University Seminars (USEMs): Spring 2011

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.

Two 3 Credit Courses are being offered this fall in addition to our traditional 2 credit courses. Note: College of Arts & Sciences' student only: USEM 1570s count as credit and 1580s count as elective credit inside the College of Arts & Sciences. Please check the course website before enrolling.

Media and the Civil Rights Movement
2 Credit Course
Thursday 2:30 – 4:20
Pavilion VIII 103
Aniko Bodroghkozy, Associate Professor

The Civil Rights movement benefited from and to a significant extent required the attention from national media in order to achieve its political and social objectives. How did the media respond to, engage with, and represent this most powerful of social change movements? We will examine a variety of media forms: Hollywood cinema, network television, mainstream newspapers, the black press, news magazines, and radio in order to explore the relationship between the movement and the media.

The Origin of the Universe
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50pm
Physics Building 218
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 13.7 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.

In Search of Happiness
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 10:00 – 11:50am
SHEA House
Enrico Cesaretti, Associate Professor

An examination of the major contributions that Italy has made to Utopian (and dystopian) literature in the modern era.

Be the Spider Not the Fly: Evaluating Health Care on the Internet
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:30 – 5:20pm
New Cabell Hall 330
Sarah Farrell, Associate Dean

The objective of this course is to help students research, evaluate and use health care resources on the Internet. Students will gain an understanding of the history, political/legal, economic, social, cultural, environmental and technological nature of health resources on the Internet. The students will gain experience in researching, evaluating and using health care resources as well as developing their own resources. The course involves a service learning project where the students conduct a needs assessment with a health care provider/educator on a topic matching both their research interest and community service opportunity. Students use emerging social media tools to disseminate health information.

Religion, Race, and Nation
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:00 – 4:50pm
Pavilion VIII 103
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.

Gender, Violence and Culture
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 3:00 – 4:50pm
Pavilion VIII 108
Kathryn Laughon, Assistant Professor

Popular discussions about violence against girls and women grossly exaggerate some forms of violence and seriously minimize others. In this course, we will explore how we define violence, theories of why violence exists, and will contrast what the data tell us about how girls and women experience violence across their lifespan with how female-directed violence is depicted in newspapers, magazine and entertainment media. We will examine how risk of violence varies according to the type of violence, the type of perpetrator, and the victims’ age, race, and class. Students will critically examine how and why images of violence are presented and distorted in the news, songs, movies, and other media. Course materials include academic journal articles, newspaper articles, fiction, websites, and movies. Students will have the opportunity to observe court cases and meet with a prosecutor, victim advocates, survivors of violence, and sexual assault nurse examiners.

Modern Physics in the Real World
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50pm
Physics Building 022
Nilanga Liyanage, Associate Professor

Many of us find concepts of modern physics fascinating, yet these concepts sound more like science fiction than reality. Did you know that many of these hard to imagine concepts are routinely tested, demonstrated and used in labs around the world? In this seminar we will see how matter and anti-matter annihilate each other to produce large amounts of energy, how things age less when they are moving very fast, how very cold super-fluids turn metals into super-conductors with zero electrical resistance, and how many miles long chairs of such super-conductors are used to accelerate particles to almost the speed of light. We will also learn about Einstein’s E=mc2 equation, which shows that matter can be converted into pure energy; we will see how this equation leads to nuclear energy. We will discuss many interesting applications of modern physics like the use of high energy particle beams to treat cancer, medical imaging techniques, solar energy, and the use of “particle waves” in electron microscopes.

Community, Engagement, and Democracy
2 Credit Course
Wednesday 2:00 – 3:50pm
New Cabell Hall B026
Paul Martin, Assistant Professor

This is a service-learning course requiring focusing on the question of what it means to be a citizen in the contemporary United States. The class broadly considers completing ideas about community and identify as well as the trade-offs between the civic and political engagement.

Global Stories
2 Credit Course
Monday 3:30 – 5:20pm
Pavilion VIII 108
Kelly Miller, Head, Programs & Public Outreach

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. Course expectations include active participation in discussion, a reading journal, and a final project.

Half the Sky Oppression and Empowerment of Women Globally”
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:00 – 4:50pm
Pavilion VIII 103
Barbara Parker, Professor

This course title refers to the Chinese ancient proverb “Women hold up half the sky” and is taken from the book that will be the major text. The intent of the course is an exploration of violence against women and women’s health particularly in third world and impoverished countries. The course will explore the role of women in impoverished countries focusing on women’s health and violence against women in the context of economic, cultural, political, educational and religious facilitators and barriers to women’s health and empowerment. A major objective of the course is not to only expose students to the challenges of international women’s work, but to also provide them with tools to evaluate current programs and NGO’s delivering services to women internationally. At the end of the course the student will be expected to be conversant in the major issues and challenges of women in impoverished third world countries and know the questions to ask in evaluating intervention programs. The student’s will not be expected to have the answers to these issues but will be able to articulate beginning understanding of options and approaches.

A Survey of Language Learning
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 4:00 – 6:00pm
Ruffner Hall 223
Stephen Plaskon, Associate Professor

This seminar class will be devoted to a discussion of the basic aspects of language acquisition and development. Selected aspects of the development of syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and phonology; primary caretaker influences, and the role of the environment in language development will be the principle areas of discussion. All participants will have an opportunity to share their observations of a child or the results of an investigation into a topic of their choosing. Readings will be assigned from the required text as well as from select journals and the popular press. Video and audio presentations will be used to supplement discussions and presentations.

American Political Thought
2 Credit Course
Thursday 5:00 – 6:50pm
New Cabell Hall 334
James Savage, Professor

This course examines the development of American Political Thought from the Puritans through the Civil War. All the readings in this course will be from primary sources by such thinkers as Jefferson, Hamilton, Paine, Adams, the Grimke sisters, Jackson, Douglass and Lincoln.

Digital Humanities: UVA History
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:00 – 4:50pm
New Cabell Hall 234
Kurtis Schaeffer, Professor
Bill Ferster, Senior Scientist

Digital Humanities is a workshop-style seminar on the role of computers, digital technology, and electronic media in the humanities. We 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 last year produced a digital re-creation and analysis of the first library of the University of Virginia, which was located in the Rotunda. You can see the final project here: This year, we will extend that project and explore the history and impact of the 1895 Rotunda fire on the library and the University. 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.

Dying, Death and Grief or I’d Rather be in Philly
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:30 – 5:20pm
New Cabell Hall 119
Richard Steeves, Professor

The title refers to what the comic W.C. Fields was reported to have wanted 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.

The History of Books
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 4:00 – 5:50pm
Alderman Library 114
Michael Suarez, Professor

In this seminar, we will study the history of books from the invention of printing to “born digital” materials. Every seminar will include both a discussion of the week’s required reading and a laboratory component in which students will handle and consider books, manuscripts, and related objects from the collections of UVA’s Rare Book School (with occasional visits to Special Collections). We will learn to think about books as physical artifacts, commodities, monuments, sign systems, and agents of cultural and social change. We will examine the past and think analytically about the future of the book.

Post-Soviet Political Challenges: Nationalism Ethnic Conflict, Separatism and Irredentism
3 Credit Course
Monday 9:30 – 11:50am
Clemons Library 322B
Yuri Urbanovich, Lecturer

The end of the Cold War coincided with a wave of national revivals that spread across Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and became one of the notable consequences of the collapse of communist regimes. This course will focus specifically on the origins of nationalism, separatism, secessions, and irredentist claims in the Russian Federation and other former Soviet republics.

Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union
3 Credit Course
Tuesday 9:30 – 11:50am
Clemons Library 322B
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.

Appalachian Natural History
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 2:00 – 3:50pm
Gilmer 227
Henry Wilbur, Professor

A broad discussion of Appalachia from deep geological history through the development of its extant biodiversity including the role of humans from first peoples to current extractive industries.

Clones & Genomes
2 Credit Course
Monday and Wednesday 3:00 – 3:50pm
Chemistry 260
Mike Wormington, Professor

Cloning humans the creation of genetically identical individuals from differentiated adult cells, and once the exclusive domain of science fiction, has moved to the front pages of reputable newspapers and prestigious scientific journals. In 1997, the first scientifically substantiated report of a cloned mammal, Dolly the ewe, fomented considerable debate and discussion, and evoked vigorous responses from politicians, pundits, professors, theologians, and entrepreneurs alike. In the past decade, Dolly has been joined by a plethora of cloned mammals. A comparable method of gene transfer used to propagate these cloned animals has been successfully used to treat female infertility in humans. The generation and exploitation of human stem cells and “therapeutic cloning” continue to raise profound ethical and science policy issues. The recent completion of a “first draft” of the human genome sequence has provided us for the first time with the genetic “blueprint” for our species and opportunities for unparalleled diagnostic and therapeutic options. This course will address the fundamental importance of cloning organisms to developmental and reproductive biology; the enormity of the impact of the human genome sequence on human biology; and the ethical, political and societal ramifications of both. Students will gain an appreciation for the intellectual and methodological challenges posed by these questions and the experimental approaches employed to answer them. The applications of these technologies and their moral, ethical and legal ramifications will be considered and discussed in a variety of contexts. Topics and assigned readings will be derived from the scientific literature, books, magazines, newspapers and resources available online.

Giving in America-A History
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 3:30 – 6:00pm
Bryan Hall 330
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 key 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 philanthropic initiatives in the Charlottesville community and give them a chance to join action to reflection.

Rhetorical Thinking & Speaking
2 Credit Course
Tuesday 4:00-6:00pm
Robertson Hall 227
Robert Patterson, Assistant Professor

The course will begin by exploring the rhetorical ideas and foundational works of 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 build 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.