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


16 units:  counts as four courses (CSP, Biology 106, Economics 101, and Geology 105).  Satisfies fall CSP requirement and Core Lab and Non-lab Science requirements. 

Join a group of first-year students and three faculty learning about natural science, economics, and the environment of California.  The spectacular California landscape will be our laboratory as we investigate the geology, biology and economics of our environment through data collection, laboratory and computer analysis, critical thinking and writing, and classroom learning.  Multi-day field trips during the school week introduce you to your fellow CES classmates while hiking and camping in State and National Parks throughout California.  All of your coursework in Fall semester will be taken with your CES peers. 

The California Environmental Semester is a great way to begin your college career.  In addition to satisfying three Core requirements, its classes may count toward seven different programs of study:  Biology, Economics, Environmental Science, Geology, Politics, Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA),  and Urban and Environmental Policy (UEP).  Beyond these programs, CES students excel in a wide variety of majors and college activities from the theater stage to the playing fields to student government.


Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, South Africa 1993, Algeria 1962. These are some of the revolutions that captured international attention and dramatically changed the social and political landscape of Africa. The revolutionary thinking of Marx, Lenin, Gandhi, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Fanon and Biko and others, formed the basis of mass mobilization against oppressive regimes. Furthermore, African political thought and praxis inspired civil rights movements and anti-colonial struggles throughout the world. Beyond exploring these revolutions, the class will introduce students to Africa and African diaspora cultures in Los Angeles through activities and excursions that will encompass the visual and dramatic arts, music, culinary experiences, lectures and tours.
“Revolutions” comprises one half of the  entire fall semester course load (8 units), and students taking it should plan their remaining courses carefully.  It is particularly recommended for students interested in History and/or Diplomacy and World Affairs, or for those going on in the social sciences and humanities generally.


This course will examine “American Exceptionalism” through twentieth-century portrayals of travel, migration, and wanderlust. After historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the U.S. frontier “closed” in 1893, cultural representations of mobility became a unique marker of racial, class, and sexual identity. We will examine a range of texts, from 1930s blues songs’ affective expressions about African American “Great Migration” to constructions of 1950s white hipster masculinity in Beat writings to the emergent genre of the transgender road movie. Because Hollywood film was historically the U.S.’s first major international export, this class will focus in particular on cinematic representations, both foreign and domestic, of how traveling identities support or interrogate American nationalisms. Materials will include fiction and memoir by Jack Kerouac and Marilynne Robinson; critical theory addressing topics from the "vanishing" of Native Americans to the travels of transnational Barbie; music from Memphis Minnie to Led Zeppelin; and movies such as Badlands, Thelma and Louise, My Own Private Idaho, Brokeback Mountain, and Transamerica.


As a major U.S. city that grew in importance during a time of increasing globalization, Los Angeles occupies a unique position within the cultural imagination.   This course will explore how the unique geographical and cultural space of Los Angeles has contributed to ways in which the city has been imagined and represented in literature and film.   In our explorations, we will consider how L.A.’s roots, migrating populations, shifting community boundaries, and multiple forms of power shape imaginings and lived realities of the city.  How do various representations reflect – and diverge from – living communities within Los Angeles?  How are the city and its communities shaped by national and global forces?  How has Los Angeles as a destination city for migrants shaped the ways it is imagined?  How do we reconcile the dueling representations of L.A. as both utopia and dystopia?  Over the course of the semester, we will examine a broad range of film and literature that will guide our discussion of these and other questions, interrogating what it means to live in the city of Los Angeles.


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.


This course is about the past, present and future of the fight for equal citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, commonly known as the “gay rights movement.” A central concept is that gender, race, sex and sexual orientation (among other aspects of one’s identity) are social constructions. We analyze the historical time period from the Internet's birth (1950s) to present day. We examine the historical, cultural, religious, legal and societal significance of marriage as a lens to view the myriad ways that civil rights and fundamental freedoms are mediated by identity. Texts include academic articles, court cases, legal briefs, popular media, fiction, blogs, videos, tweets and images. We use Web 2.0 tools (Blogger, Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook) to facilitate students' development as both consumers and producers of intellectual, academic material. The ability of students to produce and critique online content is a learning outcome of this class. No previous knowledge of any particular internet tool is required. Technological support is provided.


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.


Who should you believe:  the sculpted Adonis who attributes his heavenly body solely to Product A, or your middle-aged doctor as he looks over horn-rimmed glasses and preaches to you his mantra of fruits and vegetables?  This course will explore how science is portrayed to the public, with the aim of deconstructing issues to objectively evaluate the merits of the arguments.  The first part of the course will explore in great depth the perpetual, self-corrective process of the scientific method to demonstrate the necessity of research and contradictory viewpoints.  The focus will then shift towards topics that include, among others, health/fitness, biotech, and the environment. 

Be prepared:
 .  This course includes a rigorous writing component, requires intensive group work both within the classroom (e.g., presentations) and beyond (e.g., community engagement), and
     emphasizes development of oral presentation skills. 
 .  Students enrolling in this course must have a solid background in high school chemistry and biology.   


Many students know the typical novel focuses on a single character’s life journey—what literary scholars call the “bildungsroman.” In this class we will examine an understudied subgenre—the künstlerroman or “life of the artist.” We will consider key features of this narrative form and how it alters across literary, film, visual art and musical genres. By framing fugitive slave narratives as “escape artists”; by exploring visual artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker; by watching Black Swan starring Natalie Portman and Spike Lee’s Bamboozled; and by listening to hip-hop like Kanye West’s solo albums, we will understand the complexity of taking up the artist’s journey in the modern world and how this path becomes a metaphor for past and present social struggles.


This course will consider how Los Angeles has been represented in a cross section of 20th century literature, film, music and popular culture. We will examine contradictory visions of the metropolis as a land of promise and peril where issues of space, race, and class intersect to create an urban culture in which conflict and cooperation exist in productive tension. Primary texts in the various media will be supplemented and contextualized by secondary readings in social history and cultural theory. Cultural events in greater Los Angeles may be incorporated if appropriate opportunities come up.


This course will examine the peculiar aspirations and struggles of the ancient hero--not (to quote the 90’s film classic, Swingers) the modern "PG-13 hero, the one everyone really hopes is going to make it happen,” but rather the "R-Rated" ancient hero, “the one you're not so sure you like yet.”  We shall begin the course with the four thousand year old story of Gilgamesh, the troubled and troubling hero-king of the Ancient Near East; we shall then attempt to interpret anew the meaning of three of the most famous Greek and Roman epic heroes (Achilles, Odysseus, and Aeneas); and finally, we shall conclude the class with an examination of the heroes of the Mahabharata, the great religious epic of ancient India.  Too energetic, too angry and far too proud to shrink back from a challenge, these difficult figures made a habit of exposing themselves not only to the mortal dangers of advancing enemy hordes, but, more meaningfully, to all those maddening contradictions our human existence seems to entail for us: the "higher" powers that even against our wills determine us, the sad mortality that against all our longing ends us.  Scorning the safety of the familiar and the everyday, the heroes of ancient epic pushed themselves relentlessly to act and to think to the very limit of things.  Availing ourselves of any number of modern philosophic theories (deconstruction, phenomenology, existentialism and the like), we shall endeavor in this class to think that exasperating limit in intimate company with them.

This class will occasionally meet with Professor Freas’s CSP16.


Does our world appear to us like an abundant garden--or is it a stony, unforgiving desert?  This seminar will explore the opposed images of desert and garden, of barrenness and fruitfulness that pervade Western history.  Beginning with a close reading of Genesis and the story of human expulsion from the Garden of Eden, we will first examine these images in a number of literary and artistic appearances (including T. S. Eliot’s famous diagnosis of the “modern” condition as an unredeemed “waste land”).  In the second phase of the course we will consider their specific effects, for better and for worse, on the development of an iconic U.S. institution:  the city of Los Angeles. 


This seminar will explore the myth, idea, culture, and history of Hollywood through careful readings of both historical and literary texts. The objective of this course is to consider which kinds of texts offer us the most “authentic” representation of Hollywood. What is real Hollywood? And what is just imagined? In a place like Hollywood, where entire lives, landscapes, and narratives are manufactured for film, can we attempt to untangle the essential Hollywood – the real Hollywood – from its textual representations? As we move through these topics, we will also be exploring the various skills necessary for writing critical and analytical essays, including crafting a thesis statement, the difference between summary and analysis, and integrating textual evidence.


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 1910 to 1968, this interdisciplinary course will examine a tumultuous half-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 is the avant-garde? From Woolf to Kerouac, Kandinsky to Warhol, and Stravinsky to Sgt. Pepper, this course will examine what it means to create modern works for a modern world.


This interdisciplinary seminar examines the intellectual, social and political history of the California environment with a particular focus on the ways in which different cultural and ethnic groups have perceived, used, managed, and conserved it over the past 250 years. The course will introduce students to essential concepts, concerns and methods in environmental history, at large, while engaging topics specific to California history including the Spanish frontier, the Gold Rush, forestry, the hydraulic empire, wilderness parks, industrialization, urbanization, and environmental justice. Los Angeles as a field of study will occupy a significant place in our exploration.


This course explores the literary depiction of two exceptional women in myth: Clytemnestra and Medea.  Clytemnestra is an adulteress who murders her husband, King Agamemnon, upon his victorious return from the Trojan War.  Medea, after being spurned by her husband who remarries a young princess, kills the bride, her father the king, and her own two children in order to punish her husband.   The course title points to the subversive qualities possessed by these two figures: neither woman should use violence to acquire power, but they do and so confound historical expectations for their gender.  In this course we will consider what can be learned about women (and men) from these presentations of Clytemnestra and Medea and think deeply about what has made them so fascinating and horrifying for over two thousand years. 

This class will occasionally meet with Professor Stocking's CSP11.


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, Mexico has adopted important changes in its criminal trial procedures, and Brazil has challenged its long-standing complacency about the integration of its African-heritage population by implementing an interesting blend of affirmative action policies.  Largely relying on novels, short stories, essays and films, “Human Rights in Latin America in Literature and Film” will explore human rights-related problems and progress in Latin America over the last 60 years. 


The content of this course is derived from the disciplines of sport psychology, positive psychology, and stress management.  Concepts such as motivation, goal setting, energy management, and finding meaning will be discussed in a way that is directly applicable to daily living.  Students will have the opportunity to engage in self-exploration in addition to being exposed to lives of individuals such as John Wooden, Viktor Frankl, and Morrie Schwartz (of “Tuesdays with Morrie”).  Students will leave the class with a greater awareness of how to utilize their strengths and be equipped with strategies that foster resilience when dealing with challenges.


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 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).


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.


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.


Why do we write, if not to communicate with a reader? Readers can be anyone: yourself, someone you know, someone you hope to meet, or a whole group of people whose expectations you must imagine, and whose responses you may never see. In this course, we’ll explore expectations of writers and readers in academic contexts, persuasive personal writing, professional writing, journalism, and creative writing. We’ll experiment with a variety of essay styles and writing development tools to translate writer-centered work into reader-centered work, with an emphasis on reader feedback, revision, and reflection. The class workshops will help you find your voice as a writer; improve your understanding of professors’ and other readers’ expectations for writing; boost your confidence in your own abilities as a reader, writer, and scholar; and help you design your own path to mastery of effective writing. This course is for all students who want to master a broad range of writing styles and situations, and it is of particular benefit to students who prepared for college outside the US.


Complex and contradictory, Los Angeles defies simple understandings. Through the lens of neighborhood transitions this course will examine the economic, political, and social forces that shape this city. Relying upon insights from a variety of disciplinary perspectives including critical theory, ethnic studies, geography, history, political science, sociology and urban planning we will examine how LA’s neighborhoods have been created, contested, and recreated over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries. Our texts will include maps, photography, literature, film, music, and others. This course will be supplemented by community-based learning exercises that may include field trips and off-campus assignments.


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.


During this seminar, we will study capitalism not only as an economic system, but also as an ethos (or way of being).  We will begin by examining a number of accounts of the emergence and functioning of the mechanisms of capitalist production and consumption.  This will lead us to an exploration of the ways in which this transforms individuals, societies, and cultures.  In particular, we will focus on the way in which waste and idleness are experienced as problems and then addressed.  Students will be asked to consider how different configurations of these mechanisms and practices can together create conditions of existence for us.  In the latter part of the seminar, students will be asked to identify the limits created by these conditions and to explore through research possible alternative modes of living and working. 


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.


Since the sixth century b.c.e., playwrights and audiences have returned over and over to the stories and characters, the dramatic structures and devices, and the complex layering of ideas first presented in the Theater of Dionysos. We will investigate the myths and the dramaturgy of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Elektra, and Euripides’ Orestes in contemporary translation as well as a number of reinventions, appropriations, and adaptations of these plays for audiences of today. What in our own cultural and political moment leads playwrights such as Charles Mee, Sarah Ruhl, Ruth Margraff, Steven Berkoff, Luis Alfaro, and Caridad Svich back to the ancient Greeks and their tragic themes? And what in those themes continues so powerfully to draw audiences more than 2500 years later? Students in this seminar will attend at least one performance of a modern adaptation of Greek tragedy.


When the Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon suggested in The Wretched of the Earth (1961) that “decolonization is truly the creation of new men,” what did he mean? Who was the “new man”? the“new woman”? What happened and happens in the process of global decolonization? We will examine the representation of the emerging “new man” in novels and short stories by Native American, African American, Chicano/a, 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 Fanon’s concept of the “new man” while expanding upon and complicating his idea.

Cultural Studies Program Spring "Global Issues" Research Seminars

CSP 50 and 51 are designated CSP “Lab” courses, team-taught experimental seminars designed to engage their students critically and actively in synthesizing knowledge and ideas about an important topic.  In these classes you’ll work closely with faculty from more than one academic field, developing new, cross-disciplinary perspectives; you’ll engage in intensive reading, writing, and discussion; you’ll learn to think and work collaboratively, as a member of a diverse intellectual community. 


This interdisciplinary study of European culture will examine and analyze material from literature, philosophy, science, medicine, religion, the arts, and political theory. We will consider, in their historical context,  such figures as the authors of the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Sappho, Hippocrates, Sophocles, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, the authors of The New Testament, St. Augustine, figures in medieval Islamic science and medicine, Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Copernicus, Kepler, Queen Elizabeth, Galileo, Descartes, Locke, Newton, Defoe, Voltaire, Rousseau, Mozart, Wollstonecraft, Napoleon, Charlotte Corday (bathtub murderess of the French Revolutionary leader Marat), Mary Shelley (author of the original Frankenstein), Balzac, Marx, Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Nietzsche (and his claim that “God is dead”) Freud, Woolf, Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Gandhi.

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 Regional Studies/Europe.


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.


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.


Why does the United States continue to use the death penalty when nearly every other industrialized Western nation in the world has abolished its use? What explains the persistence of America’s contentious commitment to capital punishment? When the state kills, who wins? These questions will guide our exploration of the death penalty’s past, present and future. Using various historical, legal and social perspectives, we will examine the shifting rationales and nature of contemporary death penalty debates; cross-national public opinion; racial disparities and the historical legacy of lynching in America; the social and personal impacts of executions; and contemporary problems with the death penalty’s current application (e.g., wrongful convictions, sentencing disparities).


How do Latin American writers approach the question of the supernatural?  What makes a work "magical realist"?  Why are Argentinean writers Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, and the Uruguayan writer Cristina Peri Rossi considered practitioners of the fantastic short story, whereas Alejo Carpentier (Cuba), Gabriel García Márquez (Colombia), and Isabel Allende (Chile) are called magical realist?  Is there a regional (Caribbean and MesoAmerican) aspect to magical realism?  Is there an urban aspect to the fantastic?  How are irony and humor used by the fantastic and magical realist writer?   This course will be attentive to how the use of Western and non-Western myth, popular folklore and Latin American popular Catholicism, European surrealism and genealogical family novels shape magical realism, as well as to how the narration  of a single, disturbing or fearful event tends to characterize the fantastic, but we will also discover to what extent "magical realism" is a very difficult category to pin down.


Using a variety of methods, including historical, literary, and psychological, this co-taught course will investigate the multiplicity of ways in which childhood has been and is conceived from the 18th century to the present. The course will explore questions such as “what is the role of innocence in defining childhood” and “what is the role of imagination, truth, and fantasy in childhood development”? Students will conduct research regarding how digital technology shapes the early literacy of children by writing their own digital children’s story and assessing how actual children in the Childhood Development Center respond to digital texts.


“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.  Along the way we will analyze particular sub-genres within documentary history, scrutinizing the truth-telling techniques of the directors.  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.


Experience the European Renaissance of the 14th through 17th centuries-- an age of classical revival, religious reform, and global exploration.  A book of almost 100 concise biographies—Renaissance People: Lives that Shaped the Modern World—introduces students to the daily lives of a diversity of men and women and the controversies their lives provoked. 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.  Together students will share the evidence upon which scholars re-interpret the past to meet concerns of our present world.


In the summer of 2013, the Autry will open a new set of galleries that joins works of art from the collections of the Autry and Southwest Museums. The newly renovated galleries will offer a dramatically different account of the “Art of the West” than has been offered since the museum opened in 1988. The new gallery structure will integrate works by Native American, Euro-American, Hispanic and other artists within spaces previously given over to paintings, sculptures, and objects of material cultured by European American artists. Students in this seminar will be asked to focus on and learn about both the history of the Museum’s engagement with, and promotion of, an “Art of the West.” At the same time they will consider the transformation of the historical and curatorial goals of the museum by focusing on the re-invention and re-narration of the Museum’s art collection underway in 2013. Our seminar group will also have the opportunity to collaborate with an Autry Museum Curator throughout the semester.


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 Wars, 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.


Many students know the typical novel focuses on a single character’s life journey—what literary scholars call the “bildungsroman.” In this class we will examine an understudied subgenre—the künstlerroman or “life of the artist.” We will consider key features of this narrative form and how it alters across literary, film, visual art and musical genres. By framing fugitive slave narratives as “escape artists”; by exploring visual artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kara Walker; by watching Black Swan starring Natalie Portman and Spike Lee’sBamboozled; and by listening to hip-hop like Kanye West’s solo albums, we will understand the complexity of taking up the artist’s journey in the modern world and how this path becomes a metaphor for past and present social struggles.


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.


We will explore the alternative family structures depicted in contemporary British and U S novels.  Among the novels we will read are: Angela Carter, The Magic Toyshop; Don DeLillo, Mao II; Louise Erdrich, Tracks; ,Nick Hornby, How To Be Good; Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John; Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior, and Anne Tyler; Saint Maybe; and Alice Walker, The Color Purple.


This course will explore the various literary, artistic, cinematic, and philosophical manifestations of utopian thinking in history, especially in Europe and the United States. We will start with two famous texts which were to become literary models for presenting an ideal (or, at least, improved) society: Plato’s Republic and Thomas More’s Utopia. Along with these classics, a wide spectrum of modern utopias will be examined, including feminist utopias (like Perkins’ Herland) and ecological utopias (like Callenbachs Ecotopia). We will also look at examples of Science Fiction and literary and cinematic dystopias.


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.


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.


This class will examine various literary and filmic strategies of representing reality. Both persistently elusive, and decidedly material, the notion of the real has provided one of the most compelling challenges to artists and theorists alike. Over the course of our discussions we will consider what is meant by the notion of the real as it is deployed in diverse historical and theoretical contexts. Where appropriate, we will situate our understanding of theories and representations of reality within the specific political formations to which they correspond. We will juxtapose realist texts with those that deliberately distort traditional understandings of reality. We will read literature from a range of genres including social realism, magical realism, and surrealism. Additionally, we will analyze visual texts from the global new wave, Bollywood, and contemporary reality television. Occasionally, we will supplement our fictional texts with theoretical materials which consider the ways in which realities are socially produced.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Why do we write, if not to communicate with a reader? Readers can be anyone: yourself, someone you know, someone you hope to meet, or a whole group of people whose expectations you must imagine, and whose responses you may never see. In this course, we’ll explore expectations of writers and readers in academic contexts (standardized tests, classwork, disciplinary scholarship), personal writing (personal statements, cover letters, statements of purpose), professional writing (memos, proposals, reports), journalism (stories, reviews, commentary), and creative writing (blogs, fiction, non-fiction, genre fiction, poetry). We’ll experiment with a variety of essay styles and writing development tools to translate writer-centered work into reader-centered work, with an emphasis on reader feedback, revision, and reflection. Whether you were an excellent writer in high school, a writer who hated the formulas of high school essays who wants to reclaim your connection to your writing, or a writer whose exposure to conventions of academic writing was limited in high school, this workshop-focused course can help you find your voice as a writer; improve your understanding of professors’ and other readers’ expectations for writing; boost your confidence in your own abilities as a reader, writer, and scholar; and help you design your own path to mastery of effective writing. This course is for all students who want to master a broad range of writing styles and situations, and it is of particular benefit to students who prepared for college outside the US.


This course addresses the fluid boundary between law and performance. We will think through how performances of law influence legal practice and vice versa. We will also interrogate how theater provides an alternative site for the performance of justice – one that may satisfy needs that go unmet in state and federal courts. To do this we will not only attend an actual trial at a Los Angeles courthouse, but we will also study past trials and their dramatizations, such as the Scopes trial and Inherit the Wind, the McCarthy hearings and The Crucible, the trials of Oscar Wilde and Gross Indecency, and the 2010 federal legal battle against California's Proposition 8 and Dustin Lance Black’s play 8 -- to name a few. We will put these plays and trial transcripts into conversation with contemporary theater, performance and legal criticism, while also thinking about how our own needs and impressions of justice have been, or can be, staged in and through performance.


This broad-ranging course will explore the science impacting the use of energy in our society as well as the sustainability of this practice on the planet. Case studies from both the developing and developed world will be the focus. This discussion-focused, writing-intensive course employs a scientific framework in considering four themes (1) fossil fuel energy sources and their use, (2) renewable sources, (3) consequences of energy consumption in our global society and (4) implications for sustainable development on the planet. In addition to a final paper, each student will also develop a 15-minute oral presentation on a scientific question related to one of the four key themes noted above. Students enrolling in this course should have completed at least one course at the high school level in biology, chemistry, and physics. 


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.


Students will be introduced to the study of higher education as it relates to the P-20 pipeline, college access, and the first year experience. Beginning with the larger historical purposes of U.S. higher education and the changing demographics of those who have access to college, this course will provide a space for exploring the disparate nature of our educational system as well as the intersection of sociological theories of race, class, and gender within college access and the broader college experience. Students will then be able to conduct an original empirical study using Occidental student survey data to better understand their own first year experience.


Is there such a thing as a “woman’s condition,” and can such a condition be explained by examining the economic dimensions of women’s history? Is the violence that people are disproportionately exposed to based on gender, race, sex, and sexuality only a tool in the production and reproduction of economic classes, or do these identities and experiences require an analytic framework that transcends economic relations? To tackle these questions, this course will consider the texts by Marx and Engels in relation to American, British, and Italian traditions of thought and activism that include feminists working in national and transnational Women of Color traditions. Student research papers will engage contemporary or historical issues expanding on these theoretical readings.

Other Cultral Studies Program Courses

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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 in consultation with the Center for Community Based Learning and faculty teaching courses focusing on Los Angeles. 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 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 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


Regular Faculty

John Swift, chair

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

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