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Urban Discourses

The twenty-first century marks the first time in history that a majority of human beings live in cities. Examinations of “the urban” (or “the metropolitan,” have proliferated as scholars attempt to understand the relationship of cities to other forms of social organization, such as the nation-state, as well as their role as nodes for flows of people, goods, and capital in a globalizing world.

The yearlong sophomore sequence of the Honors curriculum takes the urban, and specifically the city of Portland, as an appropriately dynamic subject for undergraduate research shaped by the three “domains” of academic knowledge: the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences. Using Portland as archive, stage, and laboratory, students will progress through an integrated set of research projects focused on developing not only their understanding of the concepts and systems by which cities operate but also their own critical capacities as urban residents and knowledge producers.

The Urban Discourses sequence satisfies these requirements for a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Science degrees:

  • HON 201 - Satisfies 4 credits in the area of the social sciences.
  • HON 202 - Satisfies 4 credits in the area of arts and letters.
  • HON 203 - Satisfies 4 credits in the area of the sciences.
  • Completing this sequence also meets the University’s lower-division writing requirement.

HON 201, HON 202, and HON 203 may be taken in any order.

HON 201 Urban Social Sciences

In this course we approach the urban through the application of social science methodologies. The development of many social sciences as academic disciplines began in efforts to understand the social impact of industrialization, globalization, and rapid urbanization during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Specifically we will focus on the maps of urban planners and geographers, the qualitative and ethnographic analysis of sociologists and anthropologists, and the archival and contextual investigations of urban historians, with particular attention to concepts of landscape, property, inequity, environment and quality of life, (illicit) economy, and social networks. We will rehearse these skills and models in our own research into the neighborhoods of Portland, producing accessible, self-reflexive reports that simultaneously add to and critique our understandings about our shared home.

HON 202 Urban Humanities

Our approach in this course will emphasize the work of the humanities, a group of scholarly disciplines that took their impetus from the close and careful study of texts.  Our texts will be (largely) autobiographical in character—we’ll read two works of the later 19th and early 20th century (Mary Antin, The Promised Land and Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams) both stemming from intimate experience of Boston; they will provide us opportunity to reflect on Antin’s and Adams’ sharply differing experience of that urban milieu.

We’ll also watch together, and discuss, one of Gus Van Sant’s “Portland films”—, My Own Private Idaho, as we think about the way it shapes a portrait of Portland in the somewhat unusual frame of an extended variation on Shakespeare’s history plays.  In a fashion similar to that we’ll employ in looking at Antin’s and Adams’ autobiographies, we’ll compare the topography of Van Sant’s film to Portland as we know it, and as it was in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when the film was being made.

In addition we’ll read Matthews Hamabata’s The Crested Kimono, the account of his experiences as a graduate student of anthropology undertaking his credentialing fieldwork as participant-observer in Tokyo during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  All three (Antin, Adams, Hamabata) shape their autobiographical accounts through vivid (although differing) perceptions of, and responses to, the cities in which they occur, and will give us rich material to think about ways of “being-in-the-city.”  And Van Sant’s intriguing film, which presents us a Portland that is both utterly banal and shaped out of matter drawn from Shakespeare’s Lancastrian tetralogy, will provide us equally rich ways to think about the city.

HON 203 Urban Ecology

In this course, we will approach the urban through the lens of science, taking to the field of the city to explore how science has both shaped cities and how cities shape scientific practice. In this quarter we will look at trees, water, soil and air as the elements of the urban landscape around us. We will learn about research related to the ecological systems of Portland, and practice applying the scientific method by planning research projects that add to and critique our understandings of the city.