Liberal Studies Program > First-Year Program > Course Descriptions > Focal Point Seminar
Li Jin, Modern Languages LSP 112-305 LPC MW 2:40-4:10 This course is designed to develop students’ intercultural knowledge and critical thinking skills to understand how and why China is portrayed distinctly in Chinese and American media. Students will read select materials about China from books, American media, and the translated version of Chinese media, with a view to understanding what is happening in contemporary Chinese society, how and why salient social issues in China are reported divergently in state-run as compared to unofficial media (e.g., social media) in China and in media based in China as compared to those based in the U.S. Drawing on the reading materials, students will participate in active class discussions to deepen their cultural understanding and share critical views. The focus of the course is Chinese philosophy, sociology, and journalism in China as imperative forces shaping how Chinese media report on social issues in China.
Justin Staley, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse LSP 112-306 LPC TTh 1:00-2:30 More than any other sport, baseball has inspired writers to try to capture the essence of the game, as well as those who play and watch it. Beyond the staples of baseball journalists and essayists such as Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, and Bill James, writers as diverse as novelists Nelson Algren, Sherman Alexie, Annie Dillard, John Updike, and Philip Roth, and poets William Carlos Williams, Amiri Baraka, May Swenson, Carl Sandburg, and Robert Frost, have explored the nuances and intricacies of the game, as well as how emotionally loaded racial, social, political, and economic issues are historically and indelibly woven into it. In this course, students will read and analyze writing about baseball through poems, fiction, personal essays, and arguments, exploring such themes as baseball as myth, as both game and business, and as a cultural institution in America and abroad. In doing so, we will discover how larger social issues impinge on the sport, and what they reveal about our changing society.
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Mark Pohlad, History of Art & Architecture
LSP 112-201 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10
This course will examine the production and reception of Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln including how the films reflect history, how they function as cultural artifacts, their place in the history of film, and their representation of women and African Americans. The class concentrates on four films—D. W. Griffith’s Lincoln (1930), John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940), and Steven Spielberg’s recent Lincoln (2012). Films with Lincoln characters will also be considered but with less emphasis, e.g., the Shirley Temple film The Littlest Rebel (1935), and Tim Burton’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012). Through intensive reading, discussion, writing, and group work, students will engage the question: What do Hollywood films about Abraham Lincoln say about American culture—about us?
Kenneth Krimstein, College of Communication
LSP 112-501 LOOP TTh 3:10-4:40
In many ways the history of advertising, especially in America, is the history of the development of modern technological society in the 20th Century. The move, from the earliest forms of “patent medicine” advertising, seen in “Huck Finn,” or “The Wizard of Oz,” for example, through the Yellow Press ads of the Hearst era, to early radio and mass communication, through mass magazines, television, into the digital age, is a reflection of the people, the times, and the struggle to make sense of the modern world. What worked? What didn’t work, and why? These questions reflect on American history, design, governmental regulation, writing, and creativity. Making connections between historical needs and wants introduces psychology, ethics, politics, economics, and business theory and practice. Through primary and secondary research and sources, as well as group oriented design projects, with a strong emphasis on the development of critical writing that embodies a personal tone of voice, the course will forge critical thinking, case-making, and innovative skills that will form the foundation of being not only a strong student, but also a thoughtful member of an ethical society.
Laura Durnell, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-202 Lincoln Park MW 11:20-12:50
Our life stories and confessions define who we are and spotlight our aspirations. But most importantly, they can also lead us to discover our real selves and our true vocations. Often when Anne Sexton is mentioned, an individual’s first response to define her is “poet”; however, the study of Sexton offers a deeper understanding into the many concentrations of Liberal Studies and life overall. This Focal Point Seminar does not solely rely on the lens of literature. Instead, it focuses on Sexton’s art and life and questions how one’s life affects vocation and how vocation affects a person’s life as well as the lives of others. Students will be led to contemplate how professions in the arts, business, academics, religions, sciences, and political arenas relate to Sexton’s poetry and life. In addition, students will reflect on and connect their own life experiences and academic studies toward their future vocations. Along with the requirements of the seminar setting, course notebook, and final course essay, students will also have opportunities to present their own stories and confessions through their choice of non-fiction, fiction, visual or performance art, poetry, or music.
Mary Jane Duffy, Art, Media & Design
LSP 112-203 Lincoln Park TTh 2:40-4:10
We have all heard the terms, “Go green!”, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and probably even “Sustainable” but what do these catchy phrases really mean? Why are they important? Furthermore, what do these terms have to do with visual art? Our relationship with the environment is complex and becoming increasingly urgent. The field of sustainability is interdisciplinary, but this course will focus specifically on the fields of science, philosophy and contemporary art. We will examine what science tells us about the current and future state of the planet and how sustainability can help. We will consider how our philosophical ideas about nature affect what we do to the environment. We will also look at how contemporary visual art can question, explore and propose answers to problems of sustainability. Finally the class will reflect on an individual's role in the problems as well as possible solutions to sustainability.
Jeff Carter, Art, Media & Design
LSP 112-204 Lincoln Park TTh 9:40-11:10
This course will examine the presence and impact of technology in modern and contemporary visual art, exploring and defining “technology” from various perspectives and contexts. We will examine how and why many artists have utilized the technologies of medicine, communication, entertainment, industry and the military, how these various and often contradictory paradigms of technology are articulated by specific artworks, artistic practices and art movements of our time, and the degree to which technology exerts an influence over all aspects of visual art, from content and aesthetics to production, presentation, and the viewing experience.
Salli Berg Seeley, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-229 Lincoln Park MW 2:40-4:10
In Nelson Algren’s long, broken-hearted love poem to the city of Chicago he writes that “[i]t isn’t hard to love a town for its greater and its lesser towers, its pleasant parks… Or for its broad and bending boulevards… But you can never truly love it till you can love its alleys too.” Chicago: City on the Make was published as a slim volume in 1951, in the midst of the Post WWII McCarthy era. The country was rife with paranoia, convinced that Communist spies were lurking around every corner, and Soviet bombs were poised to drop on our soil at any moment. Any individual who varied from the prototype of a patriotic, mainstream American was viewed as suspect. In lyrical slang, Algren wrote his take on the history of Chicago, unearthing the city’s more unsavory past and declaring its present state desolate. He was an unabashed lefty nonconformist during a time in which conformity was not just highly valued, but seen as a means to maintain national security. We will be studying Chicago: City on the Make as a work of prose poetry, subjective history, and a political treatise celebrating nonconformity in a period in American history when submission to social and political conventions was the status quo.
Two sections offered:
Terry Fitzpatrick, Biological Sciences
LSP 112-205 Lincoln Park MW 8:00-9:30
Jessica Pamment, Biological Sciences
LSP 112-206 Lincoln Park MW 11:20-12:50
Cloning, Gene Therapy, and DNA Evidence are topics frequently in the news today. The goal of this course is to teach the biological underpinning of this field and how this basic biological knowledge has led to the seemingly magical ramifications we hear about in the headlines. Topics to be covered will include: how cells code, decode, and transmit information through DNA; basic methods of studying and manipulating DNA; methods of modifying the DNA of organisms; and biotechnological applications of these principles and their impact and regulation. Source materials will include first person accounts by principal investigators in the field, as well as critical assessments of the risks associated with this new technology.
Jason Winslade, Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
LSP 112-207 Lincoln Park F 12:00-3:15
The culture of comic books, while always popular, has become much less of a fringe phenomenon in recent years, due in no small part to the recent explosion of superhero films and the centrality of Comic-Con in San Diego. In this course, we will look at the history of the medium of the comic book and its influence, both positive and negative, on youth culture in America. We will examine how comics began to be taken more seriously in the 1980s as “graphic novels” and how the popular imagination has since utilized comic book culture as a way to productively fantasize, redefine identity, particularly with regards to gender, race and class, challenge contemporary values and raise issues through readership, creative content, fandom and cosplay. Though we will focus primarily on the superhero genre, we will also examine other genres such as the personal memoir, as well as independent work from prominent authors. Students will be welcome to bring their own preferences and interests to the class to explore more deeply the material that provokes their own fandom, through readings, discussions, creative projects and a field trip to the C2E2 convention.
Aaron Lefkovitz, History
LSP 112-209 Lincoln Park MW 9:40-11:10
As an industry, Disney has been well placed to meet the needs of contemporary culture as it commands a respectable place in the leisure industry, fulfills consumer demands, provides services people desire, and employs legions of workers. In this course, we will explore Disney as an enterprise, employer, tourist location, progenitor of cultural myths and symbols, and centrality to the transnational cultural politics of race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, nation, popular music, and visual culture. A series of key questions will unify our discussion of Disney, including: what does Disney produce, how it can be defined, whether it is fun, and if so, what is the nature of pleasure in contemporary culture, is it good business, and if so, what type of business is it and what makes it good, if Disney is just fantasy, and if so, how does it pertain to the manufacture of reality and fantasy in contemporary culture, if Disney is just for kids, and if so, what is the nature of childhood, what does watching Disney’s visual texts teach us, is watching a form of consumerism, if so, what are we consuming, is consuming a passive act, and if so, why do we spend money on a passive act, and what do we get in return, what kinds of myths Disney sells, do these myths need to be accountable to the broader culture and its histories, and what do these myths say about US and transnational cultures and histories?
Robert Meyer, English
LSP 112-210 Lincoln Park TTh 1:00-2:30
On June 25, 1876, a pivotal event in American history, and specifically in the history of interactions between Native Americans and Americans of European heritage, took place. On this occasion, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer, was defeated by Sioux and Cheyenne warriors—led by Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, among others—in what is now southern Montana. Sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer’s Last Stand, or The Battle of the Greasy Grass (a translation of the Sioux name for the location), this incident has been the subject of numerous debates, several films and countless books and articles. In this course, we will examine what is known about the major players, the cultural context and the historical ramifications of this remarkable confrontation. In so doing, we will strive to increase our understanding of 19th century America, and to develop insight about the cultural, political and other forces that shape our views of the past and the present.
Janelle Walker, First-Year Program
LSP 112-502 LOOP MW 1:30-3:00
The influence of Disney in shaping American culture from the 1950’s onward is undeniable. In this course, we will explore the depths and subtleties of this influence by looking at selected original Disney “texts” – movies, characters, theme parks, attractions, merchandise, and official publications – from the perspectives of several disciplines. Starting from a historical perspective, we will see not only how Disney’s development has been affected by historical and political movements in the US, but also how Disney has portrayed these movements and historical figures, and the complicated relationship between changing times and changing Disney texts. Through the lens of Gender Studies, we will look at Disney’s treatment of femininity, masculinity, and sexuality, while Disney portrayals of race, ethnicity, and world cultures will be examined from a Cultural/American Studies perspective. Readings and class discussions will explore how American worldview in general is shaped by Disney creations. Lastly, we will look at the influence of Disney architecture and design on “real” urban spaces and the built environment. How do “Main Street USA” at Walt Disney World and Disney’s utopian town of Celebration influence our thinking about our own towns and cities? How and why has the Disney model of clean, uncomplicated tourism spread to so many other American sites?
Course descriptions of recent years' Focal Point Seminars and FY@broad courses in PDF: