School of Athen by Raphael

LBST 411: Special Topics in Western Culture: The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Course Outline: 2012 Autumn Session

Jim Anderson

A. Introduction

The following pages provide details about the curriculum of LBST 411. This Course Outline consists of two parts: the first describes the various aspects of the program (the assignments, seminars, and so on), and the second part, two appendixes, outlines the specific policies we will use for different aspects of the course.

Because in Liberal Studies we have to co-ordinate the work of large numbers of students and a team of professors, these notes below are quite detailed. It is important that you read them over carefully, so that you understand clearly the various assignments and other issues affecting your work in Liberal Studies. If you have any questions about these matters, please consult me.


B. Course Overview

As you know, LBST 411 is an exploration of selected topics which arise during the historical period covered by LBST 410 -- the third of the four Liberal Studies "core" courses. In this course we will complement the readings in LBST 410 by offering some alternative perspectives and voices on and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in the areas of literature and art.

Our goal in this course, however, will not be to turn you into a literary theorist or artist. Nor are we interested in acquainting you with the contribution of various people in these areas simply to satisfy your historical curiosity. This course, like all Liberal Studies courses, is neither a history course nor a course designed to make you a technical expert in a particular area. It is designed to help you develop the understanding of an informed generalist, a well-educated citizen, who can grasp the essence of complex questions and see subjects in their relationship to each other.

In the first section we will examine the concept of forbidden knowledge. Using Roger Shattuck's Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography as our core text, we will investigate the question of whether there are things we should not know. Shattuck suggests that certain kinds of knowledge pose threats to human intellectual, artistic and moral environments. He does this through an exploration in Part One of various literary myths of "forbidden knowledge" and in Part Two of the challenges of science and pornography. We will also read literature that deals with the issue of forbidden knowledge by the nineteenth century writers Mary Shelley ( Frankenstein ) and Robert L. Stevenson ( Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ).

The second section is devoted to Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Here we will read two original nineteenth century texts and articles by contemporary critics commenting on that very fertile period in the visual arts. In-class work will include seminars on readings and hands-on activities in artmaking.

In the final section of the course, entitled 'The sublime and the beautiful in nature', we will read 19th Century literature that deals with what was considered sublime, particularly in nature. We will discuss how the eighteenth-century philosophers Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant contrasted two subjective responses people have to objects and scenes of nature: the sublime and the beautiful, the former being an experience of intense feeling mixed with fear and awe that can overwhelm our rational faculties. The beautiful captured the imagination of poets and artists during the Romantic period; we will look at some of their explorations and interpretations of these extremes of feeling, focusing on the poetry of William Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, Walt Whitman, and Lord Byron.

The Classes: Once a week, for three hours, you will meet with the professor and a number of your fellow students to discuss the material assigned for the week and/or to participate in an activity associated with the reading. It is important to understand that you and your fellow students are as responsible for what goes on in the seminar as the professor, who is not to be regarded as an "expert" but rather as a facilitator of discussion and activity for which all are equally responsible.

It is important that you come to class having read the assigned reading and prepared to discuss it. You should also have familiarized yourself with any instructions for the activity scheduled for that class. These instructions will be made available ahead of time and any questions about them should be raised as soon as class begins. Some sessions require you to bring supplies and materials to class.

One of the key assumptions behind all Liberal Studies courses is that students learn best when they learn from each other. This is no less an assumption in LBST 411 than in any other Liberal Studies course. While it is important that you do the reading and familiarize yourself with the activity scheduled for each class, you need not feel intimidated if you do not fully comprehend the material or do not feel that you will be proficient at the assigned activity. Rather than feel intimidated, it is crucial that you bring your questions and difficulties to your colleagues, and be able to articulate them in such a way that they can help you. Learning how to work problems through with others, and learning how to ask for useful instructions from others, are important skills this course is designed to foster.

Likewise, there will be times when you feel quite confident about your grasp of the material or your proficiency in the activity assigned for class. When this happens, it is important for you to learn how to help your colleagues with their questions and difficulties. Knowing something well is one thing. Knowing how to teach it to others is a different matter. In LBST 411 each of us has an obligation to teach the others, to the best of our ability, what we know. Taking this responsibility seriously should help improve your ability to listen, to be patient and to articulate what you understand in terms that your colleagues can digest and benefit from.


C. Course Texts and Materials

Module One:

Shattuck, Robert. Forbidden Knowledge . Harcourt Brace. 0156005514

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein . Dover. 0486282112

Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . Dover 0486282112

Module Two:

Lisa MacLean . Visual Art Module (Custom Courseware available from the VIU bookstore)

Module Three:

Burke, Edmund . A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the

Sublime and the Beautiful . Dover. ISBN 0486461661

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment . Trans. Werner Pluhar. Hackett. ISBN 9780872200258

Selected poems by William Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, Walt Whitman, and Lord Byron.


D. Semester Schedule



Class Activity



Sep 4

Forbidden Knowledge

Seminar on Readings

Shelley's Frankenstein


Sep 11

Forbidden Knowledge

Seminar on Readings

Stevenson's Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde


Sep 18

Forbidden Knowledge

Seminar on Readings

Shattuck pp 1-164


Sep 25

Forbidden Knowledge

Seminar on Readings

Shattuck pp 165-225


Oct 2

Forbidden Knowledge

Seminar on Readings

Shattuck pp 227-299


Oct 9

Seminar on Readings

Seminar on Readings

Shattuck pp. 301-346


Oct 16

Study Week

Oct 23


Seminar on Readings

Martin & Jacobus, "What is a work of art?" & "The Humanities: Their Interrelationships" in Art Module Handbook

 Forbidden Knowledge Assignment due

Oct 30


Seminar/in-class activity

Introductory material "Nineteenth Century Art" in the Art Module Handbook


Nov 6


Seminar on Readings

Harrison, "Impressionism, Modernism and Originality", Greenberg, "Modernist Painting" and Whistler, "The Ten O'Clock Lecture" in the Art Module Handbook


Nov 13


Seminar on Readings

Garb, "Gender and Representation" and Baudelaire, "The Painter of Modern Life" in the Art Module Handbook

Art Project Due

Nov 6

The Sublime

Seminar on Readings

 Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful


Nov 13

The Sublime

Seminar on Readings

 Kant, Critique of Judgment


Nov 20

The Sublime

Seminar on Readings

 Romantic nature poetry: selected poems by Wordsworth and Bronte


Nov 27

The Sublime

Seminar on Readings

Romantic nature poetry: selected poems by Byron, and Whitman

Sublime project due


E. Assignments and Grades

At the end of the semester, each student will receive a single grade based on your performance in all aspects of the course. The relative percentage weights assigned to the different Modules and activities will be:

Seminar Participation: 30%
Enquiry Module: Forbidden Knowledge: 24%
Art Assignment: 23%
'Sublime' Assignment: 23%

Forbidden Knowledge Assignment:

Please note: If you produce anything other than an essay, the piece should be accompanied by a 1-2 page typewritten account in which you explain how that art/performance/video reflects upon the issues and ideas of the course. If you are unsure about whether a particular project idea is suitable, see the instructor to discuss it.

Do one of the following (medium open):

1. Answer the question, "Are there things we should not know?"

2. "Why make a fuss about pornography? Men seem to like it. It's a very profitable industry. It offers women employment and some women a "glamorous" career. It's said to be just a bit of harmless fun: entertainment for men . . . After all, it's only images. Isn't there a big difference between fantasy and reality?" ( Pornography: Women, Violence and Civil Liberties ). Respond.

3. Speaking about the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki , the scientist Robert Oppenheimer said the following: "In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humor, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose". Explain, with supporting analyses and examples, what he meant by this. Do you agree?

4. With respect to any recent scientific/technological controversy (cloning, genetic engineering, new reproductive technologies etc), explain why it is a controversy, identify the main issues in the debate, and suggest possible ways of resolving such controversies.

5. Define and develop your own project, in consultation with the instructor.

If you write an expository essay (1200 words, approx 5 double-spaced type-written pages), it requires a thesis and supporting argument. If you choose this option, be sure that you support your thesis with reference to the course materials/texts.

Art Module Assignment:

The Representation of Modern Life: As we will see, the Realists, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists painted 19 th century modern life – their work can be seen as a kind of visual documentation of the look and feel of contemporary life in 19 th century Europe. For these artists and the critics who supported them, a modern art must have a particular kind of form and content; it should emphasize the relationship of the individual to his or her social circumstances. The work's subject matter and its form – its technique and medium – should be the most advanced possible. The Art Module assignment will be to create an equivalent representation of contemporary early 21 st century life in Canada; by that, I mean one that uses what you take to be a "modern" form and content to comment on some important aspect of contemporary social/political life.

See the Art Module Booklet for complete project description.

The Sublime and the Beautiful in Nature Assignment:

Essay topics will be provided before the beginning of the module.  


F. Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and, under VIU's Student Conduct Policy, can result in severe disciplinary measures. Students found guilty of plagiarism may be assigned an "F" for the work involved or for the course. Plagiarism resulting in the failure of a course will be reported to the Dean and to the Registrar. Students committing a second offence will be reported to the Executive Director of Student Affairs who may recommend expulsion from the Program or the University College.

Plagiarism is the appropriation of the work of another person (including the words, the ideas, and the language of another person) and passing it off as the product of your own efforts. To avoid a charge of plagiarism, ensure that you give proper references not only to passages of texts which you quote directly but also to ideas which you paraphrase, as well as to phrases coined by someone else but which you wish to use.

Students should be aware that plagiarism is surprisingly easy to detect and expose. They should also be aware that professors have at their disposal powerful Internet tools which enable them easily to detect sources which have been plagiarised from the Web. If you are at all unclear as to what constitutes plagiarism, please speak to your professor.


Appendix A: The Format for Essays

In preparing an essay, students should observe the following guidelines:

1. The essay should be 1200 words long (5 printed pages), legibly typed or printed double-spaced on standard quarto paper, 8.5 in by 11 in, and with the right justification removed (unless the printer can provide proportional spacing). Handwritten work will not be accepted. Please print essays at 12-point size, in a normal font. Essays should have a title page indicating the student's name, student number, the name of the professor, a title and the date.

2. Unless otherwise indicated, the essay is not intended to be a research paper but rather a well-argued, critical response to the question. You are discouraged from making use of secondary source material so, in most cases, the bibliography will consist of a single title, that of the work under discussion. If, however, you decide to use secondary sources, your essay must contain appropriate references and a full bibliography. Note that a bibliography is not an adequate substitute for detailed references throughout the paper. Any student in doubt about the proper format for such scholarly apparatus should read Section 8 in Ian Johnston's Guide to the Marking of Written Assignments . A student who gets sloppy about such matters may invite charges of plagiarism.

3. Students are expected to keep copies of their essays (either a photocopy or one stored on a disk). Should an assignment go astray, the student is responsible for providing a duplicate quickly.


Appendix B: Seminar Participation, Absences from Seminars

The following describes what your professor will consider in assigning a mark for your participation in the LBST 411 Seminars:

Seminar participation is a fundamental component in all Liberal Studies courses and LBST 411 is no exception. It is therefore important that you come to every class, that you have prepared yourself for every class and that you contribute fully to class discussion and activities.

You are expected to attend all twelve sessions in LBST 411. If you miss a class and have no valid reason for doing so, then your participation mark will suffer. Valid reasons for missing a seminar include such things as illness, emergency child-care demands and car break-down en route to class. Valid reasons for missing seminar do not include having to work on assignments, the need to carry out a part-time job, having to be out of town for a vacation, etc. Please consult with your professor if you anticipate an absence: you should also discuss whether and how the work missed may be made up.

Attendance is necessary, but not sufficient, for a good mark. Also important are the quantity and quality of your contributions to discussion, your engagement in hands-on activities, your contributions to the facilitation of seminar discussion/activities, and your helpfulness to your colleagues. Consult the Participating in Seminars handout and Program Overview for details.