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 are available to students 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 I-II-III.

This sequence examines the relationship between the individual and society in a rich and exciting 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 Autobiography (Winter Quarter). Selected readings may include: Homer's Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Ancient Indian Mahabharata, 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 I-II-III.

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. In Autumn Quarter, we explore fundamental ethical questions-concerning virtue, the good life, the role of the individual in society-as they were formulated by ancient Greek writers and philosophers. Our focus is on Plato, Aristotle, and the Greek dramatists. Winter Quarter explores metaphysical and epistemological questions as they arise in seminal writings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Skeptical arguments-about the possibility of various kinds of knowledge and of freedom-are a focus. Authors tend to include Descartes, Hume, Shakespeare, and others. In Spring Quarter we discuss ethical and epistemological questions having to do with self-knowledge and knowledge of others, considered from the vantage point of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought. Authors tend to include Hume, Kant, and Melville.


HUMA 12000-12100-12200. Greek Thought and Literature I-II-III.

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. In Spring Quarter, each section builds on the experience of the previous two quarters by tracing the development of a different literary genre (e.g., historiography or tragedy) or cultural mode of expression (e.g., philosophy or oratory) from the Greeks and Romans into the modern period. Thus, for example, a section on epic might progress from Vergil and Milton to Derek Walcott's modern epic Omeros, and one on comedy from Plautus and Shakespeare to The Simpsons.


HUMA 12300-12400-12500. Human Being and Citizen I-II-III.

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. 2013-14 readings for this Core sequence consisted of philosophical and literary texts from different periods, organized around the themes of "Human Being" and "Citizen" (from Plato's Apology). In the Autumn Quarter, students read Genesis, Plato (Symposium and Apology), and Homer (Iliad). Readings for the Winter Quarter were Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Augustine's Confessions, and Dante's Inferno. The texts for the Spring Quarter were Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, Kant's "What Is Enlightenment?" and Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, a selection of American political and literary documents, and J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians.


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

This sequence is devoted to the cultivation of the art of interpretation through the close reading of objects across a broad range of times and places, from the Homeric epic to contemporary film, folk tale to museum. In each case the goal is to work outward from the textual details-construing the term text generously so as to include any form of cultural production-and develop insight into the local emergence and global circulation of objects of interpretation. In the process the sequence explores questions about memory, home, and belonging; the various historical forms of cultural production, from epic to folk tale, music, film, and novels; about the challenges of translation to responsible interpretation; about texts as formative sources of human community, inter-personal obligation, and transcendence; about hybridity and the legacy of colonialism; and, of course, about the role of humanistic inquiry in addressing all these questions. The year is divided into three conceptual themes that allow us to explore the above questions: homelands, travel, and exchange. Readings in the past have included Homer's The Odyssey, The Arabian Nights, HonorĂ© de Balzac's Pierre Grassou, Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Charles Baudelaire's Paris Spleen, Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times, Zora Neale Hurston's Of Mules and Men, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, Tomás Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Devour Him, Teresa Cha's Dictee, Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, Alfonso Cuarón's y tu mamá también, a visit to a museum, graphic novels, music, visual art, and cultural criticism.


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

This three-quarter sequence introduces students to the skills, materials, and relationships of a variety of disciplines in the humanities, including literature, cinema studies, philosophy, music and sound studies, theater, and the visual arts. We construe "aesthetics" broadly: as a study in sensory perception, value, and the close analysis of artistic objects. "Medium," too, is understood along a spectrum of meanings that range from the materials of art (words, sound, paint, stone, film, air, light) to various technical apparatuses and communications systems (print, photography, film, radio, television, and digital media). Our central questions include: What is the relation between media and various 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, music, and cinema? What happens when we adapt or translate objects into other media: painting into photography, writing into film, or music into video? This not a course in "media studies" in any narrow sense. It is rooted in a broad range of criticism and philosophy by such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Freud, Benjamin, Bazin, Derrida, Mulvey, Baudrillard, and Barthes. It ranges across historical eras to consider aesthetic objects of many kinds: films, paintings, photographs, novels, plays, stories, poems, songs, and albums. Occasionally, we ask questions about how the aesthetic object is situated in cultural history. More often, though, we will be fostering sensitivity to, and analysis of, the sensory, cognitive, and emotional shaping of the aesthetic experience as framed by the medium in which it occurs.


HUMA 17000-17100-17200. Language and the Human I-II-III.

Language is at the center of what it means to be human and is instrumental in most humanistic pursuits. With it, we understand others, describe, plan, narrate, learn, persuade, argue, reason, and think. This course aims to provoke us to critically examine common assumptions that determine our understanding of language-and more specifically, of the ways we, as speakers or writers, use it to communicate meaning. The Autumn Quarter of this sequence explores fundamental questions about the nature of language, concentrating on the conventional character of language as a system, and language in the individual. We discuss: the properties of human languages (spoken and signed) as systems of communication distinct from other forms (including animal and artificial systems), whether some languages are more primitive than others, how language is acquired, used, changes, and evolves, what it means to be bilingual. Typical texts used include Plato's Cratylus, parts of Finnegans Wake, Locke, Truffaut's L'enfant sauvage, Turing. The Winter Quarter is generally devoted to examining how language mediates between the individual and society, its origin, spread, evolution, and development, and its role in power, identity, culture, nationalism, thought, and persuasion, as well as its use in naming, politeness, irony, and metaphor. Further examined are the nature of translation, writing systems, language and artificial intelligence, invented languages, and to what extent language shapes or influences perception of the world and cognition. Readings typically from Whorf, Orwell, Grice, and others. The topics addressed in the Spring Quarter vary from year to year: In 2014-15, we may look at language and poetry, the nature of metaphor, rhetorical force of language. These questions are examined through classic and contemporary primary and secondary literature, with readings which may be drawn from literary, linguistic, philological, and philosophical traditions (in varying years, from parts of the Bible, Beowulf, Chaucer, Descartes, and Rousseau to Borges, Chomsky, and others).

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