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Freshman Seminars, Spring 2013


The Myth of the West

Jeffrey Chisum

Monday 2-3:50 PM; Section 34604

The rugged and lonesome West continues to haunt the American imagination: from the red-tinged rock formations in Monument Valley, to the blindingly white stretches of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, to the deserted ghost towns dotting the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, this landscape has served as an epic stage where classic themes of violence, heroism, destiny, redemption, division, success, and loss and continue to play out in dramatic fashion in novels, movies, TV shows, and music.

This seminar will allow students to explore and examine many of the themes and iconography of the American West--which, after all, is home to the gunslinger, the surfer, the 49er, of nuclear testing, aliens at Area 51, and numerous new and evolving kinds of mysticism--and we'll reflect on the reasons why this largely mountainous and rain-starved region continues to occupy such a powerful place in our popular culture.

Jeffrey Chisum received a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from USC in 2007, and currently he teaches the full range of courses for The Writing Program.  His literary scholarship has focused on the American West, with a special emphasis on the Great Basin--especially Nevada--and his fiction has appeared in L.A. Weekly, The Mississippi Review, and in the anthology, Literary Nevada.



City and Nature: An Environmental Field Guide to Los Angeles and the USA

Thomas Gustafson

Tuesday 2-3:50PM; Section 34606

Cities in America have so often been looked upon in deep contrast to nature.  Their rise and sprawl demands the transformation of the wilderness, the frontier, open space, farm land, even the desert.   Joni Mitchell, in a song about Los Angeles, provides the iconic lament about this transformation:  "They paved over paradise, and put up a parking lot."  This course, however, will argue that the story of Los Angeles as a paradise lost or a green world corrupted into a concrete wasteland is too much of a myth, or a cliche that belies not just the inextricable connection between city and nature, but the vital presence of nature--and even some aspects of the wilderness--in Los Angeles.  Subtitled "an environmental field guide to Los Angeles and the USA," we will study and research--sometimes just by taking a walk around the campus and its neighborhood--how we can see, feel and take joy in nature while living a few minutes from the center of the second largest city in America.  The course will draw upon the literature and history of Los Angeles (and some movies and music) to study our home for what it reveals about the roots of the ecological crises that beset contemporary America and the budding of a "green consciousness" that seeks to bring gardens back to the city and re-naturalize parts of the L.A. River, whose banks were paved over in the late 1930s to control the river after floods hit the city causing millions of dollars in damage (yes, it rains in LA and the city has changes in its weather).

The course will be team taught by Thomas Gustafson, a professor of American literature who grew up in the country (on a dead end dirt road five miles from a stoplight) and who has been trying to live in cities ever since and by his daughter, Elisabeth Gustafson, a former history major at USC and staff person in the Religious Center at USC, who grew up in Los Angeles and now longs to live in the country.


Mixed Race Across the Pacific

Duncan Williams

Tuesday 2-3:20 PM; Section 34608

In an era when a mixed-race President of the United States proudly proclaims himself as the first Pacific President of America, how might we rethink the study of race in a global, rather than merely a regional, perspective? With the recent changes to the U.S. Census that allows for multiple racial identifications, how might race and race relations be recast when multiplicity, hybridity, and creolization marks everyone from Obamas half-American/half-Indonesian half-sister to the so-called black golfer Tiger Woods, who is actually primarily Asian?

This course investigates how shifting the paradigm of race studies to the Asia Pacific Americas (Transpacific) experience of race disrupts and reorients the traditionally binary, black/white or white/colored Transatlantic model of race studies in the United States that emerged from a focus on the Transatlantic slave trade. By examining the legacies of Western and Japanese empires in Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands and the legacies of disaporic communities in North and South Americas we will reframe the lens through which we approach race studies. Our second focus is to look at miscegenation, creolization, and how mixed race disrupts simplistic racial category formations.   We will study comparative anti-miscegenation laws across transnational boundaries and the role of the offspring of mixed race unions that emerged through migrations, trade flows, and the impact of wars. 

Duncan Williams is the chair of the School of Religion and director of the USC Center for Japanese Religions and Culture and the founder of the Hapa Japan Project (a database of mixed-race Japanese people from 1500s to the present) and the Mugen Project (the world's first online bibliographical database on Buddhism).


Sensual Science

Margo Apostolos

Tuesday 3-4:50; Section 34616

Sensual Science is a way of looking at the world, a thought process that merges scientific inquiry with artistic creation.  An objective of this course is to foster the growth of creative thinking by providing alternative approaches to problem solving which integrate art and science. 

The course will follow a lecture/discussion format.  The lectures will provide a philosophical, historical, and sociological basis.  That is, readings and discussions will vary from aesthetics to the philosophy of science; industrial design will frame a historical view; and relevant ideas in today’s society will comprise the applications of creative thinking to current issues.

Margo K. Apostolos is an Associate Professor and Director of Dance in the School of Theatre at USC.  She earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University and holds a M.A. in Dance from Northwestern University.  Her research includes the exploration of an aesthetic dimension to robotics movement and the use of robots by the severely disabled in rehabilitative settings.



Bob Dylan, The Early Years

Eric Trules

Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34609

Bob Dylan, The Early Years, will be an investigation of Dylan’s recorded songs, from his first Columbia album, “Bob Dylan” (1962) through “Nashville Skyline” (1969), including “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”, “The Times They Are a’Changin’”, “Bringing It All Back Home”, “Highway 61 Revisited”, “Blond On Blonde”, and more. Each week of the ten weeks of the Seminar, students will be assigned an individual song on a specific album and asked to analyze and “interact” with it, making a presentation to the rest of the class. In this way, we will all be listening to, studying, and learning about the music and the artist together. Bob Dylan is arguably the greatest poet and song writer of the 20th century, and as such, massive amounts of material have already been gathered and published on him. But this class is designed to discover Dylan, his songs, and their lyrics, anew, as if for the first time, by each member of the class… and collectively.

Eric Trules is an Associate Professor of Practice at USC’s School of Theatre and is currently a Fulbright Senior Specialist in American Studies. He has been an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award winner, a screenwriter, and a USC Phi Kappa Phi “Faculty Recognition Award” winner. He was co-founder of Mo Ming, the renowned dance-theater in Chicago, and director of NYC’s Resident Clown Troupe.  Trules has produced city-wide arts festivals and directed and produced THE POET AND THE CON, a feature length documentary film.  He believes that college can be more than merely the acquisition of knowledge and the preparation for a vocational career, but also about the discovery of oneself, one's voice, and one's passion.


Musical Subcultures of the Sixties

Bill Biersach

Wednesday 4-5:50; Section 34619

During the sixties, due to circumstances within the music industry peculiar to the time, various popular musical styles developed which expressed the social, cultural, religious, political and sexual changes in our society.  While the music of this period survives today and enjoys considerable popularity, much of the meaning behind it has been lost because the context has largely been forgotten.

In this seminar, students will pair off to do research projects involving various aspects of the sixties and how they found musical expression.  Together we will sift through the lyrics, musical styles, facts, tall tales, and contrived myths surrounding various influential people, events, and movements.  In so doing we will try to arrive at an understanding of what was really going on in the music business, the drug scene, the pop culture, political and social trends, and the minds of the youth during those turbulent years.

William L. Biersach has been teaching electro-acoustic media and recording technology in the Thornton School of Music since 1975.  In 1997 he received the USC Gamma Sigma Alpha Professor of the Year Award.  As a studio musician and synthesizer programmer he composed the score for the Japanese cartoon series, Dan Cougar, and the musical theme for the USC Campaign for Leadership into the 21st Century.  His courses on the Beatles and Classic Rock have attracted the attention of Rolling Stone MagazineCNN and Prime Time Live.



Bread and Vodka:  Food and Community in Russia

Azade-Ayse Rorlich

Thursday 12-1:50 PM; Section 34603

Food has long played a prominent part in the construction of national identity; what people eat is universally a potent ingredient of national stereotyping. This course aims to provide an introduction to the cultural history of food and diet in Russia.  Because culture is learned, shared, and transmitted, this course will focus on the study of the cultural implications of food and diet in Russia, while investigating the evolution as well as transmission of food culture.

  We will identify the socio-economic conditions which made possible the emergence of certain staple foods and then move on to discuss the cultural elaboration that took place.  We will look at the importance of social competition, new raw materials, the relationship between town and country, state and society, as we will attempt to identify the forces of differentiation which have shaped the food culture marked so uniquely by the importance of Bread and Vodka.

Azade-Ayse Rorlich is Professor of Russian and Eurasian History and Slavic languages and Literatures. She teaches in the History Department of Dornsife College of the University of Southern California. She received the Social Sciences Division Distinguished Teaching Award in 1983 and the General Education Teaching Award in 2001. Her research focuses on the study of the Muslims of the Russian empire with a particular emphasis on the investigation of the ways in which culture and religion interface and determine religious practice and identity construction. She has conducted archival and library research in many cities of the former Soviet Union and  has traveled extensively through the Russian Federation  and Central Asia.


Digging in the Hood

Stacie Chaiken

Thursday 2-3:50 PM; Section 34612

 Playwright-performer Stacie Chaiken of the School of Dramatic Arts was invited to the Middle East to “write her next play.” She became fascinated with archaeology, went on some digs, sifted through tons of dirt, and found inspiration for a play.  More than anything else, she became fascinated with how curiosity leads to inspiration. Do we really need to travel halfway around the world to get inspired? Could it be that, with the right eyes and sharp senses, we can find it in our own backyard?

This seminar offers a series of adventures and explorations: You’ll visit some mummies, maybe, taste some exotic treats, and go on field trips to places near USC, where you might not ordinarily go. You'll post weekly responses to our adventures to an on-line forum, and we'll create an exhibit based on our experiences together, at Mercado La Paloma, one of the USC community's greatest hidden treasures.

Stacie Chaiken has been on the Performance Faculty of the USC School of Dramatic Arts since 2001. She has performed on and off-Broadway, on television and film, in the US and abroad, and is the writer-performer of the acclaimed solo plays Looking for Louie and The Dig. Chaiken has taught as a Fulbright Senior Specialist Scholar at the Tel Aviv University Theatre School, and teaches master classes in autobiographical story throughout the US and abroad. 


Writing to be Read

Richard Fliegel

Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34614

 "No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," said Samuel Johnson, but that's not the end of the story.  There is after all a reader or an audience, expecting something.  This is a seminar for writers or for people who are trying to be.  We will focus on the question, "How does it change what I write when I'm determined to affect my readers?"  Writing to express yourself accurately is hard, but it's like falling off a log compared to writing things that succeed in stirring other people's emotions.

Students will be expected to read other writers' work in several genres and to share with the class what they themselves have written, sometimes on the spot.  We promise not to laugh unless it's funny -- and if that isn't scary, the devil knows what is.

Richard Fliegel is the Director of the Freshman Seminar program and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in USC Dornsife College.  He has published detective novels and tried his hand at some other forms, from poetry to episodic television.