We offer our students a college preparatory humanities curriculum in a different format from that of many schools. Our courses are generally offered by semester, and conducted in small, multi-age seminars. While we do target specific developmental skills for underclassmen in more conventional courses such as American History or Expository Writing, most classes contain both literary and social science content so that students are required to approach the course’s subject from a variety of academic perspectives. Critical writing, independent research, seminar discussion and close reading are all emphasized.
Students are required to take classes in which they encounter several cultural regions (including, specifically, the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia, Southern Asia) and eras (which divide by region). No class could reasonably contain all modes of inquiry—archaeology is more applicable in some courses, political science in others, for example—but over the course of their time at the school, students will be exposed to the research methodologies of a wide variety of social sciences. Similarly, students will be exposed to a wide variety of literary forms that we believe are too often neglected in conventional English classes. These are not presented abstractly, but in their appropriate historical, formal, and cultural contexts. In aggregate, students master much of the same material they might have encountered in broad survey courses, but by approaching that material in a thematically centered, intensive, and cross-curricular fashion, students learn to make different connections, to examine and deliberate and to independently investigate as scholars do.
Fall 2017 – Spring 2018:
U.S. History In this course we will survey the political, economic, and cultural history of what has become the United States between European colonization and living memory. First semester, students will be introduced to historical method and perspectives as we explore how the initial interactions of European colonists, Native American societies, and African slaves affected the shape that the future nation would eventually take, and examine the growth of major colonies, the founding and territorial expansion of the United States, and the many developments in American culture, self-image, and economics up through the Civil War. We will trace struggles for equality in race, gender, and class within the country, and its effect on other societies with which it has interacted. In the second semester, we will follow these threads up to the present day, while consolidating skills in historical analysis and research. Students will develop their historical literacy and critical sensibilities, in order to understand the processes of historical change and the roles and effects of the U.S. on its citizens and the world, laying the groundwork for responsible citizenship and for their further studies in the Humanities.
From Prester John to Marco Polo: Lies, Legend, Politics & Orientalism in the Middle Ages In this course we will explore the Medieval worldview in all its many contradictions, discovering both how disorientingly different and yet uncannily familiar it is. Using Umberto’s Eco’s novel Baudolino as a base text, supplemented by the accounts of Marco Polo and a number of primary sources from Livy to Rabelais to the Sepher Yetzirah, students will be immersed first in the political and intellectual world of the 12th Century Holy Roman Empire, then examine Europe’s relations with the Eastern Orthodox and Ottoman Empires, India, and China. We will find that this history was largely determined by an oral culture in which the distinctions between entertainment, news, propaganda, rumor, and mysticism are rarely clear. We will encounter intricate cultural fantasies and utopias projected by Europeans upon the rest of the world, which are then often used as pretexts for conquest. Perhaps more surprisingly, we will discover that to the medieval consciousness, the very ideas of Truth and Reality, Artifice and Faith, functioned quite differently than they do today – or so we hope.
Golden Age Athens: Theater & Times For nearly the entire one hundred years of the fifth century BCE Athens experienced a “Golden Age.” It overthrew its despot rulers and founded the first Democracy, under which Greek theater, architecture, philosophy and painting reached its zenith. The great playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes were also soldiers, statesmen and social critics that helped hone the democratic functions of their state. During this same 5th century BCE, Greeks turned back two massive invasions by the Persian superpower of their day, created a large and wealthy empire, built a glittering city and spent decades embroiled in a brutal war against Sparta that was to end in the destruction of the Athenian democracy. In this class we will read 10 important plays and place them in the context of their times. We will read Herodotus, the father of history, and Thucydides, the trusted chronicler of the Peloponnesian war. We will look at the politics and ideas upon which the first democracy was built and the economic and military reasons for its collapse. Students will be assigned five plays, which they will read, write careful notes about, and lead class discussion on. Students will also have to present five prepared monologues to the class – one on each play. Students will also be required to write three essays (variations based on the essay prompt provided, or on an approved thesis presented by a student). Students will be expected to take a number of pop-quizzes on the plays and readings throughout the semester.
Immigrants and Outsiders We are faced daily with the explicit contradictions of an immigrant’s “American Dream.” The phrase summons visions of economic success, religious freedom, a flourishing middle-class, and social mobility. At the same time, we cannot help but remember a core of exploitation, discrimination, environmental destruction, and social entrenchment. From either perspective, we are all intimately involved with the ever-developing narrative of immigrant experience and, thus, The American Dream. So, what exactly is this dream? How is it both fruitful and problematic? And who are we who dream it? This class will examine works of fiction, nonfiction, visual art, poetry, and film that speak to the immigrant (and therefore the American) experience.
Jacobean Theater “O Italy, the apothecary of poison, for all nations: how many kinds of weapons has thou invented for malice” (Thomas Nashe). Here is an element on which, according to scholar Simon Trussler, Jacobean tragedy thrives. Malice, revenge, and intrigue! How is it possible that such lyrical soap opera and marvelous farce should dominate the English stage in an era of a King noted for sponsoring a rather conservative translation of the Bible? Why Italy? Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I, England faced radical changes culturally and aesthetically: the Jacobean era brought forth a radically changing geo-political landscape, the expansion of English Colonialism, diverse ideas about religion and tolerance as well as debate about the role of women in society. The theater changes too. Gone are the timeless “folkloric characters one might find in Twelfth Night or As You Like It;” on stage, tragedy grows more vulgar and violent; comedy borders on the outrageous and more often depraved. This course examines dramaturgical ideas by English playwrights active during the reign of King James I (1603-1625). In addition to exploring changes James made in his commissioned Biblical translation, playwrights covered include William Shakespeare, John Webster, Ben Jonson, Francis Beaumont and Thomas Middleton. The semester includes a trip to see the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Macbeth.
Japan, The United States and World War II World War II fundamentally reoriented the global economic and political order of the 20th century, jump-started the atomic age and showed humanity’s capacity for organized mass destruction of life on a scale that dwarfed all previous wars combined. Through the window of cultural and political relations between the Empire of Japan and the United States of America, this class investigates the major factors that brought these nations into WWII, how individual citizens weathered the events of the war, and how they groped for understanding and regeneration in its aftermath. This class will focus on building research and writing skills while also teaching students the broader significance of the war for the major combatant nations and the world at large. Students will give a presentation and write a research paper. Readings of ten to thirty pages can be expected each week.
Leo Tolstoy: Teacher for a Russian Spring To the point: Leo Tolstoy: Teacher for a Russian Spring will touch on what makes Russia such a complicated geo-political landscape. Should this ancient nation fall under the influence of westernization or should it hold on to its ethnic roots, despite the vast diversity within her ethnicity? Leo Tolstoy: Teacher for a Russian Spring examines these swift changes challenging Russian life throughout the 19th century and into the next epoch. Argument: should the Russian people accept Europeanization or maintain a Slavic identity? What should be done with the Serfs? What about the Czar? The Decembrists were a political revolt before a pleasant rock band. In short, this course will examine concepts that have made up Russian identity as well as sample Tolstoy’s prose, which reflects such changes in his homeland.
Meat & Potatoes: 19th Century Irish History and Literature The nineteenth century around the world was a period of social upheaval, civil wars and revolutions. Ireland had more than its share of these struggles at home, but it also provided the manpower and gun fodder for many of the global conflicts as well. One obvious reason that the Irish poured out of their country to fight and die overseas was the human catastrophe of the potato famine. Millions of Irish were faced with emigration or death by starvation, and many of those emigrants became very successful in their newly adopted homelands. Surprisingly perhaps, the nineteenth century was a high point for Irish literature as well. This class will read historical texts, examine famous speeches, listen to ballads, read poetry and short fiction that will help us examine Ireland in the nineteenth century holistically. The class will be assigned weekly readings, and will be required to write three essays (variations based on the essay prompt provided, or on an approved thesis presented by a student). Students will be expected to view a short (4 episode) TV Series on their own time, and will take viewing quizzes on the films we watch in class.
Norse Mythology In the beginning a gargantuan cow licks the primordial ice and frees a giant named Ymir. The gods kill him and carve up his body to make the worlds, which eventually end after hounds eat the sun and the moon during an epic duel of monsters and gods. Why are people shaped by centuries of science and organized religion still fascinated by tales such as these? The written and archaeological evidence points to their authentic, if unstable, role in the lives of Germanic people. And their continuing ability to entertain and inspire, to be recast and told in new ways, may tell us something about the ancient and recent pasts they echo. This class will investigate Norse myths in their earliest known written versions and highlight and compare various treatments and adaptations old and new. Students will explore the myths both as creative works and reflections of the people who shared and upheld them, the Scandinavians that gave shape to Europe from the 8th to 11th centuries – the so-called Viking Age – and revivalist movements of modern ages. Students will read from Snorri Sturluson’s Edda the ‘Gylfaginning’ and significant portions of ‘Skaldskaparmal’, read many works from the Poetic Edda, write one critical essay and complete a creative project.
Old Testament The Old Testament is one of the most explored pieces of literature in the western world. Its influence is vast and an understanding of the text will help students feel more culturally literate. With a close exploration of the Pentateuch, students will consider the ties between Judaism and Christianity and examine the use of different hypotheses in establishing origins of the texts. We will also look into the Historical, Poetical/Wisdom, and Prophetic Books of the Old Testament to consider how the sections work. The students will also be exposed to other works to see the impact of the Old Testament on art.
20th Century Korean Literature & History The Korean peninsula endured a series of profound transformations in the twentieth century. Throughout the century Korean writers have, consciously or not, helped socialize generations of Korean readers into the harsh realities of the nation’s modern history. This course will focus on Korean Literature in translation, which examines this portion of Korean history which is so rife with conflict: colonization, territorial division, civil war, military rule, and the strains of headlong industrialization. Students will also be introduced to Korean culture, a glimpse of its rich past and an overview of the current events and nuclear tensions that threaten the world today. Students will read and discuss short fiction each week, and will choose an additional novel which they will present to the class late in the semester. Students will write one or two multiple draft essays with the option of entering their work in the Sejong Culture Society essay competition early next year.
African American Studies: Booker T. Washington through the Harlem Renaissance In African American Studies, we will explore the impact of African American thought and art on the United States as a whole. We will be discussing racism, equal rights and progress as we examine the works of thinkers and artisans alike. Starting with Booker T. Washington’s seminal text Up From Slavery, we will begin to peel back the push and pull of equality, progress and the growth of thought as we continue through the semester to the Harlem Renaissance.
American Civil War Poetry American Civil War Poetry examines the horrific events and conflicts that made up this four-year long slaughter and the poems both Northerners and Southerners composed in response. These poems are not only reactionary works to the horrors of the war but also came as calls-to-arms in verse. Beginning with the more contemporary works of Robert Lowell and Allen Tate, American Civil War looks at the debates that split the Union and percolate even now. In addition to examining accounts of battle and historical documents regarding the formation of the Confederacy and the like, poets will include Melville, Whitman, Dickson, Whittier, Longfellow, Bryant, and Julia Ward Howe, as well as lesser-known writers driven to express the war experience through verse.
Graphic Novels as Literature L’Association, a French artist-run publishing cooperative founded in 1990, radically restructured the popular concept of the comic book. In many ways, the small press and independent comics movement have their origins in the expressions of the guiding principles espoused by the L’Association: establish a clear break from the commercial comics industry, publish only important books, and present comics as a legitimate cultural form that operates beyond the demands of the market. This class will focus on graphic novels by artists that belong to, or have a strong connection with, L’Association. The goal of this class is to heighten students’ visual and critical literacy though improving skills in in reading, deciphering and decoding the visual language of comics. Students are expected to write three complete drafts of one long research paper, in addition to weekly presentations and participating in daily discussions and critiques. Copies of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics are available for every student, and there is a small selection of graphic novels available for students in the school library. It is recommended that every student should possess a valid Roanoke City Library card as the downtown library has a number of graphic novels of value to this class.
Introduction to Western Philosophy While in Introduction to Western Philosophy, students will study various schools of philosophy, read works by an assortment of philosophers from Plato to Kant, and learn the importance of thought in forming an argument. They will use the knowledge acquired to form an argument within a modern ethical situation. They will frame logical responses to writings found about these situations by using critical thought to analyze the work and respond. This course will deviate from the norm at Community High School by leaning more towards survey, though keeping the school’s philosophy by embracing discourse and inquiry instead of lecture.
Piracy, Plunder and Property The concept of piracy in popular culture is bursting with vivid yet contradictory stereotypes: murderous criminals, heroic underdogs, drunken ne’er-do-wells, expert seamen, cowardly smugglers, misunderstood freedom-fighters. We will examine these stereotypes, the history and theories of piracy, and explore many of the forms piracy has taken, from Viking raids to the Buccaneers to pirate publishing and intellectual property to piracy along the coasts of contemporary Africa. In the process, we will find that history and legend cannot always be distinguished, and that our subject raises important and thorny questions about historical methodology and the status of historical Truth itself. Behind the legends, we will look at the economic and political dimensions of Piracy, and the important roles it played in defining, through opposition, the modern concepts of Property and the Nation-State. We will be presented with a tricky paradox: on one hand it will be confirmed that most pirates have been motivated by self-interest and many have been guilty of murder, rape, and sometimes torture to remarkable degrees; on the other hand, we will find that most pirate communities were democratic long before “legitimate” society, and that at many times and places in history, pirate society has offered a refuge to those marginalized or brutalized by mainstream society, offering degrees of social, racial, and political justice unrivaled in the world of Law. Together we will explore what these paradoxes can tell us about history, society, economics, and human nature itself.
Post WWII Countercultures The decades following the end of WWII witnessed dramatic shifts in United States domestic and foreign policy, coinciding with rapid upheaval of social and cultural norms that fell largely on generational lines. A blossoming of social and political movements both responded to and greatly influenced these radical changes. The Civil Rights Movement, Anti-Nuclear Movement, Anti-War Movement, American Indian Movement, Black Power Movement, Mexican American Movement, Second Wave Feminism, Gay (LGBT) Liberation Movement, Environmental Movement and responding conservative and traditionalist movements, to name a few, fought for change during these tumultuous decades, a period sometimes referred to as a second civil war. Often at the vanguard of these movements were countercultures that sought radical changes not only in US policy, but in our nation’s fundamental values and ways of life. This class will focus primarily on US countercultures from the Civil Rights through the Vietnam era. Students will explore the roots of countercultures in reform and resistance movements prior to WWII; the major domestic and world events that influenced these movements; how their art reflected their values and strategies; how change differently manifested in their political activities, worldview and lifestyles; and their reach and memory within society today. Class content will be offered in packets of primary source material, media sources available on the web, lectures, and research projects. Students will compose one research paper, a creative project, weekly class activities and regular written responses to text and media sources.
Vietnam: Colonialism, Nationalism, Immigration The story of Vietnam as a nation tells of people in constant pursuit of an independent self-determined country. Therefore, Vietnam: Colonialism, Nationalism, Immigration takes as its focus events that have impacted a country from the years following World War II to the present. Starting with the reemergence of French colonialism, the course will examine how and why the United States became entangled with this corner of the world. With readings from novelists, playwrights and poets as well as non-fictional accounts, the course will explore the impact decades of war had on those who lived there and those who found themselves in a foreign land fighting in the midst of another country’s civil war. The course concludes with a look at Vietnamese immigration to America and exploring their lives through fiction and poetry as well as a look at the loves of Americans impacted by what was once America’s longest military engagement.
War Trauma: On the Battlefield and at Home Battle heart, shell shock, nostalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder; many are the names for the lasting damage that war experience imposes on its survivors, a spectrum of reactive conditions researchers and caretakers are still grappling with fully understanding. In this class students will investigate war trauma from the perspective of the individual, with a special focus on late 20th and early 21st century U.S. conflicts. Students will explore issues of honor, duty, war culture, class, and training that impact the soldier’s circumstances; the experience of combat trauma, as told through eyewitness accounts, which results in the unique mental and physiological damage in survivors of war; the role technology plays on the battlefield; the history of popular and specialized understandings of these conditions; and the unique problems of war trauma and its treatment in the home and community upon a soldier’s return to domestic life, as well as medical treatment. Core texts will be The Things they Carried, On Killing, No More Heroes, and Redeployment.