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Undergraduate Liberal Arts Courses

LA101, Liberal Arts Core 1.

Liberal Arts Core 1 and 2 focus on the analytical study of American Culture, exploring the intersection of literature, history, art, religion, politics, economics and other factors in the development of various strands in the American national identity. In the first semester, students examine central cultural ideas through the study of key American texts from the 17th through the early 20th centuries. They study histories, jeremiads, poems, autobiographies, visual art, essays, short stories and novels representing the diversity of creators from John Winthrop to Phillis Wheatley to Henry James to E.L Doctrow. In addition, students develop foundational skills in critical analysis, writing and formal presentation. Liberal Arts Core 1 and 2 focus on critical, cultural and academic materials and proficiencies; they also provide students opportunities to link these capabilities with their development as artists and performers. Students are encouraged to enter the public arena of ideological debate, to recognize the value of the status quo, as well as measure the benefits of dissenting voices. 

3 hours weekly; 3 credits

LA102, Liberal Arts Core 2.

In Liberal Arts Core 2, students build on Core 1 competencies and focus thematically on overlapping and intertwined issues of class, money, education, gender, race and codes of social stratification. They study how these factors affect the development of contemporary American individuality and community, often with particular emphasis on the interaction of the artistic imagination within this process. Core 2 proceeds into an era defined in many ways by conflict and violence, and it explores how a number of surprisingly creative results come out of a crucible of contending forces and ideas. Students explore elements of modernism, metafiction, oral history and the contemporary stage in the works of artists such as T.S. Eliot, Tim O’Brien, Tony Kushner and Anna Deveare Smith. They observe and analyze ideas in the authors’ works and translate them into critical writing, performance and oral history interviews and presentations. Students further develop analytical skills by learning to interweave complex cultural commentary and scholarly opinion with their own developed critical voices. They also learn documentation standards and correct usage of bibliographic materials. 

The first year classes encourage the development of clear and appropriately sophisticated writing skills, foster the practice of critical and analytical thinking, and build knowledge of the broad sweep of American artistic expression. Students are taught to understand and recognize the multiple and multicultural components of the rich and unique American voice and idiom. This introduction to college liberal arts study familiarizes students with the practice and application of methods of public discourse that are key components to informed citizenship.

3 hours weekly; 3 credits.

LA201, Liberal Arts Core 3: “Aggression and Altruism in Ancient Greek Culture.”

This course explores ancient Greek culture from Homer to Plato using texts, film and the collections of art and artifacts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It develops a method of comparison and contrast between ancient and contemporary cultures and analyzes a set of themes directly relevant to contemporary culture and the role of the artist in society. The class emphasizes the ways in which myths, stories and symbols encode cultural values, and it draws from multiple explanatory models to investigate central themes. 

One central opposition acts as the focus and frame for the semester: the nature and origin of human aggression, contrasted with the origin of peace-making, cooperation and altruistic behavior. Several other major themes of the course include: the function of media, myth and the concept of the hero in ancient Greek and contemporary US and world cultures.

The class operates by exploration and argument. Crucial issues and texts are presented in dialectical form with opposing sides. Students get credit for preparing and leading class debates and write three short essays, one of which is a ‘Museum Essay’ involving the discussions of an object of the student’s choice from the Museum of Fine Arts collections. Students also develop projects drawing upon their skills as performers. Regular reading and dialectical quizzes are given on course texts. 

The course begins in the contemporary world with recent discussions from evolutionary biology, sociobiology and primitology in writings of Richard Wrangham, Frans B.M. de Waal, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and others, and then moves on to consider these themes in ancient Greek literature and philosophy.

Texts include: Richard Wrangham, Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Aggression; The Iliad of Homer; Aeschylus, The Oresteia; The Poems of Sappho; Euripides, Bacchae; Plato, The Symposium; Aristophanes, (either) The Clouds, Lysistrata, or The Frogs. The class also includes a course pack of  supplemental readings and critical articles. 

3 hours weekly; 3 credits

LA202, Liberal Arts Core 4: “Utopia and Terror: A Cultural History of the West.”

This course investigates the “utopian impulse” in Western Cultural History through a set of interdisciplinary approaches. It follows the evolution of this complex idea through changing definitions of freedom, equality, community and abundance in western culture, while simultaneously tracing the influence of this theme on the contemporary arts and media. It begins where Liberal Arts Core 3 leaves off and explores philosophical theories and definitions of happiness, fulfillment and the good life both as they evolved in Hellenistic Philosophy and as they are debated in contemporary culture. As in Core 3, the course begins with contemporary concerns through readings, discussions and small group exercises and then moves through a study of these issues in literature, philosophy, political science and art history from Hellenistic period through the Enlightenment and French Revolution. 

Core 4 contemplates the Judeo-Christian inheritance with a focus on the model of Eden in Genesis, the history and meaning of Apocalyptic literature and utopian dimensions within sectarian Judaism and early Christianity. The course moves on to present wide ranging manifestations of the utopian impulse from medieval monasticism to the literature and models of ideal cities in the early modern period, with a special attention to Thomas More's Utopia; from the manifestation of life force and creativity in the forms of Carnival in renaissance writers like Shakespeare and Rabelais and Enlightenment writers like Voltaire, to contemporary manifestations of the carnivalesque such as Woodstock or the Burning Man. The course traces out the multifaceted, multi-disciplinary nature of the topic in units that focus on three main directions: inner utopia, or the study of the philosophical, meditative or contemplative achievement of inner balance, peace or fulfillment; outer utopia, or the study of political theories, ideal commonwealths or imaginative worlds that inspire change, on one hand, and real world revolutions, constitutions and intentional communities, on the other; and, finally, forms of carnival, or temporary communities of creative and artistic play that shape human imagination. Much emphasis is given to the ways utopian experiments have fostered the arts, as in the case of the Shakers, Ascona, The Black Mountain School, Samuel Mockbee and The Rural Studio and many other ancient and modern examples.

The course also examines the theme of theodicy (the basic question within monotheistic culture of how evil can exist in a world created by a perfect creator) and the shadow theme of dystopia?images of evil, apocalyptic destruction and coercive impulses, and it examines visions of hell from Dante, to Hieronymus Bosch and Goya and from the Inquisition to the Reign of Terror of The French Revolution.     

Ultimately, the course uses this complex concept of utopia and its double, dystopia, as a way to map historical change in western culture. But, besides the study of specific historical/cultural examples, it draws tools for analysis and critique from various theories of utopia from Johan Huizinga, Hanna Arendt, Mikhail Bahktin, Isaiah Berlin, Russell Jacoby, Fredric Jameson and others. The course explores major critics of “utopia” from St. Augustine at one extreme to Voltaire at the other and ends with the debate between the fictionalized historical figures of the Marquis de Sade and the French revolutionary Marat in Peter Weiss’ play Marat/Sade. Besides developing their reading, writing and debating skills, students will be encouraged to draw upon their performance lives to create projects that explore utopian dimensions of the performing arts.

Texts include: Nicholas White, A Brief History of Happiness;  Elaine Pagels,  Adam, Eve, and the Serpent;  St. Augustine, The Confessions; Dante, The Inferno; Thomas More, Utopia; Voltaire, Candide; Peter Weiss, Marat/Sade. The course also includes a course pack of readings and critical articles.

3 hours weekly; 3 credits

LA301, Liberal Arts Core 5: Modernism/Postmodernism. 

“Modernism” refers to a period of cultural transition and change in the late 19th and early 20th century in which remarkable breaks were made from the past in areas of technology, science, urban migration, capitalist expansion, and artistic expression. These developments corresponded with a collective sense that a shift had occurred in the way that we know ourselves and our world, and an accompanying challenge of how to understand and express these changes. The period of modernism marked a broad range of thought and a wide variety of experimental movements in every field of cultural expression. In this course, we will examine a modernist sensibility in several different areas: literature, film, art, architecture and psychology. At the end of this survey, we will briefly consider how “postmodernism,” engages modernist issues of representation, reality and knowledge, while questioning the limits and stability of all truths.

The overall goal of this course is to examine the complex cultural changes that mark a move away from some of the certainties and traditions of the Victorian period, giving rise to new modes of perception, thought and representation that continue to this day. We will approach this goal by working to do the following:

  • To consider the ways that historical events such as WWI caused a distanced and disillusioned reaction to traditional leadership and authority;
  • To comprehend the way that scientific discoveries such as Einstein’s theory of relativity and Freud’s psychoanalysis contributed to a destabilized view of identity, reality, and perception;
  • To distinguish between features of realistic representation and non-figurative representation in literary and artistic texts and to understand the aesthetic and ideological goals of each kind of representation.

Required Texts: Henry James, The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction, Bantam Classic; Ridley Scott, Bladerunner (DVD); Anthony Storr, Freud: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford Univ. Press; Gertrude Stein (Handout);Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, Harcourt, Inc.; Tom Wolfe, From Bauhaus to Our House, Farrar Straus Giroux

3 hours weekly; 3 credits

LA333, Science: The Arts and the New Neuroscience. 

This course will focus on developing an understanding of neuropsychology and neuroscience as it relates to the arts, specifically music and dance. The class will include presentations on human function (i.e. language, memory, movement) aligned with clinical case studies (i.e. aphasia, dementia, apraxia). Functions of the brain engaged in the arts will be explored as it impacts health and wellness. The anthropological origins of the arts will be considered for its impact on the evolution of humankind across cultures and time. The class will be presented as a bridge between science and art. We will consider what is currently known and ponder in what directions scientific investigations would benefit the arts.

3 hours weekly; 3 credits

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