WittSem Course Descriptions
WittSems: The WittSems (short for Wittenberg Seminars) are small, topical courses designed by individual instructors or teams of instructors based on their intellectual interests and training. Required of all first-year students, the WittSems serve as an introduction to the core matters of academic inquiry at Wittenberg.
Below you will find a sampling of WittSems from previous semesters. If you have questions about any of these courses please contact Ty Buckman, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Affairs & Curriculum at 937-327-7924 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Viewing Deadly Beauty: Cleopatra and the Historical Allure of Power
Dr. Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (History)
In “Viewing Deadly Beauty,” we will examine the historical evidence of Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolemaic rulers of Ancient Egypt. We will analyze her place in modern culture as her allure as a powerful ruler continues to attract attention in films, television, and music. Our scope will be to examine how Cleopatra became mythic in antiquity, in the medieval period and in the modern world: Was she as great an enemy as the Romans suggested? What did she accomplish? What are the historical facts of her life? Can we separate out fact from fiction? Our approach is thematic in the expectation that the themes will provide windows through which we can examine Cleopatra’s importance for our world (both in America and abroad) and to begin to put aside the portraits we have received from the past. We will read medieval Arabic sources on Cleopatra, ancient Greek and Latin sources, Shakespeare’s famous play of Antony and Cleopatra. We will also view paintings and visual presentations of the famous queen to consider how Cleopatra has evolved to represent ideals of modern beauty in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and in the recent French rock musical Cléopâtre. We will apply these skills for interpretation of materials when we visit the Cincinnati Museum Center and the Cleveland Art Museum to examine how the body of women is glorified or viewed as dangerous in art.
New Worlds in the Old World
Dr. Ty Buckman (English)
Before films presented us with fantastic life forms and unfamiliar civilizations in distant galaxies, before anyone had thought to write science fiction or fantasy novels, before we had fully mapped our own planet, people were fascinated by the idea of “new worlds,” of places completely foreign to their own experience. In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will use the resources of literary criticism, history, and anthropology to study several of these new world encounters and ask the twin questions: What is the appeal of the new world as a concept? How does experience of the old world shape an encounter with the new? We begin our journey with the archetypal travel adventure Homer’s Odyssey, voyage with a small band of Vikings as they “discover” America in the Vinland Sagas, follow Marco Polo on his Travels along the Silk Road in thirteenth-century Asia, debate the merits of Sir Thomas More’s vision of an ideal society in Utopia, and finally visit the magical island on which Shakespeare set his late play, The Tempest. As an epilogue, we will invert the course theme and spend our last few weeks studying an old world in the new world—reading about and visiting an Amish community here in Ohio. Participants will be expected to contribute to the success of the seminar by reading faithfully, writing papers, taking part in class discussions and debates, keeping a reading journal, and eating one very large Amish supper.
How to Play Board Games – Culture and Tactics
Dr. Kyle Burke (Mathematics and Computer Science)
Games have emerged across civilizations, spreading and changing as they gain popularity in cultures. Great thinkers of these societies historically spent great amounts of effort to learn strategies to help them win. In the last century, a connected theory for analyzing games has developed, allowing a single method to answer the question: Can I win this game? In this class, we will learn about combinatorial game theory, the basis behind non-random, perfect information board games. To fully immerse ourselves in each game, we will first study the game's history and cultural significance, then learn both the rules and the social expectations by playing the game. Once the basics of the game are understood, we will use the combinatorial game theory tools learned so far to analyze different positions and determine which player can win. In this course, you will learn to apply mathematics to simple board games.
Eyes on America: How We See Ourselves and Are Seen By Others
Dr. Lauren Crane (Psychology)
What do they think of us? What do we think of us? As a major world power whose economic, military, and cultural influence extend around the globe, everyone seems to have an opinion about the United States. This course invites you to listen closely and reflect on some of those opinions, broadening your understanding of yourself and your society in the process. The course will take an interdisciplinary approach to studying America in cross-cultural perspective, touching on psychology, anthropology, history, communication, and art. Together we will analyze films, discuss articles, compare websites, debate issues, engage with guest speakers, and visit destinations of cultural interest. Overall, you will have the opportunity to view America through a variety of lenses, including some that are “Made in the U.S.A.” and others that are not. Students should emerge from this class with a greater measure of cultural self-awareness and a heightened ability to get along with people from foreign backgrounds. The class is writing-intensive.
What is Friendship?
Dr. Keith Doubt (Sociology)
In this first-year seminar, we focus on the question of how friendship is distinct from other types of relations such as acquaintanceship, partnership, brotherhood, enmity, and, of course, love. Examples of compelling friendships are taken from popular culture as well as classical literature. Cinema is used to examine friendships in a cross-cultural perspective. Facebook, as a cyberspace site where friendship is sustained, is critically examined. We examine our subject through the lens of sociology, psychology, philosophy, and literature. We know that you already have excellent ideas about friendship; this course is a chance for you to test your ideas against such great thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Emerson, Kierkegaard, and others.
East Meets West in Art Music
Dr. Christopher Durrenberger (Music)
This seminar will take you on a musical journey into the cultures of East Asian and Western civilizations. Interdisciplinary issues will include examining how each historical period's music relates to the visual arts, regional and global politics, economic and philosophical issues. After a brief introduction to basic musical material structure and form, a selective survey spanning approximately 1600 years of music will ensue. This will be accomplished through interactive multimedia (the WWW, audio and video-enhanced) classroom lectures, attending concerts, writing short research and response papers, periodic exams and oral presentations.
Global Climate Change?
Dr. David C. Finster (Chemistry)
Perhaps the most significant environmental question to be addressed in the 21st century is: “Is the global climate changing?” This question is answered by pursuing the questions: What is the evidence for climate change? What’s causing, or could cause, climate change? What are the predictions for the global climate for the rest of the 21st century? What, if anything, can humans do to reduce the effects of climate change? This course will address these questions by focusing first on the science of climate change and the certainty (and uncertainty) that scientific answers brings to these questions. A significant part of the course will examine the position of climate change “proponents” vs. climate change “skeptics”. Then we consider fossil fuel production and consumption and other forms of energy generation such as nuclear, wind and solar energy. Finally, we will consider “the big picture” that takes us into discussions of national and international politics, psychology, and economics. The course will make use of both printed and (many) online resources. Writing-Intensive.
Mind, Body, World
Dr. Janice Glowski (Religion)
What is the mind, and what is the body? Are they separate entities that interact periodically, or are they intricately linked and somehow dependent upon each other? Do the mind and body bear any relationship to the external world one inhabits? Do the answers to these questions have an impact on a person’s life and how cultures function? This course explores the nature of the mind, body and world, and their relationship to each other, through a comparative examination of Western and Asian religious/philosophical theory, artistic expressions and cultural practices. The course will also look briefly at contemporary socio-religious movements that have used answers to these questions as a foundation for social action. Students will gain both intellectual and experiential knowledge of how the mind, body and world have been understood by different cultures over time. Since the course includes group work and hands-on activities, student participation is critical. Formal assessment is based on quizzes, exams, writing assignments and participation. Writing-Intensive.
Seeing Disease: Infection, Pestilence or Retribution?
Dr. Margaret Goodman (Biology) and
Dr. Jennifer Oldstone-Moore (Religion)
This course will look at diseases from a variety of perspectives: how diseases are identified and mapped, the effect disease has on culture and society, how disease is described, the role different diseases have played through history, and ideas and methods developed to cure—and heal. Team-taught by Professors Margaret Goodman (Biology) and Jennifer Oldstone-Moore (Religion/East Asian Studies), we will explore diseases such as smallpox, yellow fever, and cholera to discover how perspective shapes understanding of illness and its causes, considering how paradigms of knowledge influence the interpretation and experience of disease. Disease may be viewed as a problem to be fixed, as retribution for wrongdoing, and as part of the human experience. Healing and wellness may be viewed as technological “repair” as well as holistic healing through practices shaped by attitude and the social context. This course will explore the experience of disease through multiple perspectives, ranging from the biological to the literary, the political to the spiritual.
Freakonomics and More: Hidden Explanations of Our World
Dr. Lawrence D. Gwinn
My WittSem proposes to integrate economic theory with a number of issues not normally considered from the economist’s perspective, using three main books: Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, and The Literary Book of Economics. Each of these books deliberately intertwines economic theory with other disciplines. Freakonomics discusses a variety of topics, ranging from why people cheat to why most crack dealers live with their moms to what makes a good parent. The authors apply economic analysis to show that the conventional explanations we take for granted are frequently wrong. Naked Economics is similar, but it covers some different topics, particularly in the areas of macroeconomics and international trade. The Literary Book of Economics contains a number of excerpts from well-known writers to illustrate economic principles. Milo Minderbender’s entrepreneurship in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 fits well the discussion of incentives, for example. The Joy Luck Club and Cal’s speculative profits in East of Eden provide literary examples to inform our discussion of information in economic decisions. An excerpt from The Black Obelisk illustrates problems with inflation in the section about money entitled “Taking Away the Punchbowl.”
From Bob Marley to Vybz Kartel: Race, Class, Gender, and Nationhood in Jamaican Music
Dr. Sheree Henlon (Foreign Languages and Literature)
Popular music today is often denigrated as a form of mindless entertainment. While such a position is not without merit, popular music can also be a form of protest or social commentary. “From Bob Marley to Vybz Kartel: Race, Class, Gender, and Nationhood in Jamaican Music" investigates the complicated relationship between Jamaican popular music- Reggae and Dancehall- and the island’s sociopolitical reality. Like popular music everywhere, Jamaican popular music is influenced by and reflects the island’s sociopolitical and economic reality.
This Wittsem examines the evolution of Jamaican music as a transgression of both generic and cultural norms. Moreover, it explores the way that musical genres develop and the means by which popular music, in this case Reggae and Dancehall, provide an arena where poor and marginalized “downtown” people debate and challenge their country’s social structure.
Finally, we will investigate the role and space that Reggae and Dancehall carve out for women and men and how both genres of music construct or reconstruct gender.
International Insecurity: Resolving “Frozen Conflicts”
Dr. George E. Hudson (Political Science)
While world attention has been focused upon the dramatic events in the Middle East, conflict continues to exist in less notable ways in other world regions. Some of these are so-called “frozen conflicts,” conflicts that fester, unresolved, that continue to present political and security problems for governments of the regions in which they are situated. According to The Economist, they have been characterized by “nasty small wars [that] have been settled not through peace deals but simply by freezing each side’s positions.” They are sometimes even cause for global attention. Clashes in Kosovo and Cyprus are examples that are moving towards resolution. This class will examine the “frozen conflicts” that are still cause for concern and seem far from a solution. It will look at their histories, their results, their current prospects, and the means that could be used to mitigate them in the future. The focus of the class will be on “frozen conflicts” in Russia (Chechnya), Georgia (South Ossetia and Abkhazia), Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh) and Moldova (Transdnestr). They serve as examples of international insecurity in Europe—often assumed to be one of the most stable regions on the planet—the power of nation-states to use these conflicts to their advantage, and the need for international organizations to assert themselves to achieve regional peace. They also point to the changing nature of power in the international system.
Romanticism and Revolution
Dr. Robin Inboden (English)
It was the worst of times, it was the best of times (at least from the vantage point of Charles Dickens, writing decades later). But the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution did change the way we think about government, work, class structures, nature, and the place of the individual in the world, even today. During this time of great social change, literature and the other arts responded to these changes and created a few revolutions of their own. We will learn about everyday life as well as “world-historical” events in the late 1700's and early 1800's, and we will learn this mainly through reading the literature of the times and watching historical narratives. We will also learn about Romanticism in painting, about how changing ideas of social class emerged in art and literature, and how this period changed our whole concept of the individual—and the artist—in society. The graded work of the course will include an informational presentation, several creative assignments, several analytical papers, and a portfolio of short exercises building diverse academic skills. Also plan on communing with nature, watching some great movies, and having an art adventure.
The Moral of the Story
Dr. Rick Incorvati (English)
The questions before us in this class are the following: Do stories have “more power” than theories to make us change who we are? What types of stories compel us to act? Is Kant’s articulation of the categorical imperative as persuasive as Robert Benigni’s film Life is Beautiful? Does the rendition of Batman in the Dark Knight compel us in ways that Nietzsche just can’t? By the end of the semester students should not only have an answer to these questions, but should be able to recognize how narratives have theory embedded within them. We will be reading novels, short stories and autobiographies discussing and evaluating the “ethical.” Moreover, we will be watching films and documentaries. Students will be expected to write four reflection essays, one critical essay and one exam. There will also be short answer quizzes given periodically on the reading assignments. Furthermore, all students will be required to give a short presentation on their critical essay. In this class students will be expected to engage in dialogue with me and with each other.
Calling All Student Entrepreneurs: So You Want to Change the World?
Tom Kaplan (Business)
This course is built to channel the creative energy of students as they enter college. We will explore the efforts of student entrepreneurs around the world in every possible context. We will celebrate their successes as well as their failures. We will explore how they made change happen and the barriers they had to overcome. We will document the impact of their innovative efforts and we will understand how they inspired others to join their efforts. We will share our own ideas and the important things we care about. Most important, we will abandon the idea that serious entrepreneurial activity should be put off until after graduation. By studying other successful student entrepreneurs and challenging our own creative abilities, the members of this class will hit the ground running – ready to make an impact on the world.
Pop Music around the World: Local Flavor vs. Global Domination
Dr. Daniel Kazez (Music)
The cultural distinctiveness of non-Western countries is evident to all the senses. We note this in food, clothing, and music, to name but a few elements of culture. Will this distinctiveness decline as the United States increasingly “exports” its culture to non-Western countries? In this Witt Sem, we will examine (1) the extent to which the popular music of various non-Western countries has maintained its local flavor, and (2) how and why the music of the West has entered the popular music styles of these countries. The ability to read music is required. We will examine printed music (sheet music), listen to recorded music, and study the soundtracks of non-Western feature films. The course will, in large part, consist of learning how to research, collect, and present information.
Jack Mann (Art)
There are approximately 400 species of birds in Ohio. We will attempt to identify some of them by sight and sound in prime bird-watching sites in our area. We will then produce drawings, prints and sculptures based on observations in the field. This creative part will be a hands-on studio experience. Course activities besides the studio experience will include visits to parks and nature preserves, classroom discussions and a personal journal.
To Become a Living Historian: Or, ‘Aren’t Those Clothes Hot?’
Wayne O. Maurer (Business)
Who are these weird people running around in period correct clothes and reenacting a period long past? Who was Johnny Reb and Billy Yank? This course will expose you to the artifacts, mentifacts and socifacts of a living historian. We will converse with persons from pre-colonial time through World War II. Our analysis will focus on the American Civil war period (1861-1865). Our exploration will take place through film and reading of first person accounts of life during the period. Grades will be based on short reaction papers to readings and films and the development of a first person account that will be written and presented to the class.
Murder She Wrote: Detective Fiction and Social Consciousness in Japan
Dr. Tanya Maus (History)
While anime, samurai, and geisha are often seen as iconic cultural symbols of Japan, women detectives and the female mystery writers who depict them are less known. Yet, from the 1990s, women writers such as Miyabe Miyuki and Kirino Natsuo have become wildly popular in Japan and beyond, and their novels have breathed new life into the murder mystery genre. This Wittsem explores how these contemporary women authors reveal a uniquely gendered vision of the decay of Japanese society amidst economic and global decline, and reflect the deepening disquiet and anxiety of a country grappling with social changes that are yet unresolved. Formal assessment of the course will be based upon your efforts toward building a strong learning community within our classroom through substantial discussion with your peers; weekly short-answer quizzes to help you keep up to date with your reading; weekly reading journal responses to help you learn strong analytical skills required at the college level; two analytical essays that build significantly upon the your reading journal entries; and one final group project that will also involve a final creative writing or research essay. Writing intensive.
Photography in the 21st Century
Dan McInnis (Art)
Marshall McLuhan described the content of media as “a juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.” Using McLuhan’s (and others’) central ideas, this course will ask students to question what it is they’re seeing. As we increasingly become a visual culture, and electronic media continues to simultaneously inform, instruct and distract, it’s more important now than ever to demand students deconstruct media content. Through the analysis of photographic still images, documentary film, social media, photojournalism and new media, we will explore the ideas of how we ingest visual information, and then question our interpretation of what is being presented to us. Particular attention will be given to photography post-9/11, photojournalism from areas of world conflict, gender perception and bias, deception in advertising, race and nationality representation, and the deconstruction and use of agitation-propaganda.
Society and the Human Embryo
Dr. Michelle McWhorter (Biology)
Ever wonder how you developed as an embryo? Do you know what the term “cloning” means? Are you curious about how stem cells are produced and how they can be utilized to treat human disease? Have you ever wondered what impact the environment may have on human embryonic development? In this course, we will discuss how the human embryo develops during its time in the womb. In addition, we will investigate how society impacts the embryo; for example, we will discuss the regulations (or lack thereof) society has placed on embryonic manipulation and the regulation of the chemicals which are allowed to be used for pest control on our food supply. Discussions will not only include the biological foundations of these topics, but also the economic, social, and political aspects. Finally, the common misconception that the developing human embryo is safe from external agents will be explored; a number of external agents (such as viruses, pesticides, and drugs) will be analyzed for their potential detrimental effect on human embryo development.
World at your Fingertips
Dr. Olga Medvedkov (Geography)
We live in a world where the Cold War has been replaced by globalization. A world divided by the Iron Curtain is fading away to be succeeded by a world connected through the Internet and twitter. This new global system brings a lot of advantages and disadvantages at the same time. A more transparent world and growing social networks allow faster movement of ideas, innovations, transactions, and people. The challenge is that this ‘new world order’ provides an avenue for good ideas and bad ideas, for legal transactions and illegal, for travelers/ legal migrants and for terrorists. Globalization is responsible for the McDonaldization of the world, homogenization of different cultures, for shifting jobs overseas, and for environmental abuse. This new world is “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” according to Thomas Friedman, and needs a Green Revolution! Let’s find out together what can be done to build a more sustainable world around us!
Powers of Addiction: Recreational Drug Use
Dr. Cathy Pederson (Biology)
Recreational drugs have been around for 1000s of years, and even the Bible speaks of alcohol consumption in several places. Our culture changes with the advent of new drugs, and revelations about old ones. Cocaine was once the active ingredient in Coca-Cola products and touted as a “wonder drug” by Sigmund Freud. Families have been torn apart by the addiction to these drugs. Drugs change people’s behavior and their relationships with family and friends. This course will focus on the biological, cultural, and historical aspects of recreational drugs as it relates to different times and cultures. We will explore the history and culture of alcohol prohibition and its impact on societal use of alcohol today. The class will also study the biological, cultural, historical and social ramifications of nicotine, marijuana, and cocaine as they relate to both their use and abuse today. What makes these drugs so addictive? What kinds of treatment options are out there for addicts? How do these different options work? All of these questions and more will be examined in this course.
The Power of Dance
Ligia R. Pinheiro (Theatre and Dance)
How does dance influence our understanding of proper social behavior? How does dance help unite people? How does dance help us define gender identity and shape our aesthetic values? This course will explore dance in various contexts and look at how dance affects our perception of self, of society, of religion, and of the world in which we live. In this course, students will view and learn various forms of dance, from the Court of Louis XIV to early 20th century American ballroom. Throughout history dance has had a close connection with religious beliefs, accepted moral and social behavior, and the perception of beauty. By looking at dance in connection with these various contexts we will investigate the power of dance in shaping our identity and attitude towards the dancing body. Embark on a journey of exploration of dance in various settings and places around the world, and discover how our own culture grapples with the Power of Dance.
The Nature of the River
Dr. John Ritter (Geology)
Our connection with rivers is “widespread and deep”- or at least it used to be. In many ways, we have lost contact with rivers. We use the word “river” metaphorically to characterize our life experiences—the river of time, the river of life—but we increasingly base these metaphors on the illusion (rather than reality) of natural or wild rivers. Humans have impacted rivers and streams worldwide to such an extent that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to find an unaltered river system. Though they are the lifeblood of nations, we divert water from rivers to a point that threatens their very existence, treating them as both playground and toilet. And yet as profoundly as rivers have been damaged, they can change and restore themselves over time. In this WittSem we will examine the science of rivers—in their natural setting and in the lab, on maps and from aerial photos, in scientific and creative literature. This information will be the foundation upon which we consider the future of rivers and the policies that govern their use, impacts upon them, and their restoration. Our purpose is to understand the nature of rivers, what and where they have been in the past, what they could be in the future, and what their restoration means to our lives.
Where Does It Come From?
Dr. David Schubert (Music)
The material for this course crosses many disciplines as we explore the food we eat, the university and community in which we live, the goals and dreams that motivate us, and the genesis and performance of a great work of music. We will begin with Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, as we deal with how and where our food is raised and consumed. A trip to a local farm and farmer’s market will result in an organic feast. We’ll investigate the economic, political, and religious factors that led to the development of the region and the establishment of Wittenberg in 1845 with William Kinnison’s book, Wittenberg: An American College. A trip to the Heritage Center and guest presentations will bring history alive. We’ll look at our ambitions and dreams by reading Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture and experience first hand how service to others is instrumental in shaping our lives. Finally, we’ll discover the inspiration for Handel’s Messiah through selected readings and recordings culminating in our participation in Wittenberg’s Annual Messiah Sing.
The Cosmos as Seen by Science and Faith
Dr. Anders Tune (Campus Pastor)
Science provides a compelling explanation of how the universe came about, and Christian thought, informed by faith, gives a coherent account of what the universe's existence means. And, for many decades, these two views of the cosmos found themselves in conflict with each other. Yet in recent years a dialogue between science and Christian faith has generated intriguing new perspectives, and even some surprising agreements. This seminar will study this dialogue and what these two views tell us about the universe. What are the views of science and faith of the beginning, existence, and future of all things? What can these two views learn from each other? How might they each contribute to the flourishing of human and non-human life?
From Manly Men to Mama’s Boys: Constructing Masculinities
Dr. Catherine E. Waggoner (Communication)
WWF, The Bachelor, Donald Trump, President Obama, The Pope, David Beckham. In this course, we will identify and analyze constructions of masculinities in popular culture sites ranging from magazines to cable tv to televised political events to advertisements. Our goal is not to merely note these various representations, but to assess what they suggest about the politics of gender and sexuality. We’ll consult readings from a variety of disciplines (e.g., media studies, women’s studies, men’s studies, sociology, communication), and we’ll consider our own personal experiences with gender and sexuality. We’ll learn and practice critical reading, discussion, thinking and writing skills, addressing questions such as: Are contemporary portrayals of metrosexuals an indication that our cultural prescriptions for masculinity are being loosened to embrace femininity and/or homosexuality? And, are other discourses which feature masculinity prominently—such as the political rhetoric of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign—acting as a rhetorical response (i.e., a control) to such a loosening of norms? Finally, what is significant about these representations of gender and sexuality, both in general, and for intersections with race, ethnicity, and class? In short, why should we care about how manhood is represented in our culture?
St. Petersburg: Myth and Soul of a Russian City through Literature and Film
Dr. Lila Zaharkov (Foreign Languages and Literature)
From the cradle of the Russian Revolution to the cradle of Russian Rock Music, from the founding father Peter the Great to the Youth of St. Petersburg today! A city founded by the decree of One Man and declared the new capital of the Russian Empire only to lose it again after 1917, a city with three names as well as its mythical ones, a city that survived a 900-day Siege during World War Two and remains the Jewel of the Russian State today. We will study the history of this unusual, marvelous city, the writers who lived and wrote in and about St. Petersburg -- Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, to name only a few -- as well as its cultural monuments of art and music (including Russian Rock!), and make contacts with college students who live there today.