Common Reading Signature Seminars

Are you a first- or second-year student who wants to explore the Common Reading book with a small community of classmates and an engaged expert faculty member? These seminars are for you! Common Reading Signature Seminars are four-credit courses with 23 or fewer students.

View a full list of courses using the book.

Spring 2017

COLT 199, France Noire: African-American Writers and Artists in France
Instructor: Corinne Bayerl
CRN 36697 • MW 10:00-11:20

Henry Ossawa Tanner, "The Seine," 1902, National Gallery of Art
Henry Ossawa Tanner, “The Seine,” 1902, National Gallery of Art

This class focuses on three African American writers (Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates) and two painters (Henry Ossawa Tanner, Michel Basquiat) who chose to live in Paris, and explores their reasons for living in France as expatriates, their impact on both French and American culture, and their perspectives on race relations back home and in their adopted country. We will explore in which different ways these artists experienced their—sometimes lifelong—time in France as a transformative experience; it enriched their means of expressions as artists and writers, and also led to a richer understanding of different cultural formations from around the world that may in different ways be traced back to Africa.

CRWR 199, Written on the Body: Exploring Embodiment through Creative Nonfiction
Instructor:  Brian Trapp
CRN 36696 • TR 16:00-17:20

Shirin Neshat, detail from the “Book of Kings”

How do our bodies define our identities? How do our bodies intersect with cultural stereotypes and with history? How do our bodies’ vulnerabilities define our humanity? This creative nonfiction workshop/seminar course will use Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as a jumping off point to explore how personal essayists write the vulnerable body in contemporary literature. We’ll investigate how embodiment intersects with identity in its many forms: race, disability, gender, and sexuality. In addition to Coates’ examination of the black body, we’ll read excerpts from Kerry Howley, who writes about violence and masculinity among MMA athletes; we’ll read Leslie Jamison, who explores femininity, medical acting, and empathy; we’ll read Nancy Mairs, who writes about living with a vulnerable, disabled body in an ableist culture; and we’ll read Alison Bechdel, who composes graphic narratives about gender roles and being queer. This course will also feature a workshop component, in which students will write and workshop creative nonfiction exploring their own personal embodied identity. At the end of the term, students will celebrate with a literary reading to share and showcase their work.

DAN 199, Dancing Identity
– Instructor: Sarah Ebert
CRN 36698 • MW 14:00-15:50

"Pavement" by Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion Photo by Steven Schreiber
“Pavement” by Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion; photo by Steven Schreiber

Using Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, a work of nonfiction steeped in imagery relating to the body, as a starting point, this course will focus on dance as a creative method for investigating identity and community. Dance is unique in its capacity for processing, and shedding light on, troubling sociopolitical events. How do dancers investigate themes of prejudice, oppression and injustice? How can movement create community? What is a “choreographic voice”? With an emphasis on dance artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, you will study creative processes and subsequent choreographic works that confront issues of race, protest and empathy. Read about groundbreaking artists in concert and vernacular dance. View their work on video and critically analyze their movement choices in relationship to Coates’ book. Reflect on their impact in discussion and in writing. Explore ways to relate the movements of your own body in relationship to others. No prior dance experience required.

Winter 2017

AAA 199, Create Change – Instructor: Jessica Swanson
CRN 27041
• TR 9:00-11:50

JSMA Kara Walker
Kara Walker, no world, Edition XXII/XXV, 2010. Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Irwin R. Berman.

How can we intelligently respond to the sorrow and anger of today’s inequality, and the resulting violence? How can we envision peace in our communities, when real-world problems can be so imposing? This course teaches design-thinking and creativity to embody possible solutions to racism and injustice in our communities. We will respond to the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, through discussions, journal entries, and drawings. By actively engaging with creative methods used by practitioners from across the School of Architecture and Allied Arts (AAA), we will learn to make both moving artworks and practical, solution-based designs. This course supports AAA’s new course cluster Design Create Change, which focuses on preparing students as leaders in fields that promote sustainability and social justice.

ANTH 199, Native Peoples & American Settler Colonialism
Instructor: Marcela Mendoza
CRN 26810 • MWF 2:00-3:20

Thomas Leander Moorhouse, 1888-1916 Picturing the Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla Tribes, UO Special Collections & University Archives

One of the main arguments Ta-Nehisi Coates emphasizes to his son is that picturing the history of slavery in the United States as a black and white tragedy with a happy ending—a version upheld by those who he calls “the Dreamers”—is oversimplified and incomplete. This seminar expands on a related chapter of American history, providing First-Year students with little-known readings about Native Americans and American colonization that will fuel students’ interest in the period of nation-building and its disturbing ramifications even to this day.

J 199, Comedy: Hero or Bully?
– Instructor: Leigh Anne Jasheway
CRN 27031 • MW 12:00-1:50

Perhaps more than any other form of human communication, comedy can rely heavily on stereotypes for laughs and drive a wedge between people based on race, gender, age, culture, sexual orientation, attractiveness and abilities. It can make us less willing to get to know each other at a deeper level. On the other hand, comedians and comedy writers often use those same stereotypes and insecurities about our differences to break through barriers and help us understand each other better. In this class, we will explore how comedy—sitcoms, movies, stand-up, mock TV news shows, and everyday jokes we make among our friends—has changed our society for both better and worse. This seminar will use Between the World and Me to kick off a discussion of how comedy affects how we think about race—our own and others’—and how comedians have used their platforms to educate and influence to rethink our values.

PHIL 199, Sp St Real Ethics
– Instructor: Caroline Lundquist
CRN 26414 • TR 10:00-11:50

Chris Jordan, detail of “Prison Uniforms” (2.3 million prison uniforms, equivalent to the number of people incarcerated in American prisons in 2005)


Most of us would agree that every person is entitled to dignity, and to the freedoms and opportunities that best enable a healthy, meaningful, and rewarding life. Sadly, our political, economic and cultural institutions are often at odds with this view. In America today, injustice is widespread, and is perpetuated via systems that are either poorly designed or are deliberately designed to favor some groups at the expense of others. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all caught up within these systems; they inform our daily choices and, over time, they help to determine the courses of our lives. Although we as individuals may play only a small role in the process, through our actions (and through our inaction) we are collectively shaping the systems that in turn shape us. Before we can begin to solve the problems associated with systemic injustice, we must recognize them, and learn to identify their historical, legal and ideological causes. Much more importantly, we must also take responsibility for the roles we already play in perpetuating systems that are flawed. The questions at issue in this course are therefore as follows: 1) How do we collectively create the institutions that enable or prevent justice? 2) How do our shared institutions shape our personal beliefs and behaviors? 3) How or to what extent can our daily, seemingly-insignificant choices shape existing institutions and/or create new and more just ones? Themes of the course include: 1) the ethics of consumerism, 2) hunger and food waste, 3) local and global economic inequality, 4) higher education and freedom, 5) historical and contemporary forms of systemic racism, 6) police brutality and racial profiling, and 7) crime and punishment.