Seminars for the Spring Term 2019

Freshman Seminars Spring Term

FRS 102 CANCELED The Artist as Idea: Leonardo to Kara Walker LA
Bridget Alsdorf

Barrett Family Freshman Seminars

What makes an artist an artist? What kind of person do we imagine when we hear the word “artist,” and how have these ideas changed over time? This seminar will explore the idea of the artist in Europe and the United States from the Renaissance to the present. Beginning with the origins of artistic biography in the late-fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, we will work our way towards current debates over biography’s use and value in contemporary art history and criticism.

The seminar’s overarching themes will be how the myth of the artist has varied over time, how conceptions of the artist’s relationship to society have shifted, and how art itself has engaged in various biographical modes. We will consider ideas of the artist as a distinct and uniquely privileged social being, notions of artistic temperament and “genius,” the gendering of the artist and myths of artistic virility, the presumed whiteness of Western art, modernist myths of bohemianism and madness, and the postmodern artist’s engagement with mass media attention. We will look closely at self-portraiture and its role in constructing artistic identity over the centuries; artist’s writings; representations of the studio (in art as well as in literature) as a space of artistic creation and identity-formation; and artists’ depictions of other artists, both in their own time and in the past.

Because conceptions of the artist are so central to the discourse of art history, this seminar offers an introduction to some key methodological problems in the discipline, notably the significance of an artist’s life, persona, intentions, and psyche to the way his/her art is interpreted and understood. Case studies will include Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt van Rijn, Eugène Delacroix, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, and Kara Walker.

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 104 Word ↔ Image: Encounters, Exchanges, and Clashes LA
Sarah Anderson and Veronica White

Robert H. Rawson '66 Freshman Seminar

How do images work with words: by displacing, by supplementing, or by enriching each other? This question is at the heart of our seminar, as we bring together the approaches of an art historian and a teacher of English literature to consider the exchanges between words and images. In classes held at the Princeton University Art Museum, and during explorations of other campus sites, we will pair analyses of original works of art with discussions of literary texts to explore the ways in which images and words describe, suggest, inspire, or even repulse and frighten.

Some of our sessions will focus on an artist’s interpretation of a particular text—as, for example, Jacques Stella’s seventeenth-century painting of The Rape of the Sabines, a painting related to Livy’s written history of Rome’s origins. How do we “read” the painting? How much does the didactic label next to the work influence our interpretation? How does Livy fit in? We will also examine creative processes and the role of inspiration for writers and painters. 

Throughout the seminar, we will be on the look-out for the freighted problem of what texts do to pictures: of how words jostle images, interrogate each other, and act upon us. From magazine covers to illuminated manuscripts to emoji novels, examples of these issues are all around us. How do you read affect, posture, or gesture in works of art outside your time or culture? Are you moved more by a written account of warfare or a depiction of its consequences? If a work is downloaded hundreds of thousands of time, does it matter if that original is endlessly reproduced? 

These questions are not posed only about what’s personal: words and images can be embedded with ideological messages, support or attack social change, and communicate injustice and uprising. In order to better understand our interactions with words and images, we will also study what neuroscience knows about how differently they are processed. Consequently, we’ll think about what we remember and how we recall these different processes differently. 

Using selected works of art and literature from the past xxx hundred years, this seminar asks students to look and to read actively. We will study the loaded relationships in which words and images are enmeshed as they tell tales, explore emotions, and convey states of mind. Most importantly, it will query how the narrative strategies of drawing and writing constitute being human.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 106 Art and Science of Motorcycle Design STL
Michael Littman

Donald P. Wilson '33 and Edna M. Wilson Freshman Seminar

This is a hands-on seminar and laboratory experience about the engineering design of motorcycles. Students will restore a vintage Triumph motorcycle and will compare it to previous restorations of the same make and model of motorcycle from other years (1955, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, and 1964). No previous shop or laboratory experience is necessary, and we welcome liberal arts students as well as engineering students. Technical staff members of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering—Glenn Northey, Al Gaillard, and Jon Prevost—will assist Professor Littman in laboratory.

Students will examine, disassemble, model, test, and rebuild a vintage motorcycle. All motorcycle subsystems will be considered with special attention to the power, structural, and control subsystems. Classic and modern engineering tools to be used include computer-aided design (CAD) software for the documentation and prototyping of engine parts, engine simulation software for understanding factors affecting engine performance, and engine brake dynamometer for determination of engine power and torque. Students will assess and restore motorcycle components. Precise measurement, repair, and redesign (where appropriate) of key parts will include the restoration of cylinder, piston, head, cam, valves, transmission, brakes, fork, oil system, clutch, and chain. Students will also inspect and restore all electrical system components as needed and disassemble, clean, repaint, and restore the frame and suspension system.

The class meets twice each week. Each session starts with a 90-minute precept followed by a 90-minute laboratory. Please note that only the precept time is listed on TigerHub and Course Offerings. The 90-minute laboratory will follow immediately after each precept. 

T, Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 108 Cuisine: Reading, Writing, Cooking, Eating LA
Leonard Barkan

Food is nutrition, culture, and public wellbeing; and all of these subjects are reflected in the enormous body of writing that has been devoted to eating and drinking, from banquets in Homer to the literature concerning world food supply in the twenty-first century. In the first half of the term, we will read extensively in food writing. From the ancients, we’ll consider the Roman cookbook of Apicius, we’ll read the satires of Horace against overindulgence and pretension in dining habits, and we’ll sample tidbits from Athenaeus’ fifteen-volume narrative of a single dinner party—where most of the conversation was about food. Moving forward in time, we’ll look at Renaissance banquets and observe the beginnings of modern gastronomy in the Renaissance; we’ll follow the birth of the restaurant as well as the place of mealtime in modern literature and art (think of Proust’s madeleine or of the history of depicting the Last Supper). From our own century, we will study the work of social analysis considering the problems of nutrition in the modern world. In the second half of the term, we will concentrate on cooking and eating. Each of these endeavors will be accompanied by an appropriate writing assignment. Students will learn how to write a recipe, they will attempt to translate the experience of taste into language, they will write a restaurant review, and they will produce a personal reminiscence about the experience of a particularly memorable meal that they have shared with family or friends. There will be field trips for the purpose of collective dining, and class visits from distinguished practitioners of the gastronomic arts and of food writing.

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 110 Democracy and the Good Life EM
Charles Beitz

Professor Amy Gutmann Freshman Seminar in Human Values

If you care about living a good and worthwhile life, should it matter to you whether your society is democratic? Most people today think the answer is obviously "yes"-- so obviously that the question may not even seem worth asking. So it can come as a surprise that many of the most influential writers in the history of Western political thought have disagreed; in their view, democracy is more a barrier to human fulfillment than an aid. And some writers who have been sympathetic to democratic ideas have worried that people living in democratic societies would fail to live the best lives they are capable of, unless their societies contain some apparently undemocratic or even anti-democratic aspects.
We will try to deepen our grasp of the relationship between political life and human good—and our understanding of the idea of a democratic society —by taking seriously a range of philosophical anxieties about democracy as we find them expressed in some important works in the history of Western political thought. We will concentrate on works by Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and perhaps one or two contemporary writers. These thinkers have been influential historically and for that reason it's worthwhile to understand their thought. However, the main aim of the seminar is philosophical, not historical: we grapple with political ideas that may seem strange in order to think more clearly about our own political commitments. The seminar is meant for students who have not studied political theory in depth before and would like a chance to strengthen their analytical, critical and writing skills by engaging with complex and challenging philosophical works.

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 112 Consuming America: Food, Fiction, and Fact SA
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.

M, W 01:30 pm - 02:50 pm

FRS 114 Uncompromising Political Perfection: Plato, Huxley, and Our Future EM
Matthew Franck

 Plato’s Republic is the not only the foundational text of political philosophy; it’s the model or anti-model of every work of utopian or dystopian thought—of what it means to pursue uncompromising political perfection. This seminar will begin with a “slow reading” of The Republic in its entirety, exploring Plato’s groundbreaking contributions in the dialogue on the subjects of justice, political order, education, psychology, the virtues, the sexes and the family, the nature of philosophy, the place of poetry in the life of a community, and happiness itself. The seminar will then turn to a work insufficiently recognized for its parallels to The Republic—namely Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Whereas Plato wrote a kind of utopia—or did he?—Huxley wrote a dystopia—or did he? Huxley’s World State has achieved a kind of justice, peace, and tranquillity. Its class structure “works,” its citizens lead pleasant lives, its stability appears unshakable. But at what price? In the characters of Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne, Mustapha Mond, and John the Savage, we begin to glimpse the answer.

Huxley’s novel injects a new element into the consideration of perfect politics: the scientific mastery of human nature. Eighty-six years after he wrote of a world governed by eugenics, “feelies,” and pharmaceuticals, what progress have we made toward ushering in that world? This seminar will conclude by considering other readings, fiction and/or nonfiction (perhaps some films too), that explore the possibilities of a “transhuman” future, in which the limitations of human nature are overcome or drastically altered by advances in biology, artificial intelligence, and the like. What might change about our perspective on justice and political life if some of these possibilities are realized? What should we be thinking about now in order to prepare for some of these possibilities?

T, Th 11:00 am - 12:20 pm

FRS 116 CANCELED Tolerance and Intolerance before the Enlightenment: Jewish, Christian and Islamic Perspectives HA
Brendan Goldman

Did people before modernity (1000 BCE – 1650 CE) have conceptions of tolerance and intolerance? If so, how were those values defined and how were they practiced? Why and in what circumstances did premodern Jewish, Christian and Muslim rulers and/or their subjects persecute or protect their minority populations? How do our modern conceptions and practices of tolerance and intolerance draw on or break from these premodern norms?

Students in this class set out to answer these questions through readings from chronicles, poems, legal codes and documents of everyday life from Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities across Europe and the Near East. They utilize coins, images and objects to understand the role of material culture, urban topography and ritual in defining the borders of community.

The course surveys the construction of community and the other in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in turn. Students first enter the world of ancient and late antique Palestine, investigating how Israelite, Hasmonean (Maccabean) and Rabbinic elites defined who was a believer, a foreigner and an idolater. Then, they examine constructions of the true believer in Christianity—from early Christian critiques of Jewish ethnocentrism in the gospels and patristic writings, through the sacralization of Christian state power under the Emperor Constantine, onto the persecution of Jews, Muslims and heretics during the crusades. Subsequently, they travel back to the origins of Islam, reconstructing Muslim/dhimmī (non-Muslim) relations during early Islam and under the Umayyad and ʿAbbasid caliphates as Islam changed from an ethno-Arab faith to an increasingly universalist one.

During the final weeks of the course, students scrutinize what the racialization of difference during the Spanish inquisition and early colonization of the Americas, as well as the secularization of many European, Muslim and Jewish nationalists, meant for the practice of tolerance and intolerance in the West and the Islamic world. The course ends with an examination of how Judeo-Christian-Islamic notions of tolerance and intolerance influence our conceptions of minority rights today.

M 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 118 Life on Mars — Or Maybe Not SA
Michael Lemonick and Edwin Turner

Stuart Family Freshman Seminar


A few years ago, headlines screamed with the news that scientists had discovered evidence of fossilized bacteria in a rock that had come from Mars. Over the next several months, independent researchers examined the claims carefully and concluded that the evidence was poor at best. But that negative assessment, which remains the consensus among experts, was barely reported. As a result, most people still think the question of life on other planets has already been settled. A story in the New York Times in 2006 carried the headline "Cloning May Lead to Healthy Pork." But a careful reading of the story makes it clear that "may not" would probably have made for a more accurate, though less enticing, headline. And virtually everyone is familiar with the endless news stories that declare a particular vitamin, food, or physical activity to be good for your health, inevitably followed a few years later by a story saying that the very same food or activity is, in fact, bad for you.

Most people learn most of what they know about science through the popular media. Yet as these examples make clear, media reports, even in respected national publications, are frequently confusing, incomplete, or even just plain wrong. Moreover, even when they are accurate, they convey an idea of science that Albert Einstein himself skewered a half century ago. From such episodes, he wrote, "the reader gets the [mistaken] impression that every five minutes there is a revolution in science, somewhat like the coups d'etat in some of the smaller unstable republics."

So how reliable is science news? In this seminar, we will investigate this question from the perspectives of both science and the media, led by one instructor from each camp. We will analyze several major news stories that have dominated the media at various times over the past few years: life on Mars, intelligent design, possible cancer cures, the "discovery" that some stars appear to be older than the universe, global warming, and more. We will also address science news as it arises, as it inevitably will, during the semester. In each case, we will work to understand the actual science that led to these reports. Then we will look in detail at the forces at play in shaping media coverage, and how they tend to distort the science. Garbling and oversimplification by reporters is one factor, but this, as we will see, is only part of the story. Other factors include the competition for funding among scientists, the politics that lead universities and government agencies to hype their successes, and the competition between scientific journals—all flavored with plenty of ego on all sides.

Students will not only come to understand why you can't always trust what you read in the newspaper, but also will come to appreciate the satisfactions and pitfalls of communicating science, not only through readings and class discussion, but also by means of visits by and with science journalists, scientists, and public information officers. They will also get a taste of what science reporters are up against by producing several pieces of science journalism themselves, which will be critiqued by both instructors. Although we will focus primarily on the print media, we will also consider the treatment of science by the broadcast media. In the end, students will never be able to see the news in quite the same way.

M 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 120 Hogs, Bats, and Ebola: An Introduction to One Health Policy SA
Laura Kahn

William H. Burchfield, Class of 1902, Freshman Seminar

Agriculture is the foundation of civilization. Surplus food enabled the growth of cities; cities led to nations, and nations discovered the science and technology that allowed our numbers to grow. The United Nations estimates that the global population will increase to over 10 billion in 2050 and possibly over 15 billion in 2100 if high-end estimates prove true. But agriculture comes with costs including environmental destruction and zoonotic diseases. Meeting the growing world population's demand for meat while ensuring global health and sustainability in a warming climate is a challenge for current and future policy makers.

Approximately 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (i.e. diseases of animals that infect humans). The deadly Nipah virus that emerged from the tropical forests of Malaysia in the late 1990s was preceded by widespread deforestation to clear land for pig farms, inadvertently destroying the natural habitats of fruit bats. The 2011 movie Contagion was based on this virus. When livestock is not available or too expensive, people sometimes resort to eating bushmeat (wild animals). In some cultures, bushmeat is considered a delicacy. Ebola outbreaks in Africa are believed due to consumption of or interaction with fruit bats or their excreta.

This interdisciplinary seminar will cover subjects such as basic epidemiology, public health and policy, history of food safety and security, history of meat production and consumption in the 20th century, essentials of zoonotic diseases, the politics of antimicrobial resistance, sanitation and hygiene, environmental health, and the national and international organizations that oversee health and agriculture. A series of disease outbreaks will be discussed and analyzed including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), avian influenza, Nipah virus, Q fever, and Ebola virus. Students will learn how to search and download data from government websites and analyze it using Excel and Powerpoint. Readings will come from a variety of sources including the medical and veterinary medical literature. Field trips to the Rutgers University agriculture facilities and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association are planned. In-class exercises, one five-page policy paper, one ten-page final policy paper, and a brief classroom Powerpoint presentation are required. A strong background in high school biology is required.

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 122 Connection and Communication in the Digital Bazaar SA
Swati Bhatt

Professor Burton G. Malkiel *64 Freshman Seminar

This seminar will explore how the Internet—and the rapid communication enabled by it—has fundamentally changed the economy and the way we do business. What impact has the constant connectivity of an evolving and growing digital network had on the structure and speed of the economy? Has the balance of economic power shifted from larger groups to individuals or vice versa? How has the nature of trade changed in the digital bazaar?

This seminar will examine the three powerful forces unleashed by this new technology. First, we will look at the network of connections that enables information exchange and allows businesses to be organized on a smaller scale. Second, we will examine the massive data that can be used to create stories about individuals, and we will explore how we are all affected by this phenomenon. Third, we will consider how our attention has become a scarce resource as a consequence of this connectivity. We are inundated with information, such as advertising, some of which appears to be free. We will explore whether information is truly free.

Our choices and our decision-making strategies adapt to our information environment so we will broaden our inquiry to discuss the shortcuts we take in our daily lives. Students will be encouraged to develop case studies of specific applications of digital technology that have impacted their lives. For example, how has the smartphone made a meaningful difference? Why do we "Venmo"?

Students will read chapters from the assigned text and articles to explore these ideas as they gain fluency in thinking about these issues in class discussion. Grades will be based on a short midterm essay, a final paper, and class discussion.

T, Th 03:00 pm - 4:20 pm

FRS 124 Our Biased Brains: The Science of Cognitive Bias and Decision Making STN
Paul Durst

Shelly and Michael Kassen '76 Freshman Seminar in the Life Sciences

As human beings, we are confronted with a constant stream of information on a day-to-day basis, and are forced to react to and make decisions about this information far more rapidly than the time it takes our brains to process it. To avoid being completely overwhelmed under these circumstances, we have developed shortcuts and preconceptions that allow us to quickly make sense of the world around us—shortcuts that usually produce accurate assessments of the situation, and historically have been essential to our survival. Yet there are many modern-day situations in which these shortcuts fail us. In these situations, our shortcuts, or cognitive biases, skew the way we view the world and lead us to make illogical or irrational decisions.

This course will introduce students to cognitive biases through the original hypotheses and experiments that led behavioral scientists to identify and describe them. In the first two weeks, students will receive an introduction to the scientific method, learn how to develop their own experiments, and receive an introduction to data analysis and visualization. In the weeks that follow we will review original studies of different cognitive biases, discuss their strengths and weaknesses, develop and carry out versions of the experiments in class, and analyze and discuss the results. These experiments will introduce students to important methodological topics such as sample size, probability, effect size, and uncertainty, and they will highlight how even scientists can fall prey to their own cognitive biases.

This class is designated as an STN course, but the material will all be accessible to students of all backgrounds. The goal for this class is to boost all students’ confidence in their ability to read and critique the primary scientific literature, to design and carry out their own experiments, and to think critically about the world around them.

M 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm 

FRS 126 Climate Change, Evolution, and the Future of the Biosphere STN
Lars O Hedin

Henry David Thoreau Freshman Seminar in Environmental Studies

This seminar will explore one aspect of the world as we know it—the biosphere—from the perspective of how it is changing now and how it has changed throughout history. Central to the analysis is the process of evolution, and the role of evolution in generating the biodiversity and the environmental conditions that we experience today. Do current and predicted changes in the biosphere represent something new? What can we learn from dramatic events that happened during Earth’s distant past, such as the sudden global rise in atmospheric oxygen or the sudden extinction of large groups of species? Are nature and the Earth organized to ensure stability and resiliency, or can human-ecological systems flip rapidly from one state to another? 

Through books and scientific research papers, we will evaluate these questions and examine ideas ranging from the Gaia hypothesis to complex adaptive systems theory. Pedagogically, students will practice how to read, present, and discuss ideas and findings from the scientific literature. In addition, students will regularly practice how to write about ideas and findings using purposefully constructed short forms of text, and how to critique and edit other’s writing styles. This seminar is open to all students, including those who are not planning to focus their studies in the natural sciences.

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 128 Migration, Translation, Community SA
Sandra Bermann and Karen Emmerich

Migration—with its emphasis on mobility, encounter, and interdependence—could be considered the human face of globalization. This course treats migration as a global issue, but focuses locally on the essential roles that language, translation, and community play in the lives of those who move through and settle in unfamiliar places and cultures. Linguistic differences shape many aspects of migrant life, while a range of community-based endeavors—including language-learning programs and translation work, both formal and informal—ensure that intercultural communication and exchange occur. Our seminar will explore these issues through readings and discussion, but also through engagement with local NGOs, government entities, and migrant populations.

Our course builds through three interlocking sections. In the first, we gain insight into the issue of migration by reading academic articles, memoirs, and fictional representations of migration. We also meet with local groups working with migrant populations on a range of topics (legal, health, and education issues, story-telling, demographic mapping, etc.). Based on these preliminary readings and local encounters, students will begin to define individual interests in a class report and short reflective paper.

The second part of the course concentrates on language and translation as essential if often overlooked elements of the broader experience of migration. Linguistic abilities and access to translation services can affect an individual’s likelihood to effectively negotiate legal frameworks, or even at times to survive. Even when migrants have successfully resettled, language and translation can influence their ability to reach their human potential. Language learning and translation also allow migrants and host populations to effectively converse, share ideas, and articulate cultural identities. Through readings, meetings with interpreters, and hands-on work translating documents for local NGOs, we will learn more about how issues of language and translation affect migrant populations, as well as the populations to and through which they move.

In the final part of the course, we bring together what we have learned about migration, language and translation—both globally and locally, academically and experientially—to consider the difference a local community makes in the lives of new arrivals, and vice versa. Using our seminar readings and discussion as a foundation, each student will pursue an independent project with a chosen NGO or government entity and write a final paper reflecting upon this experience. The results of these projects will be shared in our seminar before they assume their final form.

M 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 130 Alternative Facts, Lies, and History HA
Marc Domingo-Gygax

Class of 1975 Freshman Seminar

Since Kellyanne Conway’s infamous 2017 defense of White House Press secretary Sean Spicer, in which she said that he was presenting ‘alternative facts’, the phrase has become increasingly fashionable. Historians, however, have always been concerned with the problem of falsification and exaggeration, asking not only, ‘Can we trust our sources?’, but also, ‘How can objectivity be achieved in the analysis of history?’ and ‘Is there such a thing as ‘historical truth’?’ Because historians are deeply bound to produced and producing texts they are constantly asking: Can narration on its own provide a real understanding of the past? What ‘literary’ constraints are imposed upon historiographic writings? Is a ‘scientific’ history possible? and What are the boundaries between ‘history’ and ‘alternative history’? Given the current debate about ‘alternative facts’ and the proliferation of fact-checking, a scholarly discussion about these questions could not be more timely.

In the first half of the semester we will study how historians of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have approached these questions and envisioned the study of history. One of the goals of the seminar is to learn about different possibilities for studying history and to explore the reasons for this diversity of approaches. In the second half of the semester we will deal with a highly controversial case study—Nazi Germany—which tests the relevance of historians’ debates. The importance of discussing truth and objectivity in history becomes patently clear when trying to explain and correctly evaluate the development of National-Socialism and its consequences. Because the events of the Holocaust were documented with such meticulous care, the nature of extreme cruelty and its evaluation makes the tension between objectivity and narration evident. In the seminar we will deal with problems concerning the falsification of documents (the Hitler diaries scandal), the debate on the role of Germans in the establishment of the Nazi-regime, and the different ways in which states have reacted to Holocaust deniers.

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 132 Behind the Scenes: Inside the Princeton University Art Museum LA
Caroline Harris

Barrett Family Freshman Seminars

Would you like to see a Degas pastel, a tour de force of 4th-century Chinese calligraphy, or a Kara Walker up close and without the frame? Participants in this seminar will go behind the scenes of a major university art museum with an encyclopedic collection of more than 100,000 objects from ancient to contemporary art. Sessions will focus on close looking and discussions of museum best practices and the role of the museum in the 21st century with a special emphasis on collecting with opportunities to study masterpieces of Asian, Ancient American, European, and modern and contemporary art. Students will spend the first half of the semester studying Princeton University’s collecting practices and the second half considering the politics of presentation through considerations of installations, exhibitions, conservation, and outreach. Course readings will introduce students to some of the most compelling practical, theoretical, and ethical issues confronting museums.

A team of curators, the director, and other members of the professional staff of the Princeton University Art Museum will help lead some seminar sessions. Students are expected to discuss critically issues in acquisitions, conservation, education, and interpretation based on readings and outside projects. There also will be a trip to New York City to visit museums.

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 134 Scientists Against Time HA
Harold Feiveson

Bert G. Kerstetter '66 Freshman Seminar

This seminar will explore some of the critical contributions of (mostly Allied) scientists, engineers, and mathematicians during World War II. Topics will include radar, the Spitfire and the Battle of Britain; cryptography and the breaking of the German Enigma code; microwave radar, operations research, and other technical breakthroughs in the Battle of the Atlantic against German submarines; the great advances in medicine—penicillin, anti-malarials, DDT and other—during the war; amphibious craft, advanced aircraft carriers, the B-29 Super-fortress in the Pacific theater; navigation aids, the proximity fuse, and the Mustang P-51 and the erratic history of strategic bombing; tides, weather, artificial harbors, deception in the D-Day invasion; and the Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 136 Into the Woods! What Disney Didn't Tell You About Fairy Tales LA
Volker Schroder

Class of 1975 Freshman Seminar

There is much more to fairy tales than the simplified and sanitized versions for children that we've all grown up with. This seminar will attempt to explore the complex history of the fairy tale genre and to address the many critical questions it raises: What exactly is a fairy tale? How does it differ from other types of "folk tales," and, more generally, from myth and legend? Who used to tell those enchanting stories and to whom? When did they come to be written down and printed and for what audience? How have their forms, meanings, and functions evolved over time and across cultures? We will examine issues such as gender roles, family dynamics, social structure, and the relations between humans and animals. While the disturbing "darker side" of fairy tales—sadism and cannibalism, incest and infanticide—will have to be courageously confronted, their humorous, playful, subversive, and utopian dimension will not be neglected.

The readings for this seminar will revolve around the most famous "tale types" but also include some lesser-known narratives. We will study the canonical texts by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault and discover a number of other versions, ranging from ancient Rome to the Italian Renaissance and the French 18th century. We will also read a selection of diverse and often conflicting interpretations of these stories by historians, folklorists, psychoanalysts, and literary critics. Although the primary focus will be on the European fairy tale tradition, attention will also be paid to its counterparts in non-Western cultures. The second half of the course will examine the literary fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and Oscar Wilde and conclude with contemporary Anglo-American retellings of the classical narratives. Throughout the semester, we will consider the ways fairy tales have been illustrated over the centuries as well as their presence in opera, ballet, and musical, and watch various video clips and feature films.

Participants in this seminar will be expected to read thoroughly and critically the texts assigned for each meeting (ca. 100 pages per week), to participate actively in class discussion, and to introduce and lead one discussion session. Written assignments will consist of weekly responses to the readings (online discussion board), a short midterm paper, and a longer final paper. The seminar requires the willingness to engage with "strange," non-Disneyfied stories and to question one's assumptions about the nature and purpose of fairy tales.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 138 CANCELED The Private Life of Empire LA  

Katherine Stanton

Donna '78 and Michael S. Pritula '78 Freshman Seminar


“What was my astonishment at seeing an elderly Negro woman enter my room this morning,” writes John Gabriel Stedman in his Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1790), “who did no less than present me her daughter to be what she pleased to call my wife.” As Stedman goes on to explain, while apologizing to his modest reader, this arrangement was a common custom in the Dutch colony, though one he refused. What would it have meant for a European man to accept such an offer—and what might it have meant for the enslaved woman?

Reading from historical sources, literary works, and contemporary scholarship, this seminar will study human relationships within the structures of European colonialism and plantation slavery. We will explore the intimate spaces and domestic arrangements of empire, visiting its bedrooms, kitchens, and nurseries. In the first half of the semester, we will ask: How were domestic relationships between Europeans and colonized or enslaved peoples at once relations of violently unequal power and relations between individuals? How were power, human complexity, and resistance exercised through intimate contact? How did these relationships threaten and sustain the colonial order? In the second half of the semester, we will examine how postcolonial and contemporary authors and artists revise and rework the colonial forms we have inherited. How do they deepen our understanding of the private life of empire?

This seminar will map the households of empire, moving each week from space to space. We will start in the parlor, sit on the terrace, read in the library, and eat in the dining room. We will also visit spaces adjacent to (and extensions of) the house, such as the club and the private car. And we will hover in liminal or in-between spaces, such as the doorway and the graveyard.

Students in this seminar will learn how to interpret and develop arguments about complex and heterogeneous texts. Students will write three essays—a close reading assignment, a comparative essay, and a critical analysis—across the semester. 

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 140 Designing Life: The Ethics of Creation and its Control EM  
Elizabeth Harman

Kurt and Beatrice Gutmann Freshman Seminar in Human Values

This course examines the following questions: Is genetic enhancement permissible? Is genetic selection permissible? Is genetic selection of desirable traits permissible? Is genetic selection of disabilities, such as deafness, permissible? Is selection against disability permissible? Can creating someone harm her? Perhaps creating someone whose life is utterly miserable harms her. But can creating someone whose life is worth living harm her? How could it be that someone should create a non-disabled rather than a disabled child, if she has both options? Is stem-cell research permissible? Do human embryos have moral status? If they do, do they have the same moral status as adult persons? If stem cell research does not require the destruction of the embryo, is it permissible? Is abortion permissible? If we assume the fetus has the moral status of an adult person, does it follow that abortion is permissible? Is procreation permissible? Is all human life so bad (worse than we realize) that it is wrong to have children?

M 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 142 History and Cinema: Fascism in Film HA
Gaetana Marrone-Puglia

In October 1922, when Benito Mussolini completed his semi-legal seizure of power in Italy, the Fascist era began in triumph and was cheered by the crowds. It ended two decades later in the Piazzale Loreto at Milan, where the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress were strung up by the heels by the partisans as silent evidence that the Fascist regime was indeed over. Between those two historical moments, Mussolini, the ex-socialist, had dominated the spotlight of Europe.

Produced from the post-World War II period to the present, the Italian, French, German, and Polish films we will study in this seminar establish a theoretical framework for the analysis of Fascism, its political ideology, and its ethical dynamics. We shall consider such topics as the concept of fascist normality, the racial laws, the morality of social identities (women, homosexuals), the Resistance, and the aftermath of the Holocaust. An interdisciplinary approach will be combined with learning basic concepts of film style, technique, and criticism. Some of the films we will study are Bertolucci's The Conformist, De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Malle's Au revoir les enfants, Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum, Wertmüller's Seven Beauties, Holland's Europa Europa, Polanski's The Pianist, Rossellini's Open City, and Benigni's Life is Beautiful.

Readings will focus primarily on historical essays, interviews with filmmakers, and critical reviews. Students are expected to view one film per week. Students will be required to write three 3-page papers based on the weekly readings and the films and a final paper (6-8 pages). All books will be available for purchase at the Labyrinth bookstore or can be consulted at Firestone Library. All other materials will be distributed by the instructor in class.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 144 Life in a Nuclear Armed World SA
Zia Mian

Anonymous Donor Freshman Seminar

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, President Harry 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 threat of nuclear terrorism, the links between nuclear weapons and civilian nuclear energy programs, and 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 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 prospects of success for the talks involving more than 100 countries starting in 2017 on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons.

W 07:30 pm - 10:20 pm

FRS 146 The Politics of Poverty SA
Elisabeth Donahue

If you ask a random sample of people for a definition of poverty in America, you would likely get several different answers. If you followed up with questions about why people are poor, what should be done to help them, and how they can help themselves escape poverty, the answers would further vary.

Yet we have a federal definition of poverty. And we have programs designed to both prevent and alleviate poverty, all formulated with presumptions about what created the conditions in the first place.

This class will delve into how the U.S. defines poverty and whether it makes sense to have a uniform definition in such a complex and vast country. We will then look at various social programs designed to reduce poverty and examine the history and effectiveness of each.

The class will pay special attention to how we treat different demographic groups who have similar incomes: the elderly vs. children, families vs. single adults, urban vs. rural. The United States stands out among countries with social welfare programs in how the poor experience very different safety nets depending on the “category” in which they fall. The role of race and gender will also be examined. The history of the concept of the “deserving” and “undeserving poor,” and its effect on how social programs are designed, will be explored.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 148 From the Earth to the Moon QR
Robert Stengel

Richard L. Smith '70 Freshman Seminar


In From the Earth to the Moon, we will investigate the scientific, political, and economic factors that made Project Apollo possible and the new infrastructure that is being put in place for robotic and human lunar flight. The seminar will provide an introduction to orbital mechanics, launch, and re-entry, as well as to the basic principles of space-vehicle design and rocket propulsion, using flight from the earth to the moon and back as a focal point. We will study the space program as portrayed in history and fiction, and we will develop an understanding of the critical roles played by organizations, management principles, and budget. In the process, we will witness the interplay between technological capabilities and social goals, between inward and outward thinking, and between perception and actuality. 

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 150 Cold War in the USSR: The Life and Times of Nikita Khrushchev  SA
Deborah Kaple

Professor Whitney J. Oates '25 *31 Freshman Seminar in the Humanities

Cold War. Moscow, March 1953. Feared Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin dies, leaving a legacy of mass terror and an extensive system of slave labor camps full of innocent people arrested on trumped-up charges. This was Stalin’s Gulag, a highly secret institution whose name could not be spoken aloud for fear of arrest. The tyrant’s death sets off a leadership crisis and a power struggle ensues between notorious KGB chief Lavrenty Beria, Stalin henchman Georgy Malenkov, and Communist Party First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. In a surprise one-two, Beria boldly moves to enhance his popularity and distance himself from Stalin by opening the gates of the Gulag, releasing 1.5 million convicts into Soviet society with no warning or preparation. This causes mass chaos. Soon the new government is flooded with petitions from people insisting on the release of their still-incarcerated relatives. In a few months, Beria is arrested and shot, and the unlikely Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, a peasant from Ukraine with a 4th grade education, emerges victorious in the leadership struggle. As he battles to gain control over the Soviet Union, it becomes clear that he has to answer to his nation for the repression of the Gulag and all the pain it had cost the Soviet people for 25 years. On February 25, 1956, he makes the speech of his life at the 20th Communist Party Congress, and changes the course of the Soviet Union. In his “Secret Speech,” he shocks the world by denouncing Stalin and blaming him for all the terror that had taken place. With this, he ushers in a new era of openness and a lifting of Stalin’s repressive controls over Soviet life. Thus begins “The Thaw” in the USSR.

In this course, we will learn about Stalin’s repression and life in the Gulag, we will read from actual Politburo transcripts as the leadership contenders decide how to deal with each other and Stalin’s legacy, and we will look into Khrushchev’s earlier life for clues to his meteoric rise in the Communist Party. Then we will turn our attention to the incredible outpouring of creative energy as a population that had been repressed for decades comes alive. We will experience this unexpected Soviet freedom by reading the new “Thaw” literature, looking at outrageous “non-Soviet” art, fashion and design, watching “Thaw” films, and listening to the music of the bards. We will also follow Khrushchev as he travels the world as the new Soviet leader touting his new doctrines of “de-Stalinization” and “peaceful co-existence.” And finally, we will examine the inevitable disastrous consequences of Khrushchev’s new policies on the Socialist bloc, as these countries, one after another, erupt in disarray and revolution, trying to leave Communism behind.

Throughout the course, we will focus on ethical and sociological questions posed by Khrushchev’s actions. Was Communism as a form of government structurally repressive? Was Stalin really the only person responsible for the mass arrests and the Gulag that terrorized the nation? As one of Stalin’s loyal followers, was Khrushchev guilty, too? Was the Communist Party? Were all ordinary citizens? And if so, what has this meant for today’s Russia, a country that still has not come to terms with its complicity and responsibility for Stalin’s crimes?

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 152 Drug Discovery: From Snake Venoms to Medicines STN
Paul Reider

Shelly and Michael Kassen '76 Freshman Seminar in the Life Sciences

Over the past few decades, we have seen the discovery of some amazing medicines with dramatic benefits to the quality of human life. To many, however, the firm belief that science will triumph over disease has been replaced by doubt, frustration, and fear. Where are the new medicines? HIV, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease are not yielding after years of work. Tuberculosis and malaria are coming back, long after we declared them solved problems. New, really frightening strains of bacteria and viruses, resistant to old treatments, arrive every day. What are we to do?

This seminar will be an optimistic (I promise) look at the ways that medicines are created and tested. Participants will gain an appreciation for the complexities and risks of drug discovery—and a glimpse into what the next decade promises to bring. Topics will include: immunotherapy for cancer, teachings from mother nature, unmet medical needs, target selection, toxicity, clinical trials, neglected diseases, economic models of drug discovery (and drug pricing), along with how to address pandemics. Class time will be a blend of lectures and discussions on the basics of drug discovery coordinated with case studies. Guest speakers will range from experts in oncology to business development.

This seminar is appropriate for both non-science and science concentrators with an interest in the future of healthcare. Students will choose a disease and then identify a path toward a new way to treat it.

 M 07:30 pm - 10:20 pm

 FRS 154 Weird Data QR

Jim Casey

What is the relationship between a medieval scriptorium and the popular software versioning site Github? Who determines how many people in America are killed by police each year? How can Princeton Dining Services reduce food waste and increase its purchase of local, sustainable ingredients?

These questions are questions about data: What data exists, where it can be found, and how it can be deployed to solve questions. The data required for each question differs, but many of the methods and tools required are the same.

This seminar invites students to take a deep dive into the nature of data. From the materials that have stored data over the millennia, to how data sets embody the real world objects or concepts they describe, data is always used in affective ways that involve labor and are highly situational. Raw data is an oxymoron. All datasets are arguments, once you know how to read them. Data is socially and physically constructed and that opens it to critique and unexpected readings. Data is feminist. Data is queer. And in today’s data driven world, data is power. It is only by putting datasets in context and bringing our full experiences to bear on data creation, curation, and analysis that we can move from data to information and from there to knowledge and into wisdom.

Weird data is data that is highly relational, embedded in particular contexts, and makes unstated assumptions about the world. All data is weird, but some data is weirder than others. This class will focus on the process of reimagining the human record as data, and how datasets themselves are becoming the record of our lives in the 21st century—for better and for worse.

So come and explore the wild and wacky world of data and its place on the Princeton Campus—from Rare Books and Special Collections to the Forrestal Data Center. Learn to read datasets as a text, first with examples drawn from historical and literary datasets and then by creating your own datasets with classmates. Learn the foundational skills of data science while reflecting critically on those methods and tools through the lenses of race, class, gender, and power structures. By Deans' Date you will officially join the community of data researchers as the author of a published dataset. Data is everywhere and every when. Shape it for yourself.

Th 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm


FRS 158 So, You Want To Change the World? SA
Martin P. Johnson

Governments struggle to address awesome challenges facing our communities, country, and planet. Private sector entrepreneurs increasingly step up to solve them.

These social entrepreneurs (SEs) define a problem (or broken system), and then develop new ways to address it—at the root of the problem. Motivated by social or environmental change, SEs attract others to their cause. They assemble a team, funding, technology, and networks to create a social enterprise—the vessel that moves them forward. SEs often lead by example, shouldering risks and forcing others to think differently.

SEs are not always extroverts, CEOs, or leaders, however. In fact, most SEs will serve in support roles in teams. These "intrapreneurs" are often the unsung heroes of organizations and businesses. How do we nurture them?

SEs must do all that conventional business entrepreneurs do—design effective products, fundraise, manage financials, build teams, persevere, etc. But they also must navigate complex, high-risk, and politically charged settings; underdeveloped success measures; diffused accountability; scarce access to capital; and the ever-present potential for unintended bad consequences, despite good intentions.

Most successful SEs are driven by personal experiences with pain or injustice. They hold a binary mindset, allowing them to master their profession, yet retain enough distance to be able to change the rules of that profession. They remain hopeful, even when evidence of hope may not exist.

Are successful SEs the result of nature or nurture? This discussion-based seminar will explore that question and current research on the psychology and anthropology of SE leaders.

Students will learn to "map" complex social systems, discover "best" or at least "pretty good" SE practices, and explore their own SE options, tendencies, and ideas. In this Community Based Learning Initiative (CBLI) seminar, students will meet, interact with, and write about current social entrepreneurs in the region.

Taught by Martin Johnson, a 1981 alumnus, and founder and CEO of Isles, a 36-year-old Trenton, New Jersey–based sustainable development organization that arose from a student seminar at Princeton, this seminar will also include a case study of his son, Jeremy Johnson, a 2007 alumnus and co-founder of two successful for-profit social impact technology companies, and Andela. 

W 07:30 pm - 10:20 pm

FRS 160 Sense Making: A unifying principle of human perception and cognition EC
Alex Todorov

One of the most important functions of the mind is making sense of the world around us. This sense making activity runs across all levels of perception and cognition: from perception of patterns in meaningless shapes and sounds to constructing of coherent life stories and to building of grand theories of meaning. In this seminar, we will explore the many ways in which we impose more structure and meaning on the world than exists. Starting with perception and attention, we will study various perceptual illusions and magical tricks that result from seeing patterns in random configurations of events.

From the study of perception and attention we will move to the study of memory. We often think of memory as an infallible file drawer, but our memories are constantly modified abstractions that are more ordered than reality. We then proceed to consider the study of judgments and decision-making, a field in which psychologists have documented a number of systematic biases in our decisions – many of which can be traced to our poor ability to represent and reason about randomness. 

Our final exploration in the seminar will be in the study of narratives, both in life and in fiction. Life narratives are an essential part of our selves providing us with meaning and purpose, yet their construction is far from trivial. As Soren Kierkegaard put it, “Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” We conclude the seminar by exploring the structure of fiction narratives and the psychology underlying different belief systems.

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 162 The Silk Road: History and Politics in a Connected World HA
Xin Wen

In 1954, archaeologists discovered in a sixth century site on a Swedish island something they did not expect to find: a small statue of the Buddha originally from north India. The physical feature of the statue is not striking: it was cast in bronze, roughly made, and only barely above three inches tall. But it posed questions that have fascinated historians ever since its discovery: How did it get there? And what does it mean for the history of Sweden, of India, and of the places in between?

By tracing this Buddha statue and many other similarly out-of-place objects, stories, and ideas, this seminar explore the elusive history of the “Silk Road,” a pre-Columbus global network of exchange mediated by merchants, monks, and envoys through deserts and oceans. The term “Silk Road” was coined by a German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833-1905) in 1877. It has captured the imaginations of both scholars and general readers, because the understanding of the Silk Road allows us to see the history of the world not as a collection of national narratives (Chinese history, U.S. history, Indian history, Swedish history and so on), but as a network of overlapping links such as the ones that carried the Buddha statue from India to Helgö, and to the one at your fingertips now.

In order to understand the history and the politics of the Silk Road, we will examine two groups of sources in this seminar. The first group includes the documents, maps, and images produced by people of pre-modern Eurasia speaking Chinese, Tibetan, Turkic and various Indo-European languages that reveal a surprisingly connected world even from the earliest days of recorded history. The second group includes travel reports, political treatises, academic works, and literary as well as artistic compositions, mostly in modern European languages, that either investigate or reimagine these pre-modern connections. By reading them (all in English translation) in the context of one another, this seminar hopes to explore both the history of a deeply connected pre-modern world, and the ways this history was mobilized for the purposes of current domestic policies and international relations that in turn changed how we see our increasingly more connected modern world.

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 164 Varieties of American Conservatism SA
George F. Will

American conservatism is, depending on the appraiser's judgment, either richly diverse or, like sauerkraut ice cream, weirdly incoherent. How is it possible that some of the nation's Founders were both revolutionaries and conservatives? The very name "conservatism" implies the moral imperative to conserve something, yet American versions have generally (but not always) embraced the constant churning and the creative (so it is assumed) destruction of a capitalist market society. America is committed to democracy, hence American conservatism is, too--with, however, anxieties and qualifications. Freedom and equality are political values that are always in tension, with conservatism generally favoring the former. What, then, has conservatism to say about social inequalities? Judicial review gives the judiciary a powerful role in the supervision of American democracy, which raises what has been called "the counter-majoritarian dilemma"--appointed judges thwarting the actions of popularly elected representatives. But why--or when--do majorities deserve deference? And what about minorities? Today there are advocates of "conservative populism," and there are critics who call this phrase an oxymoron. Contemporary conservatism makes ethical arguments about the government's proper scope, and empirical arguments about government's actual competence. Both kinds of arguments are influenced by "public choice theory" that questions the reality of disinterested government, and hence disputes what it considers romantic and sentimental conceptions of democracy. Conservatism has been expressed in judicial decisions and in American literature, and his seminar will consider samples of both. 

T 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 170 The Mathematics of Secrecy, Search, and Society! QR
Jonathan Hanke

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 email, 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 every day, 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.

M 07:30 pm - 10:20 pm

FRS 172 Alexander Hamilton: The Life, Thought, and Legacy of an American Original  HA
Bradford Wilson

It seems to have taken a hip hop musical to reintroduce Alexander Hamilton to the American consciousness. In this seminar, we shall undertake a thorough engagement with Hamilton--the man, the thinker, the statesman. Who was he, really, and what did he contribute to the making of the American Republic? He was a proponent and architect of a strong central government. But why? What was his defense of the Constitution and his understanding of how it should be interpreted? How did Hamilton understand himself, and how was he understood by his friends and his enemies, as well as by later writers and politicians? And, if he was so politically and intellectually gifted, how and why did he come to be despised by three other outstanding thinkers and statesmen: John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson?

We wish to contemplate the intimate relationship between “biography” and “politics” by examining how one extraordinary man’s life shaped his nation and how his nation shaped his life. We want to consider the life of the mind, how different types of thought – say, Hamilton’s practical or prudential reason and Jefferson’s theoretical or speculative reason – result in different ways of judging the world and different plans of action. Are there axioms or first principles of politics from which one can deduce policies and right action? Or should political thought operate inductively, through an examination of history and experience? Perhaps above all, we desire to know the nature of statesmanship, and what distinguishes it from and elevates it over other forms of political engagement.

Our inquiries will be guided by texts of many kinds: biography; intellectual, political, and economic history; speeches and writings of Hamilton and his contemporaries; and the recording and libretto of a Broadway musical. A class trip to the Hamilton musical in New York will take place on the afternoon of March 3, 2019.

M,W 11:00 am - 12:20 pm

FRS 174 Contemporary Art and the Amateur LA
Joseph Scanlan

Contemporary Art and the Amateur will investigate the long history and current implications of the role of the amateur in art. Weekly readings, discussions, and presentations will be punctuated by studio projects designed to engage the class in several amateur methods of art making, from drawing and performance to learning a new skill and conducting amateur research.

The seminar will begin with the amateur’s modern-day emergence as the epitome of the Arts & Crafts movement. In the eyes of the movement’s founders, John Ruskin and William Morris, the natural human proclivity for beautiful things, imperfectly made, was in danger of being steamrolled by the Industrial Revolution. Through their philosophical writings and artisanal publishing enterprises, Ruskin and Morris implored humankind to rescue itself by rediscovering the beauty of handmade objects. In other words, through the social mission of the Arts and Crafts Movement, they implored men and women to become amateurs in every aspect of their daily lives.

The amateur, or “lover of things,” is a noble personage that has evolved with, exerted influenced on, and been contested by contemporary art. At various moments over the past fifty years the amateur has embodied social ambition, democratic freedom, critical rebellion, and Dionysian degradation. Over the same period of time, the term has come to be less about love and more about the inferiority. Why is that? Are we no longer capable of—does society no longer need—lovers of things? Or is our perception that anyone who acts on their amateur impulses is somehow irrational, deluded, deficient?

It would seem that a general (over) professionalization of all aspects of society bear on the changing status of the amateur as well. Contemporary Art and the Amateur will question the very idea of professional training, at least as it relates to the making and appreciation of art. As the culminating experience of this seminar, it is hoped that our critical discussions of the amateur and the studied achievements of untrained artists (including those enrolled in the class) might affect how we go about our primary pursuits. As French philosopher Jacques Rancière would implore us, we should consider the possibility that knowledge and beauty are not only achieved by those with the best, or the most, training. Inherent in the ideal of the amateur is the fact that “love” and “not knowing” can sometimes reveal things to us that reason and knowledge cannot.

W 01:30 pm - 04:20 pm

FRS 176 Music and Politics SA
Nikolaos Michailidis

Donna '78 and Michael S. Pritula '78 Freshman Seminar

Childish Gambino’s music video “This is America” provoked debates across the country about gun ownership, racial violence, and inequality in the U.S. This was no isolated phenomenon: music has long inspired individuals and mobilized social movements. For this same reason, governments have often attempted to censor musical expression. Whether looking at the writings of ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, modern European thinkers such as Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Adorno, the American pop scene—let alone events such as the ban on music by the Taliban in Afghanistan—the strong links between music and politics are clearly audible. What is it about organized sound that makes it so politically important? In this seminar we will explore how musical practice affects political processes and how power dynamics shape the making, distribution, and listening of music.

Despite this strong connection, music has largely been relegated to a background and marginal position in the study of politics. Mainstream definitions and analysis of political processes emphasize standard procedures (i.e. electoral politics), institutions, and ideologies of rational choice, disregarding other levels of human experience such as emotions, imagination, and the shaping of aspirations, facets that play a central role in the formation of political subjectivities. Music flows across many sociocultural borders (religious, class, ethnic, linguistic), and its meaning is often malleable and ambiguous with effects that cannot be easily measured, defined, or controlled. These features also constitute music’s political power.

Across the course, we will focus on specific people, sociocultural contexts, and music genres in order to trace how musicians and listeners accept or resist certain social orders, how they debate, produce and sometimes change power relations through engaging with expressive culture, how they advance critique, express beliefs, identities and lifestyles, how they shape memory and imagination, create empathy, evoke emotions and encourage action. We will also explore who has economic and creative control over music-making and distribution, which people and ideological assumptions dictate the terms of scholarly and critical writing about music and its effects, and how race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and class shape aesthetic choices.

Our main body of readings comes from anthropology and ethnomusicology, but we will also read from an interdisciplinary pool of texts such as philosophy, sociology, political science, history, cultural studies and journalism. Documentaries and selected music pieces will also be assigned. The class will take two field-trips to New York. Knowledge of music theory not required.

T, Th 03:00 pm - 4:20 pm