Taking up the Mantle: African American Women Writers after Morrison
Herman Beavers, English and Africana Studies, Penn; meets Wednesdays
In this seminar, we will endeavor, first, to understand the nature and scope of Toni Morrison’s literary legacy, not only as novelist, but also as a literary critic, and a social commentator. We will read several of Morrison’s essays and lectures, including the one she delivered when she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But from there, we will move to consider African American women’s writing in the 21st Century. We will work across literary genres: poetry, drama, fiction, and cinema in order to ruminate on how or if these writers are responding to Morrison’s influence. What themes have emerged for these writers that are unique to our moment? In this time of racial protests, how are they responding to our present racial crisis? Some of the writers we’ll be reading include Danielle Evans, Amina Gautier, Desiree Cooper, Lynn Nottage, Suzan-Lori Parks, Natasha Trethewey, Ayana Mathis, Tracy K. Smith, Elizabeth Alexander, Monica Hand, and Morgan Parker.
Cynthia Sung, Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics, Penn; meets Thursdays
Soft robots are robots made of stretchy and compliant materials such as rubber, cloth, paper, and more. Compared to hard robots made of metal and requiring large motors, these robots can interact more safely with humans, access tight spaces, and survive extreme environments. This seminar will discuss the history and technology behind soft robots, demonstrating the possibility of making them out of commonplace, household materials, and showing the state-of-the-art engineering advancements in the field. The seminar will explore how soft robots can change the future of manufacturing, space exploration, and medicine. Along the way, it will uncover the underlying principles in physics (e.g., springs, energy), chemistry (e.g., reactions, thermodynamics), and engineering design that make them possible. Though the seminar will target grades 9-12, some topics will be accessible for lower grade levels as well.
Black Visual Culture
Dagmawi Woubshet, English & Africana Studies, Penn; meets Thursdays
In this course will consider a range of texts—on photography, film, painting, poetry, and theory—to explore both the creative works of Black artists and the critical discourses around Black visual representation. From the casta paintings of colonial Mexico to contemporary media representations, in the white western canon, black people have been rendered mainly through “the typology of taint, / of stain: blemish: sullying spot:” to borrow the poet Natasha Trethewey’s incisive characterization. It is against this context that Black image makers have engendered a creative and critical practice and body of work, which reveals the effect of what Toni Morrison called “the white gaze,” and moreover illuminates black interior life on its own terms. Among the themes we will explore in-depth include: the representation of blackness in different visual media; the ways in which race intersects with other markers of identity like gender, sexuality, class, and nationality; the relationship between Black visual and literary arts; and the ethics of Black self-representation.