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Images of Genius

8:00 Seminar

This course will examine perceptions of genius and creativity, especially how we construct images of genius and genius figures in both popular culture and academic settings. Musical genius will be emphasized, but artistic and scientific genius will be explored as well. The objective is not simply to encounter works and figures of genius but to question the educational and social values that are revealed in our portrayals of them. Do we value the effortless skill of Mozart or the conquering struggle of Beethoven? The businesslike work ethic of Edison or the "mad scientist" aura of Tesla? The well-rounded rationalism of da Vinci or the overflowing inspiration of Blake? How has our idea of genius evolved to fit society's values? How does our image of genius intersect with gender and sexuality, minority racial or cultural status, mental illness and disability? And how do these multi-faceted portrayals of intelligence and genius affect the educational opportunities of real people?

The course will examine the tricky relationship of genius to a "good" society: genius is represented both as admirable and as threatening to the "normal." Along these lines we will expand PACS1 discussions of the liberal arts education, equality in education, and how media presentations shape what is "normal" and what is desirable. We will also examine scientific studies concerning intelligence (such as the "Mozart Effect"), learning to separate claims based on evidence from the strong biases that attend discussions of intelligence. Critical analysis of popular sources (films, biographies) portraying genius will be central.

This course will involve a significant reading component and frequent writing assignments (at least one per week). Larger formal writing projects will include 1 critical analysis and 1 research paper. Students will also formally present their research to the class and may be assigned additional informal presentations.