Desire and Demand
Does consumption shape culture or does culture shape consumption? As even the most mundane purchase becomes socially symbolic and culturally meaningful, we can persuasively argue that the concept of "need" has been transformed. Analyzing a variety of physical and virtual consumer venues, the goal of this seminar is to understand and to analyze historical and contemporary issues related to a culture of consumption. We investigate social and political-economic factors that impact when and how people purchase goods and argue that behavior attached to consumption includes a nexus of influences that may change periodically in response to external factors. Readings and research assignments are interdisciplinary and require a critical analysis of global/local linkages. The city of Philadelphia becomes the seminar's laboratory as we ask how have issues of culture, consumption, and global capitalism become intertwined around the world?Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Euro Zone Crisis - The EU in a Currency War for Survival?
"Let me put it simply...there may be a contradiction between the interests of the financial world and the interests of the political world... We cannot keep constantly explaining to our voters and our citizens why the taxpayer should bear the cost of certain risks and not those people who have earned a lot of money from taking those risks." Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, at the G20 Summit, November 2010.
In January 1999, a single monetary system united Germany, a core nation, with 10 other European states. Amidst the optimism of the euro's first days, most observers forecast that Europe would progress toward an ever closer union. Indeed, in the ensuing decade, the European Union became the world's largest trading area, the euro area expanded to include 17 member states, and the Lisbon Treaty enhanced the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union.
The so called digital revolution has changed our lives profoundly. It has created new ways of communicating, socializing, archiving and researching as well as new art forms and new metaphors such as digital citizenship and digital footprint. In this seminar, we will engage with these concepts in various ways: We will look at new art forms like video adaptations and art created with blogs and explore how our engagement with literature and the accessibility of literature has changed. We will ask how students' lives and universities as a whole change through the use of digital media and how the buzzword "digital humanities" relates to that. Last but not least, we will also investigate our own traces in the world wide web and our roles as producers in participatory media.
This freshman seminar on medical decision-making will focus on personal and public medical and health decisions - how we make them and how they can be improved. While in theory medical decisions are in large part both informed and constrained by scientific evidence, in reality they are much more complex. Drawing upon a range of information sources including textbooks, original research and popular media, the seminar will introduce students to the challenges of making personal and public (i.e., policy) decisions under conditions of inherent uncertainty and resources constraints and how research and scholarship can inform and improve decision-making processes and decisions. Using a variety of highly engaging approaches (in-class discussions, examination of primary research, popular media, simple experiments, expert panel debates) this highly interactive seminar will provide students a strong introductory foundation to medical decision-making specifically and, by extension, to decision making under conditions of uncertainty more generally. The seminar will take a multi-disciplinary perspective, drawing upon knowledge developed from psychology, sociology, economics, insurance and risk management, statistical inference, neuroscience, operations research, communications, law, ethics and political science.
The CDC estimates that 1 in 150 children have autism. Three decades ago, this number was 1 in 5,000. The communities in which these children are identified in ever increasing numbers are ill prepared to meet their needs. Scientists have struggled to understand the causes of this disorder, its treatment, and why it appears to be rapidly increasing. Families, policy makers, schools and the healthcare system have argued bitterly in the press and in the courts about the best way to care for these children and the best ways to pay for this care. In this class, we will use autism as a case study to understand how psychiatric and developmental disorders of childhood come to be defined over time, their biological and environmental causes identified, and treatments developed. We will also discuss the identification and care of these children in the broader context of the American education and healthcare systems.
Medical Missionaries and Partners
Global health is an increasingly popular goal for many modern leaders. Yet critics see evidence of a new imperialism in various aid programs. We will examine the evolution over time and place of programs designed to improve the health of underserved populations. Traditionally categorized as public health programs or efforts to achieve a just society, these programs often produce results that are inconsistent with these goals. We will examine the benefits and risks of past programs and conceptualize future partnerships on both a local and global stage. Students should expect to question broadly held beliefs about the common good and service. Ultimately we will examine the concept of partnership and the notion of community health, in which ownership, control, and goals are shared between outside expert and inside community member.
Three sorts of questions belong to the philosophical study of ethics:
(a) Practical ethics discusses specific moral problems, often those we find most contested (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, killing noncombatants in war).
(b) Ethical theory tries to develop systematic answers to moral problems, often by looking for general principles that explain moral judgments and rules (e.g., consequentialism, contractarianism).
(c) Meta-ethics investigates questions about the nature of moral theories and their subject matter (e.g., are they subjective or objective, relative or non-relative?).
We will rigorously investigate all three of these types of questions. A large part of the course will be focused on two highly contentious moral problems, abortion and killing noncombatants in war.
The central aim of the required readings and discussion is a) to develop each question deeply and sharply enough for us to understand why it has been contentious; b) to see what new evidence could change the nature of the problem; and c) to suggest how to seek that further evidence. We will focus on how to read complex contemporary philosophical prose in order to outline and evaluate the arguments embedded with it. This will provide the basis for writing papers in which you defend a position with evidence and arguments.
These skills are central to the practice of Philosophy. This course does not presuppose that students already have these skills. It is intended to teach them and presupposes a willingness on the part of students to do what is necessary to learn them. What this involves is detailed in a note on Penn in Touch called "Success in the Course". You should read this note before deciding to enroll in the course so that you understand the commitments this course involves.
Graded work: weekly paragraphs on a topic of your choice; three papers in multiple drafts; take-home final exam; class participation.
Race, Crime & Punishment
Why are African-Americans and members of other historically disadvantaged groups disproportionately incarcerated and subjected to other penal sanctions in the United States? What are the political, social, and economic consequences for individuals, communities, and the wider society of mass incarceration in the United States? What types of reforms of the criminal justice system are desirable and possible?
This freshman seminar analyzes the connection between race, crime, punishment, and politics in the United States. The primary focus is on the role of race in explaining why the country’s prison population has exploded since the early 1970s and why the United States today has the highest incarceration rate in the world.
The class will likely take field trips to a maximum-security jail in Philadelphia and to a state prison in the Philadelphia suburbs.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Planning to Be Offshore?
In this course we will trace the economic development of India from 1947 to the present. Independent India started out as a centrally planned economy in 1949 but in 1991 decided to reduce its public sector and allow, indeed encourage, foreign investors to come in. The Planning Commission of India still exists but has lost much of its power. Many in the U.S. complain of American jobs draining off to India, call centers in India taking care of American customer complaints, American patient histories being documented in India, etc. At the same time, the U.S. government encourages highly trained Indians to be in the U.S.
Diversity, Technology and the Penn Experience
Penn is diverse in many ways. Let us explore this diversity together and understand its subtleties. How has the word “diversity” evolved over the years? Why is it (at times) such a loaded concept? When, where and how does diversity change within various contexts? What does the concept mean in a university context? How might it change in the future? We will explore different constructions of diversity at Penn. Have new technologies changed the ways in which we perceive culture, communicate and share ideas? Increasingly, we construct notions of ourselves and of others using video and social media in addition to personal experiences. How do such technologies define who we are, and the boundaries we draw to define “us” and “them”? Do sub-cultures thrive now in new ways? How does each student’s journey to Penn bring in new perspectives on the university?
Reflections on personal experiences in the context of theories (cultural capital, social capital) will be a core part of this seminar. Readings and research assignments are interdisciplinary and will require critical analysis of both classic and contemporary perspectives. In addition to other assignments, small weekly response papers are due before each class meeting to encourage engaged discussions.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Homelessness & Urban Inequality
This freshman seminar examines the homelessness problem from a variety of scientific and policy perspectives. Contemporary homelessness differs significantly from related conditions of destitute poverty during other eras of our nation's history. Advocates, researchers and policymakers have all played key roles in defining the current problem, measuring its prevalence, and designing interventions to reduce it. The first section of this course examines the definitional and measurement issues, and how they affect our understanding of the scale and composition of the problem. Explanations for homelessness have also been varied, and the second part of the course focuses on examining the merits of some of those explanations, and in particular, the role of the affordable housing crisis. The third section of the course focuses on the dynamics of homelessness, combining evidence from ethnographic studies of how people become homeless and experience homelessness, with quantitative research on the patterns of entry and exit from the condition. The final section of the course turns to the approaches taken by policymakers and advocates to address the problem, and considers the efficacy and quandaries associated with various policy strategies. The course concludes by contemplating the future of homelessness research and public policy.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Food and Fire: Archaeology in the Laboratory
This freshman seminar will let students explore the essential heritage of human technology through archaeology. People have been transforming their environment from the first use of fire for cooking. Since then, humans have adapted to the world they created using the resources around them. We use artifacts to understand how the archaeological record can be used to trace breakthroughs such as breaking stone and bone, baking bread, weaving cloth and firing pottery and metals. The seminar will meet in the Penn Museum’s new Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials. Students will become familiar with the Museum’s collections and the scientific methods used to study different materials. Class sessions will include discussions, guest presentations, museum field trips, and hands-on experience in the laboratory. See video description.
Offered in conjunction with Penn's Art and Culture Initiative.
From Alchemy to Nanoscience
The imperative to transform matter, find its roots in the alchemy and the search for the Philosopher's Stone, which was thought to contain the secret of turning base metals into gold and also the secret of immortality. We will examine the evolution of the way in which people have thought about matter and its transformations; from the manufacturing of explosives, to the dyestuffs, to pharmaceuticals and perfumes. We will do some simple experiments that demonstrate some of these principles. We will follow the development of the chemical sciences from the works of early alchemists to Renaissance (Newtown and Boyle) scientists and modern thinkers (Priestly, Lavoisier, Dalton, Mendeleev and others). This class, which is designed for non-science as well as potential science majors, will involve discussions on readings, as well as field trips to some Philadelphia locations that are notable in the history of chemistry.
Russia in the Age of Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is an epic tale of passion, intrigue, tragedy and redemption. It is also a penetrating portrayal of Russian life and society in the period following the Great Reforms of the 1860s. This period, the third quarter of the nineteenth century, was both the time of the flowering of the Russian novel as well as the age of Russia's imperial glory. In this course we will use Anna Karenina as the starting point for a multifaceted exploration of nineteenth century Russian history and culture. Among the topics we will discuss are family life, social relations, modernization and industrialization, gender and sexuality, revolutionary movements, imperialism, and political power. We will enhance our reading of the novel with a wide range of supplementary materials including memoirs, travel accounts, historical analysis, and art. This course will be organized in a seminar format. No prior knowledge of Russian history or literature is required. All readings are in English.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Africa in World History
This seminar examines Africa's connections--economic, political, intellectual and cultural--with the wider world from ancient times to the 21st century, drawing on a diverse sample of historical sources. It also explores Africa's place in the imaginations of outsiders, from ancient Greeks to modern-day development "experts." Whether you know a lot or almost nothing about the continent, the course will get you to rethink your stereotypes and to question your assumptions about the importance of Africa in world history.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Proto-Indo-European Language and Society
Most of the languages now spoken in Europe, along with some languages of Iran, India and central Asia, are thought to be descended from a single language known as Proto-Indo-European, spoken at least six thousand years ago, probably in a region extending from north of the Black Sea in modern Ukraine east through southern Russia. Speakers of Proto-Indo-European eventually populated Europe in the Bronze Age, and their societies formed the basis of the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, as well as of the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic speaking peoples. What were the Proto-Indo-Europeans like? What did they believe about the world and their gods? How do we know? Reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European language, one of the triumphs of comparative and historical linguistics in the 19th and 20th centuries, allows us a glimpse into the society of this prehistoric people.
In this seminar students will, through comparison of modern and ancient languages, learn the basis of this reconstruction -- the comparative method of historical linguistics -- as well as explore the culture and society of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and their immediate descendants. In addition, we will examine the pseudo-scientific basis of the myth of Aryan supremacy, and study the contributions of archaeological findings in determining the "homeland" of the Indo-Europeans. No prior knowledge of any particular language is necessary. This seminar should be of interest to students considering a major in linguistics, anthropology and archaeology, ancient history or comparative religion.Cross-Cultural Analysis
This seminar explores the historic engagement of the University of Pennsylvania and its faculty, students, and graduates in the Near and Middle East. It does so while drawing on archives, rare books and manuscripts, and artifacts that are now preserved in the University Archives, the Penn Museum, and the Penn Libraries. Together we will consider how, beginning in the late nineteenth century, Penn scholars engaged in archaeological expeditions to celebrated sites like Ur (in what is now Iraq) and Memphis (in Egypt) – and how some of these efforts influenced the late Ottoman Empire’s policies towards antiquities and museums. We will examine how Penn’s curriculum changed over time to accommodate “Semitics”, including the study of languages and biblical traditions, in light of – or in spite of – historic tensions at the university between secular and religious learning. We will assess how Penn responded to changing American popular attitudes and U.S. foreign policy concerns relative to the Middle East, including during the Cold War and post-2001 (“post-9/11”) eras. Finally, we will trace the stories or “biographies” of some individual objects in Penn collections in order to appreciate the university’s roles in collecting, preserving, analyzing, and disseminating knowledge about the region’s deep cultural heritage. Ultimately, by investigating and writing about what we learn, our goal in the class will be to produce collaborative research on the history of “here” – the very local context of Penn and its environs – as it has tied into the history of the “over there” in the modern Middle East. See video description.
Offered in conjunction with Penn's Art and Culture Initiative.
Arts at Penn: The Afterlife of Things
Starting with the Penn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the seminar will visit major collections of Philadelphia, both to examine the works of art and artifacts (on display and in storage) and to meet with directors, curators, keepers, and collectors. Most meetings will take place in the museums, not in the classroom. While the seminar will provide an overview of the history of art, our discussions on site will focus on changing aesthetics and collecting practices, aspects of display and contextualization, the institution of the museum, thing theory, and the blurred boundaries between ethnography, archaeology, and art history. Students will be expected to participate actively in the discussions and to prepare two written essays (one submitted at midterm, one presented orally at the end of term). See video description.
Offered in conjunction with Penn's Art and Culture Initiative.
Modern Sci-Fi Cinema
Science Fiction has been a cinematic genre for as long as there has been cinema—at least since Georges Melies’s visionary Trip to the Moon in 1902. However, though science fiction films have long been reliable box office earners and cult phenomena, critical acknowledgement and analysis was slow to develop. Still, few genres reflect the sensibility of their age so transparently—if often unconsciously—or provide so many opportunities for filmmakers to simultaneously address social issues and expand the lexicon with new technologies. Given budgetary considerations and the appetite for franchises, science fiction auteurs face a difficult negotiation between artistic expression and lowest common denominator imperatives, the controversy over Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) being perhaps the most infamous example. Nevertheless, many notable filmmakers have done their most perceptive and influential work in the scifi realm, including Gilliam, Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, David Cronenberg, James Cameron and Paul Verhoeven. This course will survey the scope of modern science fiction cinema, beginning with two films that inspired a rare wave of academic discourse, Scott’s Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), which attracted postmodernists, feminists, and film historians interested in how the works both drew from earlier movements (German Expressionism, Noir), and inspired new ones (Cyberpunk). We will look at smaller, more independent-minded projects, such as Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Duncan Jones’ Moon (2009) as well as risky, massively budgeted epics such as Spielberg’s AI: Artificial Intelligence (2001) and Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010).
The legacy of Greco-Roman traditions in Western culture is everywhere apparent. Whether in the realm of political or legal systems, philosophical and scientific discourse, mythological dreamscapes, psychology, literary genre or aesthetic theory, the contribution of Greek and Roman culture is routinely invoked—sometimes to admire, other times to lament. It forms a highly complex narrative of reception and influence, shaped by historical contingencies, individual talents and temperaments, and continually shifting conceptions of what these contributions actually were. This seminar will trace the evolution of the ‘Classical tradition,’ in all its varied and inconsistent manifestations, primarily through the visual arts. It will be a museum-based course, organized around four important Philadelphia museums or collections: (1) The Penn Museum (for ancient artifacts), (2) Penn’s manuscript collection within Van Pelt Special Collections (where we will examine original manuscripts of the Medieval and Renaissance periods that transmit Classical culture), (3) The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and (4) The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, both of which house many examples of painting and sculpture deeply informed by the Classical tradition. See video description.
Offered in conjunction with Penn's Art and Culture Initiative.