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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2011-12

116 Numbers Rule the World.

"Numbers rule the world," many scholars agree. That is, they have become “the dominant form of acceptable evidence in most areas of public life.” We will examine these claims and their implications by asking several questions:  How did numbers come to rule?  What kinds of numbers?  Where do numbers rule and where don't they?  What differences do they make?   How are the numbers and scientific claims we encounter created?  How do they change as they travel from their original scientific context into everyday life? Ultimately, we seek to improve our ability to understand and evaluate the numbers and related scientific claims we encounter by seeing them as human creations, not just as "nuggets of objective fact." 

Limited to 15 students.  Preference to juniors and seniors.  Spring semester.  Professor Himmelstein

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013

234 America's Death Penalty

The United States, almost alone among constitutional democracies, retains death as a criminal punishment.  It does so in the face of growing international pressure for abolition and of evidence that the system for deciding who lives and who dies is fraught with error.  This seminar is designed to expose students to America's death penalty as a researchable subject.  It will be organized to help students understand how research is framed in this area, analyze theories and approaches of death penalty researchers, and identify open questions and most promising lines of future research.  It will focus on the following dimensions of America's death penalty:  its history, current status, public support/opposition, the processing of capital cases in the criminal justice system, race and capital punishment, and its impact and efficacy.  During the seminar, each student will develop a prospectus for a research project on America's death penalty. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

Limited to 6 sophomores.  Spring semester.  Professor Sarat.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

235 Concepts and Representations of Fortuna in Ancient Rome

The primary goal of this course is to improve sophomores’ ability to conduct personal and original research, starting from the Roman understanding of fortuna. A supernatural power bringing pleasant or unpleasant surprises, a mysterious entity whose strokes can be skillfully tempered but never quite avoided, a capricious deity to be feared, respected, and at times worshipped, a force to which even gods and goddesses are subjected, and a notion which affected Roman religion, literature, figurative arts, politics, and history, fortuna provides both a unique window into Roman civilization and a fascinating unitary focus for interdisciplinary research. How was the Romans’ view of the forces that governed their world different from that of other Western civilizations? How did their understanding of fortuna affect their view on justice, and how did it shape their mapping of civic, ethical, psychological, and religious systems? Students will be encouraged to formulate questions in pursuit of their specific interests, to investigate and weigh conflicting explanations, to launch and test hypotheses, while drawing connections between disciplines and cultures and becoming familiar with the tools and methods of research. No knowledge of Latin is required.

Limited to 4 students.  Omitted 2011-12.

2013-14: Not offered

236 Art, Things, Spaces, and Places from the Renaissance to the Enlightment

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to research on lived environments from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, the architecture that shaped them and the art and objects that they contained. We will explore research strategies that are most useful in understanding the forces that explain change in the four hundred years marking the beginning of the Renaissance to the Enlightenment in Europe and England. We will examine work on families from a variety of social classes who joined forces through marriage and other alliances and the process through which they acquired and passed on precious objects, furniture, paintings, and sculpture embedded with meanings from their origins.  How can we go about understanding how the construction of homes defined their inhabitants’ status, their political allegiance, their spirituality, and their place in the world? How can we best analyze the significance of the ways they adorned their domiciles with family portraits, tapestries, wall paintings, religious prints and icons, beds, marriage chests, silverware and jewelry? 

This course will give students tools to conduct their own research about why and how domiciles and their contents expressed meaning for their inhabitants and society, and how we in the 21st century might come to understand these relics of the past.  As the culmination of the course each student will choose a topic--anywhere from exploring special qualities found in a single object or work of art in a domicile to identifying unusual properties in architecture of a palace with a public function--and develop a prospectus for a research project. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to six sophomores.  Spring semester. Professor Courtright.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2015

237 The Senses in Motion

This course is focused on developing research skills within a multidisciplinary and international context. We will begin with the question debated by neurologists and others: What constitutes a sense? Aristotle identified the five senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, but research in many fields identifies a number of additional senses that include nociception (the sense of pain), the sense of time, equilibrioception (the sense of balance), proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space), kinesthesia (the sense of joint and muscle motion and acceleration), thermoception (the sense of temperature differences), and magnetoception (the sense of direction), as well as the interoceptive senses (the internal senses of respiration, heartbeat, hunger, and the need for digestive elimination), among others.

We will investigate the properties and functions of the senses and sensory systems from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including neuroscience, psychology, philosophy of perception, critical theory, literature, performance, architecture, and the visual and electronic arts. We will study moments of aberration, when the senses offer unexpected or unanticipated information, and explore how that often fluid information can contribute to knowledge. Some say the senses offer us information that is only an illusion: we will explore the ways in which illusions are generated and transformed, and the ways in which they can generate further materials to help us develop knowledge about our dynamic experience in the world.

Throughout, we will identify strategies for framing research questions, for gathering and digesting research materials from various sources, and for employing this research in projects of writing and creation according to individual student interest. We will examine how writers, artists, dancers, performers, filmmakers, and architects employ research in the development of their work, and students will articulate the ways in which they can perform their research in writing, performance, design, and the visual and electronic arts according to their own interests and experience. To end the semester, each student will propose a topic and develop a prospectus for an original research project. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

Enrollment with consent of the instructor. All interested students should email Professor Gilpin at hgilpin at amherst.edu indicating their interests, and they must attend the first class meeting.  Limited to 6 students, priority to sophomores. Spring semester. Professor Gilpin.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015

238 Buddhism on the Silk Road

The "Silk Road" is shorthand for 1500 years of economic and cultural exchange across Eurasia. We focus on one important historical process along the Silk Road:  Buddhism’s journey from India to Central and East Asia as it was conveyed by monks and merchants along these ancient international trade routes. The course focuses on how the natural environment, political and economic forces, and interactions among various religious and cultural forms shaped the dissemination, establishment, and ultimate decline of Buddhism in this part of Asia. We will study key sites in Gandhara, the Tarim Basin, and Dunhuang, which have left fascinating archaeological and textual evidence indicating once-thriving Buddhist centers. We will also read travel narratives of Chinese pilgrims to India. We will learn how to study this varied evidence and uncover what it can tell us of the nature and impact of Buddhism in this region.  To end the semester, each student will propose a topic and develop a prospectus for an original research project. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.  It is open to sophomores interested in research.

 Enrollment with consent of the instructor. Limited to six sophomores. Spring semester.  Professor Heim.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012

324 Configuring Catastrophe:  War and Remembrance Since 1900

This seminar will examine the configuration of war and violence since 1900 in literary and visual acts of remembrance.  After addressing some of the central elements of the literature on war and remembrance, we will survey how writers and other artists have configured catastrophe, either in the form of civil war or international war or both.  The link between genocide and war will be explored, as will the limits of representation itself.  Among those whose works are discussed are Joseph Conrad, Wilfred Owen, Primo Levi, Vasily Grossman, Pablo Picasso, and David Grossman.

All students will write a 25-page paper comparing two works of imaginative literature or memoirs that address the problem of configuring catastrophe.  The course grade will consist of one-third for class participation and two-thirds for the paper.  (Offered only once.)

Open to juniors and seniors.  Limited to 15 students.  Fall semester. President's Initiative Fund Lecturer Winter. 

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011

332 Cities, Schools, and Space

In America, a child’s address, more than any other factor, often determines what kind of public education he or she will receive. A complex set of historical forces including local and federal housing policies, mortgage lending practices, highway construction, and school districting have channeled particular economic, racial, ethnic, and linguistic groups into particular neighborhoods, where many remain today. And because public schools are funded by local property taxes and influenced by neighborhood boundaries, they often become harnessed to a narrative of inequality. Yet recent Supreme Court rulings have severely circumscribed the strategies communities might employ to disrupt the linkage between residence and educational opportunity. This research seminar blends urban history with educational policy to explore how spatial relationships have shaped educational opportunity since World War II. It will investigate a range of historical, legal, and contemporary issues relevant to both the segregation and desegregation of American cities and their public schools in the twentieth century. Class meetings will alternate between seminar-style discussion and an intensive, hands-on study of one particular community–Cambridge, Massachusetts–noteworthy for the innovative strategies it has utilized to desegregate its public schools. This course involves a significant research component designed to expose students to a range of approaches including archival analysis and oral interviews. In particular, students will learn to utilize geographic information systems (GIS) to visualize the spatial evolution of inequality in urban communities like Cambridge and to analyze past, present, and future strategies to equalize educational opportunity in American cities.

This course provides intensive research experience. Limited to six juniors. Omitted 2011-12.

 

2013-14: Not offered

333 Advanced Topics in Latin America's Political Economy

This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  The objective of the tutorial is to expose students to various aspects of academic research:  identify a researchable topic, master the relevant literature, develop a viable research design, learn to formulate causal arguments and address rival hypotheses, become comfortable with the academic practice of revising and resubmitting, etc.  Each student is free to choose his or her topic of inquiry, after close consultation with me and other participants.  Students are expected to work independently and meet jointly once a week to discuss progress.  Some assignments will be common to the group as a whole, other assignments will be individualized, based on each student’s interests and skills.   At various points during the semester, students should also be prepared to share their work, orally or in writing, with everyone else in the course.  I too will share drafts of some of my work for discussion.  Final requirements will vary depending on the selected project and may include:  developing a thesis prospectus; writing a literature review; researching a topic in close collaboration with me; collecting, analyzing and presenting data.  This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  It is open to juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project who have taken at least one course with me.  Sophomores will be considered space permitting.  

Limited to 6 juniors.  Spring semester. Professor Corrales.

2013-14: Offered in Fall 2013
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2015

334 Archives of Childhood

Childhood is elusive and so is the past. This Mellon Research Seminar explores the particular problems of researching the lives of children, and recognizes those challenges as exemplary of the difficulties of historical inquiry in general. We know that evidence from the past tends to come to us in bits and pieces, and that the motivations and perspectives of people in the past inevitably prove difficult to discern.  Across class, gender, racial, religious, and geographic categories the historical records that children leave are often quite literally scribbles and scraps. Moreover, evidence of childhood almost always comes heavily mediated by adult hands and adult memories. This Mellon Research Seminar is devoted to developing research methods and locating research materials that can help us to access the experiences and perspectives of children in the nineteenth-century United States. We will focus on developing strategies for locating primary materials in archives that rarely use age as a category of analysis and on developing methods of interpretation for making sense of materials that may initially seem too scanty, too formulaic, too obedient, or even too cute to be historically meaningful. Research sites may include letters and diaries, school work and copy-texts, marginalia in children’s books, institutional records, photographs, and the adult recollection offered by memoirs. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive and collaborative research with faculty.  It is open to juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.

Enrollment with consent of the instructor. Limited to 6 juniors.  Spring semester. Professor Sánchez-Eppler.

2013-14: Offered in Spring 2014
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012

336 Inquiries into the Catastrophic

Large-scale disaster has emerged as a defining feature of our times.  From New Orleans to Haiti, Chernobyl to Bhopal, we appear to live in the age of the catastrophic.  This research seminar is designed to introduce students to catastrophes and large-scale disasters as objects of scholarly inquiry.  Organized around a topic that invites inquiries of multiple forms, the course will expose students to a range of disciplinary approaches that scholars have developed in examining the complex effects of disaster on people and communities.  In the process, students will gain significant experience in developing original research.  By the end of the semester, participants will have a sense of what it means to identify researchable questions, evaluate relevant approaches to the topic, and develop a viable research design.  This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  It is open to juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.

Limited to 6 juniors.  Admission with the consent of the instructor.  Spring semester.  Professor C. Dole.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012

347 The King James Bible:  Readings and Research

Two thousand and eleven marks the 400th  anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, the most widely printed book in the English language.  Built on a century of English translations by writers from Tyndale to Cranmer, the new Bible was a masterpiece of intellectual collaboration and has had an incalculable influence on the language, literature and culture of the western world.  This seminar will read substantial parts of the Old and New Testaments in the King James version and explore the 1611 text, along with its precedents and afterlife, as a foundation for research in literary and cultural studies.  A unique interdisciplinary object--not so much a book as a library of books--the King James Bible provides and opportunity to explore and synthesize resources and method in linguistics, rhetoric, the arts, popular culture, religion, politics, and education. Students will practice both close and contextual reading, and they will learn how to frame research topics by means of analyzing past approaches and identifying open questions.  Final projects may vary in form but will develop out of colloquy with the instructor and seminar members–a form of collective work best exemplified by the King James Bible itself. This course is part of a new model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  It is open to juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.

Limited to 6 juniors. Admission with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.  Professor Bosman.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012

Kenan Colloquium

424 Giving

The course offers students who have worked as interns or volunteers an interdisciplinary framework within which to think together about what it means to give.  We will explore philanthropy’s diverse forms over time and across cultures; its philosophical underpinnings; its complex interrelationships with modern notions of charity, advocacy, and democracy; and its often paradoxical effects on social relations and public policy.  The first half of the course considers what it means to foster a “love of humanity,” to offer and receive “the kindness of strangers,” to practice charity as a civic or religious obligation, as a status building stratagem or, simply, to help.  We will look at how these diverse philanthropic expectations are laid out in various religious traditions, as well as in written works by Sophocles, Shakespeare, Alexis de Tocqueville, George Eliot, Marcel Mauss, Jane Addams, Ama Ata Aidoo, and Michael Ignatieff, and in images created by selected artists and filmmakers.  The second half of the course examines case studies and literary representations of philanthropic efforts and outcomes in a variety of social situations, from the perspectives of donors and recipients; board members and volunteers; advocacy groups, policy makers, and non-governmental organizations.

Not open to first-year students.  Priority will be given to students who have recent experience working as volunteers or interns. This course may be used for credit towards the major in English and Black Studies. 

Limited to 20 students. Fall semester.  Professor Cobham-Sander and Ms. Mead, Director of the Center for Community Engagement.

2013-14: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011
 

Colloquium