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2016-2017 Kaplan Scholars Courses

Fall 2016

Till Death Do Us Part (or Not): Exploring Marriage

Professors: Mira Balberg (Religious Studies), Barbara Newman (English), and Amy Stanley (History)

Marriage is not only one of the oldest institutions of human civilization. It is also a quintessential meeting place of tradition and innovation, human and divine, reality and fantasy, freedom and obligation, individual and society. In the practices surrounding marriage, the tensions and complexities that underlie human experience in different times and places come to the fore in poignant and fascinating ways. Because history, law, religion, literature, politics, anthropology, sociology, and art all intersect in marriage, this topic can serve as an ideal gateway to the humanities.

Our class, team-taught by a historian of early modern Japan, a scholar of medieval European literature, and an expert in ancient Mediterranean religions, will achieve two central goals. First, it will acquaint students with an exciting assortment of cultural works from many times and places and help them acquire tools for close reading and analysis. Second, the class seeks to foster a critical, historical, and contextual approach to marriage by focusing on an institution that is often represented as “timeless” or “universal,” while systematically revealing its incessant permutations and inherent diversity. Among the topics we will discuss are wedding ceremonies, legal and financial aspects of marriage, alternatives to marriage (such as celibacy and polygamy), mythical and theological dimensions of marriage, divorce, same-sex marriage, and more. Field trips may include a play at the Steppenwolf Theatre and a performance at the Lyric Opera. A panel of clergy will discuss contemporary wedding arrangements in different religions, as well as secular ceremonies.

Winter 2017

The Avant-Garde in the World

Professors: Harris Feinsod (English), Susan Manning (Theatre, Performance Studies and English), and Alejandra Uslenghi (Spanish & Portuguese)

From 1900 to 1968, a series of artistic movements in performance, visual art, and literature shook readers and audiences around the world. These movements went by many names in many places, but they were united as part of a transnational "Avant-Garde.” Expressive artists such as Loie Fuller, Blaise Cendrars, William Carlos Williams and Diego Rivera all asked: how could the dancer’s body, the painter’s brush, or the poet’s language represent the dizzying new sensations and technologies of modern life in an increasingly interconnected world? This course introduces students to the history of avant-garde movements across Europe and the Americas. We’ll begin with the exhibitions and experiments in Europe before World War I, and follow the avant-garde’s migrations from Paris and New York to Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City, where avant-garde artists sought to participate in the revolutionary movements of the 1930s. We’ll conclude by examining how writers, film-makers and artists from World War II to the 1960s renewed avant-garde practices, often in the service of radical social movements, even as powerful institutions (such as the CIA) tried to coopt their objectives. Our outlook will be restlessly “transnational” and “interdisciplinary,” and in order to learn about the vibrant legacies and continuations of the avant-garde, we will take field trips to several exciting Chicago-area performances, museums and archives.