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Liberal Arts courses offered Spring semester, 2018, are described below.


CORE II fulfills the “Writing and Research Methods” requirement.  This is the generic description of these classes:

This course exercises skills of academic research by employing tools and resources of the Sheridan Libraries of Johns Hopkins University.  Students complete a formal academic research paper, typically of 15-18 pages, on a research topic of their choice. Following models of professional research, students will identify appropriate source materials, properly employing and documenting them in their writing. Students must earn a C+ or better to receive core credit for this course. Prerequisite: Core I or approved placement. (0,3) Humanities Faculty


PY.260.216 Section 01                                  The Souls of  Black Folk 
Instructor:  Adam Culver
meets TTh 10:30 AM – 11:50 AM

The classic work, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), addresses themes of race, culture, history, and community that are as compelling now as they were over one-hundred years ago. Students in the class will understand the author, W. E. B. Du Bois, as a historian, a sociologist, and a cultural critic.  His work exemplifies the interdisciplinary approach that political theorists now embrace to understand our complex, modern society. We will see how controversy over gender, class, race, and religion that compel the news in contemporary America can be assessed in an earlier setting through Du Bois’s critical lens–one that relies on poetry, and even music, to convey its timely themes.  As in all Core II classes, students acquire competency in academic research and writing by selecting a research topic related to course themes, to complete a carefully supervised research project.


PY.260.216 Section 02                                 Great Texts in Philosophy
Instructor:  Oliver Thorndike
meets TTh 9:00 AM – 10:20 AM
Leakin Hall 214

We will be discussing classic texts in the history of philosophy. The goal is to provide both a historical overview ranging from Presocratic thinkers (6th – 5th centuries B.C.) to contemporary philosophical approaches, and to cover a broad range of interesting philosophical debates including but not limited to: personal identity, freedom of will, ethics, art (dance and music in particular), and political justice.


PY.260.216 Section 03                              Thinking Historically
Instructor:  Ron Levy
meets TTh 10:30 AM – 11:50 AM

If the past cannot change, why is history constantly rewritten? Do historians invent rather than simply record the past? Such questions, addressing the nature of historical inquiry, will be pursued via three topics. We first consider historical reconstruction in film with the immensely popular Amadeus. This superb but historically inaccurate film is loved by some musicologists; others hate it. Why? Holocaust denial raises questions about the wholesale fabrication of history. Should it be illegal to deny historical evidence? Is there a moral obligation to recognize the past “correctly”?  Finally, we will assess a highly acclaimed, highly controversial piece of historical writing, The Return of Martin Guerre. This is a case of identity theft in the 16th Century:  an impostor who assumes the identity of a man named Martin Guerre lives with the real Martin’s wife, relatives, and neighbors for an extended time before his true identity is recognized. This fascinating story is told in a “new” mode of historical writing. What makes this history valuable?  or suspect?  These topics establish a framework for students’ independent research. Students will be encouraged to pursue a research topic of genuine interest.


PY.260.216 Section 04             Identity, Sex, and Death in Modernist Fiction
Instructor:  Robert Day
meets TTh  9:00 AM – 10:20 AM

Innovative literature in the late 19th and early 20th century gave expression to some vibrant and controversial views on human nature and its transformation under modern life. The texts we will read pose questions about what forms of community (race, ethnicity, empire) ought to prevail in the world, what kinds of erotic and romantic desire make for a free and worthwhile culture, and how our mortality can give meaning to our lives in a secular era. We will work together on short, focused research and writing assignments for each text. At the same time, students will choose their own topic and develop a longer paper over the whole semester, sharing their progress with the class in periodic workshops. Texts may include: Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray; Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis; Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness; Nella Larsen, Passing; Kate Chopin, The Awakening.


PY.260.216 Section 05                                    Museums
Instructor:  Katie Boyce-Jacino
meets TTh  9:00 AM – 10:20 AM

Why do people visit museums? What do museums hope to accomplish? Are museums primarily places of preservation or education? This course seeks to answer these questions through an in-depth exploration of the history of museums. In particular, we will explore three main types of museums: art museums, history museums, and science and technology museums. Our readings on the history of museums will be accompanied by a series of visits to some of the many museums in the Baltimore and DC area, such as the Walters Art Gallery, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Great Blacks in Wax museum, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This course will introduce students to the ins and outs of academic research through a project in which students will choose one of the museums we visit and complete a 10-15 page formal academic research paper exploring the museum’s history, and some of its most notable objects.



CORE IV fulfills the “Art, Culture, and Society” requirement.  This is the generic description of these classes:

Sustained consideration of the role of art (music, literature, fine arts, film) in all aspects of society, focusing on particular periods in history or under particular regimes and political structures.  Course objectives: ensuring that students can think historically about the role of art and culture in political society and about the economic and cultural systems supporting the creation of art (e.g. patronage, guilds).  Students will be required to write one historical “review” of a work of art in historical context (2-3 pages) and one historical research paper (6-8 pages minimum). Prerequisite:  Core II or approved placement.  (0,3) Humanities Faculty


PY.260.360 Section 01                                  Race and Power in American Cinema
Instructor:  Adam Culver
meets TTh  9:00 AM – 10:20 AM

This course will examine changing norms of racial representation in American cinema from The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Casablanca (1942) to Do The Right Thing (1989) and 12 Years a Slave (2013). We will analyze specific representations of racial difference in film and will consider those images in relation to the operations of the film industry and to specific moments in US history when “race relations,” international politics, economic factors, legal policy, and social rights movements informed cinematic representations of race. Although the course is organized according to a loose chronology beginning with silent film and ending with recent black-directed films, it is not intended to plot out a complete or linear history of race in American cinema. Instead, we will focus on exploring how representations of racial difference function as allegories for different visions of American social and political life. This means that we will be analyzing film as a social practice that creates meanings for its makers and audience, meanings that inform both everyday practices and deliberations over many of the most important issues and debates in American society. Through this analysis we will also have occasion to examine race’s complex and ever- shifting relationship to class, gender, and sexuality in both cinema and American politics more generally. The goal is to gain a better appreciation for how the stories films tell us shape our personal and collective identities and inform our understanding of political life.


PY.260.360 Section 02                                    Philosophy of Art:  E. T. A. Hoffman
Instructor:  Oliver Thorndike
meets TTh  10:30 AM – 11:50 AM
Leaking Hall 214

E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) was a Romantic intellectual who wrote fiction, philosophical treatise on art; he was a playwright, composer, and music critic, and has had a tremendous influence on artists and intellectuals in the 19th Century: Offenbach’s “The Tales of Hoffmann,” Tchaikovsly’s “Nutcracker” are perhaps the most well-known examples. But he also inspired Schumann’s “Kreislerianer” and is one of the major influences on Johannes Brahms. The goal of this class is to read Hoffmann’s essays on music and music reviews, acquaint ourselves with Hoffmann’s life and see its connection to the social and political turmoil of his days, read some of his horror/science fiction stories, and to delve into some of the artwork he has composed himself and inspired in others (both dance and music). We will read Jan Swafford’s biography on Johannes Brahms in this context in order to look at some crosspollination between the humanities and music.


PY.260.360 Section 03                                         Art and Censorship
Instructor:  Ron Levy
meets TTh  1:00 PM – 2:20 AM

This course addresses a range of historical episodes in which art has been perceived as offensive, dangerous, or otherwise inappropriate, challenging students to think about the purposes of art. Can art be apolitical? Does art have meaning divorced from its social contexts? Readings, discussions, and other assignments prod serious consideration of these questions. The course will raise a range of historical, recent, and current viewpoints–some overlapping, some incompatible, and most challenging common ways of thinking.


PY.260.360 Section 04                    The Nobel Prize and the Politics of Taste
Instructor:  Robert Day
meets TTh  12:00 PM – 1:20 PM

In this course, we will ask—and answer—three questions about the Nobel Prize in Literature: How can comparative quality or merit be measured in a field like literature? What has been the role of the Nobel Prize, and prizes generally, in the formation of the public’s reading preferences? How do debates about who “deserves” the Nobel reflect larger social and political conflicts? Our texts will include a sampling of works by Nobel laureates from the early 20th century to the present, recent scholarly work about the Nobel Prize and the prize system, and public arguments about some of the most controversial winners (and non-winners).



PY.260.250                                                               U. S. History
Instructor:  James Ashton
meets MWF 10:30 AM – 11:20 AM

description pending

PY.260.252                                                               Art History II
Instructor:  Trudi Johnson
meets W 6:30 PM – 9:20 PM

description pending

PY.260.313                                       Katharine the Great: An Everlasting Film Star
Instructor:  Suhnne Ahn
meets Tuesdays 7:00 PM – 9:20 PM

How does an artist endure? What makes one star last while another fizzles? Katharine Hepburn, 1907-2003, is ranked by the American Film Institute (AFI) as the “greatest female star in the history of American cinema.”  She lived as originally as so many of the film heroines she portrayed. This humanities seminar examines the roles and movies that defined the pioneering Hepburn as an actress, a businesswoman, and progressive thinker in American history.  Along the way, we will trace pivotal events and cinematic trends in the 20th century contributing to Hepburn’s legacy.


PY.260.320                                                  Modern Drama
Instructor:  Gavin Witt
meets M  10:00 AM – 1:00 PM

description pending