Spring courses explore evidence, timely topics

As concern over Zika continues, environmental scientist Uriel Kitron, shown working in Brazil, teams up with historian Jeffrey Lesser and Portuguese lecturer Ana Teixeira to teach "Metropolis, Migration and Mosquitoes." Explore a sample of this semester's coolest courses.

"A physicist, a neurobiologist, a biblical scholar, a statistician and a psychologist walk into a classroom…" and these are the instructors for just one of the intriguing, interdisciplinary courses offered at Emory this semester.

"More than Meets the Eye," a seminar for first-year students through the ORDER (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers) program, samples all of these disciplines to help students learn about designing research questions, evaluating results and proposing solutions.

In fact, learning to evaluate evidence is at the heart of many Emory courses, from understanding "the science behind the news" to "conceptions and misconceptions" related to evolution.

Students at all levels will engage with high-profile topics including issues in U.S. health care, the impact of conspiracy theories on "politics and paranoia" in modern America, stories from the U.S.-Mexico border, and historical and contemporary Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations.

They will learn Spanish through theater, with the chance to hear from President Obama's 2012 inaugural poet, and examine how mosquitos and migration affect the spread of diseases like Zika, with the chance to conduct research in Brazil this summer.

Here is a sample of spring classes, from first-year seminars to graduate courses, that are timely, creative or just plain cool.

Access to Justice: Getting into the Courtroom

Instructor: Jason Costa, adjunct professor of law

Cool factor: Imagine yourself handcuffed in the back of a police car, booked into the jail, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, brought in front of a judge and charged as a criminal.  In this class, students experience first-hand each aspect of the criminal justice system by going inside the jail, attending real hearings in real courtrooms, meeting people accused of crimes and learning how poverty, race, age, ethnicity, gender and other factors shape the way real people interact with the criminal justice system every day.

Course description: The course gives law students the opportunity to see how justice is administered in criminal cases in Georgia courtrooms and to develop their court oral advocacy skills in a real-world environment. We examine the ways in which poor and underserved populations access justice in the traditional criminal justice system, and the increasing role of accountability courts for people accused of crimes suffering with drug, alcohol or mental health afflictions. Multiple off-campus trips include touring the local jail and attending court sessions to observe criminal case proceedings. Students also participate in mock classroom hearings utilizing real recent criminal case warrants and police reports.

Department and school: Emory Law


Anthropology of Biomedicine

Instructor: Bisan A. Salhi, PhD candidate in anthropology, assistant professor of emergency medicine

Cool factor: This course pays special attention to the dominant American medical system (commonly referred to as “biomedicine”). Readings focus on a range of topics examining medicine as a social and economic institution, including medical experimentation, the social construction of diagnostic categories, the pharmaceutical industry and health activism.

Course description: Rather than valorizing or reiterating the biomedical advancements of the past century, this course will critically examine the history, assumptions and limitations within the practice of biomedicine. Throughout the semester, we will take biomedicine as an explanatory model, considering its basic assumptions, limitations and side effects.

Department and school: Anthropology in Emory College


Comics and Visual Literacy

Instructor: Brad Hawley, lecturer in English

Cool Factor: Students will study American comic books and Japanese Manga from cultural, aesthetic, literary and ethical perspectives. Students will also study sequential art as a unique art form that requires a high level of visual literacy on the part of informed readers. There will be an opportunity to have a comic review published on The Fantasy Literature Review website.

Course description: Students will write multiple formal assignments providing close textual analysis to practice their developing visual literacy skills. Each student will pick one comic book that is not on the syllabus and write a book review. Students will also produce a short comic with an accompanying essay explaining the visual techniques they used.

Department and school: Department of English in Oxford College


Critical Appraisal of Research Communication: Exploring the Science Behind the News

Instructors: A. Cecile J.W. Janssens, research professor of epidemiology; Marta Gwinn, adjunct professor of epidemiology

Cool factor: At each class, a current health science news story is discussed. Students use clues from the news article to brainstorm about what type of scientific study is behind the news and what the common challenges and pitfalls of such studies are. A week later, a group of students presents the actual scientific study and compares the science, the news and the results of the brainstorming.

Course description: This course focuses on the coverage of scientific research in the media and other nonscientific publications with the goal of helping students develop a critical attitude toward reported scientific findings ("the news") by learning how scientific research is covered and what relevant details are typically overlooked or misinterpreted. Lectures about science communication, the scientific method, logic and reasoning, heuristics and framing, knowledge synthesis and common misunderstandings in statistical inference (including p-values and sample size) will be included.

Department and school: Rollins School of Public Health (also offered in the fall as part of Critiquing Health Evidence in the News in Emory College)


Epidemiology of Aging

Instructors: Theodore M. Johnson II, professor and director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology; Ellen Idler, Samuel Candler Dobbs Chair of Sociology; William McClellan, professor of epidemiology

Cool factor: This course’s instructors combine expertise in medicine, public health, epidemiology and sociology. Students will interview an older person living in senior housing at the Wesley Woods Towers or in the community of Toco Hills. Students apply the concepts they have acquired to describe an older individual's health and the relationship between health and the environments older individuals live in.

Course description: This course is about the health of the rapidly growing aging population. We study the trends in mortality, functional limitations and the social factors that determine them; the impact of events like falls; the processes of aging and disease in different organ systems; the prevalence of dementia; and what successful aging might look like. There is an emphasis on the methods epidemiologists use to study aging populations, and students are encouraged to critique and interpret the meaning of the studies that are read each week.

Department and school: Epidemiology in Rollins School of Public Health; cross-listed with Sociology, Emory College and Laney Graduate School


Evolution: Conceptions and Misconceptions

Instructor: Pat Marsteller, professor of practice in biology and Emory College associate dean for undergraduate education

Cool factor: Students have ongoing projects where they work in collaborative groups. They can choose from building a website, writing a case and case notes or annotating a paper in the format of Science in the Classroom. Several students from prior classes are working to publish the cases they developed. Students also develop a wikipage on misconceptions about evolution.

Course description: This seminar for first-year students will address conceptions and misconceptions of the theory of evolution. We will begin with a discussion of theory and evidence from a scientific perspective. Using web materials, readings, discussion, simulations and problem-based learning exercises, we will examine how the conception of evolution has changed over time. We will examine major misconceptions about evolution, including the idea of progress, randomness, chance and necessity. Students will have some choice in the topics presented in the course. This course is part of an initiative for the Emory Quality Enhancement Plan, The Nature of Evidence: How Do You Know? We will foreground the nature of evidence and how evidence is acquired and evaluated.

Department and school: Biology and Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology in Emory College


Feminist and Queer Ethnographies

Instructor: Melissa Hackman, post-doctoral teaching fellow, Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Institute for African Studies

Cool factor: The course features readings of current ethnographies on a range of topics that include female genital cutting and NGOs in Africa, BDSM in the U.S., LGBT organizations in India and transgender lives in Iran. Ethnographer Lynne Gerber will also be coming to class to discuss her work on American evangelical ex-gay and weight loss ministries.

Course description: How feminist and queer theories, activism and politics affect and alter ethnographic projects, methods and writing will be addressed. Students will read contemporary ethnographies that address questions of representation, affect, intersectionality, positionality, globalization, desires and community.

Department and school: Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies in Laney Graduate School


Issues in U.S. Healthcare

Instructor: Ian McCarthy, assistant professor of economics

Cool factor: Health care and its politics are ubiquitous and constantly evolving. In this course, students will experience the process of choosing insurance plans, paying and understanding hospital bills, and tracking the flow of money in the U.S. health care system in order to be informed healthcare consumers and voters.

Course description: This course aims to provide a general understanding of the U.S. health care system through weekly discussions of topical issues. Our discussions will cover areas from how much is spent on health care in the U.S. to the influence of adverse selection in insurance markets and its relevance to the Affordable Care Act. The historical aspects of the U.S. health care system that help to explain some features of the current system will also be considered.

Department and school: Economics in Emory College


Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue

Instructor: Deanna Ferree Womack, assistant professor in the practice of history of religions and multi-faith relations

Cool factor: In addition to studying the history and theory of Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations, this course offers students the opportunity to practice building interfaith understanding inside and outside of the classroom. Students will learn from guest speakers and leaders from Atlanta’s diverse religious congregations, visit area mosques and synagogues, learn from interfaith practitioners at the spring 2017 Leadership and Multifaith Program (LAMP) symposium, and organize a series of Jewish-Christian-Muslim dialogue dinners with young adults in the Atlanta community.

Course description: Through this course, students will examine historical and contemporary Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and explore theologies and practices of dialogue between members of these Abrahamic faiths. Attention will be given to the perspectives of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars, to feminist theology in the Abrahamic traditions, and to case studies from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Students will develop their own theological, pastoral or community-based approach to Jewish-Christian-Muslim engagement through a significant research project.

Department and school: World Religions in Candler School of Theology


Metropolis, Migration and Mosquitoes:  The Case of São Paulo, Brazil

Instructors: Uriel Kitron, Goodrich C. White Professor and chair, Environmental Sciences; Jeffrey Lesser, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of History and chair, History; Ana Teixeira, director of the Portuguese Language Program and lecturer in Portuguese, Spanish & Portuguese.


Guest lectures by Thomas Rogers, director of graduate studies and associate professor of modern Latin American history, History; Juan Leon, associate professor of global health, Rollins School of Public Health; Jessica Fairley, assistant professor of infectious diseases, School of Medicine.

Cool factor: The course examines what happens when faculty, undergraduate and graduate students jointly conduct research using ethnographic epidemiology, archival research and representational analysis. It also explores health from diverse perspectives for a broader understanding of past and present. Students will read novels and World Health Organization reports and visit Plaza Fiesta and mosquito breeding sites. Students may take a one-credit “Portuguese for research” add-on and join the research team in Brazil during summer 2017.  

Course description: The course will analyze how “health” has been understood over time by both populations and providers using diverse methodologies, both traditional and novel. Using the Bom Retiro neighborhood of São Paulo as a test case, students will analyze disease patterns and prevention within a historical perspective. They will also analyze how questions of class, race and gender have led to historically different incidences of, and responses to, disease, understanding the relationship between cultural attitudes, exposure to diseases and access to health care. 

Department and school: Listed jointly in Environmental Sciences and History; cross-listed with Spanish, Portuguese and Interdisciplinary Studies, all in Emory College of Arts and Sciences


The Mexico-U.S. Frontera and its Stories

Instructor: Vialla Hartfield-Méndez, professor of pedagogy in Spanish and Portuguese

Cool factor: This course includes “Pre-Texts” workshops based on those developed by the Cultural Agents Initiative, in which we engage with the text we are reading using various art forms in sessions that are created and led by students. This gives us different perspectives on the texts as well as a point of departure for our own expressions of borders and border experiences. It also includes a class visit to the “border spaces” on Buford Highway.

Course description: This course explores the history of the Mexico-U.S. border from colonial notions of boundaries in New Spain through the Mexican-American War and the Mexican Revolution to the 20th-century concept of “borderlands” and the present cultural and political tangle of migration, building of walls, globalization, and multiple and fluid borderland spaces, not all of them located at the official dividing line. Through reading (or viewing) and discussion of various kinds of texts (crónicas, treaties and other government documents, fiction, poetry, music, visual arts and film), students will gain a critical understanding of the ideological, political and cultural constructions of la frontera.

Department and/or school: Spanish and Latin American and Caribbean Studies in Emory College


ORDER students

First-year students taking "More than Meets the Eye" learn from a range of researchers and propose creative solutions to current problems they are curious about. Here, students who took the class last semester celebrate after their final presentation.

More Than Meets the Eye

Instructors: Brian DiPalma, Institute for Jewish Studies; Ixavier Higgins, doctoral student, Xinru Huang, graduate teaching assistant, biostatistics; Erica Landis, research fellow, neuroscience; Alison Weiss, teaching assistant, psychology; David Lynn, professor of chemistry; Leslie Taylor, professor of theater studies

Cool factor: In this first-year seminar, students learn about evidence in multiple disciplines from graduate students from around the university, gaining exposure to five different fields through activities include cooking demonstrations, a field trip to Yerkes National Primate Research Center and hands-on experiments. Students are able to explore and answer questions being studied at Emory for themselves while taking a semester-long look at their own questions both inside and outside the university.

Course description: A physicist, neurobiologist, biblical scholar, statistician and a psychologist walk into a classroom… This is the start of an exciting course that will introduce students to ongoing interdisciplinary research at Emory. This course will explore polymer physics in food, how sunlight controls your eye, masculinity in the book of Daniel, the statistics of mental health, and how we remember and forget. Students learn to go beyond the surface by designing research questions, conducting interdisciplinary projects, critically examining evidence, evaluating results and proposing creative solutions to current problems they are curious about.

Department and school: Interdisciplinary Studies in Emory College, offered through the ORDER (On Recent Discoveries by Emory Researchers) program


Oral History: Engaging with Live Sources

Instructors: Susan Ashmore, professor of history; Joe Moon, Oxford College dean for campus life

Cool factor: Students will do several "listening exercises" to become more conscious of how they "hear" someone in an interview, not only what is heard but also what is not heard, and what is seen through body language. In the works are possible visits to the Atlanta History Center's "Atlanta Voices" exhibit or the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta to show how oral history is part of public history.

Course description: Students will learn the theory and methods of oral history and will conduct an oral history project of their own. Their oral history projects will be archived in Oxford's library as part of the Oxford Oral History Project. Dean Moon is Oxford’s unofficial historian. A proposed visit from Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library may be part of the class.

Department and school: History in Oxford College


Politics and Paranoia: Conspiracism and the Making of Modern America 

Instructor: Felix Harcourt, postdoctoral fellow, Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry

Cool factor: Using the work of historians, sociologists, filmmakers, novelists, political scientists and more, students will consider how conspiracy theories have shaped today’s world. Revisiting familiar events from unfamiliar and often seemingly bizarre viewpoints, students will learn, for example, how the Beatles were a Communist plot to hypnotize America’s youth. Students will also craft their own conspiracy theories as inoculation against pseudo-historical thinking.

Course description: This course examines how conspiracy theory has influenced, and continues to influence, politics and society in modern America. From the fears of the British that spurred the American revolution onward, conspiracy theories have shaped the world around us. It is easy to dismiss “conspiracy nuts” as marginal figures. Conspiracism, which does not exist in a vacuum, has been a key part of American society and has had a wide — but often overlooked and misunderstood — impact.

Department and school: History and American Studies in Emory College


Psychology of Leadership

Instructor: Stephen Nowicki, Charles Howard Candler Professor Emeritus, psychology

Cool factor: The course aims to make students conscious of the fact that success in their business and personal lives depends on their ability to form meaningful relationships. They learn this truth in a variety of ways including discussing relevant theories and research, teaching one another about verbal and nonverbal communication and keeping weekly diaries of relationship experiences as they end their time at Emory; all of the above are necessary for them to become more aware of who they are and how they relate.

Course description: The class will focus on the communicative skills involved in how relationships progress from choice to beginning to deepening and to ending. Using Emory as an example of a location in which to form organizationally facilitated relationships, the seminar will take special notice of endings as a pivotal learning point. The crucial management skills necessary to successfully make transitions from one phase of a relationship to another for oneself and for others will be presented with an emphasis on the special role that nonverbal communication plays in that process. By the end of the seminar students will understand how relationships operate in their own and others’ lives and be able to apply that knowledge not only to their personal growth but also to their development as business leaders. 

Department and School: Goizueta Business School undergraduate program


The Science and Culture of Sleep

Instructors: Sander Gilman, Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences, professor of psychiatry; Ann E. Rogers, professor and Edith F. Honeycutt Chair in Nursing and the Department of Internal Medicine, board-certified in sleep disorders medicine with a clinical practice at the Emory Sleep Disorders Center.

Cool factor: This unique course will explore sleep from the perspective of the scientist, historian, author and composer. Students will learn about the physiology of sleep and selected sleep disorders, historical perspectives on sleep and dreaming, and discuss how culture and technology influence sleep. In this course, students will also utilize tools used by clinicians to assess sleep to evaluate their own sleep, and will examine the reliability and validity of popular sleep-related apps.

Course description: Although we spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep, its exact purpose is unknown. According to recent studies, sleep is linked to health and insufficient sleep is associated with obesity, cancer and other health problems. Although sleep is a universal phenomenon, when and how we imagine sleep is determined by culture. Sleep is a trope in all literary traditions, but always with different implications. Although music has been thought to induce sleep since Biblical times, studies have shown that music may actually disrupt sleep. All reflect on the experiences, science and representations of sleep in the West.

Department and school: Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing and Emory College


Theater Workshop in Spanish: Reading and Performing

Instructors: Elva González, lecturer in Spanish; and Mary Lynn Owen, lecturer in theater studies

Cool factor: This course is designed to build Spanish fluency through teaching basic acting skills. There will be a field trip to Aurora Theatre to see a professionally-produced play by Nilo Cruz; a final performance that students’ friends can attend, and visits from guest artists, including Ricardo Blanco, who wrote and read his poem "One Today" for President Barack Obama's 2012 inauguration.  

Course description: The objective of this course is the development of linguistic and cultural understanding in the context of theatrical performance. The course is both critical and experiential. Through close readings of texts, script analysis, memorization, development of character and writing assignments, students will develop a deeper understanding of Spanish language and Hispanic cultures through a combination of the perspectives of both disciplines, Hispanism and Theater Studies. This critical/interpretive dimension will be complemented and enriched at all stages of the course by the experiential dimension: the physical and vocal embodiment/performance of the target language and texts.

Department and school: Spanish/Portuguese and Theater and Dance, Emory College

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