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Cultural Studies Program Fall Writing Seminars

Fall 2014 Course

CSP 1 is designated a CSP “Lab” course, team-taught experimental seminar designed to engage their students critically and actively in synthesizing knowledge and ideas about an important topic.  In this class 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 participate in field experiences beyond the classroom; you’ll learn to think and work collaboratively, as a member of a diverse intellectual community. 

16 units:  counts as four academic courses (CSP1, Biology 110, Economics 101, and Geology 105).  Satisfies fall CSP requirement and Core Lab and Non-lab Science requirements. (NOTE: This course will fill 16 of your allowed 18 available units for fall).  

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. No prior camping experience is expected, and we'll provide camping gear.  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, click here.

CSP 4-unit Seminars

CSP 2-31 are independent 4-unit Seminars.  In these classes you’ll join a small group of first-year students and a faculty member investigating a topic in his or her area of interest and scholarly expertise. Despite their broadly disparate subject matters, all seminars emphasize developing sophisticated reading, writing, and discussion skills; they also seek to encourage critical thinking, the informed questioning and analysis of why we think and believe as we do. 

From the foul-mouthed hilarity of its comedies, to the inspiring athletic achievements of its Olympics; from the heart-wrenching sadness of its tragedies, to the shocking profundity of its historic and philosophic thinking, every one of the cultural and political institutions invented in the Ancient Greek city-state find their common ground in that strange and complex experience called “freedom.”  Of course, to a large extent these are the same institutions which we live within to this very day.

In this course, we will examine the concept of freedom in the Greek polis and beyond, through a careful study of the cultural contexts in which the term emerges: literature, religion and athletics; history, architecture, music and philosophy.  To assist us in coming to terms with the Ancient Greek experience of freedom, we will make constant reference to the notion as it appears in other cultures across the world, and will draw extensively upon the insights of a number of modern (and “postmodern”) philosophic and artistic movements (the existential, deconstructive, and phenomenological, to name but a few).Whenever possible, we will link our study of the ancient world with the modern in order to encompass a broader range of human experiences.  

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. 

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.   

From Beyoncé to David Beckham, from Girls to Mad Men, contemporary popular culture helps shape our understanding of what it is to be a woman or a man in the twenty-first century. 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 literature, television, film, blogs, advertising, and music, 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.

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

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.

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. 

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.

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 literature of California is as diverse as the body of individuals who populate this expansive state today. This course will take that diversity as its guide, exploring fictional representations of Californian spaces and cultures by female and male writers from the African American, Asian American, Chicana/o, and Italian American literary traditions. We will pay special attention to how these novelists – from John Fante and Chester Himes to Helena María Viramontes and Amy Tan – address issues of diaspora, immigration, migration, and social alienation. How does Californian literature depict the lives and identities of contemporary Chinese or Mexican immigrants with enduring cultural and personal ties to home? How does membership in a diasporic community influence the experience of Depression-era Los Angeles for African American and Italian American characters? What can we learn from novels that confront the physical suffering and social injustice facing California’s migrant workers?

Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, South Africa 1993, Zimbabwe in 1979– these are some of the African revolutions you will explore in this class. Delve into the revolutionary thought of Marx, Lenin, Gandhi, Fanon, Biko and others. Engage in an intellectual journey into the social and political movements that changed Africa. From anti-colonial to anti-authoritarian/military/Apartheid revolutions, African opposition leaders throughout the continent have employed complex revolutionary strategies to bring about political change. The recent revolutions in North Africa represent a continuation of a robust, volatile and contested tradition, highlighting the struggles of Africans in an increasingly globalized world, where corporate interests and international actors play a strong and intrusive role. The implications of global and digital media add new dimensions to notions of revolutionary mobilization and change. This class attempts to introduce you to the main concepts of revolutionary thought and revolutionary action.

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. 

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

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, 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.

Berlin has been a focal point of German, European, and indeed world politics for more than a century. The course will focus 1) on the post WWII years, when Berlin became a divided city, a fault line in the Cold War, and the wall was a symbol of the irreconcilable differences between East and West, known throughout the world, 2) its unpredicted fall thanks to a powerful grass roots civil rights movement whose motives and expectations will be analyzed, and 3) the aftermath of the re-unification with its consequences, problems, and achievements throughout Germany. The goal is to compare rhetoric and reality of the Cold War, the achievements and shortcomings of the GDR civil rights movement, the expectations of East and West (after unification), the politics of memory, the role of various urban communities, and the changing character of the city. A major component of the course will be the collaboration with the Wendemuseum in Culver City which houses tens of thousands of documents and other items around the wall, its fall, the Wende or “turning point,“ and everything relating to the GDR world. We will also work closely together with the Villa Aurora – a German cultural institution in Pacific Palisades - which invites young writers, film makers, and artists many of whom come from Berlin. 

This interdisciplinary seminar will examine 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. 

As evidenced by the awarding of the 2014 best picture Oscar to Twelve Years a Slave, 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 Sankofa, Beloved, Amistad, and Burn!, analyzing them in the 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 experience of slavery and we will analyze underlying issues of race, gender, violence, and struggles for freedom. The course begins with film and readings centered in US southern slave society and culminates with the depiction of modern day slavery in the Mende Nazer book Slave and film I Am Slave. In addition to regular class sessions taught by Occidental History Professor Sharla Fett, this course will also feature a series of guest visits by UCLA faculty member Dr. Brenda Stevenson.

Description: 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, Spain, Latin America, China, Japan, the Philippines, India, 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.

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).

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.

Adapted from the title of Derrick Bell's influential work Confronting Authority: Reflections of an Ardent Protester this course will explore narrative storytelling in its many forms.  While this course will draw on examples of narrative storytelling against subordination or social (in)justices in broader contexts, it will also interact significantly with examples of storytelling in daily life reflecting a desire to a have a meaningful, rather than tokenized, voice.  In this course, we will use interdisciplinary readings, films, music, experiential learning, and case studies.  Students will work closely with faculty and peers to plan and facilitate class sessions.  Students will also be required to attend events outside of the course meeting time.

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.

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

This class will examine forms of bondage and freedom in U.S. culture and society, as we take a comparative look at the meanings of emancipation and the politics of liberation. Through our work with a range of materials, especially literature and film, we will consider the rhetorical uses of the ideas of freedom: how have memories of emancipation and enslavement been sustained, suppressed, and constructed? What are the features of race, class, and gender oppression (and what features do they share), and what is the place of violence and anarchism in political action against oppressive forces? How are earlier debates about liberation still relevant and resonant today? We will look at how these debates are represented culturally at key historical moments, from the Civil War through the McCarthy era, women’s suffrage to women’s liberation, in texts as seemingly different, for example, as Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and Tarantino’s Django Unchained or in futuristic-dystopian depictions of human bondage in the Planet of the Apes (1968) or The Handmaid’s Tale.

In this course, we seek to compare indigenous and Western imaginings of modernity and globalization within the context of island nations. Modern and contemporary art objects, film, and music will anchor the ways in which island societies may be distinctly conceptualized within discourses of identity, tourism, and diaspora. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Haiti, Hawaii, Samoa, and New Zealand will form the field of exploration as we discuss (1) how cultural, ethnic and national identities are formed, (2) the relationship between visual culture and the construction of historical and cultural narratives, and (3) the ways in which tradition, culture, and identity shape (and are shaped by) visual practices.

In our current moment, the world seems to be getting smaller: travelers can go most places with relative ease, borders are open for trade, and the Internet allows us to connect with people wherever they may be.  At the same time, the world has also become more fraught and complicated: displacement of large groups of people due to war and conflict, economic disparities between the so-called First and Third Worlds, and anti-immigrant confrontations and laws leading at times to violence.  What is it like to grow up in such a world?  What is it like to discover one’s self in a world that seems to present infinite possibilities, yet somehow remain in disarray?   In what way can the things that happen in far-off places “over there,” affect one’s life “over here”?  These are just some of the questions this course will be grappling with through film and literature that take us on journeys to places like Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Iran, Spain, and Hawaii.  Together we will examine how these texts depict the challenges of coming of age in the context of globalization and how people’s lives are changed by this globalized world.

Thankfully, it is no longer the case that ecologically-minded art is dismissed as “tree hugging.” What this means, however, is that the history of art is in need of re-writing—and that is what we will do together in this course. By examining artists such as Robert Smithson, structures such as habitats, images such as those of disaster, genres such as landscape, and discourses such as speciesism, we will consider how artists, art historians, and environmentalists have imagined nature and humans’ relationship to nature.  We will debate whether (and how) it is incumbent upon the contemporary art world to direct its attention to ecoaesthetics and concentrate its energies on sustainability and remediation. What would real change look like and what is visual art’s capacity to “picture” that?

Can cities and metropolitan areas grow in ways that are healthy, socially just, and environmentally sustainable?  This course explores these relationships and posits that good urban governance coupled with empowered communities can help lead the way.  Particular focus is placed on investigating the nexus between the built environment and health.  Films and a field trip will complement readings, lectures, and discussions.

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."