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Course Descriptions


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Fall 2018

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 (available as a Living/Learning Community or standard FP course)
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 115: Science Fiction and Human Identity (available as a Living/Learning Community or standard FP course)
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 124: Human Rights (a Living/Learning Community course)
While most people today profess support for "human rights," difficult questions emerge if we press deeper. What, exactly, are the rights that we all share? Are these rights universal or are they specific to certain cultural traditions? How should human rights violations be prevented? Once such violations have occurred, how should societies pursue justice and promote social reconciliation? We will examine these questions looking at specific human rights cases and drawing on readings from a wide variety of perspectives.

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 135: Time
What is time? How do we experience it, reckon it, allocate it, spend it, waste it, invest it? Does time control human activity or are we in control of time? We will explore these questions and many more through reading, writing, discussion, active listening and, yes, time travel, as we engage a topic that has both haunted and inspired humans across times and places. To do so, we will draw on the insights of anthropology, sociology, history, arts, music, creative writing, physics, philosophy, and psychology as we better understand and engage the multidimensional phenomena of time in our lives.

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 discussed? 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 139: Walking as a Way of Knowing (a Living/Learning Community course)
Walking upright is perhaps the definitive feature that distinguishes humans from other animals, yet we live in an increasingly sedentary world. In this class we will examine the origins of walking and many cultural traditions that have developed around walking including walking as transportation, travel, pilgrimage, romantic encounter with the landscape, wild adventure and urban excursion. Students will engage with the practice of walking and will keep a journal about their walks. Students will write papers that explore the literature of walking, class discussions, and their own walks. Remember, "Not all who wander are lost."

PREC 145: This American Life
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 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.

PREC 148: Magic(al) Realism
Where do the magical and the real meet? In the 1920s, magic realist art swung between "devotion to the world of dreams and adherence to the world of reality." Soon, though, Latin American writers began to create stories in which the magical/supernatural were not fantastical intrusions into "reality" but its traveling companions. This course will explore the varieties and hybrids of magic(al) realism in the arts, including painting, literature, music, and film. We'll explore the critical debates and create our own magic(al) realist works in an effort to join those what have happily gone through the looking-glass.

PREC 149: Myth and Modern
What makes a hero? How can we make sense of a world that often seems senseless and unfair? Ancient Greek mythology tells stories that are rooted in an entirely foreign culture and yet, often, strike modern readers as surprisingly relatable. In this course, we will focus on how people today use Greek myths to come to a better understanding of their own situations and identities. Through readings and films, we will examine the ways in which ancient stories have influenced our world and, in turn, how our experiences and perspectives can illuminate ancient texts. From veterans using Greek tragedy to work through their trauma to a mother processing her relationship with her daughter through the myth of Persephone, this course explores the complex interplay between ancient myth and modern identity.

PREC 151: Ethical Questions in Science
Is it ok to do human experimentation without the subject's consent if it does no harm to the subject and is definitely for the greater good? If it is hypothesized to be for the greater good? Is it really appropriate to destroy someone's career just because they "fudged" a few data points in a paper? What if the consequences of that fudged data lead to the deaths of thousands of children? Research costs money. If the work is important, does it matter where the money comes from? Should the funders of research have control over the discoveries so that they might get a return on investment? Should they be able to suppress knowledge that is for the betterment of humankind but negatively impacts profit? Many of us are attracted to science because of the wonder of discovery and the (supposed) purity of the pursuit of knowledge. In this course we will wrestle with some of challenging questions that arise in the practice of science.

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Printed on Monday, August 20, 2018