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Freshman Seminars, Spring 2012

For enrollment information, please check the USC Schedule of Classes at

Bob Dylan,  The Early Years
Eric Trules
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34612

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.


Conflict, Power, and the Secret Weapon of Persuasion
Holly Bridges
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34614

In this seminar we will explore the pivotal role storytelling plays in conflicts and power struggles, whether in the political arena or on the personal front. How do stories, rhetoric, and images manipulate our perceptions of conflict? And which portrayals of solutions serve to exacerbate and escalate, or defuse and ameliorate? We’ll look at the differences between examples of violent solutions and those of nonviolent tactics. Our exploration will take us through culture, politics, relationships, and the human brain, from ancient recorded history to today as we examine the messages, the messengers, and their effects on beliefs and behavior.

Having started her career as a newspaper reporter, Holly Bridges has been a speechwriter for fourteen years.  She now leads a department at USC dedicated to executive communications.  The author of three books on spirituality topics, and a published poet, she has been responsible for writing or editing more than a thousand speeches and has spent some time on the local speaking circuit herself.


Cowboy Up: The American Cowboy in Fact and Fiction
Robert Scheer
Wednesday 2-3:50; Section 34613

Early cowboys in the 19th century were young, wild, and considered a public nuisance whenever they came into town from herding and trailing cattle on the open ranges. Hollywood made this unwashed, uneducated, and untamed hell raiser into a heroic and mythic figure. In movie westerns, the cowboy became an icon of American character, standing for our best national traits: honesty, loyalty, patriotism, courage, determination, and both physical and moral strength.

Let’s look at the cowboy as we find him over the years from “The Virginian,” first adapted by Cecil B. DeMille from Owen Wister’s novel in 1914, to the most recent version of the same story almost a century later. Drawing on the university’s library of westerns and on downloadable films from Netflix, we’ll be looking at examples of western classics (both in and out of class) to explore evolving ideas about this particular American figure of the popular imagination. We’ll also take side trips into cowboy song and poetry, and short stories, plus a reading of the novel Shane. Come prepared to think, talk, discuss, and enjoy.

Dr. Scheer is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Writing Program.  He has taught film, literature and writing.  He grew up just west of the 98th meridian on the Great Plains.


Emotional Intelligence: the University, Literature and Your Life
Thomas Gustafson
Tuesday, 2-3:50; Section 34608

The university holds itself as a place devoted to the study and practice of critical thinking, and college curricula always give a pre-eminent place to courses on the history of Western (and non-Western) thought.  But where in our education do we study and develop emotional intelligence?  Can emotional intelligence even be taught?   What if the university offered a course where we had the chance to study not just the head but the heart, not critical thinking but emotional intelligence, and where love of knowledge was combined with knowledge about love?

This Freshman Seminar will be such a course:  It will draw upon literature ranging from the writings of Epicurus and Montaigne to stories by James Baldwin and the film “Groundhog Day” (and upon recent research in the sciences and psychology) to study such emotions as love, jealousy, anger, fear, hate, compassion, joy and happiness.  At the heart of the course will be an attempt to study how and  where we learn forms of intelligence not measured by any SAT test but significant for your life, including what one author calls such “essential human competencies” as “self-awareness, self-control, and empathy, and the arts of listening, resolving conflict, and cooperation.” 

Inside the classroom, Thomas Gustafson teaches courses in American literature and American Studies.  Outside the classroom, he serves as Faculty Master of Birnkrant Residential College.


Musical Subcultures of the Sixties
Bill Biersach
Wednesday 4-5:50; Section 34622

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 Magazine, CNN and Prime Time Live.


Seinfield is Life
James Brecher
Monday 2-3:50; Section 34606 

Seinfeld, which aired on NBC from 1989-1998, became one of the most successful situation comedies in television history. The self-described “show about nothing” really was about something: it presented the lives of its four main characters facing their everyday problems as individuals relating to each other and the world around them. These situations mirror the problems we “real people” face each day, and the solutions the show presents through the characters’ reactions provide guidance in how we should live our lives.

This seminar will look at these situations, the characters’ responses, and their – often disastrous – results as a guide to learn how more appropriately to respond to the situations we face in our own daily lives. This is not a class about the creation and the mechanics of the show, but an examination of what these situations faced by the characters can teach us. We will accomplish this examination and personal growth through academic and popular readings, class presentations based upon particular episodes, and the occasional guest.

James Brecher, J.D., Ph.D., has practiced law, worked in the business world, and for the past nine years has taught advanced composition to pre-law and arts and humanities students and leadership and writing to occupational therapy doctoral students here at USC.  He has been awarded the USC College Outstanding Teaching Award in Advanced Writing, the John R. Hubbard award for fraternity and sorority service, and two “Tommy” awards for the development of leadership skills and attributes in students.


Sensual Science
Margo Apostolos
Tuesday 3-4:50; Section 34619

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.


Truth or Dare: Telling Your Own Story
Stacie Chaiken
Monday 3-4:50; Section 34618

This is a seminar for students who might want to be actors, writers, filmmakers, poets -- or doctors, lawyers, and business tycoons. It's for anyone who is grappling with personal story and meaning. You'll be invited to cruise the galaxy of your own (uncensored) personal opinion and deeply personal meaning. For those of you looking to develop a "product," we'll guide you through the morass (mess) of information into the kernel of the story you want to tell. We'll be asking, What really means something to you?

Through a group process, students will write — or find some way to embody (bring into the room) — a personal (not necessarily autobiographical) story. We'll open the room to a friendly invited audience at the end of our session.

Actor-writer Stacie Chaiken is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the USC School of Theatre, where she teaches Acting and Solo Performance. 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 play Looking for Louie. Chaiken has served as a visiting Fulbright Senior Specialist Scholar on the faculty of the Theatre Department of Tel Aviv University, and has lectured at Bar Ilan and New York Universities.


Writing to be Read
Richard Fliegel
Thursday 2-3:50; Section 34616

"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.