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.
The current international climate and, in particular, that of the U.S., has generated a tendency to focus on conflicts and differences between Americans and the peoples of the Middle East. Yet the historical relationships of Americans with the area encompass a complexity of fantasies and realities, interests and commitments, influences and fear, wishes and disappointments. This course will explore particular instances of this encounter focusing primarily on the ways in which both the U.S. government and the American public have understood the region, the effect that U.S. actions or inactions have had on the area and the ways in which both can be analyzed from a variety of perspectives. Materials used in the course will draw from both U.S. views of the Middle East and from evidence of the ways in which Americans have been represented and understood in the area. The focus of the course will be on studying and analyzing specific instances of U.S. political intervention, economic interest, and military action from World War I to the present. Among the subjects that will be included will be the significance of oil, the historical relationship with Iran, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the emergence of Islamic political movements.
Texts will include selections from a range of studies, including as examples Epic Encounters by Melani McAlister, US Policy towards Israel by Elizabeth Stevens, and American Orientalism by Douglas Little. We will also be reading foreign policy documents readily available now on the web and viewing films, as well as reading literature as vehicles to understand dimensions of this relationship beyond the formal one of policy.
Course requirements include: participation in weekly class meetings and discussion; two short papers based on the readings; an independent research project resulting in a final paper.
In a year of acrimonious debate with presidential contestants hurling invectives at each other, and in society pulling apart at the seams, even during the national anthem, while overseas a radical religious cult has strewn mayhem and violence in civilian populations forcing them to flee from their homeland, there is an acute need for alternative visions. This seminar attempts to do so with three interrelated positive themes.
Providing a sociological frame, we start with sociologist Pitirim Sorokin’s pioneering study: “Altruistic Love: A Study of American Good Neighbors and Christian Saints,” 1950. We then move into the first theme, “Heroes,” embodied in the recent film “Sully,” seen by millions of Americans: why was that film so popular, and how does it couple with 9/11 after 15 years, in the same locale? After this initial discussion we take up two heroes, both women who engaged in heroic careers in times of war: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the only woman to earn the US Medal of Honor, who engaged in spying for the North, and Joan of Arc, put on trial in 1431 with her “immodest garments suited to the male sex.” The next unit will deal with two saints: Francis of Assisi who lived in a period of urbanization and income inequality founder of an order of voluntary poverty, and was canonized two years after his death in 1228. The second saint, Mother Walatta Petros, is a 17th century saint of the Ethiopian Church, opposed to the Jesuit missionary influence, who wrote a remarkable biography and ethnographic study, just recently published by Princeton University Press.
To do justice to the final theme, “Saviors,” we will look at two who qualify in the 20th Century: Mahatma Gandhi of India and Martin Luther King, Jr. of the United States. Just as the recognized founder of Christianity, they put passive resistance or non-violence into practice, as the hallmark of their civic action. And as a further common denominator, all three died a violent death.
The seminar will give much weight to class discussion, a mid-term, and a final power point presentation by a team.
This course introduces one of the most popular examples of world literature in the West, The One Thousand and One Nights (alf layla wa layla) or The Arabian Nights. The course focuses on the internal structure of The Arabian Nights, its relationship to world literature, its significance as both high literature and folklore, and its sphere of influence. A collection of Oriental frame tales, it captured the imagination of generations of Western readers and prominent writers. The Arabian Nights presents in classical Arabic and in the vernacular: fairy tales, romances, fables, legends, parables, anecdotes, erotica, debates, and adventures in which the main narrative is embedded within a preliminary narrative. Students will examine other texts of world literature to identify structural and thematic comparisons. For example, The Decameron written 1351-1353 by Giovanni Boccaccio contained 100 fabliaux, fairy tales, and folk tales from ancient lineage that in turn provided Chaucer with the general framework of The Canterbury Tales, where the tales of the various pilgrims are embedded within the frame story of the journey. The Night’s narrative techniques have long appeared in the works of other Anglo-American and European writers. We will read selected works by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, John Barthes and A.S. Byatt. We will also consider and discuss differences in translations of The Arabian Nights, such as those by Richard Burton, Edward Lane, John Payne, and Hussain Haddawi, in an attempt to assess the role of translation and its theories in comparative literature.
The Arabian Nights, Hussain Haddawy (trs.). Norton Critical Edition ISBN: 978-0-393-92808-2
Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Penguin ISBN: 13-978-0-140-44930-3
Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales. Penguin ISBN 978-0-14-042234-4.
S. Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye .ISBN: 13- 978-0679762225
Course documents (prepared by the instructor and available on the course Sakai site)
- Class attendance, presentations and active participation in discussion. 20%
- Weekly Sakai forum: students will post a thoughtful response (300-500 words) to posted questions concerning the readings. Engagement with other students’ posts is encouraged. In order to receive credit, responses must be posted before noon on the day before the material is to be discussed. 20%
- Mid-term paper of 5 to 8 pages (1000-1500 words). 20%
- Term paper topic proposal with annotated bibliography (must contain a minimum of seven citations). 10%
Term research paper of 10 to 15 pages (2000-3000 words). 30%
The U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted considerable reflection on the ethics and efficacy of US foreign policy. This course locates these discussions in the very broad historical context of Europe’s colonial from Columbus to the present. We will be focusing primarily if not exclusively on the ways in which Empire(s) transformed European culture at least as much as the European colonial powers transformed colonial cultures and the cultures of colonized populations. To what extent was Western civilization itself a product of the colonial encounter? What role did colonialism play in the industrial revolution, on which Europe’s global dominance would increasingly depend? What role did the colonies play in making the European working class “safe” for democracy? How has political culture in the overdeveloped world been affected by postcolonial migrations? And, finally, what lessons might be drawn from the history of previous colonial encounters regarding the legal and ethical bases, as well as future prospects, of what some have begun to call the present age of American Empire?
Assignments include weekly posts of your reaction to the readings and an independent research paper.
The primary focus of this course is the interrelationship between national identity and the phenomenon of exile. We will cover the 19th and 20th centuries and center our readings on developments in Europe, Russia and the US. Nation-states are comparatively recent historical institutions, and definitions of belonging (citizenship) have varied widely. Because of huge waves of migrations beginning with the era of the French Revolution, large transfers of populations have taken place with motives ranging from the need to escape from religious and political persecution to the search for either intellectual liberty or a more secure economic existence.
We shall be studying examples of these migrations and the experience of exile within the context of the demands of national identity and criteria of loyalty to the state. In some cases, exile has stirred extraordinary creativity, as witnessed by the large number of famous cultural figures in the Western world whose finest work was done outside of their country of birth. In other instances, exile has been dominated by depression, mourning and nostalgia for the lost homeland and its culture. In yet others, groups of politically committed exiles have devoted their lives to establishing conditions that would make it possible for them to return to their homelands from which they were driven or expelled. We will investigate the history of those who have been expelled from their country of origin and the nature of their experiences in the societies where they found asylum. One of our central questions will be to determine whether nationalism and exile are in necessary opposition to one another. To put it another way, must our notions of national identity and citizenship be dependent upon the need to define unacceptable differences?
Course requirements: Several short response papers and a research paper due at the end of the course.
Required books: (available at the University textbook store)
Dahbour, O. and M. R. Ishay (eds.). The Nationalism Reader
Kramer, Lloyd, Nationalism in Europe and America (UNC Press, 2011)
Simpson, John (ed.). The Oxford Book of Exile
Darwin’s book (1859), On the Origin of Species, shook the world. What really was the “Darwinian Revolution”? Why is Darwinism, or evolution, still so controversial? How do evolutionary ideas affect medicine, agriculture, astronomy, psychology, sociology, even religion? Is evolution and spirituality incompatible? What IS the evidence for evolution? These are some of the issues we discuss in The Darwinian Revolution.
This course consists of three (very) general and overlapping components. In the first section of the course we will read (at least) some of The Origin of Species so we can see how Darwin framed the problem and provided evidence in support of his theory. Although biology has come a long way since Darwin published his book, it’s amazing that the basic tenets of evolution by natural selection, as we understand them today, were accurately laid out more than 150 years ago. We will then do some reading to better understand the historical context of evolutionary biology. As we shall see, the idea of evolution was not entirely new with Darwin. Darwin’s really original contribution was in proposing a naturalistic (as opposed to a supernatural) mechanism for evolution – that is, natural selection. First, of course, we will need to consider what we actually mean by “evolution”, what “natural selection” is, and how scientists study these topics. We will also discuss terms such as “fact”, “theory”, and “hypothesis”, as they are used in the scientific literature and by the public. We will read about and discuss the philosophical implications of Darwinism, and examine the “creationist” alternative to evolution in a variety of contexts from the legal to philosophical.
In the second component of the course we will have a look at the modern evidence for evolution. We examine the history of life on earth as revealed by the fossil record, including human evolution over the last two million years. We will also discuss other sorts of less direct evidence from the fields of genetics and molecular biology, biogeography, and comparative anatomy.
In the last section of the course, we will discuss some of the uses and abuses of evolutionary ideas. These include critically important applications in medicine and agriculture, as well as horrendous misapplications of (pseudo)evolutionary ideas, including eugenics and racism. Here we also examine and discuss current ideas about the evolution of what we think of as uniquely human characteristics such as moral/ethical thinking, and laughter, and discuss the role of natural selection in contemporary human populations.
A couple important points about this course. You need not be a scientist or biologist! We will address these issues in a way that is accessible to all. Who might this course interest? If you are opposed to the idea of evolution on religious grounds – join us; we need to hear your voice! If you just don’t know what to think in that regard, and want more information – join us! If you are interested in biology and natural history – join is; evolution is the glue that holds all of biology together! The more diverse our class, the more interesting the course. Several years ago was the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and the 150th anniversary of publication of The Origin, so the time is right!
This course will be taught as a research and writing seminar closely connected to the ADA and to visiting photographers whose work is held in the archive. This course will challenge students to think critically about photography and to frame the subject of photographic meaning personally, historically and conceptually. Students will consider how photography offers insights into subjects such as social change, sexual identity, and regional culture, and how images have shaped our collective understanding of these subjects. Students will write about specific photographs or groups of photographs, taking into consideration their own response to the images, the historical moment in which the pictures were made, the personal history and artistic sensibility of the photographer, the tools of the medium, and the ways in which all of these factors come together to create a meaningful depiction of the world.
There will be 5 short papers (2 to 5 pages) assigned in response to the visiting artists or reading under discussion. In addition, each student will write one longer paper (6 to 8 pages), devoting more in-depth study to a group of photographs in the archive of their own choosing.
There will be a series of discussions about photographs in the archive, sometimes led by individual photographers whose work is represented in the archive.
There will be assigned readings each week covering some of the history of photography and seminal ideas expressed by artists, curators, and critics. Each week 2-3 students will be asked to prepare questions in advance and assist in leading the discussion.
I will assess your final grade on a combination of two factors: (1) Preparation for and contributions to class discussions and (2) the quality the assigned papers.
More than one unexcused absence will impact your final grade.
American Photography by Miles Orvell
Beyond Beauty (library copy will be provided)
Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values, by Robert Adams
Reading Packet with essays by John Szarkowski, Susan Sontag, Jerry L. Thompson, Robert Coles, Tom Rankin, Margaret Sartor, Walker Evans, among others.
Seminar participants will take part in the joint analysis and interpretation of Homer’s canonic epic poem, The Odyssey, against the background of archaic Greek and ancient Near Eastern heroic narrative traditions (such as the Gilgamesh Epic). In the latter phase of the course, we will examine aspects of the reception of the poem in contemporary Caribbean literature (e.g. Derek Walcott’s play, The Odyssey and Aimé Césaire’s prose-poem, Return to my native land.
In addition to a final seminar paper of approximately 10-15 pages, students will be asked to do a short oral presentation on an assigned research topic related to Homeric epic narrative motifs and their reception in later European and postcolonial literature and film (e.g. James Joyce’s Ulysses; the movie, O Brother, Where art Thou?).
Have you ever wondered why magical knowledge is forbidden, and yet pervasive in our culture at different times? Have you paused to consider what claims religion can make about human affairs, the natural world or the supernatural? Have you ever asked why science commands such authority and even awe? Or have you wondered how religion has at times driven on scientific inquiry and, at other times, curiously dismissed robust scientific theories?
This seminar explores these questions by looking at the ways that three ways of understanding our world—magic, religion and science—have intersected in surprising and creative ways in our culture. The seminar explores selected episodes in our history when the boundaries between these ways of knowing unsettled understandings about nature, the divine and even the supernatural. Topics might include: Renaissance wonder and naturalism; the puzzle about Galileo and religion; witchcraft as a rational way of coping with the world; Romanticism and nature; the first “scientific” religion (Spiritualism); early psychology and its ties with the occult and the paranormal; the curious renaissance of occultism in our own day; the conflict between “creationism” and Darwinism; and religion as a product of evolution. A special unit will focus on the Laboratory for Parapsychology at Duke University (1930-65) and the efforts to make psychical research into a field of modern psychology.. Over and over we will encounter such paradoxes as the uses of science to detect the supernatural; the “magical” underpinnings of both religion and science; and living in a “disenchanted” modern society.
The course may not answer all of our questions, but the aim is to understand the long history behind our current ways of knowing, and how they are shaped by culture and society. Approaches to the topic will include anthropology, history and the history of science, psychology, religious studies, and literature.
Readings involve a variety of secondary and primary sources and may change depending upon availability. Books may include: Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues;; Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (1997); David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, ed., When Science and Christianity Meet (2003); Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998); Charles Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science; Lawrence Wright, Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory (Vintage Books); Thomas Robisheaux, The Last Witch of Langenburg (New York, 2009); Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy, Part One (Yale University Press); and Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (HarperCollins); Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof After Death (New York, 2006).
Writing assignments will total about 25-30 pages, and will include a combination of short essays and a longer research paper.
Nearly 97 years ago and into the 1930s, Frank C. Brown, a Duke scholar, began recording North Carolina folk music and archiving it for posterity. NC Jukebox will give students the chance to explore the cultural history of North Carolina and the South past through analog and digital archival material through the digitized recordings in the Frank Brown Collection at the Rubenstein Rare Book and Special Collections Library.
Through analyzing digitized historical materials—both texts and vintage audio--and researching in local collections, students will create new interpretations of North Carolina’s cultural history and present these to a wider public through new media. The course will integrate readings in folklore, history, and ethnomusicology. No prior technology experience is expected.
Course participants will submit weekly responses to the readings on our course blog, contribute to class discussions, develop an introductory assignment on a primary source (e.g. a song/singer from the Frank Brown Collection), a research project proposal, and create a final research project/paper with a new media component. There will be an optional field trip to The Orchards at Altapass (http://www.altapassorchard.org/events_calendar.shtml).