Spring 2019 Programs

The Center in Paris will host five programs for undergraduate students in Spring 2019. The faculty and their courses are listed below.


Michael Turner (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - Matter, Energy, Space and Time
A comprehensive survey of how the physical world works, and how matter, energy, space, and time evolved from the beginning to the present. A brief survey of the historical development of mathematics, physics, and astronomy leads to a conceptual survey of the modern theory of the physical universe: space and time in relativity; the quantum theory of matter and energy; and the evolution of cosmic structure and composition. Systems such as black holes are used to illustrate the most extreme behaviors of nature, and systems such as stars are used to illustrate the explanatory power of physical reasoning. The major theme is understanding all of nature, from the prosaic to the exotic, using a powerful quantitative theory grounded in precise experiments.

Wendy Freedman (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - The Big Bang
The origin of our universe, galaxies, stars and planets. We will have many detours along the way to learn how we have made these discoveries, who made them, and what surprises there have been.

Daniel Holz (Astronomy and Astrophysics) - Black Holes

European Civilization

Daisy Delogu (Romance Languages and Literatures) - European Civilization in Paris I
This course will provide students with an introduction to the European civilizations of the Middle Ages, with a particular emphasis on the region that would become France. We will use primary sources, both historical and literary, critical works, and monuments and material culture to facilitate our discovery of French history and culture.

Arnaud Coulombel (Center in Paris) - European Civilization in Paris II
In this course, we will closely read and discuss a number of historical, philosophical, political and literary texts that have shaped the history of ideas in Europe. We will study the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Wars of Religion and the Classical Age. Although we will concentrate on French texts, particular attention will be paid to French relations to other cultures, European (Italian, Spanish, etc.) and beyond.

Paul Cheney (History) - European Civilization in Paris III
Part III of this course continues along the lines established in the previous section, serving as a generalized introduction to cultural, political and intellectual themes in European history, with a particular emphasis upon the French experience. We will begin by discussing old regime society, establishing the sources of stability and change; we then explore the Enlightenment, the final crisis of the old regime and—in some detail—the French Revolution itself. We conclude with an examination of Restoration society in order to weigh the social and political impact of the Revolution.


Naomi Davidson (University of Ottawa/Visiting Senior Research Associate) - Commemorating and Contesting Colonialism
This course examines the ways in which French colonialism has been celebrated, commemorated, taught, and contested in visual art, monuments, institutions and neighborhoods, from the revolutionary era to the present. From the commemorations of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition to the recently redesigned Islamic Art wing of the Louvre; from the Palais de la Porte Dorée that housed the 1931 Colonial Exposition to the Franco-Algerian artist Kader Attia’s recently opened “convivial space” La Colonie; from the Grand Mosque of Paris to the Institut du Monde Arabe; we will explore together the many ways that artists, sculptors, architects, city planners, and activists have responded to the French imperial project. For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, successive regimes sponsored large- and small-scale efforts to make metropolitan citizens aware of French colonial efforts, ranging from monumental celebrations of military victories to the naming of streets after colonial administrators. At the same time, critics of empire, both colonial subjects and French activists, and postcolonial states have used art and architecture to contest those same efforts, exposing the limits of the French universalizing mission and the human costs of empire building. In examining the many ways different artistic forms have engaged with France’s colonial projects, we will pay particular attention to how historical events and contemporary political debates have shaped their production.

Jason Bridges (Philosophy) - Language, Meaning and Skepticism
We will explore the connection between two abiding concerns of Western philosophy, and French philosophy in particular: the nature of linguistic meaning and skepticism about the possibility of human knowledge.

20th century philosophers had an especially keen interest in language. This orientation was of a piece with the broader intellectual and aesthetic current of “modernism”, in which means of expression become a central focus of inquiry and experimentation.

In much of the arts and humanities, the modernist drive to scrutinize expressive media was motivated by misgivings about traditional modes of representing the world and the self, and suspicion of the longstanding cultural confidence in the accuracy and power of these modes.

But philosophy was a different case. For philosophy had already been struggling for millennia with doubts about the possibility of accurate representation, just as it had been struggling for that long with puzzles about the possibility of knowledge, and the objectivity of truth, and even the intelligibility of existence itself. Against the backdrop of this difficult history, the message of modernism seemed one of promise. Philosophers hoped that attention to the means of human expression, especially to language, could prove the key to dissolving the skeptical puzzles that had heretofore dogged their attempts to achieve a satisfactory understanding of our place in the world as knowers, thinkers, and agents.

We will take as our test case one such skeptical puzzle, perhaps the most famous one. This is the argument of ‘external-world skepticism’, according to which we can know nothing at all about the world around us. Some of the most famous and influential presentations of external-world skepticism are due to two French writers of the early modern period—Montaigne and Descartes—and we will begin by examining their texts.

In the remainder of the course, we will look at three attempts to solve the problem of external-world skepticism through reflection on the nature of language. The first is the logical empiricism of the early 20th century, which aimed to show that purported statements of skepticism or of other sweeping philosophical doctrines are meaningless. The second is the ordinary-language philosophy of the mid-century, according to which arguments for skepticism depend upon distortions of our ordinary practices of offering and assessing claims of knowledge. The third is contextualism, at work throughout the century and persisting into the present, which traces the skeptical threat to a failure to grasp the pervasive context-sensitivity of meaning. We will ask in each case whether the claims made about the nature of language can be sustained, and whether they really do have the power to defeat the skeptical challenge.

No philosophical background is presupposed. The texts we read are challenging (in addition to Montaigne and Descartes, they include Carnap, Quine, Wittgenstein, Austin, Cavell and Laugier), but we will talk carefully through the basic ideas needed to begin to appreciate what these writers might be after.

Thomas Holt (History) - ‘Paris Noir:’ An African American City of Refuge
The Atlantic World—by which I mean the circuits of commerce, political relations, and cultural exchanges that have shaped much of Euro-American life—did not begin with NATO in 1949. Nor did the “globalization” of everyday life begin in the late 20th century. The economic, political, and cultural roots of these now familiar phenomena began decades, and arguably centuries earlier. This course explores an important slice of that history through a close examination of the phenomenal history of Paris as a place of refuge for people of African descent, focusing especially on black Americans during the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Beginning in the years when the U.S. Jim Crow regime was being consolidated and continuing through the decade during which that regime was being contested and largely dismantled, black Americans considered Paris a place of refuge from the racism they encountered at home. Novelists, musicians, sports and political figures, all found opportunity for creativity and freedom of expression in the “city of light,” even though its longstanding reputation for modeling Enlightenment ideals contrasted sharply with the fact that France had itself been one of the principal slave powers in the Americas and remained a major colonial empire until the mid-20th century. We will explore the ways France’s reputation for racial liberalism was both true and false, and how that profoundly shaped the race consciousness of the city’s inhabitants, white as well as black. We will also explore how France’s cosmopolitan ethos enabled natives, migrants from its colonies, and African American sojourners to negotiate those contradictions. Readings and discussions will focus on how political activists, literary figures, and sports and entertainment personalities forged communications networks and a cultural politics of liberation.


Kevin Corlette (Mathematics) - Arithmetic in Function Fields
There are important analogies between the ring of integers and the ring of polynomials with coefficients in a finite field. We will explore some of these analogies, especially those related to the distribution of primes and reciprocity laws. We will describe some of the important results for the integers, including the Prime Number Theorem, quadratic reciprocity and Dirichlet’s theorem on primes in arithmetic progressions. After discussing the classification of finite fields and the structure of rings of polynomials, we will go on to discuss analogues of these results in the context of rings of polynomials with coefficients in finite fields. We will then go on to explore the extension of some of these results to finite extensions of the field of rational functions with coefficients in a finite field, known as global function fields. Relevant material on complex analysis and Galois theory will be summarized as needed.

Jitka Stehnova (Mathematics) - Introduction to p-Groups
This course is an introduction to p-groups, which play an important role in solvable groups and Lie Algebras. Topics will include conjugacy classes and proofs of the Sylow Theorems; orbits, stabilizers; examples of small order p-groups (including abelian ones); nilpotent groups (upper and lower central series); direct, semi-direct, and central products; Frattini subgroup and generalized commutators (x, y, z lemma, for example); characteristic subgroups; Fitting subgroup.

Greg Lawler (Mathematics) - Random Walk, Heat Equation, and Fourier Series
This course will focus on “diffusion,” the movement of heat or other random particles. There are many ways to describe this motion: one can use discrete or continuous models and one can use deterministic or random models. We will do all of these. In the discrete we will see random walk, difference equations, and linear algebra. Going to the continuous we get Brownian motion, partial differential equations, and Fourier series.

Russian Civilization

Yaroslav Gorbachov (Linguistics) - Russian Civilization I
Russian Civilization-I opens the Russian Civilization sequence covering the period from the rise of the Russian state in the 9th c. through the emancipation reforms of the 1860s. Over the course of our three weeks together, we will encounter Russian culture through readings, in-class activities and lectures, and two field trips.

William Nickell (Slavic Languages and Literatures) - Russian Civilization II
This course continues the Russian Civilization sequence, covering the period from the 1870s to the present. The syllabus is organized around key dates, allowing us to focus on symbolic moments in the development of Russian history.

Monika Nalepa (Political Science) - Democratic Backsliding in Russia, Poland, and Hungary