Seminars for 2018
1. The Storytelling Animal: Evolution, Cognition, and Narrative. Mr. Abecassis. We are immersed in narrative, day and night. Myths, legends, epics, fairytales, poetry, popular lyrics, fictional prose, plays, theme parks, movies, television shows, and computer games saturate our conscious lives. Dreams saturate our sleep. The very notion of Self is essentially narrative: the stories we tell ourselves about how and why we are who we are. We will see that “reason” cannot be disentangled from narrative. Narrative thus must have played an essential role in human evolution, the Homo Sapiens absolute distinction from all other species, including earlier hominids. We will examine in this course the current cognitive and evolutionary statements concerning the origins and function of narrative. Side by side with a theoretical framework, we will study a few movies such as Rashomon (1950), Memento (2000) and Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind (2004), focusing on the relationship of memory, subjectivity, and narrative. Writing assignments will include (1) critical responses to book chapters and/or articles mostly in various branches of cognitive science and (2) critical essays about memory and subjectivity in movies. The final assignment will be a six-page research paper based on a case study of the student’s choice. This course title borrows from Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, How Stories Make Us Human (First Mariners Books, 2012), which is also our basic textbook in this course.
2. Lessons from the Mouse: What Disneyland teaches us about America. Ms. Auerbach. Disneyland both teaches and reflects American culture, with a unique mix of narrative, architecture, movement and character. By taking a closer look at the “happiest place on earth” through various theoretical, critical and cultural lenses, what can we learn? What is the role that Disney plays in contemporary American culture, and how does the theme park function within that role? As part of a diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise, with a responsibility to shareholders to make a profit, how does Disney address concerns about social responsibility? How and what does Disneyland teach children? Through film, a field trip, and readings by theorists, architects, sociologists, semioticians and corporate copywriters, this course will invite students to think critically about Disneyland and to consider their own relationship to the Mouse.
3. Archaeology: Fact and Fiction. Ms. Blessing. This course will examine how archaeologists and archaeological sites are represented in popular narratives and scholarly publications. Cities such as Troy and Machu Picchu are locations shrouded in mystery and thoroughly examined archaeological sites. Imaginary sunken cities such as Atlantis spur imagination, while underwater archaeology offers insights into trade and travel that are just as exciting. Lara Croft and Indiana Jones are movie archaeologists whose exploits are a far cry from fieldwork. Historical individuals such as Cleopatra and groups such as the Vikings are the subject of fantastic tales on film, but what is their story as it comes to light in historical sources and excavations? Students will engage with a range of sources ranging from movies to magazines, from biographies of historical figures and archaeologists to these archaeologists’ work on the sites that they have excavated. Comparisons and contradictions between these various narratives will allow us to understand how archaeology forms a substantial part of our contemporary understanding of the past.
4. Tourism: Religious Pilgrimage to Extreme Adventure. Ms. Bromley. Tourism – a $1.5 trillion-dollar industry accounting for 10% of global GDP – is one of the oldest forms of recreation and globalization. In Ancient Egypt, wealthy travelers described visiting the Great Pyramid of Giza, a site now visited by millions each year. This course begins by examining the current global tourism industry. Who is travelling and why? What impact does travel have on tourists? On the places they visit? Going back in time, we will investigate pilgrimage, the first type of tourism undertaken by large numbers of people, focusing on the journey to Santiago de Compostela. Speeding back to the present, we will examine tourism that pushes boundaries, zooming in on summiting Mount Everest. On our journey, we will consider first-person accounts, popular non-fiction, and scholarship from many academic disciplines. Along the way, you will compose a first-person narrative examining your own experiences with tourism, reflect on the benefits and drawbacks to specific types of tourism, and write and present your own research. We will also visit the Getty Center, Trip Advisor’s top thing to do in Los Angeles, studying firsthand materials collected by individuals on their travels and the latest exhibitions drawing in visitors from around the world.
5. Tolkien. Mr. Chinn. This course considers some of the major works of J.R.R. Tolkien, the “classic of the 20th century,” from a variety of perspectives. For example, we will examine Tolkien’s narrative technique, his use of visual description, his invented languages, his legendarium, his ethics, as well as the historical context of the works. Writing assignments will include explanatory commentaries and interpretive essays based upon these commentaries. The final assignment will be a short (ca. 5 page) research paper based upon one of the interpretive essays.
6. Cold Places. Ms. Chu. From snow-covered peaks to the circumpolar tundra, from the Arctic sea ice to the frozen landscapes of Antarctica, cold places evoke images of rugged wilderness and vast spaces. Far from being pristine or empty, however, cold places have been the home of diverse communities as well as the setting for dramatic cultural, political, and environmental encounters. In the twentieth century, they became geostrategic locations and treasure troves of natural resources. In the twenty-first century, they are vulnerable places and indicators of the health of our planet. What makes cold places unique, and how are they changing in light of global warming? How have cold places shaped cultures and societies? What have been the impacts on cold places of industrialization, colonialism, and modern science and technology? In this seminar, we explore the past and present of cold places through a variety of lenses. Our journey takes place through films and documentaries, fiction and journalism, and works of history, sociology, and anthropology centered on indigenous livelihoods, science, and the environment. We exercise our creative muscles through critical essays and research into the human dimensions of cold places.
7. The Politics of Protest. Ms. Dobbs. Mass political protests have prompted sweeping legal reforms, toppled governments, and changed our understandings of citizenship and personhood in countries both rich and poor, democratic and authoritarian. Yet there is enormous disagreement between both participants and observers over when and why protest events have political impact. This course explores the psychological, structural, temporal, cultural, material, and technological drivers of mass mobilization for political change. Every week, we will pair theoretical readings from political science and sociology with case studies of major protest episodes in order to develop our ability to critically assess protests and social movements. By the end of the semester, in addition to deeper knowledge of major protest cycles from around the world, you will be able to confidently address key questions at the heart of debates over the role of mass protest in modern society, such as: why do people protest? What tactics do they use? When do protests become social movements (and why does this distinction matter)? Does social media help or hinder social movements? Why do some movements fail while others are successful – and how do we define ‘success’ anyway?
8. The Literary Trial. Ms. Eisenstadt. Most of the classic western texts that portray legal trials display an uneasiness with the process of law. In some texts the law is clearly not on the side of moral right; in others the question of moral right is unclear. This course investigates this unease as it appears in various genres: historical accounts, scripture, novels, poems, movies, plays, and operas. We explore each work on its own, but also try to frame questions about the relationship of law and literature. Authors include Plato, Shakespeare, Melville, Miller, Koestler, Arendt, and Kafka.
9. Japan as Utopia and Dystopia. Mr. Flueckiger. Depictions of Japan, whether by foreigners or Japanese themselves, have often made claims about the radical differentness of Japan from other countries. These claims have varied widely in their idealizations or condemnations of Japan, at times depicting the country as a utopia of aesthetic refinement, religious enlightenment, social harmony, or advanced technology, and at times as a dystopia plagued by social breakdown, xenophobia, economic stagnation, or environmental degradation. In this course we will explore such images of Japan through fiction, memoirs, social commentary, films, anime, and other sources, examining not only what these sources tell us about Japan itself, but also what they reveal about how Japan has existed as an object of the imagination. Writing assignments will include informal reading responses, formal analytical papers on the readings, and a research paper.
10. Living with Pets and Among Wildlife. Ms. Grigsby. Connections between human and non-human animals vary across time and culture. This seminar will begin with an exploration of the relationship between people and domesticated animals, particularly dogs and cats. National parks and other protected lands offer an opportunity for people to interact with wildlife. The seminar readings include memoirs, as well as scholarship from the biological and social sciences. Writing assignments include informal reflections on the readings and discussions. More formal textual analyses will comprise the bulk of the graded writing assignments. Students will have the opportunity to take a short hike on the local wilderness trail and meet individuals involved in animal rescue organizations.
11. 9 out of 10 Seniors Recommend This First Year Seminar: Statistics in The Real World. Ms. Hardin. Headline: “Company Charged with Gender Bias in Hiring.” Is the company biased? How can we tell? What do we measure? The research supporting the headline is probably less definitive than you’d expect. In this course, we will investigate the practical, ethical, and philosophical issues raised by the use of statistics and algorithmic thinking in realms such as medicine, sports, the law, genetics, and economics. We will explore issues from the mainstream media (newspapers, webpages, TV) as well as scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals. To do all of this, we will consider a wide range of statistical topics as well as encountering a range of uses and abuses of statistics in the world today.
12. Math + Art: A Secret Affair. Ms. Karaali. We take these truths to be self-evident: You are a math person or you are not. You are an art person, or not. Some contest these “truths,” but the beliefs persist. If we put these stubborn myths aside, we can see that math and art have many real similarities. Many practice art and mathematics for their own sake rather than their profitable or practical applications. Aesthetic concerns are the main drivers of practitioners of both pursuits. We can trace the effects of the ambient culture in the development of a society’s art as well as its mathematics. Furthermore, math and art have been intricately intertwined in the tapestry that is the collective intellectual and cultural heritage of our species. In this seminar we will explore this tapestry with an eye toward uncovering what for many remains a clandestine affair: math and art together, through the centuries and into the future. Through careful reading of several texts and close engagement with various art works, we will expose the many different connections between mathematics and the arts. We will also reflect upon our own conceptions of mathematics and the arts and aim toward a unified perspective on both as embodiments of our human experience.
13. Muslim Literary Landscapes. Ms. Kassam. In this seminar, we read works by and relating to Muslims from different parts of the globe alongside critical literature in order to extend our understanding of some of the factors shaping the realities of Muslims. Through readings, student-led discussion, and written projects, students have an opportunity develop their understanding of the socio-cultural, historical, religious, and political backgrounds of the issues taken up by each of our authors. By the end of the semester, students should be able to conduct research, read critically, write clearly, and have a reasonable grasp of the contexts in which Muslims live today.
14. The European Enlightenment. Mr. Kates. European society in the eighteenth century was riddled with inequalities of all kinds: religious bigotry and political despotism, as well as new forms of racism, slavery, and class strife. The writers and artists associated with the European Enlightenment suggested radical ways to address these problems. These proposals encompassed both the political and social realms, imagining new forms of friendship and marriage, as if those relationships might constitute analogies to politics itself. In doing so, they blurred the lines between the government and the social, the political and the private, and established a moral foundation for our modern era. Readings will include primary works from the period by such authors as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, and Richardson.
15. The Spell of Reality. Mr. Kirk. There is an ancient saying, found in various forms in every tradition, according to which “reality must be thought of as a magic spell” (as Saraha puts it). If this is the case, the most straightforward way to understand the nature of reality is to investigate means of tricking the senses, technologies for the production of illusions. In other words, the most direct access to reality will be found in sorcery—or in art. This seminar will investigate some or all of the following topics: the origins of tragedy in ancient Greek goat-sacrifice, the seeding of “Western rationalism” by Mongolian shamans, the rise of romantic love as a misunderstanding of medieval mystical song, gay Ouija-board poetry, witches at CalTech, the religion of money, the cult of school, occult cinema, the psychological reality of UFOs, and the transformation of the gods into illnesses. Literature, film, and philosophy will be our sources.
16. The TV Novel. Mr. Klioutchkine. How does a television series relate to our everyday experience and to our understanding of the culture we live in? How did a nineteenth-century serialized novel relate to its readers’ perception of the world around them? What can these genres tell us about ourselves? In this seminar, we will explore these questions as we understand the links between the serialized novel and the original television series, the novel’s present-day popular incarnation. We will read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot (1867) before focusing on the television series Mad Men.
17. Genetically Modified Organisms: Public Perception, Public Policy. Ms. Navarro. GMO crops in some form—from the first ripening-delayed tomato, to pesticide resistant corn, to bruise-proof apples—have been in production in the US for over twenty years. While the FDA has deemed these food products safe for consumption, many consumers are not convinced. Self-appointed right-to-know groups fight for mandatory reporting laws. Other anti-GMO groups fight for a ban on GMOs altogether. In the wake of this consumer skepticism, several food chains and manufacturers have begun voluntarily marketing their products as non-GMO. Advocates for GMOs, meanwhile, argue that GMO crops can help save the environment and feed the world. Are GMO skeptics simply ignoring scientific evidence? Or are GMO advocates in the pockets of big industry? How can society weigh the right to have information about our food against the costs, both monetary and otherwise, of labeling? What would be the consequences of mandatory labeling or GMOs bans on developing nations struggling to feed their populations? And why have so many European countries decided to ban GMO products altogether? In addition to studying these issues related to GMOs, this class will touch on the tensions between food safety and public perception in other areas such as in irradiating food, pasteurization, and a fluoridated water supply. Our readings will focus mainly on public policy issues with some time devoted to understanding the science behind GMOs and the treatment of GMO themes in fiction.
18. Imagined Cities. Ms. Nucho. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2030, the UN projects that over 60 percent of people will live in urban centers. As the world becomes increasingly urban, it is ever more essential to study the urban experience and to think more intentionally about the cities of the future. How does the built environment help to shape and reproduce relations of inequality? What are the dreams and dystopian visions of the urban metropolis that influence how people experience the cities they live in, or imagine those they do not? In this seminar we will look at critical readings that center the urban as the object of analysis, from Henri Lefebvre to Walter Benjamin, as well as recent ethnographies of cities all over the world. We will also examine the role of the visual and the sensory in shaping ideas about the city, by reading creative works and looking at the role of cinema and art. We will also go on a walking field trip, with the aim of producing our own sensory ethnography experiment.
19. Chicanx-Latinx Los Angeles. Ms. Ochoa. This seminar unmasks the glitter, fashion, and exclusionary Hollywood representations of Los Angeles by focusing instead on the often overlooked Chicana/o-Latina/o identities, histories, inequalities, and communities throughout greater Los Angeles. Beginning with the Pomona Valley, we start the course with a discussion of the historical and structural factors shaping Los Angeles. We then consider legacies of inequality and resistance from the 1960s to the present, including education, criminalization, illegalization, gentrification and community organizing. Along with reading and writing about Chicana/o-Latina/o Los Angeles, we will also engage with our local communities by leaving campus several times throughout the semester to extend our learning beyond the classroom walls.
20. Language and Social Justice. Ms. Paster. Where do our opinions about language come from? Do certain languages inherently sound ‘harsh’, ‘guttural’, or ‘lyrical’? Are regional or minority dialects that use double negation (“He didn’t do nothing”) truly ‘less logical’ than standard English? Are ‘vocal fry’ and ‘uptalk’ – linguistic features associated with young women – signs of the downfall of the English language? In this course, we will explore how the discipline of linguistics addresses these and related questions using a scientific approach that equips us to combat misconceptions about language. We will discuss how some strongly held beliefs about language may be based more on judgments about certain groups of people than they are on fact about language itself. Students in this class will reflect on what motivates their own language attitudes and will investigate how our society’s way of thinking and talking about language (often inadvertently) perpetuates racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Assignments will include a research paper, an expository essay, and reflective writings.
21. Lose Thyself. Mr. Quetin. You have just committed to four years of a liberal arts education, the expressed purpose of which is to free your mind and soul. But what happens if it doesn’t work out that way? Or what if this education serves you too well and your freedom takes you too far? In this course we will explore the art of being lost in the context of classics texts in western literature. We will place ourselves in the midst of the perennial effort to create order and harmony in the cosmos and the natural and societal forces tearing these worldviews apart. By learning how to communicate our own experiences of being lost we will join a greater conversation with a variety of lost souls over the last few millennia to examine the extraordinary transformations that can occur in those who find themselves adrift. We’ll be immersing ourselves in epic poetry, autobiographical sketches, philosophical essays, short stories, theater and art, as well as learning how to navigate the night sky and explore the origins of the universe.
22. Punishment in Literature and Law. Ms. Raff. What is punishment for? Does it ever achieve its aims? What are its consequences for those punished, for any onlookers, and for the surrounding society? In a country in which mass incarceration is emerging as the central human rights issue of our day, these questions seem as pressing as ever. Together, we will explore how writers have addressed them in a number of diverse contexts, and we will ask what literature in particular can contribute to their study. Topics will include revenge, capital punishment, the history of the penal system, “civil death,” and “the new Jim Crow.” Readings may include Sophocles, Shakespeare, Defoe, Fielding, Kleist, Wordsworth, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Thackeray, Melville, Chekhov, Kafka, Orwell, Solzhenitsyn, Zweig, Pound, Cummings, Nabokov, Borges, Hughes, Márquez, and Kushner as well as Blackstone, Bentham, Foucault, Cover, Goffman, Posner, Alexander, and Stolzenberg.
23. Possibilities of Scent: A Cultural History of the Sense of Smell. Mr. Rindisbacher. The reek of a Kansas feed lot, the aroma of fresh-baked bread, the scent of jasmine on a breezy spring day… This course provides an entrance into the world of olfactory perception, the fleeting realm that leaves no traces, yet is preserved in myriads of objects, texts, and cultural practices all over the world. Smells connect to perfumery and luxury, to chemistry and neuroscience, to aromatherapy and advertisement, to stench and death – but always also to the erotic and sex. It is an interdisciplinary field par excellence. In this seminar we will trace instances of olfactory perception recreated in texts. We’ll investigate examples ranging from the sweet smells of romantic nature to the stench of the smoke billowing from concentration camps. We’ll study texts from many countries, epochs, and genres, including literature and cultural-historical writings, from old perfumers like Septimus Piesse and Eugène Rimmel to modern bloggers like Alyssa Harad and, of course, Patrick Süskind’s renowned Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Specific questions include: How is smell grounded in language? How do writers use olfactory description? What are the limits of the olfactory spectrum? Why is smell such a memory trigger? In short, we will investigate the cultural arc of olfactory perception, its deeply synaesthetic reach that ties scents to people, places, cultural practices, and memories.
24. Adventures with Russian Books: Tales of Passion, Crime, Wars, and Revolutions. Ms. Rudova. What is it about Russian literature that has intrigued readers around the world for more than two centuries? Why do the names of Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bulgakov, Nabokov, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, or Pelevin stir so much passion in generation after generation of book lovers? – This is your chance to find out! The short version: like no other literature, Russian writers go to extremes – and take their characters, plots, and readers along for the ride. In this seminar, we will engage their values, passions, beliefs, dreams, and fantasies and thus find out what makes Russians tick, what makes Russians Russian. We will read select works from Russian literature and analyze the narrative strategies and literary techniques that bring about their stylistic originality. In the process, we gain insight into the relationship between the human condition and art, and dig deeply into the individual, social, and political dilemmas faced by both literary characters and their authors, both in texts and the real life, culture and history of Russia.
25. Arabesque: The Arts and Aesthetics of the Islamic Middle East. Mr. Shay. What we today term Islamic art did not appear overnight with the advent of Islam as a faith, but rather took several centuries of artists and craftsmen developing and creating designs and elements. Islamic art arose largely from the societies that proceeded it, borrowing selectively from Byzantine and Sasanian traditions in order to bring a new tradition into existence. Through readings, visual examples, videos, and other media, class discussions will examine the spectrum of Islamic art and architecture to identify elements such as geometric design and improvisation that form the basis of Islamic art. Students are encouraged to bring samples of Islamic art or performance to class to share and discuss. The class will examine in detail clothing—especially the sensitive topic of the veil—calligraphy, music, and dance. Of these, dance is perhaps the most important aesthetic form, making a striking visual impression on any visitor to a Middle Eastern city. This is a writing-intensive course. There will be three formal papers, and abstracts and responses in each class for each of the readings (see syllabus).
26. Theatre in an Age of Climate Change. Mr. Taylor. What does the theatre have to tell us about humanity’s symbiotic and ever-evolving relationship with the environment? How can the theatre of today help us re-imagine our relationship to and existence in a rapidly changing natural world? And how can the theatre catalyze and/or inspire activism in our immediate (and urgent) environmental futures? By encountering a broad range of contemporary eco-dramas in reading, writing, and discussions, we will explore possible answers to these and other questions central to the study of theatre in an age of climate change. The course will culminate in the creation of student conceived eco-theatre projects. No theatre experience is necessary…
27. Reasons, Actions and Events. Mr. Thielke. There seems to be a clear distinction between actions that are done for a reason—your decision to attend Pomona College, say—and mere events like a landslide striking a tree, or food being digested in your alimentary tract. But what explains the difference between these cases? Are actions free and events causally determined, or are actions rationally grounded while events are not? Are we always aware of the reasons for our behaviors? In this class, we will look at a variety of materials drawn from fields such as philosophy, neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics, in an attempt to make sense of what, if anything, is distinctive about rational agency, and how it might differ from other events in the world. Topics will include the question of what motivates us to act, whether we have free will, what role moral considerations play in our decisions, moral luck, implicit bias, and to what extent unconscious factors guide our behavior.
28. Walking Toward Freedom. Mr. Traoré. This course examines the global development of early twentieth century Black cultural movements for freedom (Harlem Renaissance, Pan-Africanism, Negritude Movement, African Nationalism, etc). These freedom movements will be traced in history through exploration of diverse forms of dominations –slavery, colonialism, apartheid, and neo-colonialism- Africa and African diaspora have been subject between early eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Reading novels, poetry, manifestos, speeches, graphic novels, as well as historical sources, we analyse the multi-faceted interconnectedness between America, the Antilles, France, and nations of West and South Africa.
29. First Person Americas. Ms. Wall. Thanksgiving Day tells us a story of life in early America, but there was no single early America and no one story to represent it. It was a kaleidoscopic world, full of different individuals and peoples building lives and families and communities amid wrenching, sometimes shattering, social change. This course uses personal narratives from the many worlds of early America—indigenous, Spanish, English, French, African, multicultural—to explore the messy, multifaceted America they made, sometimes together, sometimes in opposition. In autobiographies, testimonies, travel accounts, captivity narratives, legal documents and other original sources, we can glimpse early Americans trying to make sense of their own lives; and we can follow, imperfectly, the tracks of large social transformations, including conquest, colonialism, disease, the development of racial thinking, economic and territorial expansion and competition, warfare, enslavement, religious conversion, gender relations, environmental change, cultural loss and cultural adaptation. We can never fully understand the past but we can try to listen to the stories people told about themselves and to take seriously what they meant in the telling. Students will write two shorter essays and one longer essay with a graded first draft. The main burden of work is in analyzing primary sources and class discussion.
30. Governing Climate Change. Mr. Worthington. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a failure to significantly and quickly limit humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions is likely to produce “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Stated differently, we are now in a climate transition that could lead to the decline of society as we know it. However, the range of possible outcomes is wide, and might also include a transformed global society that is more sustainable, equitable and peaceful than the one we live in today. Our focus in this course will be on the governance of the climate transition, which will have a lot to do with the social order that emerges from it. How does the basic science of climate change inform our understanding of the challenge we face? Can people change their behaviors that contribute to this problem? What policies have been put in place to mitigate climate change and adapt to it? What needs to happen for the governance of the climate transition to be effective? We will explore these questions through critical assessment of readings in numerous fields, such as climate science, social psychology, policy analysis, and political economy; several short paper assignments; and a final research project that builds on these papers.