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Complex Problems Courses | Past, Present, Future

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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.

America At Work

GNED 140
James Quirk
TF 4:05 - 5:20pm 

From farm to factory to fiber optics, the meaning of "work" has been central to the American experience. Shifting to industrial and then to post-industrial eras raises questions not just about business and economics, but about forces transforming society and the individual's place in it. We'll approach America at Work from a range of perspectives. We'll use scholarly work as well as excerpts from film, theatre, and literature, and even from HBO's The Wire. Your responses will include some usual written University-level approaches, as well as more personal assignments like an interview and a photo essay, and living-learning community projects.

Cities: Destroyed & Reinvented

GNED 120
Andrew Demshuk
W 2:30 – 5:20 PM 

The turmoil and traumas of modernity have transformed urban spaces into architectural and commemorative battlegrounds. Revolutions, riots, racial conflict, ethnic cleansing, wars, and regime changes have led power elites to erase poignant structures, monuments, decorations, and even cemeteries, and then “set in stone” the history that suits their own politics of memory. Utopian visions of building a modern future have imposed cement wastelands to serve diverse ideological platforms, prompting grassroots preservation protest movements. This seminar introduces theories of memory and nationalism alongside controversies over architecture and planning with special case examples from twentieth-century European urban transformations. Our dynamic environment in the US capital also informs the course. Critical thinking, reading, and writing are encouraged through intense discussion of weekly readings, the composition of short response essays, and a terse essay/presentation assessing the intersection between urban change and the politics of memory in a context of the student’s choice. 

Envisioning an Inclusive Future

GNED 140
Lauren Wells
TF 4:05 - 5:20pm 

This course seeks to: (1) dismantle the ideologies which reproduce social inequality and prevent inclusiveness in our schools and society; (2) develop a collective vision for an inclusive future; and (3) identify the role schools and other social institutions must play in an inclusive society. Among other activities, we will consider texts, social and cultural institutions, social movements, and personal histories to investigate and analyze the roots of diversity in America, and reimagine the contemporary landscape of our diverse society. 

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 (Class) | Th 5:30 - 8:00pm (Film Screening) 

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.

Inventing Queer Lives

GNED 140
Dustin Friedman
MTh 4:05 - 5:20pm 

What lives have queers imagined living? How did dominant understandings of LGBT identity come into being in the Western world at the turn of the twentieth century? What alternative paradigms for sexual and gender difference have been offered by racial minorities, transgender communities, and non-Western cultures? Though we will find some answers in literary texts, we will also examine films, historical documents, and perspectives from sociology and anthropology. We will tackle various formal and informal writing assignments and class presentations, and we will also explore the DC area’s queer cultural resources, including (potentially) archives, performances, cinema, and art exhibits.

Jerusalem: Myth, History, Modernity

GNED 120
Michael Brenner
MTh 11:20 - 12:35pm 

Central for the three Abrahamic traditions, Jerusalem has been a locus of worship and dispute for over two-thousand years. The course will proceed thematically, beginning first with the role of Jerusalem in the mythic imagination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It will then turn to writings reflecting the history of Jerusalem as a physical place and a source of contention for the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the empires of medieval Europe and the Ottomans, the British, the Arabs and the modern State of Israel. Finally, we turn to the modern era and examine Jerusalem as a modern city and a proxy for disputes over identity, culture, language, and religion. We will visit different places of worship in DC and invite guest speakers representing a diversity of cultures to class. 

Living and Dying in DC

GNED 250
Jessica Young
MTh 12:55- 2:10pm 

Why are some infants born in the capital of the world's wealthiest nation dying at rates higher than some developing countries? Why does the Metro stop people live near predict how long they are likely to live or if one will die from HIV/AIDS, cancer, asthma, or old age? This course will introduce students to health inequities and will use political, economic, historical, and sociological analyses of differences in power and privilege as it relates to quality of life, disease burden, and mortality in Washington, DC. Through local texts, site visits, discussions, and reflections, students will explore how DC residents, communities, health care providers, public health practitioners, and policymakers have shaped the social forces that influence health, and how they have worked together to ensure that all DC residents have the opportunity to live healthy and long lives.

Normalizing Bodies

GNED 140
Perry Zurn
MTh 2:30 - 3:45pm 

This course will examine the distinction between “normal” and “abnormal” bodies and investigate the complex ways in which abnormal bodies become “problems” for medicine. Looking at historical examples, e.g. pathologization of slaves’ desires to flee captivity, nineteenth century diagnosis and treatment of “hysteria,” medical treatment of height (tallness in girls, short stature in boys) and atypical sex anatomies (intersex bodies), we will ask what normality means, and explore the effects of meanings we may too often take for granted. We anticipate a visit to the Smithsonian Museum of American History to speak with the curator and specialist of disability, and guest lectures on normalizing surgical interventions for children.

Plagues, Plots, and People

GNED 250
Sarah Marsh
TF 9:45 - 11:00am 

Diseases, we say, are caught, transmitted, and contracted in many different ways: miasmas, bugs, germs, and vectors--to name just a few. So what do the things we say about illness teach us about what we think makes us sick? This class will study historical, scientific, and popular accounts of illness to explore this question and others: Does disease create immunity or result from lack of it? Do class, sexuality, race, gender, or geography protect against disease, or expose people to it? How do biomedical narratives of illness inflect cultural practices and social relations? And how have the life cycles of pathogenic microorganisms shaped human history? This course's materials include science writing, theory, film, and literature--as well as images and objects from the National Library of Medicine and the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian Institute. 

Quest for Justice

GNED 140
G. Borden Flanagan
TF 12:55 - 2:10pm

This course introduces students to an on-going dialogue at the core of Western intellectual history about how to think about justice. Though the course hits the major periods, it is not a tour of the history of political theory, and the purpose is not to accumulate opinions about that history. It is, rather, an extended exercise in how the attempt to achieve clarity about the fundamental problems of justice gives rise to new questions and problems that were not apparent at first, which in turn lead beyond themselves again, all while revolving nevertheless around common elements. The central theme of the course is intellectual surprise, as new questions emerge from old solutions and new solutions reveal old questions. We will address and illustrate questions about law, political obligation, freedom, equality, justice and human nature; we will examine different societies such as the ancient city, modern democracy and totalitarianism, and discuss contemporary issues such as race, culture and inequality.

The Big Short: Money and Power

GNED 140
Patricia Aufderheide
W 2:30 – 5:20pm

This course on how we understood and understand the Great Recession and specifically the financial collapse of 2007-2009 will expose you to different choices in storytelling about major and complex events, and also to different disciplinary approaches to analyzing and understanding the implications of their impact.

The Material World

GNED 250
Nathan Harshman
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm 

This course will explore the matter that has mattered to humans, from stone and bronze through semiconductors and nanostructures. Cultures, economies, and nation‐states flourish and decline based in part on the material resources and technology which they can access and control. This course is half about material science, investigating the atom-stuff that we and our world are made of, and half a critical investigation of materialist theories of culture, history, economics, and politics. The primary student assessment is a portfolio demonstrating an integrated understanding of scientific and technical material (pun intended) into social, historical, artistic, economic, philosophical and political contexts.

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 analyzed comparatively, in a case-study approach across specific cultures. Individual and group projects will develop critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills.

Why Big Government

GNED 140
Gautham Rao
TF 11:20 - 12:35pm

This interdisciplinary course explores a pressing intellectual challenge of our time: Americans’ ambivalent historical relationship with the state. It explores how Americans from the era of Alexander Hamilton to the Age of Obama conceptualize and confront the state by demanding, protesting, prohibiting, and expanding government power over their persons and their property. The course pursues these themes through classics of social and political thought, such as the writings of James Madison, Frederick Lloyd Garrison, John Dewey, and John Maynard Keynes, alongside compelling new frameworks offered by scholars such as sociologists Monica Prasad and Andrew Abbott, journalist Ta-Nahesi Coates, and philosopher Danielle Allen. The course will also draw upon visual media, such as screenings of The Wire and Birth of a Nation, while using the social media platform of Twitter to undertake some of our inquiries in public and in real time.