In this seminar students of all backgrounds are invited to participate in visiting some of the pioneers and innovators of Afrofuturist thought and literature and performance as well as becoming familiar with emerging technology like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Module 1 The Past Future ELDERS + ANCESTORS: In this module we will learn about the pioneers of Afro-futurist thought and literature. Looking closely at the plotline and themes of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Sun Ra’s Prophetika in order to gain insight into the recurring refrains and motifs found in works of Afrofuturist discourse. Students will be introduced to the practical component of the seminar as the class crafts their own “New Frontier Manifesto”. This document will serve as a set of community agreements or guiding principles that will inform the performance that the students will ultimately present at the end of the semester.
Module 2 The Present Future ARTIVIST ACTIVITIES: Students will be introduced to the works of performing artists working in the realm of live arts. These practitioners evoke Afrofuturist aesthetics in the creation of their on-stage personas. This module will pay particular attention to artists whose work lies at the intersection of art and social justice. Students will be introduced to the work of radical feminist, Shasta from Shasta Geaux Pop. From Athi Patra Ruga’s alter ego Future White Woman of Azania students will learn about performing queer black masculinity in post-apartheid South Africa. Students will learn about Brobot Johnson the title character in a sci-fi hip-hop transmedia piece. Princeton Alum Ogemdi Ude ’16 will lead a memory processing movement workshop which will place emphasis on the physical body’s central role in the creation of Avant Garde performance.
Module 3 The Future Future ANDROID AWAKENING: Students will visit a facility in New York called VR World that houses state of the art immersive media technology and meet with leaders in the field of digital content creation. Students will meet the leaders of Movers and Shakers NYC a ‘...coalition that executes direct action and advocacy campaigns for marginalized communities using virtual reality, augmented reality and the creative arts.’
Students will also meet Joe Brewster and Michèle Stevenson an award-winning documentary filmmaking duo and leaders of Rada Film Group, a company committed to ‘...create[ing] compelling visual stories that provoke thought about the complex multicultural world we exist in.’ Joe and Michèle will discuss their latest project, The Untitled Racial Justice Project, a virtual reality experience which enables users to travel to the Jim Crow South. I will share the prototype of my own virtual reality project Atomu which places users at the center of a Kikuyu tribal myth.
Robert H. Rawson '66 Freshman Seminar
The historical period known as the “Middle Ages” is regularly relived, restarted, and reiterated in varied post-modern media, from e-books of Philip Pullman’s trilogy, “His Dark Materials”, to panoramic films, like Peter Jackson’s version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. There are “live” reenactments of the Middle Ages, too, with jousts, juggling, and few vegetarian options. Our reinvention of the medieval is often slotted as “fantasy,” and fantasy it is, if we mean that in Tolkien’s or George R.R. Martin’s faux medieval worlds, we are given places, people, and plots that enable us to think through our present problems by imagining them as playing out in past worlds. Medievalizing fantasies live on a philosophical knife’s edge: the peril of escapism can counter the promise of invention. Chivalric adventures can flee far away from gender fluidity, climate change, and contentious politics, engaging in an exclusive and blinkered worldview where one knew one’s place.
Would it surprise you to discover that English literature has invented past times and distant places many times over—even during its historical medieval period? A writer as modern-seeming as Shakespeare re-worked medieval characters, settings, and problems, engaging through them with critical issues in his own day.
This seminar will entangle the most influential modern and post-modern authors of fantasies set in an imagined medieval time and space with the other worlds and fantastic characters depicted in Medieval and Early Modern English literature. What does the Avalon of Arthur have in common with Westeros? Gollum with the Green Knight? How do we recognize a good character then or now? Act heroically? What are the marks of the monster and the consequences of its presence? Besides literary texts, we will also consider how architecture and art objects represent or imitate qualities deemed medieval. Our aim will not be to “correct” the contemporary by comparing it to “real” medieval works of art and literature, but rather to examine thoroughly the continuing liveliness of a made-up Middle Ages and to think deeply about why we imagine our future through one of its pasts.
Barrett Family Freshman Seminar
“Architectress.” Why such a cringe-inducing term? In our moment, when feminism has been reactivated in public and judicial spheres, this seminar interrogates the history of one of the last professions opened to women: architecture. It considers women’s role in the built environment, professional career development, and their traditional confinement to domestic space. How are spaces gendered? Can we speak of queer architecture? When (if ever) are women considered architects, partners, or collaborators? How are professions gendered?
The course will be organized around discussions of key texts, case-studies and conversations with female architects, historians and critics, and will address the reasons parity has stalled in the architectural world and what that tells us about gender and professional identity. After encountering theories of feminism and gender studies in relation to architecture, students will consider questions of patronage and control of the domestic sphere and consider the cultural justifications that excluded women from architecture and its training, even at moments when women could more easily participate in other liberal or artistic professions. If the skills for designing office spaces and military barracks were no different from schools and maternity wards, what justified assigning women architects to the latter?
By exploring the lives and writings of several women historians and architectural critics, students will develop analytical tools by which they can question the notion of “feminist architecture” and the crucial role of media and publicity in shaping professional identity. Within this section, students will address the problem faced by women architects who practice in partnership with male architects and how historiography and criticism treated their contribution in the shadow of their partners. A conversation between students and Denise Scott Brown, who had designed many buildings on Princeton campus with her partner Robert Venturi, will bring practice directly into the classroom. Finally, in a session with Liz Diller and a visit of the New York studio of DS+R, the seminar will address the place of women in the contemporary practice.
As a final assignment, students will be asked to identify the pivotal moments in the life of one female architect, when she was able to overcome the prejudices and difficulties encountered in the realization of her professional aspirations.
The United States is often perceived to be a land of opportunity for immigrants. Yet, both in the past and the present, policy makers have expressed concerns that immigrants fail to integrate into US society and lower wages for existing workers. There is an increasingly heated debate today about how restrictive immigration policy should be.
This class will review the evidence on historical and contemporary migrant flows. We will discuss some of the major issues in the economics of immigration: who chooses to move to the US; who returns home; the lives of immigrants once they enter the US economy and society; the processes of economic and cultural assimilation; and what effects immigration may have on the local economy, including the effect of immigration on native employment and wages. In each case, we will present studies covering the two main eras of US immigration history, the Age of Mass Migration from Europe (1850-1920) and the recent period of renewed mass migration from Asia and Latin America. We will also study the political economy of the decision to close the US border to European immigrants in the 1920s, as well as policies targeting specific sending countries.
Brian W. H. Berghuis ’81 Freshman Seminar
Princeton students are naturally focused, if not actually fixated, on success – in the classroom, on the field and for their emerging careers. But success has a much less well-understood sibling, which is often a precursor and even prerequisite for that success, whether in business, science, athletics or the arts. Failure.
Although we usually and understandably treat failure as a regrettable event, it has the potential to become a strategic resource, invaluable in its ability to show us - sometimes painfully and often uncomfortably - what we don’t yet know but need to in order to succeed in our chosen objective.
Failure’s like gravity – a subtle, pervasive but invaluable fact of life. The Wright Brothers used it to fly; the ancient Romans to deliver fresh water to 1.5 million residents; and Nobel prizewinners to make profound discoveries in their labs – not to mention entrepreneurs, artists, authors, architects and athletes who’ve used the lessons of failure to achieve impressive success. In short, as much as we might prefer to deny or defy it, failure will be a likely companion in much of what we do, and our attitudes and skill in dealing with it can shape our own trajectory of accomplishment.
This seminar will offer incoming freshmen a unique interdisciplinary window into this “other ‘f’ wor[l]d” of failure, with an opportunity to see firsthand how valuable it can be in the pursuit of success. In addition to utilizing my own recent book on this topic (The Other ‘F’ Word: How Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs Put Failure To Work, John Wiley & Sons, 2015), we will explore additional readings from history, technology, behavioral economics, psychology and even philosophy to anchor our class [see sample readings list].
This seminar is not for the faint-hearted. We’ll explore some discomforting territory, but it should be a fascinating odyssey through unfamiliar and very familiar terrain. Curiosity, creativity, a spirit of open-minded inquiry and perhaps a dose of humility and humor will be the prerequisites for admission. [And although it would be especially apt in this case, this will not be a “pass/fail” seminar.]
In these times of world migrations and scrutinized borders, the notion of hospitality has become challenged and questioned. A universal and timeless moral disposition of generosity towards strangers, hospitality is also a cultural norm governed by rules that vary when the host is an individual or a group—or even a nation.
This seminar will focus on the religious origins of hospitality and its transformation in our secular society, starting with the widespread ancient notion that hosts shall receive strangers as if they were sacred. From Ancient Greece to contemporary Islam, from Christian Lebanese authors to French Jewish artists, we will use a wide variety of materials to see how these beliefs are inflected in different cultures and times: sacred texts, modern secular literature, films, graphic novels, visual art, and more.
A central theme in our discussion will be the “stranger” and its various meanings. We will first discuss “strangers” as “foreigners” and will approach some burning contemporary issues such as migration and immigration through the concept of hospitality. Refugees from Africa and the Middle-East who face dire situations in Europe and the West at large will focus this part of the discussion. We will then contemplate “strangers” as “neighbors,” and reflect on how we decide to treat these “familiar strangers.” These may include slaves forced into conversion (like Leo Africanus in the 16th century), Algerians colonized by the French (as portrayed by Albert Camus), or even people who estranged themselves from their own society and for whom hospitality offer an ultimate reckoning. Finally, we will contemplate two paradigms that will broaden our reflections on hospitality: gender and language. How does gender play a role in the dynamics of welcoming the stranger (or being welcome as one)? Does the relationship to language (speaking the host’s language, being literate...) matter? As a reader or a viewer, a speaker or an interlocutor, what are the reasons and conditions that make me feel welcomed or like a stranger, and to what effect?
In summary, this course will offer an opportunity to engage in reflections and exchanges around a contemporary issue while giving students an occasion to be exposed to a variety of methods of inquiry. Religion will be approached as through a variety of contexts. No specific adherence or background is necessary.
This seminar examines science fiction in Anglo-American literature and film with special emphasis on its dialogue with the Russian and Eastern European tradition and their mutual influences. We will follow the evolutionary trajectory of the genre: from time-travel to dystopias; from alien invasions to interplanetary encounters; from the outer space to robots; from human-machine hybrids to questions of gender and ethnicity. We will discuss foundational literary texts and films by such authors as H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evgenii Zamiatin, Isaac Asimov, Stanisław Lem, Andrei Tarkovskii, Stanley Kubrick, Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky, Philip K. Dick, Octavia Butler, Victor Pelevin, and more, with particular attention to the historical and cultural milieu in which these works were produced and to cross-media adaptations. We will analyze the questions, hopes and anxieties that these narratives address and articulate, the imagery they employ, and the features of the story-worlds they construct. We will investigate how questions of authorship and agency, of narrative time and space, and the definitions of the self, the other, the human and the posthuman are framed and negotiated.
Anonymous Freshman Seminar in Human Values
With the pressures and frenzied pace of contemporary American life, it might sometimes feel as if there is little time to contemplate the question of what makes for a meaningful life. How does each individual find deeper meaning for him/herself? What is the purpose of my life? What is the relationship of the meaning of my life to some kind of larger purpose? How do our lives fit into the larger world around us? Throughout the ages, writers, thinkers, and religious figures; wise ordinary folks – the person next door, one’s parents and grandparents – have grappled with these questions. The course explores, from a variety of perspectives, some of the responses to the “big questions” of life. The readings and films are taken from different cultures, different time periods, and different spheres of human endeavor and experience – for example, from Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov to Kurosawa’s Ikiru (To Live); from The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi to Forrest Gump; from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations to A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh; from Taoism to Tolstoy; from Martin Luther King to Anna Karenina; from Pablo Casals to Casablanca; from Martin Buber’s I and Thou to Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus to Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life.” The goals of the seminar will be: (1) to investigate the thoughts that others have had and (2) to examine the students’ own questions and responses to the issues raised.
Shelly and Michael Kassen '76 Freshman Seminar
Music is a central medium of cultural assimilation and identity formation. This seminar interrogates the so-called German-Jewish symbiosis through a critical examination of the role of Jews in German musical culture from the Enlightenment to the eve of the Holocaust. Moses Mendelssohn and his grandson, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy serve to introduce the central concepts of acculturation and assimilation in the precarious balance of German-Jewish identities. We then examine the works and writings of five prominent Jewish composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – Giacomo Meyerbeer, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler – whose music and experience represent different responses to the dilemmas of Jewish and German cultural, ethnic, and religious assimilation. A central focus is the music and writing of Richard Wagner, whose essay, “Judaism in Music,” forged the language of cultural and racial anti-Semitism, yet whose operas and career trace his own conflicted relationship to Jews and Jewish culture. This course integrates these musical topics into the broader cultural and politic context through readings, both fiction and non-fiction, by selected contemporaries, such as Sara Levy, Rahel Varnhagen, Heinrich Heine, Arthur Schnitzler, Else Lasker-Schüler, and Thomas Mann. Finally, we study the effects of the German and Austrian exiles of the 1930s – both Jewish and non-Jewish – who transmitted core elements of the German-Jewish experience into new settings, from the Americas to the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
Agnew Family Freshman Seminar
Why do some people kill and others defiantly die for their convictions or communities? The act of martyrdom and other forms of “religious violence” remain some of the most difficult aspects of religion for many modern people to comprehend fully and empathetically—now more than ever in the period after September 11.
This seminar explores the relationship between religion and violence in the ancient Mediterranean world. We will seek to understand how religiously-motivated violence—directed both at the self and the other—shaped the social, cultural and political histories of specific segments of or groups within ancient Mediterranean society. Toward this end, we will pay close attention to the particular political, legal, institutional, and cultural frameworks that shaped the discourses of religious violence in various settings. Of special interest will be the emergence of Jewish and Christian discourses of martyrdom against their biblical and Graeco-Roman backgrounds and the impact of the Christianization of the Roman Empire on the relationship between political power, violence, and communal identity.
At the same time, we will also subject the various phenomena that can go under the name of “religious violence” and “voluntary death” to cross-cultural comparison in order to better understand their perennial power and appeal. We will ask such questions as: How is martyrdom differentiated from suicide or murder in different traditions? How does the martyr communicate resistance through a body that is simultaneously submissive and defiant? How do class and gender identity shape the practices and discourses of martyrdom and religious violence? And how and why are exemplary acts of violence and self-sacrifice memorialized and ritualized by successive generations?
What does artistic production look like during a time of cultural unrest? How did America’s poets help shape the political landscape of the American 60s and 70s, two decades that saw the rise of the Black Panthers, “Flower Power,” psychedelia, and Vietnam War protests? Through reading poetry, studying films like Easy Rider, and engaging with the music of the times (Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, The Grateful Dead) we will think about art’s ability to move the cultural needle and not merely reflect the times but pose important questions about race, gender, class, sexuality, and identity at large. We will think of poetry as a tool with which to interact with the world, looking at it critically on the basis of language and aesthetics, but also as a countercultural product that has the ability to occupy both cult and mainstream status.
The poets we will study include Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Eileen Myles, and others. We will talk about The Beats, The San Francisco Renaissance, The New York School poets, and the Black Mountain poets as well. There will be creative and exploratory exercises including writing poems, making videos and collages, in addition to writing critical essays and partaking in visual analysis. Often we will consider how the time period we’re studying compares with the grunge phenomenon of the 90s, the rise of hip hop, the Occupy movement of 2011, Black Lives Matter, and today’s #resist collective. Modes in which artists and the public have organized resistance, whether person to person, on college campuses, or today, via social media, will be additional subjects to consider, as well as contemporary poets carrying the torch and rallying cry of the 1960s into 2019. The commodification of art as protest and capitalism’s ability to absorb all critiques of itself will be posed as challenges to all the texts and poets we study.
In our age of rapid technological advancement, myth may seem to be a thing of the past. Yet in the last hundred years, classical myths have been retold, reimagined, and reinvented again and again. In this course we will be thinking about why this might be so—about why literature of the modern world should return so consistently to some of our most ancient stories. We will consider modern recastings of classical myths in a variety of different literary traditions, following the development of particular myths and mythical figures (Odysseus, Orpheus, Helen) from their ancient sources to their modern iterations and transformations. From Homer to Dante, Tennyson, and Margaret Atwood, Ovid to Marcel Camus and Rita Dove, and Euripides to Yeats and H.D., each trajectory will reveal a new aspect of the definition and reception of classical myth in both antiquity and modernity.
We will be thinking in particular about the cultural work that modern myths accomplish. How do later versions of a myth serve to “interpret” an earlier version? How might that interpretation itself serve to interpret the later historical moment? How do modern artists, and especially women artists, use myth to give voice to characters traditionally ignored or to challenge conventional narratives? Is the use of myth opposed to an interest in the modern or the contemporary? How do different literary genres (poetry, prose, drama) and media (painting, film) contribute to or define the way myths are used or the effect that they have on us? Are these myths, in any of their versions, still relevant for us today? Can they help us tell our own stories?
Over the fall break we will travel to Athens, Greece, in order to seek there contemporary answers to these questions, thus moving from text to context. We will have the unique and exciting opportunity to study pictorial and architectural representations of myths on site—whether on the Acropolis or in museums—and to speak with a variety of contemporary writers and artists based in Greece about the importance of myth in their own work. We will prepare for our trip by visiting Princeton’s own art museum and by reading excerpts from the writers we will be meeting. Our visit to Athens will be tied to a written assignment and, if you so choose, to your final project for the course.
Participants in the seminar will be expected to read the assigned texts closely and carefully, to actively and thoughtfully participate in class discussion, and to do brief, informal presentations. Over the course of the semester, students will explore the relationship between our two terms—myth and modernity—as it is reflected in the literature and the arts, and slowly, through our conversations, weekly written responses, and short essays, build an argument for what it might be, culminating either in a final critical essay, or in a creative project accompanied by an analytical account.
James Alexander (Alec) Dun
Class of 1975 Freshman Seminar
Before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton caught fire, HBO’s 2008 miniseries John Adams enthralled viewers and won awards. Walk into any bookstore and you’ll find the books that generated those productions (by Ron Chernow and David McCullough, respectively), as well scores of others treating Adams and Hamilton, as well as Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and more. Since the mid-1990s, the American public hasn’t been able to get enough of the “founders.” Jefferson alone has been the subject of more than fifty monographs in the past ten years. Commentators have taken notice of this phenomenon, and have pointed to the bicentennial celebrations, the politics of the Reagan era, the surges of patriotism surrounding the Gulf Wars and after 9/11, and the discontent and malaise infusing contemporary politics to explain it.
This seminar will equip students to engage with this so-called “Founders Chic.” It will do so by digging deeply into American history during the early national period. The “long” 1790s was a crucial timespan in which the ideals of the recent Revolution met the realities of statecraft, when the social institutions of British America were strained through a new national American idiom, and when many of the issues that would prove vital to subsequent American history first cropped up. Our investigations will stream through readings and discussions about “the founders” and will deploy records left by and about these figures to get at the dynamism of the period. We will also use those materials, however, as jumping off places to get at the lives and ideas of less prominent people. Similarly, while we will steep ourselves in the politics of the period, we will also think deeply about cultural and intellectual developments. By making these moves, and, crucially, by thinking about how we make them, the course will teeter constantly between its express content and larger lessons about historical methodology and practice.
Over the term, we will visit numerous repositories on and around campus, to include Firestone’s Rare Books room, the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, the Digital Humanities Center, and Morven Museum. These visits will facilitate a series of weekly short research assignments. The course will culminate with a trip to see Miranda’s Hamilton, which the class will attend, discuss, and analyze.
The last 20+ years of cognitive neuroscience have revealed that the adult human brain is an amazing system—one with areas of cognitive specialization that work together in networks to support our quick and adaptive behavior. While the study of the developing brain is in its infancy, we already know that the brain we are born with is quite different than the adult one. Young infants have markedly slower neural responses and weaker connections between brain regions. This course tackles the question of how the poorly connected, sluggish brain you are born with develops into the sophisticated brain you are using to read this description and decide whether you want to take this course.
We will particularly focus on how the brain is built from an infant's everyday experiences. We will read the primary literature (e.g., 3 scientific articles per week) to know what the latest scientific findings are but also consider the experience that infants actually have (essentially baby GoPro) and how babies experiences differ all over the world.
Each week will have a different topic that will let us approach the question of how the brain develops through different lenses. For example: By and large, we do not remember our infancy or have any memories before childhood. However, infants have very sophisticated learning abilities and even engage many of the same regions of the brain during learning. Why then do we not remember? Or, a thought experiment: How would development be the same or different if we did it in reverse (i.e., with a senior's brain and a senior's experience, watch: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).
For each class, you will read (and/or watch) the assigned material on your own and send me a 2-page commentary before class to help you prepare. In class, I will lead a group discussion that will allow us to explore the interesting questions raised by the material for this week.
Students will submit a final (10 page) paper based on a topic of their choosing related to how experience can support neural and cognitive development. For example, students can submit a research proposal for a study. They can also write a summary of the articles available on a topic. There will be many opportunities for help and support in writing this paper throughout the second half of the semester.
Adam Finkelstein and Jeff Snyder
Generative Art is art produced by repeated application of an autonomous process, based on a set of rules established by the artist. Although the process and the rules may be quite simple, their repeated application can lead to surprising, intricate, and captivating outcomes. Students in this seminar will learn to create and critique works of generative art within the theoretical and historical context for the techniques they explore.
While Generative Arts concepts can be traced back many centuries to works such as Islamic geometric tiling patterns or Musikalisches Wurfelspiel (“Dice Music”) of the Classical music period, algorithmic art ideas were explored in depth in the 20th century in many various analog media, including both visual art such as the wall drawings of Sol LeWitt, the pen plotter art of Vera Molnar, and the computational systems of Ernest Edmonds, as well as the music of John Cage, Laurie Spiegel, Brian Eno, Pauline Oliveros, and Steve Reich. The 21st century has precipitated a renaissance of activity in this field, through an evolution and maturation of these ideas fueled by the malleability and ubiquity offered by the digital medium. Contemporary visual artists such as Golan Levin, Cory Arcangel, and Tamiko Thiel, as well as musicians such as Paula Matthusen, Ryoji Ikeda, and Mark Fell are examples of a new movement in generative art. Meanwhile exhibits such as those at the Whitney Museum (Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art) and Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective) reinforce the cultural relevance and historical grounding of the field.
Specifically, we will focus on audio-visual work produced in the digital medium. Students of all backgrounds will learn algorithmic thinking and acquire basic programming skills, sufficient to be able to realize their own generative art ideas. For the visual aspects of their work, students will learn p5/Processing, a programming language designed by digital artists Casey Reas, Ben Frye, and Lauren McCarthy to support artists in this medium. Likewise, for audio, students will learn to program in Max/MSP, the industry standard software environment for interactive electronic sound and music.
This seminar will be practice-oriented. The bulk of the student work will be in the form of weekly projects and excises, presentations and critiques, readings coupled with written responses, and a capstone project. Tutorials by the seminar instructors will be supplemented by local field trips and lectures given by guest specialists and practitioners.
Dannelle Gutarra Cordero
Barrett Family Freshman Seminar
Marvel Actress Zoe Saldaña once recalled an exchange with the press of the Dominican Republic in which, after she affirmed her identity as a black woman, she was told that she was not black, but “trigueñita.” It was a characterization that she rejected entirely, saying, “No! Let’s get it straight: I am a black woman.” This instance of intercultural miscommunication exemplifies how distinct racial categories manifest in different Latin American nations. In fact, the complex history of conquest and exploitation in Latin American colonies evidences the premeditated imposition of these racial categories by colonizers themselves. The influence of scientific racism in colonialism in the Americas in turn led to whitening policies, ethnic cleansings, and the marginalization of Afro-Latinx identities. This Freshman Seminar will explore the intellectual history of race and contemporary racial relations in Latin America.
We will begin our conversations by analyzing the ways in which contemporary urban Latin music, such as reggaetón and Latin trap, both legitimatize and defy theories of scientific racism. Students will then look at the historical impact of the discourses of conquest and colonization in the rise of racial categories in Latin America, while also tracing the role of race in Latin American cultural objects of the Princeton University Art Museum. Furthermore, we will examine multiple case studies, such as mestizaje in Mexico, colorism in Brazil, genocide in the DR-Haiti border, and the role of race in the catastrophic outcome of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. Lastly, we will explore the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in Latin American identities and experiences, while also addressing the repercussions of the “Latin lover” and “fiery Latina” stereotypes in US media.
Dean Eva Gossman Freshman Seminar in Human Values
In this reading- and writing intensive seminar, we will critically examine some of the fundamental ideas and central themes of modern political conservatism. Each week, we will read and discuss a seminal paper or book excerpt from a leading conservative theorist. We will attempt to better understand conservative thought, and develop a framework for assessing its strengths and weaknesses, with respect to a number of representative topics, including the following: distributive justice, the role of the free market, and the apparent tension between liberty and equality; immigration policy; the nature of crime and criminal justice policy; and social conservatism and the role of religion in society. We will also explore some broader conservative themes that appear repeatedly in the discussion of these and other topics, including conservative critiques of “good intentions,” “political correctness,” and the
political and cultural influence of intellectual and cultural elites. Some attention will be paid to the diversity of, and tensions between, the varieties of conservatism: what, if anything, do libertarian or economic conservatives have in common with social or religious conservatives, or conservatives who advocate a “law and order” approach to crime, such that it makes sense to consider them all “conservatives”? Our readings will be drawn from a variety of sources, including philosophers, economists, social scientists, and legal theorists.
Richard L. Smith '70 Freshman Seminar
Mathematics is quietly present in many aspects of our daily lives, and is becoming increasingly so as the world becomes socially connected by the internet and other electronic networks. It is often difficult to tell where your life ends and the electronic world begins, and in this hybrid world mathematical algorithms and their applications are the new currency. Every time you perform a web search, “Like” something on Facebook, send an e-mail, make an online credit card purchase, or check something on your smartphone you are both quietly using mathematics and also contributing to the vast electronic database of humanity that is logged and analyzed for social insights. This seminar is meant to explore both the mathematical ideas and algorithms in the tools that we use everyday, and also the technical and social limits of what can and cannot be done with them. Many of today’s mathematical algorithms are only learned and used by specialists, however their basic ideas are simple and easily accessible, and they have many implications for society as a whole.
We will focus on both the ideas and applications of mathematics in the modern world, with an emphasis on understanding the mechanics and meaning of mathematics in a social context.
This seminar will take advantage of Princeton’s unique resources in the papyrus collection in Firestone Library, ancient objects in the Art Museum, and the fall 2019 Metropolitan Opera premiere of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten (its lead role sung by Princeton graduate Anthony Roth Costanzo). The course will center on the Amarna period in Egypt and its reception in the modern world. This nineteen-year span (ca. 1353-1334 BCE), during which Queen Nefertiti reigned alongside the eccentric pharaoh Akhenaten, came to a dramatic end in the reign of teen-king Tut’ankhamun. The period is brief, scholarship on it is excellent, and, in its departure from orthodox Egyptian religion and art, it serves as a pedagogical window on both orthodoxy and Amarna’s challenge to it.
The course will entail three field trips as well as weekly seminars. The serendipity of the Met premiere of Philip Glass’s opera Akhnaten provides an excellent opportunity to experience one of the most prominent postmodern examples of Egypt’s reception. It will be one of the field trips. The other two trips will be much shorter, just across campus, but they will offer equally privileged experiences of the reception of Egypt in the modern world. We will have a seminar in Firestone’s Rare Books rooms to study books from Early Modern Europe that stoked a long-smoldering fascination with Egypt.
We’ll pivot from that to the genesis of Egyptology as a “science”: how its increasingly precise tools and protocols have sharpened our focus on ancient Egypt and the extraordinarily rich material legacy that lies in its wake. In this connection, we will take a trip to the Princeton Museum, to see the undisputed jewel of its Egyptian collection, a 15’ Book of the Dead only recently acquired (and too long for display—we’ll see it in the Museum’s Study Rooms).
The reception history of Egypt comprehends a spectrum, ranging from meticulous philology and archaeology to fantastic and garishly colorful fiction. The Amarna period offers a rich introduction to that spectrum, but also engages importantly with ethical concerns of great moment: Both Akhenaten as pharaoh, and Costanzo as Akhnaten onstage, uniquely question the gender-norms of the societies in which they live/d. This will give us a bridge to questions about identity in scholarship and the arts that have relevance well beyond the valley of the Nile and the far-off reign of Akhenaten and Nefertiti.
In the spring of 2014, Russia’s longstanding conflict with Ukraine erupted into a war that shows little sign of abating. Thousands have lost their lives in brutal urban warfare among the ruins of once gleaming modern buildings in eastern Ukraine. The Donetsk airport has become a symbol both of the destruction within Ukraine and of the weakness of Ukraine’s ties with the European Union. Constructed for the Euro 2012 football championship, co-hosted with Poland, at a cost of nearly one billion dollars, the airport has been reduced to a pile of smashed concrete and warped steel. Online videos posted by Ukrainian army soldiers have become gruesome memorials to those who posted them, but have since fallen in battle.
Officials on both sides blame their opponents. The Ukrainian government accuses Russia of sending, under the cover of secrecy, thousands of troops and weapons across the border as well as recruiting, funding, and training Ukrainians to overthrow the government. Western media portray the Russian government as systematically using cyber trolls to shape the outcome of “non-conventional war.” Russia denies the charges and says that NATO has infiltrated Ukraine and marshaled forces against Russia in a revival of the Cold War conflict of East versus West, and that Ukrainian propagandists have systematically distorted the reporting of eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Can we discover the truth of these claims?
In an effort to understand this momentous global conflict, students will look at the history of Russia’s relations with Central Europe during the Soviet period and consider how that legacy shapes the region today. Our seminar will examine the current and historical patterns of military, economic, and political relations through a variety of theoretical lenses. We will apply theories of international relations, including realism, Marxism, liberalism, economic power, rational choice, and theories of domestic politics as well as analysis of individual leaders. We will read Alexander Dugin, Alena Ledeneva, Zbigniew Brzeziński, Czesław Miłosz, Serhii Plokhy, T.G. Ash, Andrew Wilson, Randall Stone, Karen Dawisha, and other key texts. Using some of these theoretical foundations, students will investigate contrasts and continuities in Russia’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe.
The current conflict and its historical context also illustrate fundamental methodological problems in the study of international relations, namely the challenges in collecting and evaluating data. To help us think critically about these crucial issues, we will hear from experts with first-hand experience in Ukraine.
Anonymous Freshman Seminar
In this seminar we will study moments of change at different crucial stages in the life cycle (childhood, adolescence, courtship and marriage, work, maturity, and death) in order to discover the conflicts and contradictions, the emotional truth, and the possibilities that such moments hold for us. Our medium will be the short story. Great short stories show us convincingly how change comes about, each one unique and yet ultimately universal. How do moments of revelation occur? What are these changes each of us must discover in a unique way? What pushes us? What shows us the way? Or, does it result from within?
Each class will begin with a discussion of an illustrative short story, followed by a writing exercise inspired by it, in which each student will be encouraged to produce, and thus, discover, the imaginative and regenerative potential residing in her/his imagination. In a final paper each student will put these pieces together to reflect a whole, and wholly unique, life. At our final class we will come together for dinner, where a psychiatrist will join us to answer questions. A collection of most of the short stories we will read is available in “How People Change: the Short Story as Case History,” by William Tucker, MD, an inexpensive paperback available at the Labyrinth or through Amazon.
Jean-Christophe de Swaan
John H. Laporte, Jr., Class of 1967, Freshman Seminar
The global financial crisis and recent high-profile scandals (e.g. Wells Fargo in the United States, Danske Bank in Europe, Suruga Bank in Japan) highlight the extent to which we seem to have made little progress in stamping out unethical behavior in finance. This seminar will explore ethics in the finance industry using a case-based method. Our approach will be grounded in an understanding of the role of a financial system in an economy and society. We will frame the discussion by reviewing the economic development and egalitarian arguments in favor of markets and considering their limits. We will discuss the applicability of Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, and Virtue Ethics as moral approaches to finance. We will address the seminar’s topic from various angles, drawing on moral philosophy, financial theory and concepts of behavioral ethics, corporate governance, economic development, and public policy.
In addressing ethical issues, a few themes will be emphasized through-out the semester:
• A discussion of the underlying assumptions of finance theory and their impact on the practice of finance, and of the practical role of morality in the industry and the applicability of Kantian, Utilitarian, and Virtue Ethics philosophies to finance.
• An attempt to distinguish ethical issues that are systemic in nature from those that relate to individual decision-making and character.
• For the systemic issues, a comparison of corporate governance across national financial markets, with particular emphasis on the US, China, and Japan, and how typical conflicts of interest encountered in each of these countries relate to the nature of their financial systems.
• For the issues related to individual decision-making, case studies to illustrate various patterns observed in markets, from outright deceit, fraud, and manipulation to more nuanced mishandling of conflicts of interest. For the latter, we will pay particular attention to the concept of “bounded ethicality” and the grey areas in which financial actors have to balance a complex web of duties and incentives. Many of these discussions will center on the conflicts that arise from agent-principal relations such as corporate executives acting on behalf of shareholders.
• A discussion of role models – finance professionals who pursue their self-interest in a responsible manner, in ways that seek to benefit society rather than extract value from it. Some of these role models will participate in the seminar to discuss specific decisions they made.
Henry David Thoreau Freshman Seminar
This seminar is about thinking about the future of the planet and your own future.
You will create four time capsules, to be opened at your graduation and at your 10th, 25th, and 50th reunions – that is, in 2023, 2033, 2048 and 2073. These capsules will contain the essay you write during the semester and will be preserved for you in the university’s Mudd Library.
Your essay will treat a single topic, which you will choose early in the semester and will become an expert about. Examples are the electric car, energy from offshore wind in New Jersey, resilience against typhoon damage in the Philippines, commercial shipping in the Arctic, how well whales will survive, and what we will know about clouds. You will describe a pair of plausible outcomes at each of the four time periods, both at the large scale and as they relate directly to you. Some of your analysis will be quantitative. You should enjoy numbers and have an appetite for arithmetic; no AP math is needed.
The topics will be grouped into clusters (three or four topics to a cluster), and you will work some of the time with the other students in your cluster, confronting common issues. You will give oral reports as your individual and group work progresses, including a final presentation to an invited public.
In the words of one of last year’s students: “All of our papers are rooted in some scientific area, but we examined our topics from a broad range of angles: biological, social, political, technical, economic, and, perhaps most of all, personal. [The course] gave us an incredible chance to look at the world and our relationship to it in a way none of us had ever really done before. We are all sure that this experience will stay with us throughout the rest of our lives.”
Lectures complement your personal work. They introduce the Earth as a physical system affected by human activity; fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy; uses of energy and land; and low-carbon policy. You read some published science papers. We host a few guests. It is fine for you to be completely new to the subject.
You are welcome to insert personal material in the capsules, such as letters from your family and letters to yourselves.
Admission into the course requires a short statement from you about why you are interested in this material.
Class of 1975 Freshman Seminar
How is race made? We will approach this pivotal question from an unconventional vantage point: the history of Asians in America. “Asian American” is young race—the category only came into being fifty years ago—and it remains a marginal position in our society. Despite occasional talk of model minorities, tiger moms, and crazy rich Asians, American society and American history are still primarily understood in terms of black and white. What can we learn about the social construction of race if we shift our attention to the margins of U.S. history? In search of the origins of an “Asian American” race, we will venture into histories of exclusion, detention, and war.
This course introduces students to Asian American history through the study of three touchstone moments: Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, and the Vietnam War. Through these case studies, we will consider the role of the state in the formation of racial categories. How did racial beliefs shape government policies and how, in turn, did government policies shape Americans’ understandings of race? We will also explore what these policies meant for the lives of Asians and Asian Americas. How did they survive, resist, and/or facilitate these government programs, and how do they remember these histories today? As we read a variety of historical documents and scholarly interpretations, we will consider how historians recover the experiences and voices of marginalized peoples. We will also read literature and graphic novels, exploring how fiction and art can reframe history. The course will include a field trip to Seabrook Farms, NJ, a site where thousands of Japanese Americans “internees” were “relocated” during WWII.
Exclusion, confinement, and occupation not only affected people of Asian descent, these policies also transformed American understandings of border control, citizenship, and imperialism. This course calls attention to these pivotal, if often overlooked, moments in American history.
Bert G. Kerstetter '66 Freshman Seminar
Free speech is fundamentally a matter of public policy. While we can cultivate habits of independent thought and of intellectual openness, when we speak of freedom of expression we are really talking about whether the government will intervene to silence speech or not. While speech can offend, and in the case of espionage or perjury it can inflict great harm, regulating pernicious speech can lead to serious unintended consequences. As with other biological systems, civilization has a social ecology that can be disrupted by intervention. An edifice of speech laws and police meant to prevent harmful speech can easily lead to worse consequences than the speech it was meant to prevent. Moreover, the very speech that annoys us can also allow us to correct errors, both in the thinking of others, and in our own understanding, while it stimulates commerce and innovation.
We will look at the range of cases in which societies have decided whether to limit expression, and examine what social scientists have had to say about them. We will look at the “dictator's dilemma” facing authoritarian governments that want the economic benefits of the modern world, the better to enrich themselves, but who fear the free communication integrating with the wider world entails because of the potential threat it poses to their rule. We go on to examine the stratagems used as part of the “Great Fire Wall” of internet censorship in China. We then examine recent work done by social scientists to calibrate the impact of media exposure on everything from fertility in Brazil, to political polarization in US House elections to massacres in Rwanda. Our attention then turns to the impact of media coverage of scandals on government misbehavior. Our consideration of speech also encompasses restrictions on who can participate in legislative debates, copyright protections, and campaign finance laws. We will also consider the promotion and suppression of literacy.
Taking our study closer to home, we will use what we have learned from the social science literature to think about free speech on campus. The final exercise involves drafting a collaborative memo to the President of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, advocating whether the UC system should adopt the Chicago Free Speech Principles. In case of unresolved disagreements among seminar participants, there may be two memos, both of which will actually be sent.
The overall objective of this seminar is to understand and assess how developments on the scientific and/or technological frontier may raise issues and challenges for public policy as well as associated moral and/or legal issues in the U.S, context. The focus will be on developments since World War II.
The seminar will begin with a lecture/discussion that identifies the interrelationship between science, technology, economic growth, and public policy, and why in the U.S. context the Courts may also be a critical factor in determining the set of policy responses that are possible. We will also identify the tools available to Federal and State governments to both invigorate and direct the national scientific enterprise. All subsequent sessions of the seminar will revert to a more purely seminar format where students share the responsibility for both leading and participating in the discussions.
Once in this more purely seminar format (i.e., by our second meeting) the next three sessions will focus on four case studies of important national issues that involve the intersection of science, technology, public policy and ethics and the law. In particular we will discuss the legal, ethical, scientific and policy issues that emanated from the development of first, Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) along with human reproductive cloning and embryonic stem cell research; second, global warming and other environmental boundaries; third, our national energy policy including a special focus on new technologies in the renewables sector, and fourth privacy in the age of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence. In all these cases the focus will be on the new technological options available and the respective role of science, scientists, public policy, ethics, and law in addressing the potential challenges involved.
With this as background the seminar will consider the relationship of science and technology to economic growth and the manner by which Federal policies can influence these matters. In this context we will turn to a fuller discussion of the evolving role of the U.S. government in stimulating/directing the growth of science and technology as the government itself as well as sustained economic prosperity becomes more dependent on new achievements on the scientific frontier.
Through the course of our discussions, we will come to see the many inherent and potential conflicts of interest that may arise when scientists serve as advocates and advisors in heated policy debates where egos, money, and power are at stake, as well as supplicants for federal research resources.
Adam Maloof and Frederik Simons
Richard L. Smith '70 Freshman Seminar
In this Freshman Seminar, you will combine scientific field observations with modeling and interpretation in order to answer questions such as: How is the energy of Earth and the Sun harnessed in its various forms? What is the impact of agriculture and resource extraction on landscapes — and how do climate and topography influence what can be grown, what can be mined, where humans settle? How have civilizations through the ages reconciled opportunity and threat: of fertile volcanoes, powerful rivers, burning forests? How do we see societal issues through the lens of geology and geophysics? Most specifically, we will be measuring the influence of climate, topography, and geology on agricultural food production.
In the classroom, through activities and lab reports, and around campus, using both instruments and your own senses, you will gain practical experience collecting geological and geophysical data in geographic context. You will analyze these data using statistical techniques such as regression, time series and geospatial analysis, while learning the programming language MATLAB. During the required week-long Fall break trip to Italy, you will engage in research projects that focus on the geological interplay between opportunity and threat. The classroom component of this seminar will have graded (bi)weekly assignments built around on-campus data collection, data preparation or analysis, and scientific programming. A significant part of your assessment comes from a stepped sequence of writing assignments that teach you to communicate your scientific results, culminating in an original research paper and an oral presentation for an audience of peers, freshman seminar alumni, and invited guests from the University community.
This seminar is about natural science and technology and has a laboratory component to it: come prepared with an aptitude for, and a willingness to learn the quantitative aspects of scientific inquiry and numerical modeling. Scientific writing and computer programming in MATLAB are being taught as integral parts of this seminar and its assessment. We teach and require the use of the document preparation program LaTeX — annoying now, helpful later on.
We will explore classic magic ("fairy") tales from around the world, focusing our attention on traditional narrative patterns and their meanings. We will view magic tales as stories that reflect significant moments and experiences of the life cycle (e.g., coming of age, marriage, etc.) and will examine symbolic journeys (often of initiation, both male and female), representations of the Other World (forests, faraway kingdoms, the land of the dead, etc.), and family relationships (e.g., between parents and children or siblings), to name a few. Topics will include oral composition, variants and multiforms, storytellers and performance (including storytelling as a revived art form), major critical approaches that have influenced the study of the genre (oral-traditional, historic-geographic, structuralist, myth-ritual, psychological, symbolic, socio-historical, and feminist), and how magic tales inform other types of narrative (in literature and film). As part of the semester, we will have a professional storyteller visit the class and will also visit the Cotsen Children’s Library (in Firestone Library), which houses a rich collection of historic editions of magic tales. Most of the seminar will focus on traditional magic tales and how they function not only in Euro-American but also non-Western cultures; during the last several weeks of the course, we will examine how magic tales are adopted and adapted in Western literature and film. We will seek to understand how and why magic tales are composed and performed--how and why they resonate so profoundly and evoke such intriguing layers of cultural, social, and psychological meaning. Our goal in this seminar is to “read” the “texts” of magic tales and to understand how and why they so vividly express the human experience.
L. Richardson Preyer '41 Freshman Seminar in Public Service
Within a dramatically unequal landscape, the Declaration of Independence affirmed the equal rights of individuals to pursue happiness. Ever since, Americans have been grappling with what this means, who it includes, and how it can best be achieved. What does it mean to thrive? Who has the right to thrive? These ideas raise more questions than they answer.
This seminar will explore US domestic policy with an eye on those questions. To understand how past efforts to enhance opportunity can pave the way to a fairer and more inclusive future, we will contemplate a range of proactive interventions, including creation of public libraries, housing, and various interventions in child-care, parks and education, veteran benefits and immigrant integration. Reading across academic disciplines, combined with long-form journalism, documentary film, and occasional podcasts, we will consider how policy distributes opportunity.
Our exploration assumes that a nation is civilized to the degree that a person’s life chances cannot be predicted by the lottery of birth. By that measure, the contemporary US is in urgent need of improvement. Winnowing down FDR’s proposal for an Economic Bill of Rights, the GI Bill of 1944 boldly excluded most African-Americans and women veterans. From the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that welcomed arrivals with mortgages and schooling to the hieleras (ice boxes) currently in use at the US border, immigrants have encountered starkly different contexts. What would public policy look like that took seriously the idea that all of our lives possessed equal value?
Asked about the impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth, the writer Alfred Kazin described it as “a place that measured all success by our skill in getting away from it." Decades later, another NYC native, Bronx activist Majora Carter postulated that there should be no such thing as a “bad” neighborhood. As long as such places exist, she suggests, some people will have to live there; many through no fault of their own. We will consider how such formative experiences condition distinct worldviews that in turn shape policy prescriptions.
Together we will formulate an approach to public policy that advances an inclusive and expansive concept of wellbeing. On the way, we will contemplate a range of questions and their implications, such as: Should policy address the individual, the family or the community? What is the role of the state? Who gets a seat at the policy table? When do place-based solutions vs. one-size-fits all interventions make sense? What does mobility even mean? What are the most robust frameworks for thinking about enhanced opportunity—some possibilities include human rights, civil rights, and consumer rights.
This seminar will study the history and nature of fairy tales, superstitions, conspiracy theories, and urban myths, particularly in regard to the way that they reflect the concerns and fears of society. We will examine the ways in which these differ from one another, and the means by which entire communities create, preserve, disseminate and fortify them. The unconscious is often manifested in metaphor, particularly in literature and film, and the legitimate anxieties, fears (and guilt) that it reflects will be the subject of our study. We will discuss witchcraft, sorcery, alchemy and the philosopher’s stone, and prophecies of the end of the world, as well as contemporary myths and conspiracy theories, and the technological, religious and cultural shifts that cause them.
We will examine why urban myths and conspiracies are often more effective in conveying collective fears than rational warnings or lessons. If fairy tales spring from the need to convert the sources of terror or guilt into fables of irony and horror, they also serve a practical purpose of entertainment, instruction and warning. Thanks to the Internet, urban myths based on real fears are now spread very quickly, often taking the form of alarms (false e-mails bearing the logo of the Los Angeles County Fire Department warned that acid rain from the Fukushima Nuclear plant was fast approaching the west coast of America, resulting in ‘burns, alopecia and even skin cancer,’ or in the online creation ‘Slenderman’).
Students will read the fairy tales of Han Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Madame d’Aulnoy, as well as essays by Bruno Bettelheim, Marina Warner, Alison Lurie, and Angela Carter. We will read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevenson), White Noise (DeLillo), The Road (McCarthy), Room (Donaghue), and A High Wind in Jamaica (Hughes). We will watch the films ‘Let the Right one In,’ ‘ET,’ ‘I am Legend,’ and ‘Her.’
In an April 1945 memo to President Harry Truman, Secretary of War Henry Stimson announced the coming of the nuclear age. The United States, Stimson wrote, was about to complete “the most terrible weapon ever known in human history, one bomb of which could destroy a whole city.” He warned that “the world… would be eventually at the mercy of such a weapon. In other words, modern civilization might be completely destroyed.” Four months later, on hearing the news that America’s atom bomb had destroyed its first target, the Japanese city of Hiroshima, Truman declared, “This is the greatest thing in history.”
In May 2016, as the first U.S. President to visit Hiroshima, Barack Obama said of the 100,000 people killed in that first atomic bombing, “Their souls speak to us. They ask us to look inward, to take stock of who we are and what we might become.” He observed that “The scientific revolution that led to the splitting of an atom requires a moral revolution as well” and went on to say that “nations like my own that hold nuclear stockpiles, we must have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”
This course will look at what it has meant to live with the bomb in America, how and why the bomb has spread to other states, the rise of nuclear arms control, the threat of nuclear terrorism, and the links between nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear energy programs. It also will assess the seven-decade long effort to ban the bomb. We will unpack some of the meanings of the nuclear age using scholarly and popular writings as well as movies and documentary films.
We will look also at the design, development, production, maintenance and preparations to use nuclear weapons, and the associated economic, political, social, cultural, psychological and environmental costs. We will engage with the lives of people in nuclear communities, from the bomb builders to those tasked to use them, the struggles of the anti-nuclear movement, and the implications of the treaty to ban nuclear weapon adopted by 122 countries in 2017 at the United Nations.
Professor Whitney J. Oates '25 *31 Freshman Seminar in the Humanities
Language is part and parcel of our daily lives. For many speakers, the use of language remains largely unconscious and unnoticed. At the same time, language is inextricably linked to social value and national identity. In his seminal work on the origins of nationalism, Benedict Anderson argues that nations are imagined and narrated into being, and that language has a crucial role in this process. Languages are more than systems of communication. Languages are social institutions, ideological battlegrounds, instruments used by nation-states to homogenize populations, define citizenship, and create social hierarchies.
This seminar aims to develop novel ways of thinking about languages as carefully created and codified sociopolitical entities, to raise critical awareness of the ways in which language perpetuates power in society, and to deconstruct well-established notions of linguistic authority, nativity and foreignness. We will discuss theories of the development of nationalism in relation to ‘national’ and other languages, the rise of the vernaculars, the link between language and nationhood, linguistic ideology and the one nation-one language paradigm. We will then turn our attention to language dynamics in the 21st century and the issues of regional and non-territorial languages, hybrid identities and multilingualism, the myth of the mother tongue, linguistic allegiance and language shift. Finally, we will explore the ways in which language shapes culture and identity, impacts schooling and citizenship in a transnational, interconnected world.
The seminar is designed for students who are interested in learning about language as a social practice. No previous knowledge in the field of linguistics is required. Class readings and discussions are grounded in specific geographical and historical contexts and cases. In order to connect theoretical insights with local practices and personal narratives, students will be asked to look around them for evidence of language contact situations – in the urban landscape and the media, and in their own families and communities.
Princeton students aim to come up with innovative ideas and become successful leaders, but many feel anxious about their own life choices, and are fixated on finding “the” right answer or having “the” idea. At the heart of this tension is a phenomenon central to humankind more generally: People often limit their ability to deal with problems by focusing solely on what they already know. While when we are born the world is a blank canvas, as we grow older, we identify patterns and create categories to make sense of life and save cognitive energy. Over time, practicality, fear, and habits slowly replace our once playful attitude and imaginative mind. The older we get, the more assumptions and pre-conceived ideas we have that make us blind to new possibilities. In short, creativity—one of the most critical skills for the future in every discipline and essential to live a fulfilling and happy life—is diminished over time. People with high creative confidence handle stress better, are able to generate truly innovative and useful ideas, and pursue leadership pathways.
This seminar studies the psychology, neuroscience, and applications of creativity to explore its role in STEM, the arts, and everyday life. It critically examines creativity mechanisms, social norms, and their interconnections with human behaviors. Students will learn divergent thinking (i.e., how to generate multiple ideas) and how to use it with convergent thinking (how to evaluate ideas) as both cognitive operations are necessary for creative thought. By understanding and practicing the underlying cognitive mechanisms of creativity at a personal level, students will learn the diverse mental processes (cognitive operations, cognitive flexibility) and benefits (self-expression, adaptation, day-to-day problem solving) involved in creative thinking.
Creative potential exists in everyone, and through practice it can be enhanced. This seminar aims to help students shuffle their already formed patterns and views about the world to find new connections across disciplines and transfer knowledge across situations. We will challenge ordinary thinking habits, and celebrate risks to encourage students to explore multiple points of view and become more aware of creative opportunities in their lives. To accomplish this, students will create experiential scenarios and build artifacts, complete “rewiring” activities and use visualization techniques to reflect on learnings, observations, and experiences. Students will apply creative thinking on two projects aimed at improving their lives and having external impact to enhance campus quality life. For the final project, students will combine creativity and speculative design to reimagine and design their ideal Princeton experience. Readings, guest speakers, and discussions will provide a holistic understanding of creativity.
The explosion of social media and handheld devices has made practices of self-narration and self-representation—from food selfies to Facebook avatar frames—an inescapable component of daily life. This seminar considers how humans have learned to see and transform themselves through tools of writing, painting, singing, and building. To do so, it will draw on the historical experience of China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam from ancient times to the present. Creative activity depends on instruments like brushes, hatchets, or prayer beads—and these are technologies humans have appropriated to externalize aspects of their subjectivity, memory, or desire for millennia in many cultures. But, as suggested by the Japanese memoir style of "following the brush" (zuihitsu), in many cases, the tool guides the user. Tracing the interaction between technological development and cultural forms through the history of East Asia, we will consider what it means for the self to be technologically mediated, and how the history of those mediations can inform our lives today.
In class discussion and weekly short responses, we will discuss and synthesize three types of sources:
a) films, texts, photographs, paintings, and music from across history that reveal the productive power of new media technologies;
b) canonical texts from Buddhist, Confucian, and other traditions that address the nature of the self directly; and
c) cutting-edge scholarship on the relationship between technology, individuals, and society from sociological, neurological, and humanistic perspectives.
Beyond looking at and reading about different media formats, participants will confront rare artifacts up close at Princeton collections, and develop a hands-on understanding of important technologies through in-class building activities including book-binding and photography. By the end of the course, students will:
a) become familiar with the historical importance of a wide range of information technologies in East Asia (and the importance of East Asia in the history of technology), and develop local expertise through a midterm research project on one genre or format;
b) deepen critical understanding of the media structures of the present, culminating in a final group design project examining their personal experience through reference to history; and
c) understand core themes in the history and thought of East Asia as well as critical concepts in the humanities and social sciences.
All readings in English; no prior background required.
Maria Josefa Velasco
Professor Roy Dickinson Welch Freshman Seminar in Music
From the “Yankee Doodle” tune of the American Revolution to the Hip-Hop beats of the Arab Spring of 2011, music has been fundamental to the culture and politics of revolutions. Songs like “Do you hear the people sing” of the musical Les Miserables feed the revolutionary imaginary and live interesting lives as protest anthems. But what role exactly does music and music-making play in revolutions, and how can our study of music during these turbulent eras help us understand the people living through them and the issues and contexts of their histories? This course explores the meaning of musical pieces performed in times of political upheavals—songs, operas, instrumental works—and how they may have mobilized and memorialized revolutions. The course will concentrate on the American and the French uprisings. By considering music within a broader soundscape of these times and becoming attuned to a sensory history, we will ask: What do music and sound contribute to a historical analysis of these eighteenth-century revolutions? How do we use music and sound as historical evidence? Can thinking about music help us understand more recent revolutions around the world?
Starting with brief cultural histories of the American and the French revolutions, we will pay close attention to the music and sonic practices of these eras and their political contexts. In addition to examining how music and musicians engaged with revolutionary ideologies and were affected by these moments of change, we will also investigate the enduring legacies of revolution in musical practice and musical thinking. We will then take a comparative approach by examining a few of the concepts and themes that arose with these conflicts, such as song and critique, sensibility and the sublime, and heroism and liberation. Grounded by historical and musicological scholarship, we will consider these themes alongside musical examples across diverse genres—“classical” instrumental, opera, popular song, ballads, choral—which were influenced directly by these tumultuous times. One highlight of the course will be to engage with the French Revolution pamphlet and song collections at Firestone Library’s Special Collections. We will end the course by exploring how the powerful imaginary of “revolution” has continued to influence musical works and vice versa.
The seminar will include class trips to local historical museums, the Princeton Art museum, Firestone Special Collections, and a concert.
Class of 1976 Freshman Seminar in Human Values
For Americans living today, Brown v. Board of Education is probably the most well-known case in the history of the US Supreme Court. We often take the Court’s Opinion in that case to stand for the principle of equality despite differences of racial background. But the Opinion in a famous case like Brown can obscure as much as it reveals: How did the case originate? Who brought it to the Court and why? What did it actually accomplish? And what political and legal options did it obscure, even as it advanced others?
This course concerns the relationship between law and the social and historical forces that create, define, change, and constrain law. We study this relationship by digging into the histories of so-called “great” cases such as Brown. The course treats everything about modern law—even what it has meant to be a lawyer or a lawyer’s client—as products of history and social change. As we study the past, we are also interested in theoretical and ethical questions about the relationship between law and justice, law and equality, and power and law.
“Complex Cases” has 4 major units: We start by reviewing “tools” in the study of modern American law, diverse approaches to what law is and does that are applicable to diverse times, places, and situations. Our second unit concerns the “great case” of Roe v. Wade, in which the Court ruled that state laws criminalizing abortion in the first two trimesters of a pregnancy were unconstitutional. The third unit centers Brown, placing it in the long history of legalized racial segregation in the US and considering its limitations and implications. The fourth, final, unit concerns the law of the so-called War on Terror that the US has pursued since September 11, 2001. We focus on the important case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006).
We read short articles or excerpts on “tools,” and then one major text for each big case: Leslie Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime; Michael Klarman, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement; and Jonathan Mahler, The Challenge. We will review the tools pieces all semester long, and read a few short supplementary texts as well.
Tessa Lowinske Desmond
This course uses food studies as a lens for understanding how it is we know what we know and how different kinds of arguments and narrative choices work to sway our ideas about fact, fiction, and knowledge. Food is a particularly useful site for examining the line between fiction and fact because the field of food writing is saturated with arguments from across the ideological spectrum, and these arguments matter for people daily as we decide what to eat. How can we make sense of research, history, science, and spin to decide what to purchase at the grocery store or grab from the dining hall?
The seminar will consist of two units that move through a wide range of writing on two topics in food studies: meat production and labor. The units take their inspiration from two classic American novels: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Students will consider these works of fiction in conjunction with other forms of writing including journalism, history, science, social science, and government documents. As a class, we will delicately sift and winnow fact and fiction in an effort to understand our contemporary food system.
This course will involve Community-Based Learning. Students will complete one investigative project that closely examines their personal food consumption. We will visit at least one farm to discuss issues of meat production with a local farmer. We will also host guests to discuss farm labor issues.
Chao-Hui Jenny Liu
Power. Rebellion. Love. Devotion. The forces that shaped objects in China remain with them even when they move to the US. At the same time, the ways those objects are presented to American audiences alter those original forces, transforming them into something different as they operate in the American milieu. This seminar explores this phenomenon across six different art objects. Tracing their stories through lectures, reading, and on-site detective work, the course traces these objects’ stories as they traveled between worlds—through war, cultural revolution, imperialism, and theft—and ultimately arrived in American museums.
When we see a foreign object in a museum, we are witnessing something that signifies concurrently in two worlds—the historical context of its origins and its current state in America. In order to fully interrogate this duality, we will learn to “read” the physical characteristics of each of our six objects and to understand the context of its making. We will then follow each story around the world and grapple with the issues of cultural property and power signified by their move. The class begins with the great Chinese bronze and jade exhibitions of 1938-41 in New York and Philadelphia. As more objects made their exodus from China in times of conflict, like the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, they tell us more about the changing relationship between the world they left behind and the world they traveled to. Above all, we will examine the ways in which museum collections affect the way American audiences saw (and see) Chinese culture—how our object immigrants have left an indelible mark on the way we think about China.
The goal of the seminar is to train students in close observation, to learn about the historical context in East Asia, and to peel away the intricate layers of meaning inherent to an object, arriving at understandings of how the art from abroad collected in our museums affect our perceptions of the foreign and ourselves. The course will feature several visits to prominent collections in New York and in Princeton.