Liberal Studies Seminars
Each year, Duke GLS offers a wide array of Liberal Studies (LS) Seminars developed exclusively for its students, including the GLS core course. Students in the program also can take graduate courses (500-level and higher) from across campus. For further details about course grades and requirements, see the Registration, Degree Requirements or Academic Policies pages.
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Understanding the role of science in everyday life is a critical aspect of modern society. Science is often discussed through social media, news outlets, and politics without details of the underlying concepts. “Science in the Public Eye” is designed to give all students taking it a broad introduction to fundamental scientific concepts, expose them to the natural world, and make them a more informed citizen. In this course, students will investigate topics that are often discussed through these platforms. We will explore the science behind the topic, popular opinions, and discuss misconceptions. We will focus on topics ranging from vaccinations, disease epidemics, genetically modified organisms, and antibiotic resistance to the Endangered Species Act and climate change. Our main goal through our classroom discussions will be to focus on effective communication of the topic.
Each week we will read and discuss scientific and nonscientific readings on the assigned topic. We will compare and contrast the readings and discuss misconceptions that the general public might get from only reading nonscientific articles. Students will work individually or in pairs to lead one of the weekly discussions. Students will also research a recent topic in the news and prepare a 5-7 minute presentation on the topic. In addition, students will work in groups to prepare an educational video or other form of scientific communication (podcast, infographic, newspaper column, etc.) geared towards any age group about a topic related to the course.
The development and initial offering of this new course in the Fall of 2020 was supported through the generosity of GLS alumna Lottie Applewhite.
Laurie Mauger is a Lecturer in the Department of Biology. She received her Ph.D. in 2010 from Drexel University on population genetics and conservation of American crocodiles in Costa Rica. Since graduating, her research has focused on involving undergraduate students in research on projects focusing on population genetics of crocodiles, caterpillars, ringtail cats, and ants. Today, Dr. Mauger focuses mainly on pedagogical research investigating the impact of course-based research projects on student learning and attitude towards science and nature. She has published 5 scientific papers and is working with students to submit several more. Dr. Mauger has taught a variety undergraduate level courses on genetics, evolution, general biology, conservation biology at institutions such as Princeton University, Drexel University, and Southern University and a graduate level course in population genetics at Cedar Crest College. She joined the faculty at Duke in 2018.
The purpose of this course is to better understand the processes and outcomes of death and dying. The US and other developed countries have become death phobic and have avoided interactions around death and dying. Both death and dying are culturally bound and strongly influenced by religious beliefs, we will take a interdisciplinary approach to our examination of these phenomena (including sociological, psychological, religious, biomedical, and social psychological). This will help us better understand how and where people die, multiple beliefs about life after death, and what drives the American population to experience anxiety and fear about death and dying more than any other culture in the world.
The course includes an overview of the biological process of dying and biomedical definitions of death, the social and psychological aspects of death and dying in modern American culture, death and dying as multicultural phenomena, the clinical issues around death and dying, and the management of those issues in an aging society.
Requirements include four short response papers, an oral presentation, and a final research paper.
For most of the past five hundred years, the overwhelming majority of the global population was governed by one of the major imperial powers (Ottoman, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, English, Hapsburg, and Russian/Soviet as well as the Chinese and Japanese Empires). It was not until after the Second World War that the sun began to set on this age of empire, when anticolonial movements secured national independence and the nation state became the preeminent form of governance. The long-standing impact of imperial governance on historical developments throughout the (formerly) colonized world is widely acknowledged. Less recognized are the reciprocal effects of empire on the imperial home front. Many of the technological, economic, cultural, and political attributes in which the developed world has taken a racialized pride were in fact products of the colonial encounter. The economic “revolutions” of the 17th and 18th centuries (commercial, financial, industrial and consumer), political democratization—the inclusion of white workers and eventually women in the political nation-- in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the “tribal” warfare that nearly destroyed Europe between 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, were all profoundly shaped by the colonial contexts in which national and international events unfolded.
Europe did not simply export “western civilization”, for good or ill, to the colonized world. This course will explore the connections through which a global modernity has emerged: connections between past and present, between colonized and colonizer, between underdeveloped and developed nations, between the West and the Rest. Our method of inquiry is necessarily transnational and implicitly comparative. It is also interdisciplinary. We will be examining the colonial past and postcolonial present from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives: in addition to imperial, economic, military and social history, these include journalism, economics, international relations, law, medicine, anthropology, literary criticism, cultural studies, sexuality and gender studies, and public policy.
Requirements: extensive reading, weekly reaction papers, and an independent research project.
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People take the places where they spend their waking hours for granted. Yet the landscape we inhabit is a complex product of history, of economics, of government action and of personal tastes. For most of American history, where people lived depended on where they worked (and hence on the needs of the firms that employed them) and where they shopped and played depended on where they lived. Technological changes, particularly highways and the Internet, would seem to fundamentally change those relationships, yet the hand of the past still lies heavily on the landscape. This course will show how various forces produced the American landscape, the surprising role of a few “visionaries,” and how land use choices affect the natural environment.
Living: Early cities, birth of the streetcar suburb, the “landscape of race,” post WWII suburbanization, slums and Urban Renewal, the abortive “New Town” movement, exurbs, urban revival, gentrification, second homes, New Urbanism
Working: the Industrial Revolution, early offices, the elevator and the “skyscraper,” multi-story and one-story industrial buildings, agglomeration economies, growth of the service sector, women in the labor force, open offices, working from home, WeWork
Shopping: the “high street,” the department store, Sears and catalog sales, the automobile and strip commercial, chain stores, Big Box I, Big Box II, the shopping mall (open and enclosed), outlet stores, dollar stores, e-commerce
Playing: Olmsted and urban parks, National parks, rail tourism for the rich, automobile tourism (Blue Ridge Parkway), festival tourism (from Chatauqua to Woodstock to Burning Man), the Disney parks, virtual tourism
Impacts on the Environment – Air, Water, Land, Climate – Andrew Goudie (Human
Impact on the Natural Environment – Table 5.7 of fourth ed. – 7th ed online at Duke); urban wildlife
The work-live-school nexus
Visionaries (Andrew Jackson Downing, Olmsteds – father and son, Wallace Nichols, William Levitt, Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, Victor Gruen, James Rouse, Andres Duany)
Government Action (the Vernacular Landscape v. the Official Landscape)
Literature and Art: The Jungle, The Warmth of Other Suns, John Cheever (Checkov of the Suburbs—the Swimmer), Stepford Wives, David Sedaris, art (Riis, Lozowick, Ashcan School, John Sloan)
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Sin has been narrated as social and as personal in mainstream, North American storytelling - as a matter of lies writ large and as a result of individual choice. Through a close reading of these works in North American literature, we will think through different ways of reckoning with trauma, accident, and systemic injustice. We will also consider ways that each author offers possibilities for continuing to risk the possibility of change, and even love. Readings include: Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral by Jessie Redmon Fauset, Does Your House Have Lions? by Sonia Sanchez, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Solace of Leaving Early by Haven Kimmel, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Moral Disorder and Other Stories by Margaret Atwood, and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.
Course requirements: Weekly in-class discussion of material and weekly close-reading papers (approximately 2 pp. double-spacing) on the text for the week. Participation in class is 40% of your grade; papers, 60%. Listening attentively to your neighbor is as important as speech for your participation grade. Visiting with me about the texts outside of class also counts as participation.
This course will focus on the extraordinary cultural developments which emerged in Russia during the period when the country evolved from an Imperial autocracy to a socialist empire. The great divide were the revolutions of 1917, which together ended the Romanov monarchy and brought to power a radical Bolshevik party intent on constructing a utopian transformation of society. In the years prior to the First World War during the reign of Nicholas II, Russia experienced a paradoxical set of currents dominated by political decline and cultural awakening. The upsurge in innovations in literature, painting, photography, dance and the cinema that dominated the Silver Age before the revolution maintained some degree of continuity in the early years of the post-revolutionary society of the Soviet Union. Under the banner of socialist construction, new forms of artistic endeavor and experimentation were encouraged and funded by the new regime. Yet, by the end of the 1920s, the ruling communist regime established a doctrinal consensus that led to the abolition of all other political parties at home and the creation of a global confrontation abroad that would later be named the Cold War.
We will analyze these contradictory forces, which were so influential during the transition period from tsars to commissars in Russia. Using both print sources as well as examples of the exciting art forms of the era, we shall seek to answer a number of problems which emerged in this historical time frame, including the important question of how culture and politics interact with one another in two entirely different governmental systems.
Edward Acton, Russia
Steven Marks, How Russia Shaped the Modern World
Selections from the literature, plastic arts and cinema of the time period will be made available,
There will be several short response papers in which students will analyze the artistic forms under study in their historical context, and a longer essay due at the end of the term which will permit research in greater depth on any aspect of Russian culture.
David Simon’s The Wire (HBO 2002-2008) is a graphic depiction of the war on drugs in postindustrial Baltimore. Hailed by adoring critics as “the best television series of all time,” the series’ depiction of inner city conditions has frequently been compared to Charles Dickens’ fictional depictions of early Victorian London. In fact Dickens gets top billing in many reviews: “Baltimore has found its Dickens” or “Dickens for the twenty first century” or “Running like the Dickens”. Or, as the New York Times reviewer actually said out loud: “If Charles Dickens was alive today, he would watch The Wire, unless, that is, he was already writing for it.”1 This course interrogates The Wire‘s Dickensian credentials, with respect to Dickens’s most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8). Despite, or perhaps because, of the considerable distance between their geographical and temporal settings as well as genre, their juxtaposition provides a revealing vantage point from which to scrutinize the Victorian past as well as the present. The journey of Dickens’s parish boy to and through Victorian London, his capture and eventual escape from Fagin’s gang, is echoed in the struggles of The Wire‘s young corner boys. That said, the differences between each text’s “way of seeing” crime and the city are at least as instructive as their obvious parallels. We will locate these fictional tales of two cities in their respective historical contexts. Early Victorian London and postindustrial Baltimore make useful bookends for a survey of the modern city’s evolution from its emergence during the world’s first industrial revolution to its near collapse in globalization’s economic wake. How do urban crime, policing and punishment change over the course of the last two centuries? How have perceptions of urban crime changed over time? What does each text imply about the relationship between crime, individual morality and social inequality? And most important of all, how does each text teach us to “see” the urban poor “see through” law and order discourses about crime, criminality and poverty.
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, edited by Fred Kaplan (Norton Critical Edition 1993)
“This Norton Critical Edition of a Dickens favorite reprints the 1846 text, the last edition of the novel substantially revised by Dickens and the one that most clearly reflects his authorial intentions.” Please note that our reading assignments include supporting material gathered in this edition, such as reviews of Oliver Twist and information about the historical context, which you won’t find in other editions of the novel.
Khalil Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard UP 2010)
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A forgotten history of how our government segregated America (Liveright, 2017)
The Wire (HBO 2002-2008)
The Wire is available on closed reserve in the Lilly Library. It is also available on HBO’s streaming service. There are 63 episodes. Each season engages the theme of crime in the city from a different institutional location:
Season One: Drugs (organized crime, policing)
Season two: Docks (organized labor, ethnicity, globalization)
Season Three: City Hall (political corruption)
Season Four: Schools (public education, childhood on the streets)
Season Five: Journalism (includes episode “The Dickensian Aspect”)
If “fame is a form, perhaps the worst form, of incomprehension” (Borges), there may be no more famous author than Machiavelli. His name continues to be invoked for both praise and blame by a diverse public that includes management consultants, relationship experts, psychologists, and Alexander Hamilton biographers. Investigating the development of Machiavelli’s thought as it emerges in conversation with contemporary and classical texts, this course addresses questions that have lasted for over 500 years: is he a republican or an apologist for tyrants, a realist or an idealist, Renaissance humanist or modern theorist? We will pay particular attention to how his reading of literary works, such as Ovid, Dante, and Boccaccio, shaped his political thinking in The Prince, Discourses on Livy, and The Art of War. We will also explore his remarkable dramatic and literary works, such as the Mandragola and Golden Ass, for what they reveal about Machiavelli’s distinctive ideas about power, deception, language, and representation. A major concern throughout will be the fame of Machiavelli’s ideas in later thinkers such as the American Federalists, Nietzsche, Gramsci, and Arendt, and the misunderstanding of his thought in fascism and modern conspiracy theories. Just as Machiavelli searched history for answers to his own political situation, our guiding question cannot help but be “What would Machiavelli do?”
In an August, 2018 interview, artist Boots Riley noted: “In the World of Film, We’ve Edited out All Rebellion” (the title of the interview, in Jacobin). In 1991, Anita Addison, an executive producer and director, explained in the Los Angeles Times: “There are plenty of men directors who are working today simply because they give good meeting” . . . “The industry right now does not accommodate the style of women.” In this seminar, we will read closely films created by African-American artists as acts of creative resistance to the intertwined forces of capitalism, racism, and sexism in the U.S. We will attend in particular to ways that artists acknowledge and bend the daily realities of fear and domination in workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, as well as create openings for alternative futures. Films will include Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash), The Gifted (Audrey King Lewis), An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (Terence Nance), Bamboozled (Spike Lee), Get Out (Jordan Peele), and Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley), among others to be determined. Television episodes and music videos will include work by Millicent Shelton, Debbie Allen, Sha-Rock, MC Lyte, Prince, Public Enemy, Mos Def, Daniel Glover, Chris Rock, Common, Aaron McGruder, Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monae. Assignments will include close-reading papers (due each session) and regular participation. Regular participation involves listening and attending to the words of other students as well as speaking words of your own.
The purpose of this course is to examine the final two stages of life—old age and death—using a biopsychosocial perspective. We will study the social, emotional, and biomedical changes during these stages and try to better understand the American desire to live as long as possible while delaying death. Although we will examine real-life data on these topics, the focus of the course is to see how these biopsychosocial phenomena are represented in fiction, with emphasis on their presence in novels and popular film. The course is divided into several subsections. These will include “Theories of Aging and Death,” “Gender in Aging and Death,” “Physical and Cognitive Decline in Aging” and “Extending Life by Preventing Death.”
We will document real-life issues of aging and death through an examination of the age structures of developed and developing nations, focusing on the meaning of an aging population for the future of the U.S. As most deaths in the US occur in older people, it is important to link these two phenomena on both a theoretical and pragmatic bases. Keeping the themes of aging and death as constants over the semester, we will examine issues of retirement, relationships and love in late life and among the dying, off-time death, and modern medical intervention with dying patients. We will also discuss institutional differences (i.e., between nursing homes for aging and hospice for dying) and what twenty-first century America must do to prepare for the soon-to-be old and dying baby boomers. Students will each write a final research paper on a topic discussed during the class.
*Monday classes in the summer semester will begin on Wednesday, May 15, to accommodate the May 27 Memorial Day holiday.