Courses

  • Ancient Rome and Its Legacies

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    Session 1

    The rise and fall of ancient Rome is one of the great stories in the history of the world. From settlements on the seven hills near the Tiber River, Rome rose to conquer and rule much of the Mediterranean world and Europe. For Americans since 1776, Rome’s unlikely ascent, spectacular ambitions, and ultimate fall have provided endless fuel for national self-examination. Is the United States an empire? Will the United States also fall (or has it fallen already)? Co-taught by two faculty members—a classical scholar and an American historian–this course uses original documents and art from both eras to explore the influence that Rome has had on American history and, more importantly, the American imagination. We will examine government, rhetoric, propaganda, art, iconography, revolution, and ethnography. This is an ideal course for students with interests in history, classics, political science, and art.

  • Evil

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    Session 2

    There are many books and courses that focus on the good life or the virtues. Yet despite their obvious apparent presence in our life and world, evil and the vices are rarely taken as explicit topics. Here we shall focus on the following three main questions: (I) What is the nature of evil?, (II) Are humans by nature good or evil?, and (III) How should we, as a society, deal with evil? We shall read philosophical and literary texts that deal with the question of evil at an abstract level and then use other readings that help us consider the more practical implications of the meaning and consequences of evil.

  • Poetic Justice: Exploring Dostoevsky's Russia

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    Session 2

    Russia is where the most beautiful dreams – and the ugliest nightmares – of other places come true. There the doctrines of Christianity, Marxism, and now free-market capitalism, born elsewhere, have developed in fantastic ways, and artistic forms associated with Europe, from the novel to the ballet, have reached a new level and scale. Writing and reading are bound up in Russia with the urge to transform the self, to gain wings that could carry you into another, better world.  At the same time, text and image work to warn believers about the limitations of their own ambitions for reform of the self and the community.

    This course focuses on Fedor Dostoevsky’s greatest philosophical novel, The Brothers Karamazov. To understand it in its context, we learn as well about the Eastern Orthodox Christian art that inspired it, the writers who were Dostoevsky’s contemporaries, and the turbulent history that he and his readers experienced. We ask questions such as the following:

    • How can secular art, such as the novel, relate to sacred art, such as the icon?
    • Can a novel really represent more than one point of view?
    • Do people need religion in order to be moral?
    • Is murder ever justified?
    • How does the legal story-telling at a trial relate to the story-telling in a novel?
  • Racial Identity in the American Imagination

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    Session 2

    From Sally Hemings to Barack Obama, this course explores the ways that racial identity has been experienced, represented, and contested throughout American history.  Engaging historical, legal, and literary texts and films, we will examine the major historical transformations that have shaped our understandings of racial identity.  We will also explore autobiography, memoir, photography, and music to consider the ways that racial identity has been represented in American society. We will consider the following questions:

    • What is the interplay between racial and American identity?
    • What role do mixed-race identities play in American society?
    • Is race merely a performance?  What does it mean for race to be a “social construct”?
    • What role does class, gender, and sexuality play in the construction of racial identity?
  • Revolutions

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    Session 1

    “Revolutions are the locomotives of history,” wrote Karl Marx.

    As the ongoing turmoil of the Middle East reminds us, revolutions have the power to reshape the political order of the world more than any other social, economic, or cultural forces. Most states today were born out of a revolution. But what exactly is a revolution? Is it, like Marx believed, the inevitable result of a social conflict? Or does it take determined revolutionaries to make a successful revolution? To have a revolution, do you have to call it “a revolution”?

    To answer these and other questions, this course will take students back to the early revolutions of seventeenth-century England, and the revolutions of America and France. We will then make our way up through the revolutions of the nineteenth century, to the great revolutions of the twentieth century in Russia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, and Iran. We will conclude by considering the recent revolutions in the Middle East.

    For their papers, students will have the opportunity to study one revolution in greater detail, or compare a set of revolutions. They can also explore the description of revolutions in literary or artistic works.