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Grinnell Farms

Navigating complex issues such as sustainability, chemical input, food justice, and land consolidation, Grinnellian farmers are a thoughtful, passionate presence in the American agriculture sector. Meet just a few:

  • Suzanne Castello ’87 runs B&B Farms, a livestock operation in Grinnell, with her husband, Barney Bahrenfuse.
  • Corey McIntosh ’00 is a sixth-generation farmer on a corn and soybean operation in Missouri Valley, Iowa.
  • Jim Riddle ’78 and his wife, Joyce Ford, run an award-winning organic fruit farm in Winona, Minn.
  • Jordan Scheibel ’10 is in his first year running Middle Way Farm in Grinnell.
  • On campus, Ellie Honan ’14 and Eva Metz ’14 are summer apprentices with the College’s student-run garden.

To learn more about how Grinnellians are making an impact in agriculture, see “Grinnell Farms” from The Grinnell Magazine Summer 2013 (PDF).

Grinnell celebrates freeing of Dorje Gurung '94 from Qatar detention

Dorje GurungNOTE: This story was updated at 4:05 PM on Monday, May 13, 2013, to reflect the fact that Dorje Gurung arrived in Nepal. 

Last week Dorje Gurung, a Grinnell College graduate from the Class of 1994, was arraigned in Doha, Qatar, on charges of insulting Islam and jailed. Grinnell alumni came together to organize support by creating petitions, building advocacy networks on Facebook, arranging legal counsel and creating a legal defense fund. Within 48 hours more than 13,000 individuals had signed the petition calling for Dorje's release.

On Sunday, May 12 (in U.S. time zones), the authorities in Doha released Dorje Gurung from jail. Today he was permitted to leave the country, and he is now safely back in his native Nepal.

Grinnell applauds the decision by the Qatar government to release Dorje and allow him to return home. Believing that free speech rights and religious freedoms are entirely compatible in a civil society, we celebrate his freedom while remembering the many others who still face repression in Qatar and elsewhere for their work on behalf of social justice. The College stands with Dorje and all those who work around the world to advance religious tolerance and respect for civil liberties.

Grinnell is also extremely proud of our alumni, whose initiative and leadership sparked the worldwide effort to free Dorje Gurung '94. You are the living embodiment of the Grinnellian commitment to justice.

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine Summer 2013 (PDF).

Fire and Ice

Two courses of students and faculty participated in international field trips during winter break 2013. 

Kathy Jacobson and Peter Jacobson, associate professors of biology, traveled with students from their Namib Desert Ecology course. 

Students in Korea's Economic Development course traveled with Jack Mutti, Sidney Meyer Professor in International EconomicsKeith Brouhle ’96, associate professor of economics; and Man-Ching Chan, assistant professor of economics. 

For more about the courses, see "Fire & Ice" from The Grinnell Magazine Spring 2013.

Scrapbook Still Life

The Burling Library’s scrapbook archives chronicle nearly one hundred years of Grinnell history in scrapbooks, created by alumni and donated to the College. Take a look at a few highlights from seven alumni scrapbooks — and get a taste of Grinnell in the early twentieth century.

Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine Spring 2013.

Harry's War: Historic Photos

 Harry Hopkins 1912 is best known as a the architect of the Works Progress Administration. But he had an arguably more important role in world history — as an

Presidential History of Grinnell College

  Event Date Event Title Event Description
Grinnell College President George F. Magoun 07/19/1865 President George F. Magoun The Rev. George F. Magoun is inaugurated as the College's first president. Magoun serves 19 years and "rules the College with autocratic dispatch." Magoun teaches until 1890. "Never would the College have a more magisterial presence in the presidential chair," wrote Joseph F. Wall '41 in his book, "Grinnell College in the 19th Century." Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Discourse"
President George Augustus Gates 06/21/1887 President George Augustus Gates George Gates becomes the College's second president. During Gates' administration, Grinnell becomes a pioneer in the preaching of the Social Gospel. At his inauguration, Gates is a "slender young man [who] looked even younger than his 36 years-more like a junior instructor or even a mature college senior," wrote Joseph F. Wall '41 in "Grinnell College in the 19th Century." Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Address"
President Dan F. Bradley 06/11/1902 President Dan F. Bradley Dan F. Bradley, a Congregational minister from Michigan, becomes the College's third president. He resigns in 1905. In his book "Grinnell College," John Nollen wrote that Bradley "was an excellent preacher, though without the exuberance of Gates or the fiery eloquence of Herron. … The fine trees on the Grinnell campus, many of them planted by his hands, bear witness to his love of natural beauty." Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Address"
President John Hanson Thomas Main 06/12/1906 President John Hanson Thomas Main John Hanson Thomas Main is inaugurated in June as the College's fourth president. He is the first president without a ministerial background. He came to Grinnell in 1892 as a professor of Greek. His presidency lasts for 25 years, ending at his death in April 1931. Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Address"
  04/01/1931 President Main Dies in Office President John Main dies in office. At his memorial service, Professor Harry W. Norris says, "President Main personifies to me the driving force of ideals. … Such men are never daunted by disaster, never frightened by fear. … They may perish in the attempted fulfillment of their plans, but at least they hand the torch to light the way through the dead wood of tradition."
President John S. Nollen 02/11/1932 President John S. Nollen John S. Nollen becomes the College's fifth president. He first came to Grinnell in 1893 as professor of modern languages. In 1920, he became dean of the faculty. John Main says of his friend Nollen, "He is a man of large sympathies and appreciates thoroughly the claims of all the subjects embraced in the college curriculum. … He is sane, easily approached, sympathetic, and quick to appreciate in difficult situations the exact thing to do." Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Address"
President Samuel N. Stevens 10/25/1940 President Samuel N. Stevens President Samuel N. Stevens presides at the College through World War II, which brings hundreds of young officers and servicemen to campus for training. His 14-year tenure also includes the Korean War. Inauguration Address: "Inaugural Address"
President Howard Bowen Appointment Announced 11/13/1955 President Howard Bowen Appointment Announced President Howard Bowen, a Keynesian economist, comes to Grinnell from a position as dean at the School of Commerce at the University of Illinois, where the Chicago Tribune called him a "continual storm center" of controversy. The S&B, noting this remark, replies, "It seems that whatever the Tribune says against Bowen convinces both students and faculty that Bowen will prove to be one of the best presidents that Grinnell has had." Inauguration Address: "The Free Mind"
President Glenn Leggett 04/17/1966 President Glenn Leggett Glenn Leggett is president at Grinnell from 1965-75, which neatly bookends the heyday of campus activism and revolt. During his presidency, the College lives through nude protests against Playboy magazine, the shift to coed dormitories, the change to an open curriculum, and the protests against the Vietnam War that led to a premature end to the school year in 1970. Inauguration Address: "The Importance of Being Earnest"
President A. Richard Turner 04/12/1975 President A. Richard Turner According to the S&B, when Turner is inaugurated in April 1975, he creates the first "Skip Day" by granting students a day off in honor of his new presidency. The tradition of Skip Day is no longer associated with presidential inaugurations. Inauguration Address: "In This Place, In This Hour"
President George Drake '56 05/04/1980 President George Drake '56 President George Drake '56 becomes the first Grinnell alumnus to serve as the College's president. The Rhodes scholar and champion miler holds the presidency for 11 years. After stepping down from the office, he serves in the Peace Corps before returning to the Grinnell history faculty. Inauguration Address: "The Future in the Past"
President Pamela Ferguson 10/12/1991 President Pamela Ferguson Assumes Office President Pamela Ferguson becomes Grinnell's 11th, and first female, president. In 1997, at the end of the Ferguson administration, the admission office receives more applications than ever before, the endowment is up, and the Grinnell Campaign has nearly reached its $75 million goal. Inauguration Address: "A Modest Approach to the 21st Century"
President Russell K. Osgood 10/10/1998 President Russell K. Osgood Osgood assumes the presidency in 1998 and leads the College through a comprehensive campus planning process in 1999. The results guide the ongoing renewal, improvement, and expansion of the campus, consistent with the mission, vision, and goals of the College. Inauguration Address: "Challenge and History"
President Raynard S. Kington 08/01/2010 President Raynard S. Kington, M.D. President Raynard S. Kington will become Grinnell's 13th president on Aug. 1, 2010.

Special thanks to Catherine Rod in the Grinnell College Archives for her contributions to this project.

This article appeared as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2010.

What - No Grad School?

Laura Hamilton Waxman '93

An English major goes entrepreneurial — and loves it!
Courtesy of Laura Hamilton Waxman ’93


I chose my degree by instinct, the same way I chose Grinnell. There was something about dissecting poetry and prose that made me swoon. Practicalities were far from my mind.

Then came senior year, and reality set in.

Well-meaning relative: “What’s your major?” 

Me, brightly: “English!”

Relative, perplexed: “So … I guess you’ll try to teach, then?”

It was a kind of A Prairie Home Companion moment. In my relative’s eyes, I’d already joined Garrison Keillor’s fictional Professional Association of English Majors. According to one Keillor radio skit, I could look forward to three employment options: Writing inane press releases for pharmaceutical companies, teaching literature to students who can’t put two coherent words together, or working at Burger World.

But no — my instincts told me I didn’t want to teach. Instead, I would follow my heart, combine my love of obscure literature with a love of grammar and be … a university press editor! 

I sent my resume to dozens of fortunate presses. The few that wrote back offered the same basic response.We’d love to hire you, really we would, but we have barely enough money to pay ourselves let alone a college senior who doesn’t know the first thing about editing. Maybe another time?

A bit discouraged that my instincts and the real world didn’t seem to mesh, I graduated, moved to Minneapolis, and landed a “job” as an unpaid intern at a small literary press. That summer I tried — and failed — to break into the city’s thriving publishing industry.

Instead, I got a job as a grant writer for a women’s college in St. Paul, Minn., then a Fulbright to study women’s literature in New Zealand. As I set off for the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, I thought maybe my instincts were wrong and that I was destined to teach after all. New path: Fulbright, grad school, English professor!

That might have worked, except for the unwanted realization that I didn’t particularly enjoy the life of a graduate student. As much as I’d enjoyed dissecting and analyzing texts at Grinnell, I craved something else now. So after more than a year overseas and a lot of soul searching, I once again followed my original plan. I returned to Minnesota, took another run at publishing, and this time landed a job at a large children’s press.

Editing is an apprenticeship profession: You roll up your sleeves and learn on the job. Luckily, the senior editors who took me under their wings were tremendous. I worked on children’s nonfiction instead of the academic tomes I’d imagined editing at a university press. To my surprise, I found it deeply rewarding, and after several years of courage-gathering, I wrote a book of my own — a biography of Thomas Paine. I submitted it to my company and was delighted to see Uncommon Revolutionary published the following year.

I’d discovered my calling. I quit my job to start a freelance writing and editing business, eventually combining that work with the work of raising two children.

I’ve now written nearly 50 books for young readers and edited dozens more. My books cover everything from black holes to sea otters to the extraordinary life of Dr. Seuss. In many ways, I’ve never left college, and I love that about my work: I delve into one intriguing subject after another, and then I write about it. 

My leap from young scholar to writer and editor wasn’t one fluid jump. It took trial and error. On that zigzag path, I converted a passion for literary analysis into a passion for creation. Today I use that same dedication to research, eye for interesting details, and obsession with language to produce tangible works that serve a meaningful purpose.

It’s an honor to help inspire a love of learning in children. I still get a thrill every time I hear from an inquisitive reader, or see my work in a library, or share my books with my own kids.

In the 20 years since I graduated from Grinnell, my English degree — like my instincts — has served me well. Looking back, I think that nervous young English major would approve.

By Laura Hamilton Waxman ’93. Waxman lives in St. Paul, Minn., with her husband, Shaan Hamilton ’92, their son Caleb, their daughter Yana, and their faithful dog, Sumah. Her books are published under both her name and her pen name, Michelle Levine.

Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine Fall 2012.

Fall 2012 Tutorials

Here's a complete list of all the tutorials offered in Fall, 2012. Clicking on a title below will take you to that tutorial's description, or you can scroll down to read them all.

Our Prairie Town: Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives

Jon Andelson

Welcome to 41.45 N, 92.43 W — Grinnell, Iowa — founded on the prairie in 1854; population in the 2010 census: 9,218. Through the story of one small Midwestern town, we will engage several large themes: environmental destruction, the transformation of space into place, persistence and change, the rise of industrial agriculture, the impact of globalization, and grass-roots efforts at community revitalization. Through readings, research in archives, field trips, interviews with community members, and a required service learning component, we will explore notions of place and the relationship between the local and the global. “What’s the need of visiting far-off mountains and bogs,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “if a half-hour’s walk will carry me into such wildness and novelty.”

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Castles, Foundations, Freedom: Walden and the Liberal Arts

Steve Andrews

In his “Conclusion” to Walden, Henry David Thoreau shares with us a primary lesson learned from his “experiment” in living at Walden: “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” Sound hopeful? Listen to this: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” How well he knows us. How well he knows, too, that the world is a fluid and supple place, sometimes alarmingly so. In the face of such extravagance, what constitutes a firm foundation? As Thoreau would have it, any conclusion worth building a house on is best earned through a strict economy of borrowing, simplification, and deliberation. And because the results are presented to us in writing, the supreme achievement that is Walden reflects, in turn, a complementary commitment to the process of revision. Walden, along with two of Thoreau’s most important essays, “Resistance to Civil Government” and “Walking,” will provide the ground on which we explore — by way of reading, talking, writing, and revising — whether, and how, a liberal arts education can be adequate foundation for our “castles in the air.”

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(En)Visioning Nature

Jackie Brown

Seeing is believing. Or is it? How do we perceive nature when it is beyond our sight, when we are not present at the right time or place, or when our human vision limits our perception? How can visual depictions of nature and its phenomena lead to acceptance of their truth? Have we accepted false views of nature through the power of images? What is the role of aesthetics — even beauty — in this acceptance? This tutorial will consider the ways that nature and its creatures have been perceived and represented, exploring the history of visualization in biological science and its interdependence with the envisioning powers of the arts.

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Industrial Design

Vance Byrd

Everything around us has been designed: the pen you write with, the chair you’re sitting in, and the toothbrush you used this morning. In this tutorial we will examine the role of manufactured products in contemporary society. What do they say about us? What assumptions do we make about the objects we use? In addition to debates on form and function, we will consider the social and environmental effects of capitalist mass production and consumption, as well as how innovative consumers can attach new meanings to objects and produce opportunities for social engagement.

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Imbibing The Spirits: Drinking in the Ancient World

Scott Cook

Since ancient times, alcoholic beverage has played a major role in cultures and societies the world over. As a liquid substance that can simultaneously be both wonderful and dangerous, alcoholic beverage has been thought to serve indispensable social and sacrificial ends at the same time that its abuse has been seen as the ultimate symbol of personal and political malfeasance. How we deal with our desire for this liquid and the rituals we set forth for appropriately managing its use have long been central to the conception of what makes humans human, and these issues often lay at the nexus of an entire range of intellectual discourses. This tutorial will examine the role of alcohol as it manifests itself in a number of key historical, poetic, and philosophical texts from the ancient world (China and elsewhere), and discuss the implications these early sources may have for alcohol consumption in contemporary society. Please learn responsibly.

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The Mobile Phone and Human Values

Janet Davis

Just 20 years ago, less than 1 percent of the world’s population owned a mobile phone. Today in the United States and many other nations, there are more mobile phones than there are people. Why? Mobile phones are increasingly powerful, relatively cheap, and above all convenient. For some, the mobile phone is an intimate device: It is with us all the time; it keeps us safe and connected; we are both figuratively and literally lost without it. But what are the costs of being “always on”? Do mobile phones truly make us safer, or do they lead us into harm’s way? Do mobile phones strengthen or weaken our social ties? How do our mobile phones reflect and shape our identities? Can we depend on our phones too much? In this tutorial, we will address questions such as these, questions which relate the mobile phone to enduring human concerns such as autonomy, efficiency, identity, ownership, privacy, safety, and well-being. We’ll consider a variety of perspectives, ranging from technology design and scientific experiments to social observations and humanist reflection. We will endeavor to make more informed and thoughtful choices both as citizens and in our everyday lives.

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Crisis, Liberation, Justice, and Leadership

George Drake

Times of crisis often produce great leaders. The liberation struggles following World War II were particularly marked by leaders who galvanized millions: Mohandas Gandhi (India), Martin Luther King (United States) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa) are outstanding examples, who were in some ways linked to one another. These major 20th century figures will be compared with George Washington in 18th century North America and Abraham Lincoln in 19th century United States. What motivated them? Did they seek to be leaders? How did they exercise leadership? What were the roles of family, character, education, religion, and politics in shaping their thoughts and actions? We will explore these and other questions by examining the words and lives of these leaders.

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Knowledge, Skepticism, and Science

John Fennell

The concern with knowledge is deeply embedded in our Western intellectual tradition. This tradition is on the whole and in a broad sense a rationalist and critical one: Science and philosophy begin when ideas about the origin and nature of the universe are decoupled from myth and religion and treated as theories to be argued about, i.e., subjected to ongoing rational scrutiny and assessment in the light of later theories. Given this account of the tradition, it is easy to see why a concern with knowledge is so central, but it is also easy to see why skepticism has been a constant preoccupation. Skepticism is the skeleton in Western rationalism’s closet: a rationally sophisticated attack on rational argumentation itself. This class explores the interrelations between knowledge, skepticism and science. We begin by considering the question of what knowledge consists of and how it is (or should be) distinguished from mere opinion. Once armed with a working account of knowledge, we consider the question of what we can know (if anything), i.e., engage the question of philosophical skepticism. Many think that modern natural science constitutes knowledge such that if philosophers want an account of knowledge and protection against skepticism, they should attend to how science goes about justifying its claims. However, it is unclear whether science is immune to skeptical attack: e.g., David Hume in the 18th century and Thomas Kuhn in the 20th century argue that scientific reasoning and theory-change are far from rational. We end by considering the merits of their critiques of the rationality of science.

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The Sports Mirror: How Sports Reflect the Good and Bad of Our Culture

Will Freeman

This tutorial will explore a series of topics and questions to help us understand how sport has become a national institution. There are many questions to be addressed. From where does the competitive drive originate? How are personal and societal values manifested in our sport experiences? How has sport reflected social change through our history? How are ethical and moral limits tested in the sport arena? How is sport portrayed through the media, specifically Hollywood? How has the influx of money changed sport? What do we learn about ourselves through sport? Readings from Dr. Harry Edwards, Alfie Kohn, and Robert Simon will be examined, as well as an analysis of several movies that demonstrate how we portray sport.

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Christopher French

Numbers are at once among the most familiar and the most mysterious of things. In this tutorial we will discuss the beginnings of numbers: how we as infants and children learn about numbers, and how early civilizations developed their abilities to manipulate them. We will look from both a historical and mathematical point of view at how and why various number systems were developed and examine how these developments have shaped history. We will consider the growing impact of numerical data on how decisions are made, and we will try to ascertain how much faith we should put in such quantitative reasoning. We will look at how musicians, artists, and writers have incorporated numerical concepts into their works. Finally, we will examine some of the most intriguing numbers, like e and π, the prime numbers and the Fibonacci numbers; and we will see some of the surprising ways they are interrelated and some of the ingenious ways they are used.

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The Black Athlete: Changing 20th Century Society?

Andy Hamilton

During the 20th century, the growth of sport in American society created many opportunities for athletes to participate. Initially the group of professional athletes was racially comprised of whites. Over time however, as barriers for black athletes were broken down, more black athletes slowly gained access to different sports. At the same time, American society underwent significant change which allowed for blacks to access civil rights which typically were only afforded whites. In this tutorial students will explore the question of whether participation by black athletes helped fuel 20th century societal change or whether societal change occurred first, thereby allowing access to sports for the black athlete. Students will be asked to employ concepts from the disciplines of sociology and history during course work.

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Family Tragedy in Literature

David Harrison

Great stories are often built around a family crisis, because family life has conflict, miscommunication, and in some cases, great personal loss. In this tutorial, we will read and discuss three novels, written in different parts of the world and at different historical moments, that depict families facing a tragic situation — an unsolved murder, the Holocaust, and political violence in Haiti. Our goal is to understand what these works tell us about the worlds they depict (America in the 1950s, Europe after World War II, contemporary Haiti), but also to explore the important questions they raise about human existence: Is vengeance ever just? What does it mean to be a man or a woman? Is it possible to recover a forgotten experience? In this sense, these novels will help you start your college investigation of the meaning of life. In addition, we will be asking ourselves whether these literary works are a form of history or not: What’s the difference between literature and history, anyway? Finally, this tutorial will pay particular attention to the kinds of writing you will do in your college career — essays, applications, letters to the editor, etc. — in order to make you as persuasive a writer as possible and therefore help you to achieve your personal goals.

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CSI Grinnell: Forensic Files

Heriberto Hernandez-Soto

A hundred years ago a crime took place in Villisca, Iowa. Known as the Villisca Axe Murder, this crime has never been solved. In this tutorial we will look at how modern chemistry and instrumentation helps the police investigate and solve crimes.

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Taking Comedy Seriously

Paul Hutchison

“I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-shirt. ‘Cause it says, like, I want to be formal, but I’m here to party too. ‘Cause I like to party, so I like my Jesus to party.”

— Cal Naughton, Jr. in the movie

Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Lots of people laugh when Cal says this. What does their laughter tell us about them as individuals, the norms of their society, or the human species? Other people find Cal’s statement offensive. How do they differ from those who laugh? When we think seriously about humor we find questions that are interesting and maybe important. For example, consider the evolutionary question “Why do human beings have humor?” What evolutionary advantage did it serve our species? Or consider the arrests of comedians Lenny Bruce and George Carlin as a historical question. What does the outrage their comedy created say about the United States in the 1960s and ’70s? Scholars in many academic disciplines (philosophy, social psychology, and cultural anthropology to name a few more) study humor because it contains insight into human beings and their societies. In our tutorial we will explore academic perspectives on humor to help us see significance in funny things.

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Late Victorian Fantasies

Carolyn Jacobson

In this tutorial, we will explore the terrors and pleasures that inhabit the provocative, unsettling, and decadent Victorian writing of the 1890s. Toward the end of the 19th century, both male and female writers grappled with the growing enthusiasm for and backlash against the early feminist movement, often represented in literature by the figure of the New Woman. At the same time, questions about the limits of human identity motivated novelists like H. G. Wells (in The Island of Dr. Moreau) and Robert Louis Stevenson (in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Controversial issues like homosexuality and imperialism troubled the texts of Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker. In the midst of this end-of-the-century turbulence, readers looked to be unsettled by ghost stories (including many written by women) but also reassured by professional expertise such as that offered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterful detective Sherlock Holmes. These late Victorian works of fiction — both haunted and haunting — will serve as our subject matter as we develop our abilities to discuss, research, analyze, present, write, and revise.

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War And Peace: Conflict in the Modern World

Matthew Johnson

Few issues are more important, or more difficult to solve. This tutorial will address the many meanings ascribed to the words “war” and “peace” throughout history, with a focus on the more contemporary understandings which have shaped our modern world. Additional themes covered include: the causes of war and violence, the relationship between security and development, ethics and law, peace movements, and international institutions. Finally, as suggested by the course title, we will address the link between “problems of peace” and more persistent forms of structural violence within societies. Our approach to these topics will include numerous frameworks, including those drawn from the social sciences and conflict analysis. In keeping with the tutorial design of the course, students will also engage in close reading, written argumentation and presentation of evidence, and structured discussion and debate. This tutorial may also serve as a gateway to a planned short course on conflict analysis and mediation sponsored by the Peace Studies Program and currently scheduled for spring 2013.

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Culture Jamming

Andrew Kaufman

This tutorial will examine the branding of AmericaTM by large multinational corporations through the use of corporate sponsorship, complex marketing strategies, and economic power. As brands become a ubiquitous part of our contemporary culture, what does the corporate shift of producing brands over products mean for social justice? Another concern of this class will be developing creative actions that subvert the status quo, and reclaim culture. To this end we will utilize various media in unmarketing campaigns and our bodies in performative social interventions.

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The Ancient Greek World

Gerald Lalonde

The tutorial will offer a foundation for further study of the liberal arts and is devoted to the close reading and discussion of translated works of Greek literature (the Homeric epics, tragic drama, a bit of lyric poetry, Aristotle’s Poetics, Platonic dialogues, and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War) and to exercises in writing and spoken presentations based on these works. The main goals of the course will be enhanced appreciation of the literature and improvement in the skills of imaginative but disciplined interpretation, speech, and writing.

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Bad Words

Eric McIntyre

In a famous 1972 monologue, comedian George Carlin observed, “There are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven of them you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to 7.” He then proceeded to discuss each of the forbidden words and offer thoughts as to why they have been banished from proper speech. When a recording of Carlin’s monologue, complete with the prohibited words, was later broadcast on a commercial radio station, the result was an obscenity case that eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. Four decades later, the taboo against select words in our language still looms large, and debates about their use and effect continue to rage. In this course, we will examine how a miniscule body of words in our vast language has acquired and continues to wield great potency and how our society continues to grapple with bad words, profanity, swearing, cursing, four-letter words, obscene language, invective, etc. Our inquiry will be informed by readings from prominent scholars in diverse fields, including etymology, neurolinguistics, gender studies, psychology, philosophy, and the law. Along the way, we will have ample opportunity to examine how academic inquiry can inform and shape the discourse on even the most coarse topics.

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Humanities 101: “The Ancient World: Homer and Fifth-Century Athens”

Ellen Mease

A careful reading of major works of ancient Greek literature of various genres (epic, drama, philosophy, history) and interpretation of these works through class discussion and in writing. Lacking a “sacred literature” such as the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Greeks took Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as the foundation for their culture, especially during the great democratic experiment in Athens in the fifth century BCE. In the great Athenian drama of the Periclean Golden Age, Homeric heroic virtues were adapted to a political environment based on the “citizen virtues,” in foundation myths like Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Sophocles’ Antigone and Oedipus Rex. Later, with the collapse of the empire, the science of historiography (Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War), Euripides’ ironic drama, and the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle sought to describe in new ways the motives of human behavior, the causes of suffering, and paths to human happiness. The course takes us through this evolution in Greek thought, the foundation for much of later Western literature, philosophy and political theory. This tutorial’s main goal will be to improve your ability to read, think, speak, and write critically and analytically. Students will be expected to participate actively and often in discussions.

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The Deed of Word

Angelo Mercado

Human language: what is it? And its parts?
Its rules, the things that we acquire unthinking?
Now, how do poets fashion speech into art?
Students in this course will be exploring
linguistic aspects of poetry, like rhyme,
rhythm, and structures of varying complexity.
We’ll look at other traditions at the same time,
but English will be our focus primarily.
On up to sentence from syllable and sound,
students shall invent for language a theory
and for linguistic poetics, and look around
at how other scholars answer the query.

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Coping with Climate Change: How Science, Politics, and Ethics Interact

Wayne Moyer

Climate change is one of the most serious problems the world faces in the foreseeable future. Yet, the policy response in national and international arenas has been very limited. In this tutorial we will analyze the global effort to address human-induced climate change. We will conduct an inquiry into the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change and address how this knowledge combines with other factors in developing U.S. and international policy. What are the factors that promote and retard effective action? How do concerns for equity, justice, and human rights play into the debate? Why have policy-makers been unable to agree on stronger action to deal with climate change? Attention will be given to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, and subsequent efforts to deal with climate change.

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Art Activism

Mirzam Pérez

Art activism has been a key element of social and political protest movements. Throughout history, photographs, murals, cartoons, digital installations, public sculptures, posters, and performance have enabled us to visualize important cultural concerns and led to social transformation. More recently, the graphic arts have translated stories of struggle and resistance into artwork that can be put back into the hands of the communities who inspired it. Computer-driven design has played a crucial role in fueling protest movements such as Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring uprisings, and Arizona protests against the SB2070 proposal, where designers have used technology strategically to produce powerful designs and get their messages out quickly and virally. Using social media, they allowed downloading of their posters for quick distribution and successfully captured the public imagination. This course analyzes the power of a variety of artistic manifestations in disseminating information to affect people’s attitudes on political and social issues and cause meaningful change. We will study how art fosters cross-cultural understanding and promotes civic dialogue in the areas of women’s rights, indigenous nations, people of color, the working class, gender and sexuality, the colonized, the disabled, immigration, and the environment.

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Fitting Into Your Genes: How Modern Genetics Has Changed Our View Of Humanity

Vida Praitis

Completed in 2003, the human genome project was an international effort to determine and make publicly available the precise code of ~21,000 genes in the human genome. Since its completion, genetic information obtained from individuals across the globe has been used to shed light on topics that range from human migration patterns to the complex relationships between genes and the attributes that define who we are. The project has also raised a number of critical questions that relate to health, public policy, ethics, and stigmatization. This tutorial will look at the impact of the genome project from scientific, social science, and humanistic perspectives.

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Books: Past, Present, and Future

Sarah Purcell

Books are powerful objects with the ability to convey information, to inspire emotion or religious devotion, to entertain, and to function as symbols. Books can simultaneously be public and private, global and local, functional and artistic. Historian Martyn Lyons writes that “the book has proved one of the most useful, versatile and enduring technologies in history.” At this moment, books themselves are changing and electronic technologies are offering a range of alternatives to physical publishing. This tutorial will focus on the past, present, and possible futures of books. We will consider topics including the history of the book, book collecting, the interaction between books and readers, book marketing, and electronic publishing. Will books survive? What does that question tell us about our own information age and its relationship to many changes in books and reading that have come before?

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The Role of Social Science in Informing Criminal Justice Policy

Christopher Ralston

What do social scientists have to say about many of the most pressing issues facing the criminal justice system? Is being tough on crime always the best policy? What happens when public opinion and scientific evidence conflict? In this tutorial we will examine how research from various disciplines informs current criminal justice policy. Potential topics we will cover include capital punishment, prison overcrowding and prisoner community e-integration, crime prevention, sexual offender laws, suspect interrogation, and eyewitness identification. We will examine key issues that often generate conflict between public opinion, policymakers, and researchers. We will also look at the effectiveness of efforts on the part of scientific professional organizations to lobby politicians toward bringing policy more in line with research findings.

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Do Ya Wanna Dance? From Rock To Hip Hop

Tyler Roberts

Popular music rooted in blues, gospel, and folk traditions has had an enormous impact on American culture. This tutorial will explore the music’s history, consider the different ways we listen to and live with it, and inquire into modes of cultural analysis that illuminate its powers, pleasures, and politics. Where did the music come from? How has it shaped us as individuals and as a society? How do we think, talk, and write about the ways it moves us? What do we learn, and how does our relationship to the music change, when we examine it through the lenses of race and gender?

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Music, Mind, Machine

John Rommereim

This tutorial seeks to understand what music tells us about the mind and how machines influence our understanding of sound. Technology has changed music making and music perception. At the touch of a screen, we can see sound, change sound, create sound. In this tutorial we look at the intersection of music perception, music making, and the influence of technology. In addition to written assignments and oral presentations, each student will create her/his own music using various computer-based devices.

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Will the Lights Go Out Forever? Is There a Solution to Our Energy Needs?

Lee Sharpe

Energy is a hot topic in the news: reports about fuel prices, nuclear safety, climate change and sustainability are often heard as well as investigations into the global supply of rare earth metals and the impact of peak oil. In this tutorial we will investigate energy options from both a scientific as well as policy point of view by grappling with questions such as: Are biofuels the answer? Is there a net energy gain when we produce ethanol? What are the other options? Can any or all of the renewable resources together meet the present U.S. energy demand? We will start by finding out just how much energy the United States uses, then look into the state of the art of renewable energy production, and finally look into what energy policies are most effective. We will also take advantage of the fall presidential campaign (and hopefully candidates’ visits) to explore the candidates’ views on meeting America’s energy needs.

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Infinity and Paradox

Karen Shuman

There is no largest number — this simple fact creates puzzling paradoxes and probing questions about the nature of truth itself. Our tutorial explores infinity along with its accompanying paradoxes both inside and outside mathematics. Along the way, we meet some of the Western world’s greatest thinkers: Zeno, Aristotle, Newton, Cantor, Russell, and Gödel. Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is central to our study.

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Booked: Crime and Punishment in Literature

Erik Simpson

In this tutorial, we will study literary and theoretical texts that address a fundamental question: what does it mean for one human to punish another? The course’s readings will come from many periods, ranging from Shakespeare’s Hamlet to Memento, from the trial of Oscar Wilde to The Shawshank Redemption. These readings will prompt us to discuss issues such as the nature of revenge; the challenges that differences of race, gender, and sexuality pose to ideals of justice; and theories of imprisonment from the French Revolution to the present. Throughout the semester, we will focus on the process of crafting analytical papers. To that end, we will spend a number of class sessions in a workshop format, which will allow the class to participate in a collaborative editorial process. We will also work together to develop skills of critical reading, productive discussion, textual analysis, revision, and research.

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Curious Cats, Dominant Dogs, and Conscientious Chimpanzees: How The Study Of Animal Personality Informs The Study Of Human Personality

Laura Sinnett

What makes us who we are? Are the same mechanisms at work in other species, including our closest genetic relatives and our favorite domestic pets? Or, are conceptions of animal personality mere anthropomorphism? How does knowledge about the animal bases and development of personality inform research about human personality? This tutorial will examine contemporary conceptions of personality, primarily from a trait perspective. Along the way, we will consider personality measurement, personality development — including stability and change, and the relationship between personality and behavior. Although we may consider research involving animals from antelopes to zebus and ants to zebra fish, our focus will be on human personality, followed by personality in cats, dogs, and chimpanzees.

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The Illness Experience Across Cultures

Maria Tapias

Understandings of the body, risk, healing, and the very experience of health and illness are shaped by the social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which people live. In this tutorial we will examine the spectacular diversity that exists in how illnesses, disabilities, and life events such as childbirth are experienced and interpreted across cultures. We will explore how the spread of Western biomedicine has impacted local perceptions of health and practices of healing and will examine how western medicine itself is a cultural system. Particular attention will be paid to health-provider/patient interactions and the potential misunderstandings and barriers to communication that can arise when both parties work from different systems of meaning.

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Engineered Humans: A Study in Technology and Literature

Paul Tjossem

While the technology of genetic engineering holds high promise for enhancing human potential, using science to change the human body to attain personal or societal goals of “perfection” has long held an uneasy place in literature. This tutorial will combine novels (e.g. Frankenstein; Brave New World; He, She, and It) with readings from scientists such as Galton, Haldane and Gould, to examine the attempts to change the pace and alter the direction of human evolution. We will examine the scientific eugenics movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, dip into the Uncanny Valley, and follow this with the fledgling modern-day echo of appearance-altering surgery, gene therapy, and therapeutic cloning. Discussion will focus on how, in both science and literature, human-altering technologies force us to confront the question of what it means to be human.

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The Politics of Counting

Barbara Trish

The process of counting, as innocuous as it may sound, has a history rooted in intrigue and even controversy, with ties all along to the political world. This tutorial will explore the origins and development of counting, with special attention to how it intersects with politics. The process by which scholars have approached the subject reveals the nature of the academic enterprise. And the process by which we count — both as individuals and as a polity — reveals the nature of our values and biases. This tutorial will draw from a variety of disciplines, real-world cases, and contemporary controversies.

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Fairy Tale and Fantasy in Russian Literature and Culture

Anatoly Vishevsky

Fairy tales have always reflected people’s dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow. The Russian path to this better life is perilous and hard; it is inhabited by such terrible creatures as Koshchei the Deathless, Baba Yaga (a witch), and Zmei Gorynych (a serpent). It is in the battle with these and other monsters that the folk heroes Ivan Tsarevich and Ivan the Fool win their kingdoms and their fair brides. A number of writers saw the Soviet Union — the system that was created by the communists in 1917 — as one of these fairy-tale monsters, and the common person as a fairy-tale hero. Indeed, fairy tale and fantasy created a metaphor for a heroic struggle against the system. Writers also concealed their criticism of the evil system behind familiar and timeless images and characters, through an Aesopian language saying the obvious, yet implying the hidden. Today, though in a different way, writers continue to employ fairy tale and fantasy as a means of searching for answers for the future in the never-ending story of the fantastic land of Russia. We will read and discuss a number of Russian fairy tales, and then follow our familiar heroes through the Soviet and post-Soviet Russian literature and culture.

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Representations of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. Media

Mervat Youssef

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Arab or Muslim? Where did these ideas come from and how do they influence your perceptions of Arabs and Muslims? This tutorial will look at the diverse ways in which Arabs and Muslims are portrayed in the U.S. media. It will explore written, visual, and audio texts, as well as scholarly articles, in order to examine the construction of these media images and the implications of such representations.

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Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine Fall 2012.

The Accidental Poet


So I was watching TV last week and I must say I'm appalled:

Entertainment Tonight told me that the new Superman was gay.
My first reaction was: “Nonsense!”
Superman is an icon!
He stands for truth, justice, and the American way of life,
which translated into modern terms means
“go buy more cheap plastic shit at Wal-Mart!” 
My second reaction was “Well, yeah, no duh.”
People are surprised by this?
Entertainment Tonight's slander against the Man of Steel
was just confirmation of something we've subconsciously known for years:

Most superheroes are gay.

I can see why the media would start this smear campaign.
Not because the director of the most
recent Superman movie is openly homosexual,
but because our media is prejudiced!

Superman, after all, is an illegal alien.
We don't want them foreigners coming across our borders
Rescuing our American women as they fall from buildings
Saving our American cats when they get stuck in trees
Protecting us Americans from other angry hostile foreigners
Like Darkseid, Mongul, or Effron the Sorcerer!
We want our American jobs for us Americans!
Why in this day and age a Krypton-born superhero
would be lucky to get a job cleaning up after Captain America's dog!

Superheroes have always been a bad influence on kids!
Adam West's Batman convinced my cousin Nathan
to jump off the roof and try to fly.
(Dumbass, everyone knows Batman can’t fly!)

Superman shows preschoolers that, yes, sweetie,
it's ok to walk around with your underwear outside your pants
And I'd blame the Human Torch
for making me into a pyromaniac,
though in retrospect I was playing with lighters and WD-40
before I knew who the Fantastic Four were.

In this same vein, due to America's love of lawsuits
and the rampant stupidity of our fellow countrymen,
the Superman cape at Target is sold with a disclaimer:

“Wearing cape does not enable user to fly.”

Well there shatter my childhood dreams.

The way I see it, what harm could come if Superman really was gay?
It wouldn't be that much of a jump
from his mild-mannered reporter persona.
It would pave the way for the rest of the repressed Justice Leaguers
Who've been hiding in the closet since 1962
watching Lawrence of Arabia and A Taste of Honey 
And…Holy-Anti-Bear Spray!
Batman would come out of his cave,
Robin would soar out of the nest,
and the Green Lantern would let his love light SHINE!

And Aquaman?
Well if you didn't figure out that one on your own,
it'll take more than spandex-clad vigilantes to turn
on your Bat-gaydar.

Most superheroes are queer, gay,
“not quite right” in the religious Right's way.
And I say that straight-faced,
gazing into a pint of Superman ice cream
marveling at its melting rainbow hue...

It tastes like fruit when it goes down.

If Superman were gay,
Superman would be supergay.
Superman would be fabulous.
Superman would be Superfabulous.
Superman would walk up to Lex Luthor with jazz hands,
Slap him across the face, and go
“World domination? I don’t think so, honey!”

And the world would be a better place for it.

"Superfabulous" reprinted with permission from the author, Maureen “Molly” Kennedy ’11

Originally published as a web extra for The Grinnell Magazine Summer 2012.