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2008-2009

Fall 2008

"Brave New Worlds"

Instructors: Henry Binford (History), Kasey Evans (English), and Carl Smith (English, History, American Studies)

Students will examine and discuss the distinctive visions of what constitutes "the good society" offered by several different authors and artists during three major moments in Western cultural history: the Northern European Renaissance, the Enlightenment in Europe and America, and the Technological Revolution in Britain and the United States. The written and visual texts to be studied raise many critical questions about the good society: What is the proper relationship between the individual and community? How are politics to be conducted? What about the relations between and among the sexes? What constitutes a meaningful education? This course is entitled "Brave New Worlds" because people in all three periods claimed that theirs was a genuinely new age full of wonderful possibilities. The title is also apt because in both its original use by Shakespeare in The Tempest and in its appropriation by Aldous Huxley for the title his 1932 novel, the term expresses an ironic awareness that making a new world can lead to unintended and undesirable complications. These classes will explore the ironies as well as the achievements that result from the continuing attempts to envision and enact a better world.

Winter 2009

"Black Freedom, African Justice"

Instructors: Sherwin Bryant (African American Studies), Yarí Pérez Marín (Spanish and Portuguese), and David Schoenbrun (History)

Students will explore how African peoples and enslaved blacks advanced competing visions of good governance and the good life in Africa and the Americas. We examine art, film, literary texts, legal codices, medical tracts, and travelers' accounts, dating from the colonial era to the present day—many drawn from Northwestern's world-renowned Africana Collection. 

What happens to our understanding of the "good society" when we consider Africans as political and economic actors? How did ideas of the good society developed on the African continent inform Africans' aspirations as they crossed the Atlantic, or complicate their descendants' negotiations with slave holders?

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