Blount students take fixed course offerings in their first and final years in the program. In between, they take elective seminars offered in a range of different disciplines. To view a course description, click on the course title.
Convocation – BUI 100
Taken in both the fall and spring semesters of the first year, during Convocation the entire first-year cohort gathers to listen to and question speakers who have come to speak specifically to Blount scholars.
Foundations – BUI 101-102
Culture and nature are not merely the spaces we inhabit, they are the principal objects of human reflection and interpretation, or should be. This year-long course uses a survey of influential texts in philosophy, science, religion, political theory, and literature produced in the West over three millennia to provide students with an introductory practicum in the interpretation of culture and nature. Within this framework, more specific concepts to be explored will include the nature of society, the nature of the individual, the nature of government and justice as regulatory mechanisms between the two, the nature of power in its various forms, the concept of nature itself, and America as a social experiment in which these concepts are continually interpreted and reinterpreted.
Elective Seminars – BUI 301
300-level seminars change from semester to semester and year to year. Whatever their particular focus, all proceed under the aegis of the inquiry at the heart of the program: investigating conceptions of culture, nature, and the individual. Below are just a few of the courses we’ve offered recently; clicking courses’ titles will reveal their descriptions:
Study Belize’s diverse rainforests, coral reefs, and visit Mayan ruins. Belize is unique in that it still contains relatively intact tropical forest as well as the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. However, while Belize has emerged as an international leader regarding conservation efforts, threats from climate change, poverty, and development still exist. The course is designed for students who are interested in marine sciences, conservation issues, biogeography, and outdoor adventures! We will examine the challenges of conservation in the tropics through experiential field learning.
The first part of the course will involve an introduction to Zen Buddhism, relying on Shunryu Suzuki’s classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. We’ll learn and practice zazen (sitting meditation). Through the lens of Zen practice, we will explore a range of experimental arts/artists, with particular emphasis on improvisational jazz, performance art, environmental art, dance, conceptual and found art. Artists we might consider include George Quasha, John Cage, Andy Goldsworthy, Linda Montano, Claes Oldenburg, Marcel Duchamp, Anthony Braxton, and Kazuaki Tanahashi. Students will both discuss the art we examine and make some related art works of their own.
This class will focus on all things anthropological that give us the creeps. Many of our nightmares come from actual cultural beliefs. Different cultures supply us with their own spooks and chills. Science helps us understand some of these nightmares. So if you don’t mind reading about and discussing the following then this class is for you: Voodoo, Zombies, Vampires, Ghosts, Shrunken Heads, Severed Heads (and arms, hands, legs and feet), Mummies, Witchcraft, Sorcery, Magicians, Diseases, Reanimation, Divination, Cults, Psychotic Individuals, Murder, Death, Warfare, Punishment, Solitary Confinement, Being Buried Alive, Night, Madness, Snake Handlers, Parasites, and of course Yeti.
This course provides a broad introduction to the “arts and science” of fly fishing. By arts, I mean we will explore the field of fly fishing literature. Sporting literature is a well established and widely read genre, and fly fishing specifically is one of the more popular subfields within outdoor writing. By science, I mean we will study watersheds, streams, insects, environmental issues that impact all these “things” through the act of fly fishing.
This course examines the development of the civil rights movement by concentrating on its epicenter of conflict, Alabama. From the Montgomery bus boycott, to the Children’s Crusade and bombing of the Sixteenth Street Church in Birmingham, to Bloody Tuesday and the march from Selma to Montgomery, we will probe how everyday Americans responded to long-standing tensions over integration, voting rights, and fair employment. Special attention will be played to the role of religion in both the protest and defense of the color line and the theories of social justice and non-violence propounded by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Much of the class will be devoted to seeing how the movement played out locally, in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, to see how common citizens experienced the movement. Students will meet with and interview local members of black churches about their lives during the struggle. They will receive training in oral history, meet with seasoned journalists and oral historians, and visit the university archive and the Birmingham Museum of Civil Rights.
Throughout the class, we will ask how the struggles of African Americans transformed the meaning of democracy and consider the legacy of these conflicts in modern-day America. Finally, we seek not only to understand the story of the movement but also to see how historians work to make sense of the past.
Death, destruction, torture, cannibalism, and sex – are these the inevitable consequences when two very different cultures suddenly meet for the first time? Do the consequences depend on the reasons for the initial journey? Does the study of cultural clashes fill us with hope that humans are becoming more enlightened or dread of our inevitable and violent end? These are some of the questions we will wrestle with in this course on journeys of exploration. Readings will consist of first-hand and narrative accounts of the journeys of Ferdinand Magellan, Hernando de Soto, James Cook, Alexander von Humboldt, Alfred Russell Wallace, David Livingston, Ernest Shackleton, and Thor Hyerdal. These explorers range from the 16th through the 20th century and affect the lives of people on all seven continents. They are adventurers, scientists, missionaries, and mercenaries. We will read Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart” for a indigenous perspective on events in Africa. Discussion will cover the economic, political, and cultural ramifications of these journeys and explore the emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and moral impacts on the explorers and native peoples they encounter. The class is reading and discussion based. Each student will be expected to contribute to the discussion, write a short research paper on an explorer not covered in class, give a ten-minute presentation about that explorer, and complete a final project in which they make an exploration of their own.
This course will survey and analyze Cuban History from 1492 to the present. Among the major topics will be the development of the close relationship between the Americas and Cuba; the reasons why Cuba, with its abundant resources—both natural and human—has failed to achieve sustained political and economic stability; why the Cuban Revolution led by Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and why it has endured to the present; why the U. S. government has been and continues to be preoccupied (one might even say obsessed) with Cuba.
Do you produce the food you eat? Probably not, as few in the United States are self-sufficient producers of food today. Until relatively recently, this was not the case. Being able to produce one’s own subsistence was a cherished American value. What changed? Why have rural communities throughout the world moved from producing their own food to consuming food generated in other locales? This course begins with this question. It then turns to explore the recent wave of resistance to this trend. Diverse groups—both urban and rural—are returning to agriculture, reclaiming the simple right to produce one’s own food. Throughout the semester, we will focus on the concept of food sovereignty, which can be defined as the right for people to define their own food systems. Topics to be covered include the transition from family farming to industrial agriculture, the relation between food sovereignty and food security, political economy of agriculture, agrarian values, agroecology, peasant movements, urban agriculture, and food justice.
Cryptozoology refers to the study of cryptids, mythical creatures such as Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Cryptids are beings that are derived from folklore and the fossil record. This course studies the mythology/writings and fossil record behind the stories of cryptids. It will investigate the first stories of popular mythical creatures and investigate the fascination with them. With the advent of television shows like ‘Bigfoot Hunters’, it is evident that there is still much human interest in these myths. The paleontological collections at the Alabama Museum of Natural History will be utilized to demonstrate how fossils have been misinterpreted in mythologies to create beings like the Cyclops, Polyphemus, of Greek literature. The course will also investigate modern wildlife management techniques and how they could be used to disprove claims of cryptids being sighted worldwide.
What is time? We use it, we measure it, we never seem to have enough of it. But what is it? Does it flow, does it run in a certain direction, does it even exist? We will attempt to tackle these questions and more by delving into the medium of film, a medium perhaps uniquely equipped to answer these questions. Film captures moments gone by, making them both acutely defined and nebulous at the same time. So join me, and help me see what Marty McFly and Andrei Tarkovsky (among others) can teach us about time. I promise it won’t be a waste of your time, if only because we don’t know whether time is a thing you can waste, or if it exists (tardies still count, though).
Students will study recent advances in critical race and feminist social justice theories. Several case studies will be explored to develop the students’ understanding of the importance of the issues of voting rights, incarceration, violence, and wealth accumulation in contemporary US society. The emphasis will be on using our knowledge of popular culture and the everyday to nuance the sense of the political.
If monsters are a persistent feature of nearly all societies and historical periods, their features and shapes are profoundly variable. Contemporary America finds its most compelling form of monstrosity in a figure that emerged in a variety of literary, legal, scientific, and popular discourses somewhere around the first third of the twentieth century: the psychopath. In this course, we’ll read a selection of 20th Century American works of fiction, as well as a selection of historical, philosophical, legal, and scientific articles, to see what this distinctively American monster can tell us about the culture in which he was produced. Among the issues we will take up are: What are the defining characteristics of the monsters these texts contain? In what ways are these creatures incompatible with the existing social order? In what ways do they function (or fail) to help establish the boundaries of “the human?” How do they complicate abstract and universalizing notions of personhood in terms of class, race, gender and other social and political structures?
How do large, diverse polities organize identity, given the problems of persistent difference? For nineteenth century Europeans, this question found its most succinct expression in what would come to be known as the judenfrage, or Jewish question: debates over whether, and if so how, to accommodate Jews within the emerging societies and citizenries of Europe’s liberal national democracies. To what extent can these debates provide a kind of distant mirror or lens for examining contemporary debates about race, difference and inclusion, whether in the US, Latin America or Europe? What limitations are there to such comparisons; and how do leading theorists of race and difference—from DuBois and Ellison to Cornel West, A.J. Heschel and Anne Norton—deal with the catastrophic limitations of that debate, and its legacy?
In 1994, former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter declared comic books to be “the most portable, limitless, intense, personal, focused, intimate, compelling, wonderful visual medium in creation.” Since then, this view has only become more popular: comic books now receive an unprecedented level of attention and admiration from critics, the academy, and the general public. This course will provide students with the opportunity to read, analyze, and discuss some of the best and most important works yet produced in this medium. Students will also get the chance to explore the Selesky Comics Collection in the W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library, which includes nearly 3500 comic books from the years 1949-1991. To acknowledge the breadth and versatility of this medium, the course readings will touch on a broad range of genres, including biography, autobiography, horror, journalism, literary adaptation, humor, and superheroes. Students will acquire the analytical skills and technical vocabulary necessary to draw out the complex themes and ideas of these innovative, multimodal texts. They will also learn about the history of the modern comic book in its cultural context. This course will emphasize intense seminar-style conversations in which students are expected to actively debate and discuss their ideas and interpretations.
This seminar examines how the individual has described the people he or she has met in the travel writing left behind as their record. There is no more important source of knowledge than the writings of those who travel to a new place and describe what they see. If it weren’t for individuals such as Herodotus, Fray Bernadino de Sahagun, Bernal Diaz, Bernard Romans, Daniel Defoe, Margaret Mead, and Napoleon Chagnon to name a few, our understanding of the physical appearance, cultural customs, language and even archaeology/past history of many groups would be extremely inadequate. These travel writings whether they be in the form of a diary, letters, notes, ethnographic descriptions, or drawings, are all primary sources for learning about not only the culture being contacted but also about the individual and his views on life and how those beliefs reflect on what he is observing. The words of individual explorers such as these affected both the people of the time and future generations.
Tradition says English was born in 449 CE when two German warriors and their tribe settled on the Isle of Thanet in return for service as mercenaries for the Britons against the Picts. Fifteen centuries later, English is spoken natively by a twentieth of the world’s population, non-natively by another tenth and either natively or not by about half of Europe. The majority of print publishing, and the vast majority of the web, is in English. By contrast, the Alaskan language Eyak was never written by its native speakers, the last of whom, Marie Smith, died in 2008. What accounts for the phenomenal success of English, and the utter extinction of Eyak? What effects do their different fates have? What do we gain if we think of world history based on languages instead of countries or people? What will we lose when, by current predictions, half or more of the world’s ~ 6000 languages die out by 2100? Should we, indeed can we, affect the world’s language trends? This course will consider nature of the world’s great languages, now and through history, and the nature and predicament of the world’s endangered languages, plus the prospects for their support, maintenance, or revival.