Core Authors in the News!

Some content for your viewing pleasure…

Are you exhausted by the prospect of reading another new translation or adaptation? Are you looking for a new way to experience the story of your favorite hero? Perhaps you should go back to basics and experience a classic text the classic way!This articlediscusses the impact of hearing the full text of Homer’sOdysseydelivered how it was meant to be–out loud!

Are you instead interested in the state of Confucianism in the world? While Confucius institutes at universities across the United States may be closing,this article discusses how the 21st century is bringing a renewed reverence for the philosopher across China.

Looking for some CULTURE? This article presents a modern review of our favorite Mesopotamian dude, the legend himself, Gilgamesh.

Happy reading!

A Multimedia Experience: Attar’s “Conference of the Birds”

In Fall 2019, Sassan Tabatabai convened a workshop for Digital/Multimedia Expression, in which students created a multimedia online edition of excerpts from The Conference of the Birds. This edition consists of student-created images and collages that strive to retell Attar’s story in a remediated fashion, in an effort to breathe new life into an ancient (and typically under-appreciated in Western universities) text.

Explore the project online here.

A man whose eyes love opens risks his soul –
His dancing breaks beyond the mind’s control. -Farid Attar

Shakespeare Work Sold for a lot of Money! (clickbait)

Can you put a price on wisdom? Or is life-altering wisdom simply priceless? Recently, one of our alumna, Cat Dossett, sent us a video describing how Shakespeare’s first folio of comedies, histories, and tragedies was estimated to be worth between four and six million dollars. Enjoy:

Beyond being a collectors item, how much is this knowledge actually worth? Would humanity as a collective be willing to pay six million dollars for the works of Shakespeare, if they had never been published and were lost to time? Is there an ethics to an antiquities/books market, let alone the art market? Does this transaction signify something greater about contemporary consumerist culture?

This May Not End Well

As scholars and human beings, we know that all good things must come to an end. That end may be triumphant, exciting, and incredibly satisfying, or… Not. In her recent BU Today article, our very own Director of the Core Kyna Hamill ponders what makes for a satisfying ending, and why it may matter so much.

In the article, Professor Hamill works through the varied kinds of endings we find both inside and outside of the Core Curriculum, from the epic tale of Don Quixote to the colossus of Marvel’s Endgame. Whether the ending comes in a centuries-old tale or contemporary Oscar nominee, students seem to search for certain things to make for a satisfying ending:

What do we need in an ending? Resolution and closure? Happiness? What do the kinds of endings we like say about us? Death is a convenient ending, so is a wedding, a reconciliation, or new knowledge gained. A cliffhanger is more a means to an end rather than an ending, unless you have the guts to cut to black as David Chase did in the finale of The Sopranos.

While her students may seek out a safe conclusion with obvious meaning and results, Professor Hamill finds herself drawn to more abstract endings, saying that the “empty unanswered void of unknowing energizes me to theorize on all the possible conclusions.” As satisfying as it may be to know exactly what happens to your favorite characters, it’s a lot more fun to have to think of it on your own.

But does this mean it’s cheating to yearn for a convenient ending, or to give one to your reader? For those of us in the real world, we know that those convenient events such as weddings or reconciliations are really just the beginning of a whole new story. Or even if the story ends in death, the life and legacy of that person continues to impact the world. So why fixate on the best possible ending? All we know for certain is that this blog post won’t have a satisfying conclusion with a satisfying answer.

Quixote Nuevo

Come see one of literature’s greatest heroes come back to life! This ambitious play Quixote Nuevo follows Don Quixote transported to a border town in modern-day Texas, once again searching for his long-lost love. Core will be attending two showings: 12/4 at 7:30 PM; 12/7 at 2:00 PM. Come see Professor Hamill for more details!

Reacting to the Past


Have you ever been swept up with revolutionary fervor at the thought of ousting the ancien regime and replacing it with a new, egalitarian, Jacobin order?

Probably not, but hear us out.

Using a novel pedagogical technique called Reacting to the Past, developed at Barnard, professors at BU have been bringing the past to life in the classroom. Reacting to the Past is, essentially, role-playing. Students take on the roles of historical figures and engage in actual debate, following the rough outline of what the debate may have looked like between those actual figures. This method of learning is engaging, interactive, and makes the past seem real in a way that lectures often struggle with. Classes like Understanding Revolution: France and Algeria and Living the American Revolution use this technique to give the students an understanding of the forces that drive history. Don’t take my word for it — ask Core’s own Professor Diana Wylie, who was recently featured in an interview with BU Today talking about Reacting:

“‘I was thrilled,’ [Professor Diana Wylie] says, ‘to all of a sudden be having feelings of grandeur about the aspirations of the French Revolution, to do something that had never before been done in the world, to declare human rights the rights of man without regard to estate, to your birth, was something that I was fiercely proud of as a Jacobin, in a way that just [through] reading, I hadn’t had before. I was in some way living in that era.’

She says she thought that if it could happen to a veteran teacher, ‘wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing to do with students?'”

What are your thoughts? Of course, Reacting has somewhat limited use, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that it should replace lectures and seminars entirely. However, it’s definitely worth giving some thought to, because there is a tendency in academia to forget that historical figures are humans, and that historical events actually happened. Keeping the past alive is, in our opinion, absolutely vital for healthy scholarship, and Reacting is a good way to do that.

Ajax, Hecuba, and Vietnam


The image above is taken from a stage adaptation of the Iliad, now performing at ArtsEmerson. A group of Core students is venturing downtown to see this production, titled An Iliad, putting us in mind here on campus about the enduring relevance of this ancient text. Do our modern times still reflect that old world? Does Homer still speak to us? Has anything really changed since the Trojan War? Let’s turn to another text that, like An Iliad, draws upon that ancient source material: Jonathan Shay‘s Achilles in Vietnam. Here’s a quote from that book, page 29:

After Agamemnon’s betrayal and Potroklos’s death, Achilles kills Hektor before the eyes of his wife and parents and then mutilates and atrociously debases his corpse. Achilles’ character has changed. Before, he was responsive to all themis for the dead, the cultural definition of ‘what’s right’ towards enemy corpses.

Shay examines how war inflicts psychological injuries that have catastrophic effects on the character and sanity of those affected. A concept explored not only in the old texts of CC101 like Ajax and Hecuba but, in modern day as well through the researching of PTSD in veterans and other anxiety/trauma disorders. The relevancy and timelessness of these texts are what make them classics. Maybe times haven’t really changed.

On the Relevance of Ancient Authors

shutterstock_245961754In the first-year humanities, Core students study works primarily written by people who have been dead for two thousand years or more. It is only natural to wonder whether those peoples ideas are still relevant who cares what Thucydides said? Well, we care what Thucydides said, and we think you should too. Nowadays, its hard to miss that everyone is talking about freedom of speech, democracy, free association, political power plays all issues which seem distinctly modern. Except, of course, that they aren’t! Take a look at the following collection of quotes:

We both know that decisions about justice are made in human discussions only when both sides are under equal compulsion; but when one side is stronger, it gets as much as it can, and the weak must accept that. Thuc. Melian Dialogue 89

Neither our principles nor our actions are contrary to what men believe about the gods, or would want for themselves. Nature always compels gods (we believe) and men (we are certain) to rule over anyone they can control. We did not make this law, and we were not the first to follow it; but we will take it as we found it and leave it to posterity forever, because we know that you would do the same if you had our power, and so would anyone else. Ibid 104 / 105

A good citizen should not go about terrifying those who speak against him, but should try to look better in a fair debate. Thuc. Mytilenean Debate 42

It is a hard matter to speak in due measure when there is no firm consensus about the truth. Thuc. Pericles Funeral Oration 35

All things said by one of those old dead guys, but Im sure the relevance isnt lost on any of you. Modern thinkers, too, deal with these issues; I encourage you to take a moment to think about how these quotations from Karl Popper do or dont articulate with the above from Thucydides.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right even to suppress them, for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to anything as deceptive as rational argument, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies 226

All these paradoxes can be easily avoided if we frame our political demands in some such manner as this. We demand a government that rules according to the principles of equalitarianism and protectionism; that tolerates all who are prepared to reciprocate, i.e. who are tolerant ; that is controlled by, and accountable to, the public. Ibid 226

Sheri Berman, meanwhile, wrote about the ways that the work of Tocqueville and the Neo-Tocquevillean Robert Putnam are still relevant today, and the danger in abusing civic associations. Tocqueville wrote about the importance of voluntary civic associations to any healthy democracy, but Putnam and Berman push back on that, stating that civic associations are not always good their potential to do good exists only insofar as they foster sturdy norms of generalized reciprocity (Putnam Bowling Alone fn 2) and are not organized around vertical bonds of authority and dependency (Berman 1997).

Berman explores the example of Weimar Republic Germany and the voluntary associations they had they always had leadership positions in their civic groups, sure, but for the most part those leadership positions weren’t abused. That is, until the NSDAP (or, the Nazi Party) started to infiltrate those leadership positions, exploit that power, enforce social stratification, and, well, elect the Nazis to power.

While I feel that these quotes and concepts are all interesting to look at together in light of present-day issues, Im not claiming that these are all tightly interrelated. I leave the synthesis of all this stuff to you, dear reader, and ask only that you give it thought along with me.

Meditation on Remediation

An update from the front lines of the Core classrooms! This week, students are exploring Hamlet, and discovering what it means to remediate a text.

Hamlet RemediationCore students know better than anyone that some stories strike such a chord with the human experience that they continue to be told throughout history. Storytellers have always taken source material and adapted or re-imagined it for a new medium, bringing it to life in a new way. In modern times, this reimagining can transform a book to film, drama to social media, poem to graphic novel, and more. Scholars call this a remediation, and while remediation is having getting attention across the academic world, it has a special place in the heart of the Core.

What’s so special about remediation in Core? Well, as we work with the foundational texts for human thought, we’re not the first ones to try and think about them in new ways. Even the authors we read are building upon other texts and older authors, trying to experiment with new media. Students in CC201 are learning this now through Hamlet, as Professor Brian Walsh argued in his lecture this semester:

Shakespeare himself, as well as his characters, are often explicitly engaged in these dialogues with other authors. And while Don Quixote is a contemporary work for him, more often he and his characters are considering their relationship to tradition, to past authors. In many scholarly conceptions of the Renaissance, this idea of how do we relate to tradition is the central or defining challenge for the period’s artists and intellectuals… So that turns us to the question, how does Hamlet, both the play and the character, respond to tradition?

[You can watch this lecture on YouTube: Part 1, Part 2]

Authors have always had to contest with tradition and the thinkers who came before them. There is plenty of evidence of this in Core– Dante provides a great example, as he incorporates and builds upon characters and historical figures who came before him in the Divine Comedy. Just as Core authors thought of new ways to conceptualize those who came before them, remediation offers modern readers a new way to conceptualize the texts themselves.

Returning to Hamlet specifically, Professor Walsh offers further examples of remediation of the play itself. A 2014 Bollywood adaptation of Hamlet called Haider gained attention for its depiction of the insurgency in the Kashmir of the 1990s. This remediated backdrop allowed the director, Vishal Bhardwaj, to make a statement on the human rights abuses of the armed conflict and start a conversation about the controversial topic. Not only has the play become a movie, but the play has taken on new importance related to its new, remediated themes.

Changing the media allows the source material to take on new meaning, as it does in the project Hamlet: A Digital Remediation. This version takes place entirely through Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, acting out Hamlet as if the characters were modern-day people communicating on social media. While this provides an experiment and commentary on social media, the authors of this remediation also offer how adapting foundational texts is a valuable act:

Fanfiction and other forms of remix culture can be valuable tools for reclaiming narratives in which minority voices are downplayed or nonexistent. The original Hamlet, although not written exclusively for upper-class audiences, does contain primarily white and straight characters and takes place in a privileged, upper-class world. Retelling the story in a new form is an opportunity to add more diverse voices to a narrative that is deeply embedded in Western culture.

Remediation allows the same important stories to be told, but for a new generation and new mode of thought. As a program that works almost entirely with texts from a different age, remediation offers the Core Curriculum a special opportunity to get our fingers in the clay of these texts.

0Thanks to the initiative of Professor Jason Prentice, the Digital & Multimedia Coordinator for Core, Core students now have the opportunity to try their hands at remediation. Last Spring marked the inaugural semester of our “Digital Core” classes, where students can expand upon their knowledge of a Core text by studying how the text has been recreated throughout history, and even create their own versions themselves, from Genesis to Plato to Hamlet.

In this semester’s Digital Core class, Professor Sassan Tabatabai is leading his students on journey to recreate The Conference of the Birds in an online multimedia graphic novel form. With remediations, the possibilities are endless.Catching him in the hall, we asked Prof. Tabatabai why he thinks this act of remediation in general, and his new CC320 class in particular, are important. He replied:

The Conference of the Birds has always had an afterlife in art, in music, in dance– a digital remediation would just be the logical progression to that.

Remediation is something people have been doing throughout history, but with the onset of digital methods and media, we have greatly expanded the possibilities for rethinking foundational texts. While this provides opportunities for expanding the diversity and reach of texts, it also invites more problems, like appropriation, cultural disruption and dissipation. Overall, this is just an evolution of the way we think about the writings that came before us, and a chance to show them in a new light.

Some Spooky Music for Your Spooky Enjoyment

Earlier this week, Core alumna Cat Dossett shared with us some vintage Halloween tunes.

Check them out here!

Whether it is for your Halloween themed gatherings or just for your own enjoyment, this tunes will help you get into the Halloween spirit.

Thank you for sharing, Cat.