General Colloquia

16. The American Political Tradition: Ideas and Institutions. This course will study the theoretical ideas that informed the creation and development of America’s political system and consider some of the major contemporary challenges to the maintenance of American democracy. Topics to be treated include the philosophic underpinnings of the American republic, America’s political institutions (such as the presidency, Congress, courts, and federalism), the place of religion in public life, the sources of contemporary American political ideologies, and the role of America in the world. There may be a dominant liberal intellectual tradition in America (in an old European sense of the term liberal), but this tradition is hardly monolithic and it has generated both serious challenges and considerable self-criticism. Our task will be to investigate this tradition, the challenges, and the self-criticism. The texts we will consider are of many kinds, including pamphlets, sermons, speeches, political essays, and judicial decisions. These will be supplemented with scholarly works.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2007-08. Professor DiSalvo.

17. American Presidency and Congress: Politics and Policy. A central innovation of the American Founders was the creation of a governmental structure based on a separation of powers. The Constitution does not, however, neatly divide powers and assign roles. Rather it provides for a system of “separate institutions, sharing power,” which is an “invitation to struggle” over control of American policymaking. This course will analyze both the Founders’ conception of the presidency and Congress, subsequent development of both institutions, and their relationship. Our focus will be on patterns of conflict and cooperation between the White House and Capitol Hill. What are the sources of conflict and the bases of cooperation between the two? What instruments does each institution have at its disposal when it confronts the other? What are the implications for how politics is conducted and the policies our government produces to address social and economic problems? On the presidency side, we will explore the executive’s place in the Constitution, the informal powers of the office, and different presidents’ strategies and tactics for dealing with the Congress. On the congressional side, topics to be treated include elections, the role of committees, party organization and leadership, and the power of interest groups. We will be particularly attentive to the institutional capacities that affect Congress’ policymaking role. To address these questions, the course will examine both contemporary and historical cases.

First semester. Professor DiSalvo.

18. Post-Cold War American Diplomatic History. This course will examine the history of American foreign relations from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the present. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 30 students. Preference given to students who have taken one of the following courses: Political Science 26, 30, History 49, 50, 51. Not open to first-year students. Second semester. Professors Levin and Machala.

19. American Diplomacy in the Middle East from the Second World War to the Iraq War. This course will examine the central question of how and why, after supplanting Great Britain as the major external power in the Middle East and after defeating the effort of the Soviet Union to challenge American hegemony in the region, the United States in the post-Cold War era nonetheless came to be challenged by the states of Iraq and Iran and by a transnational and radical Islamic fundamentalism. In endeavoring to answer this question we will explore American diplomacy in the Middle East during the early Cold War by focusing on the origins of the Truman Doctrine and on the role of the United States in the birth of Israel; America’s roles in the Iranian coup d’etat of 1953 and the Suez crisis of 1956 in the process of supplanting British power in the region; America’s efforts to contain Soviet influence and Nasser’s pan-Arabism as a prelude to America’s role in the origins and aftermath of the Six Day War of 1967; the effort of the United States in the 1970s to exclude the Soviet Union and to lead a Middle East peace process culminating in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979; America’s responses in the 1980s to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, to the Iranian Revolution, to the civil war and the Israeli intervention in Lebanon, and to the Iraq-Iran war; the effort of the United States in the 1990s to practice dual-containment of Iran and Iraq, in the aftermath of the Gulf War of 1990-91, and to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace through the Oslo process; and the response of the Bush Administration to the collapse of the Oslo process and to 9/11 by using military force to effect regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq and by seeking to curb the nuclear program of Iran. One class meeting per week.

Requisite: Some prior course work in American Diplomacy, World Politics, American Foreign Policy, or Middle Eastern Studies. Not open to first-year students. Limited to 40 students. Omitted 2007-08. Professors Levin and Machala.

25. Science and the Courts. This course will study the historical intersection of science and the courts in the American legal system, with particular attention to legal disputes over the distinction between “science” and “non-science.” We analyze different criteria that the courts have employed to discriminate between acceptable and unacceptable forms of knowledge. We will also explore the creation of expert knowledge inside the courts: How do scientific experts produce successful demonstrations of their competence on the witness stand? We will examine some landmark judicial decisions, including the dispute over Intelligent Design, as well as sociological and ethnographic descriptions of the role of scientists and experts in the courtroom.

Limited to 40 students. First semester. Visiting Assistant Professor of Law and Science Lezaun.

28. The Folger Colloquium: Renaissance Marvels. The goal of this class is to study original, primary materials in early modern literature and art, in depth and from the perspectives of two disciplines: literary and art history. By encountering treasures of the European Renaissance—books and maps, paintings and drawings, letters and poems—in Amherst’s collections, at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and above all at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., students will explore ways of looking at, understanding, and writing about these evocative rare materials in their historical and cultural context. By the end of the course, our method will be interdisciplinary, applying the same questions to the art and literature alike. The thematic focus will shift from collective social and religious ideals represented by devotional painting at the dawn of the Italian Renaissance, to the origins of the notion of creative, individual artistic expression in sixteenth-century Italian art, to the exploration of the self in English manuscript and print culture, to the effusive scientific exploration of the cosmos characteristic of late sixteenth-century Europe, and finally to the political and geographical expansionism of Elizabethan England. Our question throughout will be: How can the study of art and artifacts of the past help us understand their age and our own? Required field trips include study in New York museums, the Folger Library and the National Gallery in Washington, and attending a performance of a Shakespeare play.

Preference given to first-year students and sophomores. Limited to 15 students. Omitted 2007-08. Professors Bosman and Courtright.

34. The Politics of the New Genetics. New genetic technologies, from cloning or stem cell research to the production of genetically modified foods and novel genetic therapies, are changing our political and legal landscape. They are transforming the meaning of life and the boundaries of the human, and thus also our ideas about politics. The seminar will analyze some of the political and social implications of new genetic knowledge and novel biotechnologies. We will treat the changes these bring about as an opportunity to discuss and revisit key political categories—citizenship, property, reproduction, sovereignty, etc.— which are directly affected by advances in the life sciences. Our readings will combine sociological and legal analysis of the new genetics with some classic and contemporary texts of political philosophy.

Limited to 20 students. Second semester. Visiting Assistant Professor of Law and Science Lazaun.

36. Birth of the Avant-Garde: Modern Poetry and Culture in France and Russia, 1870-1930. Between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century, poetry was revolutionized both in France and in Russia: nowhere else did the avant-garde proliferate more extravagantly. This class will focus on the key period in the emergence of literary modernity that began with Symbolism and culminated with Surrealism and Constructivism.

With the advent of modernism, the poem became a “global phenomenon” that circulated among different languages and different cultures, part of a process of cross-fertilization. An increasingly hybrid genre, avant-garde poetry went beyond its own boundaries by drawing into itself prose literature, philosophy, music, and the visual and performing arts. The relation between the artistic and the literary avant-garde will be an essential concern.

We will be reading Rimbaud; the French Symbolists (Mallarmé, Laforgue, Valéry); the Russian Symbolists (Blok, Bely); Apollinaire, Dada, and the Surrealists (Breton, Eluard, Desnos, Char, Michaux); and the Russian avant-garde poets (Mayakovsky, Pasternak, Khlebnikov, Tsvetaeva).

Our study of the arts will include Symbolism (Moreau, Redon); Fauvism (Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck); Cubism, Dada, and early Surrealism (Duchamp, Ernst, Dali, Artaud); the “World of Art” movement; Primitivism and Constructivism (Goncharova, Malevich, Rodchenko, Eisenstein). Course will be taught in English. Students who read fluently in French and/or Russian will be encouraged to read the material in the original language.

First semester. Professors Ciepiela and Katsaros.

Mellon Seminar

12. From Dilemma to Dialogue: Science, Values and Spiritual Traditions. From Galileo’s imprisonment by the Church to the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, establishing the right relationship between science, human values and spiritual convictions has only become more important. The division between knowledge and ethics, science and religion, objective knowledge and subjective experience, reflects a deep divide in our understanding of the human being as debated by scientists, philosophers and theologians. Using contemporary and historical sources, we will explore the complex interaction between science, values and spiritual traditions as they seek to understand reality and resolve ethical dilemmas. We will look for ways to move from dilemma to dialogue and collaboration. Examples of such attempts will include recent collaborative work between cognitive scientists and the Dalai Lama, the feminist critique of science, the scientific studies of the German poet Goethe, and the Hermetic tradition. In addition to readings, films, seminar discussion and analysis, this class will emphasize reflective, experiential and contemplative methods of learning.

Limited to 30 students. Second semester. Professor Zajonc.

Pick Colloquia

04. Environmental Risks and Environmental Choices. Environmentalists are divided between those who believe there must be a fundamental change in our values and our devotion to the market and those who believe our values and the market offer the best hope for achieving sound environmental policy. If we are to achieve sustainable management of natural resources, is it necessary that we first transform ourselves and the basis of our social organization, or do we already possess the tools to accomplish the task, in which case fundamental transformations might actually make things worse?

In this course, we will join this debate and closely examine the claims and counterclaims made for each position. We will examine specific issues, ranging from reducing greenhouse gases to regulating genetically modified crops, in hopes of working our way toward an assessment of policy choices.

Students will be expected to select an environmental issue (not necessarily one on which our course readings will focus) on which they will write a term paper that comes to grips with our options and which will suggest, albeit tentatively, which option(s) seem most promising.

Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Second semester. Professors Delaney and Dizard.

08. Conservation Biology and the Reconstruction of Nature. In the waning decades of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, biologists struggled with one another and with the public over how to regard—and whether to regard at all—our nation’s biotic patrimony. In the early twentieth century, the struggle was distilled into two choices: preservation or conservation. Conservation became the dominant expression of environmental policy. By the end of the twentieth century, however, it became clear that environmental policies were failing. Reflecting this, a number of prominent biologists and ecologists created a new subfield of biology, conservation biology, devoted to addressing what they see as a looming biodiversity crisis. A corollary of this emergent concern quickly emerged: we need to return key ecosystems to an approximation of what they were before humans intruded.

In this colloquium, we will explore the interaction between biologists and the general public. In particular, we will critically examine the policies and projects that have recently been promoted by prominent conservation biologists. We will pay particular attention to proposals for large scale “rewilding” of North America (e.g., the proposal to return the Western Plains to a “Buffalo Commons”).

Not open to first-year students. Limited to 20 students. First semester. Professor Dizard.

22. The Resilient (?) Earth: An Interdisciplinary Reflection on Contemporary Environmental Issues. Life has existed on Earth for nearly 4 billion years, shaped by massive extinction events. In the short span of the last 10,000 years, humans have become important agents in shaping global change. The question this colloquium will consider is straightforward: Have humans been modifying the environment in ways that will, in the not distant future, cause another worldwide extinction event? There are no simple, much less uncontested, answers to this question. We will have to consider the ways we have altered habitats and ecosystem processes. We will also consider the economic consequences of disturbed ecosystems and assess contemporary policy proposals that intend to avert what some claim is an impending catastrophe.

Second semester. Professors Clotfelter and Dizard.