Collegiate Seminar: Fall 2007


The College of Arts and Science wishes to thank alumna Constance Milstein (WSC ’69) and the CJM Foundation for providing generous funding to create the Collegiate Seminar Program.


In the fall 2007 semester, the College of Arts and Science is launching a new Collegiate Seminar Program for entering freshmen. These Collegiate Seminars have several distinctive features. Offered only to freshmen in the College of Arts and Science, they are taught exclusively by distinguished senior Arts and Science faculty whose excellence as scholars and teachers has been recognized by their appointment as Collegiate Professors. In addition, these faculty will not only teach these courses but also serve as the students’ mentors throughout their entire undergraduate careers at NYU. During the semester in which the seminar is offered and in subsequent semesters, the faculty will work with their students to create special enrichment and reunion activities, which might include a visit with a renowned scholar; a museum, theater, concert, or film outing; a dinner discussion on a book or poem; or just a purely social evening.

Like other seminars, these small classes are meant to introduce students to important subjects and to challenge them intellectually through rigorous standards of analysis and oral and written argumentation. To that end, they stress demanding readings and writing assignments that introduce students to an essential research skill—such as a literature review, quantitative reasoning, critical use of primary sources, the identification of a research problem, critical analysis of texts, or confrontations with works of art. In addition to participating actively in class discussions, students are expected to give oral presentations in class. A final paper will typically, though not always, have gone through one or more revisions, perhaps revised with the benefit of in-class comments. In other seminars the focus may be on individual or group projects.

In applying and registering for one of these seminars, students are expected to commit themselves to doing honors-level academic work and to participating actively in co-curricular and mentoring activities beyond the semester-long course.


Course Descriptions


The Cultural Nature of Language
(V70.0101; call # 75854)
Instructor: Bambi Schieffelin
Monday and Wednesday, 9:30–10:45 a.m.

From accents, pronouns, swearing, and spelling, how one uses language is never value-free. In this seminar we examine language-using as a social practice, and analyze how speakers and their language(s) are evaluated and regulated across a range of contexts and cultures. Starting with how children learn to talk, or don’t (e.g., feral children), we examine speech and silence across a range of societies. We look at popular attitudes toward language and the practices by which people regulate its use in the media (e.g., political correctness), in legal and educational institutions (e.g., “English Only”), and in multilingual cities (e.g., Barcelona, Montreal) in order to understand how ideas about language are often recruited to non-linguistic concerns, such as who should be included and who excluded. In thinking about the cultural nature of language in this way, we critically explore issues of identity and authority.

Bambi Schieffelin, Collegiate Professor and Professor of Anthropology, is a linguistic anthropologist who has studied speech practices among Haitians (Queens, N.Y.), lawyers and litigants in lower Manhattan’s Small Claims Court, and Bosavi people (Papua New Guinea). She is the author of The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children. She is coeditor of, among other books, The Acquisition of Literacy: Ethnographic Perspectives, Language Socialization across Cultures, and Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory. She has also published articles in preeminent journals of her field, including Current Anthropology and Annual Review of Anthropology. Her current book project focuses on the impact of evangelical Christianity on the language and social life of Bosavi people over the past 25 years.

Terrorism, Nihilism, and Modernity
(V70.0102; call # 76145)
Instructor: James Gilligan
Tuesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.

The past century has witnessed violence the character and scale of which are so unique and unprecedented that we have had to create a new vocabulary to describe it (genocide, terrorism) and the ideologies that underlie it (totalitarianism, fundamentalism). To understand modern violence, we will examine the origin of the modern mind in the 17th century, when science, based on universal doubt, ended the Age of Faith, and the traditional sources of moral, legal, and political authority lost credibility. Nietzsche called this the “death of God” (and the Devil); it could also be called the death of Good and Evil, leading to another set of new words (nihilism, agnosticism, anomie, anarchy). We will study the origins and implications of these developments by reading Shakespeare and John Donne, Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, Beckett and Wittgenstein, Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt, as well as modern mass murderers from Hitler to bin Laden. Finally, we will ask whether the modern human sciences can help us understand how to reverse or at least limit this escalation of violence.

James Gilligan, Collegiate Professor, headed the Institute of Law and Psychiatry and directed mental health programs for the Massachusetts prison system while on the faculty of the Harvard Medical School Department of Psychiatry. He has also served as Director of the Center for the Study of Violence and as a member of President Clinton’s National Commission on Youth Violence. His books include Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic, and Preventing Violence: An Agenda for the Coming Century. He has been a consultant to the Department of Injuries and Violence Prevention at the World Health Organization, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and numerous other organizations.

Saying and Meaning: Intersections of Poetry and Philosophy
(V70.0103; call # 75903)
Instructor: Tom Gerety
Tuesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.

This seminar will explore the sometimes uncertain boundary between poetry and philosophy. Every poet is saying something to himself or herself—as well as to readers. Rarely do poets content themselves with sounds alone, or even images alone; often they make arguments. Philosophers, on the other hand, have long been thought to engage their readers, their students, solely with arguments. Yet from the earliest days, philosophers have used imagery and myth to make sense of the world and to make “arguments” about it. We will seek to move back and forth, then, between poetry and philosophy, in order to understand both better. We will read, criticize, and, frankly, imitate several of the most poetic philosophers and philosophic poets. These will include poets and philosophers both ancient and modern, writing in English as well as in other languages in translation. Among the authors we are likely to consider will be Sappho and Heraclitus, Plato, the Metaphysical and Romantic poets, Baudelaire, Rilke, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Yeats, Stevens, Eliot, and Pessoa, as well as several contemporary poets.

Tom Gerety, Collegiate Professor, joined the NYU faculty in 2005, having first come to NYU two years earlier to head the Brennan Center for Justice at the Law School. Before then he served as President of Amherst College from 1994 to 2003 and of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1989 to 1994. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Dean and Nippert Professor at the College of Law of the University of Cincinnati. As a law professor he taught and wrote on constitutional law and political philosophy, with a special emphasis on First Amendment freedoms, including speech, privacy, and religious freedom. With Judy Woodruff, he wrote and narrated a PBS series, Visions of the Constitution, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

In Search of Lost Time
(V70.0104; call # 75902)
Instructor: Marcelle Clements
Wednesday, 11:00 a.m.–1:30 p.m.

We will read Proust (in translation) as he should be read: hedonistically—with respect and admiration but also with delectation. A prodigious novel, 4,500 pages long, In Search of Lost Time addresses literature’s richest theme: desire—its remembrance, transformation, perversion, defeat, and final resurgence in the form of art. More than 100 years old, often said to be the first modern novel, it remains a dazzling social history of the French beau monde and, even more, of the power and elegance of its author’s sensibility. It is still unparalleled in how it combines self-examination with social history, extraordinary psychological acuity with the study of glamour and decadence, how it merges an audacious explosion of form with explorations of memory, attachment, deception, lust, jealousy, ambition, disappointment, and ennui. It is also one of the most pleasurable and elating reads. But although Marcel Proust (1871–1922) is usually assumed to be France’s greatest novelist, his prose is so layered and brilliant that, unfortunately, many readers begin at the beginning and never move past the first 50 pages, reading the same gorgeous sentences again and again. But while In Search of Lost Time’s prose style (playing on association, evocation, magnification, punning, rhythm) may have been its most radical contribution to the art of the novel, it cannot be understood until it has been read once in its entirety. In this seminar, we will keep moving at a brisk pace through the work, merely glancing at its riches on our way, until we arrive at the uniquely euphoric experience of reading the final volume, Time Regained. Required reading: an average of 350 pages per week.

Marcelle Clements is Collegiate Professor and a Fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities at NYU. Her articles and essays on the arts, culture, and politics have appeared in many national publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Newsday, the Village Voice, Elle, Mademoiselle, Ms., Rolling Stone, Mirabella, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and Premiere. She is the author of a collection of essays, The Dog Is Us and Other Observations; a book of nonfiction, The Improvised Woman: Single Women Reinventing Single Life; and two novels, Rock Me and, most recently, Midsummer.

Pharmaceutical Drugs, Ethics, and Culture
(V70.0105; call # 76056)
Instructor: David A. Scicchitano
Friday, 9:30 a.m.–12:00 noon

This seminar is designed to introduce students to contemporary issues in the realm of pharmaceuticals, focusing on drug design, safety, and distribution. Early in the seminar, students are introduced to the basic concepts of drug research and testing, with an emphasis on the Food and Drug Administration rules for bringing a drug to the clinic and eventually to the marketplace. This leads to the complex issues related to drug distribution inside and outside the United States, the societal implications associated with new therapeutic regimens, and the economic factors and laws that come into play. The seminar also develops students’ writing, critical thinking, and presentation skills, with emphasis placed on researching, evaluating, and presenting evidence.

David A. Scicchitano, Collegiate Professor and Professor of Biology, also serves as the Director of Undergraduate Research in the College. His research interests include the way environmental agents, particularly chemicals, interact with and damage DNA, interfering with fundamental cellular process, and triggering pathology. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals of his field, including Biochemistry, the Journal of Molecular Biology, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and Environmental Health Perspectives. His research is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health. He has twice won the College’s Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching, as well as the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

American Wars, Past and Present: Vietnam and Iraq
(V70.0106; call # 76057)
Instructor: Marilyn B. Young
Wednesday, 2:00–4:30 p.m.

The course will consider the last major war of the 20th century and the first major war of the 21st century. The history, memory, and political uses of the Vietnam War will be the subject of the first part of the course. The ongoing influence of that war on contemporary politics will occupy the second part of the course. The way Gulf War I (Operation Desert Storm) was fought and reported upon was shaped by the specific understanding the administration of George H. W. Bush had of the Vietnam War. The current war in the Gulf (Operation Iraqi Freedom) was, of course, shaped by the outcome of the first Gulf War. But it has also been fought in the shadow of Vietnam analogies that are used by those who support the war as well as by those who oppose it. The course will examine these analogies with some care. The overarching concern of the seminar is the ongoing haunting of American politics—military and civilian—by a war fought over three decades ago. There are two connected questions: Can history teach? What does it teach?

Marilyn B. Young, Collegiate Professor and Professor of History, is a former Chair of the History Department. Her teaching and her writing focus on U.S. foreign policy. Her books include The Vietnam Wars, 1945–1990, The Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1895–1901, Transforming Russia and China: Revolutionary Struggle in the 20th Century, with William Rosenberg, and Human Rights and Revolutions, with Lynn Hunt and Jeffrey Wasserstrom. She has also edited several collections of essays on the recent wars in Iraq. She was Director of the Project on the Cold War as a Global Conflict at NYU’s International Center for Advanced Study in 2001–2004. She has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and of an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. Twice she has won the College’s Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Zooësis: Animal Acts for Changing Times
(V70.0107; call # 76169)
Instructor: Una Chaudhuri
Thursday, 9:30 a.m.–12:00 noon

The emerging field of animal studies has already generated neologisms in various disciplines: “anthrozoology” (culture studies), “zoopolis” (urban social theory), and “zoontology” (philosophy). To these the fields of literature and performance studies propose an addition—“zooësis,” to refer to the history of animal representation that stretches, in the Western literary tradition, from Aesop’s Fables to Will Self’s Great Apes; in the Western dramatic tradition, from Aristophanes’ The Frogs to Albee’s The Goat; in film, from Muybridge’s “zoogyroscope” to Herzog’s Grizzly Man; in popular culture, from Mickey Mouse to Animal Planet;and in popular performance from gladiatorial contests to Siegfried and Roy. To speak of zooësis is also to acknowledge the manifold performances engendered by cultural animal practices such as pet-keeping, dog shows, equitation, rodeo, bull-fighting, animal sacrifice, scientific experimentation, taxidermy, hunting, fur-wearing, meat-eating—each with its own archive and repertory, its own performers and spectators. In this course we will study recent films, novels, plays, and cultural events that reveal how our interaction with animals shapes our understanding of the human, our approach to the “Other” (including the racial and ethnic Other), and our attitude toward the world.

Una Chaudhuri, Collegiate Professor and Professor of English and of Drama, has served as chair of both the Department of English in the Faculty of Arts and Science and of the Department of Drama at the Tisch School of the Arts. She is the author of No Man’s Stage: A Semiotic Study of Jean Genet’s Plays and Staging Place: The Geography of Modern Drama, editor of Rachel’s Brain and Other Storms: The Performance Scripts of Rachel Rosenthal, and coeditor, with Elinor Fuchs, of the critical anthology Land/Scape/Theater. Her current work explores the intersections of performance studies and the emerging field of animal studies, on which she just guest-edited a special issue of TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies. She has won both the College’s Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching and the University’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

Matter, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy
(V70.0108; call # 76204)
Instructor: Glennys Farrar
Monday and Wednesday, 3:30–4:45 p.m.

The past several decades have seen tremendous advances in observational cosmology. As a result we understand in remarkable detail many aspects of the evolution and the contents of the universe. This course will focus on three of the most puzzling facts about the universe: Why was there a slight excess of matter over antimatter after the Big Bang? (Otherwise, after matter–antimatter annihilation was complete, no matter would have been left.) What is dark matter? (Although on average in the universe it is five times more abundant than normal matter, we know that it is something not found on Earth or, so far, observed in our laboratories.) What is the so-called dark energy? (The expansion rate of the universe is actually accelerating, rather than slowing down as was expected, a finding that is attributed to some new component of the universe known as dark energy.) Students enrolling in the seminar should either have had AP Physics, be enrolled in Physics I (V83.0091), or have permission of the instructor.

Glennys Farrar, Collegiate Professor and Professor of Physics, is Director of NYU’s Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. Before coming to NYU in 1998 as Chair of the Physics Department, she was on the faculties of the California Institute of Technology and Rutgers University and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Her current work focuses mainly on problems at the intersection of astrophysics, cosmology, and particle physics, including ultra–high energy cosmic rays, the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and the origin of the asymmetry between matter and antimatter. Her research has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

How We See
(V70.0109; call # 76230)
Instructor: Marisa Carrasco
Thursday, 9:30 a.m.–12:00 noon

Do we see the world the way we do because we are the way we are or because the world is the way it is? The ease with which we comprehend the visual world, and recognize objects and events, makes it tempting to think that the world is just the way we see it and to take our perceptual capabilities for granted. But when we comprehend that we cannot process all the information available in the environment, when we try to build machines that can see, or when we encounter people who have lost some specific visual capability—for example, persons who can no longer recognize faces—we realize how extraordinary and intricate are the machinery and mechanisms of sight. This course looks at what we know about vision from multiple scientific perspectives: perceptual psychology tells us about the process of seeing, and provides important insights into the workings of visual mechanisms; neuropsychology shows us what happens to perception when these mechanisms malfunction; neuroscience tells us about processes at the level of cells and neural systems. At the same time, we will discuss modes and techniques of scientific inquiry from these different perspectives. How do vision scientists learn? What kinds of experiments do they conduct? How has the development of new neuroimaging techniques (fMRI, for example) shaped the field?

Marisa Carrasco is Collegiate Professor and Professor of Psychology and Neural Science, as well as Chair of the Psychology Department. Born and raised in Mexico City, she received her licentiate in psychology from the National University of Mexico and her Ph.D. in psychology (cognition and perception) from Princeton University. She conducts research in cognitive neuroscience, exploring the relation between the psychological and neural mechanisms involved in visual perception and attention. She has published many papers in the most prominent scientific journals in perception, in particular, and in science, in general. Her accomplishments have been recognized by prestigious awards and fellowships throughout her career, such as an American Association of University Women Fellowship, a National Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation, a Cattell Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Life’s Ends, in Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Darwinism
(V70.0110; call # 76245)
Instructor: John Richardson
Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.–12:00 noon

We share a very strong impression that nature—especially organisms or life—has some kind of purposiveness or design, is somehow aimed at ends. But we generally take science, and Darwinian biology in particular, to oppose this first impression and to push ends or purposes quite out of nature. This course will examine that strong sense of the teleology (end-directedness) of life or nature, and consider how it really stands up to a scientific or naturalistic view. Part of our attention will be historical: we will focus on two very different philosophers, Aristotle and Nietzsche, who are alike in their very strong allegiance to science, yet also in their insistence on explaining life by its ends or goals. Why do they so insist—and Nietzsche even after Darwin? Another part of our attention will be more contemporary: we will consider what evolutionary theory really does entail as to whether organisms have ends. We will see how even the most current science may still leave room for teleology. Readings will be from Aristotle, Nietzsche, and contemporary philosophy of biology.

John Richardson is Collegiate Professor and Professor of Philosophy. He specializes in 19th- and 20th-century continental philosophy. In addition to numerous articles on these topics, he has written books about Nietzsche (Nietzsche’s System and Nietzsche’s New Darwinism) and Heidegger (Existential Epistemology: A Heideggerian Critique of the Cartesian Project). He is also coeditor of Nietzsche, a volume in the Oxford Readings in Philosophy series. He has been a winner of the College’s Golden Dozen Award for Excellence in Teaching.