Interdisciplinary Team-Teaching Program in the Humanities
In 2010-2011, the Center for the Humanities and the Public Sphere first sponsored a pilot program in conjunction with the University of Florida Honors Program, with support from the Rothman Endowment and The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, to encourage faculty members in different departments and colleges to collaborate in the classroom. Faculty members are given the opportunity to create innovative undergraduate interdisciplinary courses in the humanities, many of which would be difficult or impossible for a single faculty member to teach independently. The inspiration for this project is the belief that establishing relationships between faculty in separate disciplines will enable the creation of classes that explore meaningful questions in an innovative, inter-disciplinary manner and provide an intensive and informative experience for University of Florida students. Current and past team-taught courses are below. Please encourage students to enroll in upcoming courses!
Ethics in the Public Sphere
Professors: Anna Peterson (Religion) and Jaime Ahlberg (Philosophy)
Contemporary public discourse is teeming with issues of urgent moral concern. From the #metoo campaign and associated conversations about sexual violence to the presence of right wing extremists on campus, and the growing imperatives to respond to climate change, we are faced with complex challenges that have ethical problems at their core. It is not always easy, however, to think through these challenges in a responsible and productive way. This interdisciplinary seminar, co-taught by professors in Religion and Philosophy, explores the how the methods and traditions in the humanities provide resources for approaching contemporary ethical issues. The topics we will address include freedom of speech, economic justice, sex and gender justice, and the role of education in our society. Philosophical and legal arguments, laws, papal encyclicals, pastoral letters, historical analyses, and news articles will be incorporated into our course readings. Our primary goal is to provide students with tools for approaching complicated ethical problems throughout their lives. Toward this purpose, students will learn strategies to break out of common dilemmas and dualisms, and to integrate moral concepts and theories into their thinking about public issues. The class is thus for students from any major who want to explore contemporary moral challenges in rigorous, creative ways. Assignments will include short writings on the ethical topics listed above, and a capstone project in which students address an ethical, public issue of importance to them.
Women and Religion in Popular US Fiction
Trysh Travis (Women’s Studies) and Rachel Gordan (Religion)
Women and religion have played central roles in American popular fiction since the terms “America” and “fiction” came into popular use in the 18th century. Women have always made up the majority of the fiction-reading public; novels that treat religious life have waxed and waned in popularity, but have always been what publishers call “steady sellers.” This was particularly true in the mid-twentieth century. In the aftermath of World War Two, many women who had moved into the paid workforce during the War returned to the domestic sphere, and mainstream religions (Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism) assumed a new centrality in public discourse as Americans reckoned with the horrors of the Holocaust and the atomic bomb. Television, with its seemingly unlimited possibilities of genre and subject-matter, was only just becoming a staple of the middle-class home; the internet and other digital communications forms were as yet to be created. In this “golden age” of American literature, fiction captured the centrality of gender and religion in society. This course examines best-selling fictions dealing with women and religion, first in the immediate postwar period and then in the late 20th century, as the popular culture pendulum swung in a more secular and, for women, “liberated” direction.
Buddhism and Film
Professors: Mario Poceski (Religion) and Ying Xiao (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures)
The course explores key intersections between Buddhism and film. In addition to critically examining the ways contemporary movies portray Buddhists and their religion, students will also have opportunities to learn about how specific films can be analyzed by means of conceptual lenses and aesthetic sensibilities derived from Buddhism. The course adopts a global perspective, incorporating pictures, themes, and concerns that unfold on three continents: Asia, Europe, and North America. It also provide opportunities for reflection on a host of contemporary issues, such as cross-cultural representation, gender inequity, political repression, search for value and meaning, and construction of personal and communal identities.
How Does Your Garden Grow
Professors: Judith Page (English) and Victoria Pagán (Classics)
Drawing on the literature of the Roman and British Empires and the gardens on the campus of the University of Florida, this course inquires into the very nature and experience of the garden. Applying multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural approaches to explore gardens, students consider the representation of the garden, the cost of the garden, and the profession of gardening, and analyze conceptions and expressions of beauty, power, and love.
Engineering the Renaissance
Professors: Mary Watt (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) and Mark Law (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering)
Engineering the Renaissance will introduce students to pivotal moments in technological innovation and to the physics underlying those changes in the European Renaissance. The course aims to provide students with an understanding of the ideals and practical exigencies that motivated engineers and artists to transform their communities, through the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge. Regular writing assignments and group projects will challenge students to think about the interaction of society and innovation as well as the impact and costs of such interaction. Designed to harmonize content from the sciences and the humanities, the course will be offered through the Honors program. The course will be designed to challenge the intellectual capacities of Honor students. Nonetheless, no particular engineering or history background is expected.
Professors: Nina Caputo (History) and Robert Kawashima (Religion)
For untold centuries, religion was not a matter of personal choice. One simply inherited the gods, beliefs, and rituals of one’s ancestors, absorbing them along with one’s mother tongue. It was arguably in ancient Israel that the concept of a religious conversion first became thinkable, thanks to that event which is generally if imprecisely known as the monotheistic revolution. For as soon as there is one true God, true forms of worship, etc. – and thus also false ones – a radical shift takes place, what Foucault would refer to as a discursive break. It is against this backdrop that one can clearly discern the significance of conversion. It will be the central goal of this interdisciplinary seminar to examine the conceptualization, representation, narration, and reception of converts and conversion in Judaism and Christianity, from the biblical period through modernity, using methodologies employed in the study of history, religion, psychology, anthropology, and literature. Students will thus acquire intellectual tools for interpreting and analyzing the discourse and experience of religious conversion, topics of continued relevance in the 21st century. In order to supplement students’ traditional classroom experience, we plan to organize a workshop on conversion that will bring a group of international scholars to UF, which students will be encouraged to attend and participate in.
Re-framing Literature through Mathematics
Professors: Eric Kligerman (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures) and Kevin Knudson (Mathematics)
In this interdisciplinary seminar, which is designed by professors in mathematics and comparative literature, students will examine how a common ground opens up between two ostensibly competing fields: mathematics and the creative arts. The objective is to uncover how philosophers, poets, artists and filmmakers turn to mathematical concepts in their respective works. In addition to analyzing the space of literature and visual culture, students will be introduced to various mathematical concepts that will serve as frames to explore shifting modes of representation. Investigating such topics as geometric forms, fractals, π, infinity, probability and chance, and mathematical truth, we will explore how works of the imagination both probe and translate the structures and patterns of mathematics within the fields of literature (poetry, drama, short stories and novels) and the visual arts (painting, architecture and film). The seminar’s format will consist of lectures and readings on specific mathematical concepts, which we will then employ as our optic to investigate philosophical, literary and visual texts. Selections of essays from the field of mathematics will be read alongside works of Plato, Nietzsche, Kafka, Borges, Stoppard, films by the Coen brothers and Darren Aronofsky, and popular culture representations of math in The Simpsons and Futurama. Challenging the presumed incommensurability between mathematics and the humanities, the aim of this interdisciplinary seminar is twofold; in addition to introducing non-STEM majors to some of the central concepts arising from mathematics, the course is also designed for STEM students to engage with the complexities and abstractions found in representations of time, space and reality in literature and film.
Women Writers & Classical Myth
Professors: Marsha Bryant (English) and Mary Ann Eaverly (Classics)
Our interdisciplinary course challenges students to examine women and Classical myth through ancient and modern materials: including poetry, literary criticism, art, and film. We give equal weight to our respective academic fields and their connectivity, focusing on legendary characters such as Athena, Pandora, Helen, and Penelope. By linking Hesiod and Homer with former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove and contemporary novelist Margaret Atwood, we learn how the Classical tradition challenges and sustains women writers. Because this rich source material is visual as well as literary, we will include materials from UF’s Harn Museum of Art through our custom gallery for this course, “Classical Convergences: Traditions and Inventions.” We will also engage Classical myth through epic film. Texts will include Homer’s epic poems, Atwood’s The Penelopiad, Dove’s Mother Love, Powell’s Classical Myth, and the NBC miniseries The Odyssey. UF’s newest poet on faculty, Ange Mlinko, will visit us. Assignments include a short paper tied to our Harn gallery, a term paper, reading quizzes & participation, and a Pinterest board.
Discovering Physics: The Universe and Humanity’s Place in It
Professors: Peter Hirschfeld (Physics) and Fred Gregory (History)
This course will explore humans’ view of terrestrial and celestial phenomena from ancient to modern times, and in parallel offer basic explanations of how science views these phenomena today. The hope is that the interdisciplinary approach will enable non-scientists to appreciate the modern scientific paradigm while learning how this paradigm was actually developed. Rather than present modern ideas about time, space and the solar system as facts to be memorized and regurgitated, the course will expose students to the convoluted path by which these ideas arose, including the many mistakes made by philosophers and scientists along the way. By the end, students will not only understand more about how the universe works, but will have acquired a framework to think about technological aspects of the world around them, as well as the realization that science is an organic, evolving enterprise rather than a static set of “correct answers”. Topics include the solar system and how various civilizations and eras have conceived of its structure, light and relativity, and modern concepts of cosmology. Course requirements will include readings in Gregory, Natural Science in Western History, a series of simple illustrative in-class laboratory experiments, a midterm, and a final exam.
Digital English – Data Mining and Digital Poetics
Professors: Terry Harpold (English) and Alin Dobra (CISE)
This course, team-taught by faculty in the Departments of English and Computer and Information Science and Engineering, will place students at the intersections of large-scale data research methods, digital poetics, and literary practice. In the digital field these practices are converging in new and productive ways. Researchers in data mining and information visualization are applying powerful tools to the analysis of very large literary corpora. The emerging international canon of electronic poetry (“e-poetry”) – poetry composed using computing methods and readable only on computers – is becoming recognized as a distinctive creative form subject to new techniques of interpretation. The era of “big data” promises to multiply and accelerate new practices of reading and writing, extending them into kinds of textual work. We will read several studies of the history and present state of digital humanities and digital poetics, and an array of historical and contemporary e-poetry. Our class discussions will be supplemented by several “master classes” led by leading e-poets, who will explain their methods and artistic aims. Using off-the-shelf applications, proprietary, and custom-built software we will develop a toolbox of poetic and programming techniques for mining poetic works for aesthetic insight, for creating new works of this kind, and for rendering textual objects in new visual and interactive forms. To make the most of our collaborative potentials, students in the course will work in teams including computer scientists, humanists, and creative visual and verbal artists. Our aim is to better understand operations of electronic poetry and techniques for its analysis, and to create new works of poetry and new techniques for its composition. Familiarity with avant-garde and digital poetics, and data mining and visualization techniques and software, are not prerequisites for this course. You will need a sense of adventure, a willingness to extend your expressive imagination, and a commitment to working collaboratively across multiple disciplines.
Music and Texts
Professors: Miriam Zach (Honors Music) and Sylvie Blum (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures)
Literary culture in any society is expressed though numerous media, and in very different ways. Both music and written works tend to be the most prominent of these, and thus have much in common, but they are almost always studied separately and with a limited interest in the thematic and stylistic crossovers involved. However, in the spring of 2012, Dr. Miriam Zach, a music professor in the Honors program, and Dr. Sylvie Blum, a French professor in Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department, taught a course together on correspondences between music and texts in nineteenth- and twentieth-century France. Through reading and listening, as well as analysis, the instructors will familiarize students with both prominent written genres, such as poetry, theatre, novella, and novel, and musical genres including opera, ballet, piano solo and jazz, from this period in French history. Taught both in French and in English, it presented French musical and written literature as a unified part of the greater French cultural whole. After getting a sense of the importance and interactions of these two media through the texts and musical selections, each student wrote a final research paper on an author or composer of his or her choice. The course instructors and students wish to thank Uppercrust Productions for their generous support of the arts and sponsorship of the catered fête at the course’s conclusion.
Medicine and Philosophy
Professors: Robert D’Amico (Philosophy) and A. Joseph Layon (Anesthesiology, Surgery and Medicine)
Dr. Robert D’Amico and Dr. A. Joseph Layon taught the first course within the philosophy department sponsored by the Center for Humanities and the Public Sphere’s initiative in support of Team Teaching. The aim of this course is to provide a broad but in-depth understanding of the concepts and practices of modern medicine as they relate to issues in philosophy of science as well as critical examination of the moral and social-political problems raised by modern medical practice. The course used of a variety of on-line sources and electronic files with the two main texts being: Paul Starr, The Social Transformation of American Medicine and Norman Daniels and James E. Sabin, Setting Limits Fairly: Can we Learn to Share Medical Resources?
Culture and Identity on the Global Market
Professors: Florence Babb (Women’s Studies) and Victoria Rovine (Art and Art History)
Although the transnational marketplace produces both goods and ideas that impact every student, few have considered the workings and the implications of these systems on their lives. In response to this, Dr. Florence Babb, Professor of Women’s Studies, and Affiliated Professor of Anthropology and Latin American Studies teamed up with Dr. Victoria Rovine, who teaches in the School of Art and Art History and the Center for African Studies, to offer a course that will provide students a greater understanding of how the marketplace of the newly globalized world affects culture and identity. The course will examine the cultural consequences of trade that brings “traditional” artisans and producers into transnational relations of exchange and how products on the market undergo transformations as new desires and expectations of consumers prompt new understandings of ideas such as “tradition” and “modernity.” Students considered different implications of stylistic change in dress style, music, and the arts on gender, race, and national identity by looking at a variety of case studies. Rich and innovative sources of ethnographic and art historical scholarship were used in the seminar, with emphasis on changing cultural concepts and identities that emerge when some groups, for better or worse, engage in the modern marketplace of the global economy. While transnational cultural exchanges are often unequal and favor more powerful interests, the class also examined some cases in which traditional artisans and cultural producers have benefited from new economic opportunities and when social movements have been galvanized by the infusion of new ideas and practices. Professors Babb and Rovine combined classroom discussions with online interactions in order to introduce students to the tools necessary to analyze these phenomena. This approach was also taken with the expectation that it would provide insight and skills that contribute to students’ understanding of cultural expressions of all kinds, in diverse media and across regions.
Bible and Western Culture
Professors: Nina Caputo (History) and Robert Kawashima (Religion)
The Bible is arguably the single most influential book in the history of “Western Civilization.” Biblical literature not only helped shape our cultural landscape, but it also continues to play a prominent if problematic role in public discourse and popular culture. And yet, in spite of the public’s general familiarity with the Bible, how many people have a critical grasp of the literary, philosophical, and hermeneutical problems arising from this work, which was composed over the course of a thousand years in three different languages? Dr. Nina Caputo and Dr. Robert Kawashima collaborated in teaching a class focusing on these very questions and sought to provide students with an understanding of the history and impact of the Bible on “Western Civilization.” Dr. Caputo teaches medieval Jewish history in the Department of History, while Dr. Kawashima specializes in the Hebrew Bible and comparative religious literature in the Department of Religion. They combined their expertise to create a class with the aim of studying the impact of the Bible on public discourse, focusing specifically on the Old Testament Book of Genesis and the New Testament Gospel of Matthew. The class began with a study of the biblical texts, then moved on to early commentaries, and concluded by analyzing later adaptations of these texts and themes in literature, film, public discourse, and science. Through a variety of readings, supplemented by class discussions and written assignments, the class was intended to provide students with an appreciation of the meaningfulness and larger impact of the Bible on Western cultural traditions from medieval texts like Dante to the works of more modern thinkers such as Darwin and Kafka.
Foodscapes: The Science and Culture of a Meal
Professors: Whitney Sanford (Religion) and Rose Koenig (Agronomy)
Today students are becoming more and more interested in their food choices, and the effects of these choices both on the planet and on their own bodies. At the same time, they struggle with a number of questions: Should I eat organic, local, or food from the supermarket? How far did my food travel? What is the difference between agriculture and agribusiness? Why do I see a proliferation of farmer’s markets and an increasing demand for labels of origin? Answering these questions, and studying food in general, is an inherently multi-disciplinary endeavor. Therefore, Dr. Whitney Sanford in the Religion Department and Dr. Rose Koenig in the Agronomy Department collaborated in the teaching of a class designed to give students a theoretical and practical understanding of the place of food in society. The course raised a variety of questions ranging from ethical concerns to economic issues. Coming from their two very different fields, Dr. Sanford and Dr. Koenig offered a class focused on demonstrating the complex religious-cultural, ethical, and scientific processes that go into food production and preparation. Through class discussions, group problem-solving activities, and a series of guest speakers, the class attempted to take on these numerous and varied questions from a larger, more unified perspective. In doing so, the course sought to provide students in the humanities and the social sciences with a background in the scientific and technical dimensions of food production, while giving students studying agricultural science new insight into ethical and religious issues involved in their field.