Spring 2017 (un)common reads

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

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

(un)common reads courses

CourseTitleSectInstructorTopic AreaSyllabus
IDH 2930 The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality 1352 Patrick, Erin Astronomy, Cosmology Fabric of the Cosmos 
IDH 2930 The Big Short 14AG Knechel, W.R. Business Big Short 
IDH 2930 Hamilton 05H5 Adams, Sean History Hamilton 
  Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies 11BD Turner, Elaine History, Science Guns, Germs and Steel 
IDH 2930 Little Women 136A Gallman, James History, Literature Little Women 
IDH 3931 The Accidental Hero, Band of Brothers 1515 Law, Mark
Colburn, David
History, Art Accidental Hero 
IDH 2930 Henry VIII and the Development of Modern Common Law 08H5 Wright, Danaya History, Law  Henry VIII
IDH 2930 Carnival of Crime 11B1 Black, Joel History, Law, Race Carnival of Crime 
IDH 2930 Tigers, Helicopters, and Free Rangers: All About Parenting 101A Radunovich, Heidi  Families, Parenting Tigers and Helicopters
  An American Tragedy 134B Stewart, Greg Literature American Tragedy 
IDH 2930 Oedipius the King 14EC Santorelli, Biagio Literature Oedipus 
IDH 2930 Shakespeare on Trial: The Merchant of Venice  14B9 Dror, Abend Literature, Race Shakespeare on Trial 
  The Bluest Eye 1330 Boehm, Shelby Literature, Race Bluest Eye 
IDH 2930 Communities of Majorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston 14E7 Stoyan-Rosenzweig, Nina Literature, Race, Society Florida Communities 
IDH 2930 44 Scotland Street 14ED Clark, Lynne Literature, Society Scotland Street 
IDH 2930 Proofs from THE BOOK 14HH Bona, Miklos Math Great Proofs 
  Tuesdays with Morrie 14B2 Kresak, Jesse Lee Medicine, Media  
  The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down 14GG Ansell, Maggie
Harnett, Susa
Medicine, Culture  
IDH 2930 Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right 14HA Donnelly, Anne Politics Dark Money 
IDH 2930 Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 1333 Baron, Kevin Politics, Media Feaar and Loathing 
  5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results. 107G Wysocki, Al Self-Help 5 Percent More 
IDH 2930 How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction 136F McFadden, Bruce Science Mammoth 
  The Science of Learning: I Didn’t Learn Anything In That Class 14H2 Caprino, Michael Science Science of Learning 
IDH 2930  Animals are People Too   1338  Shmalberg, Justin  Science, Animals  
  Insects and Plants 1334 Sourakov, Andrei
Emmel, Thomas
Science, Biology Insects and Plants 
IDH 2930 The Secrets of Alchemy 1339 Angerhofer, Alex Science, Chemistry Secrets of Alchemy 
  Storms of My Grandchildren 14FE Crandell, Raelene Science, Climate Storms Ahead 
  Ignorance: How it Drives Science 14H8 Pardalos, Panos Science, History Ignorance 
  The Science of Starship Troopers 14BF Dickrell, Dan Science, SciFi  
  The Martian 136D Law, Mark Science, SciFi The Martian
  Thank You, Madagascar: Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly   14AF Tennant, Michele Science, Society Thank You Madagascar 
  What are People for? Pondering the Possibility of Common Good 134A Best, Todd Society Common Good 
  The Empty Space 14BA Pufahl, Jeff Theater Empty Space 
IDH 2930 The Urban Revolution 14B6 Brisotto, Carla Urbanization, Society

Urban Revolution 

An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy was published in 1925 and was Dreiser’s third book and first commercial success. He was nominated for (but did not receive) the Nobel prize in literature in 1930. As an American author, he was held by many to have had enormous influence on writers who came after him. Dreiser wrote about people without conventional morals who were sexually promiscuous. Dreiser often battled censorship. He lived as he wrote, with numerous affairs, sometimes carrying on more than one at a time. Time Magazine lists An American Tragedy as #4 on their list of 100 best English language novels published since 1923 (the year Time started) until 2005.

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:

Clyde Griffiths starts off rigidly moral due to his upbringing, but then becomes seemingly without restraint when he starts as a bellboy at the Hotel Green-Davidson. Have you known anyone in college who had a similar transformation?

As an example of the many threads the students can identify in the book, consider the life of the rich in America in 1925 as depicted in the book. Look up information on the web about the distribution of wealth in the US in 1925 vs today. What other comparisons can you make?

After the book is at least 50% read, each student picks a topic to discuss for 15 minutes (e. g. what is a ‘tragedy’ and does An American Tragedy fit the definition?) 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 movie by Paramount Pictures based on An American Tragedy:   “A Place in the Sun”, starring Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor (winner of 6 Academy Awards and the first Golden Globe award for best motion picture – drama) outside of class (attendance optional) and discuss how the movie changes/enhances our understanding of the book’s contents.

44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street can be located in a row of Georgian tenement buildings on the edge of the austere New Town area of Edinburgh, Scotland. McCall Smith's novel revolves around the lives of the inhabitants of the different flats (apartments) that are found in the stair (in Scotland, we use the word stair to refer to the main staircase of a tenement building) of number 44.

The stories in the book were originally written in serialized format for The Scotsman newspaper, after McCall Smith wrote an article for a competing paper lamenting the fact that newspapers no longer published serialized novels. As a result, the novel boasts 110 chapters, each around two pages of length, with its own title, focus, and flow. Some chapters connect logically to the previous ones; others, however, are inserted to allow the reader to picture the Edinburgh which the characters inhabit. The main characters, including the city, are introduced and developed as we might encounter them and climbing the stair of number 44, or walking into town from the imposing front door. The stories of their lives are commonplace, but feed our need as readers to encounter "real" people. The book uses simple illustrations and maps.

This course uses the novel to explore a city, to consider a culture, to meet new people, and to experience modern storytelling at its best.

The course will be conducted in a discussion group format, with students expected to read select chapters, either in context or in isolation, watch videos, listen to recordings, or read interviews with McCall Smith in advance of the class meeting (approximately 15-25 pages of reading per week). Each meeting will have a different theme, reflected in the readings.

Assignments will include keeping a weekly journal or blog, with reflections on the readings and class discussions, and two short pieces of narrative and descriptive writing. In addition, we will examine the ideas of character archetype and stereotype, and analyze the genre, descriptive and narrative forms, and language used in order to create, as a final project, a collaborative story. 

Oedipius the King

R. Fagles (ed.), Sophocles: the three Theban plays, London (Penguin Classics) 1984 – ISBN: 9780140444254.

Nobody can escape his destiny, and very few get to unravel the threads of Fate. When king Laius of Thebes learned from an oracle that he was doomed to perish by the hand of his own son, he tried to bend the rules of Fate by ordering a servant to kill his newborn son. He could not know that a shepherd would rescue the baby, name him Oedipus, and take him to Corinth to be raised by the king of the city as his own child. Neither the grown-up Oedipus could know that, when he murdered a passerby on his way to Thebes, he had killed his very father Laius. When the Thebans offer him the throne of their city and the hand of their queen Jocasta, the tragedy of Oedipus’ self-discovery begins.

In this course I plan to read the three Greek tragedies by Sophocles devoted to the cycle of Oedipus. We will start with Oedipus the King (c. 429 BCE): in this drama, Oedipus has married Jocasta, who bore two sons and two daughters to him. Nobody knows that Jocasta is actually Oedipus’ mother. When a plague ravages the city, the seers predict that it will end only when Laius’ murderer will be punished. Oedipus curses the unknown murderer and starts searching for him, unaware that the killer he is looking for is none other than himself. When truth comes to light, Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus gouges out his own eyes and goes into exile. In the second tragedy, Oedipus at Colonus (c. 401 BCE), we will witness the conflict between Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, for the throne of Thebes. In the third tragedy, Antigone (c. 441 BCE), Eteocles and Polynices had killed each other as a consequence of Oedipus’ curse, and their sister Antigone will challenge the laws of the state to ensure both her brothers the burial prescribed by the laws of family.

Students in this course will be required to read approximately 150-200 lines per week; all texts will be read in translation. Each week we will analyze the issues raised by the Greek text, with a special emphasis on the ethical conflicts faced by the characters of Sophocles’ tragedies. I will arrange a calendar of topics we will be dealing with in class, and students will be required to give a short presentation on a passage at their choice. At the end of the course, students will be required to write a short final essay.

Animals are People Too

Grandin T. Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. Mariner Books. 2010.

One need not look far to witness how humanity’s relationships with and understanding of animals are changing; from controversies over captive orcas, to the obsession with pet dogs, to the renewed interest in the quality of lives of animals destined for food, the public is increasingly captivated by questions about what separates humans and other animals. This course proposes to use an accessible bestseller which reassessed the lives and behaviors of animals to draw on the many disciplines which are seeking to characterize human understanding of animals and conversely animalsunderstanding of humans.

The course is intended to be a collaborative discussion about how we define human-animal boundaries and interactions. Such topics impact anyone who interacts with animals, from the pet owner, to the aspiring veterinarian, to the consumer of animal products. It is hoped that the course merges science, behavior, psychology, and nature to probe current understanding, and could therefore be of intellectual merit for students engaged in agriculture, biology, zoology, psychology, and pre-health professions. A diversity of students would positively expand the pool of perspectives and discussion.

Attendance at discussions is critical to both discussion and academic growth, and is therefore required. Readings of assigned materials will be expected prior to scheduled discussions. One written assignment will be required, to be submitted one week before the final meeting. This assignment should be a detailed focus on some aspect of human-animal interaction in which the student has interest and which draws on both cultural and academic materials to justify a viewpoint or perspective. This will be shared with peers via Canvas prior to the final meeting to facilitate capstone discussion.

Shakespeare on Trial: The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare most likely never intended The Merchant of Venice as highly contested drama about the Jewish people. The play was first presented as a comedy, and the merchant is Antonio, who risks his life in the service of Bassanio’s love for Portia. It is only after the eighteenth century (and initially in Germany) that the minor character of Shylock looms large as one of few Jewish characters in Western literature. The play, accordingly, is classified as one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” in which classical structures are disrupted by the crossing over of ethnic, social and religious boundaries. For the modern reader of The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare is awaiting judgment: Is The Merchant of Venice an offensive anti-Semitic play that should be banned (as it has been in certain US schools at different times) or is it, on the contrary, a play that affirms the humanity of the Jews through Shylock’s declaration that he has organs, feelings, and rights similar to those of non-Jews?

We will therefore run the class as a courthouse, with Shakespeare as the defendant and the students as Jury. Student’s presentation will be conducted as expert testimony (as each student will be an “expert” for a short excerpt of the play). Some students might also choose to form “legal teams” the will act as the persecution and the defense in the case. The final paper for the class will be formulated as a legal sentence, arguing for either Shakespeare’s guilt or innocence.


Writing Assignment: (25%)
The Merchant of Venice an offensive anti-Semitic play that should be banned? Or is it, on the contrary, a play that affirms the humanity of the Jews through Shylock’s declaration that he has organs, feelings, and rights similar to those of non-Jews? Present your paper as a legal-sentence written by a judge who read the play, and listened to the various presentations/expert testimonies in class.

Presentation: (25%)
Each student will be asked to present a particular aspect of the day’s assigned reading – depending upon the number of students this might be done in groups. The presentation will take the form of “expert testimony” about certain parts of the play, and some students might choose to form “legal teams” the will act as the persecution and the defense in the case.

Participation: (50%)
Student participation is essential. Students will be asked to prepare questions and comments for each section of the reading.

Tuesdays with Morrie

The Reading: Tuesdays with Morrie is a memoir written by journalist Mitch Albom about the time spent with his former college professor Morrie Schwartz learning the lessons of life. This book follows Mitch as he makes weekly trips to Morrie’s house as Morrie is dying from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Their meetings are therapeutic for both parties in different ways and their topics of discussion deal with acceptance, values, and communication. These lessons are often exemplified by current events or popular culture of the time and bring to light the role of media in forming public opinion. This class will bridge medicine, media, relationships, popular culture, and academia.   

The Course: This seminar style course, defined by classroom conversation, will provide students the opportunity to read and discuss Tuesdays with Morrie gradually over the semester. Weekly discussions will reflect on clinical manifestations of neurodegenerative diseases, the media and communications, and personal values. Student assessment will be based on classroom participation, completion of readings, and three brief (one-page) writing responses to assigned topics. Additionally, students will have the option of attending the pathology lab to follow a neurodegenerative brain from cutting, to the microscope, to diagnosis.    

Storms of My Grandchildren

Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen (2010)

Storms of My Grandchildren is written by James Hansen, a leading climate scientist who has spent decades watching his climate predictions (higher temperatures, rising sea levels, greater atmospheric CO2, etc.) come to fruition. He uses an uncensored, scientific approach to clearly indicate the realities of climate change; Climate change is happening at an alarming rate and we are quickly approaching a point of no return. Although we know that significant changes in carbon usage are needed to slow changes in our climate, the solutions are controversial and require us to rethink how we manufacture goods, manage our lands, and use fossil fuels. Decisions to make (or not make) these changes by governments and policy makers can have huge economic and social impacts. This, in turn, leads to disagreements among groups with competing interests. To be a responsible citizen, you have to evaluate climate change science critically, separate facts from opinions, and recognize biases and propaganda. Therefore, it is important to develop critical thinking skills necessary for handling biases on all sides of this controversial issue. This course will focus on the sound conservation ethics and scientific information needed to be an informed citizen, while encouraging sensitivity to the needs of different entities.

In this class, we will explore the literature at three levels: a popular book (Storms of My Grandchildren), peer- reviewed papers, and news articles. Storms of My Grandchildren will be the main focus of the class and provide students with a general understanding of climate change science and necessary solutions. It will be supplemented with current scientific literature, which will be used to evaluate experiments related to climate change and teach students how the research is done. Finally, students will be responsible for finding a recent news article for some chapter topics to examine the information most readily available to the general public. Discussion and writings will focus on the similarities and differences between information in the three types of literature.

1. Participation:
To earn credit for this component of their grade, students must firstly attend class and be prepared contribute to lively discussions. Second, students will be expected to attend a short class fieldtrip to the University of Florida Weather Center.

2. Weekly Informal Writing (Linked to Informal, In-class Discussions): Students will be expected to keep anelectronic journal of thoughts, ideas, questions, and observations relevant to course content throughout the semester (one per week of at least 500 words). The journal should contain brief summaries and introspective thoughts about class readings, questions regarding assigned reading material that may serve as fodder for in- class discussion, and current climate change-related news items of interest to the class (with references). On occasion, I will request that students use their journal to answer specific questions related to the readings. I also will be looking for evidence of substantial contributions students make to in-class discussions related to their journal entry, which may include questions posed in class, news items shared with the class, or other substantive contributions made to in-class discussions.

The Bluest Eye

As an English language arts instructor, I’m constantly considering the danger of what author and public intellect Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “single story”: the act of valuing one perspective or a specific lens as the only truth about a topic. The study of literature allows us to explore ourselves and others through text, yet when we are not exposed to a variety of lenses, we lose the opportunity to consider mankind through the complex layers that make us human. One of these layers that ties closely with our identity and frequently falls into the convention of the single story is the concept of race.

Race weaves a thread through every facet of life. Oftentimes, the dialogue about race occurs within circumstances that provoke a negative connotation of race. Also, movements like Black Lives Matter and current political agendas have utilized race as a lens for viewing and connecting with humans. Yet, how does the world respond to the idea of race?

The course will use The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison to consider how the world responds to race. Through the narration of Pecola, the reader is exposed to how her perception of beauty and therefore identity is affected by race. Although this novel was written almost fifty years ago, the premise of race affecting how we view ourselves and those around us is still a topic of relevant discussion, and has fueled a variety of responses to race within our changing culture. We will use Morrison’s novel and other responses to race as the basis to consider how we identify ourselves within the conversation of race. Our end goal will be to contemplate how we can continue to examine the racial lens within society in order to be socially proactive citizens conscious of not falling for a single story. This course is particularly important for undergraduates as they navigate how their identity further develops within a diverse campus community where they can use their voice as a positive asset for social reform.

Grading Criteria
40%      Active reading and inquiry, discussion participation, and attendance
60%      Final project and presentation

Final Project
Students will create a Visual Exploration Project displaying their understanding of how the world responds to race through their study of The Bluest Eye and other supplemental resources which will be discussed throughout the seminar course. They may create this product using various virtual mediums (Google Drive, InfoGraphics through Piktochart, Prezi) or traditional non-virtual methods. Students will present their findings to the group and draw further wonderings about how race affects identity.

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine

This book tells the inside story of the economic circumstances and events that led up to the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. The GFC had a profound effect on the economy of Florida at the time as well as causing chaos globally. The GFC resulted in far-reaching economic turmoil (e.g., the financial disaster in Greece and Spain and the failure of a large number of banks in the US and Europe, particularly Iceland where every single bank had to be bailed out by the government). The aftermath was a hodge-podge of good intentioned, but occasionally cynical, regulation (e.g., the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that some politicians say did not go far enough while others say it should be repealed all together).

At the same time, these events have had a profound effect on the US and Florida economy and regulatory structure since 2008. Arguably, our current political situation is a direct outgrowth of those poorly understood events. The political phenomena of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have strong roots in the way the US handled the financial crisis 8 years ago. It is my opinion that this book would allow students to delve into how corporations operate and how the US market functions, and how the US government influences both for the good (or harm) of the commonweal.

This book does a very good job of explaining the build-up, events and aftermath in ways that non-business people can understand. That is, it is not necessary to have any business education or experience to grasp the fundamental nature of what happened, and why. While there is some business jargon attendant to understanding these events, I think students would find it easy to absorb in the small doses that a semester long seminar would allow.

Assignments and Performance Evaluation: The course will include two essays (approximately 1500 words each) and two in-class debates based on those essays.


Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

Hunter Thompson made a name for himself as a political writer for Rolling Stone magazine, in part due to his self-created style of “gonzo journalism.” This style of journalism places the journalist at the center of the story, as opposed to an outside observer merely retelling facts. Thompson’s gonzo style made him a character known to many, particularly on the political beat, with politicians and journalists alike.

Contracted by Rolling Stone to spend a year reporting on the presidential campaign in 1972, Thompson brings his style and take of the politics of the time to his reporting. Fear and Loathing ’72, according to Matt Taibbi maintains a place as the “bible of political reporting.” Thompson’s ability to weave political news, discourse, analysis and himself into the campaign makes for a fascinating take on a unique presidential election.

Over 40 years later, this book continues to provide a foundation for ongoing political discourse and understanding of the ins-and-outs of presidential campaign politics. Spring semester 2017 comes at the end of one of the most contentious and unique presidential election cycles in our nation’s history. However, in American politics the more things change the more they stay the same. While many may feel the current presidential election season is exceptional or distinctive, or even an aberration, history tells us that that may not be the case. There are many parallels that can be drawn from the 1972 cycle to 2016. Thompson provides the necessary dive into the frenzy and outrageous natures of presidential campaigns and elections. Many of the themes we have witnessed in 2016 played out during 1972, providing context for discussion on how the 72 campaign paved the way to issues of party politics, Super Delegates, and contested or brokered conventions. The book’s in-depth nuance and context illuminates presidential politics in a way that spans the generational gap between then and now, thus placing discussion into a contemporary context demonstrating the importance of understanding political history.

The course will utilize the 40th Anniversary edition of the book (http://amzn.to/2cUqu2g), published in 2012, as it has an introduction written by Matt Taibbi that is useful in providing value and context, as well as drawing connections to contemporary politics. The reading will be broken down to a chapter per week, with class discussion focused on the themes presented in the book, detailing and recreating the politics of 1972 but placing them into a contemporary context of the 2016 election. There is 44 years and 11 presidential elections between 1972 and 2016, and the book allows for discussion to trace similarities and differences in how presidential election politics has evolved.

The goal of the course is to provide students with an interesting look into the political past, allowing them to critically think about the political present, in drawing comparisons and contrasts over a 44 year period of time. The class meetings will be discussion-based, delving into the specifics of 1972 as brought to life by Thompson and how we make sense of it in a modern context. The main assignment for the course will be a short essay due at the end of the semester. The essay can focus on any of the themes or aspects as raised in book, while also tying in how it compares with other elections as brought out through the course discussions. The essay will serve as the main graded assignment, outside of attendance and participation.

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) published Little Women in two parts in 1868 and 1869 only a few years after the end of the American Civil War. The extraordinarily popular novel, based loosely on Alcott’s own family, charted the lives of four sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – living in Concord, Massachusetts during and after the American Civil War. Alcott had already enjoyed some modest success with her wartime novella Hospital Sketches and several short stories, but Little Women really established her international reputation.

Little Women is commonly read as a popular novel aimed at juvenile readers, or – for some literary scholars – as a subtle challenge to popular gender prescriptions of the day. Readers who devoured Little Women in their youth remain devoted to the book, although I wonder how many of our current undergraduates have had that experience. The book has also been the subject of at least six film treatments, including major feature films starring Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Winona Ryder (and an impressive assortment of other actors). As both novel and film it has been part of our popular culture for 150 years.

I am an historian of the American Civil War, with an emphasis on the Northern home front. In 2015 I published a monograph on popular culture in the North during the war (which did not include Little Women since it is technically a postwar novel). I have recently been asked to write a lengthy (40 page) reflection on Alcott’s novel as an iconic text of the Civil War. I thought that it would be fun to use the occasion to lead a seminar on the book, and on the writing of an analysis of the book as an historic text. The class would read the novel, consider some contemporary writings by and about Alcott, and examine how modern film has reconsidered the story.

This course for the (Un)Common Read series will be organized around the following assignments:

  • Students will read a discuss the novel in portions across the first half of the semester. It is an easy read, although it is also a fairly long book.
  • Students will – in small groups – make short presentations responding to themes in the book, perhaps assisted by very modest additional reading (ie in Alcott’s journals).
  • We will watch one of the movie versions of the novel.
  • Each student will write a short 6-8 page essay, reflecting on a theme in the book.

Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., McDaniel, M.A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Rationale In The Science of Learning, students will read Make it stick: The science of successful learning so that they might reflect on their own learning experiences, consider research about typically-suggested habits and practices of learning that may not be as productive as they seem, and set learning goals for future coursework at UF and lifelong learning endeavors. The goal of this course is to help students optimize their learning based on the latest cognitive science research. We will consider the following questions during our weeks together: What does it mean to be a learner? What have we heard since we were really young about how people learn best? What have we heard about how people learn best is supported by the latest cognitive science research? How can we apply the latest cognitive science research about learning to our coursework and life?

Student Assignments
Students will write short reflections about their own study habits at the beginning, middle, and end of the course.
Students will interview a few friends about their study habits and exhibit findings in a graphic representation
Students will track their study habits for one week. 
Students will create learning goals for future coursework and lifelong learning endeavors.
Students will present to classmates about ways in which class has informed their learning habits.
Students will produce a one-page handout for incoming UF freshmen about how to learn best at UF.

Students will attend each class session.
Students will read assigned readings each week and exhibit knowledge of readings in class discussions.
Students will complete required assignments (listed above).
Students will reflect deeply on their learning practices and perhaps deepen their understanding of what it means to learn.
Students will apply course readings, activities, and discussions to their UF coursework and other lifelong learning opportunities

Communities of Majorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston

A land remembered from different perspectives: communities of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Zora Neale Hurston. This course will examine the writings of two women who wrote about the culture and environment of central Florida- from very different perspectives. Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings grew up in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. and moved to Cross Creek in 1928. She wrote about the people- primarily her “Cracker” neighbors, and her relationship with her black servants- and about the environment. While her descriptions of the people received mixed reception among them- she was sued by one of her neighbors, her descriptions of the natural environment show a poetics that transforms the scrub into a healing environment. The class will focus on Rawling’s memoir Cross Creek, published in 1942, and will include discussion of Rawling’s other works about the region.

It also will examine the body of work by a Florida writer who visited Rawlings in Cross Creek, but was forced to sleep in the tenant house because of the race relations in Florida at the time. This writer, famous for her written work and for her role in the Harlem Renaissance, Zora Neale Hurston, was born in Alabama and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Barnard College and did field work collecting folklore in the Caribbean and the American South. Much of her literary output drew from her experience in the all-black town of Eatonville. For instance, working with writer Langston Hughes, Thurston cowrote the play Mule Bone, set in Eatonville in 1930- although it was not staged until 1991.

Through these works the class will:

  1. Examine the land of central Florida, especially considering the healing connection that Rawlings explored. This segment of the course will include broader consideration of healing relationships with the land, including meeting in the Wilmot Healing Gardens in the Health Science Center, where it will investigate the role that nature and gardens can play in guided therapy- horticultural therapy, and in general health and wellbeing- therapeutic horticulture. It also will include a field trip to the Rawlings Homestead, a Florida state park. If the time is right, the class may pick blueberries from the blueberry farm run by Zelma Cason’s great nephew. And who was Zelma Cason?
  2. Examine the relationships in Cross Creek- including how Rawlings description of her neighbors led to a law suit brought by Zelma Cason- whose brother TZ Cason was Rawlings’ doctor and one of the founders of the J Hillis Miller Health Science Center.
  3. Examine the racial relationships in central Florida as depicted in Cross Creek, and through the work of Hurston, explore how citizens of all black towns such as Eatonville lived, and struggles to integrate programs- for instance, TZ Cason ran a short course for physicians- now known as continuing medical education- that he worked to integrate in the 1940s during a time of segregation.
  4. Explore the media- novels, plays, music, and film inspired by the writings of Rawlings and Hurston.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

What do the Coalition to Protect Patient Rights, Veterans for a Strong America, All Votes Matter, National Right to Work Committee, and the Independent Women’s Voices have in common? They are all part of a well-funded network designed to influence the American political process. This book is a well-researched story of how extremely wealthy libertarians have funneled their money strategically to have an impact on the country’s political landscape. By forming a convoluted and interconnected constellation of organizations, they have become part of academic institutions, statehouses, and Congress. Who is behind this and what does this mean to you? This book applies to all students across disciplines. In addition to the book, both the instructor and students share outside articles/materials that are identified in various media as the semester progresses.

Attendance and participation are expected. Each group leads the discussion of two book sections, and prepares an additional external presentation on a topic of their choice that relates to the general theme of the class. Students are required to prepare three reflection pieces in which they pause to consider what has been discussed and read up to that point.

What are People for? Pondering the Possibility of Common Good

Is there such a thing as a truly common good? As we come off a vicious and contentious election season, we find ourselves with deep division and deep differences on what we envision for society. Is a collective and collaborative conversation possible in which we can nurture a healthy shared life together? Wendell Berry provides a voice that might be a starting point for a conversation to reclaim the common good.

Food, ecology, community, diversity/difference, agriculture, economics, education, reading, writing, citizenship, moral vision, technology, war and peace, environmental care. These are just a few of the touchpoints in the landscape of the collective human experience. What is it that we find ourselves doing as a society, and how well are we doing it? What’s the point, anyway, of doing anything together as a society? Is there a way to unite our collective activity? How is it that humans are to live in the world that is increasingly putting us at odds with everything non­human ­ and even worse, at odds with other humans? Furthermore, what, if any, are the connections between human and non­human nature, the land, and other spaces? Living among the tensions of the late­modern world presents us with challenges as well as possibilities. On one hand, we find it easy to enter into possibilities. But on the other, before we move forward, we have to come to terms with the tensions. These broad questions and accompanying tensions are taken up by Wendell Berr y in W hat Are People For?, as he asks his reader to think more deeply about human activity in the world. For Berry, an English professor turned farmer/writer/cultural critic, that requires eyes and ears wide open as we seek to understand who we are, where we are, and how we might flourish in the midst of the place we find ourselves.

This seminar style course will provide students the o pportunity to read these books carefully and reflectively. We will c onsider W hat Are People For? alongside some of Berry’s short stories and poems, as well as supplemental film, poetry and other art. Our reading will feed what promises to be a rich ongoing classroom discussion. Additionally, students will participate in reflection through short writing assignments as they interact with the book as well as the ideas to which it may point.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

“The doctors thought that the Hmong didn’t understand the human body, and the Hmong thought that the doctors didn’t understand the human soul.”-Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is the story of Hmong toddler Lia Lee and her parents as they navigate the unfamiliar territory of the Western healthcare system. Foua Yang and Nao Kao Lee fled the state-sponsored persecution of the Hmong people in their native Laos, arriving in California in 1980. Lia, the fourteenth of their fifteen children and the first to be born in America, was diagnosed with a seizure disorder at the age of 3 months. The book follows the Lees’ journey through a health care system that is as unfamiliar to them as Hmong traditional culture is to Western medicine. Lia’s team of doctors cared deeply about their patient, as did her family, whose Hmong culture viewed her seizures as a spiritual gift. Despite the best intentions of both, neither were able to bridge the cultural divide to bring about true physical and spiritual healing for Lia.

This book is a common text in medical school curricula, used to teach future healthcare providers the importance of developing cultural competency in the practice of Western medicine. While it examines themes of medical ethics, health literacy and the physician-patient relationship, it also explores the timely topic of refugees and the impediments they face assimilating into American society while maintaining their cultural identity.

Through the book and other associated reading and videos, students will discuss how their cultural, socio-economic, and family histories impact their interactions with others in their everyday lives. These reflections will inform their understanding of the role that the immigrant experience plays in defining American society. They will discuss their perceptions of and experiences with navigating the U.S. healthcare system, and will explore how health literacy impacts that experience. They will also step into the shoes of healthcare professionals who work with diverse populations with complex medical needs, investigating the chronic issues of compassion fatigue and burnout that these professionals face. Questions will be raised about the ethical responsibility that clinicians have to provide the best possible care, and what that means when a biomedical truth clashes with a cultural or religious reality, particularly when children are involved. They will also discuss specific issues related to different concepts of palliative and end-of-life care. In addition to weekly written contemplations of the book, as part of their coursework students will have the opportunity to design a creative solution to one or more of the many obstacles that both patients and healthcare professionals face in trying to understand one another throughout the healthcare process.

As young people who are inheriting a complex healthcare system, students who attend this course will gain valuable perspective of the challenges that vulnerable population face in pursuing freedom from the burden of illness or injury. And as citizens of an increasingly global society, students will develop a mindset that finds strength in the collaboration of diverse cultures and perspectives.

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction

Can we bring extinct species back to life? Should we? These are questions that underlie the science of de-extinction that are the focus of Dr. Shapiro’s award-winning book. Hers is a personal perspective not just about science, but how it is done, who does it, and inherent challenges and philosophical arguments of modern science.

This reading is intended for students with a general interest in science as written for a popular audience. We also plan to interact with the author, probably through SKYPE.

This is a student-centered class, with the instructor serving as moderator. It is expected that each week students will come to class having read the next chapter of the book. One student each week will be designated as the lead to summarize the chapter and then discussion will focus on questions generated (and submitted in writing) before class. Grades will be assigned based on attendance and participation.

This class will also include a trip behind-the-scenes at the Florida Museum of Natural History to look at fossil mammoths in our collections, to the exhibits museum to see mammoths on display, and field trip to collect local fossils.

5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results.

5% More presents a painless route to change, with results that can last a lifetime. Whether you want to boost your health, wealth, or wisdom, this book reveals a key technique that makes it stick. This book shows you how to bring your goals within reach with only five percent more effort. Small changes, small commitments, and small adjustments can lead to very big results.

Mountain climbers don't conquer Everest on their first time out—attempting to do so would be a tragic failure. No matter what your goal, no matter what your baseline, small, incremental steps set you up for success. 5% More gives you a concrete strategy for realizing your goals and making changes that last.

Focus of the class

The focus will be on how we can all make major improvements in our lives through small, calculated steps. I hope to engage students in this process. We will discuss ways to make improvements in four areas: 1) academic, 2) physical, 3) emotional/psychological, and 4) spiritual. I plan to bring in local experts to lead class discussions on how to make improvements in each of these four areas. Depending on the wishes of the class, we may do a few activities together. For example, go for a walk, meet for a spin class or yoga class. The basic idea here is to explore ways each of us might use to make positive changes in our lives.

Student Assignments

  • Weekly reading and discussions.

  • Written reflections on the 5 % more principle applied to the academic, physical, emotional/psychological, and spiritual aspects of our lives (500 words, one page).

  • Depending on the number of students in the class, we might be able to take short trips to do group activities related to the concepts presented in the book.

  • Student presentations. Students will be asked to give a presentation to their classmates relating to how they have applied the 5 % more principle to on aspect of their lives. Students will be given creative latitude for these presentations.

Tigers, Helicopters, and Free Rangers: All About Parenting

Course description: This course should answer the following question: What does it mean to be a successful parent, and how can you reach success? Using Amy Chua’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a starting point, we will explore and compare several approaches to parenting. Research on parenting, as well as contributors to parenting style will be examined. Students will consider what constitutes successful parenting, as well as their own parenting experiences, and the research on parenting in order to better consider the type of parenting approach they might use or recommend to others.

Course Objectives:

1.      Students will gain a better understanding of the many approaches to parenting.

2.      Students will become familiar with issues and research related to parenting and child   

3.      Students will examine and discuss their own beliefs and experiences related to parenting, how this compares to what is known, and consider the type of parent he/she might want to be or might recommend to others

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Guns, Germs and Steel looks at how societies arose, how they interacted and how some came to dominate others. It does this from the perspectives of agriculture, warfare and disease and the interaction of environmental factors that led to where we are today. The book provides a very different perspective from some traditional views. More than a history book, the author integrates biology, anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, behavioral ecology and technological development. As the author describes, the book addresses the question “why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents” and provides evidence that “history followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

By exploring this book as an (un)common read, I hope to challenge pre-conceived ideas about the course of human history and introduce students to factors that affected societal development around the world, especially in areas that receive little coverage in traditional history texts. By integrating history, science and technology, I hope to provide a framework that appeals to a wide variety of student interests and open conversations to better understand our past and how it influences our future.

Assignments would include weekly reflection papers on the assigned reading and subsequent classroom discussion. Students would be encouraged to keep a reading journal, noting possible discussion questions and submitting those prior to class sessions.

Death: Confronting the Great Divide

This one-credit course will address some of the beliefs and customs related to death and the afterlife as practiced in the late antique, medieval, and early modern Mediterranean. Besides exploring human death from the perspective of the Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim religions, we will also discuss where the death of animals – and especially those we hold dearest like our household pets – fits into our broader understanding of human existence. On the basis of course readings and guest lectures, we will ask questions about the historical role played by the afterlife in shaping the daily lives and funerals, what a “good” death might encompass, and what death as an experience teaches us about humanity as part of the larger animal kingdom.

This discussion course will meet for fifty minutes each week; students will be asked to read one or two related articles or sources in preparation for each session (roughly 35-70 pages of reading per week). As the course is linked to the second semester of a speaker series of the same name organized by the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere, attendance is mandatory at the four public lectures of the series to be held during the semester (see below for schedule). In addition to composing a 2-3 page reaction paper to each of the four visiting lectures, students will write a short paper (5-7 pages) about a specific set of cultural beliefs and traditions related to the afterlife (a paper that will be based upon analysis of a primary source chosen in consultation with the instructor).


1 February 2017, Wednesday, 5:30 pm, Millhopper Branch Library, Alachua County Library District, Jessica Pierce (Bio-ethicist, Writer, Religious Studies Scholar, based in Denver, Colorado) “Into the Open: What Animals Can Teach Us about Death”

16 February 2017, Thursday, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library 100, Isabel Moreira (Professor of History, University of Utah) "Preparing for Death: Reflections on Possession and Loss in Late Antiquity"

16 March 2017, Thursday, 6:00 pm, Chandler Auditorium, Harn Museum, Cynthia Hahn (Professor of Art History, Hunter College, CUNY) “Relics and Reliquaries: A Matter of Life and Death”

6 April 2017, Thursday, 5:30 pm, Smathers Library 100, Ellen Amster (Jason A. Hannah Chair in the History of Medicine, McMaster University) “A Doorway to the Divine: Islamic Bodies and the Sufi Saints as Connecting the Living to the Dead”

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality

From Brian Greene, one of the world’s leading physicists and author the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Elegant Universe, comes a grand tour of the universe that makes us look at reality in a completely different way.

Space and time form the very fabric of the cosmos. Yet they remain among the most mysterious of concepts. Is space an entity? Why does time have a direction? Could the universe exist without space and time? Can we travel to the past? Greene has set himself a daunting task: to explain non-intuitive, mathematical concepts like String Theory, the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, and Inflationary Cosmology with analogies drawn from common experience. From Newton’s unchanging realm in which space and time are absolute, to Einstein’s fluid conception of spacetime, to quantum mechanics’ entangled arena where vastly distant objects can instantaneously coordinate their behavior, Greene takes us all, regardless of our scientific backgrounds, on an irresistible and revelatory journey to the new layers of reality that modern physics has discovered lying just beneath the surface of our everyday world.

This course will have weekly reading assignments and in-class discussions. Presentations will be required by each student near the end of the semester on related topics of their choosing. Student grades will be based on their participation in class and final presentation.

Ignorance: How It Drives Science

Thousands of year ago, Socrates (469-399 BCE), discussed the importance of ignorance (paradoxically known as  Socratic ignorance or Socratic wisdom).  It is captured by the well-known statement by Socrates: "I know only one thing: that I know nothing"  (in Greek:  "ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα").

In "Ignorance,"   Stuart Firestein gets to the heart of science as it is really practiced and suggests that we should value what we don't know -- or "high-quality ignorance" -- just as much as what we know. The author (a) Argues that ignorance, not knowledge, is what drives science, (b) Provides a fascinating inside-view of the way every-day science is actually done, and (c) Features intriguing case histories of how individual scientists use ignorance to direct their research.

From the book's review in Nature we read that: "It has been estimated that, from the beginning of civilization - 5,000 years ago or more - until 2003, humanity created a total of five exabytes (billion gigabytes) of information. From 2003 to 2010, we created this amount every two days. By 2013, we will be doing so every ten minutes, exceeding within hours all the information currently contained in all the books ever written.

So it isn't that we need more knowledge; it is that we need to distinguish between what we know and what we don't know, through what Firestein calls "controlled neglect."  Researchers must selectively ignore vast quantities of facts and data that block creative solutions, and focus on a narrow range of possibilities."

Students will read the book "Ignorance" and each week will engage in discussions to provoke questions on the subject. Each student in the class will give a short presentation regarding a related case study. Students will be evaluated by class participation and their presentation.

The Secrets of Alchemy

On approximately 250 pages, Lawrence Principe (Drew Professor of the Humanities in the Department of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Chemistry in the Chemistry Department at Johns Hopkins University) lays out a brief history of alchemy from its origins in the Roman/Greek time of the first centuries of the common era, its propagation in the early Islamic world, its heydays in medieval Europe, and its transformation into modern chemistry during the early modern period. The book is both a scholarly work of history as well as an easy to read account introducing some of the proponents of alchemy, their historic settings, and an analysis of their way of thinking. It reveals a much broader picture of what alchemy was than the dismissive attitude with which the subject is often treated in our modern era. Alchemy was not just a bunch of magic spells, scientific quackery, or even outright fraud. The book touches on some of these excesses but also paints the pictures of many a practitioner who based their trade on careful observation, experiments, and rational thought grounded in the philosophical understanding of the world in their time.

After reading the book the student should be familiar with the main developments of alchemy, its roots in Greek philosophy and its development throughout history until its reinterpretation in the early modern period laid the groundwork for the modern science of chemistry. The reader will have become familiar with many of the main proponents and their stories starting with Zosimos the Greek around 300 AD, Jabir ibn-Hayyan (Geber), the Franciscans (Roger Bacon, John of Rupescissa, etc.), Paracelsus, George Starkey, and Robert Boyle (of Boyle’s law fame) in the late 17th century.

The history of alchemy and its practitioners is only part of the story that the book tells. Since Principe is an organic chemist and has published papers in which he revisited some of the ancient alchemical recipes, he naturally makes the connection to modern chemistry and explains on several occasions how alchemy actually might have worked. This allows the reader to gain an appreciation of the laboratory or workshop skills of the alchemists.

While easy to read for anybody who is both a lay person in history and in chemistry, the book is full of references to both the historic and the scientific literature which allows the student to go off on his/her own research using the cited background reading material.

The plan on how to teach the book as an (un)common read is:
1. Have the class read through the whole book (7 chapters plus an introduction and an epilog) in the first half of the semester. Students will be assigned pages/chapters to read in preparation for class meeting times which will be spent discussing the material. Participation in the discussion matters. Active participation will amount to 50% of a student’s grade.
2. The second half of the semester will be used to allow students to present their own research on some aspect of the book. Examples are further background research on the history of alchemy during a certain period, or focus on the history of certain practitioners of alchemy, the study of alchemical theories of matter and how they differ or are similar to modern ones, connections between gnosticism and alchemy, the chemical basis of famous alchemical recipes,
etc. Students are expected to present their research to the class in a ~20 minute seminar. The grade they receive for their presentation will count for the second 50% of their final grade.
3. Finally, I will also see to it to have a few chemistry demos in the classroom that will help the students to make the connection between their reading and the chemistry they are reading about.

Henry VIII and the Development of Modern Common Law

This course will focus on pivotal legal changes that occurred during the reign of Henry VIII, a reign that saw the beginning of the modern bureaucratic state. We will read Alison Weir’s biography of Henry with an eye toward understanding how his reign, and the influence of his legal counselors, created an environment in which some of the most important legal changes to the common law would occur. The reign of Henry witnessed profound changes in property law, marriage and divorce law, labor law, treason, and the legal relationship between church and state.
Each student will choose a legal reform and do independent research on the subject, with guidance from UF Law students and law librarians. They will do a brief presentation of the reform and their research will form the basis of a paper discussing Henry’s role in the legal reform. We will discuss Henry’s life alongside the socio-legal changes of his day to understand the importance of his reign to the development of our modern legal system.

The Martian

Bring Him Home - Save Mark Whatney

Mark Watney is stranded on Mars with no hope for rescue for over a year. His story is laid out in “The Martian” a book filled with fascinating science and a compelling story. How much of that science is true? Is the engineering possible? Why does this story work so well? Why is disco so annoying? At what cost do we save a life? How many do you risk to save one? What are the realities of a Mars Mission?

Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man.

This will be a discussion oriented class with student led discussion and presentations. Students will prepare a 15 minute presentation on a topic related to the theme of the book.

Proofs from THE BOOK

Perhaps the most famous mathematician of the twentieth century, Paul Erdo ̋s, often said that there is a book somewhere, maybe in heaven, or a similar place, that contains the most elegant, most elucidating, and most conceptual solutions of all unsolved mathematical problems. When a famous problem was finally solved, and Erdo ̋s read the proof, he declared, ”This is the Book Proof”, or ”This is not the Book Proof”. This is how he expressed his view on whether a proof completely settled a question or not.

Paul Erdo ̋s died in 1996, but the concept of ”The Book” lives on. A (real world) book entitled Proofs from THE BOOK was published in 1998 by Springer. The authors are the excellent German mathematicians Gu ̈nther Ziegler and Martin Aigner. The book, which collects the most beautiful proofs from all around mathematics, has been immensely successful. Its fifth edition was published in October 2014.

I propose to teach a class on this book. Our library has several copies of earlier editions, and the e-book is also available for our students. So cost will not be an issue. High-level undergraduate mathematics courses typically attract 10-15 students. However, since this class will be unique in that it will discuss proofs from a very diverse set of areas in mathematics, will feature very enjoyable proofs only, and will not be offerred in a regular basis, we anticipate an even higher audience.

Students taking this class should have taken Calculus 2 before, or at least should be taking that class concurrently. However, since our proofs will come from many areas of mathematics outside Calculus, students with more experience in mathematics are also welcome.

The course would also help the Department of Mathematics to extend its honors offerings, which are currently limited to separate sections of lower- level courses. Finally, the course would be another place where talented undergraduates interested in mathematics would meet.

Students will be required to present one proof from the book to the class.

Carnival of Crime

Book: Gilbert King, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America. New York: Harper, 2012.
In 1949, five years before the Supreme Court banned school segregation, leading civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall waded into a legal dispute at a Lake County, Florida, orange grove. The case involved a vicious sheriff, a prosperous citrus industry, a brutal Klan, and would implicate four black youth in a capital case. A seventeen-year-old white girl had just cried rape.
This course, which explores question of race and law, justice and violence—in rural Florida and nationwide—is designed to equip students to better understand the legal regulation of race a century ago—and the implications of that regulation today. Together we will read Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove. Students will be graded on their attendance, participation, and a short analytical paper, which will be due at the end of the term.