Interdisciplinary Course Seminar Grant Winners!

KIAS is happy to announce the awardees for its first grant program, the Interdisciplinary Course Seminar Grant! These grants will provide students at the University of Alberta the opportunity to learn socially relevant material from interdisciplinary perspectives, while advancing their research skills. The courses will have a strong research component to them, as well as dissemination opportunities for those in the class.

These courses will encourage the cross-pollination of scholarly work at the U of A, while allowing students the opportunity to work with some of the best profs on campus.

More information about the courses will be posted as available.

Awards are listed alphabetically, not in a ranking order.

Wayne DeFehr, English and Film Studies, Faculty of Arts
Advanced Gaming Narrative: Animating Avatars in Virtual Worlds, Winter 2012

Video and computer games enjoy widespread popularity currently, with millions of players participating in a variety of gaming formats. Games offer many connections to the study of narrative, which could complement other approaches to literature studies. These connections include discussions about the meanings of traditional features such as setting, character and plot, and also political elements relating avatar relationships with each other and their virtual environments. Many pre-packaged, and professionally released video games have contributed to classroom activities, where students learn the rules of the game, attempt to meet a prescribed goal, and then report on the learning that took place. This course, however, would utilize a script composition program called ScriptEase to create video games of the students’ own that would explore various saspects of narrative such as genre, politics, and plot development. ScriptEase has been developed at the U of A by professors Fuane Szafron and Jonathan Schaeffer among others. The development team has published their findings on high school student involvement with ScriptEase to demonstrate the possibility of creating video games form scratch by non-code writin students. As well, ScriptEase is currently being used in courses offered by Computing Science as well as Humanities Computing. In the English Department, ScriptEase would have a “literary” focus, where students would be required to construct narratives with some level of sophistication that would qualify as literary merit well beyond the cliched violence of commercial video games.

Patricia Demers, English and Film Studies, Faculty of Arts
Eyes Wide Open: Arts Students and Professors in Film, Literature, and Criticism, Winter 2012

As participants in a faculty of Arts, how do we see and characterize ourselves? Are we articulate champions of what we do? And how effectively do we explain what we do? This course explores and assesses the representation of ourselves, Arts students and faculty, through examining the expressions of experience and knowledge along with the embedded assumptions in three related textualities: films, novels, and disciplinary criticism. By testing disciplinary critiques against embodiments in fiction and film, we will discuss and judge the accuracy, insight and occasional stereotypes of these cultural instruments of writing in various media. By challenging us to think about a disciplinary identity in an interdisciplinary format, the seminar aims to exercise creative and critical faculties laterally, to expand the linguistic tools with which we can speak about our study, and to demonstrate the value of the inquiry through a concluding public seminar.

Natalie Kononenko, Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, Faculty of Arts
Culture, Media, Animation, Nationalism, Globalization, Folklore, Childhood, Cultural comparison, Social manipulation

Animation, especially animation based on folklore, appears so innocent, so timeless, so universal. But modern scholarship has shown that it is precisely this seeming innocence that allows film studios to use cartoons to project their own messages. Most studies (Zipes, Giroux) have focused on cartoons as vehicles for promoting consumerism. This course will examine cartoons as a means of promoting political messages. We will focus primarily on nationalism, although attention to gender and race will also be part of the course. The course aims to broaden students’ cultural awareness by looking at three cultures. Typically the target foreign culture is compared to mainstream North America. We will look at animation in the United States and Canada, but we will compare it not to one culture, but two: France and the Francophone world and the Soviet Union and at least two of its post-Soviet successor states, specifically Russia and Ukraine. By examining how three different world areas use cartoons to convey political messages we will be able to more clearly see how modern media tries to shape world view. Working with cartoons will be an especially effective way to explore media because cartoons are part of the lives of our students. They watch them now and they enjoyed them as children. Thus the course will train students to look at the media with a critical eye.

Scott Smallwood, Music, Faculty of Arts
Sound in the Arts, Fall 2011

During the last sixty years there has been an explosive change in the way sound has been explored in the arts, not only in discipline of music, but in many other disciplines in the arts and humanities. Sound has, perhaps, become a medium in its own right, independent of its role in the history of music. How has the rise of “sound art” changed the way we listen? Is sound art the same thing as music? What does it mean for a visual artist, untrained in the musical arts, to use sound in her work? How has sound awareness affected architecture? What comes first in film: image or sound? How do we evaluate these uses of sound? How have these uses of sound changed the way we critique the arts, and music? These and many other questions will be dealt with as we explore the emergence of sound art as a combined outgrowth of new explorations in music, film, architecture, dance, and the visual arts during the past sixty years? We will explore the evolution of sound as an important medium in the arts, as well as the development of soundscape studies in acoustic ecology. This course requires no specific background or training in the arts, although there will be an expectation that students will engage with artistic works at a critical level, as well as some small-scale creative work.

Guillaume Tardif, Music, Faculty of Arts
Culture and Creativity: Music and Business Perspectives, Winter 2012

This seminar will examine the notions of culture and creativity, first from the separate perspectives of music and business, then toward an understanding of their intersection and joint impact in today’s world. Music and business students will be reviewing and comparing core models used in both fields of study, and will be exposed to conversations with guest lecturers –artists, arts managers, and business professionals known for their initiative and advocacy at the junction of art and business. Students will be required to present their related research findings in the form of an online publication.

Maria Whiteman, Art and Design, Faculty of Arts
Art and Posthumanism, Fall 2011

The discourses of posthumanism constitute one of the most exciting areas of contemporary critical thought. Posthumanism is the name for forms of critical, cultural and social theory that take up the consequences of the myriad challenges made to classical humanism and the divisions (moral, epistemological, political, ethical) that it has supported. Of specific importance to this discourse are those distinctions that have been made between human and animal, flesh and technology, society and nature, and man and his other – divisions that have long defined and delimited the possibilities and responsibilities of human beings towards the rest of the world. Posthumanism seeks to re-define the human in order to help change the character of our relationship to the world, especially (though not only) our relation to the environment—a critical relationship given the ecological crises we have produced, which constitute a threat not only to the earth’s environment but to the human itself.

This graduate seminar/studio-practicum course is designed to allow students to encounter some of the main texts of posthumanism and to consider how these discourses function both in cultural/critical theory and in contemporary visual arts. In addition, this course gives students an opportunity to experiment with the production of visual texts (photography, video, installation, etc.) as a mode of research into and representation of posthumanist themes and concerns. The interdisciplinary character of this course comes both from its subject matter and from the way in which graduate students will be enabled to engage with it: through the creation of visual art in addition to the forms of textual research carried out in most disciplinary fields in the Faculty of Arts.


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