University Seminars (USEMS): Spring 2018

Nurses and Global Disasters
USEM 1507-001
T 2:00-4:00 Shea House 211
Arlene Keeling and Barbara Wall

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 historical research.

Unnatural Causes: In Sickness and in Wealth
USEM 1507-002
Rick Mayes
W 4:00 - 6:30 PM Shea House 211

This "health policy" seminar examines how social, economic and physical environments interact with genes, behaviors and medical care to drive our country’s enormous disparities in individual health status and longevity. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Academy of Medicine, only 20 percent of the factors that influence a person’s health are related to access and quality of medical care. The other 80 percent are due to socioeconomic, environmental, and behavioral factors –including unhealthy housing, poor diet, inadequate exercise, social isolation, and drug and alcohol use. Paradoxically, while the U.S. spends the most on health care compared to other wealthy countries, it spends the least (proportionally) on social services “upstream” that routinely prevent “downstream” admissions to hospital emergency departments. As Sir Michael Marmot, Chair of the U.K.’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, explains: “Real people have problems with their lives as well as their organs. These social problems affect their organs. In order to improve public health, we need to improve society.” No particular disciplinary background is assumed, nor is any familiarity with the field of health care required.

Food For Thought: An Exploration of the Way We Eat
USEM 1507-003
Virginia Mosser
M 6:00-7:50 Dell 1 104

This course will explore the ways in which food has influenced culture. First, we will take a brief overview of the history of food from prehistoric times to the present. Next, our focus will be the psychology and sociology of food, that is the ways in which opinions about food have caused cultural and religious conflicts. Our third area of inquiry will be nutrition and its influence on our eating habits. Finally, we will consider questions about the food industry from fast food to famous restaurants. Of course this seminar will also include sampling the food from some of the cultures we examine such as Roman culture, the era of the Columbus expedition to America, and religious influence on foods from both the eastern and western hemispheres.

The Science of Learning
USEM 1507-004
Michael Palmer
T 2:00-3:50 Dell 1 104

Learning is hard! Meaningful learning—the kind that lasts well beyond the test—is really hard. You have to struggle through complex ideas, reconcile misconceptions, take risks, and continually practice the skills you learn. Thankfully, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and educational psychologist have done a lot of hard work to figure out how the brain learns best. In this course, we will explore the brain, how it learns, how it’s motivated, what captures its attention, and why it shuts down, can’t remember, and fails to multitask. Along the way, you will develop a concrete learning plan to help you successfully navigate even the most complex learning environments.

Issues in American Education
USEM 1570-005
Stephen Plaskon
M 6:30-8:30 Bryan Hall 334

This seminar style USEM will explore contemporary issues in American Education PreK-12 in novel and unique ways. Using film, video, personal storytelling, interviews, discussion, debate, and actual school visits, the instructor will expose the class to some of the major issues facing public education in America today.

Post-Soviet Political Challenges
USEM 1570-006
Yuri Urbanovich
T 3:30-6:00 Rotunda Room 150

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.

America through Russian Eyes
USEM 1570-007
Yuri Urbanovich
M 3:30-6:00 New Cabell Hall 594

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

USEM 1580-001
Mark Thomas
R 4:00-5:50 New Cabell Hall 056

This course will look at the history, culture 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 identify 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, from 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 filmmaker.

Les Misérables Today
USEM 1580-002
Marva Barnett
W 2:00-3:50 Dell 1 104

Why does Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables resonate so much with so many today? In this highly interactive course, we will explore how that epic novel and the renowned musical it spawned lead us to consider a remarkable variety of ethical dilemmas, from the personal to the international, with a strong emphasis on social justice for the economically disadvantaged—the “wretched.” Your personal interests will help define our discussions and will prompt your weekly written dialogues and your final op-ed piece on the relevance—or not—of Les Misérables today. In this course, you will have the opportunity to improve your skill in articulating your ideas when you speak and write, as well as your listening and teamwork skills.

Action Women: Storytelling and Gender in Graphic Novels
USEM 1580-003
Shipla Davé
M 2:00-3:50

How does an image tell a story differently than text? How do we learn to read images of women and what stories do they tell? In this course, we will examine representations of women in graphic novels that feature superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel but also tell stories that range from personal memoirs of childhood, narratives of self-discovery and coming out, historical narratives of Japanese Internment, treatments of global political upheaval in historical and fictional worlds in award winning books such as Persepolis and Fun Home. Using primary comic book texts with supplementary readings related to popular culture and visual studies, we will discuss how graphic novels express and frame cultural productions of femininity, gender, and diversity in contemporary culture.

American Myth, Mythic America
USEM 1580-004
William McDonald
Monday, 3:30 – 5:20 PM
T 3:30-5:20 New Cabell Hall 036

This course explores the spectrum of myths associated with the American experience, among which are exceptionalism, the new Eden, rags to riches, the death of the past, just wars, America as a post-racial society, God’s chosen people, and the myths surrounding Thomas Jefferson. Students encounter, and debate, America’s most cherished assumptions.

Measuring the Stars
USEM 1580-005
Edward Murphy
W 1:00-2:50 Lower West Oval Room 102

The dedication of the Leander McCormick Observatory in 1885 marks a turning point in the history of science at the University of Virginia. Before this time, the University did not have any nationally or internationally recognized research programs or facilities. The donation of the Observatory, and the resulting research programs, were one of the first steps in the University becoming the modern research university that it is today. In this course, students will research and document the history of the Observatory, and the impact that it had in these critical years of the transition to a research university.

Genocide and Mass Killing
USEM 1580-006
Jeffrey Rossman
R 3:30-5:20 Cabell 411

One of the defining features of the 20th century was the repeated use of genocide and other types of one-sided mass violence (e.g. ethnic cleansing, politicide, sociocide) by states against internal and external civilian populations. In this seminar, we will explore these phenomena from a multidisciplinary point of view, with particular attention to ethnic 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 the international community. Requirements include readings of about 200 pages per week from several social science disciplines, active participation in class discussions, two four-page analytical book reviews, and a final eight-age analytical review essay.

Journeys Through Hell
USEM 1580-007
Dariusz Tolczyk
T 5:00-6:50 Astronomy Building 265

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 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 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 "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.

The Cultural Afterlife of Jane Austen
USEM 1580-008
Andrea Press
T 4:00-5:50 New Cabell Hall 056

In this course we will read and analyze the original Austen novels, as well as some of Austen’s own comments and criticisms of them; we will look intensively at their screen adaptations, comparing the various incarnations they have had on-screen; and we will examine their “modern” incarnations on film; television; modern novels; graphic novel; and new media, including youtube. Our goal will be to develop a critical perspective on the ways in which the romance plot has both endured and been radically transformed in the new media environment. We will pay particular attention to feminist commentary on the traditional romance plot, its implications for sexuality, and the ways it has been both a conservative, and at times a radical influence on current sexual culture.

Death, Dying and Bereavement
USEM 1570 008
Rick Steeves
R 3:30-5:20 Nau Hall 241

This course is an exploration of thinking about dying, death and bereavement. Although western culture and American culture in particular has a reputation for beating death denying, we do in fact confront images 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 goal is to explore different ways of thinking about what my truly be beyond our understating, death.