Humanities Course Descriptions

According to the state of Virginia, the Governor’s School for the Humanities encourages students to explore the ways "modern society requires, encourages, and restricts individuals as they seek realization of their creative potential. Students explore [the] humanities in the digital age through history, literature, philosophy, anthropology, political science, economics, sociology, psychology, and media." 

United by the theme of "Social Capital," this year's multidisciplinary academic programming allows for both depth and breadth of inquiry. In the morning, students participate in two courses that last all four weeks of camp. Morning sessions encourage sustained study of specific topics. During the afternoon, students attend a seminar course, and topics rotate each week. Afternoon seminar courses enable students to explore an even greater variety of subjects while allowing them get to know more of their peers and program faculty.

Morning Courses for Summer 2018

Students participate in two morning courses that meet all four weeks of the program. The 2018 morning courses are described below.

Applying Philosophy in the Modern World

Mr. Mike Zarella

Philosophy is an activity that strives to clarify questions and potential answers in matters central to being human. This course will guide students through philosophical inquiry in a variety of interrelated areas:

  • Free will: what would it mean to act freely, and do we, in fact, act freely?
  • Mind: are mental states, such as emotions and beliefs, states of the body or states of a non-physical mind?
  • Knowledge and scientific inquiry: what does it mean to have knowledge, and to what extent can scientific inquiry provide us with knowledge of the world?
  • Ethics: what constitutes a good life and how should we regard other people and living things?
  • Art: what exactly is art, and what can it teach us about being human?

As we explore these issues, we will practice the strategies and methods philosophers use to clarify questions and answers, including logical argumentation, Socratic dialogue, and (sometimes bizarre) thought-experiments. We will make a point to draw from other disciplines to inform our discussions, including physics, neuroscience, history and psychology. Students will also receive guidance in developing an individual or group presentation that shows how philosophical inquiry can help direct what we do and how we think about ourselves. For instance, students might create a presentation that shows what philosophical treatment of the topic of free-will might contribute to the way our legal system should work.

Environmental Heroes

Dr. Laura Vernon

Students will explore what it means to put a human face on environmental issues; that is, they will explore the Environmental Humanities. Environmental Humanities seeks to insert environmental issues more centrally into the humanities. It sees humanity as part o f a larger living system, and thus seeks to help bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities and among the cultural ways of knowing the natural world and the place of humans in it. To that end, students will study a host of environmental issues, approaching them from a variety of humanities and social sciences perspectives—such as political, psychological, rhetorical, and spiritual—and how these perspectives are forwarded in the media, literature, and popular culture.

Each week, students will learn about an environmental hero and the impact his or her work has had on protecting the environment, inspiring important debates, and influencing public policy. The course will end with students seeing themselves as environmental heroes and the ways they can individually take action that will collectively make a difference in the places where they live, learn, and play.

Game Studies: History, Theory, Culture, and Design

Dr. Jamie McDaniel

This course will focus on the history, theory, culture, and design of video games and tabletop (board) games. Students will develop game prototypes using a variety of game mechanics, examine the persuasive elements of “serious” games that use rhetorical strategies to make arguments, investigate the evolution of games in different countries, and explore the influence games have on representations of gender, race, and disability in contemporary culture. Activities will include:

  • Developing a game prototype using The White Box, a learning, planning, and prototyping tool for tabletop game designers co-produced by Gameplaywright and Atlas Games
  • Playing and analyzing serious games, such as the anti-advergame McDonald’s Video Game, which critiques the necessity of corrupt business practices perpetuated by international corporations
  • Comparing and contrasting game traditions in different parts of the world, such as Ameritrash and Eurogames
  • Exploring how games neglect to represent diverse identities or depict them in primarily negative ways
  • Examining events and texts in contemporary gaming culture, such as the recent Gamergate controversy as well as the popular blog Not Your Mama’s Gamer

Gender and Representation

Dr. Michele Ren

The #MeToo movement has recently started a conversation in both Hollywood and Washington about gender and power. Why are entertainment and politics the two industries most impacted? What’s the connection? And, are there more connections that can be drawn?

While the context of the 2017 #MeToo movement (it was started by Tarana Burke in 2007) will provide a backdrop for the course, in this class we will look at how men and women are portrayed in popular media and whether those representations impact how and why we decide which people and ideas will represent us politically.

Our examples and discussions of gender and representation will include their intersections with other social identities such as race, religion, sexuality, class, age, and ability.  Examples of questions we might discuss in the course include: does it matter if men are most often portrayed as tough and aggressive? Does the relative absence of women over forty in our most watched films and tv shows have any impact on our perceptions of women over forty elsewhere? If Latinos are 17% of the United States population, should 17% of the characters we see on tv and in movies be Latino? Should they also be 17% of congress?

Illness and Healing in American Culture

Dr. Amy Rubens

When we encounter disease, we typically call on science to understand it: we identify pathogens, graph transmission rates, research and test cures. But what can the humanities tell us about being sick--and getting well--in an American context? To aid our investigation of illness and healing in American culture, we’ll use tools from mutliple disciplines, such as English, rhetoric, history, sociology, and American studies. We’ll apply those tools to a range of "texts," including fiction, historical documents, film, photography, advertisements, and social media. Topics of study may include:

  • Beliefs about expertise, consent, and medical decision-making, as illustrated by the Tuskegee Experiment and homebirth/midwifery practices
  • Ethics and effectiveness of disease “awareness” campaigns for serious or chronic illnesses
  • Contagious illness as “metaphor,” as illustrated by “Typhoid Mary,” HIV/AIDS, and Zika, as well as the “zombie” trope in fiction and film
  • Visual rhetoric of public health campaigns
  • Literary and autobiographical narratives by patients and healthcare practitioners

In considering these subjects, we’ll learn about the multiple, varied ways people experience illness and healing in American culture. Significantly, we’ll also explore how these experieces are connected to larger issues: How does illness influence beliefs about race, gender, and sexuality—and vice versa? How, in other words, do beliefs about the ailing body influence relations of power in our society?

Law Enforcement's Use of Force

Mr. Eric Snow

One of the most significant current issues in criminal justice is the use of force by law enforcement officers. The issue not only directly impacts the officers and the individual involved, but also impacts the general public and their perceptions of law enforcement. In this course, students will explore various issues related to use of force including: officer training, laws and landmark court cases, departmental policies, the impact of the media, the impact of race, the psychological impact to the officer, and the impact of public perception of law enforcement.

Students will utilize the Department of Criminal Justice’s use of force simulator. The simulator, which similar to those used by law enforcement agencies throughout the country, uses a video projector and screen to display prerecorded scenarios. Each scenario allows the participant to choose which level of force is appropriate. An added benefit of the interactive scenarios is students are able to use verbal and nonverbal communication to deescalate situations.

During the final week of the course, students will work in groups to write and record a video scenario depicting a use of force situation.  The scenarios could be based on current national events or be created by the students.  Each scenario will be recorded during class and will be displayed during the final event. Students will explain the use of force options and the appropriate level of force for their scenario.

Political Engagement, Media Choice, and Social Capital

Dr. Scott Dunn

Recent changes in the media have given consumers more choices, so that it is easy to get virtually any information you want while ignoring information you want to avoid. As a result, many people tune out anything related to politics. This is especially true for young people, who have grown up with vast media choices and have not grown up following political issues the way previous generations did. This trend parallels what scholars have identified as a loss of social capital in recent decades. At the same time, political engagement has increased as the election of President Donald Trump has made existing divisions in American society much more salient.

This class will focus on the role that citizens play in the democratic process, with particular emphasis on how changes in the media landscape have affected political participation. Students will explore questions such as the following: What responsibility do we have to engage with the political system? What kinds of participation are effective and appropriate? Do social media help people engage with politics? Why are younger people less engaged with politics than older people? What role do public policy problems like gerrymandering play in political engagement? What can be done to get young people more involved in politics? What is the best way to discuss politics with people who disagree with us? What is the relationship between political engagement and social capital? Is the recent upturn in political engagement the start of a new trend, or a short-term response to current events?

Students will read and discuss a variety of works that deal with citizenship and engagement, ranging from works by the Founding Fathers of the United States to recent academic research. The class will also collaborate on ideas to get young people more involved in the political process.

Reporting 101: Real News in the Digital Age

Mr. Joe Staniunas

Anyone can be a journalist these days. Digital technology can produce interactive audio and video stories that used to take 3-person crews with bulky, expensive gear. And that’s also a serious issue for society: anyone can do something that looks and sounds like news. With social media growing as the main source of news, getting likes and clicks is all that matters; the best obtainable truth doesn’t. Far from making it easier to find out what’s real and what’s fake, the digital age has enhanced the growth of tribal thought and the decline of consensus about the common good.

In this course students will explore how real reporters work, what the best practices are in the craft of journalism, and how important it still is for journalism to provide a true account of contemporary events, so people can then discuss what they mean for their own lives and the lives of all.

Voice to the Voiceless: The Magazine Class

Ms. Leigh Anne Kelley

The title of this course is drawn from the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which holds that journalists should “give voice to the voiceless.” This course will examine media’s successes and failures in telling the stories of those who lack social capital. Through readings, video, and analysis of historic and contemporary coverage, we will examine the theme of “social capital,” access to beneficial relationships, resources and institutions. The course will examine that theme as it relates to media’s inclusion and portrayal of the voiceless. We will seek answers to such questions as: How does the economic model of media influence social capital? How do journalists portray people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, regions and political beliefs? How do media cover the devout religious in an increasingly secular culture? We will explore, not only what the media report, but what they fail to report. The course will explore the theme of “social capital” from the perspectives of content, images and the information economy. Students will be given the opportunity to extend their understanding of these concepts through creative application. They will learn to create editorial plans, design layouts and compile content using Adobe InDesign. Students will then work together in editorial teams to plan, produce and publish a magazine using “social capital” as the theme. 

Afternoon Seminar Courses

In addition to enrolling in two morning courses, students select four afternoon seminar courses (one for each week of the program). The afternoon seminar courses are listed below. Prospective students and their parents can learn more about this part of the currciulm by reading the course descriptions for afternoon seminar courses.  

Aesthetics and Politics of Contemporary Fiber Arts
Dr. Amy Rubens

Animation I: Form, History, Society
Ms. Justine Jackson

Animation II: From Storyboarding to Screen
Ms. Justine Jackson

Appalachia: Social Justice in a Regional Context
Mr. Ricky Cox

Befriending the Inner and Outer Critic
Mr. Joe Wareing

Comedians as Public Intellectuals
Mr. Mike Zarella

Comedy in the Age of the Internet
Mr. Matthew Turner

Disability in Film
Dr. Jamie McDaniel

Discovering Your Family History
Dr. Laura Vernon

Drawing a Fair District: Mathematics and Democracy
Dr. Eric Choate

Freud to Facebook: The Psychology Behind Why We Do What We Do
Dr. Stirling Barfield

Introduction to Digital Filmmaking
Mr. Michael Meindl

Law Enforcement Technologies
Mr. Eric Snow

Making a Real Newscast
Mr. Joe Staniunas

Memory as Theory and Practice
Mr. Joe Wareing

Politics in Pop Culture
Dr. Scott Dunn

Stories Bones Tell: Forensic Science
Dr. Donna Boyd

Unpacking Intersectionality
Dr. Michele Ren

What Can Social Media Tell Us?
Ms. Leigh Anne Kelley