Spring 2019 Courses


SPCL 400.301 | Introduction to Chinese Tea Culture and History

Student Instructor: Bart Arconti
Faculty Mentor: Yi Zhou
W, 4:00PM – 6:00PM. Graham Memorial 210.

How did a few leaves from a subtropical garden in southeast China end up in your cup? Why did the British Empire start wars in order to protect their interests in a seemingly simple plant? Why did this plant become the center piece of a Japanese cult? Tea is the most widely consumed beverage after water. According to legend, tea’s stimulating properties were first discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shennong almost five thousand years ago. The tea bush, a native of southeastern China, has been cultivated and used for medicinal purposes for even longer and continues to be used for such purposes today. To the modern tea drinker, much is unknown about this plant which has started wars and inspired cults. This course will offer an introduction into the world of Chinese tea culture. Myths and philosophies which have developed in relation to tea will be analyzed to offer students a deeper understanding of Chinese tea history and culture. Additionally, will we explore the history and production of the seven major tea types, tea brewing utensils, and traditional brewing methods. Through this course students can gain an understanding of a piece of Chinese culture which still plays a central role in the modern world.

SPCL 400.302 | City in Revolt: Urban Transitions of the Late 20th Century

Student Instructors: Adam Hasan & Ezra Rawitsch
Faculty Mentor: John Pickles
M, 4:00PM – 6:00PM. Graham Memorial 212.

During the late 20th century, cities were the flashpoints for revolutions around the world. The political struggles that produced what Francis Fukuyama called “the end of history” were overwhelmingly contested in an urban setting and produced memorable images of the city in revolt: celebrations surrounding Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in Cape Town, one million protesters gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, and the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, to name just three. From Santiago to Moscow to Johannesburg and beyond, cities and their citizens negotiated the political and cultural formations that would come to define the new millennium.

This course examines the political changes of the late 20th century as they occured in an urban setting. With a focus on urban studies & geography, students will consult a variety of sources, including primary source historical documents, literature in translation, visual arts, music, and maps to reach an understanding of the relationship between revolution and the city.

SPCL 400.303 | Landscapes of Conflict: the Memory of War and the Shape of Peace in Northern Ireland

Student Instructor: Aisling Henihan
Faculty Mentor: Robert Jenkins
T, 5:00PM – 7:00PM. Graham Memorial 210.

How can landscapes produce conflict and peace? And how can peace and conflict alter landscapes? Such questions are central to this course, which considers the spatial components of conflict and peace through close study of the Northern Irish Troubles.

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Irish landscapes remain charged with fear, with hope, and with memory. As the peace movement progresses and regresses, communities who call such landscapes home face difficult questions about how to reckon with so visible a past. By examining contested spaces like peace walls and memorials, as well as newer sites of conflict, including “peace bridges” and cross-community housing projects, this class will interrogate how sites of conflict and peace are remembered, forgotten, and/or transformed in peace processes. Using an interdisciplinary framework that draws from art history, geography, and conflict studies, students will work with historical documents, political texts, oral histories, visual culture, and literature to illustrate how the literal and aesthetic construction of landscape can inform memory of conflict and influence prospects for peace.

SPCL 400.304 | “Mother is Only Half of a Word”: An Exploration of the Modern Mother in Contemporary Literature, Art, and Media

Student Instructors: Annie Kiyonaga & Kent McDonald
Faculty Mentor: Pamela Cooper
T, 5:00PM – 7:00PM. Graham Memorial 213.

“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
-Jill Churchill

What constitutes a “good” or “bad” mother? Why is our culture saturated with traditions of the wicked stepmother? Why does the maternal body hold such undying fascination for the public eye?

In our course, we will examine these age-old questions through a decidedly modern lens: the writings of contemporary authors. This course will engage with texts from the 1980s onward to explore how depictions of motherhood have become complicated by evolving attitudes surrounding gender and women’s rights. Set against this backdrop of significant cultural change, we will inspect how contemporary writers utilize the figure of the unconventional mother to address the paradoxical limitations and liberations motherhood imposes upon women.

We will examine violent mothers; estranged mothers; mothers who love their children too much, and mothers who sometimes despise their children. Each of our chosen literary characters transgresses the boundaries of “normal” motherhood in a distinctive and interesting way. In dissecting the characters of these mothers who defy societal norms of motherhood, we will define both the traditional “good” and “bad” mother, and consider the implications of both of these stereotypes.

We will also incorporate artistic and cinematic depictions of mothers into our analysis, constructing a multifaceted lens from which we can investigate the complicated maternal characters who abound in popular culture. With this integration of a larger perspective on depictions of motherhood, we hope to analyze not just the singular mothers in our core texts, but the larger narratives surrounding their specific breeds of “unconventionality.” This course is recommended for undergraduate students interested in engaging with contemporary literature through an interdisciplinary approach. We will include a variety of academic disciplines in our coursework, most notably fusing theories and insights from art history and dramaturgy into our literature-based studies. We intend to introduce students to a variety of theoretical approaches to challenge and explore conventional standards of motherhood, in an effort to interrogate the socio-cultural forces that have constructed these expectations of what a mother should and should not be.

SPCL 400.305 | Gödel, Escher, Bach: a Multidisciplinary Investigation Into Truth and Logic

Student Instructor: Lukas Lyon
Faculty Mentor: Idris Assani
T, 4:30PM – 6:30PM. Graham Memorial 038

Questioning the human experience has always been a fundamental part of that experience. Douglas Hofstadter’s seminal, Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” engages the reader in a dialogue that carefully intertwines J.S. Bach’s fugues, M.C. Escher’s intoxicating artistic works, and the ideas of the Austrian mathematician, Kurt Gödel in an attempt to answer, or at least think critically about those questions. Perhaps most strikingly, Hofstadter’s goal is not to explore the relationships between visual art, music, and mathematics, but to employ them in seeking a common goal: how formal, mechanical systems give rise to creativity and cognition.

This guided reading course aims to challenge students from across the academic disciplines to consider this goal through careful study of selections from Hofstadter’s book, focusing on fruitful discussions on the topics he proposes. Particular emphasis will be given to challenges and puzzles set by Hofstadter himself, which tend to inspire great respect for the functional complexity of biological and neurological mechanisms.

This course is open to anyone who is interested in exploring the foundations of logic through art, music, and mathematics. A basic background in mathematics (equivalent to MATH 110 or 118 at UNC) will be helpful in understanding some of the more technical concepts discussed.

SPCL 400.306 | Neuroscience: Methodologies and Implications

Student Instructor: Matt Mattoni
Faculty Mentor: Marsha Penner
W, 4:00PM – 6:00PM. Graham Memorial 038

Neuroscience can impact numerous aspects of our lives due to its ability to explore the natural basis of human function and behavior. This course will focus on the field’s potential by first covering its common research methods and then delving into resulting controversies. What does neuroscience tell us and how valid are these results? How can we use this information? Should we use this information? Class discussions will therefore ask students to consider what sort of societal issues neuroscience is currently suitable to address.

Students will also gain first-hand experiences in various aspects of neuroscience, including exposure to preserved brains and prominent historical works. Additionally, by serving as reviewers for neuroscience research manuscripts submitted by undergraduates around the world, students will gain experience critically evaluating scientific writing and the process of research publication. By the course’s conclusion, students will have a broad understanding of neuroscientific research and a nuanced perspective on the field’s current state and potential for development.

SPCL 400.308 | Mass Incarceration: In Theory and Practice

Student Instructor: Elina Rodriguez
Faculty Mentor: Seth Kotch
M, 4:00PM – 6:00PM. Graham Memorial 038

This course will give students the theoretical underpinnings to understand academic discussions of mass incarceration and the carceral space, but, perhaps more importantly, it offers exposure to the effect of mass incarceration on people’s lives, and families. The class will be grounded in the lived experiences of people most harmed by the criminal justice system, and will give students analytical frameworks to understand mass incarceration’s impact on health, wealth, and society. The class will include a trip to Central Prison in Raleigh, NC.

SPCL 400.309 | Making Holes

Student Instructor: Hampton Smith
Faculty Mentor: Tyler Curtain
W, 5:00PM – 7:00PM. Graham Memorial 213

This interdisciplinary seminar seeks to understand, theorize, and make holes. Holes are seemingly simple things, immaterial spaces in stuff, but have created history, new art forms, technical machines, as well as ways to complicate sites of meaning and identity. In our exploration of holes, perforations, and punches, students will explore a variety of material – visual, bodily, literary, historical, tactile, and sometimes invisible – from 1800 to the contemporary moment. As such, we will cover a divergent group of hole-making and hole-filling practices – from embroidery to tattooing to punch-card coding. Each week students will engage in discussions of short readings by artists, media theorists, or literary scholars in conversations with visual or tactile materials. To facilitate an active relationship between making and thinking, students will use the makerspace to constructing their own perforated objects. Covering a wide variety of issues and material, this course will ask students to think critically about the gestures of destruction, extraction, piercing, and hole making in their daily lives and around the world.

SPCL 400.310 | Introduction to Complexity Theory and Its Applications

Student Instructor: Anamay Viswanathan
Faculty Mentor: Ted Zoller
R, 5:00PM – 7:00PM. Graham Memorial 213

Curious about how the butterfly effect could hold the key for climate change? Or how the study of bird migration could lead to more efficient governments?

Some might say we’re in a bit of tough spot as a civilization, whether it be climate change, war, inequality, poverty, religious divide, corruption, or famine – to name just a few big, intractable, and complex problems.

This course is designed to engage with these problems, but through a new lens: complexity theory. Taking inspiration from sociology, psychology, biology, math, and physics, the class will unpack complexity’s core components (self-organization, emergence, systems, and system dynamics) to provide students with a nonlinear framework from which to think about the world. A mixture of theory and practice, this course will stretch students to think deeply, to think expansively, and to reimagine the process of problem-solving.