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Featured Courses

The College of Arts and Science is featuring several new, exciting courses that provide students with an opportunity to engage with some of the biggest and most pressing issues of our time. Taught by A&S faculty who are leaders in their fields, many of these courses bridge disciplines to spark unique perspectives and challenge students to solve problems in new and unexpected ways.

SPRING 2021 FEATURED COURSES

Instructor: Grace Kim-Butler (ACLS Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow in Communication of Science and Technology)

This class offers an interdisciplinary study of technology, material culture, and social and cultural experience. It opens a window into technologies’ effects on the material ecologies of everyday life by examining the experiences of, for example, breathing toxic air, navigating oceans of microplastics, caring for art in museum galleries, and circulating waste in the food system. How does technology affect the material substances of people’s bodies and environments? How do these changes then influence the production of scientific knowledge, and actions to intervene in issues of identity, health, and environment? These questions are explored through historical and ethnographic case studies. This class takes seriously the need for cross-disciplinary exchange among the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. It encourages students to sharpen skills in the critical analysis of science and technology, and to use those skills to forge creative paths in scientific interventions and the public engagement of science. Hands-on activities and a field trip are included in the semester.

Instructor: Mabel Gergan (Assistant Professor of Asian Studies)

Environmental scientists and scholars are proposing that we have entered a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene, wherein the current era of planetary history is being shaped by the actions of one species: Anthropos (Greek for Human). This course turns to popular culture and media, particularly Hollywood films, to analyze ecological and cultural anxieties regarding the impending human-induced apocalypse, and analyzes how representations of disaster and apocalypse in American popular culture both reveal and obscure broader cultural anxieties.  

 

Instructor: Guojun Wang (Assistant Professor of Asian Studies)

This course focuses on the history of overseas studies and international students. It includes literary materials from different cultural and national traditions and emphasizes the experiences of overseas students in higher education, with a focus on U.S. institutions. Themes include literary exploration of difficulties encountered in a global context, as well as national identities, religious encountering, languages, home, loneliness, and romantic relations. Attention is also given to studying and living in a foreign country and identifying struggles and coping strategies.

Instructors: John McLean (Stevenson Professor of Chemistry), Antonis Rokas (Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair in Biological Sciences), Holly Algood (Associate Professor of Medicine, VUMC), Steven Townsend (Assistant Professor of Chemistry)

The COVID-19 global pandemic has dramatically illustrated the importance of science in tackling epidemics caused by infectious diseases. Drawing on COVID-19 and numerous other infectious diseases as examples and featuring an interdisciplinary team of faculty, the course will present a comprehensive view of the topic of contagion. How and why do new pathogens originate? How do we identify them and track their spread? How do we restrict their spread? How do we develop diagnostics? How do we develop therapies? How can we prevent future pandemics? The course is open to all undergraduates.

Instructors: William Caferro (Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History and Professor of Classical and Mediterranean Studies) and Jason Harris (Senior Lecturer of Classical and Mediterranean Studies)

The course examines the religious, racial, political, economic and human (psychological) consequences of global pandemics in the pre-modern world, from Antiquity to the Black Death (1348). There will be a close reading of wide-ranging sources to assess the ways contagion transformed societies and its relation to concurrent issues, including violence and social justice.  

Instructor: Willis Hulings, Associate Professor of the Practice of Managerial Studies

As the nation grapples with the greatest economic challenge since 2008, the financial strain placed on individuals has never been greater. This course will examine how consumers spend, invest, and borrow funds. It will explore the vagaries of consumer finance, and best practices for managing money and debts when earnings and credit scores get adversely affected. It will look at the benefits of various asset classes, and methods to accomplish optimal asset allocation. It will study how financial institutions entice customers with investment and borrowing products, while analyzing the real cost of using them. It will also assess new payment mechanisms and virtual currencies. The semester will mirror the consumer financial planning life cycle; it will start by discussing borrowing and asset gathering during one’s early years, and will end with strategies utilized by consumers to insure, enhance, and ultimately distribute wealth as they grow older.

Instructors: Lynn Enterline (Nancy Perot Professor of English), Peter Lake (University Distinguished Professor of History)

How do we think about Shakespeare? Team-taught by an historian and a literary critic, this lecture course allows you to consider this question from two angles. The readings are arranged chronologically over the course of Shakespeare’s career and cover all genres of his writing. We will read each work in light of contemporary historical events as well as literary history and theory. On one hand, we will examine his work in the context of 16th century religious and political issues as well as the way his contemporaries read and thought about those issues. On the other, we will explore the impact of rhetorical training and ancient literary invention on Shakespeare’s modes of invention as well as his representations of subjectivity, gender, and emotion. Though historicist and literary-theoretical approaches are sometimes thought to be incompatible, this course will encourage students to think how they can be put into conversation.

Instructor: Kathryn David (Mellon Assistant Professor of Russian and East European Studies) and Simone Stirner (Assistant Professor of German Studies)

In this course, we will explore the art and politics of public memory, through monuments, memorials, literature and art: How do societies remember histories of violence? Who decides which monuments are built (and which ones are destroyed)? How do individuals interact with public memorials? What is the role of social media in shaping cultural memory today? And who gets to tell the story of the past in the first place? Case studies take us from the Holocaust memorial in Berlin to statues of Lenin in Ukraine, from the National AIDS Memorial in California to gulag cemeteries in Siberia, investigating the political, aesthetic, and ethical dimension of memory in the public space. Collaborative projects on local public memory in Nashville and the American South as well as digital memorial projects for remote students will provide opportunities for public engagement and learning beyond the classroom.

Instructor: Christoph Zeller, Professor of German and European Studies

Fairy tales are central to our shared cultural narrative and have long fueled the imagination of both children and adults. In the past two centuries they have undergone radical transformations in form and meaning. This course focuses on the forces that cause these changes, the reasons for fairy tales’ enduring popularity, and the controversies around the function and value of fairy tales. Students will focus on the collected tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, learn about their sources, their heritage, and the many transformations their tales display until today. Students will examine how the Grimm stories became staples of U.S. and worldwide popular culture through movie production, most notably by Disney Studios. At the end of the course, students will be able to identify the characteristics of fairy tales, understand their historicity, determine their sources, understand their meanings according to various interpretative models, and recognize their metamorphoses in different genres and aesthetic forms. We will discuss problematic aspects of original tales such as stereotypical gender roles, lack of diversity, excessive violence, and archaic pedagogical practices. This course is designed to strengthen critical thinking and writing skills and to practice close reading and analysis of literary, visual, and cinematic material. Taught in English.

Instructors: Catherine Molineux (Associate Professor of History) and Celia Applegate (Professor of History)

How do humans experience happiness? How has the idea of happiness changed over time? An overview of that evolution from Greco-Roman through modern times will lead to an exploration of various aspects of the experience of happiness through a history of the senses and emotions. Topics include: laughter, ecstasy, tasting and smelling, looking and hearing, prosperity, great outdoors, home and hearth, intimacy, creature companions, and health.

Instructor: Patrick Leddin, Associate Professor of the Practice of Managerial Studies

Leading an organization is tough, especially in times of high uncertainty (e.g. climate change, global pandemic, cultural shifts). Students will explore and discover how organizational purpose, effective communication, and solid planning/execution can inform and dramatically improve a leader's response to events that threaten an organization's very survival. During the course, participants will spend time with C-level executives who have guided their organizations through major disruptions and have lessons to share from their experiences. Students will also learn from their own experiences via case studies that will strengthen their understanding of how to lead in uncertain times. This course is also about understanding and developing individual and organizational resilience - the ability to anticipate potential threats, cope effectively with adverse events when they occur, and adapt to changing conditions, ensuring a viable path forward for yourself, your team, and your organization.

Instructor: Leonora Williamson, Lecturer of the Practice of Managerial Studies

According to investing website Investopedia, corporate social responsibility (CSR) “is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. By practicing corporate social responsibility, also called corporate citizenship, companies can be conscious of the kind of impact they are having on all aspects of society, including economic, social, and environmental.” For over a century, American business practices have focused on the shareholder as the primary stakeholder in companies. Today, we are watching these traditions cede to broader concern for a variety of stakeholders, including employees, the community, and the environment. This course will introduce students to the key concepts and practices of CSR.

Instructors: Paul Taylor (W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy), Lyn Radke (post-doctoral scholar), Sarah Gorman (teaching staff in Philosophy)

What does it mean that a firestorm of anti-racist protests rocked the U.S. during the summer of 2020? Participants in this course will work together to assemble some resources for answering this question. This collaborative investigation will revolve around four broader framing questions:

(1) What does justice mean when it comes to race?

(2) How do questions of racial justice relate to police work?

(3) What do policing and race have to do with the broader distribution of societal advantages and disadvantages?

(4) How do racialized social distributions relate to the history of the American experiment, and to the prospects for conducting the experiment more successfully?

Instructor: Laurie Woods (Senior Lecturer in Sociology)

This course looks at the history of American policing: how and where police derived their power and how that power is sustained. We will trace the roots of police in America and the evolution of police power through unions, public support, and political emphasis. Special attention will be given to police brutality issues, the role of media in framing our ideas of policing, the militarization of police forces, and the relationships between law enforcement and the citizens they are paid to serve. We will try to answer the question: What is the function of police?  

 

Instructor: Benigno Trigo (Professor of Spanish)

A pandemic is a widespread epidemic. The word comes from the Greek Pandemos, meaning “of all the people.” COVID-19 is a pandemic disease because it has spread around the globe. It has affected virtually everybody on earth. What happens when a disease is so widespread that it makes us feel that nobody is safe, that it will contaminate everyone eventually? Does the experience make us more aware of our shared mortality? Does it make us take stock of our vulnerable condition? Does it change our perspective? Do we look differently at ourselves and at others? Does it challenge our illusions of personal invincibility and collective superiority? These are very old questions that writers the world over have addressed in literature. In this course, we will read examples from the literature of pandemics with these questions in mind. We will explore their elaboration, in fiction, of the connection between our shared vulnerable bodies and the illusion of our personal or collective invulnerability. We will explore, again, the lessons that pandemic diseases, like COVID-19, teach us, with a view to develop a different ethical relation to our world and to others.

Instructor: Christin Essin (Associate Professor of Theatre)

This online course engages students in practices of critical spectatorship through an examination of the artistry and cultural history of the American musical. As popular entertainment, the musical has shaped each generation’s perceptions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; recognizing this influence, this course prioritizes activities that give students familiarity with languages of social identity and ability to "read" musical productions as progressive and regressive cultural influences. Students will view a series of musical performances, recorded live on stage and for film and television, including: The King and IFiddler on the Roof42nd StreetThe WizIn the HeightsNewsies, and Hamilton. Professor Essin will share her current research and expertise on Broadway’s backstage labor in lecture materials, helping students understand the practices behind the creation of musicals and the industry biases that impact onstage and onscreen representations of cultural identity.

FALL 2020 FEATURED COURSES

Instructor: Lutz Koepnick, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of German, Cinema and Media Arts

Today’s most intractable problems transgress the borders modern nation states have drawn to define their territories. They reveal the interconnectedness of the globe and blur the boundaries between seemingly separate realms: the private and the political, work and home, what is near and what is distant. Yet crises such as COVID-19, global warming, poverty, and human rights violations also energize attempts to police national borders, curtail migration, tighten definitions of citizenship, and ratchet up cultural and social divisions. In this course, we explore the pressure of transnational emergencies on contemporary ideas about citizenship, boundaries, and belonging. We approach our topic from a variety of angles—from political science and history, to law, sociology, literature, and the arts—in order to better understand how our contemporary world collapses some borders while fortifying others. Different scholars, activists, artists, and writers will join us as guests to illuminate the way citizens and humans might better navigate our both borderless and bordered present. 

Instructor: William R. Fowler, Associate Professor of Anthropology

The cultural and social impacts of the great plagues in world history form the broad subject matter of this course. We will take a multidisciplinary approach emphasizing material from anthropology, geography, history, historical demography, and historical epidemiology. Readings and discussion will also include interpretations from the field of genomic microbiology (the study of ancient pathogens and the evolution of infectious disease organisms). We will examine the impacts of the Black Death (bubonic and pneumonic plague), smallpox, and typhus in medieval and early modern Asia and Europe; smallpox and other disease outbreaks in early colonial Mesoamerica and Peru; the Spanish flu in the early twentieth century; and AIDS, ebola, SARS, and COVID-19 in recent times. Beyond scientific study of the the impacts of each disease, we will also explore the historiography of the impact of and response to each disease.

Instructor: Beth A. Conklin, Associate Professor of Anthropology

The viral pandemic has sent a powerful message about how human life is entangled with non-human agents. This class explores the growing recognition in science and medicine of human/non-human interdependence and how symbiotic views of life are upending old thinking about divisions between nature and culture, body/organism and environment, self and other. Focusing on the cultural-political implications for society (this is not a “science” class and requires no special background), we will look at how theorists are seeking language and metaphors to express these new insights, and consider the trade-offs in science writing that projects human emotions and sociality onto trees and other non-humans. Indigenous people have centuries of experience living in social systems based on relational biology and cosmology, and we will look for insights from diverse cultures to think about how a more ecological, multispecies imagination might be mobilized to promote healthier futures for people and the planet.

Instructor: Magda Campos-Pons, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Art

This course will focus on the study of art’s relationship to social justice. It will include a focus on visual representation and multiple art forms as means to develop new knowledge, new perspectives, and new practices toward inclusive discussion of cultural interconnections, historical entanglements, and the consequences of geographies, histories, and politics. There will be special attention paid to expansion of the so-called South its relations and interdependence with other geographies, and also historical legacies more generally and their relationships to progress toward more just and democratic futures. The course will include critical analysis and experiential projects and models of innovative art practices.

Instructor: Jay Clayton, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English

The gaming industry today generates more revenue than the movie and music industries combined and employs people with a vast range of skills—writing, art, music, filmmaking, computer science, marketing, social media, and more. Games have an impact on culture and society in countless ways, making it imperative that we study their effects from multiple angles. This course explores the role of storytelling in digital games. Beginning with Lord of the Rings Online, a massively multiplayer role playing game (MMO), and indie games such as Braid, Journey, and Portal, the course introduces students to the literary and artistic challenges of constructing narratives in a digital environment and the implications of social media for concepts of self and society. In addition to the novels and films of Tolkien, the course looks at a variety of new media, films, and novels about gaming.

Instructor: Paul Stob, Associate Professor of Communication Studies

How can people advocate for extensive, structural change, especially when the problems of American society seem so entrenched? How can individuals organize and strategize to tear down the systems that oppress human beings? Such questions are more pressing than ever amid the push for racial justice during the summer of 2020. Of course, while these questions are more pressing than ever, they are not new. This course will explore these questions by analyzing the U.S. Abolitionist Movement and Civil Rights Movement. By investigating the ideas, arguments, texts, and people who pushed for racial justice in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, we will gain a new perspective on the push for racial justice in the twenty-first century. At the end of the course, students will take what they have learned about social movements in the past and create a project exploring a social movement currently in operation.

Instructor: Jeffrey Bennett, Associate Professor of Communication Studies

Bodies are expressions of culture. We encounter bodies every day, both our own and those of others, that both reflect and constitute larger social meanings. They communicate to us what is normal and abnormal, conformist and transgressive, permissible and taboo. Our conceptions of bodies are invariably situated in systems of race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, age, and nationality, all of which craft an interpretive lens for assessing the world around us. This course engages the role pandemics play in shifting understandings of the body as “risky,” “contagious,” “healthy,” and “immune.” Course participants will survey a range of theories about the body to gain a better understanding of two specific pandemics: AIDS and COVID-19. The class will explore theories of pollution, pain, disability, and normativity to better appreciate public conceptions of the body and its relationship to meaning making.

Instructors: Betsey Robinson (Associate Professor of History of Art), Jonathan Gilligan (Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences), Steven Goodbred (Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences)

From antiquity to the present, human societies have had a rich and uneasy relationship to water, with many of the world's great cities rising on the shores of rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans. Their histories have been shaped by the opportunities and hazards of these nearby waters. Today, many population centers now also lie in the cross-hairs of climate change, which accelerates sea-level rise and alters the frequency and magnitude of flooding and severe storms. This interdisciplinary class will explore legendary floods and the physical and cultural phenomena of the world’s “drowning cities,” bringing together diverse perspectives from environmental science and the history of architecture, engineering, and urbanism. We will use varied modes of evidence, inference, and analysis to understand past, present, and futures in the Near East, Europe, Asia, and North America, including Nashville, New Orleans, and New York. We will explore different approaches for communicating about climate and cities, including interactive mapping.

 

Instructor: Jessie Hock, Assistant Professor of English

What does it mean to write about love, beauty, and pleasure in the expectation that someone else will read what you’ve written? From a spiritual, sublime, or cosmological force to an embodied, even pornographic or ridiculous experience, “love” in the texts we will read in this class is a highly diverse phenomenon. However varied, the idea of love allows poets and philosophers to explore what it means to write, think, and read about subjectivity, identity, and emotion. The course moves from some of the greats of classical antiquity (Lucretius, Ovid, Virgil) through Renaissance writers in Italy, France, and England. We will pay particular attention to love lyric as a form of autobiography and to articulations of female pleasure, desire, and sexual experience. Finally, we will explore “libertine” movements in which narratives about apparently “deviant” lovers enable social critique and dissent. 

Instructor: Scott J. Juengel, Associate Professor of English

In our age of many existential uncertainties, might we need Jane Austen now more than ever? During WW1, copies of Austen’s novels were given to British soldiers recovering in hospitals from their combat injuries, including those suffering shell-shock. Times have certainly changed, but perhaps not all the remedies have: is there a therapeutic role for reading in a time of isolation? How might we contest Austen's reputation for political withdrawal and reorient her for a partisan and fractured age? We will read Austen as if she were our contemporary, thinking about what she has to teach us about sheltering in place, fostering community, enduring setbacks, and finding happiness. While this is at heart a course on Jane Austen, we will continually look for opportunities to explore the ethics of reading, the politics of identification, and the crucial lessons of history. Expect to read 4-5 of Austen’s novels and other supplementary materials.

Instructor: Willis Hulings, Associate Professor of the Practice of Managerial Studies

As the nation grapples with the greatest economic challenge since 2008, the financial strain placed on individuals has never been greater. This course will examine how consumers spend, invest, and borrow funds. It will explore the vagaries of consumer finance, and best practices for managing money and debts when earnings and credit scores get adversely affected. It will look at the benefits of various asset classes, and methods to accomplish optimal asset allocation. It will study how financial institutions entice customers with investment and borrowing products, while analyzing the real cost of using them. It will also assess new payment mechanisms and virtual currencies. The semester will mirror the consumer financial planning life cycle; it will start by discussing borrowing and asset gathering during one’s early years, and will end with strategies utilized by consumers to insure, enhance, and ultimately distribute wealth as they grow older.

Instructor: Jim McFarland, Associate Professor of German and Cinema and Media Arts

Though war is an ancient subject for narrative representation (consider "The Iliad"), the War Movie is one of the few genres younger than film itself. Both war and cinema put a premium on visibility; the technical affinities between the machinery that shoots a film and the machinery that shoots an enemy have led some philosophers to consider war and cinema two aspects of the same phenomenon. This class explores the narrative and visual conventions by which filmmakers have tried to put war on screen. We will consider what constitutes a film genre; how perception and technology and violence come together; what role sacrifice plays in the ideological justification of war; and how the distinctions between war and peace, military and civilian, and combat and policing have eroded in modern times. Films to be discussed include Bataan, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Restrepo, Starship Troopers, Inglourious Basterds, Waltz with Bashir, Zero Dark Thirty, and others. 

Instructor: Helmut Smith, Martha Rivers Ingram Professor of History

This course focuses on three large themes: the history of human contact, human productive capabilities and the wealth and inequalities they produce, and war and peace in modern civilization. Within these broad categories lie many of the challenges we face today, including increased migration, climate change, armed conflict, and the establishment and dismantling of systems of racial injustice. Beginning with the dynamic between unfree and free labor, the course treats inequality and the persistence of poverty as central problems of global history. Readings introduce students to innovative historians, major scholars in the field of development economics, and prescient authors writing about our global world.

Instructors: Jonathan Metzl (Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health, and Society), Caroline Randall-Williams (Writer-in-Residence of Medicine, Health, and Society), Celina Callahan Kapoor (Senior Lecturer of Medicine, Health, and Society), David Wright (Stevenson Professor of Chemistry) 

This interactive new class will explore how the COVID-19 pandemic will reshape society in lasting ways, from how we live, to how we learn, to the future of jobs and careers, to the issues about which we protest and aim to change, to the movies we watch, the music we hear, and the stories we read. We’ll engage with politicians, artists, protesters, activists, doctors and scientists, educators, musicians, and many others to better understand how the pandemic moment has impacted what they do in their daily lives, and their sense of what the future holds. Along the way, the class will explore some of the deep questions of the pandemic era—e.g., How can we best address racial inequities and structural racism? How can we regain trust in science and in global and public health? How did masks become political symbols? What works of literature and art best capture the moment? How will the pandemic change the future of jobs and careers? What will college look like? We’ll explore one theme in depth each week through a large, all-group coffee hour with invited guests; breakout discussion sessions, journal clubs, reading groups, and writing salons; and interactive real-world (and COVID-safe) assignments, happenings, and events.

Instructors: Paul C. Taylor (W. Alton Jones Professor of Philosophy), Tracy Sharpley-Whiting (Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Distinguished Professor of Humanities), Jonathan Metzl (Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health, and Society)

What does it mean that a firestorm of anti-racist protests rocked the U.S. during the summer of 2020? Participants in this interdisciplinary humanities course will work together to assemble some resources for answering this question. This collaborative investigation will revolve around four broader framing questions: (1) What does justice mean when it comes to race? (2) How do questions of racial justice relate to police work? (3) What do policing and race have to do with the broader distribution of societal advantages and disadvantages? (4) How do racialized social distributions relate to the history of the American experiment, and to the prospects for conducting the experiment more successfully? Participants will approach these questions from a range of perspectives, with the expert guidance of guest lecturers and discussants from a variety of disciplines.

Instructor: Patrick Leddin, Associate Professor of Managerial Studies

Leading an organization is tough, especially in times of high uncertainty (e.g. climate change, global pandemic, cultural shifts). Students will explore and discover how organizational purpose, effective communication, and solid planning/execution can inform and dramatically improve a leader's response to events that threaten an organization's very survival. During the course, participants will spend time with C-level executives who have guided their organizations through major disruptions and have lessons to share from their experiences. Students will also learn from their own experiences via case studies that will strengthen their understanding of how to lead in uncertain times. This course is also about understanding and developing individual and organizational resilience - the ability to anticipate potential threats, cope effectively with adverse events when they occur, and adapt to changing conditions, ensuring a viable path forward for yourself, your team, and your organization.

Instructor: JuLeigh Petty, Principal Senior Lecturer of Medicine, Health, and Society

This course examines the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of policing and explores alternative frameworks for improving well-being. A cursory scan of the news reveals the centrality of policing language and practices in our response to the pandemic. State public health authority arises from police powers in the Constitution. Social distancing regulations give rise to fears of a police state. COVID denialists argue those following medical advice are controlled by the thought police. Self-policing, a strategy for maintaining control without explicit reliance on law, has been widespread and ranged from civil engagement to vigilantism. “Virus vigilantes'' posted on social media calling out neighbors not following COVID-19 regulations. Despite fears of a police state, police have made relatively few pandemic-related arrests. However, police behavior shifted center stage in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and #BlackLivesMatter protests; no longer just policing pandemic, police violence becomes pandemic.

Instructors: Joshua Clinton, Abby and Jon Winkelried Chair in Political Science; John Geer, Ginny and Conner Searcy Dean of the College of Arts and Science and Professor of Political Science; Eunji Kim, Assistant Professor of Political Science; Jon Meacham, Carolyn T. and Robert M. Rogers Chair in American Presidency

The 2020 presidential election promises to be the most important in the last 175 years. This team-taught course will tackle this electoral battle from a range of perspectives. Jon Meacham will bring history to bear on the election, while being able to offer timely commentary on key events during the fall campaign. Eunji Kim will offer insights on the media and voters, often relying on her own cutting-edge research. Josh Clinton has deep experience in understanding polling, forecasting elections, and data analytics. John Geer will shed light on the candidates, campaigns, and political advertising. We will also bring a number of guest speakers to the class to offer their own insight on key issues confronting the country, such as the ongoing health, economic, and social justice crises. Our plan, overall, is to use the 2020 election as a vehicle to understand the very workings of democratic rule. 

Instructor: Carrie Archie Russell, Senior Lecturer in Political Science

The COVID era has profoundly magnified American economic, social, and political divisions. The ties that bind our attachments to “We the People” and respect for individual rights are being stretched in unforeseen ways. The distortion has the potential to shape the future profoundly, particularly given the uncertainty attached to this election cycle. November 3, 2020 offers citizens of the United States the opportunity to exercise a fundamental, Constitutionally guaranteed right; an individual right that affects the collective rights of others, citizen and non-citizen alike. We will explore canonical legal and political treatises, extract best principles from these works, and attempt to apply them to today’s public policy crises: criminal injustice, wealth inequality, the resurgence of right-wing political actors, and the fragility of the franchise in the age of cyber-warfare.

 

Instructor: Holly Tucker, Director of the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities

In this course, students will analyze first-hand accounts of pandemics to understand how public health crises were experienced and documented in the past. We will focus primarily on specific diseases as experienced from Antiquity to the nineteenth century (the Black Death/plague, smallpox, cholera)—as well as social and medical approaches to them (miasma theory, "poison thesis," germ theory, vaccines, etc.). As part of the course, students will produce creative, first-hand accounts about their own experiences with COVID-19. This work will be submitted to the COVID-19 archives at the Vanderbilt University Libraries so researchers and students in the future can learn more about the ways we lived through and made sense of the current moment.

Instructor: LaTonya Trotter, Assistant Professor of Sociology

In the winter of 2019, we witnessed the emergence and spread of a novel coronavirus. Alongside the movement of the virus, we also watched the spread of narratives of who was to blame. While the virus is novel, the politics of blame are not. In this course, we will consider how who we blame is less about epidemiology, and more about pre-existing lines of exclusion. Through comparing the contemporary case of the coronavirus pandemic with historical cases, students will develop an understanding of how a new virus becomes the reproductive site of old narratives of "racial fitness," "diseased foreigners," and "moral degeneracy," and their impact on public policy. Through understanding the pandemic from a comparative lens, the course will help students move beyond the "facts" of the phenomenon to develop a critical understanding of the relationship between biological, social, and political realities.

Instructor: N. Michelle Murray, Assistant Professor of Spanish

From celebrating the greatness of bygone eras to questioning the icons celebrated in monuments, contemporary culture continually interrogates the past. Television and film dialogue with the past in portraying and re-imagining historical figures, legacies of oppression, or even war and its aftermath. These issues are gripping in the centuries-old nation-state of Spain. This course explores Spanish culture and history through films and television series available via online streaming services. We will study memory debates surrounding the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). We will also watch a television show about medieval Spain that invokes present-day populist organizing; programming representing gender and sexuality in the 1920s that relates to current women's and LGBTQI movements; and films that question Spain’s colonial legacy, often in relation to twenty-first-century migration. Students will learn about Spain's past, specifically and more generally about the political uses of the past, especially in visual culture.

Instructor: Elizabeth Christin Essin, Associate Professor of Theatre

This online course engages students in practices of critical spectatorship through an examination of the artistry and cultural history of the American musical. As popular entertainment, the musical has shaped each generation’s perceptions of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; recognizing this influence, this course prioritizes activities that give students familiarity with languages of social identity and ability to "read" musical productions as progressive and regressive cultural influences. Students will view a series of musical performances, recorded live on stage and for film and television, including: The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, 42nd Street, The Wiz, In the Heights, Newsies, and Hamilton. Professor Essin will share her current research and expertise on Broadway’s backstage labor in lecture materials, helping students understand the practices behind the creation of musicals and the industry biases that impact onstage and onscreen representations of cultural identity.