First Year



Instructors for 2018/2019:

  • Professor Mary Helen McMurran (English and Writing Studies; Fall 2018)- Foundations of the Humanities and Culture
  • Professor Patrick Mahon (Visual Arts; Winter 2019) Post-Modernism and Public Life


This course introduces students to a range of case studies on the theme of cultural change from ancient times to the present. Culture reflects and expresses the aspirations, conflicts, and imagination of human experience. As the world becomes increasingly corporatized, digitized, and globalized, and human experience becomes more complex, diverse, and dispersed, however, so has the role of culture shifted dramatically to reflect these changes. Or has it? This course focuses on the specific issue of modernity, understood as culture’s awareness of its own historical moment. Does “modernity” go back as far as human history? In other words, has culture always been “modern”? Or does modernity begin at a particular point, and, if so, when? With Ancient Greece? Or with the debate between the “ancients” (antiqui) and the “moderns” (moderni) in the 12th century? During the period of the Reformation or as a result of global expansion and exploration in the 14th-16th centuries? With the 18th-century Enlightenment and the French Revolution of 1789? Or more recently with the rise of 19th-century “modernismo” in the Hispanic world or “modernism” in the early 20th century culture?

We will address these questions by examining the changing face of culture through the iconology of its signs – art, books, buildings, digital media, films, plays, videos -- and events -- exhibitions, performances, protests, revolutions, shows, wars. From Democritus to Derrida, Gilgamesh to Gladiator, Lascaux to London, “Signs, Events, Change” addresses the modernity of culture as a process that has been unfolding for centuries, if not millennia.

This full-year seminar is team-taught by Research Fellows in the School. Through a variety of pedagogical approaches – case studies, field trips, lectures, seminars – and assignments – blogs, essays, exhibitions, fieldwork, interviews, public presentations, profiles, reviews, videos – students and faculty will engage in the kinds of interdisciplinary dialogue and debate that will inform students’ education throughout subsequent years in the Program. A central purpose of this diversified approach early on in the Program will be to immerse students, and encourage them to take an active role, in the dynamics of cultural change.


The course has several objectives:

  • to survey the historical, thematic, and critical issues and terms of the study of culture among select fields in Arts and Humanities at Western: Classics, English, Film, French, Linguistics, Modern Languages and Literatures, Comparative Literature, Philosophy, Visual Arts, Writing, and Women’s Studies to introduce the research approaches, methodologies, and forms of communication employed by these fields
  • to provide a foundational theoretical knowledge and training in language and communication skills to support subsequent studies in the Major in Arts and Humanities to foster collaboration with the broader academic and public communities through experiential learning

Prerequisite: Admission to the School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities 3 hours/week, 1.0 course