Course Offerings 2020

James MileyCourse taught by: James MileyColloquium Associate: Jake Procino

Have you ever read a scathing critique of an artist you admire? Did that criticism affect your perception of or loyalty to that artist or even to an entire style/genre of music? This class will explore the impact of criticism, both positive and negative, on innovation and risk-taking in popular music in America and abroad. Our study includes an overview of popular and jazz music history, substantial reading and in-depth discussion of important musical criticism of the past 100 years, and detailed examinations of various eras and specific artists--particularly those embroiled in controversy both in and out of the recording studio. In addition to reading and parsing the writing of professional music critics, students will be responsible for writing their own positive and negative profiles (a la respected music journals such as Rolling Stone and Down Beat) of contemporary musical artists and gauging the potential impact of music critics on the trajectory of popular musical expression. Knowledge of music theory is not required.

Seth CotlarCourse taught by: Seth CotlarColloquium Associate: Maddie Campbell

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis caused a stir with his satirical novel, It Can’t Happen Here. In an era of rising fascism in Germany, Italy, and around the world, Lewis’s novel invited readers to imagine what a homegrown, Midwestern American variant of fascism might look like. Lewis’s title points to a widely-held belief in the US that fascism could not, did not, and never could “happen here,” that the US was somehow uniquely immune from the sort of right wing, hyper-nationalistic, and racially-exclusionary populism that dominated the politics of many nations in the 1930s. Recent historical scholarship, however, has revealed that assessment to be based more on wishful thinking than empirical analysis. From the 1920s when millions of Americans, spread across every state of the union, joined a resurgent Ku Klux Klan; to 1939 when 20,000 Americans gathered for a “pro-America” rally at Madison Square Garden where the audience gave Nazi salutes toward a stage festooned with images of George Washington, the American flag, and the Swastika; to the immense popularity of the isolationist and virulently antisemitic “America First” movement in the late 1930s that claimed Nazi atrocities were either being exaggerated by the liberal media or were just none of America’s business;  it’s clear that a significant number of Americans in the years before WWII found fascist organizations and messages compelling. America’s entry into WWII quickly undermined the fascist movements of the 1930s, and at war’s end most Americans came to assume that the nation had no fascist tradition to speak of. After all, we were part of the international alliance that defeated fascism! This class will explore the history of homegrown, American fascism in the 20th century and the resistance to it, as well as the process through which the history of American fascism came to be largely forgotten in the years following WWII.

Juwen ZhangCourse taught by: Juwen ZhangColloquium Associate: Briana Kurtenbach

This course will explore how folktales embody the cultural values, maintain local traditions, and express regional and national identities throughout the Chinese history. These topics will be examined through both the use of recent films such as Mulan and Nezha and books including the ninth century text of Yexian (Cinderella). We will discover how folklorists analyze folktales, legends and myths, and study how media representation plays a role in drawing boundaries between us and them in our current global communication. Included in our comparative studies are tales from the Brothers Grimm and Disney films. We will also learn the magic formula as we engage in writing our own enchanting tales.


Jeanne ClarkCourse taught by: Jeanne ClarkColloquium Associate: Lucia Mosca

Gandhi and Martin Luther King demonstrated the power and the perils of nonviolent resistance in promoting political and social change. This course will explore how varied nonviolent resistance strategies have been utilized in a one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, a conflict typically reported in the news as a “cycle of violence,” i.e. Israel/Palestine.  From slingshots to hip hop, tax resistance to tree planting, refusing military service to rebuilding homes, monitoring checkpoints to painting walls, milk production to cultural boycotts, Palestinian and Israeli activists have engaged a range of nonviolent methods to promote what they understand as a peaceful end.  The methods are often controversial; their “nonviolence” is sometimes disputed; their potential for efficacy is uncertain.

Together we will ponder what constitutes “nonviolence” and what may be required for such strategies to work. We will examine media coverage of the “cycle of violence” and consider what a “peace journalism” coverage of events might look like. We will review documentary accounts of nonviolent resistance groups.  We will evaluate the use of the social media by Palestinian and Israeli nonviolent activist groups. In addition to analyzing the nonviolent strategies employed by others, you will develop messages and strategies to promote your own chosen cause through nonviolent resistance.

Randall HavasCourse taught by: Randall HavasColloquium Associate: Dan Johnston

What is the difference between being a person and being moss, a bit of garbage, or a cauliflower?  What a cauliflower is is fixed, let us suppose, by nature.  According to the existentialist, this is not true of the human being.  That is, what is true of us is, at least in part, a function of what we say or think about ourselves, how we live our lives.  We are, as it is sometimes said, self-interpreting animals; as such, freedom is fundamental to the kinds of beings we are.  Consequently, we bear a kind of responsibility for what is true of us that the cauliflower does not, and nothing can disburden us of that responsibility.  What, if anything, can have authority for me, in view of my radical freedom?  Can anything, and, if so, does nothing?  What can authority even mean in such circumstances?  What does obedience to such authority look like?  In what ways can authority and obedience be deformed?  Such questions are not unique to the philosophical movement known as existentialism, but it is characteristic of the latter that it so consistently leaves the asking and answering of them entirely to the individual, particularly concerned as it is with the various ways in which we tend to disown responsibility for asking and answering them ourselves.  Existentialist themes are the stuff of great modern literature as well as of European philosophy in the mid and late 20th century.  Our colloquium will focus on one seminal example: Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, in which a young and impoverished law student Raskolnikov commits an apparently senseless murder with the aim of determining whether morality is truly binding on him.  The bulk of the novel is spent trying to decipher Raskolnikov’s peculiar motivations and to understand the significance of his ostensible failure to “step over” morality.  In our Colloquium we will read and critically analyse Dostoevsky’s great novel through the lens of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and Nietzsche’s The Anti-Christ, with an eye to understanding his conceptions of good, evil, and human agency.

Jeremy MillerCourse taught by: Jeremy MillerColloquium Associate: Kelli O’Brian

Isaac Asimov wrote that “In science fiction, human beings are pictured as facing unusual situations, bizarre societies, unorthodox problems. The effort to imagine the human response to such things may cast light into the shadows in a new way, allowing us to see what had not been clear before.” This course will follow Asimov’s suggestion by exploring the intersection between science fiction and the science of mind, brain, and behavior. Broadly, we will explore the ways in which popular works of contemporary and classic science fiction can help us to understand human behavior and its causes. Along the way, we will look at examples of science fiction across media: from short stories  like “Periapsis” by James Cambias, to movies like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, to episodes of TV shows like “The Twilight Zone” and “Futurama”.  In each case, we will examine a work of science fiction that poses an important question about human behavior. We will then discuss modern scientific approaches to answering these questions and attempt to integrate knowledge gained from science fiction’s speculative treatment of the question with a scientific approach to examining mind, brain and behavior. Most importantly, this course is intended to help you develop the skills necessary in order to become a successful student here at Willamette, and a successful problem solver across the course of your life. Toward that end, we will place special emphasis on developing the skills that will prove critical over the course of your time at WU: writing, argumentation, and critical thinking.

Courtney StevensCourse taught by: Courtney StevensColloquium Associate: Landry Ferguson

Everyone knows what it’s like to feel happy—whether experienced just in the moment or over longer periods of time. At the same time, happiness has been notoriously difficult to define, measure, and enhance, despite efforts to do so dating at least as far back as antiquity. This course will draw upon ancient philosophical wisdom and modern psychological research to delve into the questions of what happiness is, where it comes from, and how it can be cultivated in our daily lives. We will begin the course by examining philosophical perspectives on human flourishing (eudaimonia) before turning to more recent scientific research on happiness and well-being. Students will be encouraged to combine our scientific readings with self-reflection and personal application.




Josh LaisonCourse taught by: Josh LaisonColloquium Associate: Yewon Na

Like any creative medium, games combine technical and artistic processes in their design, and can be analyzed and critiqued from a variety of academic perspectives.  Game designers use mathematical and computational tools to balance complex interconnected systems of abstract rules, and narrative and storytelling structures to give their designs meaning.  Game critics think about games in the context of modern societies, and games succeed and fail in their relationships with player psychologies.  In this course, students will design and iteratively redesign their own paper and cardstock games; read and discuss a variety of scholarly works on game design and criticism; and think about experimental games that push the boundaries of the design and play experiences. 


Mike ChasarCourse taught by: Mike ChasarColloquium Associate: Laney Agodon

This course will focus on The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Shakespeare’s longest, most frequently performed, and probably most famous play. Written around the year 1600, it features murder, poison, dueling, a ghost, a drowning, a graveyard scene, an imminent military invasion, all sorts of treachery, and a cast of well-known secondary characters. In addition to reading the text closely over the course of the semester and comparing it to at least three different film versions, we will also investigate at least three different printed versions from Shakespeare’s time. Finally, to close the semester, we will read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a well-known spin-off play that, in the manner of television shows like Better Call Saul or Legacies, follows secondary characters into their own dramas

Tabitha KnightCourse taught by: Tabitha KnightColloquium Associate: Callia Stylianou

In the robust, complex, and intriguing wizarding world of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling masterfully weaves fantasy with reality to create underlying subplots related to dealing with difference. In this course, we will journey together through the Harry Potter series to analyze, discuss, and evaluate many of these subplots to guide our inquiry into questions such as: what is the social hierarchy in the wizarding world and how does it overlap with or differ from the real world? How do the natures of the characters and their manifestations of prejudice allow readers to connect to the characters and better understand prejudice? What does Rowling offer as solutions to prejudicial social attitudes and institutions and would these solutions “solve” these issues in the real world today? We will draw upon J.K. Rowling’s series, in addition to other sources that will help guide our conversations on these topics. Familiarity with the Harry Potter texts is recommended.

Rebecca J. DobkinsCourse taught by: Rebecca J. DobkinsColloquium Associate: Sydney Louchard

What might it mean to imagine Indigenous futures?  In this learning community, we’ll travel on a journey across spacetimelines and explore leading edge speculative fiction and art by Indigenous artists, creative use of gaming and video technologies for Indigenous storytelling and community building, and Indigenous design as a strategy to address climate change.  Across the world, Indigenous peoples are leading movements for environmental protection, climate change, and adaptive design.  In this highly experiential and place-based course, we will read science   fiction by Native writers, engage with multi-media and film, and visit local tribal communities who are imaginatively envisioning a more just future for all people and beings through housing, environmental, and health initiatives.

Jason DuncanCourse taught by: Jason DuncanColloquium Associate: Alana Duong

What is life? What does it mean to be alive? Is there, or can there ever be, a universally accepted definition of life? In this course, we will explore and integrate both classical and contemporary perspectives on the nature of life. We will consider the thoughts of philosophers including Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, as well as physicists, chemists and biologists including Haldane, Schrödinger, Sagan, and Dawkins. We will strive to understand how ideas of what defines life have changed over time, and what factors have motivated or contributed to these changes. We will also analyze case studies that include prions, viruses, and ‘extremophiles’ - life forms that exist in the most extreme environments on earth. We will challenge our preconceived assumptions and biases on what constitutes life, and what it means to be alive.


Gaetano DeLeonibusCourse taught by: Gaetano DeLeonibusColloquium Associate: Lauren Burchinal

Well into our times, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) remains a complex and controversial figure. Rousseau's contemporaries already found inconsistencies between his philosophical and autobiographical selves. After his death, Rousseau was seen as a champion of individualism, at the nexus of Revolution and Romanticism, by both counter-revolutionaries and radicals. Hippolyte Taine went further and wrote that Rousseau's collectivism led inevitably to tyranny and despotism, only to be superseded by Cold War liberal scholars, such as Karl Popper, who claimed that his thinking contained the seed of totalitarianism. Finally, the history of modern educational theory is a series of footnotes to Rousseau, from his influence on the pedagogical practice of his near contemporaries Pestalozzi and Mme de Genlis, to that on later pedagogues such as Maria Montessori and John Dewey. In this course we will explore the man and the ideas that lie behind more than two-centuries of lively reactions, reverence, critique, controversy, and influence. We will ask, for instance: How do we read Emile, his book about child rearing, in light of Voltaire's revelation that Rousseau abandoned the five children he had with his servant? How does a feminist today read an author whose own contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, decried his denial to women of the same basic rights claimed for men? And finally: Rousseau, democrat or despot?

Stephen PattersonCourse taught by: Stephen PattersonColloquium Associate: Joel Westby

Cosmologists tell us that the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang, thus freeing us from the burden of reading the Bible as a primitive science book.  If Genesis is not about how the world began, what is it about?  Long before people had much to say about science, it seems they had a lot to say about human nature.  In this colloquium we’ll explore the myths and legends of Genesis as they take us into the heart of human experience—of life, love, desire, murder, trust and betrayal.  Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This colloquium is about what came next.


Inga JohnsonCourse taught by: Inga JohnsonColloquium Associate: Emma Donoho

In this inquiry-based course we will study the history and mathematics of secret codes and ciphers.  Together we will become code makers and breakers.  We will learn the mathematics of the RSA encryption algorithm, which is currently used to keep our online bank accounts and credit card purchases safe. By the end of this course students will have familiarity with some basic programming in Python and they will have collaboratively authored a text that explains the who, what, why and how of RSA encryption. 

Saghar SadeghianCourse taught by: Saghar SadeghianColloquium Associate: Holly Piper

Folklore and fairy tales can provide unique insights into a society. In this course, we will closely examine English translations of Persian folklore and fairy tales as we study Iranian society. These amusing stories cover such topics as the environment, class differences, and family structure. Together, we will compare the stories with those from other countries. Students will develop skills and methods to analyze the tales as we learn about historical sources, literature, and cultural diversity.



Ann M. NicgorskiCourse taught by: Ann M. NicgorskiColloquium Associate: Maia DiTolla

Today’s obsessions with selfies and individual representations in the visual arts and media is but the latest manifestation of the historical genre of portraiture, a distinct phenomenon in art that is especially sensitive to changes in the perceived nature of the individual in society. But what exactly is a portrait? And why are such images so gripping and, at times, unsettling? What is the nature and source of their particular power? This colloquium will address these questions through the study of concepts of representation in the visual arts, theories of portraiture throughout the ages, and a broad range of images from various periods and places, including paintings, sculptures, prints, cartoons, postage stamps, coins, medals, documents, photographs, and films, culminating with the original 1945 dramatization of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). We will also read and discuss a number of portrait stories, such as Nikolai Gogol’s “The Mysterious Portrait” (1835), Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” (1842), and Dorothy Macardle's “The Portrait of Roisin Dhu” (1924). These stories explore the subjectivities of sitter, artist, and viewer in relation to portraits that are shaped by special interests, power relations, gender, and class. Stories such as these also reveal the ways in which portraits can problematize the very act of seeing as well as the way subjectivity is constructed in the field of vision.

Sarah Clovis BishopCourse taught by: Sarah Clovis BishopColloquium Associate: Oscar Wecker

In 1939 Winston Churchill described Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”  He was not the first to puzzle over the nature of Russia—a country historically torn between East and West—nor was he the last.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia endured economic disaster and two ferocious internal wars.  The uncertainty of everyday life was matched by a crisis of national identity.  Russians found themselves in a new country and were faced with pressing questions:  What does it mean to be Russian in a post-Soviet world?  How do you relinquish the security and beliefs of the past?  In the 2000s, the economic and political situation in Russia largely stabilized, but this stability fostered a new paradox—a nostalgia for the Soviet past alongside a desire for a new future.  Russia now faces new economic difficulties and an increasingly strained relationship with the West.  Questions about the relationship between the Russian and American presidents abound.  Where is Russia headed?  Back to its Cold War past or towards a new future?  Through a careful investigation of contemporary fiction, essays, and films, we will attempt to unravel this new riddle of Russia.


Ana MonteroCourse taught by: Ana MonteroColloquium Associate: Sophie Goodwin-Rice

In 1937 Chilean poet Pablo Neruda published Spain in Our Hearts, a book of poems in support of the Republicans fighting fascism during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and an homage to his friend, poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, executed by Franco’s supporters. This book is a symbol of the intellectual and affective connections between Spain and Latin America during the first half of the twentieth century, a time of effervescent development of literature and art. Many of these artists and authors developed friendships and cultural connections while visiting or living at the “Residencia de estudiantes,” a progressive residence for university students in Madrid that became a center for avant-garde intellectuality. Among the residents were philosophers, scientists, writers such as Lorca, and visual artists such as painter Salvador Dali and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Some of these young writers and artists will come to create an intercontinental channel of cultural exchange between Spain and America, a continent that will become home-in-exile to many of them after the Spanish Civil War. Along with Lorca and Neruda, we will study other influential cultural icons on both sides of the ocean, such as poets Gabriela Mistral (Chile) and Ernestina de Champourcín (Spain/Mexico); and painters such as Frida Khalo and her husband Diego Rivera (Mexico), and Roberto Matta (Chile).


Briana LindhCourse taught by: Briana LindhColloquium Associate: Lily Painter

Darwin pioneered the modern study of evolution, but science classes rarely talk about the fact that he and his contemporaries were obsessed with race. White male scientists in the US and Britain could not stop thinking about race because they felt compelled to either justify or critique colonialism and slavery. We will read and discuss the words of Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson and other nineteenth century writers, as well as modern thinkers on the history of racism, including Audrey Smedley and Annette Gordon-Reed. Our goal will be to uncover and untwist the threads of both racist and anti-racist thought that are braided into the early history of science and into the history of the United States.

Daniel Borrero EcheverryCourse taught by: Daniel Borrero EcheverryColloquium Associate: Liandra Chapman

Suppose you were an alien scientist, freshly entering Earth orbit after a long journey from the planet Anhooie-4. Using your teleporter, you beam an ant (clearly the dominant species on the planet since there are million billion of them!) onboard, so you can study it. You study it carefully, learning everything you can about it. It has 6 legs. It can carry 30 times its own weight. It likes to eat sugar. Your investigation is so in-depth that you can eventually program the replicator in your lab to make your own ants. Then something incredible happens! The ants start building nests! They start working together to form bridges to cross from one lab bench to another! They start signaling each other where to find food! In a panic, you quickly open the airlock, venting the ants into space before they take over your ship. You quickly point your spaceship toward Sector-7 and jump to lightspeed, quickly headed for safer, ant-less planets. Once in the safety of Sector-7, you look over your notes, scratching your head. What just happened? Nothing in your study of the single ant suggested that  ants would behave this way!  

Ant colonies are a classic example of a self-organizing complex system, where the interactions between the parts of the system lead to collective behaviors that are more complex than the behavior of any of the constituent parts. Other examples of complex systems include cities, power grids, the economy, the Internet, and well… you! In this course we will learn about the tools used by scientists to understand complex systems, including dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, and network theory, drawing examples from across the natural and social sciences. While no significant math or computer background is required, we will spend a considerable amount of time learning the quantitative and computational tools used by scientists to study complex systems.

Jennifer JoppCourse taught by: Jennifer JoppColloquium Associate: Niko Hellman

News headlines and radio reports daily deluge us with coming catastrophes: climate change, fires, floods, global pandemics, refugees, and war. How to get out of bed in the morning? In this course, we will examine community-based solutions and efforts to build solidarity to combat the ravages of contemporary life. We will examine food co-ops, community garden projects, labor organizations, little free libraries, the tiny house movement, and many other efforts to build community and foster resilience. We will examine ideas from a number of cultures within American society: Native American, African American, Latino, and others. We will examine the projects of young people, as well as of the elderly. The materials for the course include political manifestos and histories of cooperative movements. The final project for the course will be the communal creation of a project based on the ideas that we study during the semester.


Back to Top