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The Global City

The Global City is a year-long course sequence designed to serve as a foundations course in the four-year Urban Honors College curriculum. It will introduce the basic intellectual framework for the social, cultural, political, and material study of the urban environment and rehearse the reading and writing skills necessary for the successful completion of a senior thesis.

Completing The Global City sequence satisfies these requirements for a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Science degrees:

  • 8 credits in the area of arts and letters academic distribution area
  • 4 credits in the social science distribution area
  • lower-division writing requirement

HON 101 - Fall

This first term studies the representation of the city and asks what it means to think of the city as both a space and as an idea. The readings study different representations of the city in order to think about how these ideas works to shape attitudes towards the geopolitical city.  Our texts begin with two essays quite separate in time that reflect upon the nature of the city as a form of social organization and as a representation, an “imagined city” or “imagined environment” that is produced by the variety of ways through which our culture makes the experience of living in a city (or nation) meaningful. These texts can frame our discussion of the texts we read next.  First we look at Rina Swentzell’s study of two different relationships to the land and thus two divergent cultures represented by the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico and the Bureau of Indian Affairs day school located next to it.  We will supplement this by looking at other urban plans, those of the 1573 Laws of the Indies and the 1875 Northwest Ordinance in order to think further about the relationship between forms of representation and practice. We will then inspect three fictional imagined cities. Invisible Cities, by the Italian author Italo Calvino, explores the idea of a city through the frame of an imagined conversation between the emperor Kublai Khan and the explorer Marco Polo. The Buddha of Suburbia, by the English author Hanif Hureishi, tells the story of a mixed-race teenager desperate to escape his South London suburban environment for a new life in London.  Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner depicts a dystopian Los Angeles of the “future” of 2019.  These texts are very different in kind and formal structure, and offer strikingly different visions of the city. They will thus lend themselves to our task this term, which is to learn to work with the formal structures of texts and to begin to understand how form shapes meaning.

HON 102 - Winter

The readings and assignments this term aim to develop a critical perspective on different ways in which the city of the present can be placed in relationship to the city of the past and is shaped by that past.

Thoreau, one could say, “went to the country to find the city.”  His text relies upon, according to Robert Fanuzzi, “historically identified conventions of urbanism to conceive a space that corresponds to his imagination.”#  We will work to reconstruct these historical conventions in order to understand the historical consciousness shaping Walden as a text. Auster’s novel Ghosts deconstructs the genre of the detective mystery. One character, Blue, who is following another character, Black, sees through his binoculars a copy of Walden on the desk of Black. He decides that reading Walden will help him solve the mystery of Black’s identity.  He discovers that the book requires very careful and painstaking reading, discovering on his own what the critic Stanley Cavell has pointed out, that the canonical status of the book is bound up with its near unreadability.”# As he realizes this he also begins to question the stable identities that underpin his search for truth—and as Blue’s assumptions begin to unravel so does the attachment of Ghosts itself to traditional narrative expectations. We will want to think critically about why Auster has privileged Walden as a precursor in a “post-modern” text that questions modern conceptions of identity, knowledge, and perception.  Both texts aim to affect the historical consciousness of their readers. Reading them together allows us to think about the transmission of texts, the formation of canons and the conventions of genre, the problem of identity and the search for origins, and how the relationship of present to past is a constructed relationship. We conclude by continuing to think how cultural artifacts shape our historical consciousness in reading Lawrence Wechsler’s work on the Museum of Jurassic Technology.  Ultimately we want to be able to think about how artifacts as different as the literary text and the museum exhibition do similar kinds of cultural work.

HON 103 - Spring

This course integrates the work done in the two preceding terms with an introduction to the different approaches and methods of the major academic domains--the humanities, the social and the natural sciences—in order to develop a basic framework for thinking about professional and scholarly studies of the city. 

We are taking the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 as our case study.  The fair, also known as The World’s Columbia Exhibition, was a centennial for Columbus’ landing in America four hundred years previously and celebrated American society, business, technology, and culture.  In many ways the fair offered a utopian vision—The White City, as it was also known—of the late 19th-century urban environment. It is significant that it did this by modeling itself on a classical past and then placing this “white city” in juxtaposition to many different cultures that also exhibited (or were exhibited) at the fair.  The fair was, and is, many things to many people. For some it reflects an emergent model in the history of urban planning. For others, a fantasy landscape and cultural engine exemplary of how authoritative ideas of gender, race, class, and nation are produced. We will be reading four scholarly articles that take up different aspects of the fair and that offer different models of interpretation of its meaning.  We will learn more about the fair as historical event, of course, but our focus is upon how studies of the same object work differently according to the disciplinary expertise of the author.  We want to think about how knowledge is organized in the modern academic universe and about the different methods that inform the humanities and the natural and social sciences. 

We also want not just to think about how scholars in different disciplines have approached the White City, but how this city figures in our cultural imagination as well. The graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan may seem to have little to do with a scholarly monograph on the suburbs of Chicago, yet both operate as historical accounts and for both the White City is a key moment in that account. That said, the differences in how this history is represented are vast and embody very different theories of knowledge and of formal structures of representation.  This does not go without saying simply because we are looking at a literary artifact and a scholarly one which operate according to different conventions.  Reading Jimmy Corrigan and Building Chicago together can usefully challenge any sense of clear boundaries here that such conventions police.  We can think about contestations about what counts as knowledge and how it is to be produced.