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Course Descriptions

PREC 100. -199 First-Year Preceptorial. (1)

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, such as "Cinematic Visions", "Creating Monsters", "Love", "The American Dream", and "Human Rights". (The current set of courses can be found at: 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 films, one-on-one writing conferences, and writing workshops. Staff;

PREC 104. Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem. (1)

Greek, Roman and biblical texts continue to be read because they stand at the beginning of a long tradition, but also because they are voices in a sustained dialogue over time about important human questions. The texts we will read in this course represent cultures that, for all they have in common, are radically different. There are some cultural constants - love, war, politics, poetry - but those constants are understood in different ways over time and across cultures. Through close reading and discussion, this course will engage us in conversations that began in Athens and continue to the present. Staff;

PREC 105. The Challenge of Sustainability. (1)

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? Staff;

PREC 106. Cinematic Visions. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 107. Creating Monsters. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 108. Creativity input -- innovation output. (1)

"Creativity input - innovation output." This course will explore the phenomenon of creativity as an aspect of human behavior and culture across a wide range of professional and academic fields, including the arts, social sciences, sciences, and the humanities, as well as an occurrence within nature. It will study creative thinking in relationship to critical thinking, both in theoretical and practical terms, and will investigate contemporary neuroscience findings that illuminate how the brain functions in relationship to the creative process. It will engage questions about imagination, intuition, insight, inspiration, improvisation, empathy, creative problem solving, innovation, invention, and entrepreneurship. Staff;

PREC 109. Dying and Death. (1)

"Men fear death," says Sir Francis Bacon, "as children fear to go in the dark; and as that natural fear in children is increased with tales, so is the other." People have always tried to cast a little light into this darkness, but death has remained mysterious and impenetrable. The course offers an opportunity to take death "out of the closet" and examine it from many perspectives. Does death deprive life of all meaning, or is it a necessary condition of meaning? To what extent is our culture based on a denial of death, and to what extent are our conceptions of death shaped by our culture? What happens to us physically when we die, and what happens to us psychologically when others die? This course will raise questions about the path ahead and help inform us about how to think about and begin a search for answers to those questions. Staff;

PREC 110. Happiness. (1)

While it is likely that most people would agree that happiness is a central goal in life, we vary on what we believe happiness is and how to achieve it. This course will consider how happiness has been defined though time and different cultural and academic traditions. We will consider both empirical and normative questions of what leads to happiness. In our readings we will consider both Eastern and Western philosophical conceptions of happiness as well as contemporary scientific explorations of happiness and wellbeing. Staff;

PREC 111. How Water Shapes Humanity. (1)

Water is an essential resource that has always connected humans with the environment. From the development of irrigation to the privatization of water rights, our efforts to control water have served as a defining feature throughout our history. In this course we will examine our relationship with water, beginning with early mythology and examples of cultural connections. Historical studies will illustrate water's importance in building cities and societies, and an examination of modern water issues will reveal our likely future as a species dependent upon freshwater availability. Staff;

PREC 112. Learning to See Water. (1)

This course will ask students to critically examine aspects of the social world that are often invisible (the way that water is invisible to fish). There are moments in our lives when we might feel invisible, for instance, and other moments when we do not recognize our own power or privilege. We will use the published work of essayists, researchers, novelists, and historians to improve our ability see what might otherwise be invisible or taken for granted. This course will challenge us to see, to recognize, and to empathize; we will learn to think analytically about difference, power, and choice. Staff;

PREC 113. Love. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 114. Rapa Nui (Easter Island). (1)

Exploration, colonization, and cultural domination are common themes in human history. This course uses the setting of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to investigate the enterprising tendency of human nature. Initially removed from the influence of neighboring societies and cloaked with mystery, especially with the creation of the large "Moai" statues, its isolated history will be examined. Rapa Nui also provides a remarkably contained setting in which to observe and question human exploration, as well as to understand the development of societies -- and their collapse. Staff;

PREC 115. Science Fiction and Human Identity. (1)

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. DV; Staff;

PREC 116. The Social Life of Food. (1)

Eating is an ordinary activity with profound social implications. Our modern food system has utterly transformed what and how we eat. This course examines food in a broad social context, exploring the modern revolution in eating but also the impact of this revolution on our attitudes and assumptions about what food is and how we consume it. In addition to analyzing food science and food fads over time, we will consider the politics, ethics, and ecological impact of our contemporary food culture. Staff;

PREC 117. Putting Down Roots. (1)

Place can be defined at various scales, but almost all humans live and work at a local scale. In the 21st century it is obvious that we must live more sustainably than we did in the 20th century. How do place and sustainability relate? Place is far more than just physical location - the meaning of place comes from social-cultural interactions coupled to the ecology and history of place. Can we live sustainably without a connection to place? How do we put down roots in today's world? And why are roots important in a technological, fast-paced global culture? Staff;

PREC 118. War. (1)

War has been part of human experience since the dawn of history. It is an instrument wielded by states and revolutionaries, combining brutal violence and high strategy, condemned and justified by theologians and philosophers. Today, as populations grow, resources diminish and its destructive power expands, war seems more omnipresent and threatening than ever. We will draw on insights from the natural sciences, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, political theory and the fine arts to explore this central human phenomenon. Staff;

PREC 119. Listening to Reason. (1)

Someone who "listens to reason" has sound judgment and knows what is sensible. But to what extent do we really use our ears in order to reason -- to understand the world around us, to pursue an interest, or to decide a course of action? Are we aware of our sound environment? What might be gained through a heightened sense of hearing? How has the act of listening varied across times and cultures? To whom or what should we listen? We will explore these questions from a variety of perspectives, especially ethics, music, anthropology, and personal essays, but also including neuroscience, ornithology, the "self help" market, and fiction. Staff;

PREC 120. Monuments: Memory and Aspiration. (1)

The course begins with a detailed examination of a number of monuments, including the St Louis Arch, the Vietnam Memorial, the Martin Luther King Memorial and the Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Each example will be contextualized through readings, visual analysis, historical and cultural frames of reference, and in one case, a site visit. The course culminates with students, researching, conceiving, and finally designing memorials to a contemporary person or event. Our goal is to achieve a complex appreciation of memorials as they shape new meanings that link past to future, the civic to the personal, the sacred to the secular, and document to poetry. Staff;

PREC 121. Diversity and the Millennial Generation. (1)

What does it mean to live in a diverse and inclusive society? What conditions allow for an informed analysis of power and privilege in America? Our course analyzes a multiplicity of concepts: the uses of "colorism" in various communities, genderqueer citizenship, feminism, masculinities, marriage equality, new biracial identities, and the need for multicultural literacy in the new century. The goals are to develop the conceptual tools that help us see the cultural limitations of our own perspectives: to explore the power relations inside and outside our own groups, and to develop skills to interact effectively with people different than ourselves. DV; Staff;

PREC 122. Gender on Film: Reality and Representation. (1)

How do we act out our gender roles in the real world? In what ways are they reproduced or exploited in art? This class looks at the presentation of gender in film and investigates what it can tell us about the way we act out our own gender roles. The overarching discussion analyzes aspects of gender that are accepted as natural, as well as those that seem to be constructed by society. The class will use the ideas found in our films and discussions to study the trajectory of changing notions of gender in society from the past into today. Staff;

PREC 123. Mischief and Mayhem in the Academy. (1)

This course explores representations of crime portrayed in an academic context through a range of American and British texts and films. In particular, the course examines how academic institutions have been depicted, and how these portrayals have evolved, especially in light of changing perceptions of race, class, gender, and sexuality. We clarify crime fictions basic formulas, examine the evolution of contrasting narrative structures, and consider the historical significance of different forms, such as the classic "whodunit" and the hard-boiled thriller. Through the choice of texts, topics such as academic freedom, diversity, tenure, town/gown relations, academic integrity, and research are also examined. Staff;

PREC 124. Human Rights. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 125. Epidemics and Societies. (1)

Outbreaks of infectious diseases can have tremendous impact on human societies and the lives of individuals. This course explores the political, social, and scientific responses to various epidemics, and the substantial ethical questions that can arise. Topics include efforts to eradicate diseases, the emergence of HIV, and perceptions of epidemics and disease in the media. DV; Staff;

PREC 126. Ancestral Journeys. (1)

More than sixty thousand years ago, bands of our African ancestors embarked on journeys of discovery to the farthest corners of the world, bringing with them the foundations of modern language, symbolic thought, innovative technology, aesthetic expression, mythology and spirituality. This course explores their world and its legacy from various perspectives including archeology, genetics, cultural anthropology, psychology, musicology, art history and neuroscience. In addition to films, slides and scholarly readings, the course includes demonstrations and hands-on exercises in art, music and technology. Students learn details of their personal and family genetic history through participation in the National Genographic DNA project. Staff;

PREC 127. Human-Animal Relationships. (1)

Animals have played important roles in the lives of humans from prehistoric times to the present day. They are our friends, our foes, and our food. This course will examine human-animal relationships from a variety of perspectives, including historical, biological, psychological, and cultural. We will study opposing views of how domestication evolved and will learn how domesticated animals influenced the histories of different human societies, providing food and transport on the one hand, but causing diseases on the other. We will consider how animals are portrayed in literature and film, asking: What is the purpose of anthropomorphism? We will also think about animals in the context of religion and slaughter, where one culture may revere a particular species, but another might eat it on a daily basis. An examination of such speciesism will lead to the ethical question: Is animal welfare sufficient, or should we have animal rights? Staff;

PREC 128. Athens, Rome, and America. (1)

John Adams famously asserted that, "democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide." Is this an accurate forecast of America's future? If so, what may accelerate, hinder, or even prevent this outcome? When the founders set down to "ensure the blessings of liberty" for America, as they put it, they looked back to the great experiments in self-government conducted at Athens and Rome. This course explores these foundational governments in an attempt to understand better the nature of freedom and representative government. Staff;

PREC 129. The American Dream. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 130. (In)sanity: Power, Reality, and the Problem of the Other. (1)

What does it mean to be insane, or, conversely, sane? From the earliest documented cases of madness to the millions of people worldwide now taking antidepressants, how are we to understand the concept, experience, and industry of abnormal mental and emotional states? In this course, we investigate sanity and insanity from multiple vantage points: from personal narratives of mental illness to artistic, literary, and theatrical representations of madness; from historical cases of melancholy to the booming pharmacological business of today. How have the distinctions between sanity and insanity developed over the course of time? How have divisions of gender, race, class, and sexuality intersected with distinctions between the sane and the insane? How do the changes in what counts as insanity, madness, and irrationality help us to understand differently what currently counts as rationality? Staff;

PREC 131. Heroism. (1)

What does it mean to be a hero? Is the concept of heroism determined by the dominant surrounding culture, or does it have universal aspects? What causes people to be heroes? Is there anyone today who can withstand the level of public scrutiny that now exists so as to be considered an enduring hero? Does it take more than heroic acts to be a hero? Why do we continue to be drawn to portrayals of heroes in film and literature? These and other questions are studied in this course using a variety of scholarly articles, literature, and films. With The Lord of the Rings as an anchoring text in which the stark portrayal of good and evil permits clear discernment of heroism (or does it?), we study changing perspectives on heroism with time and situation, the portrayal of heroes in literature, the psychological traits of heroes, the classic heroic journey, and the notions of heroic flaws and anti-heroes. Staff;

PREC 132. Leadership and Social Change. (1)

Social change movements can be large and organized (civil rights movement) or subtle and unorganized (the notorious online hacking group, Anonymous), but most are born from issues around privilege and require some kind of leadership. This course will explore the social change model of leadership and the privilege (or lack of privilege) inherent in social change movements. Several case studies of leaders will be read and discussed. Students will not only compare and contrast those studies but will be asked to examine their own identities and engage in critical discourse around leadership styles and ethical dilemmas. The goals include gaining a richer understanding of leadership, power and privilege; to develop a deeper knowledge of leadership skills that lead to social change; and to engage in constructive discussion and debate on these issues. DV; Staff;

PREC 134. Why Do We Laugh?. (1)

This course asks a question that no two people will answer the same. In pursuit of variable answers, we'll explore perspectives, cultural influences, and frames of reference that inform what we laugh at, who laughs and why. We will track the evolution (or devolution) of literary humor through the ages with readings that range in era from ancient (Aristophanes) to classic (Shakespeare, Wilde) to more modern and uniquely American (Twain, Rogers), even venturing into pop culture (Sedaris, Allen). Readings and discussions will investigate why humans possess the unique ability to process humor while working toward a broader understanding of the symbiotic relationship between humorist and audience. We will also endeavor to create humor by exploring its use in particular contexts such as political (satire/parody), within certain socio-economic strata (high brow, low humor, "red neck") or within a particular cultural setting (Woody Allen, Chris Rock). Course work will include two major analysis papers and one final project incorporating the analytic and the creative. Staff;

PREC 135. Time. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 136. Travel. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 137. Language and the World Around Us. (1)

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? Staff;

PREC 138. Sexualities in Contemporary Media. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 139. Walking as a Way of Knowing. (1)

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 which explore the literature of wlking, class discussions, and their own walks. Remember, "Not all who wander are lost." S. Allison;

PREC 140. Great Oratory. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 141. Archaeology's Dirty Secrets. (1)

From King Tut to Indiana Jones, from Pompeii to Machu Picchu, images of archaeology and archaeologists abound in popular culture. What these popular representations leave out are the many approaches employed by archaeologist to understand the human condition. In this course, we explore the myths and realities behind archaeological research and the big questions about the human condition. Where do we come from? What makes us human? How is human nature constructed in different times and in different cultures? How can the experience of past people help us make life better in the present? This class offers answers to these questions by exploring how archaeologists have approached them since the 18th century, and in the process, will expose Archaeology's Dirty Secrets. DV; Staff;

PREC 142. Atlantic Encounters. (1)

This course explores Atlantic World Encounters between European, Native American, and African peoples during the period from 1500 to 2015. All three parties struggle with the legacy of these encounters in seeking to define themselves and their relationships with each other in the twenty-first century. To unpack the complexity of modern social interactions across the Atlantic World, this course also explores how, why, and for whom history is written to provide a lens for examining issues of race and class. Examining popular culture and its representations of different social groups, both in the past and present, provides a foundation for the course. Staff;

PREC 143. Cities of the World. (1)

Throughout modern history, cities have been the heart of human interaction, and the nexus of commerce, recreation, and culture. They have spawned intellectual movements and their leaders, and they have been centers of revolutionary uprisings and nationalist consciousness. This course is an introduction to the historical origins and anthropological dynamics of cities throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In addition to directed readings on the city’s function as the center of industrial capitalism and class conflicts in the modern era, we will also explore areas such as culture, gender, and sexuality. Staff;

PREC 144. 'Primitive' and 'Civilized'. (1)

Words have power. 'Primitive' and 'civilized' are terms that have been used for several centuries to describe various societies, groups, and types of behavior. This class explores how these terms have been used over time, how their meanings have changed, and how they are used today to distinguish peoples and groups from each other. Readings in history, anthropology, linguistics, literature, and political science help us explore how Euro-Americans have deployed these terms as part of a justification for their relationships to non-Western peoples, how non-Western peoples have viewed Euro-Americans using the same terms, and ways in which our own personal thinking continues to be shaped by unquestioned assumptions about the two terms. Staff;

PREC 145. This American Life. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 146. The Masculinity of Malcolm X. (1)

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. Staff;

PREC 147. . (1)

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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Printed on Sunday, October 22, 2017

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