Skip to main content


Fall 2007

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 2008

Confronting Capitalism: How Writers, Artists and Activists Imagined a Society based on the Market

Instructors: Kate Baldwin (American Studies), Susan McReynolds Oddo (Slavic Languages & Literatures), and Séamas O'Driscoll (Slavic Languages & Literatures)

What is the right way to live together? Some of the most interesting and influential attempts to address the problem of community have approached this topic in terms of economic justice. Imagining "the good society" inevitably entails thinking about money and markets; when we try to imagine the best way to live together, we have to decide how wealth shall be produced, distributed, and regulated. In this course, we will analyze the concept of the good society from the perspective of capitalist society and its alternatives. Drawing on texts as diverse as Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground, and the poetry of Langston Hughes, we will examine how individuals speaking from very different perspectives have responded to proposals to build the good society either with or despite the help of markets. In addition to rich, multimedia introductions to key economic, literary and historical texts, this class will feature special guest lecturers and also make trips around the Chicago area to explore the city's rich heritage of New Deal art.