Pavilion Seminars

The Program

The College of Arts and Sciences is delighted to announce the new classes for the Pavilion Seminars Program. Aimed at third- and fourth-year students, these seminars focus on big topics with enduring relevance across disciplines. All will be taught by distinguished faculty from across the University but primarily from the College. All will feature innovative pedagogical practices as well as a substantial writing component. (Note: all Pavilion Seminars will satisfy the Second Writing Requirement; but, by design, none can be used to satisfy requirements for any major). All are intended to bring together, in the context of the Lawn’s Pavilions, a limited number of students from varied majors and intellectual backgrounds for stimulating discussion of vital questions of ethics, human nature, politics, aesthetics, nature, law, space, and survival–very much in keeping with Jefferson’s original plans for the University and the Lawn.

Enrollment will, in every case, be by instructor permission through SIS, so that the 15 students in each seminar can be drawn from multiple majors. You can find the classes in SIS under PAVS 4500; sign up for the permission list for the class in which you are interested, and answer the question posed. Note that you can add your name to a permission list before your enrollment appointment!

We hope that the Pavilion Seminars will henceforth provide an intellectual capstone to the undergraduate experience for a select group of advanced College students each semester, and we urge interested, adventurous 3rd and 4th year students to apply to participate in this program.

Class Descriptions from Prior Terms

Fall 2017
Spring 2017
Spring 2016
Spring 2015

Class Descriptions for Spring 2018

Section 001: New Orleans, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (Jennifer Tsein)
Should New Orleans exist? The very question was discussed shortly after the city was paralyzed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Since its foundation in 1718, it has suffered fires, plagues, and floods, as well as man-made problems such as racial injustice, corruption, and extreme violence. And yet the city represents a unique culture that lives on in the collective memory and in the rituals of its inhabitants; it also lives on in the fantasy of outsiders. Its sense of foreignness within the United States constantly makes us question assumptions about race, history, identity, and culture. The problems of New Orleans also expose the troubled relationship between a colony and its distant rulers, between a formerly French city and an American nation.
In the texts and other materials we will study, several themes emerge. As the title of this course indicates, ominous water imagery will appear repeatedly, as will the figure of the devil, a fanciful personification of the forces responsible for the city's troubles. Additionally, two emotions predominate: a certain nostalgia for lost things and a sense of the tragi-comic, or laughter as a response to horrible circumstances.
Materials for the course will include sources from history, French and American literature, African-American studies, anthropology, and popular culture: specifically, explorers' journals from the colonial period, fiction and films that established many of the clichés about the city (vampires, voodoo, the figure of the "tragic mulatta"), as well as scholarly studies of the city's unique food and musical culture.

Section 002: Markets and Morality (Sahar Akhtar)
The purpose of this course is to introduce students to economic principles and ethical theories by exploring a range of topics connected to the morality of markets and trade. Questions explored will include: whether some things (e.g., kidneys, sex) should not be for sale; whether engaging in market activity can cause one to become more selfish; and, whether placing a price on certain things (e.g., votes) changes the meaning of that thing. This course will employ innovative techniques to examine these questions. For instance, students will participate in economic “games” (e.g., the ultimatum and dictator games) and in experimental market transactions (e.g., barters and auctions). By engaging in these “hands-on” activities inside the classroom, students will gain a deeper understanding of basic economic theory and practice and its most significant challenges.

Section 003: The Ethics of Food (Willis Jenkins)
This interdisciplinary seminar develops the ethics of food as a way into questions about social justice, ecological sustainability, and the shape of a good life. It starts from arguments for particular dietary choices, turns to anthropology and history for perspectives on the cultural meaning of arguments over foodways, and then further contextualizes those arguments by treating a series of controversies arising from some aspect of food systems–including distributive fairness in access, interpretations of obesity and malnourishment, relations with other animals, labor and gender justice in foodwork, sustainability and biotechnology.

Section 005: Unearthing and Understanding: Researching the History of UVA & Charlottesville (Kirt von Daacke)
This course is a writing and research-intensive seminar that examines the history of slavery and its legacies at UVA and in the central Virginia region. Seminar participants will spend first 1/3 of the class in reading relevant scholarship and developing individual research projects of their own choosing (guided by faculty). Then, students will focus on research, writing, and editing until formal papers and presentations are completed at the end of the semester.

Section 006: Celebrity and the Human Condition (Andrea Press)
Is it "human nature" to idolize industrial moguls, political and military leaders, and literary, film, music, television stars? Is celebrity endemic to the human condition, or specific to consumer capitalism? Is the "cult" of the celebrity a product of the newly prolonged state of adolescence, or has it been created and fueled by a particular phase of commercial media culture? This seminar will examine the phenomenon of celebrity, looking at the earliest known instances of celebrity cults; their transformation in early capitalist literary, political, and economic culture; the transformation of "idols of production" to "idols of consumption" concomitant with the rise of capitalism, and the cultural and economic apparatus of the Hollywood film industry; the cult of the film “star" in Hollywood’s "Golden Age"; postwar U.S. celebrity and the development of the "American Dream"; interconnections between celebrity cults, fandom, and the political civil rights, sexual liberation, student activist and women’s movements; the global nature and enduring importance of celebrity in the age of new media. The course will include case-studies of celebrities beginning with Alexander the Great, and continuing through the twentieth and twenty-first century to include more contemporary examples. Students will analyze their own history during adolescence either adoring particular celebrities or rejecting the cult of celebrity, writing self-histories of their experiences. In addition, students will choose an ongoing or past celebrity cult focused on one figure, living or dead, and chart and analyze activity both online and off used to commemorate and honor a particular celebrity. Textual analyses in this project will be supplemented whenever possible with interview and observational data when possible. A creative component, such as a film or video of celebrity or fan commemorative practices, can be included in this assignment. The course has no pre-requisites and is broadly open to students in the University.

Section 007: Humanitarianism (Debjani Ganguly)
Our contemporary age is frequently called the age of global humanitarian crisis. Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Rwanda, to name only a few countries, evoke visions of massacre, displacement and devastation. Over sixty million refugees—the largest ever in human history—seek asylum around the world. Millions more continue to be internally displaced and live in fear of their lives. The moral purchase of humanitarianism has never been more severely tested than in the present, the Holocaust, Stalin’s gulags and Mao’s camps notwithstanding. Humanitarianism, commonly understood, is an empathetic orientation to distant suffering. The modern origins of this idea lie in eighteenth-century debates on Abolitionism and the rise of capitalism’s moral infrastructure that included the capacity to envision the remote consequences of one's actions. Devalued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for being a soft, ineffective and often exploitative mode of response to human suffering, debates about the value of humanitarianism have witnessed a robust resurgence since the end of the Cold War. Three factors have contributed to this. First, the worldwide escalation in genocidal violence, endemic ethnic conflicts, and wars on terror as the result of the post-Cold War realignment of the world order. Second, the stupendous growth of the global humanitarian industry in the form of NGOs as a result of the magnitude of civilian carnage these conflicts have caused. Third, the reach of information and communication technologies that incessantly mediate these sites of violence for witnessing publics around the world. This course will offer interdisciplinary perspectives on the urgency of thinking "Humanitarianism" in our time by drawing on historical, literary, cinematic, anthropological, legal, and new media sources. In particular, we will explore the many genres through which humanitarian thought and practice unfold: films, novels, refugee narratives, life writing, truth commissions' testimonials, NGO websites, aid workers' memoirs, video games and war blogs.

Section 008: The Self: Who Dat? (Lisa Spaar)
What exactly, or ambiguously, might constitute a "self" is an ancient human question, but it is one which has perhaps never been more prevalently and variously on the public radar than in our moment. From the plethora of ubiquitous cyber-galleries of self-portrayal (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, Tumblr, all already stunningly outmoded) to fluid, galvanizing, and vexed identity issues of gender, race, and nationhood, the concept of self has perhaps rarely been on the one hand more vacuously and indiscriminately broadcast and on the other more fiercely interrogated and potentially transformative since literacy ushered in the language and space for privacy and the period of Renaissance self-fashioning put forward an idea, at least in Western cultures, that the individual is to be prized and valued. What is the self, if the coherent self exists at all? A vague interior state translatable to an emoji? A vexed psychological construct? A theory? A fiction? A measurable profile of identifiable traits, likes, and dislikes? An amalgam of biological, chemical, and neurological forces? A profound entity that develops throughout a given embodied lifetime, something akin to the soul? How is the self protected and ignored in legal and medical systems? What do scientists think of the self? Are we binary or analogic entities? Can "big data" profile us? Can the self be cloned? How is technology changing the self? What is happening to our brains as a result, and how does this affect identity? What is the difference between visual and poetic, two- and three-dimensional, painted and photographic self-portrayals? How can the study of this myriad of dendritic questions help us to better understand ourselves?

Section 009: Apocalypse Now? Visions of the End (Karl Shuve)
It seems that wherever we turn, we are confronted with the likelihood of humanity's imminent demise. A global pandemic, a nuclear winter, a massive food shortage, the failure of antibiotics, the consequences of rapid climate change—all of these threats loom on the horizon of our cultural imagination, threatening not only the modern way of life, but also the very existence of the human race. And these sit alongside other potent visions of humanity’s end, which stand apart from—and, in some cases, in tension with—scientific observation: an alien invasion, a zombie apocalypse, an act of divine wrath or judgment. The goal of this seminar is to transcend the disciplinary categories in which these different phenomena are usually studied in order to explore how they might together participate in a broader “apocalyptic” imaginary, one in which our anxieties about the present are expressed in vivid accounts of the future. Our aim is not to call into question the data and modeling on which particular “apocalyptic” scenarios are based, or to suggest a necessary equivalence between them, but rather to examine the ethical, political, religious, and cultural implications of these different visions of the end. In other words, we will study them as visions, as imaginings, as narratives. We will engage with a wide variety of sources, including sacred texts, novels and poetry, art, film, long-form journalism, popular science writing, memoirs, and academic essays. By examining these diverse phenomena together as participants in a broader apocalyptic imaginary, we will be able to see not only connections between them, but also the ways in which some visions of the end compete directly with others. Ultimately, we hope to (begin to) answer the following big questions: What drives human beings to imagine the end of their species or their world? How are our modern, “Western” visions of the end shaped by traditions from the past? What new (and sometimes competing) visions of life in the present emerge? How should we imagine the future?