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Welcome! Let’s start by unpacking the course title: HUM 300 The Arts in Society.

Humanities 300. The HUM courses are set apart from courses in the departments that house your majors: Education, Vet Tech, Sports Management, Media Communications, and the rest. The HUM courses are courses that every student may take, and they are general enough not to fit neatly into related designations such as art, communication, English, history, philosophy, or social sciences. The 300 means that it is a course that you should take in your last two years of college, not the first two.

As an upper-level course, it also expects more effort, more time, and more sophisticated researching, thinking, and writing than your freshman and sophomore courses.

We are saying that this course is important enough that anyone may take it, but it is advanced enough that you shouldn’t take it until you’ve had a little more experience. What is so important and advanced about it?

The Arts. The arts are everywhere. They’ve been around as long as humans have been human. On the short list of things that most clearly distinguish humans from other animals, art sticks out like 20,000 people at a Goo-Goo Dolls’ concert in Niagara Square. Since the 1960’s, English has become the most common second language worldwide. Why? Not because of ideals or armies or transnational capitalism. It’s because pop music in English is so compelling to listen to that people worldwide are gradually learning the language.

The Internet, mostly in English, is sealing the deal.

However, this music, and following from it English-language movies, TV, and literature, have encountered some rich and powerful artistic traditions that have developed in comparative isolation from each other for thousands of years. These local arts co-exist with the English-language forms and often a hybrid has resulted. For example, audiences for the Bollywood movie industry’s blockbusters dwarf the audience for popular movies in the U.S.

HUM 300 is all about opening your ears and eyes to the pop hybrids and the traditional arts upon which they are based. Some of them are going to sound and look very different from what you have ever heard and seen. After you pass through that feeling of strangeness, you are going to have to open your mind and concentrate in order to do your best to experience that culture without actually being there. Fortunately, we have the Internet, specifically YouTube and Skype.

While we cannot cover all the arts in this course, we will pay attention to music, video, dance, and the visual arts.

Society. By society, this course invites you to learn about the political, economic, and social life of a country as a context for its arts.



This is only a three-credit college course, so there is no way we can cover all the arts in all societies. Happily, because of the Internet, we can access the same online resources that people in other countries can. We are going to research one country per student in groups of five. We have roughly thirty students, so that’s six groups, although not quite six countries, as you’ll see below.

Conversation partners

The bulk of this course is your engagement, one-on-one, with people from foreign countries who have learned English as a second or third or sometimes fourth language.

You are going to share with them some examples of movies, music, and TV shows that you like and learn more about the movies, music, and TV in their country that they like.

To what extent are the media in their countries similar to the media in the U.S.? How has the popularity of English-language media affected the arts in those countries? Has there been any influence in the other direction?

One of the big lessons of this course is that the single most marketable skill you have is your native-speaker knowledge of English. Millions of people are learning it all over the world, and they will be more than happy to practice their English with a native speaker.

Which countries?

Each of the half-dozen times that I have taught this course, we have studied a different set of countries, with some repeats. I have found that some countries are better for our purposes, specifically, countries that are less developed than the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) countries.


groups5In the past, I have always included about a dozen countries from four continents, and I can see a lot of value in that breadth. However, students frequently comment that we lose depth that way. So this semester, I am limiting us to half that many countries from three continents. On the one hand, there are over 200 countries not on this list. On the other hand, this list includes about half of Earth’s human population and the third, seventh, and fifteenth largest countries in land area. It also includes people who practice all the major religions as well as the world’s largest group of people who are classified as atheists.

Countries for Spring 2015
India China
S. Korea Japan
Malaysia Vietnam
U.S. Netherlands

The most prosperous Asian country on this list is South Korea, followed closely by Japan. The other four, India, China, Malaysia, and Vietnam, have plenty of rich people but also enormous poverty and relatively low educational levels. They are less industrialized, poorer, and in a few cases less democratic than the U.S. and the Western European countries where most of the grandparents and great-grandparents of your classmates were born. In addition to these Asian countries, we’re also going to include Thailand, Indonesia, and North Korea but with much less emphasis.

Finally, we’re going to look at two other countries, both of them extremely WEIRD but still very different from each other: the United States and the Netherlands. The U.S. is shared by most of us and it’s our “home team”. So it’s a good idea to have another WEIRD country to provide perspective. I will be responsible for the Netherlands, where I spend a lot of time.