Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Complex Problems Courses | Arts and Culture

University College Logo


GNED 110
Elizabeth Gerbi
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm 

Many scholars have regarded the 21st century to be watershed era for inclusiveness on Broadway. This course examines a chronology of such representation on "The Great White Way," including titles from current and/or Broadway seasons such as "Falsettos" and "Hamilton." This course will offer students the opportunity to watch both live and archived performances of musicals past and present, as well as read, verbally deconstruct, and even perform excerpts from these shows with the goal of practicing rational, respectful, and empathetic difficult dialogues/critical conversations. 

The Art of Theft

GNED 110
Edward Helfers
MTh 4:05 – 5:20pm

From William Shakespeare to Beyoncé, much of what we consider original art depends on borrowed text, recycled images, and familiar melodies. But where do we draw the line between influence and plagiarism? In this course, we consider questions of creative ownership. Drawing from scholarship by ethicists, cultural critics, and legal scholars, will analyze case studies in music, film, literature, and visual art. Working in groups, students will be asked to trace intellectual property attitudes within a chosen genre or institution (i.e. Death Metal, Persian Poetry, Pixar Films). For the final project, after meeting working artists in the D.C. area, students will compose a creative work that borrows responsibly.

Act Like a Man

GNED 110
Karl Kippola
W 11:20 – 2:10pm

Act Like a Man: The Performance of American Masculinities. This course examines the search for and performance of ideal models of American manhood on theatrical, political, and social stages. Through investigating gender theory and masculinity studies, reading and analyzing plays, viewing theatrical productions and films, unpacking political posturing, and scrutinizing human behavior, students explore, demystify, and question the ways in which public masculine figures manipulate, challenge, and reflect lives of American males. From the first American play to Hamilton, from the Founding Fathers to Donald Trump, the course investigates the ways in which American men learn to behave and misbehave.

Dying, Death, and the Afterlife

GNED 120
Martyn Oliver
TF 2:30 – 3:45pm 

What happens when we die? Few ideas have stirred the human imagination as has the question of the end of life. Is there some life after this? What is it like? Who will be there? And most compellingly, what will happen to me? This course examines visions of the process of dying and accounts of a possible second life from Judaism to Hinduism, Dante to Milarepa, The Wings of Desire to the Book of Mormon, offering a wide-ranging examination of pathways to the celestial afterworld. Some of these visions, like the heavenly paradise of Shambala, provide reassurance about life everlasting, a reward for the righteous and downtrodden where suffering is eliminated and we bask in Cosmic Unity. Others, like Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgment, imagine that all manner of perversion and evil will be punished with torture suitable to the sin. But no matter which realm we arrive in, we must all first pass through to the other side. By examining the imaginative geography of the afterlife, we learn not only about the existential fear that lingers and grows as we age, but also about how we as a species have reconciled the facts of this life with our conceptions of justice, righteousness, divine reward, and deserved punishment. In this way, the afterlife becomes a reflection of our own mortal world, exhibiting both the hubris and the terror that we carry with us as we come to terms with what it means to be human. The material for this course will range across the religious, philosophical, literary, sociological, and biological, encouraging students to examine how our conceptions of death and the afterlife reflect back to us our lived concerns, the struggle to live a life of meaning in our Dzmortal coildz and imaginatively forestall the end.

How Are Latinx Changing US

GNED 130
Salvador Vidal-Ortiz
W 8:10 – 11:00am 

This class adopts a less Western-centric way of framing knowledge by focusing on a U.S. ethno-racial minority group within the U.S. (The double meaning of “us” will guide our quest.) Latinx, a gender-fluid nomenclature used more frequently since 2015, is code for change, and Latinxs are shifting the economic, political, cultural, and social landscape of USAmerican society. Yet Latinx identity is marked as foreign, irrespective of the increasingly lower number of immigrants and the higher number of US born Latinxs. Latinx communities bring forth questions of nation and ethnicity, along with intersectional aspects of class, gender, sexuality, ability, and migratory/documented status to a discussion of who the U.S. is as a nation—or who is this “us” we refer to constantly. We will visit or bring in leaders of local organizations and advocacy groups, as well as national entities, to better understand the contributions and challenges of Latinxs in the U.S. We will also explore themes through movies and documentaries, and engage in an analysis of how Latinxs are portrayed in the media. Our focus in the class is discussion based, including group work, with less emphasis on individual research.

How to Create Better Worlds

GNED 110
Susan McDonic
W 2:30 – 5:20pm 

How does art help to advance the work of activists and how do artists enable activists to think more creatively? Social justice movements almost always use the tools of artwork to support and further their aims; this course will think about how art works - and works on us - by meeting artists and visiting activist projects. We will examine how activists have pushed the boundaries of what counts as art and who counts as an artist. Readings will cover a range of topics, disciplines, theoretical frameworks, and case studies, pushing us to question how people create art objects—visual, aural, performance, and multi-media— that have political and social effects. 

Imagining the Future 

GNED 140
Despina Kakoudaki*
TF 11:20 - 12:35; Th 5:30 - 8:00pm (Film Screeening) 

How do we imagine the political structures, landscapes, challenges, and bodies of the future? This interdisciplinary course traces the visual, literary, and political implications of the way we have imagined the future through the 20th and 21st centuries. Exciting and revealing, our visions of the future reflect both our dreams and our biases, and express our desire for global collaboration, our fears of nuclear or environmental disaster, and our cultural and political aspirations and limits. Starting from science fictional dreams of the future in literature and film, our class will interrogate concepts of utopian and dystopian futurity, collective action, danger and heroism, community, nationalism, and globalization.

Visual Identities

GNED 140
Andrea Pearson
MTh 9:45 - 11:00am

Drawing on museum collections in D.C., “Visual Identities” explores how visual images constructed, claimed, and sometimes contested identities across the geohistorical spectrum. How do images convey identities tied to cultural conceptions about politics, religions, race, gender, disability, and sexuality? What can such works teach us about visual strategies for conveying identity, past and present? In what ways are these strategies culturally distinctive or analogous? To answer these questions, images will be 13 analyzed comparatively, in a case-study approach across specific cultures. Individual and group projects will develop critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills.

Whose Hip Hop Cultures

GNED 130
Kendra Salois
TF 4:05 – 5:20pm 

Who lays claim to hip hop when its arts and cultures are shared worldwide? This course traces hip hop's movement from a transnational, Afro-diasporic South Bronx to six continents over its forty years. To understand its circulation, we also explore the racialization of United States popular musics, a history and practice of difference-making that profoundly informs the way hip hop has been and continues to be perceived in the US. Along with weekly reading and listening assignments, students will visit DC institutions, conduct research in the residence halls, and learn to make historical, cultural, and musical connections between songs.