College Seminar I
Bryn Mawr College
Fall 2001

Questions, Intuitions, Revisions:
Telling and Re-Telling Stories About Ourselves In the World

Anne Dalke (English House, ext. 5308,
Paul Grobstein (Park, ext. 5098,
Liz Nutting (

This course was co-designed by members of the Biology and English faculty to explore the variety of ways in which we are all continually reaching for new understandings. Materials to be handled in the class include fairy tales, the nineteenth-century satire Flatland, Bertold Brecht’s play The Life of Galileo, Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved and reflections on topics ranging from linguistics and neurobiology to the culture of Bryn Mawr. In addition to long-established elements of inquiry--acting, enacting, observing, experimenting, reading, talking and writing--we will explore the new potentials of the web and other aspects of developing information technology. Together, we will apprehend this wide range of literary, cultural and scientific stories, intuiting and imagining what they might mean, continuously telling and re-telling them in an attempt to "get it less wrong."

I. Reading and writing ourselves

 "The stories we tell ourselves, particularly the silent or barely audible ones, are very powerful. They become invisible enclosures. Rooms with no air. One must open the window to see further, the door to possibility.How to tell a story without fashioning it along the prefabricated lines? . . . .we are immersed in an old story and cannot see what is happening."
..... Susan Griffin, A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War. New York: Anchor, 1992. 284, 324.

"I wrote the story first. It was a true story. But it seemed too simple. So then I wrote the counter narrative: a second voice, second thoughts."
..... Griffin, Reading at Bryn Mawr. February 2, 1999.

Week One

Chapman, Tracy. "Telling Stories."
Tuan. Yi-Fu. "A Life of Learning." Charles Homer Haskins Lecture for 1998. American Council of Learned Societies Occasional Paper, # 42.
Bateson, Mary Catherine, Composing a Life, New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989. 1-34, 232-241.
Hempl, Patricia. "Memory and Imagination." I Could Tell You Stories. New York: Norton, 1999. 21-37.

Selected excerpts by Charles Darwin, Soren Kierkegaard & Virginia Woolf from Nothing Begins with N: New Investigations of Freewriting. Ed. Pat Belanoff, Peter Elbow and Sheryl I. Fontaine. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

Large group writing workshop

Draft A, 4-5pp: compose your own life of learning

Week Two

Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. "Little Briar Rose" and "Cinderella." The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Trans. Margaret Hunt. Revised James Stern. New York: Pantheon, 1972. 118-122, 64-71.
Bly, Robert. "The Story of Iron John," "Riding the Red, the White, and the Black Horses." Iron John: A Book About Men. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1990. 250-259, 180-206.

Small group writing workshops

Draft B, 4-5 pp: write a fairy tale
(maybe re-compose your life as a fairy tale?)

Week Three

Sexton, Anne. Transformations. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

Large group writing workshop

Draft C, 4-5 pp: revise your life of learning and/or fairy tale

Week Four

Bettelheim, Bruno. "Reflections: The Uses of Enchantment." The New Yorker (December 8, 1975): 50-114.

9/27 Rodriguez, Juana. Guidelines for Revisions.
Small group writing workshops

Paper #1: using Bettelheim’s methodology (or another), analyze your fairy tale. Submit both together for evaluation.

II.Ordering and Re-ordering the World

  "Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world."

...... Albert Einstein, in Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld. The Evolution of Physics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1938. 33.

Week Five

They Might be Giants. "Particle Man."
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. 1885; rpt. New York: New American Library, 1984.
Flam, Faye. "A cosmic new theory on universe’s origins." The Philadelphia Inquirer. April 10, 2001. A1 f.

Foucault, Michel. Preface and Forward. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. 1966; rpt. and trans. New York: Vintage, 1973. ix- xxiv.

Draft A: drawing on Foucault and Flatland, reflect on our class website about on why we are both motivated and reluctant to re-tell stories. What provokes us to this activity? What prevents us from engaging in it? How does it profit us, and what are its costs?

Week Six

Brecht, Bertolt. The Life of Galileo. 1955; rpt. New York: Metheun, 1967.

Galileo, continued….

Paper #2: Visit the various websites on evolution and creationism; on our class website, answer last week’s questions again, focusing this time on the contemporary debate about science education.

10/16-10/18 FALL BREAK

III. Apprehending and Absorbing the Storyteller

"The Brain--is wider than the Sky--
For--put them side by side --
The one the other will contain
With ease--and You--beside--

The Brain is deeper than the sea--
For--hold them--Blue to Blue--
The one the other will absorb--
As Sponges--Buckets--do

The Brain is just the weight of God--
For--Heft them--Pound for Pound--
And they will differ--if they do--
As Syllable from Sound–"

...... Emily Dickinson. 1896; rpt. The Complete Poems.
Ed. Thomas Johnson. Boston: Little, Brown, 1960.

Week Seven

Polanyi, Michael. The Tacit Dimension. New York: Anchor, 1967. 3-25.

Large group writing workshop

Draft A: collect data on tacit understanding

Week Eight

Vygotskii, Lev Semenovich. Thought and Language. Trans. Eugenia Hanfmann and Gertrude Vakar. Cambridge, M.I.T. Press, 1962. 1-7, 119-153.

Small writing group workshops

Draft B: collect observations on e-mail as an interim version of inner/outer speech

Week Nine

Sacks, Oliver. "The Last Hippie" and "A Surgeon’s Life." An Anthropologist on Mars. New York: Vintage, 1995. 42-107.

Paper #3: Drawing together your tacit understanding and observed data, write an essay exploring "blindsight" and "filling in."

IV. Telling and Re-telling the Story

"He gave man speech, and speech created thought, Which is the measure of the universe."
...... Shelley, Prometheus Unbound

"The question is, ‘How does a thing become conscious’ could be put more advantageously thus: ‘How does a thing become pre-conscious?’ And the answer would be: ‘By coming into connexion with the verbal images that correspond to it.’"
...... Freud, "The Ego and the Id"


Week Ten

Silko, Leslie Marmon. "Language and Literature from a Pueblo Indian Perspective." Critical Fictions, ed. Philomena Mariani. Seattle: Bay Press, 1991. 83-93.
Geertz, Clifford. "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight." The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic, 1973. 195-240.
Rosaldo, Renato. "Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage." Culture and Truth: The Re- making of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon, 1989. 1-21.
Benjamin, Walter. "The Storyteller." Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1968. 83-110.
Nutting, Elizabeth Lofgren. "Remembering the Disremembered: Toni Morrison as Benjamin's Storyteller."

Large group writing workshop

Draft A: What is your understanding of story (or: of the storyteller) now? How does story (or the storyteller) now seem to you to work?

Week Eleven

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York : Plume, 1988.


Week Twelve

Beloved, continued…

Small group writing workshops

Paper #4: What sort of story is this novel? What most interests you about that story, and why? What does this (re-)telling accomplish?

IV. Re-vising and re-visioning Bryn Mawr

"If resistance is always the sign of a counter-story, ambivalence is perhaps the state of holding on to more than one story at a time." ...... Barbara Johnson, The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, and Gender. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Week Thirteen

Horowitz, Helen. "A Certain Style of ‘Quaker Lady’ Dress" and "Behold They Are Women!" Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Knopf, 1984. 105-133.
The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938 (videorecording). Dir. Suzanne Bauman. New York: Filmakers Library, 1985. (55 mins.)
Heller, Rita Rubinstein. "An ‘Unnatural’ Institution." "The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938." Dss. Rutgers University, 1986. 1-36.
Grumman, Anne. "The Summer School as Seen by a Tutor." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 1, 8 (October 1921). 19-23.
Saunders, Louise Brownell. "Four Weeks’ Experience in the Bryn Mawr Summer School forLabor." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin. 1, 9 (November 1921). 13-16.
"The Future of the Summer School." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 1, 9 (November 1921). 17-19.
Smith, Hilda Worthington. "The Summer School of 1924." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 4, 8 (October 1924). 9-11.
-----. "The National Experiment in Adult Education." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 13, 9 (December 1933). 8-10.
"Open Letters About the Summer School." Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin 15, 5 (May 1935). 4-8.

Small group writing workshops

Draft A: write the story of Bryn Mawr, as you now understand it.

Week Fourteen

McDermott, Ray and Herve Vareene. "Culture as Disability." Anthropology and Education Quarterly 26, 3 (1995): 324-348.
Osborne, Lawrence. "Regional Disturbances." The New York Times. May 6, 2001.

Large group writing workshop

Draft B: re-write your story of Bryn Mawr: what disabilities are generated by the abilities you see being taught here?

Reading week:
Paper #5, to conclude: how might we revise the Bryn Mawr Story? (This might take the form of a fairy tale, or a montage, or a poem; it could also be collaboratively written or performed….@ our final Celebration.)



Expectations for the Course

Reading Assignments are listed above; you will be expected to read these books and articles thoroughly, and come to class prepared to discuss and write about them. Readings should be completed by the due date in the syllabus. A collection of the excerpts and articles are available for purchase as a packet. Four texts are also available in the Bryn Mawr College Bookshop:

Anne Sexton, Transformations

Edwin Abbott, Flatland

Bertolt Brecht, The Life of Galileo

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Writing Assignments are designed to build on the reading, writing, and thinking skills you bring with you to college and to help you move you beyond them. Assignments explore key issues in the course; they require creative, reflective, critical and analytical work and will ask you to draw on life experiences as well as on assigned readings and class discussions. Writing assignments include weekly drafts, due in typewritten form in your professor’s mailbox by 9 a.m. each Thursday; and the submission of final drafts, revised for grading four times during the semester. Each assignment will be discussed in detail during class over the course of the semester.

Conferences and Class Meetings

We understand writing as both an individual and a collaborative activity, one which involves ongoing drafting and revising. There will be three regular forums for conferences about your writing: postings on our class website; bi-monthly meetings with your professors, in their offices; and regular meetings with each other in class, to offer constructive responses to one another's writing. We hope you’ll also talk informally with one another, share drafts of your work, and make use of the services offered by the Writing Center.

Individual classes will meet regularly twice a week. All members of the seminar are expected to participate actively in class-wide discussions. The quality of our work together rests on our collective commitment to reading and writing, speaking and listening attentively with each other.

We will also hold several cluster-wide gatherings during the course of the semester–

stay tuned for details on those events!