The Pluto Saga: How Do You Become a Planet and Stay a Planet?
Michael Mendillo, CAS, Astronomy
This course will use the controversy over Pluto’s status as a planet to explore the astronomical, cultural, political, and religious aspects that become linked to science and societal issues. The central theme of the seminar is how to gather and evaluate evidence through writing and quantitative methods. We will examine the broad scope of how science proceeds in quantitative ways using methods of sampling and observations. Both telescopes and museum visits will help us better understand the role that visualization plays in describing how nature works.
Climate Change in Massachusetts
Richard Primack, CAS, Biology
Henry David Thoreau spent decades observing and recording the natural history of Concord and other sites in Massachusetts. This course will place his work within the context of modern climate change research. Readings will include both Thoreau’s works as well as research papers comparing the observations of Thoreau and other historical data sets with modern observations. In order to gain an appreciation of the process whereby science is communicated to the public, attention will also be given to the way in which these scientific papers have been presented in the magazines and newspapers. During weekend field trips, we will visit sites where Thoreau’s research was carried out; including Walden Pond, the Minute Man National Historical Site, the Great Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, and the Estabrook Woods. Other possible field sites include the Blue Hills Observatory (origin of the oldest continuous weather records in the US), the Concord Free Library and the Thoreau Institute (where Thoreau documents are held), the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain (where old photographs and plant specimens are housed), Manomet Bird Observatory (on a day when birds are being banded), Mount Auburn Cemetery (where large numbers of bird watchers track bird movements), and the Massachusetts State Laboratory (where mosquito numbers are tracked).
Les Kaufman, CAS, Biology
The science of sustainability is probably the most difficult, technically demanding, and ultimately rewarding synthetic discipline in the world today. It requires us to marry biology with philosophy, economics, anthropology, geography, and earth science in order to become knowledgeable, wise, and effective as clinical ecologists. Students in this seminar will learn to link uses with ecological processes through the concept of ecosystem services. They will work together to define the boundaries of workable solutions by creating computer models that capture the dynamics of linked human-natural systems.
Financial Crises—Past, Present, and Future
Laurence Kotlikoff, CAS, Economics
The course will focus in a serial fashion on six large problems—the financial system, the health care system, the retirement system, the tax system, the environment, and inequality. Each topic will feature several introductory lectures, group discussions, presentations by outside speakers, and the presentation of reform proposals by teams of students. There will be a heavy emphasis on international comparisons. The analysis of the specific topics will be proceeded with a general discussion of the status of the US economy, its long-term fiscal policy, its history of declining rates of saving and investment, its competitive position in the world, its environmental pressures, and its growing economic and social inequality.
Tom Bifano, ENG, Mechanical Engineering
Students in this course will gain an appreciation for light and its use in three optical instruments: the eye, the microscope, and the telescope. They will study landmark discoveries concerning light, the development of various light sources, the scientific advances that led to our current understanding about the properties and characteristics of light waves and photons. The course includes weekly lectures and in-class laboratory exercises, several field trips, and a semester-long project. Students will engage in more than 20 hands-on experiments throughout the semester, to untwinkle the stars with adaptive telescopes, to measure the speed of light using parts hacked from a laser pointer, to make a light bulb like Thomas Edison’s, to discover how engineers ruined—and then fixed—the world’s first astronomical space telescope, and to use a high-resolution ophthalmoscope to see image photoreceptors and capillary blood flow in their own retinas.
The Camera as an Agent for Social Change
Sam Kauffmann, COM, Film & TV
Watch the mash-ups from the Fall 2011 class.
We start with the presumption that students enrolling in this course believe in promoting a just and fair society, and wish to learn to use filmmaking skills to expose and address injustices in our Global Village. We explore the historical and theological foundations that compel people to promote social justice. Individually, students will explore and select a social issue of importance to him or her. Students will then each create a video “mash-up” using clips from sources like YouTube and other websites. For the final project, each student will research, write, and produce a short video about a social issue. The goal of the final project is to change the way people perceive the selected issue and highlight ways in which positive changes can occur. No previous filmmaking skills are necessary; students will be given training as part of the course.
War for the Greater Middle East
Andrew Bacevich, CAS, History, International Relations
This seminar will explore an alternative to the conventional grand narrative of 20th-century political history that, rather than focusing on Great Power competition for dominance in Eurasia, emphasizes the interaction between the West and the peoples of the Islamic world. In terms of chronology, the course will recount events since 1914. In terms of scope, it will focus on three specific zones of conflict: the Persian Gulf (emphasizing Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran); Palestine (that is, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza); and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Culture of World War I
James Johnson, CAS, History
The Culture of World War I approaches this watershed moment in European history through works of literature, music, and art. The course’s three chronological divisions—the lead-up to war, the experience of war, and its aftermath—will include representative works from prominent composers, artists, novelists, and poets. Principal historical themes of the course are: the widespread conviction that war would cleanse and regenerate Europe; the brutally inglorious reality of trench conditions, chemical weapons, and the destruction of cultural patrimony; the ideals combatants held and the effects of events upon them; and the cultural landscape after the war. A textbook will ground discussions in events. Additional readings will include excerpts from memoirs, essays, interviews, and analyses.
Emotion, Cognition, and the Brain
Helen Barbas, SAR, Health Sciences
Cognition and emotion were classically thought to be represented separately in the brain, but recent advances in brain research contradict this notion. Signals from brain pathways underlying emotion influence high-order brain association areas associated with cognition. In this seminar, we will discuss evidence for the neural basis underlying the synthesis of cognition and emotion for decision and action, and dissociation of this process in several psychiatric diseases, including schizophrenia, autism, and depression.
Investigations in Number Theory
Glenn Stevens, CAS, Math & Statistics
Prerequisites are a solid background in high school algebra, geometry, and trigonometry; a healthy sense of curiosity about mathematical ideas; and a willingness to ask questions and work hard to answer them. Mathematical topics include: the fundamental theorem of arithmetic; elementary ring theory; unique factorization into irreducible elements; examples and counterexamples; probabilistic methods in the theory of prime numbers; and the Riemann Hypothesis and why it matters. Strategies of mathematical investigation, including experimentation and observation, and the use of language as a tool for investigation, will be a central theme of this seminar.
George Annas, SPH, Law, Bioethics & Human Rights
American healthcare reflects four deeply-ingrained American characteristics: it is individualistic, technology-driven, death-denying, and wasteful. These characteristics make “reforming” American healthcare extremely contentious. No medical technology is as emblematic of American healthcare and culture as the artificial heart. An exploration of its 40 year history (including its alternatives: death, organ transplantation, and tissue regeneration) as reflected in American medicine, public health, law, bioethics, human rights, bioengineering, and economics helps explain both how the American “NONsystem” of healthcare works and why it is so difficult to change.
Shifting Boundaries: Autism in the 21st Century
Daniela Caruso, LAW
Helen Tager-Flusberg, CAS, Psychology
In its fifth edition, published in 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) eliminated Asperger’s syndrome as a separate diagnosis and subsumed its features under the broader umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. This change is proving highly controversial. Scientists disagree on whether different autism subtypes lend themselves to shared biomedical investigation; policy makers disagree on whether the educational, medical, and social needs of persons with autism may be better served by a general label or by particularized diagnostic categories. This seminar adopts the current debate on the definition of autism as a privileged standpoint from which to explore the interconnection of society, science, and law in the 21st century.
Sheldon Glashow, CAS, Physics
Ours is an energy intensive society. American energy consumption per capita is now over ten times what it was when our nation was founded, and the rest of the world is rapidly following our example. This is leading to increasingly severe worldwide problems such as the growing competition for scarce resources including fossil fuels (today’s principal sources of energy, by far) but also fresh water, agricultural land, and mineral resources. Many countries face ever more severe problems of pollution, congestion, drought, and the growing effects of global climate change. The goals of this seminar are to examine the physical principles underlying the production, distribution and consumption of energy and to use this knowledge to explore and discuss such issues as energy conservation, public transport, the so-called hydrogen economy, electric and hybrid vehicles, nuclear power and carbon sequestration, as well as to evaluate the feasibility of various alternative sources of energy sources. During the Seminar, we anticipate freewheeling conversations relating to various energy-related issues, such as: Are we running out of oil? What is the evidence for anthropologically caused global warming? What can be done to prevent (or prepare for) it? Can part or all of the problem be solved by alternative power sources? Is it feasible to capture and sequester the CO2 produced by fossil power plants? How important is it to conserve energy?
Serious Comics: Graphic Narratives and History
Davida Pines, CGS, Rhetoric
This course explores the use of long-form comics (also known as graphic novels and graphic narrative) to represent devastating events in history. Assigned texts include book-length works that use comics to depict the Holocaust, the Iranian Revolution, Hiroshima, the Bosnian War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Hurricane Katrina, and 9/11. In particular, the course investigates the impact of the comics form on our understanding of catastrophic history.
Michael Zank, CAS, Religion
This course traces the remarkable career of the great figure of the biblical Exodus and Sinai traditions, from prophet to impostor to figment of literary imagination. Readings include Philo of Alexandria, Gregory of Nyssa, the Qur’an, and Sigmund Freud, and we will ask ourselves why an epistemologically and historically discredited biblical narrative still engenders creative, though contradictory, readings and retellings, ranging from Cecil B. DeMille’s moralistic Ten Commandments to Zora Neale Hurston’s “hoodoo man.”
The Invention of Truth
Alicia Borinsky, CAS, Modern Languages & Comparative Literature
The seminar addresses contemporary strategies for representing truth in literature and film through the examination of key concepts: dreams vs. wakefulness, original authorship vs. plagiarism, tendentious representations of history vs. testimony, and documentaries vs. fictional films. Students are encouraged to discuss, participate, and learn collectively. Our daily assignments, in the form of answers to questions to be considered in class, will be criticized and interpreted in terms of the subject of the seminar. We shall constantly ask about the persuasiveness of our arguments and how they might be broadened and refined. The seminar format will foster creativity through an examination of an exemplary group of works intended to trigger further research and discussion.
The Dreyfus Affair: Second Act or Dress Rehearsal?
Jeffrey Mehlman, CAS, Romance Studies
This seminar will focus on the history, literature, and art of the Dreyfus Affair, the near-civil war to which France was brought at the end of the nineteenth century by the struggle to reverse the guilty verdict against an innocent officer, of Jewish origin, delivered in a secret military trial for treason. It will study the emergence of the European “intellectual” during the Affair and the birth of political Zionism, widely regarded as one of its offshoots. An effort will be made to situate the Affair in two interpretive contexts: was it the second act in a two-act drama that began with the scandal attending France’s failed attempt, before the United States stepped in, to build a Panama Canal; or was it, with its anti-Semitic riots in every major French city in 1898, a “dress rehearsal” for the Holocaust? On the horizon: an assessment of recent efforts to interpret the situation of American detainees in Guantánamo in light of the ordeal of Dreyfus, imprisoned not that far away on Devil’s Island.
The Secret Lives of Corporations
Stephanie Watts, Questrom, Information Systems
The purpose of this course is to explore the role that corporations play in the economic, environmental, and societal issues of our time. In particular, we focus on Citizens United and the impact that corporate financial resources have on the democratic process. We begin by learning about corporate structure, history, and laws. We will investigate the impact that these laws have on a variety of public concerns, such as health, welfare, and environmental stability. We will also investigate potential solutions to these problems, and work to understand their viability and implementation issues. The informational content of the first half of the course does not bear good news. By actively participating in the development of our own solutions, we will turn this potentially depressing content into the exciting possibility of engendering future change. The final deliverable for this course is a research paper and corresponding presentation that reflects each student’s passion for a solution to a problem identified in the reading.
Art for the City
Hugh O’Donnell, CFA, Visual Arts
Visual Art is a universal language where diverse areas of professional specialization can intersect and find a new voice and way of speaking to many people instead of an esoteric and isolated few. Significant social, political, and moral issues of our time require the ability to think from multiple points of view. This ability can be developed into a visionary skill, which in turn can be embodied in enduring and powerful forms of artistic communication. In this course, students will examine the ways that visual art embodies contemporary issues and how these issues relate to content found in the liberal arts study disciplines including the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the life sciences. This course will include a diverse range of contemporary practices in many art forms that we will discuss as a group through frank discourse. We will investigate the impact of visual arts on diverse domains of ‘real world’ industries and communities locally in the Boston area and compare these with projects made worldwide. We will do this through lecture presentations, peer-to-peer dialogue, student-to-professional dialogue and research. The course will culminate with individual illustrated reports in the form of online portfolios.
Margaret Litvin, CAS, Modern Languages & Comparative Literature
A Kuwaiti playwright, in the aftermath of 9/11, casts Hamlet as a jihadi terrorist and Ophelia as a suicide bomber. Hollywood directors set Othello and Taming of the Shrew adaptations in American high schools. The College Board, as it does almost every year, includes a Shakespeare essay on the AP English Literature exam. What can these diverse events tell us about the cultures that produce them and the plays that inspire them? Why do contemporary writers feel the need to parrot and parody “Shakespeare,” and how much of this activity is about Shakespeare at all? This seminar provides an introduction to reading and writing about Shakespeare’s plays. But it also takes a step back to consider Shakespeare as a phenomenon. Among others, we’ll look at feminist Shakespeare, postcolonial and nationalist Shakespeare, and sci-fi Shakespeare. Beyond learning about particular offshoots and adaptations, the deeper point is to make sure you never read a “Great Book” the same way again.
Beauty, Eros, Death
William Waters, CAS, Modern Languages & Comparative Literature
Beauty fascinates and unsettles. In literature and the arts, the beautiful can ennoble and elevate, but beauty’s refinement may also turn bloodless, artificial, even depraved. Erotic attraction to beautiful bodies, also sometimes exalting, can by contrast become all too red-blooded and degenerate into sexual obsession. And why do works of art so often link erotic love to tragic death? Do beauty and eros point toward true fulfillment in life—and is that fulfillment mysteriously linked to mortality?—or are the promises of beauty and desire just seductive lies masking a truth about existence that we cannot bear to face? These perennial questions are nowhere explored at greater cultural density than in the great short work of modern literature at the center of this seminar’s inquiry into beauty, desire, and extinction: Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice. Mann’s story sets into counterpoint an extraordinary array of prior mythic, literary, philosophical, musical, psychological, historical, biographical, and visual inquiries into aesthetics, (homo)eroticism, and mortality from Ancient Greece up through Mann’s own era. Studying these many works, from the drama of Euripides and the philosophy of Plato up through Wagner’s operas, Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, and early photography of the male nude, together with Death in Venice itself and two films and an opera based on it, we will probe enduring questions about the nature and cultural expression of art, life, sexuality, and mortality.
The Neurobiology of Memory
Paul Lipton, CAS, Neuroscience
Students in this course will be immersed in the process of the scientific endeavor by conducting an experiment in the field of behavioral neuroscience—from conception to publication. To this end, all students will have an opportunity to conduct behavioral testing, neurosurgery, and histological analysis of brains. Students are expected to lead and participate in weekly journal discussions, and to prepare a scientific manuscript. Generally, the course will focus on a systems-level approach to the neurobiology of memory, and in particular on the role of the hippocampal memory system. Because of the emphasis on scientific process, the course will focus on topics most germane to our experiment. The course will include instructor-led lecture/discussions, laboratory preparation and discussion, and student-led discussions.
David Frankfurter, CAS, Religion
Central to the religious experience of people around the globe have been sacred places—to visit, to pray toward, to imagine, and even to reproduce in miniature. How do we make sense of sacred space as a basic feature of religions? Why do people “need” such places to focus their religious practices, and in how many different forms do we find them? This course will introduce a comparative approach to sacred space, pilgrimage, and the various forms these have taken across cultures and through time, from the Muslim Hajj to Catholic pilgrimages to Padre Pio, to ancient visits to holy men. News accounts, ethnographies, and films illustrating both international pilgrimages and local shrines will complement various readings in the anthropology of pilgrimage and the interpretation of sacred space. We will also address such topics as miraculous apparitions, tourism as pilgrimage, and “Jerusalem syndrome.” The course will culminate in an independent research paper.
Revolutions in Conceptualizing the Mind: 1950s to the Present
Catherine Caldwell-Harris, CAS, Psychology
The 1950s was the origin of the Cognitive Revolution, when the mind was first viewed as a computational, symbol-processing machine. A succession of other ideas has been offered to understand mind and behavior. Some approaches were initially scorned, such as evolutionary psychology; others were influential immediately, such as cognitive neuroscience. This seminar traces the different disciplines that have contributed to modern conceptions of mind, including anthropology, economics, and animal behavior. Students will be able to choose their own question of interest for focused exploration while the class broadly studies this explosive half-century of intellectual evolution.
KHC PS101 F12 – Revolutions in Conceptualizing the Mind- 1950s to the Present
Humans Among Animals
Parker Shipton, CAS, Anthropology
This course examines some of the ways humans understand (other) animals, and how we use animals to understand ourselves. Considering wild, herded, and domestic species, we ask what is known and unknown about animal thought, feeling, and communication; what humans assume, believe, and imagine about these knowns and unknowns; and what roles language and culture play in these understandings in contemporary societies variously engaged in hunting, herding, farming, and pet keeping. We will see how the lines people draw between humans and animals, or culture and nature, get redrawn—or psychological, political, and other reasons—and explore where they blur in the light of new discoveries, and in the twists and turns of story and humor. Case material on selected species, human languages and societies will come from various settings in Africa, Europe, and North America. Our approach is interdisciplinary, drawing on anthropology, history, linguistics, philosophy, psychology, and zoology. Findings will have practical, legal, and ethical implications, bearing on some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Watching Film, Thinking About Film, Making About Film
Aaron Garrett, CAS, Philosophy
This course will begin with considering how we watch films and how the ways in which we watch films are relevant to our appraisal of them. We will then turn in parallel to discussing some philosophical issues connected with film—in what sense film is art and how it is related to other arts, the nature of genre, what we react to and how we react when we watch films, what the images and sounds in films represent, etc.—and begin working on short films (and working through some of the basics of editing, filming, etc.). The class will include both seminar and studio components and stress will be placed on bringing philosophical thinking about film viewing, filmmaking, and films as artistic experiences to bear on the process of filmmaking. The class will involve active discussion, watching at least a film a week (more often two) , writing a series of short papers, making a short “film,” and presenting the film as it is being made for critique/discussion.
Ethical Decision Making in the Real World
Nicholas Washienko, SHA, Hospitality Administration
The course examines both the theoretical and practical bases for decision-making in actual situations. Decisions are generally justified by reliance on ethical theories, but they also reflect personal values internalized over many years. Simple issues can be dealt with rather easily. But entrance into the world of adulthood and, especially, the world of work, introduces levels of complexity far more difficult to resolve. For in addition to responding to our personal sense of obligation, we must take into account the legitimate and at times conflicting obligations to family, friends, employers, clients, customers, and today, even the environment. But decision-making is not just a question of balancing competing interests. There are financial, economic, psychological, and social pressures that may well be brought to bear on the decision making process. This course addresses these many issues recognizing full well that what a person ‘says’ they would do while sitting in the comfort of their easy chair is in reality quite different from what they might ‘actually do’ in real life. The course requires many readings. But it will also be very interactive and participative. That is, there will be significant use of case studies, hypotheticals, and guest speakers to highlight just how complex decision-making becomes in the real world.
Spaces of Art: The Place of Art in the Contemporary Museum, Gallery and Studio
Dana Clancy, CFA, Visual Art
The goal of this course is for students to experience and reflect upon works of art within an architectural, institutional, and cultural context. Students in this seminar will visit Boston-area museums to look closely at and question the role of art in the contemporary museum and beyond. In contrast to much of contemporary visual experience, which is mediated through screens and via printed material, students in this course will have the opportunity to give in-depth consideration to primary sources. Through experiencing the presentation of the work in the context of an exhibition, and in conversation with artists, curators, and other museum professionals, students will be challenged to think critically about the role of material form as related to meaning in specific works, and more broadly about the larger social context surrounding groups of work in an exhibition.
Constant Flux: Media Communication from the Telegraph to Twitter
Tobe Berkovitz, COM, Marketing & John Carroll, COM, Mass Communication
Students will explore the media environment and analyze the impact of technology and information on their lives. Studies will highlight the development of technology over time, assessing how governments, economies, and social beliefs were changed in unexpected ways. Students will perform research that uses information from their academic majors as a foundation for examining the role media play in their lives and society. Assessing how the liberal arts, sciences, business, and communication have changed with inventions such as the printing press, telegraph, television, and computers will encourage students to consider the widespread impact of technology on the historical development of civilization.
History and the Novel
Jeffrey Mehlman, CAS, Romance Studies
A series of close readings of major modern works of fiction. Focus will be on such topics as the novel’s effort to speak the truth of history, its status as unintended historical symptom, its occasional conflictual relation with history, its rivalry with music in the effort to distill an essence of time, and the notion of literary history itself.
America in an Age of Terrorism
Doug Kriner, CAS, Political Science
Today’s undergraduate cohort came of age in the shadow of 9/11. This course explores the genesis of the attacks, the evolution of the American military response, and the consequences of American foreign policy both at home and abroad. Specific questions we will address include: can just war theory serve as a guide when responding to non-traditional threats from terrorists?; what alternatives were available to American policymakers in Afghanistan and Iraq, how were the key decisions made, and how might policy have unfolded differently?; how has the war on terror shaped our politics here at home and what are its lasting impact on our separation of powers system; what will the future of the war on terror look like as the war in Afghanistan winds down even as drone strikes intensify? We will explore these and similar ethical, historical, and political questions from a variety of perspectives. The course will also introduce students to the use of survey experimental techniques and allow students to engage in original empirical research on the dynamics driving public opinion regarding different aspects of the war on terror.
The Body Rewired: Reinventing Medicine through Human-Machine Interfaces
Cara Stepp, SAR, Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences & ENG, Biomedical Engineering
Interfaces between humans and machines have matured beyond science fiction, and now offer a unique opportunity to restore lost sensory or motor function. This case-based course will explore the physiology of healthy and impaired sensorimotor systems, engineering approaches to rehabilitate or replace function, and the impact of these technologies on end-users and society at large. Students will complete a semester-long project including written reports and oral presentations. Discussions will focus on specific applications of human-machine interfaces for health, concentrating on design specifications and long-term impact. Applications include: cochlear implants, retinal implants, upper and lower limb prostheses, brain-computer-interfaces for augmentative communication, rehabilitation robotics, and functional electric stimulation after spinal cord injury.
Intervening Images: The Task of Non-fiction Film in a Changing World
Roy Grundmann, COM, Film and Television
This course provides an introduction to non-fiction film. We study a selection of documentaries—the list includes classics that have historical significance but also more recent examples about highly contemporary issues—and we try to understand what documentaries are and what they “do.” The aim of the course is to teach students to develop an understanding of how non-fiction films function both as aesthetic works of art that have stories to tell and use certain rhetorical approaches to tell them and as documents of reality that ultimately seek to intervene in the very reality they depict.
Thomas Peattie, CFA, Musicology
This seminar offers an exploration of listening and its mediating practices and technologies, from the stethoscope to the earbud. Through the lens of recent theories of listening we begin by considering the way in which our own auditory habits are socially and culturally determined. We then take a step back to explore the emergence of the modern listener in the second half of the nineteenth century and in particular the role of the telephone, phonograph, and wireless telegraph in shaping a range of new listening practices. We then turn our attention to the spaces of performance—from the concert hall to the jazz club—and their associated musical repertories. Here we focus not only on issues of acoustics, architecture, and social behavior but also on specific musical compositions and performance traditions that were conceived for these spaces. Finally, we consider how the advent of recorded sound has changed our relationship to the way we listen to so-called “live” music. In this context we engage with current debates on the ethics and aesthetics of sound reproduction, transmission, and ownership. By exploring the public and private spaces in which listening occurs, we consider the diversity of contemporary and historical listening practices including the effect of recording technology on recent performance practice, the relationship between sound and vision, and the way in which industrial noise has transformed the way in which we hear.
Blood and Money
Michael Salinger, Questrom, Management; Karen Quillen, MED, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
This interdisciplinary seminar will introduce students to the interaction among the promise of science, ethics, and economic reality by focusing on the very specific topic of blood. We will examine an outcome that in one respect was obviously catastrophic. We will seek to understand it from a scientific, historical, and economic perspective. We will study the basic science of two specific blood diseases, sickle cell anemia and hemophilia. We will discuss the history of the development or treatments from those diseases. With respect to the economic perspective, we will analyze the economic forces that caused key players in the historical drama to behave as they did and assess what lessons the episode teaches about the reliance on market outcomes and ways to try to seek to improve upon them.
Reading, Language and the Brain
Tyler Perrachione, SAR, Neuroscience
Although we often think of written and spoken language as interchangeable, how children acquire these two abilities couldn’t be more different: Children effortlessly learn to speak and understand language just by listening to it being spoken around them. On the other hand, becoming an expert reader requires years of explicit instruction and effortful practice. Some individuals, with a condition known as developmental dyslexia, will even face a lifelong struggle with reading difficulties. This course explores the scientific study of reading and language development—a richly multidisciplinary effort that bridges the fields of psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, and education. The emphasis of this course will be on the modern scientific effort to understand “the reading brain”: how learning to read changes our brain in myriad ways, coordinating neural systems for vision, hearing, language, and memory. Specific topics will include the history of the alphabet and other writing systems, how different cultures’ writing systems produce different reading brains, how brain injuries can result in specific impairments in language and reading, and how brain imaging is helping unravel the mystery of reading impairment.
Sophie Godley, SPH, Public Health
This course offers students the opportunity to explore the complex issues of American poverty through multiple disciplines and approaches. As a course in the Kilachand Honor’s College, Seeing Poverty will utilize multiple sources of information for students to examine the historical, political, and public health “view” of poverty. This multi-disciplinary approach will allow students the opportunity to discover for themselves the “truth” or “truths” of what it means to be poor in America today. Students will think about stories that are told about the poor—who is doing the telling? How are the poor depicted? Lastly, this course will expose students to my work in five of the poorest cities in Massachusetts (Chelsea, Holyoke, Springfield, Lawrence, and New Bedford) with young adult and teenage mothers. By developing a deep understanding of the causes and sustainers of poverty, students will become critical assessors of the depiction of the poor in popular media, and indeed become advocates for the poor.
Islam in the Eyes of the West
Teena Purohoit, CAS, Religion
Despite the fact that the majority of Muslims live in Southeast and South Asia, the study of Islam has been dominated by a perspective that assumes the Middle East as its center. This preoccupation with the Arab world and Arabic texts was consolidated during the European colonial era when famous Orientalists wrote definitive accounts of Islam on the basis of their philological work in Arabic and European conceptions of religion. This bias continues today in the popular media as well as the western academy: Islam is defined primarily by the Quran and early Arab history. The course begins with a discussion of how religion as a category was defined by Europeans and Christians primarily in the 19th century and applied to the study of non-Europeans cultures at the same time. This discussion of 19th century conceptions of religion is followed by an engagement with the diversity of devotional expressions of Islam, through studies of art, poetry, philosophy, and ethnography. Next, the course will engage the discursive phenomenon of Orientalism and the writings of Orientalists to see when and how these western categories of religion were applied to Muslim beliefs and practices. From there we will examine how Muslims in the modern period responded to modernity and wrote about Islam through similar Orientalist perspectives, which gave rise to political Islamic thought. Finally, we will consider how western political theorists have used these same Orientalist categories of religion to support the theory of an inevitable conflict between the West and Islam in the contemporary period. The course will conclude with criticisms of this “clash of the civilizations” theory and reflections on religion in the aftermath of September 11.
Anger and Related Emotions
Charles Griswold, CAS, Philosophy
If Homer’s Iliad is the first work of Western literature, as it well may be, then the first word of Western literature is “anger.” Homer begins his epic with a particular word for anger, “mênis.” It is but one of several ancient Greek words for this emotion, and means something like wrath, righteous and vengeful fury. Consideration of Homer’s famous portrayal of anger’s meaning and effects will lead us to these questions, among others: what is anger and what shapes does it take? What leads us to feel it? Is it a good thing to feel, or is it to be suppressed on grounds of its irrationality, destructiveness, or its connection with possibly flawed quasi-moral notions such as honor? Are there ever good reasons to give it up (for example, a duty to forgive), and if so how should we understand forgiveness, reconciliation, and the like? Anger and its modulations (resentment, vengefulness, righteousness, indignation, malice, among others) certainly seem to be extraordinarily prevalent and influential at multiple levels—social, interpersonal, and personal. In Homer and the Bible, even the relation between humans and the divine is fraught with anger. In exploring what anger is, we will delve into the philosophy of emotion, and therefore into the relation of emotion to reason as well as to feeling and mood. In discussing why we feel anger, we will examine its relation to self-esteem, honor, and more broadly our nature as social beings. We will also consider several emotions that are related to anger, such as envy, jealousy, and love. Our readings will extend from Homer through the Bible, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics (in particular, Seneca’s On Anger), Shakespeare, to contemporary philosophers (some of whom approach the topic with issues of gender, race, and social standing in view).
Marriage, Families, and Gender
Linda McClain, LAW, JD Program
This seminar will critically examine the family, marriage, and gender by asking several basic questions: What is family? What is marriage? Why do family and marriage matter to individuals and to society? What role does or should law have in supporting and regulating families and marriage? In defining parenthood? How do ideas about gender and proper gender roles in intimate and public life feature in answering these questions? This seminar will focus on three contemporary problems: the ongoing public and legal debate over same-sex marriage and the rapidly evolving social, political, and legal landscape; the class-based divide in marriage and parenting, linked to growing economic inequality in the United States; and defining parenthood in an era in which changes in social and legal norms about family and gender along with the advent of assisted reproductive technology (ART) make new pathways to parenthood possible.
Daniel Erker, CAS, Linguistics
How did language evolve in the human species? Linguists, anthropologists, biologists, neuroscientists, and paleontologists have labored to answer this question for centuries. But, despite substantial progress and some truly ingenious recent research, answers remain elusive. In fact, a full account of the origin of the language faculty in human beings may never emerge. The goal of our seminar is to investigate this evidence and puzzle it together in such a way that it tells the story of language evolution in the most creative, compelling, cumulative, and coherent manner possible. We will start at the beginning, walking the long and winding path from single cells to modern humans. We will compare our own communication systems with those of birds, ants, chimps, bees, and dolphins. We will examine the way language is organized in our minds and will study the anatomy and physiology at work when language is made audible through speech. We will identify the series of evolutionary events—the ecological, neurological, physiological, social, genetic, and cognitive happenings—that simply must have occurred for us humans to have emerged as the only language using animals on the planet. Lastly, we will explore the issue of linguistic diversity in the modern world, asking whether the rapid expansion of a handful of languages threatens to forever destabilize the linguistic profile of the globe. We will examine the relationship between linguistic and biological diversity, and we will explore the notion that ecological and linguistic conservation are intrinsically linked.