London Seminars Since Fall 1993

Fall 2012 Seminar: Music of the UK: A Catalyst for Societal & Economic Change
John "Buzz" Jones, Sunderman Conservatory of Music
       The United Kingdom boasts of a historically rich and diverse music culture.  London provides us with a place to investigate numerous first-hand resources that include attending opera, musical theater, and film to exploring museums and jazz clubs; all within city environs.  An overarching question informed students' conversations as they traversed London -- did musical genres of the UK change society and the economic condition of its peoples or, conversely, did the economics and societal habits of a particular era shape its music culture? For example, British brass bands began to form in the mid-19th century and were closely associated with collieries and manufacturing.  Surely these ensembles provided solidarity for mining and factory workers and became a way for workers to explore artistic expression after a long shift of repetitive labor...enjoying a few beers at the local pub was also part of the evening's activities. Clearly, this is a case where music-making, communal gatherings, and economic development were thoroughly intertwined into the fabric of daily life of a newly industrialized nation. 

Fall 2011 Seminar: Sustainability in the City
Randy Wilson, Department of Environmental Studies
In summer 2012, the world's attention turned to London for the Olympic Games. The success of London's bid to host the games was due in part to its role as one of the world's most sustainable cities. Long known for its world famous transportation system, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, urban markets and plentiful parks, in recent years London has made great strides in shrinking its carbon footprint, cleaning up the River Thames and lessening landfill dependency. But it was not always this way. As the hub of the world's largest colonial empire, London has long been a crossroads - not only for commercial activity and cultural diversity - but for repressive land use policies, invasive species and disease outbreaks. And as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, London had early experiences with problems of air and water pollution, traffic congestion, poverty, sprawl and urban blight. This seminar explored the things that make London a "sustainable city" and how they have evolved over time.

Fall 2010 Seminar: Global Cities
VoonChin Phua, Sociology Department
       This interdisciplinary seminar provides an overview of urbanization and the development of global cities from a comparative perspective. The main global cities that will be examined include London, New York, Singapore, and Sao Paulo. We will study the political, social, and economic connectivity among global cities. As part of the course, we will go on several field trips to visit different residential, tourist and business areas to examine their urban design. Students will learn to understand and appreciate the symbiotic relationships among the different neighborhoods/areas in London in its context of being a global city.

Fall 2009 Seminar:  The London Laboratory:  Locating Ourselves in Space, Time, and Culture 
Sharon Stephenson and Bret Crawford, Physics Department 
       This seminar course is an examination of the systems people use to situate themselves both in physical terms - time and space - and in societal terms - as members of a culture.  Drawing on material from physics, history, sociology, visual arts, and literature, the course positions us within the "laboratory" of London where we will intellectually situate ourselves within the city.  We will develop skills, like navigation and naked-eye astronomy, as well as explore the history of the London Underground, timekeeping and a history of Britain's oldest beverage.  In daily seminars, we will connect our experiences from frequent tours and museum excursions with the assigned readings and broader questions such as the meaning of "place" in our definitions of ourselves as individuals.

Fall 2008: INGENUITY AND EMPIRE: Science and Society in England's Golden Age (From Newton to Darwin)
Larry Marschall, Physics Department
       During the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, England experienced a golden age. Its imperial presence felt around the globe, London became the hub of Western civilization, a global focal point for commerce and a coordinating center for the industrial revolution. While it is tempting to interpret its success primarily in economic terms, England's greatest accomplishment and greatest resource was in the realm of ideas, in the form of clear thinkers who found new ways to look at the natural world. These men (for they usually were men) often contributed directly to England's material success: Boyle and Wren, for instance, provided the architectural know-how for the rebuilding of London after the disastrous fire of 1666, John Harrison built a chronometer that made navigation safer, and Davy and Faraday were involved in the perfection of optical glass and a host of other chemical processes. But the greatest contributions were in providing new views of the universe, new ways of looking at the place of humans in the cosmos.

Fall 2007: Cinematic Globalization and the British Empire
Jim Udden, IDS/Film Studies Program
       When cinema was invented around 1895, the British Empire was still at the peak of its political, economic and cultural influence across the globe. Surprisingly, however, Great Britain itself would not become the driving economic force in the globalization of this medium - instead that honor would eventually go to its former colony, the United States. This seems to repeat itself over and over with British cinema: the colonies of the British Empire (including former ones) historically have outperformed the United Kingdom itself when it comes to cinema. India and Hong Kong, in fact, have produced local cinemas of commercial prowess which producers in Great Britain would not even begin to dream of. Even Australia and New Zealand managed at various time to show more vitality in their own local cinemas than could be found in London and elsewhere on the island kingdom. How do we account for this surprising pattern? How do we explain that, unlike in literature and theater, Great Britain has not been a leader when it comes to cinema? How it is that in this area it has become not so much the colonizer as the colonized? This interdisciplinary seminar in London will explore these questions, looking at them from aesthetic, cultural, political and most of all, economic angles. It will also probe these issues from both a historical and a contemporary perspective. The students themselves will even investigate the living film culture that exists in London during the four weeks the seminar takes place. 

2006: Living in Troubled Times
Caroline Hartzell, Political Science

      Britain participated in many of the wars that have shaped the history of the twentieth century, including World Wars I and II and wars of decolonization. Living in Troubled Times focused on a variety of the consequences that living in troubled times has had on society in Britain.  The course examines the types of change interstate conflict has produced in this society as well as the means people have used to respond to or cope with armed conflict and its consequences. 
       Topics covered in this class include the effects of war on the home front, public attitudes in Britain toward war, the evolution of the peace movement in Britain, and the portrayal of war in art and literature.  Students examine these topics through a variety of lenses including memoirs, exhibitions of photography and war posters, war monuments, public opinion polls, and fiction.

Fall 2005: Nation and Empire: Forging Britain, 1688-1815
Tim Shannon, History

     What did it mean to be "British" in the eighteenth century?  Parliament created Great Britain when it legislated the political union of England and Scotland in 1707, but a shared national identity emerged more slowly, as British power expanded overseas.  This seminar explored the simultaneous process of empire-building abroad and nation-building at home during what is commonly called Britain's Augustan Age, c. 1688-1815.  Making use of historical sites and museums in London, St. Albans, Bath, and Greenwich, the course examined how Britons created a modern identity for themselves by invoking their island's Roman past and by consuming the fruits of their own expanding world power.  Students used art, architecture, literature, science, and fashion to explore the origins and significance of cultural habits and practices--such as tea-drinking and fox-hunting--that came to define "Britishness" in the Augustan Age.

Fall 2004: British Cinema and Society in the 1980s
Jack Ryan, English

     The British film industry enjoyed a renaissance during the 1980s by mixing the old and the new. One branch of the industry relied on literate scripts, first-rate actors, a high level of craftsmanship, and an intense class-consciousness. The other obsessed over the recent past, especially the 1950s, and a rancorous resentment toward Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who dominated the 1980s in Britain. This bifurcation - the Masterpiece Theater School (James Ivory and Kenneth Branagh) and the Kitchen-Sink School (Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears) - extended into the 1990s. This interdisciplinary course explored British Cinema and cultural movements in the 1980s. It was not an exhaustive account of films and events, however. What the seminar sought to do was raise a number of themes and issues evidenced in films from this decade. Primarily, this course was about "cultural politics," about the ways filmmakers responded to the social, economic, and political circumstances characteristic of the period.

Fall 2003: John Maynard Keynes and Britain, 1883-1946
Char Weise, Economics
     In the years between the two world wars, Britain and the world underwent a dramatic transformation. This period witnessed the decline of Britain as a world power and the rise of the United States, a global depression that brought the capitalist system to its knees and sparked interest in alternative forms of economic organization, a new understanding of the government's obligation to ensure prosperity, as well as innovations in art, literature, science, and philosophy. This interdisciplinary seminar examined the events of these turbulent times through the works of the British economist John Maynard Keynes. In addition to his revolutionary contributions to economic theory, Keynes was a disciple of the philosopher G.E. Moore, a friend and colleague of luminaries such as Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein, a member of the Bloomsbury group of artists and intellectuals, an official in the British Treasury, a political activist for Britain's Liberal Party, an advisor to the British negotiating team at the Treaty of Versailles, and Britain's representative to the negotiations that restructured the world economic system after World War II. Keynes' work reflected and profoundly influenced the psychological, social, political, and economic transformation of Britain and the world during this period.

Fall 2002: Victorian Childhood 
Kathleen Cain, Psychology
     In the nineteenth century, British writers, scientists, artists, social reformers, and ordinary citizens became intensely interested in childhood, and there were sweeping societal changes in the ways in which children were viewed and treated. Some of the images of childhood to emerge from Victorian England include fictitious children such as Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, newspaper images of children in horrific labor conditions and of terrifying gangs of street children, and artistic images of delicate, apple-cheeked daughters and sons of the wealthy. Charles Darwin also published a scientific account of his son's infancy and urged scientists of the day to study children. Victorian Childhood focused on these and other images of children in the literature, art, social history, and science of Victorian England. The course explored how and why Britain's understanding of childhood changed during this time period, as well as how these changes helped to shape our current attitudes toward children.

Fall 2001: England and the Birth of the Modern World 
Bill Bowman, History
     What do Karl Marx, Charles Darwin and the city of London all have in common? They all witnessed the transformation of England into a modern nation. Students and scholars often forget that the world we live in, the twenty-first century, is in many respects far more different from the world of the eighteenth century than that age was from the previous millennium. In this interdisciplinary course, students were introduced to England in general and London in particular as sites of changes and transformations which we now associate with the modern world. By focusing on the period from approximately 1840 to 1920, this course analyzed how English men and women contributed greatly to the dramatic changes that created the modern world.
     During this seminar, students examined a wide range of cultural, economic and political developments in their study of England and the modern world. Some of the topics covered in this class included the English industrial revolution and its consequences, the evolution of parliamentary democracy, experiments in urban design and planning, and changes in elite and popular culture. Further, the course analyzed how modern London dealt with disease, crime, and the coming of war. Finally, students explored how English writers and artists interpreted and reacted to the coming of the modern world with all of its possibilities and problems.

Fall 2000: Creativity in Art and Science 
Kay Etheridge, Biology
     Creativity in Art and Science examined the process of creation and the factors that can set it in motion. When a painter introduces a new style, or a scientist makes a revolutionary discovery, our perception of reality evolves. This course was an interdisciplinary investigation of the lives and works of artists and scientists who lived in England between the late 16th and mid-20th centuries. The material was presented in chronological order, and compared contemporaries such as the artist J.M.W.Turner, who introduced a romantic view of nature and influenced a generation of impressionists, and Charles Darwin, who developed a concept central to the understanding of biology, and changed how humans view their place in nature. In addition to learning about the works of these creative people, students discovered how their life and times may have set the stage for the creative process, and how society responded to their work at the time, and through history.

Fall 1999: England and the Sea: The Golden Age of Sail, 1750-1850 
Thane S. Pittman, Psychology 
     This seminar explored the role of the sea in English life, language, literature, art, and science during the Golden Age of sail. The seminar began with a study of naval ships and naval life from 1750 to 1850, using Lord Nelson and the Napoleonic Wars as the lens through which to understand the effects of naval power on colonial expansion and the influx of wealth. Students then explored two scientific developments instigated or enabled by the sea (the search for "the longitude" and the emerging concept of the theory of natural selection), to understand how the sea increasingly influenced scientific and commercial developments on land. Finally, the changing role of the sea in British literature, art, and music was explored to understand how events at sea changed life and world views at home. Trips to a variety of museums, monuments, and naval and architectural sites, including trips to Nelson's flagship HMS Victory in Portsmouth, and the Royal Observatory and Maritime Museum in Greenwich, constituted a major and regular part of the seminar experience.

Fall 1998: It's About Time. . . 
Ann H. Fender, 
     The eighteenth century British search for an accurate device to measure longitude at sea blended political intrigue, trade, commerce, and science. How did this search reflect and affect the rationalization of time? How did that rationalization both affect and reflect industrialization and trade? Were art, literature, philosophy, and theology immune from this rationalization or do creative efforts such as those of Hogarth, Defoe, Swift, Carroll, and Paley reflect and affect changing concepts of time and its measurement? It's About Time considered how the interplay among culture, the arts, commerce and industry, and science in eighteenth and nineteenth century England changed concepts and measurements of time. Visits to such places as Stonehenge, London's galleries of art, of science and of industry, the Royal Observatory, and Greenwich's Maritime Museum  complemented more sedentary readings and discussion.


Fall 1997: 19th Century British Women 
Temma Berg, English
     19th Century British Women explored the various ways in which women contributed to the intellectual and political excitement of Mid-Victorian England. According to Virginia Woolf, in nineteenth- century novels written by women, we see minds "slightly pulled from the straight, and made to alter [their] clear vision in deference to external authority." Students looked at novels as well as at paintings and at other writings by women to determine if women did present different perspectives, if these perspectives were skewed, and what might have been the causes and consequences of their different ways of looking. Participants in the seminar focused on the experiences of women in Mid-Victorian England and on the gains they made in political power, educational access, and legal equity. Special attention was given to women's collective action in reforming lunacy laws, attitudes toward prostitutes and prostitution, and women's property rights. 
      In addition to visiting such "canonical" London sites as the British Museum, the Tate Gallery, and the Museum of London, students visited such unusual sites as the Fawcett Library, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and London's East End.  

1996: The Worlds of Childhood 
Martha E. Arterberry, Psychology
     The Worlds of Childhood was an exploration of the context of childhood among African, Indian, and Chinese cultures. These groups were chosen because they comprise the dominant minority populations in London. After an introductory section on the history of the notion of childhood in western cultures, the course explored the structure of society, family life and childhood experiences in the three cultures. Reading assignments included selections from art, anthropology, history, literature, religion, psychology, and sociology. Excursions were tailored toward establishing a deeper understanding of the art, cuisine, and theater of these cultures.

Fall 1995: Suburbia in England and America 
Michael Birkner, History
     Suburbia in England and America was designed to introduce students to the history and sociology of suburban life. What impelled people to move beyond the confines of great cities? To what extent does English experience serve as a model for American suburbs, and to what extent have Americans made distinctive contributions to defining suburbia? What have Americans expected from suburbia and what have they gotten from it? To what extent is the ideal of "the good life" in suburbia today consistent with experiences of decades and generations ago? Students read a wide range of scholarly and popular materials that relate to these questions and sought to capture both the evolution and the texture of suburban life in England and America. How America became a suburban nation and what this has meant for American culture was one of their concerns. So was the future of suburbia. Can classic suburban values and behaviors be sustained in an era of enormous sprawl and the emergence of "edge cities" in what had been rural enclaves? What are the social and economic implications of aging suburbs in the rings around America's great cities? And what shape is suburbia in the 21st century likely to take? Is it possible to retain or recreate, in a suburban milieu, the small town environment that retains its hold on Americans' psyches?

1994: The Darwinian Revolution and the Birth of Modern Materialism 
Kerry Walters, Philosophy 
When one thinks of the Darwinian Revolution, what normally comes to mind is the drastic re-thinking of biological frameworks precipitated by the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species. Although suspicions about the mutability of animal and plant species had been circulating among learned European and British circles for a good while, Darwin's Origin was unique in at least two respects. It provided a wealth of empirical data in support of the evolutionary hypothesis, and it persuasively defended a theory which accounted for the emergence of new and the disappearance of old species: natural selection. But Darwin's publication of Origin sparked more than simply a biological revolution; it also served as a catalyst for a fundamental worldview shift. In this month-long seminar, students explored the overall worldview shift precipitated by the Darwinian revolution by exploring its philosophical, theological, scientific, artistic, and political consequences. Students were encouraged to reflect on what happens to a culture when it experiences a fundamental shift in worldview.

1993: Victorian Aesthetics 
Suzanne J. Flynn, English 
     Victorian Aesthetics was an interdisciplinary examination of the rich culture of mid- Victorian England. Through readings, discussions, and excursions both in and out of London, students explored the often strained relationship between the world of the Victorian artist (painter, architect, poet) and the "real" world of industrialism, capitalism, and class conflict. Beginning with the Great Exhibition, which in 1851 celebrated all things English, the class looked at the ways architects, artists, poets, craftspeople, socialists, feminists, novelists, and dandies sought to breathe life into an era which many felt had become unbearably materialistic, mechanistic, and downright ugly. In the process, they tried to understand how the search for beauty can have profound political, social, and even economic implications.