University Seminars (USEMs): Spring 2010

University Seminars (USEMS) are designed to give first-year students the opportunity to develop critical-thinking skills and explore new ideas in an environment that encourages interactive learning and intensive discussion. The seminars are based on ideas that have changed the way we think about our relation to the world around us. The seminars are given by prominent faculty in departments and schools across the University, carry two or three hours of credit, and are restricted to 18 first-year students during the initial course enrollment. If space is remaining, second-, third-, and fourth-year students may enroll using a Course Action Form.

Refer to the Student Information System Course Catalog for a list of specific offerings each semester.

One 3 Credit Courses are being offered this spring in addition to our traditional 2 credit courses. Note: College of Arts & Sciences' student only: USEM 170s count as credit and 171s count as elective credit inside the College of Arts & Sciences. Please check the course website before enrolling.

Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union

3 Credit Course
Monday 9:00 – 11:30 am
Clemons, Room 322A
Yuri Urbanovich, Lecturer

This course is about Russia and the Soviet Union. It is designed to explore some of this country’s major political themes of the twentieth century through an understanding of Russia’s history, culture, and politics.

Bruce Springsteen’s America

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Bryan Hall 332
Stephen Arata and Victor Luftig, Associate Professors’

This course will explore Springsteen's music and lyrics both in terms of the American cultural history that it has served to process and sometimes to epitomize, and in terms of the way it has engaged with American politics, including Ronald Reagan's invocation of "Born in the USA" and Barack Obama's use of "The Rising" during his campaign, but especially focusing on The Rising as a response to the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath. This exploration will serve as an introduction both to close reading skills at the college level and as an introduction to the study of relations between art and politics. Students will write two brief papers, one that studies a Springsteen song in relation to work (by Springsteen and/or others) that preceded it and another that looks at the responses a Springsteen song or album elicited in a particular political or cultural context. Reading assignments will include biographical and critical material about Springsteen as well as historical works about American cultural moments contemporaneous with his works. Each student will be responsible for at least one in-class presentation. We will conclude by considering questions such whether there are likely to be figures after Springsteen who will inherit his role.

Keeping a Personal Journal

2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Ruffner Hall 173
John Bunch, Associate Professor

Our writing/discussion group will explore the various ways one can use the journal keeping process for personal insights academic understandings and self-expression. We will include making sketches and photographs as tools that are closely related to the journal writing process (for personal use--not “art”). The examples we will read about and discuss include journal keeping as problem-solving, process mediation, dialogue, scientific investigation, social research, and thought clarification as a prelude to writing and other forms of expression. Specific journal assignments will include Lists, Portraits, Maps, Snapshots, Tear-sheets, Sketches, Dialogues, Guided Imagery, Points of View and Unsent Letters; we will read selections from the disciplines such as science, history, anthropology and the arts and from among the genres of the diary/journal such as Chroniclers, Travelers, Creators, Apologists, Confessors and Prisoners. Course requirements will be to keep a personal journal, to read assigned selections on journal keeping, so submit journal entries on specific topics and themes, and to submit a narrative discussion on a person’s diary or journal.

The Origin of the Universe

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Bryan Hall 312
Vittorio Celli, Professor Emeritus

Has the universe always existed or was it created from nothing? Is it finite or infinite in extent? Until the 1920’s, scientists by and large left these questions to religion and philosophy. Then Hubble found that the universe is expanding, as predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Now we have plenty of evidence that, as far in the sky as our instruments can see, it all started about 14 billion years ago with a Big Bang. But was there something before the Bang, and how did it come about? We will discuss what is known, what is still uncertain or speculative, and what appear to be the ultimate limits of human ability to know, with readings from Hawking’s “Brief History of Time”, web sites, and current articles in this rapidly evolving field.

Contemporary Asian America

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 5:00 – 6:50 pm
Bryan Hall 312
Sylvia Chong, Assistant Professor

Although Asians have been in American for as long as America has been in existence, the issues confronting them have changed greatly over time. This seminar focuses on the post-1980 period, after the term “Asian Americans” was coined and then put into use by local activists, and subsequently by the federal government and mainstream society as well. We will examine three broad topics: (1) Identity and Politics: Who counts as Asian American? What political issues unite or divide this community? (2) Higher Education: How have Asian Americans affected debates over multiculturalism? Diversity? Curriculum? Institutional representation? (3) Hate Crimes and Discrimination: How have particular instances of hate crimes or discrimination involving Asian Americans affected the community as a whole? This seminar will provide many opportunities for reflecting on the particular issues for Asian Americans that arise at the University of Virginia. The end of this course will involve a project for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (April), in which small groups from the seminar will each contribute an event towards APAHM.

Adventures in Human Genetics

2 Credit Course
Monday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Chemistry 260
Claire Cronmiller, Professor

This course is designed to give students an understanding and appreciation of basic principles of genetics and how they apply to the human condition. Topics will include human heredity and genetic disorders, gene therapies, alternative reproductive strategies and genetic engineering. Introductory background information in genetics will be presented in the context of case studies, drawn from stories from the historical past, as well as recent news media headlines. Case discussions will also include consideration of key ethical dilemmas that have arisen as a result of major research advances in human genetics.

Urban Sprawl

2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Bryan Hall 312
Bruce Dotson, Associate Professor

Urban Sprawl is an issue that impacts virtually every community and can be questioned as a sustainable pattern for growth. Sprawl, a characteristic American pattern, is also becoming a concern in European as well as other countries. Policy makers have devised a number of approaches and tools to discourage sprawl and to contain and shape development within desired growth areas. Case studies and examples of different approaches are examined and discussed.

In Others’ Worlds: Can a Mango be a Pear?

2 Credit Course
Monday 3:15 – 5:00 pm
New Cabell Hall B028
Mehr Farooqi, Assistant Professor

Language, culture and family roots are essential to a person’s sense of being and identity. Migration often results in the loss of all three leaving what can perhaps be described as a fragment of the self. The process of redefining one’s self or rediscovering one’s identity can be painfully arduous for some people. But it can also prove to be a release from the constraints of conservative cultural norms, and a happy reconciliation with one’s inner self. ‘Home’ can be defined in multiple ways. In the context of displacement it represents the cultural grid, a reference point that becomes the touchstone of what is perceived, experienced and understood. In the last twenty five years or so writers of South Asian descent have made a big splash in the arena of global English. Many of these writers are settled in the UK or USA and write primarily to a readership in the western world. Through a reading of some of these writers, such as Amitav Ghosh, Bharati Mukherjee, Jhumpa Lahiri we will try to understand how dislocation both metaphorical and literal creates fictions, how the double filters of distance and time operate on memory and the diasporic imagination, how migrants relate to concepts of ‘home’ and ‘homeland’ and other related issues. In doing so, we expect to learn about ourselves, to what extent we understand the role of language, culture and home in our lives, and the diasporic experience of the migrant.

Using Web 2.0 for Health

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:30 – 5:20
Claude Moore Nursing Educ 1110
Sarah Farrell, Associate Professor

The objective of this course is to help students research, evaluate and use health care resources using web 2.0 technologies. Students will gain an understanding of the history, political/legal, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technological nature of health resources on the internet. The course involves a community learning project where the students explore a social justice and health issue, such as how can we make the world a better place for aging? Readings and reflection come from global health literature. Tools involve reflective writing, researching a topic for the blog and digital ethnography for final project.

Religion, Race, and Nation

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:30 – 5:20 pm
New Cabell Hall 130
Mark Hadley, Associate Professor

An exploration of how constructs of race and religion intersect with ideals of American nationhood through the reading of classic texts by African-American authors such as Frederick Douglass, W.E. B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin and others.

Diversity in the US Workplace

2 Credit Course
Thrusday 2:00 – 3:50
Robertson Hall 260
Rebecca Leonard, Lecturer

Diversity is a competitive business strategy, which U.S. firms in today’s global marketplace must embrace to remain successful. Workforce trends show that a majority of new entrants to the US Workforce in the coming decade will represent non-white, minority groups. Understanding differences and creating inclusive work environments is a key skill for managers today. The objective of this course is to increase students understanding and awareness of issues related to differences and the impact of differences on: individual behavior in organizations, team development and effectiveness, organizational change and effectiveness and organizational success. This course will examine, define and create a greater understanding of diversity as a business imperative as well as challenge students to examine their own biases and stereotypes and how they can create positive changes for a more inclusive environment at U.Va. and in their future workplaces.

Introduction to Global Women’s Health

2 Credit Course
Monday 10:00 am - 12 pm
McLeod 2005
Breyette Lorntz, Assistant Professor

What is women’s health? What defines and influences women’s health around the world? In this course students will explore concepts central to 1) supporting personal health and well-being and 2) understanding global health problems and solutions women face around the world. Students will also work to describe active linkages between global women’s health and their intended majors. Community and academic leaders, from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, who address global women’s health issues at UVa and in our area, will be invited to share their experiences with students and to lead hands-on workshops. Emphasis will be placed on creating a learning environment for active discussion and critical thinking.

The Politics of Now

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Miller Center G001
Paul Martin, Assistant Professor

This class engages contemporary politics in the United States and the world around us. Class is designed around a series of contemporary discussions about politics stimulated by current policy makers, political journalists, public affairs writers, and activists.

Discovering the World Through Story: A Global Approach to the Humanities

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 7:00 – 8:50 pm
Byrd Seminar Room, Harrison Institute
Kelly Miller, Lecturer

How can reading stories help us understand ourselves and the world around us? This course offers an introduction to the humanities by exposing students to stories by authors from around the world. Students will receive an orientation to global resources in the University Library and meet international members of the University community.

Quiet Mind Smart Mind

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 9:00 – 10:50 am
Mem Gym 213
Marga Odahowski, Director of Studies

In our fast changing world, our economic leaders suggest the future belongs to the creative’s. Daniel Pink, author of the book, A Whole New Mind state’s “the future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different mind-creative’s and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers.” The ability to negotiate change and innovation without losing one’s own rhythms and goals is important in today’s complex world. Being able to take global issues to the individual and local level requires understanding connections and relationships and the ability collaborate.

Rhetorical Thinking & Speaking

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 4:00 – 5:50 pm
Robertson Hall 227
Rob Patterson, Assistant Professor

The course will begin by exploring the rhetorical ideas and foundational works of the classicists such as Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle. We will explore the multiple meanings of rhetoric and how to think rhetorically. Moreover, the theoretical grounding of this course is built upon common ground between these thinkers, which is that effective rhetorical education is rooted in three essential elements: natural ability; knowledge, and practice. The idea is that students will: 1) explore, embrace, and work within their natural abilities, 2) acquire knowledge on how to structure ideas for public speeches and model good delivery through discussion and by viewing and critiquing Great Speeches, and 3) practice their craft by rehearsing and delivering speeches. Some student speeches will be taped and reviewed together by the student and instructor.

Our time will be divided between theoretical explorations of rhetoric and the academic/lifelong knowledge and skill of giving public speeches. Three extemporaneous speeches (the informative, the ceremonial, and the persuasive) will be delivered. In addition, students will deliver two impromptu speeches. Our goals, through theoretical exploration and practice of the fundamentals or organization, content, delivery, will be to hone listening, presentational, and evaluation habits – the habits needed to become engaged critics and competent speakers of thoughtful message here at UVA and beyond.

Teaching and Schooling in America

2 Credit Course
Monday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Ruffner Hall 281
Stephen Plaskon, Associate Professor

This USEM will explore current trends and efforts to revitalize teaching and schooling in America. Participants will examine ideas and proposals for improving teaching and schooling and discuss current trends and issues. Each class participant will be actively engaged in class discussions and will be given the opportunity to choose either a reflective written paper or engage in a special project as a part of this USEM. Various films, in class activities, and guest speakers will be used to stimulate conversation, discussion and critical thinking about the issues of critical importance to teaching and schooling in America.

Genocide and Mass Killing

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:00 – 4:50 pm
New Cabell Hall 330
Jeffrey Rossman, Associate Professor

One of the defining features of the twentieth century was the repeated use of genocide and other types of one-sided mass killing by states against internal and external populations. In this seminar, we will explore these phenomena from a theoretical and historical point of view, with particular attention to ethnic and racial genocides (e.g., Armenia, the Holocaust, Yugoslavia, Rwanda) and the mass killings that have taken place under Communist regimes (e.g., Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia). While the experience of victims will be of central concern, we will also examine the experience and motivations of perpetrators, the explicit and implicit goals of the terrorizing/genocidal state, and the response -- or lack of response -- by the international community. Requirements include reading of about 250 pages per week, active participation in class discussions, two 5-page analytical book reviews, and a 15-page historiographical review essay.


2 Credit Course
Monday and Wednesday 3:00 – 3:50 pm
New Cabell Hall 139
David Rubin, Professor Emeritus
Fulfills Second Writing Requirement

This interactive, methodological USEM introduces a widely accepted model of presumptive reasoning and provides ample practice in the analysis, appraisal, and construction of arguments. While mastering the model, participants will discuss then write about recent op-ed columns on problems in higher education. Then - after brief glances at critical pluralism as well as reasoning in law and ethics - focus will shift to major positions in the controversy over academic freedom (i.e., freedom to teach and freedom to learn). Former participants report that the USEM prepared them for seminars and eventual research in the humanities and the social sciences, as well as the analytical reasoning section on graduate and professional school aptitude tests.

Digital Humanities

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:00 – 4:50 pm
New Cabell Hall 235
Kurtis Schaeffer, Associate Professor
Bill Ferster, Senior Scientist

Digital Humanities is a project-based seminar on role of computers, digital technology, and electronic media in the humanities, in which we will explore traditional views on the aims and scope of the humanities, the potential of digital technology to fulfill or transform those aims, and the possible applications of digital humanities to contemporary public intellectual life. Students will participate in a course project, the digital re-creation and analysis of the first library of the University of Virginia. Housed in the Rotunda, UVa's first library was personally compiled by Thomas Jefferson in the final years of his life, though he did not live to see it placed in the Rotunda. We will be using VisualEyes (, a web-based tool for visualizing and analyzing primary documents, maps, timelines, charts, catalogues, and other basic resources for humanities scholarship. VisualEyes was developed by course co-leader Bill Ferster.

Science with no Borders

2 Credit Course
Monday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Bryan Hall 332
Sandra Seidel, Associate Professor

This is an integrated science class with an interdisciplinary emphasis designed particularly for both potential science and non-science majors. The course investigates a few major ideas in the natural sciences, emphasizing the process of science through hands-on and minds-on activities and discussions. The content illustrates the connections between fundamental scientific ideas across traditional disciplinary borders.

Dying, Death and Grief or I’d rather be in Philadelphia

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:00 – 4:50 pm
Claude Moore Nursing Education Building 1120
Richard Steeves, Professor

The title refers to what the comic W.C. Fields was reported to have written on his gravestone, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” This course is an exploration of thinking about dying, death, and bereavement. Although western culture and American culture in particular has a reputation for being death denying, we do in fact confront images of and talk about death on almost a daily basis. This course will not be a study about death and dying in the news and popular media, rather it will be about those who have thought about our mortality seriously and extensively. The course will be divided into three foci: (a) writers and poets, (b) death professionals such as hospice workers, funeral directors and grief counselors, (c) social scientists who study homicide, suicide, bereavement and related topics. The goal is to explore different ways of thinking about what may truly be beyond our understanding, death.


2 Credit Course
Thursday 4:00 – 5:50 pm
Bryan Hall 312
Mark Thomas, Professor

The course will look at the history and society of the land ‘down under.’ Australia is a land of opportunity and paradox. It began as a penal colony and became the richest country in the world within a hundred years. It is a country that has been independent of Britain for a century, yet still has the Queen as head of state. It is a vast continent of only 15 million inhabitants, yet has remarkable regional diversity. It has long been among the most urbanized of global societies, yet its cultural identity is largely shaped by rural idealism.

To understand contemporary Australia, one must understand its past, both as myth and reality. This course will look closely at some of the major events in Australian history, form the voyages of Captain Cook and the landing of the First Fleet at Botany Bay, through the excitements of the Gold Rush and Ned Kelly, the traumas of Gallipoli and the Great Depression, to the economic, political and social problems faced in the uncertain world of the new millennium. We will use both traditional and non-traditional means to understand these events, applying the realist perspective of the historian, the subjective perceptions of the diarist and novelist, and the powerful imagery of the artist and the film-maker.

Journeys Through Hell

2 Credit Course
Wednesday 4:00 – 5:50 pm
Dariusz Tolczyk, Associate Professor

Extreme experiences of evil and oppression -- concentration camps, prisons, mass terror, and other forms of victimization -- have often been presented as opportunities for unusual personal growth and spiritual ascent. From archaic initiation rites of diverse cultures through ancient Greet, Roman, and Biblical s wisdom, as well as many literary traditions, the pint has been stressed repeatedly that being exposed to suffering and oppression not only can make us better, stronger, and more enlightened human beings but, in fact, tends to be a necessary condition of such profound ennoblement.

Is it true? Survivors of extreme experiences of the twentieth century, including the Holocaust, the Soviet Gulag, Communist prisons of Eastern Europe, and Chinese mind-reform camps ask this question while describing their own ordeals. What can we learn from them about humanity, both in general and our own?

In this seminar, we will explore and discuss cultural, religious and intellectual roots of the conviction that extreme oppression can ennoble us. We will confront these traditions with survivors’ writings about Nazi and Communist oppression. In our explorations, we will ask some profound questions: What motivates human beings under extreme conditions? Are human beings good by nature? How does mass-scale evil originate in history? How do diverse cultural backgrounds affect ways in which people react to these assaults against their humanity? Our discussions will allow us to explore human experiences not directly accessible for most of us, and confront our own assumptions with discoveries of those who lived through extreme experiences. Readings include short excerpts from the Bible, Plato, Juvenal and some more recent thinkers, as well as prison/camp memoirs by Elie Wiesel, Aleksandr Solzhenistyn, Zhang Xialniang, Eugenia Ginzburg, Varlam Shalamov, Gustaw Herling, Tadeusz Borowski. Films “The Pianist” (by Roman Polanski), “Life is Beautiful” (by Roberto Benigni), and “Interrogation” (by Ryszard Bugajski) will be viewed outside of class and discussed in class.

Women and Education

2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:00 – 3:50 pm
Ruffner Hall 175
Eleanor Wilson, Associate Professor

This course is designed to introduce students to a variety issues arising from women’s involvement in the field of education. The first class sessions are focused on introducing students to common tenets of feminist theory and then discussing the fictional portrayal of women in twentieth century novels. After these initial class meetings, the course continues with an in-depth reading of late twentieth century approaches to women’s roles in education and concludes with an examination of the current roles women have played and continue to play as students, scholars, and leaders in American educational institutions.

Giving in America: A History

2 Credit Course
Tuesday 4:00-5:50
Pavilion VIII 103
Olivier Zunz, Professor

American philanthropy is far more than an act of generosity writ large. It represents an integral part of America’s daily life, shaping the ways we practice active citizenship, acquire knowledge, solve problems, govern ourselves, and project our image abroad. With this in mind, students will learn the history of American philanthropy from colonial days to the present. The heart of the class is the students’ engagement with carefully selected primary sources on philanthropic personalities (donors and reformers), programs (from disaster relief to the pursuit of science), and institutions (from big foundations to mass fundraising organizations) at different times, and active participation in weekly discussions. The class will also introduce students to representative philanthropic initiatives in Charlottesville and give them a chance to join action to reflection.