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Amherst College Special Seminar for 2013-14

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. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Himmelstein.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013

230 Cultural Agency: Dance, Democracy and Tourism in Bahia, Brazil

This tutorial offers an intensive introduction to writings of contemporary democracy, tourism studies, and cultural agency in Latin America. We will study the role that African dance in Bahia, Brazil plays in the dynamics of social and political inclusion of marginal lives.  Examining the works of cultural agents in Latin American contemporary history, we will interrogate the definition and function of cultural agency set within the context of contemporary discourses of democracy.  Is democracy an empty buzz-word that re-defines the Brazilian nation internationally without really reshaping the everyday lives of individuals locally? What role do tourism and the arts play in creating venues for cultural inclusion? Is cultural inclusion synonymous with political insertion? How does violence preclude or propel political change?   Within that frame, the working goal of the tutorial is to help students identify a researchable topic, master the literature presented by the professor (this includes original interviews and videos), develop a viable research design, and become comfortable with the process of academic research, synthesis, and organization. During the seminar, each student will develop a detailed 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 research with faculty.  It is open to six sophomores. Proficiency in Spanish and/or Portuguese highly welcomed, but not necessary.  Limited to six sophomores. Spring semester. Professor Suarez.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2014

231 Shakespeare and the History of Books

How does the history of literature relate to the history of media? This course addresses the question by focusing on William Shakespeare’s plays as printed texts evolving from the sixteenth through the twenty-first century. With the Shakespeare archive as our case study, we will explore how drama as a literary form is shaped by the material format of its sources, performance documents, and print editions. Among other topics, we will consider techniques of book production; the business of publishing and circulation; the sociology of readership; the relations among script, actor’s part, and printed play; revision and multiple texts; Shakespearean authorship and canonicity; modern editing and the future of digital texts.

Using special collections at Amherst, the Five Colleges, and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., students will learn skills of archival research and cultural critique, grappling with fundamental concepts and research procedures in book history while refining their understanding of Shakespeare’s texts, the “Gutenberg parenthesis,” and our current transition to a post-print media world. During the seminar, each student will develop a prospectus for a research project; together, the class will curate an exhibition to be displayed in Frost Library.

This course is part of a new model of tutorial at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty.  Limited to six sophomores. Spring semester. Professor Bosman and Mr. Kelly.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014

232 Suicide Protest

This course will engage current debates on the place of suicide protest in affecting political change. Recent events--from self-immolations in the Arab Spring, to hunger strikes in Turkey and India, to public suicides in China, Tibet, and Greece--have revealed that suicide can be a significant mode of protest. Yet despite the public attention these events have claimed, there has been too little consideration of whether and how suicide constitutes a unique form of social and political protest. How does “suicide protest” work politically to mobilize support or to incite hostility? Are different forms of suicide protest useful for different sorts of political ends? What are the psychological grounds on which suicide protest affects populations? Does the speed of the method of suicide (rapid, as with self-immolation or slow, as with fasting) produce different outcomes? In what respects is suicide protest non-violent? How, if at all, is suicide protest normatively distinct from suicide terror? Using these questions as guides, this course is designed to introduce students to suicide protest as an area of important current academic research. The course will be organized to help students to theorize such political violence, fostering understandings of how research on this topic can be framed, as well as identifying new pathways for further exploration. 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.

Limited to six sophomores. Admissions with consent of the instructor. Spring semester.  Professor Poe.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2014

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.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

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 6 sophomores. Spring semester. Professor Courtright.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014

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. 

Limited to 6 students.

Spring semester. Professor Gilpin.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

331 The Meaning of Catastrophe

From Noah's flood to the Haitian earthquake, from the Black Death to the Great War, catastrophes have threatened, disrupted, and overturned patterns of daily existence. As radically disordering events, catastrophes have the power to lay bare the fragility of social and institutional architectures and to make painfully clear the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the organization of social life.  At the same time, by disrupting the fundamental mechanisms and infrastructures of social order, catastrophes serve to define the conditions that inform our sense of the normal.  While much attention has been devoted to the study of specific catastrophic events, surprisingly little academic attention has been directed to the concept of catastrophe itself.  This course sets out to study the social, cultural, and historical meaning of catastrophe. We will examine the role and representation of catastrophe in religion, the visual arts, literature, law, and politics. At a time when societies are directing an unprecedented level of resources and ingenuity to anticipating and mitigating catastrophic events, we hope to better appreciate catastrophe as a key ordering term of civilization--as the specter of disorder that continues to haunt our social and political imagination.

Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2013-14. Professor Sarat.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013

332 Cities, Schools, and Space

[US] 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 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 six juniors. Spring semester. Professor Moss and Dr. Anderson.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2014

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. 

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 students. Fall semester.  Professor Corrales.

2014-15: Offered in Spring 2015
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Fall 2013

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. 

Open to 6  juniors interested in developing a senior thesis project.  Enrollment with consent of the instructor. Spring semester. Professor Sánchez-Eppler.

2014-15: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014

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. Omitted 2013-14.  Professor Cobham-Sander and Ms. Mead, Director of the Center for Community Engagement.

2014-15: Not offered
 

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