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Current Seminars

Modern and Contemporary U.S. Poetry

Al Filreis, English
Tuesdays, 4:30-6:30pm, University of Pennsylvania

This course is an introduction to modern and contemporary U.S. poetry with a special emphasis on poems and extensive poetry resources teachers can use in the classroom. We will learn together how most productively and most excitingly to do a collaborative close reading of a poem—many poems but one poem at a time—that seems at first to be “difficult.” The method of our own seminar will be cooperative, collaborative, and entirely interactive, and that method will serve as a model for ideas about teaching poetry to our students. The poems we will study—by Emily Dickinson, Lorine Niedecker, Amiri Baraka, John Ashbery, Tracie Morris and others—tend to be open-ended rather than closed off in the way they present meaning, and thus require us to learn how to participate ourselves in understanding the way they mean what they mean. So the poems themselves are connected to a certain teaching method or pedagogy. In a way, this is a seminar about the pleasure and even the thrill of encountering poetry as an opportunity to become, ourselves, co-creators of significance in the arts. The seminar will meet in the Kelly Writers House at Penn, which is itself a collaborative arts community. Participants will have complete access to all the resources of the Writers House, including the KWH kitchen for our snacks during breaks!

Environmental Humanities from the Tidal Schuylkill River

Bethany Wiggin, Germanic Languages & Literatures
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm, University of Pennsylvania

This place-based seminar begins with an exploration of the lower, tidal Schuylkill River. We will visit the River, walking along it and boating on it (weather permitting), and consider the following questions: How do we know and understand this place where industrial zones intersect with recreational paths, where hardened embankments are increasingly waterlogged? What kinds of information do we, who work and perhaps live in the Schuylkill watershed, have available to us? What kinds of information might we wish to have? How are legacies from the Schuylkill’s past flowing into the future? Readings and classroom activities–including mini-lectures, guest presenters, group discussions, and project-based learning–deepen our understanding of the tidal river. The readings draw from fields including environmental science, anthropology, history and the arts, philosophy and ethics, and they allow us to scale our discussions up and out, across other spaces. Is there a “littoral [coastal] way of life” as some historians and anthropologists have argued? What other watery places and liquid histories might productively be compared and brought into dialogue with the estuarine communities of the Schuylkill? Who has a right to the Schuylkill? Does the river itself have rights?

Learning about America and the World from McDonald’s: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Bryant Simon, History
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm, Temple University

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once remarked, “Food is good to think with.”  That is exactly what we will be doing in this course, thinking with food.  What can the study of food tell us about what people care about and desire, about production and consumption, eating and bodies, labor and buying, ritual and meaning, and globalization and local change?  To get at these issues and many others, we will look at an enduring, troubling, and almost universally recognized icon and symbol of America and American power – McDonald’s. What can be learned about the changes and continuities in American life and habits since World War II by studying McDonald’s?  What can a Big Mac, a large order of fries, and a tall cup of Coke tell us about US domestic life and the power of the United States in the post-World War II era?  What can we learn from what we eat and what we don’t eat?  What can McDonald’s tell us about work and the economy, about culture, and about global power?  In a larger sense, how is studying food a good model for interdisciplinary thinking and scholarship in general?  To answer these questions, we will read in this class texts from reporters, historians, sociologists, and anthropologists and we will engage in our own ethnographic projects.

Storytelling Traditions of South Asia and the Middle East

Deven Patel, South Asia Studies & Religious Studies
Tuesdays, 4:30-6:30pm, University of Pennsylvania

Since 2004, an event known as World Storytelling Day has been celebrated globally every year on the March Equinox (around March 20).  Wikipedia notes that the “significance in the event lies in the fact that it is the first global celebration of storytelling of its kind, and has been important in forging links between storytellers often working far apart from each other. It has also been significant in drawing public and media attention to storytelling as an art form.”  What is the future of the art of storytelling?  To what extent will our students carry the stories of the past into the new imaginative worlds of the future?  This course begins with the foundational storytelling traditions of the premodern worlds of the nations which now comprise the regions of Asia and the Middle East – covering the classic storytelling traditions composed in Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, and Persian.  We will carry this understanding of the past to engage with how storytelling continued into the modern world – and in its new languages – and what the future may hold for this fundamental of all human art forms.  In addition to the stories themselves, of course, we will consider theories of narratology, their relationship to religious and secular forms of life in these regions, and how to tell apart distinct forms of storytelling (myth, folklore, novelistic, sonic, graphic and visual storytelling).

Lead and Health

Marilyn Howarth, Emergency Medicine and Pharmacology
Wednesdays, 4:30-6:30pm, University of Pennsylvania

Lead has been in the news nationally and in Philadelphia. Flint, Michigan with its lead contaminated drinking water supply is just one example of lead exposure but here in Philadelphia we have many others.  Where did it all come from?  Why is it still around?  How are we exposed in our daily lives?  What are the health impacts particularly on young children? This seminar will examine the real life conditions in Philadelphia and provide insight into the science of lead and its health effects on residents.  We will examine pathways of exposure through ingestion, inhalation and through skin.  We will discuss lead policy at the federal, state and local level that impacts lead exposure.  Health impacts of lead can vary based on the extent and timing of exposure, but some of the impacts can affect learning and behavior in the classroom. Participants in this seminar will learn about other resources at Penn that may help to support classroom activities such as soil sampling for lead.