Humanities Course Descriptions

HUMA 11000-11100-11200. Readings in World Literature I-II-III

This sequence examines the relationship between the individual and society in a rich and exciting selection of literary texts from across the globe. We address the challenges faced by readers confronting foreign literatures, reading across time and cultures, and reading texts in translation. We focus on two major literary themes and genres: Epic Poetry (Autumn Quarter) and Autobiography (Winter Quarter). Selected readings may include: Homer’s Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Ancient Indian Mahabharata, Saint Augustine’s Confessions, Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, and Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood. Students wishing to take the third quarter of this sequence in the Spring Quarter choose among a selection of topics (e.g., “Gender and Literature,” “Crime Fiction and Murder Mysteries,” “Reading the Middle Ages: Europe and Asia,” or “Poetry."

HUMA 11500-11600-11700. Philosophical Perspectives I-II-III

This sequence considers philosophy in two lights: as an ongoing series of arguments addressed to certain fundamental questions about the place of human beings in the world, and as a historically situated discipline interacting with and responding to developments in other areas of thought and culture. Readings tend to divide between works of philosophy and contemporaneous works of literature, but they may also include texts of scientific, religious, or legal practice.

HUMA 12000-12100-12200. Greece and Rome: Texts, Traditions, Transformations I-II-III

This sequence offers an introduction to the seminal works of the Greek and Latin tradition. It follows a progression from Greek to Roman texts through to their reception in modernity every quarter and takes seriously both aspects of tradition: preservation and transformation. Each quarter has a trajectory of its own. In Autumn, the focus is on epic: Homer, Vergil, and an epoch-defining postclassical large-scale poem, such as Dante, Inferno, or Milton, Paradise Lost. Winter is devoted to tragedy and history with readings from Aeschylus, Herodotus, Livy, Seneca, Tacitus, and representative modern works, such as Shakespeare’s history plays, that combine these modes. The third quarter branches into distinct disciplines, genres, or themes. The premise is that classical antiquity was less foundational in any normative sense for Western culture than formative through the contingencies of history.  While there is no single unified classical tradition, ancient terms and ideas continue to resonate throughout our institutions, thinking, and values today.

HUMA 12300-12400-12500. Human Being and Citizen I-II-III

Socrates asks, “Who is a knower of such excellence, of a human being and of a citizen?” We are all concerned to discover what it means to be an excellent human being and an excellent citizen, and to learn what a just community is. This course explores these and related matters, and helps us to examine critically our opinions about them. To this end, we read and discuss seminal works of the Western tradition, selected both because they illumine the central questions and because, read together, they form a compelling record of human inquiry. Insofar as they force us to consider different and competing ways of asking and answering questions about human and civic excellence, it is impossible for us to approach these writings as detached spectators. Instead, we come to realize our own indebtedness to our predecessors and are inspired to continue their task of inquiry. In addition to providing a deeper appreciation of who we are as human beings and citizens, this course aims to cultivate the liberating skills of careful reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 2014–15 readings for this Core sequence consisted of philosophical and literary texts from Ancient Greece to the twentieth century, organized around the themes of “Human Being” and “Citizen." Readings in the Autumn Quarter included Genesis, Plato (Crito and Apology), Homer (Iliad), and a Surat from the Qur'an. The Winter Quarter focused on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s Inferno, and selections from the writings of Mohandas Gandhi. The texts for the Spring Quarter were Shakespeare’s King Lear, Kant's "What Is Enlightenment?" and Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, a selection of American political and literary documents, and J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians.

HUMA 14000-14100-14200. Reading Cultures: Collection, Travel, Exchange I-II-III

This sequence is devoted to the cultivation of the art of interpretation through the close reading of objects across a broad range of times and places, from the Homeric epic to contemporary film, folk tale to museum. In each case the goal is to work outward from the textual details—construing the term text generously so as to include any form of cultural production—and develop insight into the local emergence and global circulation of objects of interpretation. In the process the sequence explores questions about memory, home, and belonging; the various historical forms of cultural production, from epic to folk tale, music, film, and novels; about the challenges of translation to responsible interpretation; about texts as formative sources of human community, inter-personal obligation, and transcendence; about hybridity and the legacy of colonialism; and, of course, about the role of humanistic inquiry in addressing all these questions. The year is divided into three conceptual themes that allow us to explore the above questions: collection, travel, and exchange. Readings in the past have included Homer’s The Odyssey, The Arabian Nights, Ovid, Metamorphoses, Balzac, Père Goriot, Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Pu Songling, Strange Tales from Chinese Studio, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Zora Neale Hurston’s Of Mules and Men, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, Tomás Rivera’s And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, Richard Wright, Native Son, Marx, The Marx-Engels Reader, the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart, Alfonso Cuarón’s y tu mamá también, a visit to a museum, graphic novels, music, visual art, and cultural criticism.

HUMA 16000-16100-16200. Media Aesthetics: Image, Text, Sound I-II-III

This three-quarter sequence introduces students to the skills, materials, and relationships of a variety of disciplines in the humanities, including literature, cinema studies, philosophy, music and sound studies, theater, and the visual arts. We construe "aesthetics" broadly: as a study in sensory perception, value, and the close analysis of artistic objects. "Medium," too, is understood along a spectrum of meanings that range from the materials of art (words, sound, paint, stone, film, air, light) to various technical apparatuses and communications systems (print, photography, film, radio, television, and digital media). Our central questions include: What is the relation between media and various kinds of art? Can artistic uses of media be distinguished from non-artistic uses? What is the relation between media and human sensations and perceptions? How do media produce pity, fear, or pleasure? Do we learn new ways of seeing and hearing through the devices involved in painting, photography, music, and cinema? What happens when we adapt or translate objects into other media: painting into photography, writing into film, or music into video? This not a course in “media studies” in any narrow sense. It is rooted in a broad range of criticism and philosophy by such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Bazin, Derrida, Mulvey, Baudrillard, and Barthes. It ranges across historical eras to consider aesthetic objects of many kinds: films, paintings, photographs, novels, plays, stories, poems, songs, and albums. Occasionally, we ask questions about how the aesthetic object is situated in cultural history. More often, though, we will be fostering sensitivity to, and analysis of, the sensory, cognitive, and emotional shaping of the aesthetic experience as framed by the medium in which it occurs.

HUMA 17000-17100-17200. Language and the Human I-II-III

Language is at the center of what it means to be human and is instrumental in most humanistic pursuits. With it, we understand others, describe, plan, narrate, learn, persuade, argue, reason, and think. This course aims to provoke us to critically examine common assumptions that determine our understanding of language--and more specifically, of the ways we, as speakers or writers, use it to communicate meaning.