BIG QUESTIONS Courses
The big questions of our time require answers from multiple disciplines.
No answer is complete without the perspective of the humanities, which are a range of disciplines focused on humans’ understandings in the past, present, or future.
The humanities turn what humans think into the question.
BIG QUESTIONS courses are:
Open to all Rice undergraduates and appropriate for students of any disciplinary background
Led by top-ranked teachers in the School of Humanities
Innovative in structure, including a Learning Lab for creative projects
Distribution 1 credit
3 credit hours
BIG QUESTIONS courses will be offered each academic year.
In 2019-2020, the inaugural year, there are three courses:
HUMA 121 - IS ALL THE WORLD A STAGE?
Joseph Campana, Alan Dugald McKillop Professor, Department of English
Christina Keefe, Professor in the Practice and Director of the Rice Theatre Program, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts
We seem to find or make theater wherever we look: In halls and on stages, and also in Senate chambers and checkout lines, not to mention online, in the small rooms of houses, and on small screens of reality television programming. Whether streaming or tweeting, drama is there. What is drama such that it enjoys such intensity and ubiquity? Is it an overflow of energy that creates authenticity? An artificially heightened state, as in too much drama? A carefully crafted manipulation, as in political drama? A way of being in space? A cultural habit?
This course considers why theater is so central to our idioms and cultural practices even for people who have never seen, much less set foot on stage. We’ll explore the many senses of drama central to social behavior by witnessing the long transit of theater from the classical amphitheater to just about anywhere. The course will offer an introduction to the history and conventions of theatrical practice, from ancient theater to 21st-century immersive and site-specific performance, offering a lens for understanding the drama of human interaction that we witness.
Class sessions will include: Lecture/discussions about histories of theater and languages of performance; learning lab sessions that allow students to create their own personal theatrical experience with a combination of acting and directing exercises, live performance experiences, and conversations with theater professionals; and theater of the everyday exercises that invite students to look at the world from the point of view of theatrical experience. No previous theater experience or training required.
This course will meet on Tuesday and Thursday from 1:00 - 2:15 p.m.
The CRN for this course, which is needed when registering, is 13848.
FALL 2019 registration opens April 8.
Coming in Spring 2020:
HUMA 120 - WHERE IS UTOPIA?
Joshua Bernstein, Lecturer, Painting and Drawing, Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts
Fabiola López-Durán, Associate Professor, Department of Art History
Where is Utopia?
Where is utopia? Thomas More’s original coinage, suggesting both “good place” and “no place,” might give little cause for hope, but that hasn’t stopped visionaries, scientists, artists and scholars from seeking it out over the years. It might be in our past, or just ahead. We might be there now, if only we knew how to look: under the pavement, we might find the beach. Or utopia might be off our planet entirely.
Ideals shape societies; scientific research, architecture, city planning and cultural production all attest to the hopes and values that spawned them. But as we consider the fallout of past utopian efforts, corollary questions present themselves: Do we even want to find utopia? Does every “perfect” society imply a dystopian counterpart? Who is utopia for, and who is excluded?
This course will explore utopia through the work of scientists, architects, artists and art movements. Classes will fall into three categories: lectures and reading discussions; field trips; and group art projects. These latter Learning Lab projects will encourage students to work together and apply the readings, discussions and artistic precedents towards their own visions of utopia.
HUMA 122 - WHO SHOULD VOTE?
W. Caleb McDaniel, Associate Professor, Department of History
In 2020, Americans will celebrate the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment and the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment. Both anniversaries make it seem like the history of voting rights is a story of continually expanding suffrage. But the humanities can help students understand the more complex reality.
Contests over "Who Should Vote?" have existed since the nation's beginnings and continue today, as people argue over the prevalence of voter suppression or debate whether to lower the voting age. Studying historical contests over this "Big Question" is important because they illuminate the contingency of democracy. Democracy did not always mean the same thing to earlier Americans that it does to us. Moreover, expansions of the right to vote for some groups have often occurred hand in hand with new restrictions on voting for others. The history of suffrage is not one of unbroken progress or decline, but instead of continous protest and political struggle.
By exploring how earlier Americans fought over the answer to "Who Should Vote?", students in this class will grapple with the meaning of American democracy itself.
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