Fall 2024 Thematic Seminars

List subject to change before registration begins.
For internships (BUI 399), see the internships page.

Handcraft and History

Kopelson – TR 12:30-1:45pm

What does it mean to make something “by hand,” and how has that meaning changed over time and place? How does actually learning to make something change your understanding of the value of what you made? In this class we will explore the changing relationship between maker, object, and society in the Americas from the sixteenth century to the present through hands-on activities* (knitting: it’s not a hobby, it’s a post-apocalyptic life skill!) as well as academic readings in history, art history, gender studies, sociology, Indigenous studies, and more. Topics covered include gender and work pre- and post-Industrial Revolution; the effects of race and class on the necessity for and meaning of handcraft; Indigenous sovereignty; imperialism, consumerism; globalization; DIY activism; fast fashion; and environmentally sustainable consumption. *No prior experience in any handcraft is required.*

Redefining Children’s Literature

Sasser – TR 12:30-1:45pm

This course aims to complicate several canonical American and British texts for children essentially by addressing the following questions: 1) What counts as children’s literature? 2) Who gets to decide? and 3) How does power function within it? In other words, unlike other bodies of literature (such as African-American Literature or Women’s Writing), children’s literature is named after the presumed reader, as opposed to the ones who write or publish it. Such issues will guide us as we defamiliarize our understanding of popular children’s books and better explore how they are used to enfranchise and/or subjugate their presumed young readers. Anglophone texts likely to be discussed include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Dr. Dolittle, Henry Huggins, The Snowy Day, Plain City, Black Folktales, Brown Girl Dreaming, and Where the Wild Things Are, as well as brief critical work by Hunt, Nodelman, Butler, Said, and Foucault.


Parker – MW 3:30-4:45pm

The heart of this course will be the study of the Archetype of the Restless Wanderer in the movies and literature of adventure, with due love for the dead-sea-scroll-gold that is Melville’s “Call me Ishmael,” but with special focus on the words of western wanderers written post shadow-of-death World War I. Bilbo Baggins, for example: “Do we really have to go through?” Gandalf: “Yes, you do.” Samuel Beckett, for antithetical example: “…but with us the last journey is Soon Done. It is in vain you quicken your pace.”

So we will read classic adventure novels such as The Hobbit alongside works that challenge the very idea of ‘adventure’ such as Beckett’s “Texts for Nothing.” How does this literature shape our cultural understandings of the soul’s pilgrimage in modern society? Through a historical and philosophical lens, we will analyze depictions of the social & spiritual Self (C.G. Jung’s personality #1 & personality #2) in these works, as well as in contemporary films such as Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man.

Zen Buddhism & Radical Arts

Lazar – M 2-4:50pm

The course will involve an introduction to Zen Buddhism, relying on Shunryu Suzuki’s classic Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and a second text (perhaps Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching), and a range of additional brief readings.  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 contemporary music, performance art, environmental art, dance, conceptual and found art.  Artists we might consider include George Quasha, John Cage, Andy Goldsworthy, Carrie Mae Weems, Linda Montano, Bill Viola, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Davey Williams, John Zorn, and Kazuaki Tanahashi.  Students will both discuss the art we examine and make some related art works of their own.  And we’ll do our best to learn to be present.

Mash-up: Intermedia Arts

Dewar – MW 3:30-4:45pm

Music powered by images, light, and sound synthesized from drawings? Artists enacting social change on city streets during military dictatorships? Avant-garde art festivals in 1970s Iran? Art in natural landscapes designed to decay over centuries? This seminar examines all this and more via intermedia intersections in 20th and 21st century arts. We explore the cultural and historical roots of intermedia art, the outpouring of experimentation in the 20th century, and postmodern pastiche in the digital realm of the 21st century. Spanning work created for galleries, to arts and musics from urban streets and rural villages, we decode examples from the visual arts, dance, music, film and architecture to learn how and why artists work with and combine different media, and make work that thrives between the lines. In addition to engaging with artworks, we discuss the cultural, philosophical, theoretical, and compositional issues that intersect at intermedia junctions.

The Soul & The City

McWaters – MW 3:30-4:45pm

In this class, we will explore one of the oldest analogies in the Western philosophical tradition: The Soul and The City. Starting with Plato’s Republic and ending with Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, we will attune ourselves to how philosophers and artists have imagined our collective city life and what that has to say about our individual private lives.

• Painter Edvard Munch depicts the emptiness of urban living.

• Poet Charles Baudelaire celebrates how crowds impact his imagination.

• Author Daniel Defoe dramatizes the freedom the city offers people who want to change their identities.

• Author Theodore Dreiser views the city as a huge, brutal, industrial machine that systematically grinds up individuals.

• Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believes that the city is like the mind: a receptacle for the past, as well as for hidden lives and passions.

Expect a midterm and final exam. Additionally, all students will be required to do a creative final project where they will explore and then write (paint? photograph?) Tuscaloosa, forming a thesis that relates our city to the soul. Let us go then, you and I…

Civic Leadership Development

Harris – TR 3:30-4:45pm

A 2016 Pew Research study found that the political polarization in the U.S. continues to deepen and grow more hostile, and the widening economic disparities predicted by the July 2019 McKinsey Global Institute report “The Future of Work in America” are likely to further accentuate our national divides. In response to these alarming trends, this course takes an innovative approach to prepare students to be citizens more capable of addressing a politically divisive environment, locally and globally. Serving as a civic learning “laboratory,” the Civic Leadership Development course offers students the opportunity to acquire the “democratic knowledge and capabilities” that can only be “honed through hands-on, face-to-face, active engagement.”

The Right to Privacy

Cappello – TR 9:30-10:45am

Our privacy is rapidly disappearing in the face of wondrous technological marvels. This is hardly a secret. Americans today enjoy considerably less privacy than our parents and grandparents did when they were our age. The extent to which we are “known” to others is one of the defining characteristics of our generation, and among the foremost social, cultural, and political concerns of the digital age.

This is a seminar about the right to privacy for students who are equal parts paranoid and practical. A class for those who know deep down that their privacy is under attack, but who aren’t about to throw away their phones or laptops over it because they live in the real world where we use our phones and laptops for, well, everything.

1st Modern Novel: Don Quixote

Worden – TR 3:30-4:45pm

In this class we will read both parts of Cervantes’s magnum opus Don Quixote (part one published in 1605 and part two published in 1615). With this text Cervantes invents the modern novel, one that serves as a touchstone for novelists from the 18th to the 21st centuries. Beyond its importance for writers, Don Quixote has also inspired illustrators, sculptors, composers, choreographers, and other artists who have created innumerable works inspired by Cervantes’s text, ranging from the Broadway show titled “Man of La Mancha” to the ballet inspired by the novel to Strauss’s musical composition titled “Don Quixote.” Our reading of the novel will highlight both its humor and Cervantes’s mastery as a storyteller who invents one of the most famous characters in all of literature: Don Quixote, the Knight of the Woeful Countenance.

Voicing Fragments

Odle – MW 5-6:15pm

This advanced seminar investigates and evaluates the experimental ways that history can be written in the face of archival absences and erasures.  Using narrative histories, fiction, collaborative writing, and media and digital projects, this course examines the ethical and stylistic challenges presented by speculation, subjectivity, and the personal in scholarship. Focusing on issues of narrative voice and the interpretation of fragmentary sources, this course provides opportunities for writerly experimentation.

This course will explore the challenges and opportunities that come with telling stories about overlooked or underexamined lives.  Whose authority is upheld in interpretative acts of life-writing?  How do we weigh the value of recovery alongside the power of deliberate archival absence?  We will theorize ways that silences can signal resistance as well as erasure. The writer and researcher may be highly visible in the text, or disguised. We will also try our own experiments in interpreting and analyzing the past, writing in many modes while imagining the possibilities for our own future scholarship.

Coming of Age in America

Whiting – TR 2-3:15pm

The course will examine the place of a particular genre of narrative, the bildungsroman—roughly, novel of formation or education—within the context of American cultural production. The foci of our discussions will be the ways in which texts that we might designate bildungsromane simultaneously reflect and help to shape (invent, maintain, critique, etc.) American culture through their engagement with issues such as individual identity, youth, maturity, career, as well as various collective affiliations such as family, region, class, race, gender, and national identifications.

Recipe for an Autobiography

Minicucci – TR 11am-12:15pm

What is your relationship with food? What might seem like an easy question engages with questions of social, cultural, geographical, and economic identity, and asks you to consider where you’re from, the construction of your family, and the habits of food you grew up with. In short, it’s the culinary story of your life. In this class we’ll explore, investigate, and write about food, health, and history, and we’ll do through a lens of inquiry about the complications/missteps of thinking of food as monoculture in a country where immigration, diaspora, and cross-cultural connections are fundamental to its origins. We’ll be examining food from personal, historical, and investigative perspectives meant to give you a better grasp on your own relationship with the topic, your own writing about the topic, and a fundamental grasp of the breadth of American food writing.

Culture of Fear

Copeland – TR 2-3:15pm

Slenderman, Nosleep, murder, kidnapping, medications everyone needs, thousands of violent criminals storming our borders, all signs of an impending apocalypse? What do urban legends, violent crime discourse, pharmaceutical advertising, and political propaganda have in common? They use fear as a tool to spread messages, sell product, or engender support. In this class, we explore whether or not a culture of fear exists in America today, the basis of these fears, and ways that people use fear for profit. We also examine the role of media and social media in perpetuating fear. We will critically assess the ways others attempt to influence us through advertising and media as well as how to evaluate such claims.