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.





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 2015 "Global Issues" Research Seminars

What do you like to eat? Who prepares your food, and who is at the table eating it with you? In this course we will take on these and related questions, covering aesthetic, historical, social, and cognitive approaches to food studies. In addition to critically examining cross-cultural aspects of food culture, students will engage with Los Angeles food culture.

This is an 8 unit colloquium and seminar course. Students enrolled in this colloquium will not only get credit for the first year spring seminar requirement, but also will meet the Core Program’s Cultural Studies Distribution requirement for Global Connections.

CSP51 DOCUMENTARY DISCOURSE. Provides students with writing instruction situated in documentary film.  For better or worse, documentary has become one of the main ways we access truth today.   We will write about a variety of non-fiction films, treating them as examples of visual argument.  Some possible themes include mockumentary, visual anthropology, rockumentary, queer documentary, propaganda films, and many others. Scrutinizing the truth-telling techniques of the directors, we will test the limits of non-fiction filmmaking.  Students will come away from this class understanding what makes for effective arguments, both in their own writing and in documentary film.  Effective composition will result from an awareness of the importance of audience, voice, context, and argument.

CSP52 JAPAN AND KOREA THROUGH FILM AND FICTION. 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.

CSP53 BECOMING AMERICA: THE SHORT STORY. 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.

CSP54 REMAKING THE WORLD: THE EUROPEAN REVOLUTIONARY TRADITION.  This seminar traces the development and history of the revolutionary tradition in modern European history. We begin with the paradigm shifts of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution and follow their legacy and impact through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The course focuses on the revolutions and revolutionaries that changed the way people understand their relationship to politics, society, culture and one another. We will ask a number of questions, including: what sparks a revolution? Who makes a revolution? When do they succeed and when do they fail? We look closely and critically at the effect of European ideas and practices of revolution -- from the French Revolution to the student revolts of 1968 -- upon American democracy.

CSP55  ANIMAL ETHICS. Humans eat some non-human animals, keep others as pets, perform scientific experiments on others, keep some in zoos, and hunt others for both food and sport. The complex relationship between human and non-human animals raises a host of important moral questions: What do we owe to non-human animals? Do animals have rights? Are we morally permitted to eat/experiment on/keep in zoos/hunt non-human animals? What is the relationship between concern for non-human animals and concern for the environment? 

In the summer of 2013, the Autry opened a new set of galleries that joined works of art from the collections of the Autry and Southwest Museums. The newly renovated galleries embody a dramatically different story about the “Art of the West” than has been offered since the museum opened in 1988. The exhibition integrates works by Native American, Euro-American, Hispanic and other artists within spaces previously given over to paintings, sculptures, and objects of material culture by European American artists. Students in this seminar will learn about how scholars have traditionally written the art history of “the American West”, while simultaneously considering the impact that multiculturalism and more community-entered museum practice has had on institutions like the Autry. In this course, students will interact with Autry Curatorial, Library, and Education department staff; conduct research on individual objects on view in the Autry’s exhibition; and create a collaborative digital project demonstrating the scope and significance of that research.

CSP57  KNIGHTS, MONSTERS, SORCERERS, AND SARACENS: IDENTITY AND ALTERITY IN THE ROMANCE GENRE. Though the idea of the romance narrative today often calls to mind tawdry love stories featuring heaving bosoms and uncontrollable passions, earlier examples of the genre tell different stories: sprawling, episodic narratives of chivalry, crusades, the supernatural, and yes, occasionally even love. This course will explore questions of identity and otherness in romances from the Middle Ages through the present day. Beginning with medieval romance—the ancestor of the modern-day novel—we will examine others and outsiders in these texts, assessing the function of characters who are marked by a difference in nationality, race, religion, or body. What do figures such as the Sultan of Babylon, the Green Knight in King Arthur’s court, and the recurring “loathly lady” represent, and what do they say about the cultures that created them? How can we understand the relationship between sameness and otherness, identity and alterity, through these figures? Readings will include medieval texts, a Gothic novel, and contemporary variations on the genre such as the Harry Potter books.

Writing in 1906, the American composer John Phillip Sousa expressed grave concerns about what he termed the "menace of mechanical music." According to Sousa, the advent of devices like the player piano and the phonograph threatened to remove "the human skill, intelligence, and soul" from music and reduce it to little more than "a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, and cylinders." More than a century later, musicians and audiences today have embraced musical technology in ways that would have been inconceivable in Sousa's time. How did the introduction of such technologies transform musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century? And how has the subsequent development of new musical technologies changed the way people both produce and listen to music? Through the examination of a diverse range of literature, films, archival materials, and sound recordings, this course will explore the complex and continually evolving relationship between music and technology -- from the primitive phonograph introduced by Thomas Edison in 1877 to vibrant culture of digital sampling, MP3s, and Auto-Tune of the present day.

CSP 59. FROM REVOLUTION TO CATASTROPHE: CONTEMPORARY NARRATIVES OF UPHEAVAL.  The 20th and 21st centuries have seen and continue to see the reoccurring, often violent upheavals, which in the most fundamental ways, have come to define who we are and how we interact with each other.  These upheavals can take the form of revolutions as people challenge the status quo and shift the seat of power in the effort to build better realities for themselves.  From Tiananmen to Tahrir Squares, while always fraught with hardship, this process can be a peaceful one.  However, too often we must bear witness to the catastrophic consequences that come with the aftermath of the revolutionary process: the displacement of thousands from their homes, the continued violence upon the innocent, and the collapse of economies that leave regions in turmoil for years to come.  In the specter of these upheavals, how do we make sense of the devastation?  How do we work through the trauma?  How do we attempt to reclaim our humanity despite the brutality? These are just some of the questions this course will be grappling with as we explore film and literature set in places that have seen major upheavals, among them the U.S., Cuba, Iran, South Africa, Japan, and Pakistan.  Together will examine how people’s lives are shaped by the catastrophic events that precede or follow revolutionary struggles, and consider the role of these cultural productions in representing these experiences.

CSP60  THE DEMOCRATIC IMAGINATION.  Few political ideas have engaged the public imagination with as much moral force and political complexity as democracy has since the classical period. This course is an exploration of the ideal of democracy in the political imagination of prominent philosophers, politicians, activists, and artists from ancient Greece to the present. The aim of the seminar is to introduce students to major themes in the study and experience of democracy: the balance between liberty and equality; pluralism and difference; membership and exclusion; moral versus political sources of legitimacy; radical versus deliberative democracy; democracy and war; democracy and social justice; and the relationship between democracy and the humanities. Democracy’s appeal and inclusive functioning stem from the way in which the pursuit and struggle for, and the continual elaboration of, democratic ideals reflect and speak to the multiplicity of voices and experiences in society. This course introduces students to the lives and circumstances that account for the evolution of democracy as both a political form and an idea in the modern imagination.

CSP61 BLACK PARIS: THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND THE FRENCH CONNECTION. During the early 20th century Paris was a center of intellectual activity for writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance as well as Caribbean and African thinkers. This course will examine the international elements of the Harlem Renaissance, addressing themes such as Jazz Age Paris, the Pan-African congress, Negritude and Garveyism. Readings will include works by and about figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Josephine Baker and Léopold Senghor.

CSP 62. THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Americans are simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by prisons, prisoners, and prison life.  A consistent reminder of this fascination is the proliferation of an array of reality TV programs exposing life behind prison walls and the popularity of fictional programs and movies about prison life. This course transcends the voyeuristic obsession with prisons and takes a meaningful look at the reality of imprisonment.  My personal contact with prisons and prisoners during my years as a public defender and prisoners' rights advocate has taught me that the prison population exists outside of the democratic sphere.  This experience has afforded me a deeper appreciation and understanding of core democratic principles of freedom, civil liberties, human rights and equal protection and has energized me to advocate for those principles on behalf of disenfranchised individuals and communities.  I believe that students who study incarceration will develop a greater appreciation and understanding of broad democratic principles.

CSP63 THE TRICKSTER IN CHINESE NARRATIVE. An archetypical character appearing in myths, folk tales, religious texts, and literature, the trickster ironically transgresses cherished social conventions and beliefs in order to create new or reaffirm existing conventions.  This seminar will first examine the trickster as a literary motif and question how such a construct can limit our understanding of the trickster of specific times and places.  We will then explore how Chinese writers used the trickster to challenge literary and cultural norms in a variety of texts, including historical, religious, and philosophical texts; literary and folk tales; and the Ming-dynasty novel, Journey to the West, featuring the naughty Monkey King, Sun Wukong.

CSP64 GENDER, LABOR, AND THE WORK OF ART: WOMEN ARTISTS IN TRANSNATIONAL AMERICAN FICTION. 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.

CSP65 URBAN FICTIONS: THE MODERN CITY IN LITERATURE AND OTHER ARTS. 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.

CSP66 THE EXPERIENCE OF WAR. This seminar will study and reflect on the literary, filmic, and historiographic descriptions of wars in the 20th and 21st century, with an emphasis on WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War and the recent war in Iraq. How are the reasons for "going to war" presented, who promoted them?  Who fought against the wars? Why were the voices of the opponents not heard? How are the dead and the victims commemorated?  Do we learn from wars and are they still accepted as "natural" events? What are the limits of re-presenting wars in literature and film.

CSP67 RENAISSANCE INDIVIDUALS. Experience the European Renaissance of the 14th through 17th revival, artistic and scientific innovation, religious reform, and global exploration. Consider the relationship of contemporary “individuality” to the characteristics of men and women of early modern times. Films will highlight the multi-varied individual, like the courtesan and poet Veronica Franco, as well as the confrontation between artist Michelangelo and military pope Julius II. A source reader will provide practice in analyzing texts, as well as objects of material culture, in an age of encounters between cultures. For a research-based essay utilizing evidence from the times, each student will focus on two individuals in a field of the student’s interest such as politics/diplomacy; court life; sexuality/gender; crafts and the arts; reformation in religion; scientific experiment and enlightenment; mapping the globe; or travel and encounter. Learning collaboratively, students examine the lives of a diversity of men and women and the controversies their lives provoked.

CSP68 MUSIC AND TRANCE: HOW MUSIC INFLUENCES THE ECSTATIC STATE THROUGHOUT THE GLOBE. This course explores the relationship between music and consciousness in different world cultures with the intention of developing an understanding of the role that music plays in ecstatic experiences. This course draws on ethnomusicology, psychology, anthropology, dance ethnology, and religious studies.

CSP69 POLITICS, CULTURE, AND SPORTS. 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.   

CSP70 MAPPING RELIGIOUS IDENTITIES: RACE, PLACE, AND EMPIRE. How do particular spaces invoke a certain sense of religious identity? What makes a place sacred or holy? How does the inside of a temple or Cathedral cause someone to behave differently than they would in the quad of Occidental? Scholars have become interested in the ways spaces, both real and imagined; have the potential to make meaning for many people. This course introduces students to the concepts of space and place and how they relate to religion. We will read primary sources from a variety of religious traditions which demonstrate the deployment of religious languages, rituals, and spaces, from antiquity, to the present. In doing so we will consider religious identities as new geographies and in this way, map the way space and place contribute to the broader forces of empire, globalization, and multiculturalism.

CSP71 LIBERAL ARTS AT THE BRINK? NAVIGATING THE CRISIS IN HIGHER EDUCATION. 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. They will also be introduced to interviewing techniques and textual analysis that will serve as a basis for future independent research.

CSP72  EXISTENTIALISM. 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.

CSP73 ISSUES OF SPANISH IN THE U.S. This course discusses issues surrounding the Spanish language and Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. The course focuses on the connection between language and culture, and addresses the social issues surrounding the status of Spanish in the United States, specifically language attitudes and ideologies, language policy, bilingualism and bilingual education. We will challenge common beliefs surrounding language and bilingualism, and its effect on Spanish speaking communities in the US.

CSP74 THEATER ABOUT THEATER. 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 Dream and 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.

CSP 75 REACTING TO THE PAST. 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.

CSP76 FROM THE UNDEAD TO THE ALREADY DEAD: VAMPIRES, ZOMBIES AND MONSTERS IN LITERATURE AND FILM.  The course will consider the ways in which such books as  Frankenstein and Dracula and such films as Night of the Living Dead and , 28 Days Later complicate the distinction between the living and the dead, and the human and the inhuman. What are the consequences when certain individuals or, increasingly, groups (or even populations) are declared, despite appearances, undead or already dead rather than living? In what ways are such declarations tied to the use of violence and deadly force? We will take as our starting point philosopher Giorgio Agamben's assertion that one of the central political categories of modernity is that of homo sacer, the individual who can be killed with impunity.


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