2019–2020 Cross-Disciplinary Course Modules

Fall 2019

ENVS 197: Introduction to Environmental Studies
Host: Helen Poulos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Guests: Allison Orr and Gretchen Lamotte of Forklift Danceworks
This interdisciplinary course studied human interaction with the environment and the resulting implications for quality of life, examining the technical and social causes of environmental degradation at local and global scales and the potential for developing policies and philosophies that support a sustainable society. Over the course of the semester, Forklift Danceworks choreographers guided a subset of students in shadowing employees of Wesleyan University’s Physical Plant, learning about tasks that range from plumbing to carpentry to HVAC work. As a final project, students and Physical Plant employees co-created a live performance event in Exley Science Center.

Spring 2020

HIST 241: From Romanus Pontifex to Black Lives Matter: Race and the Modern World
Host: Demetrius L. Eudell, Dean of Social Sciences, Professor of History
Guest: Courtney Long, Acting Assistant Curator, Yale Center for British Art
This course investigated the belief system of race, from its emergence in the 15th century in the wake of European expansion into Africa and the Americas to contemporary dynamics both in the Americas and globally. A two-class module with Long focused on the intersection of art and incarceration. The class visited the Yale Center for British Art to view prints related to incarceration in the 18th and 19th century. Understanding who was housed in these spaces provides insight into the structuring of the social order, within which lies the intellectual origins of our present system of incarceration and its related system of surveillance. In a second module session, Long lectured at Wesleyan on the modern context of mass incarceration and discussed how contemporary artists engage with imprisonment, asking: What are the implications of prisons being modified by becoming museums? How are artists combatting the expansion of the prison industrial complex? How can art be used by the incarcerated to combat their isolation? What does this tell us generally about art as a medium and communicative device able to negotiate political ideas as well as the complexity of being human, intellectually and affectively?

CSS 340: Junior History Tutorial: The Nuclear Bombings of Japan in Historical Perspective
Host: William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History
Guest: Eiko Otake, Visiting Artist-in-Residence
Johnston and Otake have collaborated for more than a decade in researching and teaching on the history and lived experience of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For this Junior History Tutorial, Otake made two visits. The first was a class session that examined literary responses to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and integrated a discussion of the readings with a movement workshop. A second, virtual visit followed, to continue discussion related to the course material and to ideas of death and dying in the context of the current pandemic.

DANC 205: Afro-Brazilian Dance: Dances of the Orixas
Host: Joya Powell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance
Guest: Elizabeth McAlister, Professor of Religion
This course explored the historical and embodied practices of the Orixás, the primary pantheon of deities of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. It centered embodied practice through an Africanist aesthetic, focusing on polyrhythm, the correlation of dance and the natural world, polycentrism, theatricality, and oral tradition; and used videos and lectures to illuminate Brazilian history as it pertains to the creation and evolution of Candomblé and its dances as resistance to slavery and racism. Also in spring 2020, McAlister taught RELI 268: Black Religions in the Americas, focusing on the African-based religious systems that cultivated traditional ways to survive slavery, white supremacy, and state violence: Vodou in Haiti, Regla de Ocha (Santeria) and Palo Mayombe in Cuba, Obeah in Jamaica, and aspects of black religions in the U.S. This module involved multiple cross-class visits and a collective session, offering students in McAlister’s course an opportunity to embody the traditional movements they discussed; and Powell’s students a more global understanding of their embodied practices.

CS 92/BIOL 161: Science Materials for the Malagasy Classroom (Crosslistings: ENVS 261 & IDEA 261)
Host: Joyce Powzyck, Associate Professor of the Practice, Biology
Guest: Eric Losh, Illustrator and Graphic Designer
This hands-on course brought together Wesleyan undergraduates from a variety of disciplines (including studio arts, French, environmental studies, Science in Society, and biology) to design and produce science education materials for Malagasy fifth graders. Madagascar is a developing country hard-hit by climate change, and classroom materials are needed to assist Malagasy teachers in instructing their students on changes occurring within their island landscapes. With support, instruction, and artwork contributed by visiting illustrator Eric Losh, students in this course designed a logo, bookmarks, games, posters, and a comic book that address topics from lemur speciation to tropic levels, plate tectonics, and water conservation. Students conducted research into these topics, distilled salient features, and used that information to conceive, design, critique, and then produce materials in Wesleyan’s Makerspace. To ensure age-appropriate relevancy and cultural sensitivity, all prototypes were reviewed and rated by fifth graders in a Middletown elementary school and also by Malagasy undergraduates at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar.