LBST 421 Special Topics in Western Culture: The Twentieth Century

Course Outline, Courtenay, Spring 2013

Jim Anderson

A. Introduction

The following pages provide details about the curriculum of LBST 421. This Course Outline consists of two parts: the first describes the various aspects of the course (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.

Important Note: As the result of a new department policy, attendance at 75% of the classes is required for any student to pass the course. Any student who, without acceptable reason, misses more than 25% of the classes will automatically fail, no matter what other marks are gained. Beyond this basic requirement, attendance at all classes is also taken into consideration in assigning participation grades.


B. Course Overview

As you know, LBST 421 is an exploration of selected topics which arise during the historical period covered by LBST 420 -- the fourth of the four Liberal Studies "core" courses. In this course we will complement the readings in LBST 420 by offering some alternative perspectives and voices on and in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in the areas of contemporary anthropological theory, science, and music.

Our goal in this course, however, will not be to turn you into an artist, scientist, or critical theorist. 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.

First module: Anthropologia (first 4 weeks)

In this module we will explore the readings from one of the premier writers in the field of Anthropology, Marvin Harris. The readings are an attempt to answer questions which get at the very heart of what it means to be human, such as "where did we come from?", which helps to answer "who are we?", which then allows "where are we going?".

Pick up the Modern Art Module booklet before classes begin, do the required reading, and collect the necessary supplies for the first class session.

Read William Fleming, Chapter 21, "The 20th -Century Styles" (405-421) from Arts and Ideas ; and Guillaume Apollinaire, "Les Peintres Cubistes" (221-228) from H. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art (both readings are included in the booklet). To the first session, bring three objects (anything of any size), non-colour markers (2B or softer pencils, charcoal, or graphite) and colour markers (water-based paint, coloured pencils, or Conté crayon). Paper will be supplied.

The Modern Art Module booklet describes all sessions and assignments, including the Art Project, and also contains the readings for this part of the course.

Second Module: Modern Physics (second 3 weeks)

In 1975, Fritjof Capra, a physics lecturer at University of California in Berkeley, wrote a text which is not only an all-time classic, but also established a new genre of books examining parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism. This book was The Tao of Physics:

"I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist, I knew that the sand, rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and that these consisted of particles which interacted with one another by creating and destroying other particles. I also knew that the Earth's atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of 'cosmic rays'... but until that moment I had only experienced through graphs, diagrams and mathematical theories. As I sat on the beach my former experience came to life; I 'saw' cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I 'saw' the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt its rhythm and I 'heard' its sound, and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva, the Lord of Dancers worshipped by the Hindus."

The Tao of Physics is intended for the general reader with an interest in Eastern mysticism who need not necessarily know anything about physics. Capra has tried to present the main concepts and theories of modern physics without any mathematics and in non-technical language.

Third Module: Jazz (final 4 weeks)

In this module we will explore 'jazz' as peculiarly 'American' art form, and perhaps the biggest contribution America has made to world culture.

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 familiarised 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 421 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. Not all of us can grasp artistic or scientific theory as easily as others, many will find sciences like physics more than a bit puzzling, and many will not have held a paintbrush since elementary school. 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 421 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: Harris, Marvin. Our Kind

Module Two: Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics. Flamingo

Module Three: to be determined.

  The Readings Packages are available in the Vancouver Island University Bookstore.

D. Semester Schedule



Class Activity



Jan 08



 Harris, 1-104


Jan 15

Modern Art

Seminar/in-class exercise: Futurism

 Harris, 105-214


Jan 22

Modern Art

Seminar/in-class exercise: Surrealism

 Harris, 215-376


Jan 29

Modern Art

Seminar/in-class exercise: Abstract Expressionism

Harris, 377-502

Anthro assignment due 

Feb 05

Tao of Physics

Seminar on Reading

Read up to p 123 in Tao of Physics


Feb 12

Tao of Physics

Seminar on Readings

pp 125-247 in Tao of Physics


Feb 19

Tao of Physics

Seminar on Readings

pp 247 to end in Tao of Physics

Physics assign. due

Feb 26





Mar 7


Seminar on Readings



Mar 14


Seminar on Readings



Mar 21


Seminar on Readings



Mar 28


Seminar on Readings


Assignment 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%
Anthropology Assignment 23%

Art Assignment: 24%
Physics Assignment: 23%

Anthropology Assignment

Write an essay (1200 words) on one of the following topics.

1. According to Marvin Harris, what was it that allowed our hominid ancestors to 'takeoff', culturally speaking?

2. According to Marvin Harris, humans, although highly sexual, are not driven by a 'procreative imperative'. Do 'a' or 'b':

a. Describe Harris' argument.

b. Describe three ramifications resulting from our species being highly sexual and bereft of procreative imperative.

3. According to Marvin Harris, our bodies are designed to lead lives as hunter/gatherers, not sedentary food producers. Others have characterized this situation as akin to running 'state of the art software' on 'out of date hardware'. Identify and describe three problems resulting from this incongruence.

4. Marvin Harris has said: "… I believe that the minimal task of any modern educational reform lies in imparting a comparative, global, and evolutionary perspective about who we are as a species and what we can and cannot expect our cultures to do for us." Please comment.

5. Choose a topic covered by Harris in this module. Please discuss your topic with me before submitting your essay.


Physics Assignment:

Select one of the following options:

1. In the Tao of Physics Fritjof Capra suggests that "modern physics … can be a path with a heart, a way to spiritual knowledge and self-realization" (31). What does he mean by this and does he successfully demonstrate this premise in his text?

2. Capra argues in the T of P that there are parallels between Eastern Mysticism and Modern Physics. What are these parallels and is he successful in arguing for this thesis?

3. Capra suggests that the universe is a "dance of creation and destruction" (271). In some creative form (visual art, music, poetry etc.) interpret and represent this idea. Include a typewritten account indicating how your creation illustrates Capra's idea.

4. What are some of the "paradoxical aspects of reality" identified by both Eastern Mysticism and Modern Physics? Select one of these paradoxes and represent it in a creative form.

5. Should none of the foregoing be of interest, students may define their own projects.

All projects should reveal that students have read the course text carefully, but the projects do not themselves need to be textual. If anything other than an expository essay is done, you should include a written account of your intention and the way in which the piece achieves that intention.

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.


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. Such a response does not require the 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

Important Note: As the result of a new department policy, attendance at 75% of the classes is required for any student to pass the course. Any student who, without acceptable reason, misses more than 25% of the classes will automatically fail, no matter what other marks are gained. Beyond this basic requirement, attendance at all classes is also taken into consideration in assigning participation grades.

The following describes what your professor will consider in assigning a mark for your participation in the LBST 421 Seminars:

Seminar participation is a fundamental component in all Liberal Studies courses and LBST 421 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 421. 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.

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