Fall 2022 Tutorials

Choosing Your Tutorial

Beginning June 1, log in to the New Student Checklist and choose five Tutorials that most interest you. You must enter your preferences by June 15, no later than midnight, Central Daylight Time.

Tutorial Descriptions

What does cancel culture even mean anymore? The term has been (over)used in the popular media to describe events ranging from books being censored to celebrities getting their feelings hurt. Is cancel culture a threat to independent thought that heralds the end of free speech, or an important tool for ensuring community safety? What happens when cancellation is used within LGBTQIA2+ organizations, anti-racist movements, and other spaces oriented toward social justice (including Grinnell)? While some of the panic that surrounds the term cancel culture is overblown, it does reveal important unanswered questions: what should we do with artists who create problematic work or who live problematic lives? How, exactly, do we know what’s problematic? What’s the difference between canceling a powerful cultural figure and an already-marginalized creator? Should there be limits on free speech and if so, what should happen to those who cross those limits? Do alternatives to cancellation, such as restorative justice, actually work? This Tutorial will explore these questions as we think about safety and harm in community and cultural production.

In his “Conclusion” to Walden, Thoreau shares with us a primary lesson learned from his “experiment” in living at Walden: “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Sound hopeful? Listen to this: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” How well he knows us. How well he knows, too, that the world is a fluid and supple place, sometimes alarmingly so. In the face of such extravagance, what constitutes a firm foundation? As Thoreau would have it, any conclusion worth building a house on is best earned through a strict economy of borrowing, simplification, and deliberation. And because the results are presented to us in writing, the supreme achievement that is Walden reflects, in turn, a complementary commitment to the process of revision. Walden, along with two of Thoreau’s most important essays, “Resistance to Civil Government” (“Civil Disobedience”) and “Walking,” will provide the ground on which we explore — by way of reading, talking, writing, and revising — whether, and how, a liberal arts education can be an adequate foundation for our “castles in the air.”

Dada was the first art movement to question what art is and to embrace nonsense. Starting in Zurich and moving from New York to Berlin to Hannover to Paris during World War I, Dada was a truly international movement that shook the art world. Art historians still can’t agree whether Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (a urinal!) tests the boundaries of art or is a joke (or both). In this Tutorial, we will explore what the Dadaists were doing and ask ourselves what art is and what sense and nonsense mean for art and for our world.

Several years ago a Reddit user asked, ”If someone from the 1950s suddenly appeared today, what would be the most difficult to explain to them about life today?” The most popular answer, which soon became a meme, was, “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.” But is it really so surprising that a new technology would be used to argue with strangers? The printing press was also initially hailed as a device that would spread knowledge far and wide, but it too was soon employed for getting into arguments, as religious and political polemics poured forth from presses across Europe. In this Tutorial we will explore how these two technologies, the printing press and the Internet, have shaped the ways in which people who desire social change seek allies, rebut enemies, recruit others to their cause, and otherwise “get in arguments with strangers.”

This Tutorial explores immigrants’ identities. Readings and class discussions will focus on how immigrants and their children negotiate their identity in the United States. Some questions we will discuss throughout the semester are: Who is an immigrant? How do immigrants adapt to the new country and at the same time maintain their traditions and cultures? What traditions are kept and abandoned? How do the children of the immigrants see themselves culturally? How does their complex cultural identity affect their relationship with their parents? Course material will include books and films about immigrants from different parts of the world including but not limited to China, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, India, and Iran.

The nonlinear battlefield of the 21st century poses a confusing landscape for the soldiers on the ground, an untenable environment for journalists, and muddled information for the citizens at home. Can we really understand the intricacies of modern warfare? This Tutorial explores two distinct categories of primary sources: embedded journalists and memoirs of combatants. The course will investigate the positive and negative effects of allowing embedded journalism. Students will then dissect a significant piece of embedded journalism through Sebastian Junger’s book, War, and study firsthand accounts of combat experiences of soldiers and paramilitary combatants.

Is democracy worth fighting for? What does it mean to fight for democracy? How would our lives change if democracy is lost in the United States and continues to weaken abroad? Why does academic life in 2022 matter to these questions? How can we take these questions seriously while making light of the absurdity of politics?

This class will take a headlong dive into one of the most urgent issues of our time: the struggle between democratic and authoritarian politics. By investigating recent political history (9/11, rise of China), contemporary political events (Jan 6th, War in Ukraine), and the diversity of movements and issues that are shaping our lives (Black Lives Matter, disinformation), this class will engage with the shifting foundations of liberal education itself. Gray areas abound so the class will make use of various forms of expression and media, including graphic novels, television, and new media to foster discussion and discovery. At the end of the semester, students will be able to begin to answer the question: why are my own actions important, and how can I make sure they matter to me?

COVID-19 is not the first nor will it be the last global pandemic. In our course, we’ll examine different pandemics throughout history and evaluate how connections between people (through economic and social activities) have affected the rise and spread of pandemics. As we know all-too-well from the past two years, pandemics in turn can dramatically reshape the nature and scope of activities in our daily lives. In these uncertain times, then, we look to establish new norms and rules to govern the organization of our economic and social interactions. We’ll ask what we expect from ourselves, our fellow citizens, and our leaders in addressing the present challenges. Through policies and other actions, do we aim to reclaim the lives we used to know or look to exploit new opportunities in a world that seems different than it was previously? What actions can we take in our private lives and in the public sphere to enact changes that meet the new challenges we face?

What was the New World like the day before Columbus landed? How did the Native Americans live? How had they transformed the landscapes of the Americas? Had they caused the extinction of any plants or animals? What crops and animals did they domesticate (including those that have since spread throughout the world, and those that have been forgotten)? How many Native Americans were there? And the most important question of all: how do we know these things? The past two decades have witnessed a restructuring of our understanding of the human ecology of the New World before Columbus — from Amazônia to the Great Plains. This tutorial will embrace landscape ecology, tropical forestry, archaeology, anthropology, agronomy, and population biology to explore these revolutionary new ideas (and the paradigms they replaced).

“Music is an essential part of human life” (as the Grinnell Music Department home page proclaims); so is language. This Tutorial investigates the relationship between music and language, the two domains that define us as uniquely human. What are the possible origins of music and language? What are the commonalities and differences between them? Is music a universal language, or is it even a language at all? How are musicality and linguisticity associated with each other? In what ways could music and language be said to have meaning? Is musical meaning intrinsic or extrinsic? What is the process by which musical meaning is created and communicated? How can awareness of music’s linguistic and discursive nature help us understand and explain its meaning? In order to answer questions like these, we will draw on a range of disciplines—from music theory to music history and ethnomusicology, from linguistics to semiotics, and from evolutionary biology to neuroscience.

What happens when ‘the empire’ writes back to the ‘mother country’? When colonial languages and literatures become vectors for undermining the imperial enterprise? Our texts for this semester are organized in pairs. Each sequence begins with a text commonly accepted as a cornerstone of the western canon, a story of European invention, exploration, and separation from the past; and ends with a response from the formerly colonized world that rewrites, reconfigures, and reimagines its predecessor, blurring the lines between ‘western’ and ‘non-western’, the imperial and the subaltern, core and peripheral literature. William Shakespeare, Charlotte Brontë, and Mary Shelley are staples of curricula around the world, in Anglophone and non-Anglophone countries alike. Why not their modern-day sparring partners Aimé Césaire, Jean Rhys, and Ahmed Saddawi, whose works fulfill the subversive potentialities of the originals? In what ways are our understandings of classic texts confounded when they are retold in different settings from the perspectives of the most marginalized characters within them?

This Tutorial will be an introduction to the liberal arts through reading, discussing, and writing about several classic works which stand at the beginning of the liberal arts tradition. More specifically, the course will be an introduction to poetry, history, and philosophy by way of some of the most famous works produced in ancient Greece. We will begin with epic poetry, reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Then we will turn to three examples of tragic drama: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and Euripides’ Bacchants. We will also study Aristotle’s analysis of epic and tragedy in his Poetics. The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides, will be our example of historical writing in prose. Our last writer will be Plato, who illustrates philosophical questioning, reflection, and dialogue in his Defense of Socrates, Crito, and Drinking-Party. Although our texts are chosen to illustrate different types of literature, they are linked by their cultural context, by some common techniques of composition, and by many common themes, such as the fragility of human life, the basic impulses of human nature, and the question of what makes human life meaningful and worthwhile.

What is a machine’s space of action? Why may we see a machine’s movements as communicative acts? In this Tutorial, we will explore space and topology to investigate how a machine’s design impacts its actions. More specifically, we will examine self-operating machines that reveal progressively intricate actions, as presented in the book Vehicles by Valentino Braitenberg. Inquiries will help us tell stories of how to connect machines, space, and communicative acts. In this Tutorial, you will apply analytical thinking skills and develop your computational intuition.

This Tutorial examines the affinities between Russian and African American literature in the development of cultural nationalism. It addresses the question of how national identities are constructed and draws attention to the similar manner in which 19th and 20th century Russian and African American intellectuals such as Feodor Dostoevsky and W.E.B. DuBois defined their respective national identities. We will examine how social institutions, namely Russian serfdom and American slavery, impacted the formation of these identities. We will also examine how and why the Soviet Union, as a communist state, increased its political and social appeal to many African American intellectuals during the 20th century.

During the 20th and into the early part of the 21st century, the growth of sport in American society created many opportunities for athletes to participate. In the early 1900s, the group of professional athletes was racially comprised of whites. Over time, however, as barriers for Black athletes were broken down, more Black athletes slowly gained access to different sports. At the same time, American society underwent a significant change that allowed Blacks to access civil rights which typically were only afforded to whites. In this Tutorial, students will explore the question of whether participation by Black athletes helped fuel 20th and 21st century societal change or whether societal change occurred first, thereby allowing access to sport for the Black athlete. Students will be asked to employ concepts from the disciplines of sociology and history during course work.

Renaissance thinker Michel de Montaigne was one of the most original writers of his time, using a series of personal, unpredictable essays to explore important questions about life, such as: Can we know anything with certainty? What constitutes true friendship? What aspects of ourselves are “natural” and what aspects are “artificial”? In this Tutorial, we will address these and other questions by reading and discussing a series of Montaigne’s Essays, aided by a short biography of Montaigne, How to Live, by Sarah Bakewell. We will also place Montaigne in dialogue with some American writers such as Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, and James Baldwin, in order to see how they address Montaigne’s questions from different perspectives. Finally, we will use Montaigne’s search for self-knowledge to explore the question of how to evaluate different sources of information when pursuing one's own path of research and discovery.

Can geoengineering save us from catastrophic climate change? Solar geoengineers have developed methods of injecting aerosol particles — think dust, haze, fumes, or smoke — into the stratosphere. One of the most studied effects of aerosols is the capacity to facilitate cloud formation. Another effect of aerosols is sunlight reflection which results in a cooling effect on Earth. Consequently, some engineers are contemplating the idea of large-scale production of aerosols to slow global warming while non-fossil fuel sources are fully developed. In this Tutorial, we will examine the implications of aerosols on climate change, aerosol research, climate policy, and green moral hazards as well as other related topics. The last portion of the Tutorial will include the design of an engineering project that can have the potential to combat climate change.

This Tutorial takes an intertextual and historical approach to the study of literature, using Lev Tolstoy’s War and Peace as its primary focus of study. What is real and what is fictional in Tolstoy’s great novel about young people in Russia during the Napoleonic Wars? Where does “life” end and “art” begin? In this Tutorial, we’ll read War and Peace and consider some of the life — histories, maps, memoirs, diaries — that Tolstoy incorporates into the novel and we’ll analyze the art behind its construction as well. We’ll discuss issues of narration, audience, historical detail, and medium, all while discovering what makes War and Peace one of the world’s most important artistic works.

In this Tutorial, we will examine the historical, cultural, social, and racialized perspectives of adulthood and “adulting” through the lens of college-focused television series. We will read and view texts concerning the (mis)conceptions of adolescence, adulthood, (and everything in between) in order to critique what we have absorbed about growing up and being grown. This course purposely uses Black- and Brown-centered narratives on the college experience, specifically A Different World, Grown-ish, Dear White People, The Sex Lives of College Girls and Deaf U. The assignments in this course are designed to give students the opportunity to engage in critical thinking, close reading, writing and revising, research methods, collaborative projects, and learning to navigate the physical, emotional, and digital landscape of college.

Color both enriches and complicates our human experience. This Tutorial will investigate the element of color through history, cultural implications, theory, and studio practice. Readings, videos, discussions, and studio projects will examine color as the result of light, material, and visual perception. We will also look at the history of color as a source for symbols, metaphors, and communication in culture and art. Studio projects will include a range of exercises that investigate the structure of color: hue, value, and saturation through a series of studio exercises.

SECTION CANCELLED: What happens to children whose parents cannot raise them? In this Tutorial, we will address this, and other, related questions from an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective. We will learn about the lives of orphans, foster, step-, and street children. We will find out why biological parents do not raise them. We will also examine the formal and informal ways in which different societies address the issue. Some of the topics we will explore include child wellbeing, child fosterage, transnational and transracial adoptions, humanitarian interventions, representations in literature, and popular culture.

In 2022, singer, songwriter, actress, and activist Janelle Monáe, began to explore new aesthetic terrain with the release of her first co-authored book, The Memory Librarian. The book picks up the nested stories themes Monáe has developed in her music and in the short film that accompanied her 2018 album, Dirty Computer. Chief among these themes is Afrofuturism: a multidisciplinary cultural aesthetic that draws on science fiction, fantasy, history, and religion, connecting Afrodiasporic creative practices across time and space. In this class, we will focus on Monáe’s multidisciplinary art, and situate it within the broader scope of Afrofuturist work, from the theoretical legacy of thinkers and activists like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois, to 1960s musical avant gardists like Sun Ra, to Monáe’s contemporaries, like filmmaker Ryan Coogler, and authors like Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin. We will explore the intersections between music, literature, and film, between the distant past and the imagined future, and between African American artists and artists from throughout the African diaspora. We will investigate how Afrofuturist artists have used their work to critique their world as it is, and to create new worlds as they could be. And we will see how many of these artists and thinkers have created empowering, loving space for a multiplicity of identities — racialized, gendered, and sexualized — that have historically been marginalized and alienated. 

Solitude. sol·i·tude. ˈsäləˌt(y)o͞od/ noun. 1. the state or situation of being alone. Synonyms: isolation, seclusion, withdrawal, privacy, peace. 2. a lonely or uninhabited place. Synonyms: wilderness, rural area, wilds, backwoods.

Research, experience, and instinct tell us that time spent alone is important. Periods of solitude increase productivity, inspire creativity, and offer a level of self-reflection and relaxation otherwise difficult to achieve in our current world. “Solitude,” observes one author, “is a resource we can either nurture or allow to be depleted.” How, though, do we do this? In this Tutorial, we will explore the scientific, social, and spiritual meanings of solitude. Course readings will range from poetry to memoir to psychological studies. In addition to reading about solitude, we will seek opportunities to experience and write about it. This interdisciplinary Tutorial aims to encourage students to establish effective wellness habits as well as improve their reading, research, writing, and discussion skills.

As you depart from home and make a new one at Grinnell, we take the opportunity to explore the stories of the sons of Pandu and of Odysseus, heroes of Indic and Greek epic known the world over who journey to find home or found a new one. We will read part of the Mahabharata and all of Homer’s Odyssey in translation, along with scholarly articles on various aspects of the epics, to examine how heroes of ancient epics grapple with problems we still encounter today.

This Tutorial will analyze the global effort to address human-induced climate change. Students will conduct an inquiry into the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change and address how this knowledge combines with other factors in developing policy in the United States and the international arena. What are the forces that promote and inhibit effective action? What is the role played by technological development? How is the political process responding? How do concerns for equity, justice and human rights play into the debate? Attention will be given to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 2007 Kyoto Protocol, the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the 2021 Glasgow Summit, the role of civil society and the waxing and waning of climate change and now the waxing again in U.S. national politics.

This Tutorial will examine and engage with various social justice movements, focusing on a developing liberatory view of care that is intersectional, relational, and abolitionist. We will examine a connective thread between racial justice, reproductive justice, disability justice, children’s mental health justice, school mental health justice, trans justice, and caregiver justice frameworks: a resistance to neoliberal characterizations of care and health; a re-envisioning of care systems and structures decoupled from carceral logics and punitive paradigms; and the creation of community care that centers healing and accountability.

Accessible and beautiful, birds are found almost everywhere in the world and in almost every habitat, gracing us with flashes of color and bursts of song. Birds can teach us how to observe, how to listen, and how to connect to place and be in the present. Sources of everyday joy and artistic inspiration, birds are also important as indicator species who help us understand how and why the environment is changing. This Tutorial seeks to connect us to our immediate environment — where we live, work, study, and play — through the enlivening presence of birds, and to foster greater ecological and social well-being. Using an interdisciplinary and environmental justice framework, we will learn about the lives and ways of birds from ornithologists as well as from poets, from environmental philosophers as well as environmental activists. We will not only read and discuss birds in connection to nature, joy, and belonging, we will also go birding around campus, in parks, and at nature preserves around Grinnell, letting the birds be our teachers. This course is designed to be inclusive of all abilities and experience levels with our feathered friends, regardless of whether you can tell a Blue Jay from an Eastern Bluebird. As a flock we will cultivate curiosity, build belonging, and sharpen skills for thriving at Grinnell while learning to identify and appreciate Iowa’s birds.

Animals in literature are plenty and they keep teaching us about the role and place of humans in the world, the environment, animal rights, social justice, and equality. Most people know George Orwell’s animal farm, Bambi — but only Disney’s version — or Moby Dick. In this class, we depart from the so-called canonical texts, the classics, and widen our understanding by including marginalized voices like Jewish authors, female authors, and Black authors. We read novels and short stories from India, Europe, Latin America, and Africa; you will also learn how to read literature and philosophical texts, asking questions around animal-human divides, speciesism, and nature, to utilize the skillsets, you will need to produce academic papers. On top of that, by writing your own animal stories, you will engage creatively with the material and practice your creative writing skills. At the end of this class, you will have encountered distinctive styles of writing — academic and creative — and learned how to conduct research in a liberal arts college and beyond.

Monuments, holidays, and historic sites are some of the most important commemorations in the United States, a country that defines itself, in part, through collective memories of important people and events. But commemorations are often not as unifying as they seem or as consensus-building as they appear on the surface. The past becomes a battleground to test different versions of what the present should be in terms of race, gender, or politics. This Tutorial will explore case studies of how Americans build and contest their identities — personal and national — through the creation of and negotiation over commemorative sites and rituals. We will consider case studies across space and time as we consider how commemorations shape power relations — delving into academic writing, memoirs, narrative non-fiction, podcasts, films, and more. Students will hone research, information fluency, and writing skills as they study the rise and fall of American monuments, the creation of American holidays, and the sanctification of public spaces.

This Tutorial will initiate “tutees” to their new identity as Grinnellians. How does the practice of the liberal arts form our identity? How do our history, myths, and rituals create community and shape our ethics? How does the campus function as a sacred space? What can we learn by studying the hagiography of a few of our saints (called alumni and alumnae)? How does this religion compare to other religious traditions such as Judaism, Christianity, Baseball, and Rock and Roll?

This Tutorial will review the history of contributions made by women across a variety of scientific fields, technology, mathematics, and engineering (STEM), assuming students have no prior knowledge of this history. Women Scientists, such as Marie Curie, Emmy Noether, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Rosalind Franklin, and other hidden figures, had to face relentless discrimination due to gender, cultural background, and class in the technological society of the time, both as students and researchers. Through readings, documentaries, discussions, and activities, students will learn about their lives and achievements and gain a broad perspective on how these women scientists made remarkable contributions to human knowledge in science and technology while struggling with gender norms and the political climate of the time. This Tutorial will also attempt to address the historic and modern biases within the STEM fields by reviewing the fact that the recipients of Nobel Prizes in the sciences have been heavily skewed toward men since 1901.

Despite high costs, the average American medicine cabinet may contain ten different prescription drugs. You are probably familiar with many of these drugs including, Lipitor, Zestril, Flonase, Prilosec, Zoloft, and Viagra. The pharmaceutical industry argues that the high costs of drugs are necessary to develop new and innovative alternatives. Additionally, you have probably received at least twenty different vaccinations developed by the same industry. What types of ailments are targeted for drug and vaccine treatments? In this Tutorial, we will examine how pharmaceuticals and vaccines are developed, marketed, and regulated. We will pay close attention to the process of how a molecule becomes a drug or vaccine, how government agencies regulate them, the impact federal laws and policies have on these processes including patent law, and how the industry markets drugs and vaccines to consumers and medical professionals.

Adam Smith and Karl Marx are two of the foundational figures of modern social thought. Most students know something about their thinking but are often surprised by their actual words. In this course, students will read excerpts from their major works in order to learn about some of their important and influential ideas. By discussing and writing about these texts, we will also discover some of the key differences and similarities between these two writers.

Birds do it, bees do it, even trees do it — and college students should probably do more of it. No, not that — we’re talking about sleep! We (should) spend a third of our time “dead to the world” in this state of restful unconsciousness, but what do we really know about it? How and why do we go to sleep? What happens to us physically, cognitively, and emotionally when we don’t get enough of it and how does that affect our ability to achieve our goals and maintain our relationships? What the heck are “chronobiology” and the “socioecological model” of health and wellness and what do these have to do with how we sleep? Is sleep a public health and policy issue? What is going on with the “sleep hygiene” and “sleep wellness” movements? Throughout the course, we’ll look at our own individual sleep patterns, and influences on sleep from genes to the effects of things we put in our bodies to the role of social norms and cultural pressures to the physical environments that we exist in. We’ll use approaches from several different disciplinary lenses to think critically about the answers to these questions and help you determine the role this (still mysterious) process plays in your own life. And, in the end, to decide when, as the book suggests so eloquently, we should just “go the f**k to sleep.”

Together, we will read, watch, and listen to Queer African stories of the past 20 years. We will examine how the two big, controversial concepts of “queer” and “Africa” function for writers and artists, as well as the limits they represent in portraying the complex realities of what it means to be queer, African, and out to the world in the 21st century. We will reflect on genre and medium by engaging with a wide range of sources from all over the continent, including poems, short stories, films, memoirs, a podcast, etc. We will learn from these works and learn to analyze them. In doing so, we will question whether and how Queer African stories resist heteronormative norms of the Global North and from within Africa. We will focus on experiences as told through various modes of storytelling, rather than numbers, outside representations, or stereotypes. We will move away from any attempt to be exhaustive to attend instead to the heterogeneity of the spaces, experiences, and media that we encounter in our readings, research, writing and discussions.

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