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Fall 2011 First-Year Investigations

150 Years Later: The Enduring Civil War
William Deverell, History
Thursdays 2-3:50; Section 34661

Our seminar will explore the enduring meaning, significance, and influence of the Civil War on American life and culture.  Through wide-ranging fictional and non-fictional readings, we’ll examine how, especially at the moment of the war’s sesquicentennial, much of the history of the great rupture in American society remains misunderstood, misinterpreted, and malleable to contemporary issues and concerns.  This won’t be a seminar about the war itself; rather, we will move very quickly to the history and memory of the war from Appomattox unto the present day.  Why and how does the Civil War yet matter—fundamentally—in America today?


The Brave New Post-Genomic World
Suzanne Edmands, Marine Environmental Biology
Tuesdays 2-3:50; Section 34652

Ten years after the publication of the human genome we are beginning to reap the benefits of genomics but we are also grappling with enormous questions. Who should have access to personal genetic data and how should it be used? How should genetic technologies be employed in reproductive decisions? Should we test for diseases when no treatment is available? What are the genomic differences among human races? Do genes control human behavior? In this seminar we will examine the science behind these and other questions, and also explore the legal, social and ethical implications.


The Global Energy Crisis – How to Make Sense of it All
Stephen Bradforth, Chemistry
Tuesdays 2-3:50; Section 34662

The rush for the remaining planetary oil and gas resources and decisions on cutting carbon emissions versus economic growth will define 21st century geopolitics, the condition of our planet and, quite possibly, whether there is sustained peace or a new cycle of world wars.  Decisions about the energy supply will inevitably determine the quality of life for us all.  The goal of this FYI is for you to be armed with sufficient tools to understand the science behind alternative energy sources, what is possible and what is not and who to believe so you can help shape solutions to this defining issue for our century.


How Do Scientists Find Out About the Natural World?
Sergio Sañudo-Wilhelmy, Biological Sciences and Earth Sciences
Wednesday 3-4:50; Section 34660

Science provides a significant benefit to society and despite all of its limitations, science is the best tool that we have to discover the way the natural world works.  Have you ever wondered how scientists do their work?   How do scientists discover new things?   How is modern science different from “old” science?   What were the historical circumstances under which “quantum-leaps” in science were made? Why were those major discoveries often not made in developing countries?   What have been the unintended consequences of science?   Do scientists cheat?   Is the end of science in sight?  This seminar is designed, to try to answer those fundamental questions through discussion of lectures, readings, movies and field trips.  If you are planning to be a scientist, or even if not, you should know something about how one of the most marvelous human endeavors works.


How to Look at a Work of Art
Daniela Bleichmar, Art History and History
Wednesday, 2-3:50; Section 34664

Art gives us aesthetic and intellectual pleasure, but it can also provoke confusion, frustration, or outrage. Walking into a museum or opening a book, each of us will quickly know what we like, what we don't like, and what we just don't get, but it can be extremely hard to explain to someone else why that is. This seminar will focus on how to look at works of art critically and analytically. Through readings, discussions, video segments, visits to collections, and presentations by experts, we will develop a critical vocabulary and analytical categories for approaching artworks in historical, social, and cultural context, as well as from different viewpoints. The seminar is intended for both students with an existing interest in art and those who don't get what the big deal is all about. Another goal of the seminar is to introduce you to professions in the art world, and to the magnificent collections in Los Angeles. You are starting college in one of the great art capitals of the world, this seminar will help you make the most of your time here.


Medicine in the 21st Century
Michael Quick, Biological Sciences
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34663

The first vaccine is only 200 years old; aspirin is younger than that.  Antibiotics are a product of 20thCentury science; and so is the Pill.  What will 21st Century medicine look like?  Let’s explore together the future of personalized medicine, stem cell research, and global health.  Let’s also look at the new treatment methods like robotic surgery, interventional radiology and nanomedicine.  And, let’s try to understand the future of the medical profession in the United States as we look at the future of the pharmaceutical industry and the health care debates.


The Origin of a 20-Something
Frank Manis, Psychology
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34656

The course will cover some of the big topics in the development of the person through the early 20’s, including brain, cognitive, emotional, personality and social development. We will start with an issue of relevance to students in each area. For example, how many things can my brain possibly do at once, and how effectively? In this case, we will discuss experiments on multi-tasking, and trace back through development how the brain develops and why the brain works the way it does at this time in their lives. Students will also get an opportunity to raise a “child” on-line using the website I wrote, My Virtual Child, to get a hands-on feeling for how nature and nurture interact in the development of personality and social behavior from infancy to adolescence.


Origins and Evolution
Steve Finkel, Biology
Tuesday 2-3:50; Section 34653

From the RNA world to panspermia and the search for extraterrestrial life, this course will explore the models addressing the origin of life on earth and how the evolutionary process has moved forward since. Class sessions will include seminars with open discussions, and excursions. Excursion destinations may include behind the scenes tours of the Natural History Museum of LA County, the Jet Propulsion  Laboratory, the Special Collections Library at USC, or the Huntington Library.


Renaissance Man/Renaissance Woman in American Culture
Margaret Rosenthal, French and Italian
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34654

The idea of the Renaissance Man as a universal, multitalented individual originated in Italy during the fourteenth century. Such a man was said to possess a dynamic and varied nature and a mastery of all the elements of the culture of his age. He had wide interests, many skills and did everything with elegance and passion. Leonardo da Vinci and  Michelangelo were not only real men with numerous skills in different fields, they also have come to represent for American culture the symbol of an extraordinary person who will enjoy success in whatever he undertakes. But what do we know about the Renaissance Woman? What was she doing when Leonardo and Michelangelo were painting, observing nature and recording its wonders in sketch books and in frescoes that adorned the walls of the powerful in Italian society?  How do we define her accomplishments? Was she viewed by her culture in the same way as the Renaissance Man?

In this course we will look at Americans’ fascination with the Renaissance Man by looking at the ways in which American culture tries to relive and recreate the renaissance experience in our own world. We will discuss the phenomenon of Americans love of the Renaissance – Renaissance Faires, Renaissance Weekends, Living Last Suppers, films about the Renaissance, such as Shakespeare in Love, novels like the Da Vinci Code, brand names for hotels, foods, businesses, political operatives, management consultants who see themselves as modern-day Machiavelli’s, and Renaissance scholars’ programs such as the one we have at USC. There is no doubt about it. American society is fascinated by the Italian Renaissance.

We will try to come up with our own definition of the Renaissance Man/Renaissance Woman by looking at American and European cultures today. Who would we give this label to in our world and why? Would Renaissance Men and Renaissance Women be defined in the same way? Come to this class and find out.


Saving Strangers: Duties Beyond Borders
Steven Lamy, School of International Relations
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34657

We will look at the development of the human security movement and the doctrine of the responsibility to protect. We will look at a variety of case studies including the movement to end slavery, the response to genocide and ethnic cleansing, the landmine campaign, the movement to ban child soldiers and recent responses to government repression in Sudan and Libya.


Thinking About the Brain
Larry Swanson, Biological Sciences
Monday 2-3:50; Section 34651

People have been thinking about what the brain does and how it does it since at least the time of the ancient Egyptians. This seminar will explore a whole range of theories about brain structure and function, starting with historical perspectives and ending with brainstorming about novel ideas that could lead to future revolutions in neuroscience. The seminar will also critically evaluate the current trends in the brain sciences that could spark these potential revolutions: brain scans of people while they are thinking and dreaming, gene programs that construct the brain during pregnancy, and online informatics systems for looking up facts, building models, and testing ideas. A good course in high school biology will help but is not essential if you are really interested in the topic.



To Be Real: Interrogating Authenticity
Lanita Jacobs, Anthropology and American Studies and Ethnicity
Monday 2-3:50; Section 34650

“Keep it real.” “That’s real talk.” “Don’t be fake!” Most of us have heard these charges but what, praytell, does it mean to “be real”? And why do folks, including perhaps ourselves, invest so much stake in questions of “realness” such that we wax judgmental about who’s “real” or who’s “fake”? What informs peoples’ moral investment in questions of sincerity, whether they concern racial, gendered, and sexual identities, specific TV/film scenes and performances, questions of love and happiness, or other matters? Who gets to say what is “real” or “fake” anyway? And why do questions of authenticity even matter in the first place? This seminar mines for answers in and across various literary, performative, and visual contexts, including urban comedy clubs, movies/films, TV, theatre, music, and other texts and places. Our investigations will reveal one certainty – namely, how conversations about “realness” often risk essentializing the subject in question. We will also probe an uncertainty by asking: Why, despite these risks, do interrogations and proclamations about the “real” stubbornly persist? We will supplement our observations with an analysis of cross-disciplinary readings that deepen our understandings of racial authenticity, racial sincerity, and what some call, the contemporary “quest for authenticity.” We will also gain a better understanding of the issues and stakes of “authenticity” through an analysis of everyday dialogues, performances, beliefs, and conflicts that implicate enduring questions of the “real.”


Understanding Los Angeles
George Sanchez, American Studies and Ethnicity and History
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34655

Los Angeles is typically seen as a city without a history, leading to the confusion that most newcomers and even some natives have in understanding the city and region as a whole.  How do we reconcile the media focus on the wealth and glamour of Hollywood and Malibu, with the obvious ethnic diversity of the region, as well as the poverty and racial tensions that have long been part of the cityscape?  This seminar will use the history and shifting culture of Los Angeles as a way of understanding contemporary Los Angeles, moving away from glib generalities to the specific social and cultural issues central to the city today and in the past.  Starting with the Academy Award-winning film “Crash,” continuing through various academic studies of the region, and including several field trips to local venues, we will use Los Angeles to understand contemporary urban culture in the United States.  The class will focus on the multiple ways that historians, social scientists, and humanists who focus on culture explore interactions across groups and individuals from different backgrounds that are critical to understanding cities like Los Angeles in the 21st century.


Why Do People Believe Weird Things…and How Can Psychology Help Us Answer This Question?
Jo Ann Farver, Psychology
Tuesday 3-4:50; Section 34659

Each week, supermarket tabloid headlines claim people have been abducted by extraterrestrials, Elvis is alive and a waiter in a Hollywood restaurant, hypnosis cures cancer, and ESP can solve crimes. What standards or rules should we apply when we try to sort out truth from fiction? This seminar will take you on a journey- not into outer space but into the inner space of thinking critically about the world around you, about stories and arguments made by other people, about human behavior and mental processes. Using principles and research from psychology, we will explore limits to our reasoning abilities, and learn how to develop “habits of mind” that promote a more accurate view of the world.