Humanities

Core courses in the Humanities typically deal with fundamental issues and texts in history, philosophy, and literature. Currently, the Core is organized into seven year-long courses: Readings in World Literature; Human Being and Citizen; Greek Thought and Literature; Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities; Media Aesthetics; Reading Cultures; and Language and the Human.

All HUMA 10000-level sequences that meet general education requirements, with the exception of HUMA 17000-17100, are available as either a two-quarter sequence (Autumn, Winter) or as a three-quarter sequence (Autumn, Winter, Spring).


HUMA 11000-11100-11200. Readings in World Literature.

This sequence examines the relationship between the individual and society in a rich selection of literary texts from across the globe. We address the challenges faced by readers confronting foreign literatures, reading across time and cultures, and reading texts in translation. We focus on two major literary themes and genres: Epic Poetry (Autumn Quarter) and Biography/Autobiography (Winter Quarter). Selected readings may include: Homer's Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Ancient Indian Ramayana, Saint Augustine's Confessions, Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, and Wole Soyinka's Ake: The Years of Childhood. Students wishing to take the third quarter of this sequence in the Spring Quarter choose among a selection of topics (e.g., "Gender and Literature," "Crime Fiction and Murder Mysteries," "Reading the Middle Ages: Europe and Asia," or "Poetry").


HUMA 11500-11600-11700. Philosophical Perspectives on the Humanities.

This sequence considers philosophy in two lights: as an ongoing series of arguments addressed to certain fundamental questions about the place of human beings in the world, and as a historically situated discipline interacting with and responding to developments in other areas of thought and culture. Readings tend to divide between works of philosophy and contemporaneous works of literature, but they may also include texts of scientific, religious, or legal practice.


HUMA 12000-12100-12200. Greek Thought and Literature.

The first two quarters of this sequence are designed as a complete unit, and they approach their subject matter both generically and historically. First, they offer an introduction to humanistic inquiry into the most important genres of Western literature: epic poetry (Homer); tragedy (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides); historiography (Herodotus and Thucydides); philosophic dialogue (Plato); and comedy (Aristophanes). Secondly, they offer a broad introduction to ancient Greek thought and culture, which aims at understanding what ancient works meant to their original authors and audiences as well as how they reflect the specific historical conditions of their composition.


HUMA 12300-12400-12500. Human Being and Citizen.

Socrates asks, "Who is a knower of such excellence, of a human being and of a citizen?" We are all concerned to discover what it means to be an excellent human being and an excellent citizen, and to learn what a just community is. This course explores these and related matters, and helps us to examine critically our opinions about them. To this end, we read and discuss seminal works of the Western tradition, selected both because they illumine the central questions and because, read together, they form a compelling record of human inquiry. Insofar as they force us to consider different and competing ways of asking and answering questions about human and civic excellence, it is impossible for us to approach these writings as detached spectators. Instead, we come to realize our own indebtedness to our predecessors and are inspired to continue their task of inquiry. In addition to providing a deeper appreciation of who we are as human beings and citizens, this course aims to cultivate the liberating skills of careful reading, writing, speaking, and listening. The syllabus is revised slightly each spring for the next academic year.


HUMA 14000-14100-14200. Reading Cultures: Collection, Travel, Exchange.

This sequence introduces methods of literary, visual, and social analysis by addressing the formation and transformation of cultures across a broad chronological and geographic field. Our objects of study range from the Renaissance epic to contemporary film, the fairy tale to the museum. Hardly presuming that we know definitively what "culture" means, we examine paradigms of reading within which the very idea of culture emerged and changed.


HUMA 16000-16100-16200. Media Aesthetics: Image, Text, Sound.

This three-quarter sequence introduces students to the skills, materials, and relationships of a variety of disciplines in the humanities, including literary and language study, philosophy, cinema studies, history, theater, and the arts. We construe "aesthetics" broadly: as a study in sensory perception, value, and the formal properties of artistic products. "Medium," too, is understood along a spectrum of meanings that range from the "material cause" of art (sounds for music, words for poetry) to the "instrumental cause" (the apparatus of writing, film, the broadcast media). Our central questions include: What is the relation between media and kinds of art? Can artistic uses of media be distinguished from non-artistic uses? What is the relation between media and human sensations and perceptions? How do media produce pity, fear, or pleasure? Do we learn new ways of seeing and hearing through the devices involved in painting, photography, and cinema? What happens when we adapt or "translate" objects into other media: painting into photography, writing into film, or music into words? This not a course in "media studies" in any narrow sense. It is rooted in works of criticism and philosophy by such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Kracauer, Benjamin, and Barthes. We range across historical eras to consider aesthetic objects of many kinds: films, paintings, photographs, novels, songs, poems, sonatas, plays, and operas. In some instances, we ask questions about how the aesthetic object is situated in cultural history. More often, though, we foster sensitivity to, and analysis of, the sensory, cognitive, and emotional shaping of the aesthetic experience as framed by the medium in which it occurs. Each quarter arrays a series of works for examination through a thematic emphasis.


HUMA 17000-17100. Language and the Human.

Language is at the center of what it means to be human and is instrumental in all humanistic pursuits. With it, we understand others, persuade, argue, reason, and think. This course aims to provoke us to critically examine common assumptions that determine our understanding of texts, of ourselves, and of others.

The first quarter of this sequence (Autumn Quarter) explores fundamental questions of the nature of language, concentrating on language in the individual: the properties of human languages (spoken and signed) as systems of communication distinct from other forms, of how language is acquired, used, and changes, to what extent language shapes perception of the world and cognition, and the nature of translation and bilingualism. These questions are examined through classic and contemporary primary and secondary literature, drawn from the Bible, Plato, Beowulf, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Descartes, Lewis Carroll, Chomsky, and other modern authors.

The second quarter of this sequence (Winter Quarter) is devoted to examining how language mediates between the individual and society, its origin, spread, and development, and its role in power, gender, identity, culture, nationalism, and thought, as well as its use in politeness, irony, and metaphor. Selected readings include Rousseau, Herder, von Humboldt, Saussure, Sapir, Bloomfield, Whorf, Eco, and George Orwell.

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