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First -Year Seminar: Special Topics

From the bubonic plague in 1348 to Covid-19 today, pandemics have ravaged the body politic and revealed its hidden ailments. This First-Year Seminar examines literary, artistic, philosophical, political, and scientific responses to the shared trauma of contagion.

No prerequisite; taught in English; open to all first-year students

Instructional mode: remote-synchronous

This course examines the idea of Iberianism—promoted through the nineteenth and into twentieth century—that the unification of Portugal and Spain and their colonies can overcome the chronic economic and political crises of the Peninsula. The course examines the contemporary histories of Portugal and Spain primarily through Iberian art and literature with an eye to such themes as decadence, crisis, and identity. Connections are made between the end of the Iberian colonial adventure in the Americas and the economic, political, and mental crises that led the elites of both countries to meditate on the necessity of rediscovering new approaches. Aspects of Iberian “national” identity are contrasted with those seen in the US. The questions why of “Why is it utopian to think that Portugal and Spain could become a single country?”; “What does it mean to be Portuguese, Spanish, and European?”; and “How can art provide us with answers to overcome a present defined by multiple crises?” are examined.

“The French have never shared the Anglo-American conviction that makes the fashionable the opposite of the serious.” –Susan Sontag

French culture and fashion have been synonymous since the age of Louis XIV. This is not only because Paris traditionally occupied the center of the global fashion industry. It’s also because fashion has a respected place in French culture. This seminar investigates what fashion has meant to French-speaking writers, artists, and philosophers through the centuries. We will explore key episodes in the history of French fashion from the emergence of the idea of fashion in the seventeenth century, to Marie-Antoinette’s role as fashion icon, to the birth of haute couture in the 20th century, to the contemporary “street style” phenomenon, current reconsiderations of concepts of femininity and masculinity, and debates about fashion’s impact on the environment and global economy. Along the way, we will discover how French thinkers have interpreted the allure and significance of fashion from the perspectives of sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, and gender studies. As these thinkers show us, fashion is a unique object of study because it allows individuals to navigate between novelty and conformity, between the beautiful and the useful, between being au courant and having that inimitable je-ne-sais-quoi. In short, we will consider what it means to take fashion seriously. Taught in English

From plastic pollution to climate change, from mass extinction to deforestation, environmental issues occupy our conversations, concerns, anticipations. But why should we care about the environment? And what can the humanities do about it, which scientists or politicians would not do better or more effectively? By studying how literature and film can contribute to shape our environmental imagination, this FYS will explore in theory and practice the role of artistic creativity in conveying relevant insights about our ecological crises and planetary communities. The scope of the course is global, with a fresh and zesty Italian taste.