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Course Descriptions


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Students display their countries flags at the annual International Fair in Ford Center for the Fine Arts.

Fall 2017

PREC 100 -199: First-Year Preceptorial
First-Year Preceptorial introduces students to liberal learning by teaching them the skills of intellectual synthesis, academic honesty, and resourcefulness -- skills necessary for creative thinking, responsible choice, and problem solving. Each year, entering students can choose from a selection of ever-evolving topics. Students examine issues through reading, writing, critical analysis and, most importantly, class discussion. Preceptorial teaches students how to analyze objectively and to discuss competing explanations and contradictory beliefs, how to question or affirm a viewpoint, when to be persuaded by a new idea, and how to interact in good faith with those whose opinions differ from their own. The course meets MWF in individual sections for discussion; Tuesday afternoons are set aside for class projects, films, one-on-one writing conferences, and writing workshops.

PREC 105: The Challenge of Sustainability
All human societies live in relationship with their surrounding natural environments. They draw on them for resources and in doing so inevitably change them. Today, as human populations have grown and modern societies have become more materially productive and interconnected, our impact on the global environment has increased dramatically. What does it mean for a society to be in a sustainable relationship with its environment? What can we learn from past societies? What are the challenges to sustainability at local, national and global levels? What changes might sustainability entail?

PREC 106: Cinematic Visions
In this course we will use films to explore a variety of questions: What does it mean to be human? Who are we, and how do we know? What do we want out of life, and how should we go about getting it? What are our responsibilities to others? What does it mean to live "the good life?" We consider the ways in which film addresses these questions. Does film reflect the answers, or does it create them? In addition to film, we will use works from psychology, philosophy, and film studies to explore these issues.

PREC 107: Creating Monsters
One becomes a monster either by committing some "monstrous" act or by possessing some properties that designate them as essentially "other." This course examines and evaluates the psychological, sociopolitical, and ethical processes through which this occurs and will attempt to answer the question: What does the status of monsters tell us about what it is to be human? To do so, we will look at Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, William Shakespeare's Othello, and a number of shorter readings and films.

PREC 113: Love
It may be true that "all you need is love," but why do we feel that need to love and be loved? This course explores four types of love (Affection, Friendship, Romance, and Unconditional Love) as they are expressed in both the arts and sciences, including literary/artistic and critical/theoretical perspectives, clinical research findings and movies and songs and whatever else students bring to the course via individual projects and presentations.

PREC 115: Science Fiction and Human Identity
Do humans differ in a fundamental way from thinking machines? What is the relationship of the body to our conception of the human, and how might it change with the advent of genetic or cybernetic augmentation? What is the likely endpoint or destiny of humankind? Science fiction stories can be read as thought experiments designed to explore deep questions about what it means to be human. Drawing on a variety of readings and films, our goal in this course will be to explore the issue of human identity as seen through the lens of science fiction.

PREC 129: The American Dream
The American Dream is an elusive idea that has been threaded into fabric of American political discourse and literature. Each generation has reinterpreted ideals, values, and material rewards associated with its pursuit. Equally important, each generation has redefined the requirements for membership in terms of who can pursue it. This course follows a chronology of American history through which we examine the various ways in which the American Dream has been articulated in political, historical, and literary texts. In doing so we consider the general expansion (as inconsistent and imperfect as it may be) of the American Dream to encompass the hopes and ideals of new populations of Americans. Among the themes we discuss are the rags to riches narrative, the promise of the West, the vision of the house with the white picket fence, and the fear that the American dream is dead.

PREC 136: Travel (a Living/Learning Community Course)
This course will investigate "travel" in its physical realities and concepts. Attention will be paid to intersections: the intersection of ideas, beliefs, cultures, economies, and identities. Texts will include modern/contemporary travel wrting; classic travel writing; fiction; theory about tourism, translation, location of culture, and globalization; along with contemporary films.

PREC 137: Language and the World Around Us
Language is an essential and defining aspect of being human. Language is impressive in its capacity to spawn ideas, mediate differences, and represent the world around us, but confounding in its deficiencies and frightful ability to subvert, oppress, and control. Language is the thread weaving through gender, sexuality, politics, power, and identity, and an understanding of how language functions is crucial to comprehending the fabric of humanity. This course explores language from several perspectives to answer the following: What is language? How does language affect reality, and vice versa? How do we use language, and how does language use us?

PREC 138: Sexualities in Contemporary Media
How do we understand ourselves through sexuality? Do others understand us through our perceived sexuality? How does the evolution of media shape the ways sexuality is understood and discuussed? How do the links between sexuality, media, and culture work to affirm some sexual norms and moralities while challenging others? This course will explore these and other concepts through multiple forms of contemporary cultural and social media. We will consider how the history of sexuality has developed from philosophical, psychological, and cultural perspectives. Class discussion and writing, generated from these ideas, will help us begin to answer these questions for ourselves.

PREC 140: Great Oratory
Oratory can cause us to reconsider our beliefs, motives, and actions. While it is true that some of this effect is the time, place, and manner of delivery, much of the power of great oratory comes from the argument of the speaker. This course will examine great oratory from a variety of perspectives, seeking to improve upon our own skills of writing, argumentation, and oral presentation. We will do so by deconstructing great speeches and examining the relationship between thesis, evidence, logic, structure, and delivery in the use of words to evoke emotion, thought, and action.

PREC 145: This American Life (a Living/Learning Community Course)
This course will utilize radio programs and podcasts—This American Life, The Moth, StoryCorps—to investigate notions of identity, community, and creativity in America. What shapes a person's identity? How are communities formed? What is gained and lost in the process? At its heart, this is a course on the power of storytelling, and we will also explore how and why art of all kinds gets made, as well as the role of creativity in our everyday American lives. Supplemental texts will include short stories, poems, novels, and articles from various disciplines, as well as films.

PREC 146: The Masculinity of Malcolm X
By the time of Malcolm X's assassination in 1965, his influence had extended far beyond the US. Eulogized as the epitome of Black manhood, Malcolm X had become an international icon of black consciousness, Islam, and anti-imperialism. This course will situate Malcolm X at the center of a global dialogue on Black masculinity. Was Malcolm X gay? Does it matter? Is homosexuality African? Or is it a "white thing"? With Malcolm X as our pivot, we will consider the historical developments, debates, and controversies that have erupted over contested meanings of masculinity in the Black world.

PREC 147: Women Writing the World
If we are the stories we tell, then what can we learn about women from around the world by reading their narratives? This course examines contemporary women's literature written in a variety of global cultures, exploring perspectives on current issues influencing women's sense of self, world views, opportunities, and challenges. We'll investigate the ways writers use narrative to help readers understand their own lives and the lives of others, and help us consider possibilities for understanding cultural, political and social systems that define women in the world.

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