Core Program

Overview | Requirements | Courses | Faculty


The Core Program is a cross-disciplinary array of courses required of all students. providing  the intellectual foundation for Occidental's commitment to excellence, equity, service, and community. Core classes ask students to engage in analytic and creative thinking: posing questions from different points of view, solving problems, formulating hypotheses, gathering evidence to support claims and arguments, drawing appropriate conclusions, and expressing ideas clearly. These classes explore the large questions which we believe all students must address in order to participate fully in their academic careers, their vocations, and their lives: questions of human cultures and beliefs, of creativity, and of the physical world. Students are asked to examine previously held ideas in the context of new and challenging ones, to experiment imaginatively, to articulate similarities and differences, and to revise both ideas and written work. Methods and materials vary, in disciplines ranging from the humanities to the social sciences, to science, mathematics, and art; and analytic thinking may take place in the context of a lab, in the close reading of a text, on a stage, in a lecture hall, on a computer screen, in a screening room, or in the field. Assignments will also vary from papers, to arguing a thesis, to problem sets, to research term papers, to lab reports, to paintings.

The first-year Cultural Studies Program Seminars are the centerpiece of the Core Program.  These are small seminars, each designed by a faculty member around a topic in his or her field of expertise, emphasizing discussion, critical analysis, and intensive instruction in writing. Students take one seminar in the fall and one in the spring, for a total of 8 units.  In the fall seminars, faculty and students jointly explore human culture from a variety of disciplinary as well as cultural perspectives. Spring seminars approach topics from a global perspective and stress the writing of scholarly research-based essays,  Successful performance in Cultural Studies Seminars, along with a satisfactory writing evaluation, satisfies the college's first-stage writing requirement (see the College writing requirement) and is equivalent to two semesters of English composition. The Seminars for the coming year are described below. Students may not drop a Cultural Studies Program Seminar.

In addition, students participate in the study of culture as embodied in the arts and sciences as well as in the humanities and social sciences. We require a minimum of three courses  (12 units) taken in academic departments that provide significant experiences in (a) diversity in the United States, (b) global connections between cultures, regions, and nations, and (c) a region of the world other than the United States.  One of these (or an additional course) must focus on a period prior to 1800, and one (or an additional course) must treat the theory or practice of the fine arts.  Individual courses can meet a maximum of two Core requirements.

Lifelong learning requires a basic understanding of the theory and methods of the sciences. Accordingly, students are required to take a total of three courses (12 units) in the sciences and mathematics. Of the three, at least one must be a laboratory science.

Finally, graduates of the College must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English. The various ways of satisfying this requirement are detailed in the requirements for Undergraduate Study.



1) Culture and Fine Arts: 

A minimum of 12 units (16 or 20 units are recommended) continue and expand on the first-year CSP seminars by situating the study of culture and the arts in specific disciplinary and geographical contexts. Students must enroll in a minimum of four units in each of three different categories.   Four units must represent study of historical periods prior to 1800, and four must be devoted to the fine arts. The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements.  Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

Students who matriculated at Occidental prior to fall 2013 must meet 12 units of the culture requirement as follows:

four-unit course must be chosen from each of any three of the following six cultural/geographical categories:

Africa and the Middle East (CPAF)
Central, South, and East Asia (CPAS)
Europe (CPEU)
Latin America (CPLA)
U.S. Culture (CPUS)
Intercultural (CPIC)

Some of these courses are also designated Pre-1800 (CPPE) or Fine Arts (CPFA).

Students who matriculated at Occidental in fall 2013 or later must meet 12 units of the culture requirement as follows:

One four-unit course must be chosen from each of the following three categories:

Global Connections (CPGC)
Regional Focus (CPRF)
U.S. Diversity (CPUD)

Some of these courses are also designated Pre-1800 (CPPE) or Fine Arts (CPFA).

Courses will be listed in the Catalog and online Course Counts with both pre- and post-2013 designation.


2) Science/Mathematics Requirement. A minimum of 12 units in science and mathematics. Four units must be in a science course with a laboratory component. The remaining 8 units may be taken from among any of the courses that satisfy the Science/Mathematics requirement. Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations may not be used to satisfy any of these requirements.

3) Foreign Language: 0-8 Units.  All students must achieve Language 102-level proficiency in a language other than English. Students may not take Language 101 for credit if they have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12) 

Placement: Students may begin study of a new language at the 101 level if they have not taken it previously for more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12).  They  are not required to take the College’s placement exam. First-year students may take the Occidental College Placement Exam either on-line for French, German, and Spanish, or during orientation for other languages taught at Occidental if:

a. they have taken more than one quarter in college or more than one year in high school (grades 10-12)
b. they have participated in after-school or weekend language programs; or
c. they have extensive background in but no formal training in a language.

Students can fulfill Occidental's language requirement in one of five ways:

  1. by completing a language course numbered 102 at Occidental, or the equivalent course in any foreign language at another accredited institution.
  2. by receiving an exemption-level score on Occidental's placement and/or exemption exam given during orientation. (see language studio website for language specific details).
  3. by earning an appropriate Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) II score (560 or above on French, Spanish, or Latin; 550 or above on German or Chinese; 540 or above on Japanese; or 560 for other languages):
  4. by earning an Advanced Placement test score of 4 or above or.
  5. for some languages not taught at Occidental, students may by taking the ACTFL oral proficiency interview (OPI) and the writing proficiency test (WPT) in the languages currently available. Please see the Keck Language and Culture Studio about demonstrating proficiency via ACTFL.

Foreign Language Exemption Policy
International students whose language of education has been in a language other than English and who have completed six years of elementary education or more in a foreign language are exempt from the foreign language requirement. Such students should contact the chair of one of the foreign language departments to confirm their fulfillment of the foreign language requirement.

Transfer students may meet the Core requirements through classes taken before matriculation at Occidental, or through classes taken at Occidental, or (as is the case for most transfer students) through a combination of both. Transfer students must take the equivalent of two Cultural Studies Seminar (8 units or 2 classes), a minimum of 12 additional units or 3 classes in distribution courses in culture (including pre-1800) and the fine arts, as described above, and 12 units or 3 classes in science and/or mathematics, including a designated lab science course.  They must also complete the language requirement. Appropriate equivalents are determined in consultation with the Core Program Office and the Registrar.

Cultural Studies Seminar  (4 units). A conventional English composition class, or a course specified as "writing-intensive," will ordinarily satisfy this requirement. Any four-unit course in Occidental's Department of English Writing will meet the seminar requirement. The first stage of the writing requirement is a different requirement, and is explained under the Writing Program.

Culture and Fine Arts Distribution Courses (Minimum 12 units or 3 full classes, 16 or 20—4 or 5 full classes—recommended).  Transfer students must take a minimum of 4 units or one full class from each of three groups listed above (U.S. Diversity, Global Connections, and Regional Focus), and must take 4 units or one full class in courses designated "pre-1800" and 4 units or one full class in courses designated as "fine arts." The pre-1800 and fine arts requirements may be met in courses also representing one of the three major categories of culture requirements, although no course may satisfy more than two requirements.  

Mathematics and Science (12 units or 3 full classes). Most transfer students have met at least some of these upon entry. Of these, at least one class must include a laboratory or field component.

All of these Core requirements should be completed by the end of the junior year.


Cultural Studies Program Fall Writing Seminars

Fall 2015 Course

Fall 2015 CSP "Lab" Courses

CSP 1, 2, and 3 are designated  CSP “Lab” courses, experimental seminars (often team-taught) designed to engage their students critically and actively in synthesizing knowledge and ideas about an important topic. Students in CSP 1 and 3 will receive 8 units of credit (the equivalent of two courses); those in CSP 2 will receive 16 units.  In these classes you’ll work closely with faculty with materials and approaches drawn from more than one academic field, developing new, cross-disciplinary perspectives; you’ll engage in intensive reading, writing, and discussion; you’ll participate in field experiences beyond the classroom; you’ll learn to think and work collaboratively, as a member of a diverse intellectual community.


The Struggle for Human Rights in Mexico: Realities.
After Mexico’s transition to electoral democracy in 2000, two alternative party (PAN) Presidents either failed to act in accordance with the transitional justice movements sweeping Latin America, or actually returned to mano dura (heavy-handed) military practices to battle the drug cartels. Consequently, as compared to South American countries, human rights violations in Mexico have increased rather than decreased since its transition to democracy. This was clearly the case when local police forces, on orders of a mayor, disappeared 43 students in Guerrero state in the Fall of 2014. But this class will do more by documenting both the realities and representations of ongoing human rights violations in Mexico since 1968.
The Struggle for Human Rights in Mexico: Representations.
Cultural production is central to the struggle for human rights.  As cultural artifacts both conceptualize and memorialize social-political trauma, our class will take a close look at the struggle for human rights in Mexico as represented in film, literature and music.

This course offers students the opportunity to analyze the sociohistoric, legal, and cultural tensions surrounding various (im)migrant communities in California. Students will explore the various waves of (im)migration across time to understand the diverse communities of California. Students will also build critical and interpretive capacities through the examination of state policies, statistics, and various historical and empirical studies. Additionally, through the construction and revision of several expository, and research-based writings on immigration, students will hone their writing, argumentation, and presentation skills.

Students enrolled in this colloquium will not only get credit for the first year fall seminar requirement, but also will meet one of the Core Program's distribution requirements (United States). The CIS, which comprises your entire fall semester course load (16 units), is a unique opportunity to fulfill three requirements toward graduation (a Core writing requirement, the United States Core requirement, and the Intercultural Core requirement) and elective courses for three majors (CTSJ, Sociology, and Spanish). The prerequisites are a curiosity for learning about California’s cultures, a willingness to visit and learn from immigrant communities, a fondness for films and documentaries, and the enthusiasm and patience to work with children. Open only to first year frosh.

This interdisciplinary course will bring together the tools of history, economics and philosophy to analyze the concept of health and the practice of medicine. Students will learn how notions of health and well-being and institutions of medicine are culturally and historically bound, how they participate in a broad network of economic priorities and transactions, and how they are philosophically grounded in conceptions of morality, science, and humanity.

This is an 8-unit colloquium course. Students enrolled in this colloquium will earn credit for the first year fall seminar requirement and will also meet the Core Program's Distribution requirements for Pre-1800 and Global Connections. Students interested in pursuing careers in the health professions—whether as physicians, allied health workers, researchers, or policy experts—are especially encouraged to enroll.

In diasporic and postcolonial fiction, contemporary novelists often examine how cultural hybridity complicates identity: how people navigate the sometimes difficult experience of identifying with more than one culture. While the challenges of cultural hybridity certainly affect individual people in isolation, they can also have a profound influence on relationships between family members, including – and perhaps especially – those who belong to different generations. This course will use novels by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Gish Jen, Patricia Powell, Julia Alvarez, and Jhumpa Lahiri to examine how this linkage between cultural hybridity and intergenerational conflict is represented in contemporary fiction. In the process, our seminar will engage with a diversity of historical issues, from the influence of colonial education in Zimbabwe to the prejudice against Chinese immigrants in nineteenth-century Jamaica and Dominican immigrants in the twentieth-century United States.

How do we remember episodes of racial conflict and violence in the United States? In remembering and recounting the past, what is left out and what is included? What do these erasures and retellings suggest about how Americans have come to terms with the darker dimensions of their national past? This course explores these questions and more using a range of historical topics including North American slavery, the Mexican American War, Indian removal, continental expansion and overseas imperialism, Japanese internment, twentieth-century civil rights struggles, and finally, the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

Puppetry is one of the oldest forms of performative art and has been used for (literally) thousands of years to explore and express what it means to be human. In this course, we will engage in a critical, philosophical, and psychological study of puppets on film, focusing in on the unique roles played by artificially-animated inanimate bodies in a medium whose greatest promise is realistic live action. Our readings and screenings will touch on diverse forms and techniques, from marionettes to shadow puppetry to ventriloquism, and they will span the history of cinema, from early silent experiments in stop-motion animation to the new digital technologies that are capable of turning the human body into either a puppet or puppeteer, such as cgi (computer-generated imagery) and motion capture.

Art – be it visual, music, dance, or literature – is an extraordinarily powerful experience driving much of our behaviors. This class will explore our attraction to the arts touching on questions like, what is art? What factors shape our preferences? What happens in the brain of the beholder while experiencing a work of art? And, what happens in the brain of the artist during spells of creativity? To answer these questions, we will draw on various perspectives in cognitive science, introducing current and historical theories of art perception based in philosophy, psychology, museum studies, and neuroscience.

During the first half of the 20th century—a time of great social, political, and technological change—many writers, artists, and musicians sought new and innovative modes of expression. While their works varied in both genre and style, modernists shared a common desire, in the words of the poet Ezra Pound, to “make it new.” Focusing on the period from 1870 to 1970, this interdisciplinary course will examine the history of a tumultuous century through an exploration of the radically new forms of literature, art, and music it produced. How did writers, artists, and musicians deal with issues of race, gender, and sexuality? How did they react to brutal wars and periods of intense political oppression? And what exactly does it mean to be “avant-garde”? From Wilde to Woolf, Kandinsky to O’Keeffe, Stravinsky to Sgt. Pepper, this course will examine what it means to create modern works for a modern world. Open only to first year frosh.

Some have discounted the youth of our society as apathetic and trivial, becoming further distanced from society at large and ever more self-absorbed in their own cyberworlds of social media and networking. In the recent past, however, the strength and ideologies of youth toppled governments and changed the world. The focus of this course will be on examining and analyzing pivotal historical student movements in Asia: the Anpo movements in 1960s Japan, the democratization movement of the 1980s in Korea, and finally 1989’s  Tiananmen Demonstrations in China. Points of comparison are the student movements in 1960s America and the most recent Occupy movements.

Until not long ago, Latin America was best known for its economic, social, and political turbulence. With most of the region in the hands of authoritarian governments, human rights violations were widespread and ranged from a lack of free elections to "disappearances" and state-sponsored genocidal violence. Today the region is, to varying degrees, almost all democratic, but problems such as drug-related violence, poverty, and arbitrary criminal justice systems still take a toll on individual rights. Yet the region should not just be known for its problems. Argentina's post-dictatorship experience has become a model in transitional justice studied around the world, and Mexico has adopted important changes in its criminal trial procedures. Today there are many resources available for the promotion and protection of human rights in Latin America -- from national legislation promoted by local activists, to treaties and a regional court. While focusing on political, social and legal developments rather than on literary analysis, this class relies substantially on short stories, a play, testimonial essays and films to explore human rights-related problems and progress in Latin America over the last 60 years. 

From Beyoncé to David Beckham, from Girls to Mad Men, contemporary pop culture helps shape not only our understanding of what it is to be a woman or a man in the twenty-first century, but also our understanding of what it is not to meet the criteria for either of those categories. This course will examine how gender is represented, constructed, and contested through pop culture. We will begin with some key readings on the social construction of gender and its intersections with other markers of difference, such as sexuality, race, and class. From that foundation, we will explore depictions of gender in recent television, film, music, advertising, print, and online culture, using our own expertise as consumers of pop culture to question how these forms both reinforce and challenge existing gender norms and why they are so instrumental in shaping our understanding of gender. 

In "Reacting to the Past," students participate in role-playing games that enable them to relive important intellectual debates in three separate historical moments. In "Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C.," students draw on Plato's Republic as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources to debate the prospects for Athenian democracy in the wake of the Peloponnesian War. In "Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in France," students enter the intellectual and political currents that surged through revolutionary Paris in 1791. And in "Defining a Nation: India on the Eve of Independence, 1945," students participate in the struggle to reconcile religious identity with nation building, perhaps the most intractable and important issue of the modern world.

The course is designed to examine current scientific research on peer relationships in childhood and adolescence.  The questions which will guide the course include: What types of children are victimized by their peers?  Why are some children more popular than others? What effect does popularity have on children and adolescents’ emotional, behavioral, or academic functioning? What role does aggression play in establishing and maintaining status in the peer group?  What types of peer crowds do adolescents affiliate with?  How are peer relationships different as individuals develop?  We will discuss how psychological science has been used to examine these, and related questions about child and adolescent peer relationships. The course will examine the form and function of peer relationships in Western and non-Western cultures.

An intercultural examination of various conceptions of the American Dream from the colonial encounter to the contemporary period.  We will examine authors ranging from John Winthrop, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson to Toni Morrison, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Sandra Cisneros. 

“Wars of nations are fought to change maps. Wars of poverty are fought to map change.” Muhammad Ali. 

Maps have powerful, sometimes outsized effects on people. Changes in mapping technology and geographic information will powerfully affect your future. In this course, you will develop and skills and appreciation for maps and map-like images. You will learn different mapping techniques, make your own maps using computer and internet-based tools, and interpret maps made by others. You will evaluate real and imagined spatial relationships, the psychology of maps, how all maps lie (they have to…) and how they are used as propaganda by examining topics including segregation, disease clusters, environmental quality, natural hazards, crime and safety, and metrics of sustainability.

This course is a survey of the gods in Greco-Roman myth with a particular focus on the representation, function, and meaning of the gods. We will consider how and if these ancient gods have survived in modern contexts in order to deepen our understanding of them. 

More than simply a “god of wine,” Dionysus was for the Ancient Greeks a god of ecstatic self-abandon, of gushing fertility, of violent dismemberment and unexpected rebirth. In myth he was attended by crazed Maenads and mischievous Satyrs; amongst humans we has worshipped with festive dances, communal shouts, ritual obscenities, and (perhaps most importantly) with poetry—with the literary genres of ode, comedy and tragedy that were invented specifically to honor him.  What could be farther, we might ask, from the cool, reasonable practice of philosophy than this wild, uncanny, irrational god? And yet, as we shall see in this class, this reckless god of madness and poetry stands at the foundation of some of the most important ideas in modern philosophy—Hegel’s phenomenology of spirit, Nietzsche’s will to power, Heidegger’s philosophy of being.  Beginning with an exploration of Dionysian poetics, this course will attempt to show what Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger and others found so inspiring in this ancient god, and what the writers and thinkers of our own time might find in him still.

This course looks at world history from the late 19th century into the 20th century by following the development of the global anarchist movement. We will look at cases from France, Russia, Italy, England, Spain, Latin America, China, Japan, and the US through primary and secondary source readings as well as film. These diverse anarchist movements were connected by global flows of migrants, ideas, and practices, and shaped by a new imagination of the world in response to imperialism and capitalism. We will end the course by looking at the revival of anarchism from the 1960s to the present.

Course Description: The 2014 Best Picture Oscar awarded to Twelve Years a Slave is just one sign that the historical subject of slavery is receiving unprecedented national attention in popular feature films.  This course will analyze the representation of slavery and emancipation in film. We will view several important works such as Gone with the Wind, Beloved, and Sankofa, analyzing them in light of published slave narratives, primary historical documents, historical scholarship and film criticism.  Participants in the class will think and write about how film depicts the historical experiences of slavery and we will analyze underlying issues of race, gender, violence, and struggles for freedom illuminated in feature films. The course begins with film and readings centered in US southern slave society and culminates with a comparison of Twelve Years a Slave to the historical narrative.  

From the Hippocratic Oath in ancient Greece to the sophisticated medical technologies of today, we will explore the work of female and male nurses, midwives, doctors and inventors, who devoted themselves to the art of healing through the ages.  

From The Freshmen (1925) to Rocky (1976) to Bull Durham (1988) to Remember the Titans (2000) to Blue Crush (2002) to Bend It Like Beckham (2002) to The Fighter (2010) sport has been a central theme in film for close to a century. This course will explore such topics as race and class, gender, sexual orientation as depicted in sport film. Students will explore additional topics including motivation, personality, friendship, competition and group dynamics through film (an additional 2hrs is spent per week viewing films).

We will begin by reading selections from the ethical writings of three great philosophers: Aristotle (4th century BCE), Immanuel Kant (18th century), and John Stuart Mill (19th century).  We will then use the insights and arguments of the great philosophers to determine what the nature of a meaningful life is -- what we ought to value and how we ought to live.  We will consider what kinds of moral obligations we have, not only to ourselves, our families, and our friends, but also to strangers, to non-human animals, and to nature.

This course examines political activism around sexual violence on college campuses in the United States. Students will analyze the causes and consequences of the campus rape epidemic, the history of activism around this issue, the contemporary legal and political landscape, new networked social movements, and best practices for addressing sexual violence on college campuses.

Through readings, review of films from a variety of genres, hands-on visual projects, writing exercises, and class presentations this course will explore, examine and analyze the complex relationships between Production Design (Settings and Costumes), Lighting, Composition and Editing that create the images of narrative film. Our framework will be the investigation of the basic principles of visual storytelling and the development of a set of evaluative criteria with which to critique the form, content and style of films from various eras and genres—mystery, comedy, epic, and musical. The goal of the course is for the student to develop a greater understanding of how visual storytelling functions as well as an awareness of the applications and implications of these principles beyond cinema. The focus of the course will be developing the student's critical eye, exploring the practice of visual storytelling and fostering improvement of writing skills.)

This course begins and ends with what it means to develop an academic identity and one’s own academic literacy in the post-secondary institution. Our course explorations will include an analysis of your own literacy history as well as its intersections with race, class, economics, education and other interconnected aspects of life and culture. Ultimately, we will develop personal and collective theories about academic literacy’s integration with identity and as a social phenomenon. Our reading and writing tasks will investigate and complicate academic literacy as a powerful social activity and will help us develop understandings of writing and reading as social actions that contribute to personal and group dynamics and definitions. This course is designed to be collaborative and speculative as we build upon existing knowledge about academic literacy and value our own experiences as readers and writers.

As media pundits, technocrats, policymakers and other prognosticators of culture remind us daily, digital technology continues to broaden its significance in our lives at a rapid pace: from leisure to work; from the mundane to the spectacular; from the private to the public.  Drawing from new media studies, information and communication studies, and cultural studies, this course will evaluate, historicize and critique various assessments of contemporary digital culture that range from techno-utopia to techno-dystopia.  This course will situate the issues of identities and social relations beyond the familiar discourse of the “digital divide,” in order to deepen our ability to examine our individual and collective relationship to recent developments in digital technology.  We will also draw from works of fiction and film to address the overarching question of the course: “What does it mean to be a ‘digital native’ in the current age of multiculturalism and information economy?”   

What is a hipster?  The meanings of hip and cool, as well as hipsters and cool cats, have shifted through the years. They are categories within space, place, and time, contextualized within subcultures, and situated by social class, income, race, and various other demographics. This course will be an exploration of the past, present, and future of hip and cool.  Learning will be grounded in academic and popular texts, and informed through ethnographic field investigations of the in situ production of the hip, the cool, and the hipster in Los Angeles.

Oceania is comprised of a “sea of islands” that crisscross an ocean that have been boundless for ages. It is within this context that art reinforces and acknowledges intersections between Oceanic communities. This course will consider the role of the visual in shaping pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial notions of tradition, culture, society, and identity amongst Pacific Island nations. An exploration of painting, sculpture, tattoos, music, clothing, and performance created by Pacific Islander artists will illuminate the ways in which the arts have served as commentary about indigenous interconnectivity and critique of global cultural contact as it appears in the media, tourist economy, and contemporary art market.


Sports offer paths to glory for athletes; they create shared emotional experiences for competitors, spectators, and fans; they give cities, states, and nations a common purpose. What, then, can sports teach us about politics, culture, and society? This class uses critical theory to study amateur and professional sports in the contemporary United States. Students will analyze sports institutions, organizations, and teams to explore ethics, racial and social justice, patriotism and nationalism, and economics. Specific topics may include college athletics, team mascots, concussion epidemics, the public financing of sports stadiums, marketing practices, Olympic boycotts, and doping. By thinking analytically about sports, students will reflect on how the industry shapes narratives about opportunity, identity, and nationhood. 




This course is designed to expose students to some of the many cultures of Los Angeles, a vibrant microcosm of the "complex, interdependent, pluralistic world" of the 21st century described in Occidental College's mission statement. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for participating in five off-campus "cultural encounters" during a semester. Students will select these events from a list compiled each year by the Core Program or they may propose their own experiences for approval.  A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.

1 unit

This course is designed to expose students to the arts, to broaden their cultural horizons, and to instill in them a desire to expand their knowledge of and attention to the arts. In addition, the course is designed to prepare students for life-long learning, for engaging in their communities, and for having the basis for further exploration in the field of the arts. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending eight on-campus events during a semester. Students will select these events from a list of events compiled each year by the Arts Committee; at least two of the events attended must combine an arts presentation with a lecture or discussion by the artist or a faculty member. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.

1 unit

Cultural Studies Program Spring 2016 "Global Issues" Research Seminars

The title of this course comes from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1961) in a hopeful overture for the decolonizing world. He says, “The peoples of the Third World are in the process of shattering their chains, and what is extraordinary is that they succeed” (34). During Fanon’s lifetime, there may have been some positive results from decolonization, but was liberation achieved? Fanon also focuses on the fact that “decolonization is truly the creation of new men” (2), but what does all of this mean? Who was the “new man”? the “new woman”? What does emancipation signify to this emerging agent? What happened and happens in the process of global decolonization? Using Fanon’s concepts as the theoretical basis of our class, we will examine the representation of the emerging “new man” in novels and short stories by Native American, African American, Chican@, and Asian American writers as well as in works from Palestine, Egypt, and Iran. We will begin in the mid-twentieth century and work through the present day to understand how literatures of resistance have offered challenges and critiques to the notion of emancipation and to Fanon’s concept of the “new man” while expanding upon and complicating his idea.

This course will examine texts of fiction, poetry, essay, music, film and graphic arts that have as their subject the problems and promise of urban life in major world-cities of the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the cities we may explore through their imaginative representation are London, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Mexico City. Field study in Los Angeles may be incorporated as pertinent events or opportunities come up.

Through the mediums of cinema and fiction, this course will introduce students to the similar, yet vastly distinct, societies and histories of Korea and Japan. In addition to work from great storytellers such as Ozu Yasujiro, Natsume Soseki, Lee Changdong, and Ch'ae Mansik, we will look at some less "celebrated" and perhaps more popular works. At the end of the semester, it is my hope that students will not only come out with a better understanding, but more importantly a greater appreciation and interest in the Korean and Japanese peoples.

The Russian Experience focuses on the enigma and riddle known as “Rus”, “Russia”, “The Russian Empire”, “The Soviet Union” and “The Russian Federation”. This strange land has been a combination of great extremes: West and East, blinding poverty and dazzling wealth, great talent and shocking brutality. The course focuses on the period of Russia's explosion onto the world stage both politically and artistically, beginning with the reign of Alexander I, the Napoleonic Wars and the Decembrist Revolt, and following the development of Russian society and the Russian/Soviet State through the 19th and 20th Centuries, up to the current post-Soviet Russian Federation. There will be equal emphasis on internal politics, the arts, and international relations. This is a 4-unit course with two linked seminar sections.

At present, 70% of American Indians live in urban areas such as Los Angeles. This course will investigate the challenges and adaptations native communities face in the urban diaspora and investigate the role religion plays in organizing their urban experience (in addition to providing a background in Native American traditions). Special attention will be given to issues that involve the encounter of traditional life ways with the U.S. state, social justice, and issues of religious freedom.  Course materials—which will include case studies, ethnography, film, and literature—will emphasize native voices.  And the class project will be to research and map American Indian landmarks in Los Angeles.

This course uses Hollywood film from the silent era to the end of the 20th century to examine changing American attitudes to racial crossings of all kinds.   The focus of our class discussions will be on how these films have created, shaped, or broken images of the raced other in America.  With the films as our starting point for discussion and analysis, we will explore Hollywood presentations of passing for white, interracial romance, and mixed race characters.   As a second semester course in the Cultural Studies Program, the development and exercise of critical thinking and writing skills will be central to all class assignments. 

This course studies China’s cultural, political and social development in a global setting from the early 19th century to the present. It delves briefly into China’s historical background prior to its opening to the Western world forced by Britain in the Opium War, before exploring the profound changes brought by globalization. Western influences in China, from Christianity to Marxism, will be examined with a focus on key events such as the Taiping Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion, Xinhai Revolution, May 4th Movement, Communist Revolution, and China’s recent rise as a global power. Students will gain a unique perspective from which to understand the consequences and impact of globalization on our rapidly changing world.

Unemployment, student loan debt, and protest are colliding with rising education costs, endowment building, branding wars, and labor outsourcing. At this tumultuous moment in higher education, this course asks students to reflect on the fate of liberal arts education through a focused analysis of its past and present. Specifically, how do economic pressures and technological innovations impact the sustainability of liberal arts values such as social justice, serving the public good, and cultivating a “life of the mind”?  Students will debate and synthesize arguments about the value and sustainability of liberal arts education by viewing higher education from the perspective of private corporations, governments, college administrators, faculty, parents, and students. In so doing, students will learn to situate their personal experiences within broader institutional, historical, economic and political contexts. Through reflective essays that incorporate both primary and secondary sources, students will develop critical thinking skills, authorial voice, and a sense of ownership over their own education.

Webster’s Dictionary defines research as “Critical and exhaustive investigation or experimentation having for its aim the discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation… and presenting the investigator’s discoveries”.  Clearly, research involves exploring the unknown, constructing understanding from the process, and communicating that result.  Research that is not communicated is research that is not complete. Learning theory tells us that everyone creates their understanding from the experiences of their life.  The application of these principles to this class is simple: the answers you find will depend upon the questions you ask, those questions in turn, depend upon the breadth of you knowledge, the experiences you value, and topics you bring to the conversation.  Through the process of investigation and reflection, each person will construct a somewhat different understanding of the topic of energy, its sustainability, and the implication of it use for the planet. These understandings are not static, but evolve as your breadth and depth of knowledge expands, per Wilson.  It is anticipated that your understanding will encompass a number of perspectives including science, technology, history, economics, literature, and politics.

CSP 59.          TBA.


The narrative of the hero’s journey has many iterations.  From Gilgamesh’s quest for immortality to Bruce Wayne’s endeavors to save Gotham, the stories of men and women who overcome adversity in order to fulfill the promise towards greatness have fascinated us for several millennia.  Sometimes these heroes are born; they are kings and queens or gods and goddesses for whom greatness is preordained.  But often heroes are made, and these narratives show how the weakest among us can rise up and conquer great adversity in order to save humanity from destruction.  This course explores the narrative of heroes and heroines from ancient times to the present.  We will be covering a wide temporal span and our course materials will include both animated and live action films, as well as several readings from multiple literary genres, including epic poetry, short stories, and graphic novels. Together we will examine the path of the hero as we seek to define the nature of heroism and investigate the hero’s cultural and social significance. 

Although portrayals of traditional “women’s work” or domestic labor are common in transnational American literature, a variety of diasporic women writers living part-time or full-time in the United States have published fiction that complicates this conception of women’s labor. In the work of authors such as Gayl Jones, Ntozake Shange, Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Cristina García, Anita Desai, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, female characters emerge whose artistic identities are inseparable from their work lives. This course will examine recent novels, novellas, and short stories in which women painters, photographers, singers, instrumental musicians, dancers, and writers seek to make artistic production their vocation, embracing it as an alternative to domestic labor. In the process, our seminar will consider the unique challenges facing women artists working in a variety of mediums and a range of socioeconomic contexts, both in the United States and abroad.

Since the appearance of popular detective fiction in the 1840s, no genre has been more widely produced and consumed. From the continuing relevance of Sherlock Holmes to the super abundance of investigation dramas in television and film, the genre—both consciously and not—has come to define what it means to use that rational mind to break down and make sense of our world. This course will look critically at these stories of detection, from their emergence in the early stages of modernization to their enduring popularity today, so as to ask what the detective figure can tell us about our evolution into the present: from what it means to be a professional problem solver in the first place to what problem solving can do when confronted with the shifting grounds that seem to undermine the simple rationality to which investigation first appealed.

CSP 63. IS TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM A STUMBLING BLOCK OR LAUNCHING PAD?  Does technology in the classroom significantly improve student outcomes? Does access to the internet create distractions and interfere with student performance? Are these questions exclusive to the academic environment or can they be applied to society, in general? This seminar will ask these questions, as well as others, and focus on the development of evidence based methods to identify, classify and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of technology in the classroom through reading literature, in-class discussions and analytical writing.

This course examines how economic markets work, and when and why they fail.  If economic markets worked all the time, then we would never see any labor market discrimination based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. But we know discrimination exists, so markets fail!  If economic markets worked all the time, then the costs of pollution in some industries would not exceed the sum of the wages and profits, but they do, so markets fail! In this CSP, we will use current research in behavioral economics to ask questions about "rational behavior" and to debate issues such as:  labor market discrimination based on race, sex, and sexual orientation; environmental issues such as offshore oil drilling and climate change; enforcement and regulation issues focused around issues such as health, illegal immigration, and banking.

Following the revolution, America gradually evolved a collective self-image different from that of Europe. One way to track this construction of our national identification is through one of our favorite media of representation, the short story. This class will trace the development of the short story from the early 19th century to recent post-modern versions. While the chronological expanse of our seminar will be vast, our readings each week will be relatively brief. Our focus will be on intensive understanding and responsible contextualization and analysis. While we will attempt to master the basic elements of narration theoretically, we will also try to understand the specific innovations of each writer as they contribute to the formation of our collective mythology.

From Beyoncé to David Beckham, from Girls to Mad Men, contemporary pop culture helps shape not only our understanding of what it is to be a woman or a man in the twenty-first century, but also our understanding of what it is not to meet the criteria for either of those categories. This course will examine how gender is represented, constructed, and contested through pop culture. We will begin with some key readings on the social construction of gender and its intersections with other markers of difference, such as sexuality, race, and class. From that foundation, we will explore depictions of gender in recent television, film, music, advertising, print, and online culture, using our own expertise as consumers of pop culture to question how these forms both reinforce and challenge existing gender norms and why they are so instrumental in shaping our understanding of gender. 

This seminar will explore poetry and its purposes and effects. What are poems for? What do they do? How do they mediate between private and public realms, between poets and their readers, between the self and its world? Students will be encouraged to develop theoretical responses to questions like these, and to become familiar with the responses of other writers and thinkers who have addressed them. But the main focus of the course will be on experiencing poems, discussing them, and writing analytically and clearly about them.

In recent years scholars of human migration have begun to see music as a rich source of information about migrant communities and cultures. Because migrant communities do not always have access to other forms of communicative media, music can sometimes offer a unique glimpse into the worldviews and immigration histories of those who have voluntarily and involuntarily left their lands of origin. Why do people migrate and how can music help us to understand the varied circumstances that have historically impelled migration? How does music inform migrant?s attitudes about their communities of origin and about their host societies, and articulate the new social locations and economic possibilities that emerge post-migration? How are contemporary patterns of global migration different from early migrations and how can music help us to understand those differences? In this course we will approach music as a lens through which to understand the complex socio-economic circumstances, motivations, and life trajectories of diverse migrant communities.

This course examines classic and contemporary texts categorized as nature writing. We will explore three themes in close readings of these texts: 1) nature writing as literary genre, 2) nature writing as development of spiritual consciousness, and 3) nature writing as expression of ecological/environmental concern. Focusing on North America, we will give special attention to California and the West, as we review the connection between nature writing and emergent environmental ethics in a time of environmental crisis. This writing seminar will draw from the skill and power of nature writing to advance our own efforts at effective writing.

Existentialism is a philosophy that grapples with the problem of human freedom and moral choice in a world that often seems devoid of transcendental meaning or purpose.  In this course we will read literary and philosophical texts from the French, German, Hispanic, and Russian existentialist traditions, and will explore the structures and possibilities of consciousness, knowledge, desire, imagination, aesthetics, ethics, and political commitment. Authors studied will include Albert Camus, Fydor Dostoevsky, Franz Kafka, Eduardo Mallea, Ernesto Sábato, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Leo Tolstoy.

Paris has been called “The City of Light,” the “Capital of Europe,” “Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” and “Gay Paree.” Why is Paris such an iconic city? What role has it played in major world events? How has its influence expanded throughout the centuries? This course will trace the cultural history of Paris and its development from ancient times to the contemporary period through fiction, essays, poetry, and film. Examining French classics by Molière, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo, contemporary works of fiction by authors such as André Breton, Patrick Modiano, and Leïla Sebbar, as well as films by Jean-Luc Godard and Luc Besson, we will consider the transmutations of Paris as an urban space, its evolving identity, and global impact.

It can be argued that, since the Renaissance, theater artists have been communally and delightedly inspired by a certain subject: themselves. From the plays within Shakespeare's plays A Midsummer Night's Dreamand Hamlet to Pirandello's meta-theatrical examinations of self in Six Characters in Search of an Author and Tonight We Improvise to Broadway's send-ups of the production process Noises Off and The Producers -- no theatrical subject matter intrigues quite like the making of theater. What are these artists saying about the nature of their own art form? Where do they converge? How do they differ? What is so consistently alluring about the act of performance? Students will explore these questions and various plays through in-class readings, artist visits, and attendance at live performance. 

For traditional humanist philosophers, memory is an  actual/fictional account of what happened that resides somewhere in the mind and is expressed through various narrative forms. On the other hand, in contemporary digital culture, memory has become a precise measure of file formats and computing processors. This seminar examines the concept of memory in multiple disciplinary contexts: memory studies, psychoanalysis, cognitive science, public history, and digital studies. Examining theoretical writings by Freud and Derrida, as well as public art, memorial sites, and community archives, the course addresses the following questions: 1) what are the cultural politics of remembering/forgetting? 2) how does technology (from books to mobile phone screens) create conditions for remembering/forgetting?

This course surveys African musical elements as they exist in North, South and Central America as well as in the Caribbean Islands.  Through readings, lectures, videos and sound recordings, we will trace the historical origins of some traditional aspects found in Africa and relate them to the development of many musical genres found in the Western Hemisphere.

Other Cultral Studies Program Courses

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96 - Experiencing Mathematics and Science

This course is designed to expose students to mathematics and science, to broaden their awareness of the research questions asked in those disciplines, and to introduce skills and ideas scientifically shown to improve persistence in college, especially in science and math majors. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending eight on-campus events during a semester. Certain seminars and class meetings will be mandatory; students will select additional events from a list of events provided each year by the instructor. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class. This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements. Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.
1 unit

- CSP 98: "Experiencing Los Angeles Cultures"

This course is designed to expose students to some of the many cultures of Los Angeles, a vibrant microcosm of the "complex, interdependent, pluralistic world" of the 21st century described in Occidental College's mission statement. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for participating in five off-campus "cultural encounters" during a semester. Students will select these events from a list compiled each year by the Core Program or they may propose their own experiences for approval. A short two-page paper is due on the last day of class.

This course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet specific Major/Minor or Core requirements.

Students may take this course twice, for a maximum of two units being applied toward graduation.

- CSP 99: "Experiencing the Arts"

This course is designed to expose students to the arts, to broaden their cultural horizons, and to instill in them a desire to expand their knowledge of and attention to the arts. In addition, the course is designed to prepare students for life-long learning, for engaging in their communities, and for having the basis for further exploration in the field of the arts. Students may acquire one semester unit of credit for attending 8 on-campus events (out of those specifically identified for this course) during any semester.  Students will select these events from a list of events compiled each year by the Director of Core; at least 2 of the 8 events attended must be designated starred events which will combine an arts presentation with a lecture or discussion by the artist or faculty member. 

  • This 1-unit course is graded CR/NC only and will not meet any specific Major/Minor nor Core requirement.  
  • To complete the requirement and due before the last day of class, a two-page reflection paper must be turned in electronically.  In an email with specific details, all students will receive a prompt prior to the due date.
  • Students may take this 1-unit course for up to two semesters, for a maximum of 2 units being applied toward graduation.


What former CSP 99 students have said...

"In many ways your time at Oxy is defined by academics and what happens in the classroom. Learning how to prepare for class, take tests, and even reflect are all crucial parts of the academic process.  Something that I think needs to be stressed more often is the visceral, exploratory nature of a program like CSP 99.  Throughout the semester, I have learned to appreciate different forms of expression, and how people are able to approach even simple tasks with very different strategies."

"Experiencing the arts offers students a unique opportunity to enjoy a variety of events put on by Occidental College. These events provide a chance to expand ones intellectual engagement and increase ones musical interest. Authors, musicians, plays, and dynamic films are all offered to broaden students wealth of knowledge. These events reach out into the Los Angeles community to bring various professionals onto campus where they can engage the minds of Oxy’s youth. They provide students with an opportunity to learn about various professions from those who have found success. I have acquired a new wealth of knowledge from participating in these events."

"All of the events I attended this semester were more intriguing than initially expected. Based on other students who had previously taken the class I figured the events would be insightful but my experiences with the events were more impactful than others credited."


Regular Faculty

John Swift, chair

Associate Dean for Core Curriculum and Student Issues; English; Core Program; Advisory Committee, Urban and Environmental Policy

B.A., Middlebury College M.A., Ph.D., University of Virginia

On Special Appointment

Lisa Filipe

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A., Occidental College; C.Phil., Ph.D. University of California, Los Angeles

Anna Katz

Non Tenure Track Assistant Professor, Core Program

B.A. University of California, Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D. Princeton University

Suzanne Roszak

Non Tenure Track Instructor, Core Program

B.A. Columbia University; M.A., M.Phil, Yale University