Take
Is it possible to be a nice person and still succeed as a professional in our competitive world? In his 2013 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, Adam Grant unapologetically believes people can be generous and kind and successful. In this groundbreaking work, Grant challenges the perception that nice people finish last. Over the past several years, Grant gained recognition as an author, organizational psychologist and award-winning professor at the Wharton School of Business. In the nine chapters of Give and Take, Grant argues that givers can be extraordinarily successful in all walks of life, contrary to popular opinion. While discussing the dynamics of helping others, building collaboration, motivation, communicating effectively and overcoming burnout, Grant gives real life examples of how givers, takers and matchers can succeed or fail. Students will benefit from Give and Take because it explores how success in life requires teamwork and the ability to get along with others, whether in the classroom or workplace. Grant discusses strategies that can be easily implemented by students to bolster their skills as a professional during college and beyond. He also encourages a “pay it forward” attitude referred to as the Five-Minute Favor and the Reciprocity Ring. Supported with data, research and memorable anecdotes, Give and Take encourages and empowers others to make the world a more humane place to work and live. Adam Grant’s book appeals to a wide audience and can impact students in a tangible way during their studies at UF.
We will cover some of the nicest proofs from the history of mathematics. These proofs will come from all parts of the discipline, not only from calculus. Each student will be assigned one proof that he or she will then present to the class. The book in use will be Proofs from the Book, by Aigner and Ziegler.
Home Culture, Identity, and Schooling Experiences
The course will use Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to hone critical reading skills and analyze how culture and heritage shape schooling experiences in the United States. Alexie’s novel blends autobiographical details with Native American history to portray contemporary issues facing Native Americans. The narrator-protagonist, Junior, decides to leave his reservation school to attend an all-white school in hopes of a better future. However, he quickly finds himself caught between his home culture and the culture of his new school. We will discuss both the content of the novel and the form, as the book uses first person narration with illustrations. The final project will allow students to analyze how their own personal histories have molded their experiences in school. This course is especially relevant for undergraduates as they begin to establish and/or reconstruct their identity as college students.
Madagascar - The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in a Lost World
Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna, but this biodiversity is highly threatened due to environmental degradation and loss, endangering wildlife, and taking a toll on the culture and daily life of the Malagasy people. Madagascar - The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in a Lost World introduces the reader to the unique fauna, flora, and cultures of Madagascar through the authors’ travels with researchers in herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), primatology, paleoecology and archaeology. Not only do readers learn about the biodiversity and cultures of this fascinating “eighth continent”, but they also get a sense for the joy of scientific exploration and discovery in the natural world, what it is like to be a field-based (rather than laboratory-based) scientist, and the rationale for and continued importance of such research.
This (Un)Common Read course is perfect for students with an interest in/love for nature, exploration, discovery, and learning about distant lands and cultures; significant threads on conservation and biodiversity also run throughout the assigned text. We will read the book Madagascar - The Eighth Continent in its entirety. To provide context, we will also read short sections from additional sources such as Antipode: Seasons with the Extraordinary Wildlife and Culture of Madagascar (Heather E. Heying), and may consult field guides such as the 3rd edition of Glaw and Vences’ classic Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar, and Russell Mittermeier’s Lemurs of Madagascar. Prior to some readings, the instructor (or students, if interested) will provide short introductions to the localities, wildlife, people, and customs described in the readings, augmented by photographs (unique species, environment, habitat loss, the local people and cultural activities) from recent trips to Madagascar. One of the unique strengths of the class will be the ability to share first hand experiences and impressions from time in country, providing valuable context to the readings.
Although Madagascar is the focus of the course, this class will provide students with an overview of field research, and why it remains important in the modern world of science. Students will be able to view Madagascar as a model for research in areas such as conservation and sustainability, and the importance of culture and the buy-in of the local peoples. Students will be graded on class participation and a presentation on one auxiliary reading. Finally, students will complete a class project –academic paper or poster, or artistically creative work related to the course. The last class meeting (or two, depending on class size) will be used for students to present and discuss these final projects. This is an opportunity for students to get creative with class content and what they have learned. Madagascar: The Eighth Continent stands alone as a great read, but this course would also make an excellent primer for ZOO4956: Madagascar – Biodiversity & Conservation in a Developing Country, to be offered in the Summer of 2017.
Media, Morality, and Mortality
Media, Morality, and Mortality: This course attempts to stimulate thoughtful responses to the fundamental question: What is the meaning of life? The goal is to uncover the varieties of human experience that encompass myriad emotions and lead us to seek authenticity in our everyday lives. More specifically, it focuses on attempting to answer this question through the lens of mortality salience. That is, to understand the meaning of life, we focus on the philosophy of death. The questions that we seek to answer relate to how our thoughts and perceptions of mortality dictate who we are, and who we may become. These issues surrounding morality and mortality are also examined in the context of media effects—for example, what types of media messages can make us more “moral” or “ethical?” How does the prospect of impending mortality make us select, consume, and respond to different types of media messages? The required book for the class is Paul Kalanithi’s moving and exquisitely-written “When Breath becomes Air.” In addition, I will assign other course materials pertinent to our understanding of the topic. Ultimately, through a combination of lectures, discussion, and assignments, I hope to create a more nuanced understanding of the ephemera of our existence, and how our lives can be made more purposeful.
Students will work on both individual and group assignments. These will include reaction papers, an analysis of a media effects project, and a group project that will entail original research and data collection. The final outcome of the group project will be a paper (app. 1000 words or so).
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
What does smoking, acid rain, the ozone layer, and global warming all have in common with four physicists involved in Cold War weapons, satellite, and atomic bomb development? Find out when you read this incredible tale of the distortion and manipulation of science and the media for political, ideological, and corporate reasons. The tragedy is that this is not science fiction but a true story, written by a two science historians. If this were only a story of a historical approach to national responses to issues involving scientific data it would be interesting and maddening. But this story is critically important today, for student in all fields. This discussion based course empowers the students to become the discussion facilitators and challenge their fellow students with questions to provoke discussion.
Reviving Ophelia - Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
You may forget the instructor, but you will not forget the book. In this #1 New York Times Best Seller, Dr. Mary Pipher deconstructs myths and realities about the devastating effects of critical social morbidities such as depression, bullying, suicide, disordered eating, substance use, sexual activity, and family relationships.
Through a combination of compelling case studies and professional analysis, Dr. Pipher probes the provocative question of why adolescent girls in America succumb to such social morbidities at alarming rates. She offers the insightful conclusion that adolescents grow up in a toxic, media-driven, female-poisoning culture where they lose their identities and a sense of their true selves. Once immersed in the book’s content, you will reflect on ways the critical decisions you made during adolescence affect your life as a young adult, perhaps providing the impetus to revise your view about the importance of pivotal events and your decision-making during adolescence.
A clinical psychologist by training, Dr. Pipher focuses her practice on adolescent girls. Yet, key concepts from the book segue smoothly into a broader treatment of social and cultural issues as they affect adolescents – both girls and boys – as well as young adults. The instructor will supplement the book with articles, case studies, and compelling films. Often labeled as a “must read”, former students seldom sell the book. Rather, they pass copies to siblings, parents, and partners, underscoring the potentially powerful life-changing impact of the work.
Course Assignments: (1) a personal reaction paper to the book (approximately 1,000 words) that details your assessment of the nature, extent, and impact of the issues identified in the book, and (2) a group presentation proposing broad-based measures to address issues identified in the book.
Sex and Regulation in the American City
The nation’s premier brothel—the fabulous Everleigh Club—animated Chicago’s seedy south side in the first decade of the twentieth century. Boasting imported silks, precious medals, and fine china, and catering to the city’s freewheeling dandies, the opulent den also nurtured deep divisions over women and vice—and the place of each in the modern city. In fact, by the time it closed in 1911—under pressure from city elites who has assembled a groundbreaking investigation into vice and inaugurated a new Morals Court—the Everleigh Club would recall an era before sexual regulation, and the criminalization of vice and sex work.
This course, which explores law, sexual regulation, and the city is designed to equip students to better understand the moral and legal regulation of city life a century ago—and the implications of that regulation today. Together we will read Karen Abbott’s Sin and the Second City, selections from the 1911 Chicago Vice Commission, and several primary materials. Students’ final grade will be divided between participation, a 750 word analytical paper, and a presentation on a topic related to course themes and content.
Stone Speak: Nature and Humanity in Conversation
"The weasel lives in necessity and we live in choice, hating necessity and dying at the last ignobly in its talons. I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel's: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will." (Annie Dillard)
In 2014 President Obama awarded a National Humanities Medal to the accomplished writer Annie Dillard (Pulitzer Prize, 1974). Dillard's unique perspective captured in her narrative essays which put nature into conversation with humanity have helped her achieve such recognition. In this class, we will explore Teaching a Stone to Talk (accompanied by Holy the Firm), which represents some of Dillard’s most compelling work. How might nature speak to us? And how can we look and listen in order to catch what might be heard? If one follows Annie Dillard into the woods, streams, oceans, islands, meadows, and prairies, and, if one listens closely enough, the sights and sounds of these places will have things to say. In these excursions, Dillard seizes opportunity after opportunity to draw on the mysteries of life and death in the natural world and beyond. In doing so, not only does she see the wonders that come to life when pausing long enough to reflect, but also she allows the non-¬human world to inform human experience, leading to a fuller picture of what it means to be human. In a remarkable way, then, readers of Dillard come away with both a greater appreciation of the world “out there” and a richer understanding of our humanity, in effect seeing the two worlds as more intertwined than what we often imagine.
This seminar style (discussion¬-based) course will provide students the opportunity to read and discuss Dillard's essays carefully and reflectively. We will consider Dillard's work alongside related short articles, poetry, and film. Most importantly, our reading will culminate in ongoing classroom conversation to work out Dillard’s ideas. Additionally, students will participate in reflection through short writing assignments as they interact with the essays. Written assignments: 500 word creative review essay, 1000 word final essay, 10 short (100 word) blog posts.
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements
Chemistry is all around us; yet many of us are unaware of its impact on our current lives, from medicine to technology to politics. Even our political and societal history, including areas such as art, mythology and theater, have been impacted by the nature of chemical elements. This book explores the history behind the periodic table, the elements of the periodic table and the role they have played throughout our world. The title of the book: “The Disappearing Spoon” comes from a magic trick where a spoon made of gallium “disappears” when placed in hot water. The extended title “And Other True Tales of Madness, Love and the History of the World…” demonstrates the narrative style of this book where topics surrounding adventure, war, pride and obsession are utilized to illustrate how the discovery and usage of chemical elements (such as lead, uranium and others) have shaped our world. For example, the scientist responsible for developing the process of converting atmospheric nitrogen into a source that can be utilized across the globe as fertilizer – Fritz Haber and the Haber-Bosch process – was also a notorious scientist who was responsible for the development of chemical warfare. On one hand, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1918 for his efforts to help support the world’s food sources; only later to be prosecuted as a War Criminal for spearheading chemical warfare efforts during the Nazi regime. Sadly in an ironic twist, the chemicals he helped developed were utilized against his own family and descendents during WWII.
The elements of the periodic table continue to shape our political landscape, society and technology. Through discussions of this book, you will not only learn about the elements of the periodic table and how they have molded our cultures and history – especially in times of war, but assignments are designed to challenge you to explore how modern day life (i.e., in technology and politics) is influenced by the elements and how you think or don’t think about the impact of chemistry in your life.
A chemistry background is not required for this course. Any chemistry required for understanding concepts will be explained. Assignments for the course will involve reflection essays.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Student assignments and expectations: meet once per week/present a topic during the second half of the course with a two page, single spaced writeup one week prior.
Third in the series of three books written by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson (†2004) and released posthumously in English in 2009, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest continues the story of Lisbeth Salander, computer hacker extraordinaire, and Michael Blomqvist, journalist, and their adventures in Sweden after The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire. Despite being panned by the critics initially, the trilogy books’ sales soared and the books spawned four movies: three by the Swedish film company Yellow Bird starring Swedish actors with English subtitles and one by Sony Pictures, Hollywood starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. This third book is, among other things, an insight into modern life in Sweden, full of insights into the differences between life in Sweden and life in the USA, wonderfully entertaining, somewhat brutal in parts, eye opening about the extent our lives are open to computer hacking, and a modern story of how a supposedly overmatched featherweight woman and her indomitable courage triumphs against a gigantic Goliath-like opponent and various
government agencies. Comparing the Swedish movie with the book after reading the book is a movie-lover’s delight.
Student Assignments: At first meeting, agree at what pace we should read the book (divided into 10 weeks or, more optimally, within the first eight weeks.) Meet each week for 50 minutes to discuss, as the book is being read, what insights students are finding into issues which interest them. Two possible examples:
What are the current topical examples in the USA of our personal information being hacked/stolen? What measures (e. g. freezing your credit) can be taken against this?
As an example of the many threads the students can identify in the book, consider the ability of Lisbeth to defend herself physically. Is this convincing? Which threads most interest the students?
After the book is at least 50% read, each student picks a topic to discuss for 15 minutes (e. g. how does computer hacking affect our lives in the US, identity theft, credit card fraud, new chip credit cards) with 10 minutes of group discussion afterwards, with two topics/class. They distribute a (minimum) two page, single spaced summary of what they will say 1 week prior. Given interest, we will also view the Yellow Bird movie on the book outside of class (attendance optional) and discuss how the movie changes/enhances our understanding of the book’s contents.
The Science of Starship Troopers
Robert Heinlein’s classic novel Starship Troopers is widely considered as one of the best science-fiction novels written in the 20th century. Although it was written roughly sixty years ago, many of its technological aspects are strikingly modern and quite prescient. The class will focus primarily on the scientific and technological aspects encountered in the story. The novel is a very good example of “hard” science fiction where the essence of many of the fantastic devices that exist in the Starship Troopers universe are based on real physics recognizable in our present day (and perhaps near-future).
Students in this course will learn about these (and other) topics:
• Exoskeletal power-suits (robotics)
• Interstellar travel at relativistic speeds (modern physics)
• Exo/Xenobiology (extraterrestrial biology and life science)
• Directed-energy and atomic weapons (lasers and nuclear fusion)
• Realities of spacecraft dogfighting and maneuvering (space vehicle kinetics and thermodynamics)
The course consists of weekly discussions of a single chapter in the book (assigned previously) and short lectures on some of the technical aspects contained in that chapter.