Making Powerful Arguments
GENS 176: Making Powerful Arguments teaches students to write and speak persuasively, with the support of rigorous, research-based evidence. You get to choose a course that interests you, and participate in thought-provoking debates guided by our expert faculty.
About registration: Students will register for their spring seminar after registering for the rest of their spring courses. On Nov. 9th, students will be emailed a survey asking for their top 5 ranked choices. The survey will remain open for one week before the registrar starts placing students in sections on Monday, Nov. 16 .
Available sections for Spring 2021 are listed below. Scroll to the end of the list for GENS 176 Sections in Living/Learning Pods.
Other Places, Other Gazes
Section A: MW 7:30-8:50 p.m.
This course will study how different people experience places differently. The main question it will ask is the following: What dynamics shape divergent registrations of the same place? Foregrounding this question, we will examine various depictions of places, including intimate spaces such as the home in Alfonso Cuarón’s film Roma, nationally and culturally defined spaces in Anita Desai’s novel Baumgartner’s Bombay, and an “alien” planet in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. We will supplement our discussions with readings from theoretical, historical, and philosophical texts, such as Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. Primarily exploring the role of race in these works, the class will also address linked issues of class and gender as it examines the disparities among such experience. The course will focus on texts from a wide geographical and cultural range, as well as various media, including theoretical and philosophical texts, movies, and literature.
Radical Reactions: Chemistry that Changed the World
Section B: TTh 7:30-8:50 p.m.
This course will explore major breakthroughs in chemistry that have shaped the 19 th and 20 th centuries. Students will study, discuss, and write about the often radial social, economic, and political changes that are brought about by scientific advancements. The complicated sets of factors motivating these breakthroughs will also be interrogated. A special emphasis will be placed on understanding the intersections between chemistry, medicine, industry, and power. Whenever possible, the myth of scientific creation will be measured against the historical record in the hopes of elucidating the legacy of these discoveries. For example, how can a chemical reaction that has saved untold millions from starvation also be used to make bombs? These topics will be addressed through the examination of argumentative writing from the natural science, humanities, and social sciences. Students will experience how evidence is used to support thesis-driven arguments across different disciplines and will develop their ability to do the same.
Travel and Self-Discovery in the Premodern World
Section C: MWF 9-9:50 a.m.
This section will explore both fictional and non-fictional accounts of travel from various times and regions of the premodern world. We will consider travel primarily as a series of encounters that result in self-transformation. In addition, we will reflect on the ways in which engaging with texts from radically different contexts is itself a kind of journey of self-discovery. The reading list will include at least one epic from the Ancient Mediterranean world, as well as medieval European pilgrimage (including Dante’s Inferno) and other travel narratives, accounts of encounters between Islam and Christianity, and texts from medieval and early modern Asia (including Matsuo Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North). We will conclude by considering travel, including the forced travel of enslaved people, at the beginning of the “modern” period. While the syllabus will emphasize the original sources, we will also introduce ourselves to some of the scholarly traditions that have grown up around them.
Confronting the Classical
Section D: MW 1-2:20 p.m.
This course unravels the many lineages and ongoing entanglements associated with the construct of “Classical Tradition.” What exactly does this “tradition” entail – how did “it” become understood as a singular, somehow organic whole, and what processes of exclusion, both implicit and explicit, were involved along the way? How do these ideas still impact our world, and what avenues for change do they demand?
To begin answering these questions, we will investigate the interconnected histories of a discipline known today as Classics: namely, the study of ancient Latin and Greek, the translation and analysis of surviving literary works in those languages, and the interpretation of material evidence, both archaeological and art-historical. We will do so while following the story of “the classical” from its purported origins in fifth-century BCE Athens. We will unpack the ways in which a politics of collective nostalgia and claims to innate supremacy underpinned imperial self-justification and racializing and orientalizing frameworks of “us-and-them.” The course will then trace how those seeds took root and were intentionally replanted and redeployed, even weaponized, over time, from the Hellenistic to Roman periods and beyond. In our journey, we will read and hear the voices of authors considered both “canonical” and “non-canonical” (and question those very labels), see painful reminders of the ills of the twenty-first century, and consider the past as a powerful mirror, a disturbing place where the potential might likewise reside for healing, inspiration, and modes of resistance.
Imagining Plato’s Cities
Section E: MWF 11-11:50 a.m.
As he sketches his philosophical ideas, Plato also paints a portrait of his city, its people, and of Socrates, and asks readers to think with him about a succession of mythical and imagined cities. In this course we will read selections from Plato’s dialogues and other contemporary accounts of Athens and its people, and interpret these ancient accounts along side more modern attempts to reimagine Plato’s cities in art and literature. This course is grounded in philosophical and literary examination of platonic dialogues, but also ventures into history, literature, art, and social theory. We’ll cover a wide range of themes, all the way from Plato’s use of mathematical examples to discussions of gender and sexuality, humor and satire, and…, well…, spaceships. Examples of works we’ll examine include Plato’s Republic and Symposium, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes’ Clouds, Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Raphael’s The School of Athens, and David Halperin’s One Hundred Years of Homosexuality. This seminar will be of particular interest to students curious about philosophy, history, classics, drama, science fiction, education, and gender and sexuality.
Sharing Stories: Narratives as ‘Data’ in Social Science
Section F: TTh 1-2:20 p.m.
What are narratives? How do we learn to tell them? How do they vary across times and places, and what can we learn by looking carefully at their form and function? This course explores how scholars across multiple disciplines (e.g., anthropology, history, and psychology) gather, analyze, and make arguments about narratives. In addition to reading about narratives and their use as evidence and data, students will learn and practice an in-depth interview method, learn to analyze their interviews as a form of evidence to support a larger argument, and conduct library research to set some of the larger themes in the interview in larger political/social/historical context.
Miniature Worlds: Or Why We Are Drawn to Small Things
Section G: MW 1-2:20 p.m.
This First Year Seminar will explore our desire to represent and envision the world in miniature as well as our ability to comprehend that which is, by nature, small in scale. “Miniature Worlds” will ask how and why miniature objects, images, and representations draw us in, inspire a sense of wonder, or ask us to look more closely. The course will interrogate the ways that miniatures embody and constitute cultural, artistic, and scientific forms of knowledge. What information is lost, gained, or distorted when something is made miniature? What do miniature objects reveal about the historical context in which they were created and how has their meaning changed over time? How has the miniature been conceptualized in different places and times? “Miniature Worlds” will examine a range of topics such as the miniature as metaphor, the aesthetics of cuteness, control and ownership, embodiment and object agency, nostalgia, and modes of conceptualizing and picturing the infinitely small. Case studies will include doll houses and architectural models, miniature theme parks, souvenirs, maps, miniature paintings and books, literary fantasies of miniature worlds, images of microscopic organisms, and nanotechnology.
National Landscape in World Literature and Art
Section H: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
In this class, we will study representations of national spaces as they are depicted by modern and contemporary writers and visual artists from Asia, Europe, South and North America. We will study natural landscapes, rural landscapes and cityscapes that are considered emblematic of their country. We will also examine the artistic and cultural traditions that shape the imagery in each scene and how artists use this imagery to convey cultural, social, and political ideas. Our studies will conclude by investigating how individual artists use landscapes both to express their own imagination and to reflect upon their cultures.
The Role of Migration in the Economic Development of Regions
Section I: TTh 1-2:20 p.m.
The migration of people (either within a country or internationally) has shaped modern nations and has influenced the evolution of cultures, languages, politics, geopolitics, social norms, and scientific progress. In economics, migration represents a core factor that influences how regions (the world, continents, specific countries, locations within countries, and even small neighborhoods) grow and develop over time. As a result, in this course we will focus on various aspects of economic development related to migration, specifically: the dichotomy between North and South (broadly construed), regional brain drain or gain, the differences between low-skilled and high-skilled migrants, scientific progress and innovation, urbanization and gentrification, behavioral drivers of migration, natural resources and climate change, regional conflicts and violence, as well as race and cultural diversity. Students will explore these important economic issues by reading and critiquing a series of economic articles and reports.
Living with the Dead
Section J: TTh 11:30-12:50 p.m.
From the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Egyptian Book of the Dead to zombies, vampires, and mummies, from Medieval reliquaries and human remains in modern museum collections to hauntings in contemporary Black and Indigenous literature, this class will explore how scholars, writers, museum professionals, and artists have grappled with human mortality and its anxieties. Explorations of death often blur the lines between the living and dead, creating fluidity between the two states. Our stories are replete with these liminal states: hauntings, curses, resurrections, and the presence of the un-dead. In this course, students will explore topics including the search for immortality, the after-life, memorials and monuments, the un-dead as figures of racialized anxiety, and how we interact with human remains. Texts will be drawn from multiple traditions and genres, including literature, history, film, tv, and art. In this seminar-style class, students will participate in discussion, write frequent short reading responses, and work towards a final research project.
Climate Change: Earth Time, Human Experience
Section K: TTh 2:30-3:50 p.m.
During the last four decades, numerous scientists and repeated studies have accumulated evidence pointing out the potentially devastating aftereffects of creating energy from underground hydrocarbon resources. Weather instabilities, flooding, and wildfires of the last decade suggest these consequences are now apparent, palpable, and arriving with greater frequency and growing power. Concurrently, art and writing in genres accessible to the majority of the public illuminates messages about human-caused climate change and its damage to ecosystems and their dependent human communities. After a brief exploration of how Earth history contextualizes the evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we examine the styles and efficacy of science-focused writing asking, what makes writing about the science of climate change and its consequences effective? How can art and writing about carbon capture affect public consciousness and societal decision-making? What roles do beauty, anger, nostalgia and suffering have in effective writing? This course explores non-fiction, visual art, poetry, and novels, from indigenous, marginalized, scientific, and global perspectives as a method for developing student writing.
Medieval Tales and Their Modern Echoes
Section L: MWF 11-11:50
Errant knights, star-crossed lovers, magical djinn, dragon-slayers—some of the greatest stories ever told date from the medieval period, the supposed “Middle Ages,” but many of the legends, characters, images and tropes of these tales do not remain in the past. They endure, and are with us today. Many “live in variants” (viven en variantes), having been retold and recited in varying forms and in various spaces across time, between then and now. With our central focus on critical thinking and academic writing, in this course, we will engage texts: from the Middle Ages to the present; from Latin Western Europe to the Arab world, Persia, India, China and beyond; and across literary genre—prose, lyric, visual; fiction, nonfiction (adult and children’s). We will discuss what these narratives meant to the societies that produced them, and in what ways they have been understood and interpreted in modern cultures. How have medieval stories and legends been told and retold? What elements endure, what has been left behind in their retellings, and to what effect? Medieval stories form the basis of national myths, provide rhetorical frameworks of othering and oppression, equity and justice, fortify religious beliefs, imagine idealized love, and provide fantastic entertainment. I invite you to join us as we read, investigate and delight in medieval stories and their modern echoes.
Imagining the Future
Section M: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
This class explores how writers, artists, activists, academics, filmmakers (and other media-makers), poets, and other dreamers have imagined a different world through genres such as Utopias and Dystopias, Science Fiction, and Speculative Fiction, as well as more broadly through public essays and storytelling. In the course, students will explore these different ways of imagining different worlds by engaging with short stories, essays, films, art, music, video games and role-playing games, and other media, alongside scholarship on these topics from several academic fields. Readings and course discussions will focus in particular on how individuals have engaged complex problems and structures of power related to constructions of race, gender, and sexuality in the present in order to imagine a world where things are different, for better or for worse. Additionally, we will reflect on how frequently as we tell stories about a different world or the future, we are also telling stories of our collective past and present.
Between Languages: Perspectives on Multilingualism and Language Diversity
Section N: TTh 1-2:20 p.m.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” One could argue, therefore, that knowing a second language expands the limits of your world. This seminar will teach you to make strong analytic arguments both orally and in writing as you explore broad questions about language and multilingualism. What do we mean when we talk about a “native language” or a “mother tongue”? What is the purpose of national or official languages? Why do certain global languages become dominant, and how do minority languages express unique positions on the world? What does being between languages tell us about migration, border crossing, and the complexities of identity? Why do some writers choose to employ two or more languages in their poetry or prose? Do technologies like Google Translate hinder language study, or enhance it? To inform your arguments on these issues, this course will incorporate film and television series in French, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew; indigenous and bilingual poetry from Canada and Central America; and academic research on multilingualism from linguistics, cognitive science, and education. A community-based project will allow you to interview language teachers and learners in local schools. No language other than English is required!
Section O: TTh 11:30-12:50 p.m.
Some scholars suggest that because Homer had few literary precursors he looked to the stars for inspiration and influence. More recently, poet Fred Moten cites the composer Cole Porter as a source for his poetry collection The Feel Trio. According to Greil Marcus, even the Sex Pistols did not escape the grasp of influence, as he traces the British punk band's influences back to the Knights of the Round Table. Does this suggest there are no authentically original works of art? What does "original" even mean? How do these concerns shape our ideas about creative influence, identity and inheritance? We will use the study of influence as a lens through which to read and discuss poems, music, paintings and film. In the first part of this seminar we will identify themes and stylistic patterns between works by a variety of writers, musicians and artists. In the second half students will be invited to create their own self-directed reading list in order to trace thematic, stylistic, and formal influences of one of their favorite texts from outside of class.
Section P: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
The epic is one of the most ancient forms of storytelling in the world. What are the characteristics of an epic tale? Who is a hero? How are these tales of adventure, travel, and intrigue connected globally to ancient oral storytelling traditions? What, if anything, can these traditions of storytelling tell us about the historical contexts within which the texts were created? In “Epic History,” students will embark on a virtual adventure through several traditions of epic storytelling from Ancient Greece, the Arab World, and Central Asia, and fictional dystopias. The storytelling will continue with the modern examination of real-life epic historical narratives of survival through the trials of slavery and the Holocaust. Students will critically interrogate the category of hero—in all its vast definitions—as they encounter both fictional and real-life monsters in epic storytelling narratives.
Microphone Check, 1, 2: At the Intersection of Music, Technology, and Narrative
Section Q: MWF 10-10:50 a.m.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, a new phenomenon captured the public imagination, something experienced by no peoples in previous history: recorded music. As new technological developments allowed for the reproduction and distribution of audio recordings, the nature of music itself changed. No longer would those fortunate enough to attend a concert claim sole ownership of the experience, but now anyone with access to a phonograph could also experience this singular moment in time.
This course will explore the impact of technology on music and its narratives, from the development of the phonograph and wireless radios to the reappropriation of the phonograph through turntablism as a new tool for discourse. In using these technological tools in new ways, musicians, engineers and producers created new worlds through which to communicate their ideas and narratives. Through study of recorded works, writings, and films, we will critically examine the intersection of music, technology, and narrative, including issues surrounding appropriation. Works may include those by A Tribe Called Quest, David Byrne, Run D.M.C., Jimmy Hendrix, Igor Stravinsky, John Cage, Lauryn Hill, Miles Davis, Spike Lee, Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé, Hanif Abdurraqib, Amanda Petrusich, and more.
The Fairy Tale: Enchantment and Change
Section R: MWF 10-10:50 a.m.
This seminar will focus on the French and German fairytale to consider how the fantastical has been put to work both to enforce and disrupt cultural norms. We will start by reading tales collected by Charles Perrault, Henri Pourrat and the Brothers Grimm, considering the narrative tropes they establish. We will then look at contemporary and near contemporary rewritings of those tales, thinking about how their adjustments insist that readers engage with questions about feminism, race, and queerness. Contemporary writers will include Angela Carter, Helen Oyeyemi, Lily Hoang, Kate Bernheimer, and others. Assignments will include essays, a class presentation, and a final writing portfolio.
Desire and Duty
Section S: MW 1-2:20 p.m.
This course looks at development, representations, problematizing, and expectations of female desire. Although centering female-authored representations of awakening female desire such as those by Kate Chopin, Sarah Orne Jewett, Nella Larsen, Shirley Jackson, Audre Lorde, and others, the course will look historically from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla to recent film and image-based texts to examine how these works are rooted in, responding and contributing to, and complicated by social and political trends. How has framing of female desire shaped construction of female identities, especially as intersecting with race, ethnicity, and class? How does adolescent development influence understandings of female desire? What assumptions and understandings of female desire are hidden in plain sight? In addition to close reading representational texts, students will draw upon rhetorical, historiographical, psychological, and critical approaches to trace a course theme into quasi-current texts and events, using cross-disciplinary sources including popular women’s magazines, critical frameworks (such as Freud, Beauvoir, and Friedan), and studies of adolescent development.
The Philosophies We Live By
Section T: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
How should we live our lives? What is the most rational attitude towards death and other human conditions? How can we debate about the essence and silhouette of a good life meaningfully when these things seem to be so subjective and relative? Ancient philosophers from all around the world have been developing systematic understandings of the good life. The primary goal of this class is therefore to engage with classic philosophical texts from a variety of cultural traditions. Moreover, in the contemporary world, the question bears on a new set of social conditions, such as the rise of virtual relationships, communities, and realities. Can ancient philosophies be extended to encompass these uncharted territories of human living? At the end of this class, students will learn to develop their own philosophies of life in response to contemporary situations and in dialogue with the world’s greatest ancient philosophers.
GENS 176 Sections in Living/Learning Pods
Data and Decisions: Arguments, Intuition, and Equity
Section U: TTh 10-11:20 a.m.
With increased access to increasing amounts of data, we ask more of ourselves in letting that data drive our decisions. But how do our preconceptions about that data shape our justifications for our actions? This class will explore the use (and misuse!) of mathematics and data across multiple disciplines. Examples will be studied from theories of randomness, statistical inference, medical decision making, and voting theory and equitable political districting. Students will study how their own experience and preconceptions shape their arguments, and how best to address issues of difference and equity in data-driven outcomes.
Performing Gender in Chinese History
Section V: MWF 1-1:50 p.m.
In “Performing Gender in Chinese History,” we explore gender roles and expectations in China, in theory and practice, including changes over the past few hundred years. Understanding gender as socially and culturally constructed and gender roles as coming out of performance is key. We will examine traditional expectations for men and women in China, the gender ambiguity of eunuchs, as well as trans and queer practices. Readings range widely, including memoirs, biographies, a comic, poetry, essays, and fiction, as well works by modern scholars. Paintings and films, both documentary and feature, also provide important visual images of gendered roles. Analyzing history through the lens of gender reveals social, cultural and political change. Seminar projects include a variety of writing assignments and presentations designed to develop critical reading, writing & oral skills, and a longer paper to introduce basic research strategies. Furthermore, you will explore what studying gender in Chinese culture has revealed to you about gender in your own culture in a short reflective essay. This course is run as a reading and discussion seminar, with occasional short lectures for background information.
The "buddha" in "japan"
Section W: MW 2:30-3:50 p.m.
This seminar will explore how the "buddha" reached a country that people commonly refer to as "japan" in the 6th century and how the people on this archipelago off the coast of China translated this word into Nihongo—the language of Japan ("Nihon/Nippon"). We will trace how Nihon launched an extraordinary "study abroad program" and adopted a writing system from China to translate a "buddhist" way of "seeing the world" that would accord with the land and climate of Nihon. We will examine how continental thought challenged and blended with native ideas from the Jōmon era (11,000 BCE to 250 CE) and explore how they influenced a way of thinking and feeling that people in the United States and Europe began in the 1950s to call the "Way of Zen.”
In the first century after its introduction, the ideas connected with the historical buddha appealed only to a small group of leaders who wanted to use the “written teachings of the Buddha” to separate themselves from ordinary people and build temples and palaces. So, what happened to the word "buddha?" Was it ever translated into "Japanese?" How did American and European visitors in the 18th century learn, accept, and translate words like zen, karma, buddha, nirvana, dharma, satori? In addition to extensive class notes, students will read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, two chapters from the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, the Tannishō by Shinran , selected poems by eccentric monks, and Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji. Students will also become familiar with ideas connected with the art of serving tea as articulated by the tea masters Rikyū and Oribe.
Creativity and Resistance
Section X: MWF 9-9:50 a.m.
Creativity is often cited as a way to resist, critique, or subvert the discourses of power that define our lives. How do individuals take the concepts, images, and words of a fundamentally unjust society and create something new? Is resistance even an option? Is creative freedom possible within a society that shapes and disciplines us? How do writers, filmmakers, and poets carve out a space of personal creative agency in the face of institutional power? At stake in this class is the possibility of creative agency within a society that would mold us into compliant subjects. Students will begin by reading some critiques of the moral, economic, and psychological scripts that have defined the Western subject (e.g., Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud). We will then look at some films, poems, and stories that engage with these critiques and open up the possibility of resistance (e.g., Audre Lorde, Bon Joon-ho, and Seirai Yuichi). Students will write and revise short papers, create their own poems, stories, and/or short films, and work toward a final independent research project.