Benjamin Richard Gardner
Introduction to advanced work in interdisciplinary studies centered on broadly based questions and problems. Stresses the skills necessary to engage in upper-division research and learning in the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program.
This course is designed to introduce students to the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences (IAS) program and concepts of interdisciplinary knowledge more generally. This particular course is structured around the Horn of Africa region and the experience of African immigrants in the United States. More specifically, we will study Sudan to explore different ways to understand human rights, international conflict and humanitarian aid and assistance.
This topic will serve as our platform to study how ideas are put into action and how actions and events shape ideas; in other words, how knowledge is produced and why ideas matter.
The overall course goal is to have students question their assumptions about Africa, development, and globalization by learning about the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. The region is often portrayed as a classic example of Africa’s inability to “develop” and “modernize,” and is commonly represented as unable to effectively manage its natural resources or overcome social differences that lead to civil conflict and violence.
However, looking at the region through different lenses challenges such narratives of change and will show students how transnational forces influence the conditions through which people and communities in the Horn of Africa struggle to create their lives and societies.
We will read the novel "What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng" by Dave Eggers, as a way to introduce us to the history of the region and the transnational connections that link the lives of Horn of Africa communities to people, institutions, and interests in the United States and other countries. The book draws together themes of civil conflict in Sudan, global oil exploration and development, international humanitarian assistance, post-colonial diasporic citizenship, and immigrant social networks. The course addresses the relationship between international understandings and representations of African conflict, refugees and immigration, and the understanding and representation of these issues by Africans. Students will also read articles and chapters that deepen or challenge explanations of political, economic, and cultural change in the Horn of Africa in the novel.
Student learning goals
Critically analyze the different ways Africa is represented and their political effects
Evaluate course readings and reflect on class discussions and exercises to formulate and defend their own positions on central debates presented in the course.
Recognize the proliferation of competing theories and assumptions about Africa, globalization, and development in everyday public discourse (e.g. on NPR, in the newspaper, or in conservations with friends). And then, connect these ideas to academic debates in order to critically assess the merits and drawbacks of both.
Apply theoretical positions to concrete cases of development/ underdevelopment, civil conflict/ international humanitarianism, and global poverty and justice in Africa.
Critical reading: Moving beyond reading for information to critically evaluating the author’s assumptions, evidence, and arguments and actively engaging the reading with other course material.
Written and oral communication: Learning to construct and articulate clear arguments by logically marshalling evidence in support of a thesis. Research skills: Learning to narrow down an original research question, choose appropriate research methods, and situate the question within broader theoretical debates.
General method of instruction
The key to the success of this class is students’ enthusiasm and participation. Classes are designed to allow you to actively engage in discussion, to work together, to ask questions and to make sure you understand the readings and topics covered in class. Although showing up for class is important, it is also necessary that you engage in an informed way in the discussion. Thus, being prepared to discuss the class material is essential and this means that completing the assigned readings on time is crucial.
Class assignments and grading
Participation: the format for this course is collaborative in nature. It is expected that you will come to class on time and stay for the duration. You should come to class with the assigned materials read and a few prepared thoughts to share during class discussion.
Research Clusters/Library Workshop Assignments: You will be grouped into research clusters in order to further research questions raised by our course content. Research clusters are expected to collaborate on Blackboard and present the findings of their work at several different times during the quarter. You will be working in clusters to pursue a “cluster question” in the library and will submit library workshop assignments as a research cluster.
E-Response Papers: You will be responsible for multiple e-response papers, following assigned readings. In these responses, you will have the opportunity to raise issues, address topics in the reading, and assert your own observations on the reading. Response papers should be approximately 275 words. Response papers are to be submitted to Blackboard prior to the class period in which they are due, under “Discussion Board.” In addition, they are to be submitted in hard copy form during the class period they are due.
Essay Assignments: You will be assigned three more formal essay assignments. Each essay assignment is unique. One of the essay assignments will require that you visit the UWB Writing Center. Essay assignments are to be submitted to Blackboard prior to the class period in which they are due, under “Discussion Board.” In addition, they are to be submitted in hard copy form during the class period they are due.
Final Portfolio: A portfolio consisting of all of your assignments including in-class activities and exercises, in addition to a self-reflective essay that addresses your progress in the course, will be due during the final day of class.