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.
This seminar explores the central philosophical problems of global ethics. What are our duties to respond to world poverty and what is the basis of this duty? Is global inequality in itself a matter of justice? How universal are human rights? Should human rights defer to cultural claims at all? What is the moral status of state sovereignty? Is there a right to intervene in another country to protect human rights there? Indeed can intervention to protect human rights ever be a duty? Who is responsible for the environment? We will read some influential contemporary essays by philosophers on these topics with the goal of furthering our own understanding of these problems.
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.
Feith Family Seminar: Sociology of Religion
Most of us are pretty good amateur sociologists, because sociology is the study of human society, human society is people organized in groups (families, churches, clubs, schools, civic associations, nation-states) and their relations with one another (people with people, people with groups or institutions)... we're all "doing it" at one level or another. It is also the case that sociology -- the subject, the field, the science -- provides some useful tools for understanding how society operates, and a sociological perspective can teach us some things that are not obvious from our day-to-day participation in social life. So this is a course about the sociology of religion, a subject that has a lot to do with belief, with meaning, and with the very organization of society itself; and we will learn a lot about religion, from a sociological perspective (to what extent is belief an individual versus a social phenomenon? where do new religions -- sects -- come from and how do they become churches? Why does religion sometimes thrive and other times drift into the background?).... But it is also a way to introduce college freshmen to sociology and the sociological perspective; to fundamental issues in the social sciences;-- and this is the great advantage of a freshman seminar -- to the responsibilities and rewards of intellectual life at a university.
Poverty and Inequality
What does it mean to live in poverty in the land of plenty? In this seminar, we will explore this question and others related to poverty in contemporary America. We will discuss topics such as poverty measurement, current poverty trends, the causes of poverty, and poverty-related outcomes. We will also consider inequalities in other related domains (e.g., the labor market, health, family, education, and the justice system) and how they help produce, maintain, and reproduce poverty and inequality. Throughout the semester, we will consider the roles of race/ethnicity, gender, age, and place. Lastly, we will examine anti-poverty policy programs in the U.S, their effectiveness, and how they compare to programs in other countries. To encourage engaged class discussions, students will complete short weekly response papers regarding course readings.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
From Galen to Galileo: Science Before The Scientific Revolution
In this course we will examine scientific learning and practice from the time of the Greeks and Romans to the age of Galileo, the beginning of the "Scientific Revolution." Not only will we discuss basic theories and knowledge, but we will also raise broader questions about science and society:
- What have terms such as "science" or "natural philosophy" meant to people?
- In what settings in society have people studied and practiced science?
- How did scientific learning relate to fields such a religion and magic?
- What factors have led to change and innovation?
No technical background is needed for this course.
How to Rule an Empire: an Introduction to European and U.S. Imperialism
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, US and European powers developed changing strategies of empire designed to order societies at home and overseas. The practice of empire spurred worldwide debates that continue today: how did imperialism operate, what purposes did it serve, could it come to an end, and what might replace it? Over the course of two hundred years, these questions inspired some of the world’s greatest fiction writing and historical research, and this seminar introduces students to a sample of classic texts. Together we’ll examine varied forms of political, economic, and cultural power involved in imperial expansion; the experience and consequences of empire for both colonized and colonizer; and the emergence of anti-imperialist movements.
Making Meaning in Local, Global, and Historical Perspectives
Open only to students enrolled in this seminar in Fall 2015.
This for-credit Residential Program, directed by Annette Yoshiko Reed and Benjamin Fleming, explores the ways in which people around the world make meaning in their lives and communities. We will survey religious, artistic, and philosophical traditions from around the world drawing especially on the rich resources here in Philadelphia. Field trips will include chances to see ancient artifacts and medieval manuscripts from Asian, European, and Middle Eastern world cultures; visits to local museums, art galleries, temples, churches, mosques, and synagogues; and opportunities to engage the local histories of communities in West Philadelphia. Guest speakers, films, novels, and other readings will cover different cross-cultural and historical approaches to sanctifying time and space, understanding the human condition, and creating meaning as individuals and communities. Program participants receive course credit through enrollment in the associated Freshman Seminar (full-year; 1 c.u. total; 0.5 per semester).
For more information see http://fh.house.upenn.edu/Making_Meaning
Spiegel-Wilks Seminar in Contemporary Art: On The Eccentric Edges of Art
This course will explore a series of essential yet overlooked moments in the history of the post-1960 American avant-garde that expand our conception of art, objecthood, and arts institutions. In particular, we will revisit three artworks that were never completed by the artists during their lifetimes—Dennis Oppenheim’s unfinished work “Protection,” Lebbeus Woods' “Tales from the Tectonic Forest,” and Krzysztof Wodiczko’s “City Hall Tower Illumination"—all of which raise fundamental questions concerning authorship, preservation, and cultural responsibility. In addition to studying these works, the students will be invited to interact with artists, estates, scholars, curators, educators and historians to research how these past artworks might be curatorially restaged and installed at Slought and Penn in late Spring 2016. Through their participation, the students will give these works new social, cultural and political resonance and help grant the works a further or secondary life.
Blood, Sweat, and Pasta
In this course we will explore the literature of the Italian/American experience. Starting from the shores of Italy, we will chart various literary odysseys from abject poverty to suburban comfort.
We will read the works of a wide-range of authors and genres, such as:
Pascal D'Angelo (Son of Italy), Leonardo Sciascia (The Long Crossing), John Fante (Ask The Dust and Full of Life); Mario Puzo (The Fortunate Pilgrim); Pietro di Donato (Christ in Concrete); Jerre Mangione (Mount Allegro); Helen Barolini (Umbertina), Francine Prose (Household Saints), Albert Innaurato (Gemini), and short stories by various Italian/American authors.
We will also discuss the transgression and transformation achieved through the creation of a distinct, Italian/American literary tradition. Foregrounding our conversation in the sociopolitical realities of late eighteenth century Italy and the United States, we will work collectively to maintain the presence of Italian/American contributions within the Academy. As a foil to the literary works that we discuss, we will consider the proliferation of Italian/American stereotypes in popular American culture of ruthless gangsters, lovable buffoons, irresistible lovers, and claustrophobic families.
Trauma, Time, Fiction
Bombs rising into planes; smoke returning to smokestacks; a wound that gives pain in advance of its infliction. Why do so many novels about historical mass-trauma involve time-travel or reversals in chronology and causality? Can such works constitute a flight from mass-violence? Can they, contrastingly, participate in collective mourning for trauma? How does narrative theory help us with looping, quantum, and preposterous fiction? And how do we understand the political, ethical, and psychological work of alternate history novels, which explore historical timelines that differ from our own (e.g., a history in which F.D.R. was assassinated before World War II)? Readings to include fiction by Martin Amis, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Philip K. Dick, Philip Roth, D. M. Thomas, and others; essays by contemporary theorists of trauma and narrative.
We twenty-first century folk pride ourselves on thinking “globally” and having at our fingertips information about all people, places, and times. How did people before c.1600 imagine the whole world? In this course we read a variety of medieval and early modern texts that try to take the whole world into account. We will trace the geographical and cultural imaginations of early writers across different genres, from maps, to Islamic, Jewish, and Christian travel narratives, such as the voyages of Marco Polo; to fictive ethnography, such as the account of John de Mandeville (one of Christopher Columbus's favorite writers); to monstrous encyclopedias and books of beasts, such as the "Wonders of the East"; to universal chronicles and crusader romances. Assignments will include weekly responses, an oral presentation, and a final project. We will also have the great opportunity to study medieval manuscripts and early rare books in the Penn collection.Cross-Cultural Analysis
The Fantastic Voyage from Homer to Science Fiction
Tales of voyages to strange lands with strange inhabitants and even stranger customs have been a part of the Western literary tradition from its inception. What connects these tales is that their voyages are not only voyages of discovery, but voyages of self-discovery. By describing the effects these voyages have on the characters who undertake them, and by hinting at comparisons between the lands described in the story and their own society, authors use fantastic voyages as vehicles for incisive commentary on literary, social, political, and scientific issues.
In this course, we will explore the tradition of the fantastic voyage from Homer’s Odyssey, one of the earliest examples of this type of narrative and a model for countless subsequent voyage narratives, to science fiction, which appropriates this narrative for its own ends. We will determine what the common stylistic elements of voyage narratives are, such as the frame narrative, or story-within-a-story, and what purpose they serve in conveying the tale’s messages. We will see how voyagers attempt to understand and interact with the lands and peoples they encounter, and what these attempts tell us about both the voyagers and their newly-discovered counterparts. Finally, we will ask ourselves what real-world issues are commented upon by these narratives, what lessons the narratives have to teach about them, and how they impart these lessons to the reader.
Readings for this course, all of which are in English or English translation, range from classics like the Odyssey and Gulliver’s Travels to predecessors of modern science fiction like Jules Verne and H. G. Wells to seminal works of modern science fiction like Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts, and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. Though this course is primarily dedicated to literature, we will also look at how films like the 1968 adaptation of Planet of the Apes and television shows like Star Trek, and Futurama draw upon literary or cinematic models for their own purposes.
This course is meant not only for SF fans who would like to become better acquainted with the precursors and classics of the genre, but for all those who wish to learn how great works of fiction, far from being intended solely for entertainment and escapism, attempt to improve upon the real world through the effect they have on the reader.
Villa Gardens and Villa Life: Cultural and Social Transformations
An examination of the idea of villeggiatura (villa life) and the ideology associated with countryside gardens and plantations. In the literature on villa gardens across the centuries, from ancient Rome to the 20th century, there emerges a recurrent opposition between the country seen as an occasion for self-improvement versus it being an opportunity for self-indulgence, the representation of social status, and at times the display of opulence and political power. The first instance, which has its roots in the Stoic understanding of agricultural labor as a means of purification and moral gratification, is traceable to the times of the early agricultural writers, Cato and Varro, and re-emerges in the classical culture of early Renaissance Florence and the pre-Palladian villa culture of the Veneto to end with its latest occurrence at the time of Jefferson and the so-called gentlemen farmers in colonial America. The second instance, whose earliest example in the West dates to the time of Imperial Rome, resurfaces in Augustan England, and finds its apotheosis with the great mansions built by American industrialists at the turn of the 20th century.
The Queer Novel and the Marriage Plot
The 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage combined an assertion of the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians with an idealizing view of marriage. The decision reads: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death.” These words echo a long narrative tradition that describes love as the greatest human value and marriage as its ultimate consummation. In this course, we will consider this tradition (the “marriage plot”) and its permutations in the modern queer novel. Queer novels tend to represent love as an obsession or a tragic impossibility, and they often take a dark view of marriage. In readings from the nineteenth century to the present, we will explore the narrative forms that developed during a period when same-sex marriage was unthinkable, and will consider the meaning of these texts in the light of recent legislative and social changes. In addition to a handful of essays in queer and feminist theory, readings by: Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, Nella Larsen, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Radclyffe Hall, Djuna Barnes, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, Patricia Highsmith, James Baldwin, Shyam Selvadurai, and Maggie Nelson.
Music in Troubled Places
In this class we go beyond the headlines to discuss the history and cultures of peoples who have had to endure terrible suffering through genocide, ethnic conflict, civil war, and various other sorts of armed conflict. We will focus on a curious phenomenon: populations typically defined as separate from one another (think: Israelis and Palestinians) often have a history of shared or related cultural practices, of which music is a prime example. In this class we will survey a number of current and recent conflict zones and use music as a way to deepen our understanding of the identities and relationships between the peoples involved in each conflict. In the process, we will consider the role of the arts in forging peace, but we will also explore how music and sound play roles in fomenting violence. Regions to be covered include: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria (including relevant musics in Turkey and Kurdistan), Israel-Palestine, Sri Lanka, India, the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Korea and the Pacific (WWII), Cambodia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States (inner city Chicago and Cuban-U.S. musical relations). Each session will have a reading and musical examples.
Music in Urban Spaces
Open only to students enrolled in this seminar in Fall 2015.
Music in Urban Spaces explores the ways in which individuals use music in their everyday lives and how music is used to construct larger social and economic networks that we call culture. We will read musicologists, cultural theorists, urban geographers, sociologists and educators who work to define urban space and the role of music and sound in urban environments, including through music education. While the readings make up our study of the sociology of urban space and the way we use music in everyday life to inform our conversations and the questions we ask, it is within the context of our personal experiences working with music programs at West Philadelphia High School or Henry C Lea Elementary, both inner city neighborhood schools serving economically disadvantaged students, that we will begin to formulate our theories of the contested musical micro-cultures of West Philadelphia. This course is over two-semesters where students register for .5cus each term (for a total of 1cu over the entire academic year) and is tied to the Music and Social Change Residential Program in Fisher Hassenfeld (http://fh.house.upenn.edu/musicandsocialchange) where most class participants live together. All participants volunteer in music classrooms for 3 hours per week, are expected to go to at least two concerts in the community during the year, attend the seminar weekly and complete all assignments.
Beyond Biology--Enhancing the Human Mind through Technology
Transhumanists seek to extend capacities of the human mind beyond the bounds of the human brain and body through technology. Indeed, for them, such an extension of human thinking and feeling represents the next big step in human cognitive evolution. In this course, we will examine the philosophical conception of a mind that underpins this movement to extend the human mind beyond human biology. Through an examination of the hypothesis that there can be non-biological thinking and feeling, we consider whether technologies that enable or enhance human mental faculties might one day completely supplant the biological machinery of the human body. We will also consider the moral issues surrounding the creation of transhumans. The questions that we consider in this course will get to the heart of what it means to possess a human mind and indeed to be a human being.
Legal systems have attempted to evaluate and measure human behavior long before psychology, psychiatry and neuroscience were scientific disciplines. Current legal systems rely on behavioral science in both criminal and civil litigation. For example, intent is a prerequisite of criminal responsibility, motive is used to identify likely suspects, and mental illness or cognitive ability can be a defense to crime or a mitigating factor in a death penalty determination as well as a reason to deny a parent custody of a child. In the last decade, there has been substantial progress in behavioral neuroscience; a development not lost on the court system. Brain imaging techniques--such as functional and structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Emission Tomography--have become part of all phases of legal proceedings and have forced courts to reconsider the use of behavioral science and the role of juries in courtroom decision-making. The goal of this course is to enable students to understand the present and the potential future role of behavioral neuroscience evidence in the justice system. The introductory part of the course will provide students with a very basic introduction to the judicial system and courtroom evidence and to the behavioral neuroscience constructs and techniques that are critical to law, such as motivation, violence, empathy, deception and morality. Students will then be asked to critically evaluate the use of brain imaging and other quantitative neuroscience techniques as evidence in representative legal cases. For each case studied, small teams of students will be assigned to serve as neuroscience advisors on each side of the case and will argue the strengths and weaknesses of the neuroscience evidence at issue. Students will be asked to prepare written arguments outlining the neuroscience evidence, present their arguments in class, and defend them against the opposing team. Case presentations will be followed by class and instructor comments. Performance evaluation will be based on students’ oral case presentation (40%) and the written term paper (60%) developed from their case presentation. Through this course, students will learn the basic concepts in behavioral neuroscience, medical imaging and scientific legal evidence, and will develop the ability to critically evaluate neuroscience data in forensic and legal settings. This course is open to all undergraduate students and will be of particular interest to students with interest in law, neuroscience, criminology and psychology. Background in science or biology is helpful but is not required.
Music and the Brain
Every human culture that has ever been described makes some form of music. The musics of different cultures cover a wide range of styles, but also display fascinating similarities, and a number of features are shared by even the most disparate musical traditions. Within our own culture, music is inescapable - there are very few individuals who do not listen to some form of music every day and far more who listen to music virtually all day long. Appreciation of music comes very early: newborns prefer music to normal speech and mothers all over the world sing to their babies in a fundamentally similar way. And yet, despite this seeming ubiquity, the real origin and purpose of music remains unknown. Music is obviously related to language, but how? Why do so many cultures make music in such fundamentally similar ways? What goes into the formation of music "taste" and preferences? Does music have survival value, or is it merely "auditory cheesecake", a superfluous byproduct of evolution as some critics have maintained? What is the nature of musical ability and how do musicians differ from non-musicians? In this course, we will look for answers by looking at the brain. Almost 200 years of scientific research into brain mechanisms underlying the production and appreciation of music is beginning to shed light on these and other questions. Although the sciences and the arts are often seen as entirely separate, or even in opposition, studying the brain is actually telling us a lot about music, and studying music is telling us just as much about the brain.