2015-16 Senior Tutorials

Accessing Arabia

This course will be a study of the Arabic language, both learning some of the language and learning about the language. Students will learn basic language skills, learn about the history and structure of Arabic, and learn how others have approached the language. The course will start with an exploration of linguistics focusing mainly on the question of how humans form and learn languages. What aspects of language are present in all languages, and how are some languages, especially Arabic, distinct? How do we learn languages? Then, students will explore the history of the Arabic language and situate its current diglossic nature and many dialects within a historical and cultural context. How does the Arabic language reflect and how has it shaped Arab culture and history? With a context for understanding the language, students will then learn how to read and write the Arabic script and learn basic Arabic phrases. An emphasis will be placed on understanding what exactly they are learning, i.e. “Would someone on the street say this? Would a newscaster say this?” Lastly, students will read about people discovering Arabic and Arabia for the first time. How is their experience similar to those who have done it already? What should they be prepared for should they choose to study the language?

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Aesthetics of Sustainability

As a society, we have become increasingly aware of the fragile state of our existence, and the need to lessen our individual and collective footprint on the earth.
This course will explore the cultural and aesthetic dimension of sustainability. It will examine how artists have responded to the ecological, social, economic, and political challenges we are facing, and what role art plays in developing a sustainable future. We will consider the function of art and design in society, and if they truly have the power to reshape our attitudes toward the natural world and our relationship with the planet. This tutorial culminates with a collaborative art piece by the participants that is presented in a public space.

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Anna Karenina

This tutorial offers the opportunity to read Tolstoy's masterpiece and write a series of eight essays exploring either the two main characters or a variety of core scenes in the novel. The class will rely on the Oxford tutorial method with paper defense models and intensive independent reading. The novel offers a powerful vision of Tolstoy's theory and approach to the meaning of life.

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Buddhist Philosophy & Meditation

This tutorial entails a critical exploration of Buddhist thought in a global and comparative context, focusing on the influence of Buddha’s awakening and the philosophical articulation of these insights throughout the centuries. The course is designed to model the journey of Buddhist thinkers as they strive to elaborate and make sense of their queries on mind, self, ethics, religion, the dynamic of practice and enlightenment, and a range of other topics, through primary texts, and through various meditative practices.

The course begins with a reading from the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, which is said to be the Buddha’s first teaching after his enlightenment. We then proceed to the Kalama Sutta, which advocates the need for reason and discernment in life and in evaluating the benefit and truthfulness of teachings. From there, we delve into a meditative reading of one of the first philosophical texts, The Dhammapada. Grounded in the fundamentals of Buddhist thought, we will grapple with the questions and issues leading to the schism in Buddhism between the Theravada and Mahayana schools. This leads us to an in-depth critical exploration of the Karikas of Nagarjuna, the great dialectician who founded the Madhyamika tradition of Buddhist philosophy. The insights of Nagarjuna are ultimately the foundations for later schools of Buddhism, such as the Zen and Tibetan (Vajrayana) traditions. These traditions shall be studied in brief primarily through the lenses of Eihei Dōgen and Shantideva respectively. The course concludes with a look at Buddhism today, the ways it has been adapted in the 21st century, and its role in our global village.

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The Citizen Body

While classical Athens invented the concept of a direct democracy, participation was not available to everyone and not every citizen had equal influence. In determining who led Athens when all were theoretically equal, this tutorial will focus on the physical human body of the Athenian citizen. At the beginning of the tutorial, we will use Thucydides and modern interpreters of him to create an idealized image of the Athenian citizen. Then, relying primarily on the comedies of Aristophanes, we will examine public depictions of ideal citizens, disgraced citizens, and those, such as women, who could never be citizens. The appearance, sexual habits, and appetites of all these will be investigated to determine how Athenians wanted their citizens and their leaders to act.

The basic format of the tutorial will be to apply secondary scholarship on gender, sexuality, and even food to the ancient Greek authors. Each week we will read parts of a Greek comedy and use secondary scholarship to work towards a better understanding of the role of the body in Athenian politics.

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From Dada to Degeneracy: Explorations of Early 20th Century European Art and the Cultural Response to War & Revolution

We will investigate the history, literature, art and film of the interwar period to gain a sense of the different voices that responded to the cataclysm of WWI: its anticipation, the tragic drama of battle, and the denouement of the forces these actions unleashed. Why did the Dadaists embrace the comedy of the absurd at this time, or the Futurists proclaim the destruction of civic traditions as cultural "hygiene"? How did artists of the time react to this collapse of the social order? How did European culture engage and respond to these artistic challenges? We will make extensive use of primary sources—historical, literary, art, film, and theater—to explore this complex and fascinating time period.

The Danger of a Single Story

Because we often have only “a single story” about other people, other countries and other cultures, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so brilliantly argues in her TED talk, we misunderstand and flatten others in dangerous and problematic ways. In this course, we will study two novels that challenge the reader to understand the complexities of another culture through the poignant portraits of two compelling characters: Ifemelu, a Nigerian scholar, torn between her homeland and her identity as a black woman in America and Sayuri, a young Japanese girl who discovers her true self in her life as a geisha. We will explore how these stories simultaneously engage us in the psychologies of their heroines as well as enact the complexities and limits of identity and self-knowledge through the narratives themselves.
Texts:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Epidemics: Past and Present

This course will focus on the science of epidemics, the mathematics that help predict their spread, and the works of fiction that have been created in response to the some of the major epidemics of human civilization. Beginning with a broad overview of all of the major epidemics, we will discuss the features of epidemics and their spread. Our first specific focus will be on the bubonic plague. We will look at the disease itself, learning what causes it and its symptoms. Then we will look at how the bubonic plague spread throughout Europe during the middle ages and discuss the implications of that spread. We will read Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks to consider what it was to live in the time of the plague. We will also study modern epidemics, including a discussion of both the real and the potential threats. Ebola, its cause, its spread and the world reaction to the current epidemic will be a major focus. Included in this analysis will be the development of mathematical models that help predict the spread of contagious diseases. We will watch Contagion, a feature film made in conjunction with Center for Disease Control that simulates the response to a major epidemic in today’s world.

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The Fringe: An Exploration of Weird Beliefs and Where They Come From

Creationists, believers in alien abduction, holocaust deniers-- they all think of themselves as heroes crusading for the truth. Recently, the Rapper Bobby Ray Simmons (more widely known as B.o.B) has taken to Twitter insisting the world is flat. In this tutorial we will look at the roots of beliefs like these, and at our own habits of skepticism and credulity. How can these habits help us find meaning in life? To what extent are weird beliefs inevitable, or perhaps even, desirable? To what extent do any of us adopt beliefs only after fair consideration of all available evidence? The main texts will be The Unpersuadables: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by Will Storr, Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, and Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief by Lewis Wolpert.

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Global Media and Culture

This tutorial will investigate global media and its impact on various cultures throughout society, focusing primarily on the development and dispersal of new forms of media, such as Internet, social media, and 24-hour news. After first building a foundational understanding of "globalization," media technology, and cultural shifts, we will critically examine the following questions: Who owns the majority of the media? How do they use framing and agenda setting to push forward their opinions and political views? Which cultures have limited access to media due to the uneven distribution of technological innovation, or, quite simply, a lack of freedom of press? Additionally, we will study how film, music, and sports have impacted and transformed cultures around the world through the increasing accessibility of media. Assignments will be analysis of a number of readings, short writing excerpts, and films (Outfoxed, Babel, and Slumdog Millionaire).

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Constituent

Interpreting Contemporary Short Fiction: Nine American Masterpieces Since 1980

Short fiction is perhaps literature’s most complex, intriguing and impactful genre. By compressing the elements of novels into thirty pages or less, stories offer uniquely raw and intimate glimpses into their characters' emotions, thoughts and conflicts. Over the course of the tutorial, we’ll read, discuss and carefully dissect nine of the most significant stories published by American authors since 1980. In addition to writing weekly analytical essays for group presentation and critique, students will also take turns serving as Story Experts, a role that will place them at the helm of a particular work’s class discussion. Overall, the tutorial aspires to expose students to a broad spectrum of contemporary writing while further honing their abilities to zero in on a story’s most meaningful moments and ask the critical questions—in writing and in discussion—necessary to understand them best.

Tentative readings: Richard Ford’s “Rock Springs”; Robert Stone’s “Helping”; Dale Ray Phillips’s “What it Cost Travelers”; George Saunders’s “Civilwarland in Bad Decline”; Bobbie Ann Mason’s “Shiloh”; Junot Diaz’s “Fiesta, 1980”; Dennis Johnson’s “Two Men”; Lorrie Moore’s “Dance in America”; Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The Scheme of Things”; Percival Everett’s “The Appropriation of Cultures.”

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Introduction to Film Analysis

This tutorial will expose the students to the discipline of film study and analysis. Students will critically view several films per week (two to three, depending on length), responding to critical questions. Rather than just a "film appreciation" course, true film analysis involves an understanding of the historical and artistic context of a film as well as an engagement with the film personally. Students will view films from several time periods and from significant directors in order to see patterns and themes.

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Look Up: A Study of the Spring Sky

Have you ever looked up into the night sky and ever wondered what you are seeing? Ever wondered what else is out there? Ever wondered if that bright spot you see is a star, a planet, a galaxy, or maybe just an airplane? This course will combine a study of the Universe with observation of the Spring Sky. You will learn about stellar and planetary astronomy, with specific attention focusing on the constellations and planets found in the sky this spring. This year will feature transits of Saturn in April and Jupiter in May, as well as the setting Mercury during most of the spring. Other possible celestial objects for observation, depending on sky conditions, include the full moon, a total lunar eclipse, the Lyrids meteor shower, the Beehive Cluster, and the Whirlpool Galaxy.
The primary text for this tutorial will be Cosmos by Carl Sagan. This text will take you on a journey into the beauty and mystery of astronomy, science, art, and religion through 15 billion years of cosmic history. We will also watch excerpts from both the original Cosmos documentary from 1980, as well as the 2014 remake starring Neil deGrasse Tyson. These resources, combined with other primary source documents, will help us ask and attempt to answer questions about the Universe as well as our place in it.

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Personal Narrative and Memoir

This course examines how writers use imagination, humor, and artistry to tell their stories, with an eye to inspiring students to write about their own lives. Readings include David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day; Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life; Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Stephen King's On Writing, and Alison Bechdel's graphic novel-memoir, Fun Home. Writing assignments will consist of autobiographical narratives; students will post drafts to a class blog, develop their pieces through peer workshops and revision, and produce a portfolio of original work.

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Racial Passing and the Construction of Blackness & Whiteness

“How difficult it seems sometimes to know where the black begins and where the white ends.” Booker T. Washington
What is “blackness?” What is “whiteness?” Is it possible for someone to “become” white? Is it possible for someone to “become” black? Is it possible for someone to identify as “white” but really be “black?” Is it possible for someone to identify as “black” but really be “white?”
In this course, we will study a variety of texts from the past century that help us to understand the ways Americans have constructed concepts of race, blackness and whiteness. The texts for the course will include novels, novellas, poems, essays, TV shows, movies, songs, music videos... The diversity of texts should allow us to consider a slice of the wealth of representations of passing and racial constructions, and they should begin to tell a story of how passing and racial constructions have and have not changed in the past century. We will engage these texts through close-reading, class discussion and creative and analytical writing.

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Sabermetrics, Big Data, and Data Science

The proliferation of raw data in the modern age has created unique opportunities for those who can understand, manipulate, and analyze such massive amounts of information. An excellent introduction to this burgeoning field is the game of baseball and the study of sabermetrics. Michael Lewis detailed the role of data analysis in his book Money Ball. Texts for this course will include Money Ball and Mayer-Schonberger’s Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Play. It will also employ an EdX course involving statistics and computer programming in SQL and R. Learning to construct valid computer programs is analogous to constructing a sound argument in an essay. Along with written reflections on the reading, students will also write computer programs analyzing data from Major League Baseball.

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Sports Writing

In his foreword to The Greatest American Sports Writing of the Century, series editor Glenn Stout makes sure to note that “this series elects to refer to ‘sports writing,’ where sports is an adjective, rather than the compound word ‘sportswriting.’” This class chooses to do the same. We will look at sports writing first from a historical context. We’ll read works from some of the pioneers of the genre, which will give us a lens into America in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, as professional and collegiate sports became an increasingly important part of American culture, and sports became a legitimate, rich subject for great writers. We will track the evolution of sports writing through The National Sports Daily experiment up to today by reading pieces from famed sports writers of all varieties. We will read these pieces as works of literature and storytelling, just as you would in an English class. Finally, we will survey the some of the best writing happening today and finish by writing an original, feature length piece of your own.
The course will be writing intensive, and thus there will be writing in the form of short response papers, longer critical essays, and at least one original piece due once a week.

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What Happens When We Die? An Interdisciplinary Study of Death & Dying

In an article about her terminal illness, Kris Carr wrote: “Life is a terminal condition. We’re all going to die. Cancer patients just have more information, but we all, in some ways, wait for permission to live.” This course embraces the notion of human mortality and invites the students to think deeply about the often intimidating topic of death and dying. Throughout the spring, students will consider end of life issues through medical, social, legal and ethical perspectives. The course will begin with a discussion of the case of Jahi McMath, a 13-year-old declared brain dead by physicians but kept on life support by her family for many years: this case complicates our very understanding of what defines life versus death. Following a brief overview of the biological processes that constitute the death and decay of the human body, we will turn our attention to how practices and challenges around death and dying have evolved over the past century. How, when, and where are people most likely to die? What obligations do physicians have as they care for the terminally ill? Should those with terminal illness be able to enlist physician assistance in ending their own lives? And what should happen to the “digital lives”--facebook, twitter, instagram--of those who have passed away? As we read the personal accounts of those who have faced imminent death through terminal illness, we will gain insight into how different thinkers have struggled to come to terms with their own mortality, and what insights they offer us in how to live with reverence for the sanctity of our own lives.

Texts will include:

On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Being Mortal, Atul Gwande
Gratitude, Oliver Sacks
How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, Sherwin B Nuland
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond, Jane Brody
Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
A Social History of Dying, Alan Kellehear
“Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?” by Atul Gawande, New Yorker
“Family, Ethics, Law and Medicine in Jahi McMath’s Life—or Death” Cathy Lynn Grossman, Washington Post
“How Doctors Die: Showing Others the Way” by Dan Gorenstein, NY Times

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