Humanities Course Descriptions

The Governor's School for the Humanities encourages students to explore the ways that "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 Leading Change, 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 2020

Students participate in two morning courses that meet all four weeks of the program. Read more about the morning courses offered during the 2020 Governor's School for the Humanities below.

The Best Test of Truth: A Second Look at the First Amendment

Mr. Joe Staniunas

A teenager demanding action on climate change. A student wearing a hat with a pro-gun message. A walkout at school to support immigrant rights.

Leadership often means dissenting from majority views. And the First Amendment makes such dissent possible. But many people have a limited or mistaken understanding of the five essential freedoms it endorses. And some wonder if “freedom for the thought we hate” is too broad, and should yield to other important values. This course is an overview First Amendment rights and responsibilities, focused on such topics as censorship of student publications, disruption of controversial speakers, creation of ‘safe spaces’ on campus, restrictions on social media. 

From Hog Waste to Coal Ash: How Our Affluent Lifestyles are Destroying the Planet

Dr. Aysha Bodenhamer

This course will focus on Environmental Sociology as students learn how societies impact the natural world and vice versa. Through film, news, and academic articles students will be exposed to a variety of environmental problems of our time such as: 

  • Food production and consumption
  • Energy production and consumption
  • Climate change
  • Environmental justice

Friendly debates will ensue and better yet, we’ll discuss what we can do about the environmental problems we face. 

How Language Affects Change: Exploring Rhetoric in the Public Sphere

Dr. Katie Garahan

Every day issues arise within our various communities that require people to speak publicly. But, what impact does such discourse have on how we think and act? In this course, students will explore this and related questions using the tools of rhetorical inquiry. Students will first critically read and discuss selected historical and theoretical texts related to public discourse, beginning with oratory in the Ancient Greek agora (public gather place), moving through the Enlightenment and the civic discourse of salons. Our exploration of these texts will provide students the opportunity to think deeply and critically about culturally relevant questions, including: 

  • What are the different genres of public discourse, and how do they function?
  • Whose voices have historically mattered within the public sphere? What groups have been excluded—either insidiously or directly—from engaging in the public sphere?
  • In a digital age, what counts as public? Do digital spaces positively or negatively impact civic engagement? 

With histories and theories of public discourse in mind, the class will analyze the rhetoric of contemporary public dissent, such as teacher strikes, climate action, or #MeToo. Students will choose one genre of public discourse (e.g. open letter, protest sign, op-ed, etc.) and create an original and rhetorically effective composition. Ultimately, students will come away from this class with tools to engage critically with public discourse. 

Leading Change through Political Engagement in 2020 and Beyond

Dr. Scott Dunn

The topic of political engagement is especially salient in the midst of a presidential election year. Governor’s School students are often leaders in their high schools and are likely to be more engaged with politics than their peers, but may find their peers’ lack of engagement frustrating. This class will focus on the role that citizens play in the democratic process, with the practical goal of helping students become more engaged and inspire their fellow students to do the same.

We 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? Are younger people less engaged with politics than older people (and, if so, why)? 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? Is the recent upturn in political engagement the start of a new trend, or a short-term response to current events?

In addition to exploring the role that individuals play in the democratic process, this course will examine structural issues that may encourage or inhibit political participation such as gerrymandering, political polarization, and changes to the media landscape.

We will examine these topics by exploring a wide range of sources, ranging from classical conceptions of democracy to recent social scientific research. Students will come away from this class with a better understanding of the political system and the role that citizens play in it. The class will also collaborate on ideas to get young people more involved in the political process.

No Small Change: The Transformative Role of Comedy in Art, History, and the Humanities

Dr. Matthew Turner

Although comedy has always existed in the margins of society, it has remained central to our human experience.  Since the earliest days of Greek Tragedy, comedy has always come after tragedy to comment on it and deconstruct it from the sidelines.   Comic figures are frequently marginal characters, fools or outcasts who do not fit into mainstream society or its narratives.  Yet from the edge, we can step outside to see clearly enough to critique the underlying social and cultural systems that make up human society.   This critique allows for thoughtful discussion and meaningful change.  Comedy has brought down many of the mighty in society.  Comedian Hannibal Buress’s joke about Bill Cosby led to renewed scrutiny of his record and his eventual imprisonment for rape.  Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of the Ukraine in a landslide vote largely because of his popularity as the lead character of a comedy television program where he played the President of the Ukraine.  He is the central figure in the phone call that eventually led to the impeachment of the American President, Donald Trump.

In this class we will study comedy in the arts and the humanities and try to understand how comedy functions, creates meaning, and fosters change.  We will explore philosophical theories of comedy (even though they are rarely funny) starting in antiquity and moving up through the present era with the study of semiotics.  We will look at examples of comedy in literature, the visual arts, sculpture, music, theater, and film, as well as on the Internet.  Students will be able to strive not only to understand and appreciate the structure and logic (or illogic) of comedy and its role as an agent of change in society, but will also work to create and demonstrate or perform their own comic works. 

Philosophy Toolkit: Facilitating Change in Your Community and Beyond

Mr. Mike Zarella

This course will introduce students to philosophical concepts and skills that they can apply in their future courses and beyond the classroom. One area of focus will be logical reasoning. Students will learn about deductive and ampliative forms of reasoning and practice applying these principles to issues that interest them. Our discussions of the principles of logical reasoning will lead us to interesting questions about the nature of knowledge and the extent to which the sciences can provide us knowledge of the world. Another area of focus will be key concepts in moral and political philosophy. For instance, we will discuss the significance of the “Is—Ought” gap and various conceptions of rights and duties. Our discussions will lead us to questions about living in a society and what it means to be a self. To address these questions, we will discuss some of the central theories in moral and political philosophy. 

Race and Higher Education: Institutions, Identities, and Controversies

Dr. Gabriella Smith

Institutions of higher learning are places where discourses are shaped, ideas nurtured, and thinkers cultivated. But these institutions are also places with problematic racial histories and are perennial hotbeds for controversy. This course will delve into several topics such as:

  • How affirmative action and legacy admission policies shape the racial makeup of institutions
  • How many of our most esteemed colleges and universities are coming to terms with their past use of enslaved labor
  • The current rise in white supremacist recruitment on campuses across the country
  • How various institutions are dealing with (or failing to deal with) racist incidents on campus

Mindful of the 2019 Governor’s School theme of “Leading Change,” this proposed course has two goals. First, we will consider the history of race policies and practices in American higher ed, and examine which individuals and institutions took leading roles in confronting (and resisting) demographic change. Second, we will dive into current controversies relating to race and higher education, breaking down the relevant components in light of the most up-to-date theories about social change, racialized institutions and empirical research on race and campus life. Through a dynamic combination of discussions, group activities, media resources, and traditional lectures, this course will provide Governor’s School students a solid foundation for critically evaluating racial affairs in contemporary America as they consider their own matriculation.

Afternoon Seminar Courses

Humanities students also enroll in four afternoon seminar courses (one for each week of the program). The afternoon course offerings for the 2020 Governor's School for the Humanities are listed below. Course descriptions will be posted in the near future.

Comedians as Public Intellectuals
Mr. Mike Zarella

Comedy in the Age of the Internet
Dr. Matthew Turner

DNA and Me? The Rise and Repercussions of DNA Testing
Dr. Gabriella Smith

Game Studies: History, Theory, Culture, and Design
Dr. Jamie McDaniel

Hip Hop Culture
Dr. Stephanie Bradley

How to Survive the World of Tomorrow
Dr. Jason Davis

Inclusive Fiction Writing
Ms. Justine Jackson Stone

Insiders and Outsiders: The Hillbilly Dynamic
Dr. Aysha Bodenhamer

Dr. Michele Ren

Leading Change through Documentary
Dr. West Bowers

Life in the Antrhopocene: Navigating the World that Humans Made
Dr. Sarah Foltz

Mass Incarceration in America: Have We Created a Prison Nation
Dr. Riane Bolin

Queer Representation matters: LGBTQ+ in Media
Ms. Justine Jackson Stone

Reform Movements, the Environment, and Mass Media
Dr. Bill Kovarik

Reporting Mojo: An Introduction to Mobile Journalism
Mr. Joe Staniunas

Setting the Stage: The Rhetoric of the Democrtic National Debate
Dr. Scott Dunn

Sport for Social Change
Dr. Tiesha Martin

The Great Recession
Dr. Stephanie Bradley

What is the American Dream, Anyway?
Dr. Katie Garahan