An exploration of a literary theme with an emphasis on class discussion and participation, independent projects, historical and cultural awareness and writing. Recent courses have included Poetry of Song, Reading Las Vegas, War and Sex in Arthurian Legend, and Milestones: Four African-American Artists. Enrollment limited to first-year students. May be counted toward a major or minor.
Fall Semester informationSamuel Autman
197A: FYS: Embrace of Place: How Locations Shape Our Lives
Location is the silent character in literature. In this course we will use Katherine Boo's BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS: LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE IN A MUMBIA UNDERCITY as our main text, along with many other place-based essays. Students will examine and reflect on how their hometowns, nation of origin, travels and decision to attend college in rural Indiana will invariably shape their lives.
197B: FYS: Imagining Extinction
Recent books like Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens, Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, and Nick Bostrom's Superintelligence have generated curiosity and anxiety about the human future. The 2015 film Ex Machina also ponders the demise of our species. In the film, the creator of a superhuman, artificially intelligent being reflects: "One day the AIs are going to look back on us the same way we look at fossil skeletons on the plains of Africa. An upright ape living in dust with crude language and tools, all set for extinction." Our seminar will probe this and other fatal futures, exploring the prospect of extinction through the lenses of literature, science, and philosophy. How have human beings attempted to understand the possibility or inevitability of their own vanishing? Can we define ourselves by our capability to imagine our own ending, or to manufacture it? Can we conceive a purpose for human action if we are destined for dust? To answer these questions, we will first survey the role of extinction in evolutionary history, potential evolutionary paths for the human species, and the impact of anthropogenic climate change on the human future. Next, we will explore potential cosmic, biological, and technological extinction scenarios as imagined by science and science fiction: asteroid impact, global pandemic, and the creation of a "singularity" of artificial intelligence. We will conclude the seminar with contemporary philosophical responses to prospect of extinction. Our reading will range widely over a spectrum of disciplines, as we approach a problem that not only transcends fields of knowledge but also draws us toward the absolute limits of knowledge, and of ourselves.
197C: FYS: Shakespeare's Comedies
Students will study several of Shakespeare's comedies by reading the original plays, attending live productions and viewing film adaptations. The class will be discussion based and students will also work in small groups to develop in class presentations and staged readings of scenes from the plays. We will look at the plays and films both as works of art and as commodities in historical marketplaces.
197D: FYS: Gothic Horrors: Penny Dreadful
Before comics, before pulp fiction, there was penny dreadful: lurid 19th century serial publications full of adventure and gore. Season 1 of Showtime's series Penny Dreadful will pull us into the intertextual study of literature and culture, visual and printed texts. This FYS explores the literary past and present of the show's characters--Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Dr. van Helsing, an enigmatic heroine names Vanessa Ives, Caliban (here as Dr. Frankenstein's rather than Shakespeare's creation), a famous explorer who has traveled widely in Africa (who resembles Charles Marlow of Heart of Darkness), and an American gunslinger-werewolf--by following some of them to the novels from which they are taken. The study of the show's many sources as a collage opens up an exciting array of research-worthy subjects and themes, like gothic horror, seances, romantic poetry, queer culture, and the origins of genre fiction, to name a few.
197E: FYS: Silk Road: Old Tales for Modern Times
In this course we will explore the rich literary and cultural heritage of the Silk Road, the name given to trade routes of silk and other goods that stretched from China to the Mediterranean. Our focus will be contemporary; we will select elements of the Silk Road literary/artistic heritage that left a profound and enduring influence on the popular cultures of the West and English-speaking world, such as the tales of The Thousand and One Nights in their original English translations and in their various manifestations within modern and contemporary English literature and film. We will also explore aspects of the Silk Road's rich musical legacy.