Contemporary Native Americans
This course examines the social and political lives of contemporary Native American Indians in the United States and Canada. Topics include: Indigenous identity; homelands and natural resources; popular culture and media; Indigenous arts and cultural expression; museum representations; athletics; gender relations; tribal recognition and sovereignty; and resistance movements. We will consider the origins of federal programs and legislation that have become essential to the protection of Native American freedoms. Students can expect to gain an appreciation of the complexity and cultural diversity of Native communities and tribal nations and insights into their interactions with other cultures over time.Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
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.
Globalization, Development & the Future of the BRICs
This seminar grapples with alternative conceptions of “development” and “globalization,” with special attention to their impact on everyday lives of ordinary people around the world. The course adopts a comparative-historical perspective, attempting to make sense of the challenges of development undertaken by different countries in different eras, with the post-Cold War era of globalization bringing some new challenges but also revisiting some quite familiar tensions and complications. For specific case studies, we will examine the “club” known as the BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The four represent large non-western countries that have had complicated histories but then came to be singled out by Goldman Sachs as the most important sources of global economic growth after 2001. More recently, however, three of the four have recently experienced difficulties, and even the prospects of continued growth in the fourth (China) is now a subject of debate. The course thus concludes by incorporating facts and ideas borrowed from geography and demography to offer a tentative long-range forecast of how the BRICs will fare over the next quarter century, regardless of their year-to-year growth rates.Cross-Cultural Analysis
The Great Experiment of India's Democracy
The preservation of democratic governance in India has presented a standing challenge to theorists of historical and comparative development. The preconditions associated with the origins of democracy in the United States and Europe were notably absent in 1947, when India achieved independence from Great Britain. The tiny middle classes lacked virtually all the attributes identified by theorists like Putnam to make democratic institutions work: a common social background, participatory attitudes of mind, networks of civic interaction, feelings of trust and a tradition of mutual cooperation in the common interest. Yet, India’s democracy established by the Constituent Assembly in 1950, and based on fundamental rights, the rule of law and fair and free elections has endured.
The phenomenon of democracy in India -a multicultural state of steadily growing scientific, military and economic capabilities, soon to be the world’s most populous country- is so important that the tendency of comparative-historical scholarship to marginalize India’s experience because it doesn’t “fit” western theories, impoverishes our understanding of democratization.
This seminar takes an alternative approach. It starts with India’s own historical, social and cultural context and examines how democratic institutions transform, and in turn are transformed by the context in which they must function. From this perspective a number of central questions need to be examined. What are the social and political consequences of introducing universal suffrage in a society that has been the most hierarchical in the world? What accounts for higher electoral participation rates of the most disadvantaged and depressed groups? What outcomes does this accelerated participation have on the political party system, stable governance, implementation of economic reforms, and the emergence of dissatisfied religious and regional groups seeking a new regime? As other powers emerge outside the western tradition, committed to both democracy and growth, it becomes essential that knowledge about India’s experience become part of the mainstream of historical and comparative scholarship on national development.Cross-Cultural Analysis
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 freshman to sociology and the sociological perspective; to fundamental issues in the social sciences; and -- and this is the great advantage of a freshman seminar -- to the responsibilities and rewards of intellectual life at a university.
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 homelessness, 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.
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.
Books that Changed Modern America
Why have some books had a profound impact on their times? How have they articulated an issue, focused debate, captured public attention, and spurred action? In this seminar, we will read a group of books that changed the modern United States. The Jungle, Silent Spring, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, The Feminine Mystique, The Grapes of Wrath, Conscience of a Conservative: These are books that mobilized Americans to demand food safety and a safer environment, adopt new childrearing practices, redefine traditional gender roles, develop greater awareness of poverty, and rethink their politics. We will approach these and other works in three ways: We will do close readings of each text; examine the history of each book, including its publishing history, critical reception, and readers’ responses; and consider the broader historical contexts in which the work was written.
This is a Benjamin Franklin Scholars Seminar.
The American Way of War
Do Americans fight wars differently than do the people of other nations? Are there unique American tactics or technologies? Does America’s success in war owe to its arsenal of sophisticated weapons, or to the fighting spirit of its people? What characterizes the American experience in combat? A respect for limits, or a willingness to win at any cost? This seminar explores the scientific and technological development of warfare in the United States from the time of European settlement of the Americas to the era of unmanned aerial vehicles. We will examine “war-winning” weapons on land, on the sea, and in the air, from the tomahawk to the machine gun and beyond. The course will conclude with discussions of jets, missiles, guerrilla war, biological weapons, the development of the American nuclear arsenal, the psychological effects of battle, and warfare in the 21st century.
Violence in African Art
What is violence? Is violence always deplorable, or can it be productive, constructive, and (in)formative?
Careful study of African art objects and practices suggests that violence has been a creative force on the
continent. How then, have African artists addressed violence in their works? In this seminar, we
investigate the aesthetic and social frameworks for violence in African artistic production.
Through a series of case studies, students consider whether issues such as rupture, coercion, risk, danger,
competition, aggression, injustice, appropriation, and looting—as they relate to African arts—might also
be viewed as acts of violence. We examine the relationship between the formal qualities of masks and
their degree of physical aggression in performance. Students explore the ways in which iconoclastic acts
have spurred artistic innovation. Other cases include: seeking justice through the mediation of power
objects; arts that celebrate violent acts; artworks with the potential to physically harm viewers; political
struggles over architectural monuments; representations of colonial encounters; and the ethical quandaries
of collecting and exhibiting looted artworks.
Images in Conflict: A Visual History of Violence
The critic Susan Sontag wrote that "to collect photographs is to collect the world." How should we collect these photographs when so much of what we experience in the media today documents conflict and war? What is our responsibility as students and citizens to these images? What is the responsibility of the artist, journalist, art historian, or curator? How are we implicated by events we have not experienced and by the pain of others?
This course will explore the power of images to shape and aestheticize the viewer's experience of history. We will trace the production adn circulation of these images, through a variety of readings situated at the intersection of visual culture and representations of conflict. Students will be introduced to war photography and the ethics of representation through the work of artists such as Robert Capa, Matthew Brady, Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, and Kevin Carter. We will also discuss artistic representations of conflict prior to the advent of photography, in the work of artists from classical antiquity to the mid-nineteenth century.
The course will culminate in a final project about the Nepali civil war (1996-2006). Students will have the opportunity to learn about the impact of the war on the people of Nepal, and how individuals throughout the country have come together to create a public archive of the war. Students will curate their own collection of these images and then develop a teaching guide in partnership with collaborators in Nepal and Slought Foundation, a cultural organization on campus. In addition to weekly readings and responses, students will also be expected to attend a series of associated events on the topic of violence at the Penn Humanities Forum during the semester.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Knowing the Contemporary Art World
This course introduces the student to the world of contemporary art, as it is comprised by a global community of leading artists, curators, writers, art historians and collectors within a network of galleries, museums and other institutional contexts.
Contemporary art has become an increasingly important marker of a city (and nation’s) economic development. According to economist and social scientist Richard Florida, contemporary art activity is an expression of a city’s Creative Class, the generators of cultural and economic innovation.
But what exactly is this world of contemporary art? The course begins by distinguishing between modern and contemporary art. There will be a teasing out of the issues from modern art that remain unresolved for contemporary art.
Students will study the key pre-occupations that are spurring much contemporary art production, including issues relating to identity in the age of globalization. A question that will be studied in this course relates to the ways in which artists have responded to dominant narratives of globalization. Additionally, another important question would look into how the artist’s role has changed in the new globalized context of art production and circulation (including the rise of the art biennale.)
By taking this course, students gain understanding into the constitution and of the contemporary art world and the key issues at play within it. There will be several trips to exhibitions to be announced.
Violence in Rome across the Ages: Literature, Art, Film, Spectacle
Rome is a city with a glorious but bloodied past. From the gladiator arenas of the ancient empire to the terrorism of the 1970s, from predictions of the city’s divine castigation to the futurists’ desire to symbolically blow the place up, the history of Rome across the centuries has been one peppered with violence of diverse forms, motivations, and consequences. In this class, we will approach the major periods and problems of Roman history (antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Roman Inquisition, the Napoleonic era, the Interbellum period, Nazi occupation, and the Years of Lead) through the lens of brutality as a historical, social, literary, and artistic phenomenon in Rome and the regions that fell under its control. Combining close readings of literary texts and the study of artistic, performative, and musical works and film, along with the consideration of select scholarly histories, we will explore the different shapes violence takes and why, from the legendary, spectacular, and aesthetic to the religious and apocalyptic, from war, authoritarianism, torture, and terrorism to satire and regeneration.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Blood, Sweat and Pasta
Popular culture frequently serves a bounteous spread of representations of Italian-Americans to an audience hungering for more. In this course we will explore historic events, social conditions, aesthetic trends, and political motivations behind the proliferation of ruthless gangsters, lovable buffoons, irresistible lovers, and claustrophobic families comprising the pantheon of Italian-Americans images of our shared American consciousness. To understand the rise of these popular stereotypes, and, perhaps, to dismantle them we will read novels by authors such as Pascal D'Angelo (Son of Italy), John Fante (Ask The Dust); Mario Puzo (The Fortunate Pilgrim); Pietro di Donato (Christ in Concrete); Jerre Mangione (Mount Allegro); Helen Barolini (Umbertina), and Francine Prose (Household Saints). We will also read Albert Innaurato’s comedic play (Gemini) and selected poetry of John Ciardi. In addition to literary analysis, we will discuss representation of Italian-Americans in American cinema and television, and films such as The Godfather, Saturday Night Fever, Rocky, Moonstruck, My Cousin Vinny, Raging Bull, Big Night, and Radio Days, as well as episodes of television shows such as The Jersey Shore, Friends, The Golden Girls, The Sopranos, and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Aural Analysis: 89 Classical Hits
Over the semester, we will listen to and explicate 89 traditionally famous pieces of classical music. As this is an aural analysis class, most of the analysis worked through in class will be solely by ear (no scores, not an excessive amount of historical context required, etc...). The primary purpose of our work will be to refine each student's listening abilities so that they may be able to establish formal structure, motivic development, and compositional design of time-tested masterpieces more quickly and accurately. A side bonus from successful completion of this course will be a new understanding and familiarity with dozens of great classical works that have unquestionably passed the test of time. No prerequisites required, save for a set of inquisitive ears. 4 in-class presentations, frequent short writing assignments and in-class quizzes will determine the final grade.
Cultural Heritage, Politics and War in the Middle East
Political upheaval in the Middle East has brought cultural heritage studies to the forefront. From playing a role in the making of national identity and economy of Middle Eastern countries to falling prey to armed conflicts, cultural heritage remains an important element of the political and social scene. This seminar will examine the relatedness of cultural heritage to questions of identity and politics in the Middle East, and the impact of recent wars on such heritage.
The seminar will start by outlining the ancient and modern history of the Middle East, and reviewing the production of cultural heritage and its contemporary management in several Middle Eastern countries. It will then proceed to discuss the following major topics:
- Cultural diversity of modern Middle Eastern societies, the perception of cultural heritage in these societies, and the survival of long-living historical places, old traditions and material culture of all kinds.
- The influence of ancient cultures on common fixation and beliefs of modern identity in Middle Eastern societies (e.g. particular ethnic and religious groups see themselves as direct descendents of one or a number of ancient groups such as Phoenicians, Israelites, Assyrians) .
-The use of archeological and historical data to create narratives of the past that promote specific political ideologies in the modern Middle East and, in some cases, to fabricate novel cultural and political realities.
-The damage to cultural heritage caused by recent wars in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and (i) how these wars are/were the makers of a new time that disrupted the living past through the destruction of cultural landscapes; and (ii) the involvement of cultural heritage institutions and archaeologists in rescuing cultural heritage in the event of war.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Music in Urban Spaces
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, urban educators and sociologists who work to define urban space, arts education and the role of music and sound in urban environments. While the readings we do will inform our conversations and the questions we ask, it is within the context of our personal experiences working with a group of students at West Philadelphia High School and Henry C. Lea Elementary, two urban schools serving economically disadvantaged students, that we will begin to formulate our theories of the musical micro-cultures of West Philadelphia and education’s role in shaping socio-economic realities. We will first consider what the listening and performing culture was when we were growing up and how, if at all, this music reflected the local definition of our environment as urban, suburban, or rural. In our work supporting classroom music teachers and after school music programs, we will consider the role that music plays in our cultural and social identities as well as how music and other extracurricular programs influence future educational opportunities. In what ways does the participation or consumption of music allow for social or economic mobility in urban spaces? Do the students in the high school or the elementary music programs use music to reflect, reject, or reinforce stereotypes about their own race, ethnicity, gender, or class? Class participants will be asked to create music videos or write research papers that develop a question of their interest related to music, education, social capital, and urban space. Ultimately seminar participants will ask does music reflect or change the cultural capital of those who participate in specific listening and/or performance spaces?Cultural Diversity in the U.S.
Benjamin Franklin Seminar: Introduction to Sound Studies
Sound is all around us and shapes almost every aspect of our everyday days, and yet, in comparison to our rich descriptions of visual culture, we often lack the explanatory power to analyze and assess the overwhelming influence of the sonic. This introduction to sound studies course will provide both a rigorous conceptual and also a creative, hands-on understanding of the phenomena at the center of Penn’s Year of Sound. We will explore how sound and auditory cultures have been theorized, how soundscapes shape and transform built environments and the social relations they underpin or express, how technologies have affected our relationships to sound, and how we might go about investigating aural phenomena.
The course will focus on sound in urban spaces. Structured around a number of themes that cut across disciplinary, historical and geographical boundaries, the course will create a transatlantic dialogue between investigative fieldwork into Philadelphia’s soundscape and the changing auditory profile of Paris from the clatter of medieval sword fights through the cultivation of modern urban experience in Haussmann’s boulevards to the contemporary soundscape. Other topics will include the role of sound-reproduction and mobile technologies, and the consumption and regulation of sound. We will encounter a wide variety of materials from literary texts to mobile apps and video games, not to mention a vast range of sounds, and we will tackle the topic from multiple interdisciplinary angles from Continental philosophy to ask how sound composes and structures urban space, and how it transforms social bonds and power relations. Alongside written work, you will make fieldwork recordings on the streets of Philadelphia and develop creative projects using media of your choice to reflect upon urban sound.
Music, Germans, Jews 1780 to 1939
Throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period, European Jews’ access to musical knowledge and spaces was anything but straightforward. Rabbinic Judaism saw secular music as a potential cause of promiscuity and Christian liturgical music evoked anxieties of assimilation. The Christian worldview labeled Judaism as an unmusical aesthetic category and Jews were generally banned from all musical professions. How, then, have Jews in the modern period become proponents of European musical culture as composers, conductors, commentators, patrons, and consumers?
This seminar explores the conditions that enabled this development and the ways by which music emerged as a mode of cultural participation that permitted Jews to take part in the formulation of European modernity. Focusing on the German speaking countries from the age of Enlightenment up to the 1930s, the seminar introduces students to core issues in German Jewish cultural experience and German cultural history through music. How did music function as a site of interreligious encounters? What functions has music performed in the religious and cultural transformations within German Judaism? How has music come to articulate notions of nationalism, both German and Jewish? How were ambivalent attitudes toward Jews manifest in German musical culture? To what extent were Felix Mendelssohn, Gustav Mahler, or Arnold Schoenberg “Jewish” composers? And what is Jewish about cabaret in Vienna around 1900 or the first sound films of the 1920s? Employing different disciplinary approaches from history, musicology, ethnomusicology, and aesthetics, we examine a variety of musical, literary, and visual works, including opera, film, cabaret, and liturgical music to gain familiarity with the range of sounds that can be associated with modern German Jewish experience and European modernity.
This seminar requires no prior musical training and should be of interest to students of music history, Jewish studies, and German studies, and history. The main assignments include a final writing project.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Magic and Divination in the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism
When we discuss the Hebrew Bible and early Judaism, magic and divination are not the first things that come to mind. After all,biblical law explicitly prohibits black magic, divination, spell-casting and necromancy. However, when taking a closer look at the biblical narratives, we encounter practices like lot-casting, dream interpretation and performance of magic with divine authorization. With the help of literary, anthropological and historical methods, we will determine what forms of magic and divination existed in the biblical world and how they were rendered efficacious.Cross-Cultural Analysis