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.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Bilingualism in History
This course introduces the foundations of linguistics - the scientific study of language - through exploration of multilingualism in the USA and in different societies around the world.
Contacts between groups of people speaking different languages are documented from earliest records, and around the world it remains the norm to find more than one language in regular use in a single community. In this course we will see that multilingualism is a catalyst for linguistic change: sometimes languages are lost; sometimes new languages are created; sometimes the structure of a language is radically altered. We will consider: Which parts of linguistic structure are most susceptible to change under conditions of bilingualism? Does language contact - whether a result of trade, education, migration, conquest, or intermarriage - influence language structure in predictable ways? How do individual speakers handle multiple languages? How have attitudes to speakers of multiple languages changed through history? How have socio-historical events shaped the linguistic situation in the USA?
Slavery, Serfdom, and Cultures of Bondage in the U.S. and Russia
During the Cold War, the United States and Russia were locked in an ideological battle, as capitalist and communist superpowers, over the question of private property. So how did these two countries approach the most important question regarding property that ever faced human civilization: how could governments justify the treatment of its subjects, people, as property? In 1862, Russia abolished serfdom, a form of human bondage that had existed in its territories since the 11th century. Just a year later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring America's slaves "then, thenceforward, and forever free." What forces, both domestic and international, both political and cultural, influenced this near simultaneous awakening in which huge swaths of the Russian and U.S. populations were liberated?
The Social Life of Things: Art, Objects, and the Cultural Politics of Philadelphia
A city is more than just a collection of places. It is a living archive of stories, memories and histories. Whose stories do we hear? Whose stories should we preserve? Are all stories equal? In this course, students will be introduced to a variety of unique historical sites and civic institutions that make visible anew Philadelphia and its cultural history. From the first classroom of the university, which was located at the American Philosophical Society, to the Johnson House Underground Railroad Station and House Museum on Germantown Avenue, this course will highlight the social life of the city, approaching the city itself as a living museum. What can the artworks, objects and institutions we experience each week teach us about the society in which we live? To answer this question, we will meet with artists, archivists, curators and scholars who will illuminate for us the social life of their collections. Through this course, students will be introduced to the study of the history of art. Our discussions will focus on changing aesthetics, the cultural politics of collecting, aspects of display and contextualization, the institution of the museum, and the increasingly blurred boundaries between ethnography, anthropology, and art history.
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, David Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron. This course will survey the scope of contemporary science fiction cinema, after looking first at seminal works like Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that continue to cast their shadow over the genre. We will then devote considerable time to a pair of more modern films, Scott’s Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982), which drew from earlier movements (German expressionism, noir), influenced new ones (cyberpunk) and inspired a rare wave of academic discourse. Over the course of the term we will sample smaller, more independent-minded projects, such as Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) as well as higher profile but much more risky epics from filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan.
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.
Vergil is one of the most influential poets of Greek and Roman antiquity. In course, we will study him in relation to the tradition on which they build and in terms of critical and artistic reaction to them from antiquity to the present. Students will present reports on biographical, historical, mythological, critical, and other interpretive contexts, and will write an original research paper on a major topic pertaining to Vergil's poetry and its influence.
From Anime to Zen: Japanese Performance Aesthetics in Philadelphia
Japan has one of the richest and most varied theatrical traditions in the world, and is a veritable museum of classical and contemporary performance practices. This seminar introduces Freshmen to major aesthetic principles that are embodied in different genres. Students will be taken deep into several important texts of the performance tradition, as well as to various places on Penn campus and in Philadelphia in order to experience these aesthetics:
1. The “zen” aesthetic of the medieval noh theater characterized by minimalism and Buddhist contemplation.
2. The “queer” aesthetic of the early modern kabuki theater involving gender impersonation and exaggeration.
3. The “grotesque” aesthetic of modern butoh performance filled with distorted physicality and apocalyptic scenarios.
4. The “anime” aesthetic of the all-female Takarazuka Revue and of postmodern theater exhibiting parody and fan-generated culture.
The course is sponsored by the Penn Art & Culture Initiative and will include field-trips to the Morris Arboretum, Japanese House and Gardens, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as hands-on workshops on Japanese dance, music, and food.
Feith Family Seminar: Writing Philadelphia
This first-year seminar will be devoted to exploring the diverse literary histories of Philadelphia, from its vibrant poetry and spoken-word scene to its many celebrated and award-winning practitioners of creative and journalistic prose. Students will engage with the many different literatures of the city as readers, but also, and more importantly, as writers crafting their own original creative works in ways that engage their own experience of the city: its landscape, architecture, cultural history, arts, and even food. We will immerse ourselves in the literary textures of Philadelphia by attending live literary events across town and at Penn's own Kelly Writers House; visiting literary hot spots devoted to book, zine and comic culture; meeting visiting writers and artists; and creating and workshopping our own writing of the city. Our class will culminate in individual creative portfolios; we will also design and plan a collaborative final project, which could include a podcast series, public event at the Writers house, or online literary archive of Philadelphia.
In Praise of the Small
We can memorize aphorisms and jokes, carry miniature portraits with us, and feel playful in handling small objects. This seminar will ask us to pay attention to smaller texts, art works, and objects that may easily be overlooked. In addition to reading brief texts and looking at images and objects, we will also read texts on the history and theory of short genres and the small.
From Paper to Screen: Cinematic Adaptations
How many of your favorite films are actually literary adaptations? Literature and Film are two different worlds, with their own language and very specific features. These two worlds, though, often intertwine, and numerous films are inspired by literary works or popular narrative fiction – films that do not simply adapt the text to the visual medium, but give birth to a different work of art. What happens in this passage from the text to the screen? What gets lost, what is added, and how are things translated between two very different art forms? What are the theoretical implications of such a “translation”?
The course will explore cinematic adaptations of famous literary works made by renowned Italian filmmakers. Case studies include, but are not limited to, Mann’s Death in Venice (Visconti 1971); Boccaccio’s Decameron (in both its cinematic adaptations, Pasolini 1971 and Taviani 2015); Tomasi de Lampedusa’s The Leopard (Visconti 1963); Collodi’s Pinocchio (Benigni 2002); Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Taviani 2012).
The course will provide students with the necessary critical tools to analyze both verbal and visual texts within the historical and cultural context of their production, as well as an overview of theoretical approaches in adaptation studies.
Music in Philadelphia
Philadelphia has always been a noisy, musical place. This seminar welcomes freshmen to the University of Pennsylvania, and to Philadelphia, by taking students on a journey through the city’s musical past. From music of Native Americans to the Philadelphia Orchestra to Philadelphia’s hip hop scene, we will learn about how the city has grown and changed over the centuries. Regular field trips bring students into direct contact with Philadelphia’s vibrant and historical music scenes, where we will learn how to describe and understand what we hear, while also experiencing the thrill of uncovering hidden gems of the musical past.
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
This seminar will be devoted to Beethoven's last symphony, a work that brought about seminal changes in the nature of the symphony and, indeed, in the language, form, and character of Western music. The work will be studied from the perspectives of its musical form, its relationship to extra-musical content, its reception, and its innovation.
Saints and Devils in Russian Literature and Tradition
This course is about Russian literary imagination, which is populated with saints and devils, believers and religious rebels, holy men and sinners. In Russia, where people's frame of mind had been formed by a mix of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and earlier pagan beliefs, the quest for faith, spirituality, and the meaning of life has invariably been connected with religious matters. How can one find the right path in life? Is humility the way to salvation? Should one live for God or for the people? Does God even exist? In "Saints and Devils" we read works of great masters of Russian literature and learn about the historic trends that have filled Russia's national character with religious and mystical spirit.Cross-Cultural Analysis
Theatre In Philadelphia
This course will investigate the state of the contemporary, non-profit theatre culture of Philadelphia by examining the history, artistic mission, and current production work of selected city theatre companies. This course will also explore the creative process of theatre-making as undertaken by these theatres through the reading of plays being produced by them this fall, through an analysis of the collaborative contribution of the playwright, director, actors, and designers to the creation of a production, and, finally, through attendance at those productions mounted by the theatre companies under investigation. The members of the class will write individual essays responding to these productions, do research and give group presentations on other Philadelphia theatre companies, and participate daily in a spirited dialogue about the vitality, level of artistic accomplishment, and cultural/social value of contemporary theatre in Philadelphia.
Introduction to Acting
Rooted in the system devised by Konstantin Stanislavsky, this course takes students step by step through the practical work an actor must do to live and behave truthfully on-stage. Beginning with relaxation and physical exercises, interactive games, and ensemble building, students then learn and put into practice basic actor techniques, including sensory work, the principles of action, objectives, given circumstances, etc. The semester culminates in the performance of a scene or scenes most often from a modern American play. This course strongly stresses the responsibility of the actor to the work and especially to one's fellow actors. Practical work is supplemented by readings from Stanislavsky and a variety of other acting theorists, that may include Uta Hagen, Robert Cohen, Stella Adler, among others. Students are required to submit short essays over the course of the semester in response to the readings and in preparation for their final scene project.
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:
1) 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.
2) The influence of ancient cultures on common fixation and beliefs of modern identity in Middle Eastern societies (e.g., particular ethnic and religious group see themselves as direct descendents of one or a number of ancient groups such as Phoenicians, Israelites, Assyrians).
3) 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, fabricate novel cultural and political realities.
4) The damage done to Cultural Heritage 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
Architecture in the Anthropocene
This course will use architecture and the built environmental as a lens to investigate the emerging field of the environmental humanities. Our goal will be to analyze and understand these new intellectual frameworks in order to consider the relationship between global environmental challenges and the process of constructing the built environment. As such, we will oscillate between social and political theory, environmental history, and architectural history and theory. Issues of importance will include: theories of risk, the role of nature in political conflicts; images, design and environmental communication; and the relationship between speculative design and other narratives of the future. These conceptual frameworks will be read alongside examples of related creative projects in art, literature, and architecture, and will be amplified through presentations and discussions with studio faculty and other visitors to the course.
Hipster Philosophy from Marx to Zizek
From Wes Anderson to Williamsburg, hipster culture is everywhere. And yet the very notion of the hipster remains notoriously difficult to define—whether we perceive this cultural phenomenon as the waste product of the postmodern, as a new form of consumerism, as a peculiar attitude toward irony and authenticity, as scenester posturing or as just plain cool. This course addresses such tensions through an examination of the intellectual history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Each week pairs philosophical and theoretical readings with an artifact of hipster culture: reading Instagram beside Walter Benjamin, ironic facial hair with Friedrich Nietzsche, Facebook through the lens of Georg Lukács and indie music alongside Theodor Adorno. No previous knowledge or skinny jeans required.
Human Nature and History
In this seminar, we will take up the topic of human nature as a gambit for establishing common ground and stimulating a deeper intellectual community among incoming University Scholars. Or perhaps we will work the other way round. Perhaps we will draw upon that deeper community as a way of enriching our conversation as we take up the perennially challenging topic of human nature. Either way, we will engage in a wide-ranging reconnaissance of major theories on the topic. We will examine conceptions of humankind drawn from such disciplines as economics, psychology, religion, literature, linguistics, anthropology, and philosophy. Lurking behind all of our endeavor will be questions of time and place, questions, if you will, of history; is human nature best understood as constant or contingent, stable or changeful with time and circumstance? We should have a lot of fun. (Open only to first year students in the University Scholars Program.)