University Seminars (USEMs): Spring 2016

Agency, Identity, and the Self
2 Credit Course
Monday, 5:00 – 6:50 PM
New Cabell Hall, 056
Brie Gertler, Professor

Here are three seemingly mundane assumptions that each of us make.

  1. I sometimes act deliberately, for reasons.
  2. It is clear which person is me (as opposed to someone else), and which thoughts and experiences are mine (as opposed to someone else’s).
  3. I have a self, an inner, private thing that makes me who I am.

In this course, we will examine philosophical reflection about these issues.  Although we will read some challenges to these assumptions, our focus will be on understanding agency, identity, and the self.  What makes a bit of behavior an intentional action?  What does it mean to say that you are identical to to-one and the same as-someone who existed yesterday?  In what sense do your thoughts and experiences “belong” to you?  What is a “self”?  Special attention will be devoted to the idea that your identity, as an agent and a self, derives from a process of construction—e.g., identifying with certain values, or weaving a coherent story of your life.

America through Russian Eyes
3 Credit Course
Monday, 3:30 – 6:00 PM
Pavilion VIII, 108
Yuri Urbanovich, Lecturer

This course explores American-Russian relations in their historical and contemporary perspective.  We will employ the skills and tools of the historian, political scientists, geographer, psychologist, and student of culture, including literature and film, to analyze factors that have shaped mutual perceptions and misperceptions.

Clones & Genomes:  New Biology
2 Credit Course
Wednesday, 1:00 – 2:50 PM
Michael Wormington, Associate 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 seventeen years, 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 and the generation and exploitation of human stem cells and “therapeutic cloning” continues to raise ethical  and science policy issues.  The completion of the first human genome reference sequence in 2003 provided us for the first time with a genetic “blueprint” for our species.  This course will address the fundamental importance of cloning organisms to developmental and reproductive biology and the enormity of the impact of the human genome sequence on human biology.  Students will gain an appreciation for the intellectual and methodological challenges posed by the questions and the experimental approaches employed to answer them.  It is particularly timely, that in 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John Gurdon, who pioneered the technology of nuclear transplantation to reprogram differentiated cells, and Shinya Yamanaka, who discovered the ability to directly reprogram somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells by altering the expression of as few as 4 genes.  As such, we will devote a good deal of discussion towards these pioneering achievements.  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.

Construction of Self as Art Practice
2 Credit Course
Monday, 10:00 – 1:50 AM
Ruffin Hall, 103
Claude Wampler

This University Seminar will explore the act of constructing a self, a necessary creative process, and will examine its potential as an art practice. We will concentrate on reading closely a select group of relevant philosophy, critical theory, performance theory, poetry and visual studies texts while looking at artists and art works (film, installation work, performance art, fashion design, dance, stand-up comedy, animation, internet-based video…) and discuss the performative nature of an invented disembodied self or art object that stands apart from its creator verses the performance of a live person or event.

Dying, Death and Bereavement
2 Credit Course
Wednesday, 5:00 – 6:00 PM
Pavilion VIII, 103
Richard H. Steeves, Professor Emeritus

The 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 and playwrights, (b) death professionals such as hospice workers, funeral directors and grief counselors, (c) social scientists who study homicide, suicide, bereavement and related topics.  The goals are to explore different ways of thinking about what may truly be beyond our understanding, death.

Genocide and Mass Killing
2 Credit Course
Tuesday, 2:00 – 3:50 PM
Shannon House, 108
Jeffrey Rossman, Associate Professor

One of the defining features of the 20th 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 ethic and racial genocides (e.g., Armenia, the holocaust, Yugoslavia, Rwanda) and the mass killings that occurred 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 genocidal state, and the response – or lack of response – by international community.  Requirements include readings of about 150 pages per week, active participation in class discussions, two four-page analytical book reviews and a final eight-page analytical review essay.

Great Historical Speeches
2 Credit Course
Tuesday, 4:00 – 5:50 PM
Shannon House, 108
Rob Patterson, Assistant Professor

This course explores some of the most notable speakers and speeches in world history.  The course also cultivates an appreciation of the impact of public address in in the formation of world history and culture and particular emphasis given to how this history and culture has unique links to contemporary culture.

Additionally, this course deepens our understanding of public address as a rhetorical art, thereby increasing our competence as speakers and critics of visual, oral, and written messages.  Furthermore, the course provides specific research and critical skills by using standards and approaches to the criticism of speeches, thereby honoring and refining our ability to analyze and evaluate texts and the contexts and ideologies in which the texts are constructed.

Issues in American Education
2 Credit Course
Monday, 6:30 – 8:30 PM
Monroe Hall 111
Stephen P. Plaskon, Associate Professor

This class will explore contemporary issues in American Education in a novel and unique way using film, personal storytelling, interviews, discussion, and debate.  Participants will be presented with a set of issues in public schooling and will select those to be explored and discussed.  A will present on their selected issues in class debate and discussion sessions.

Journeys through Hell
2 Credit Course
Tuesday, 5:00 – 6:50 PM
Pavilion VIII, 103
Dariusz Tolczyk, Associate Professor

Extreme experiences of evil and oppression – concentration camps, prisons, mass terror, and other forms of victimization – have been often been presented as opportunities for unusual personal growth and spiritual ascent.  From archaic initiation rites of diverse cultures through ancient Greek, Roman, and Biblical wisdom, as well as many literary traditions, the point 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 this 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 be 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 background 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 Eialniang, Eugenia Ginzburg, Varlam Shalamov, Gustaw herling, Tadeusz Borowski.  Films “Korczak” (by Andrzej Wajda), “Life is Beautiful” (by Roberto Benigni), and “Interrogation” (by Ryszard Bugajski) will be viewed outside of class and discussed in class.

Madness in Arabic Literature
2 Credit Course
Thursday, 2:00 – 3:50 PM
New Cabell Hall, 594
Hanadi Al-Samman

This course will explore the idea of madness as represented in various genres in Arabic Literature.  We will explore several forms of madness, both traditional and modern, from characters madly in love (Majnum Leila), to those stricken with psychosis resulting from the traumas of war, and the anxieties of gendered or queer identities.

Nurses and Global Disasters
2 Credit Course
Thursday, 2:00 – 3:50 PM
Shannon House, 107
Arlene W. Keeling, Professor

Using a global, historical perspective, this course introduces the student to nurses; response at the local, regional and federal level to select man-made and natural disasters that occurred from the late 19th century to the present.  It analyzes the nurses; role as part of a collaborative, medical and public health response, situating the response in the context of race, class and gender and within the larger social, political and economic context.  The course also introduces students to the use of primary source data in historical research.  Open to all students interested in health care careers.

Reading Art
2 Credit Course
Wednesday, 2:00 – 3:50 PM
Pavilion VIII, 108
John J. Dobbins, Professor

The expanded title of the course is this:  Looking at, Talking about, and Writing about Art.  The seminar is all about Looking, Talking, and Writing, and these critical activities are focused on art and architecture.  The goal is to enhance your skills in these three important areas because the ability to look carefully, talk coherently, and write effectively will serve you for a lifetime.

Reading/Writing:  A Life
2 Credit Course
Monday, 3:30 – 5:20 PM
Shannon House, 108
Virginia Moran, Associate Director Women’s Center

This University Seminar will look closely at the literature that is or purports to be the story of someone’s life and examine the ways in which a biography, or personal essay is a work of art or literature.  We will read widely from full autobiographies to personal essays, and discuss the form and function of these  genres.  This class looks at literature, philosophy, diversity, and creative writing in theory and in practice. 

Righting Unrightable Wrongs
2 Credit Course
Friday, 2:00 – 3:50 PM
Pavilion VIII, 103
E. Franklin Dukes, Ph.D., Lecturer

From indigenous peoples pursuing a return of lands and sovereignty, to Japanese-Americans memorializing the experience of internment during WWII, to African-Americans seeking redress for slavery and its aftermath of segregation and discrimination, many groups have sought to right past harms and ongoing injustices.  Can individuals, communities and nations ever make right what appear to be irreparable wrongs?  This course examines that question for problems ranging from genocide and slavery to environmental contamination and racial discrimination.  The literature of reparations and restorative justice will be enhanced by examining specific cases within the instructor’s experience.  These include a site affected by severe environmental contamination and Japanese-American internment during World War II (Bainbridge Island, WA); a city coming to terms with killings of labor organizers and civil rights workers through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Greensboro, NC); and Native American communities in Virginia seeking redress for degradation of traditional cultural properties.

The closing theme of the class will be the question of the legacy of slavery and segregation at the University of Virginia and its impact on the surrounding community of Charlottesville-Albemarle.

The Ukraine Crisis:  East and West
3 Credit Course
Tuesday, 3:30 – 6:00 PM
Clemons Library, 322
Yuri Urbanovich, Lecturer

The Ukrainian former president’s Victor Yanukovych) decision in November 2013 to pull out of an association deal with the European Union sparked massive street protests that eventually led to his downfall.  In March 2014, Russia reacted by annexing the Ukraine’s autonomous republic of Crimea and unrest erupted in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian sentiment is strong.  The Ukraine crisis has brought relations between the West and Russia to their lowest level in a quarter century.  This USEM course investigates domestic political, social and economic questions, including issues of identity based on historical glories and traumas; foreign policy orientations; relations with NATO, U.S. and the EU; the influence of Russia; and possible solutions to end the crisis in the near future.