First-year students in Theatre Professor James Taylor’s "Our Troubled World Imagined: Theatre and the Environment”

An intellectual rite of passage, Critical Inquiry (ID 1) offers first-year students a twice-weekly intensive course to prepare them for the rigors of academic life at Pomona. This year, there are 32 sections on topics as diverse as the students themselves, including 14 new courses. Some faculty members teaching new courses share the inspiration behind their topic and what they hope students will take away.

Crime Fiction of Los Angeles and New York
In Associate Professor of English Sarah Raff’s course, students will survey the American tradition of hardboiled crime and detective fiction and what it teaches us about what makes a good story. Students will read fiction and nonfiction, including works by James Cain, Mike Davis, Susan Neiman and others.

“My research has recently taken a turn toward the field known as ‘law and literature,’ and crime fiction draws me in part because it addresses ethical and legal problems through apparently formulaic means,” says Raff.

“I’m looking forward to investigating with students the relationship between reader expectation and suspense.”

Living with Pets and Among Wildlife
“I have taught several iterations of ID 1 since it began in 1986, and this fall I wanted to try something new,” says Sociology Professor Jill Grigsby who explains that during her last sabbatical, she was teaching at Pomona’s study abroad program in Kyoto, Japan, and saw the importance of dogs and cats in family life there.

That observation led Grigsby to begin a new research project comparing the role of family pets in Japan and the U.S.

“With perspectives from science, social science and literature, this seminar will provide students multiple insights into the relationships between humans and other animals – including dogs, cats, wolves and birds.  I hope they see that Claremont is a place where they can easily encounter wildlife, as well as family pets, and that for the rest of their lives, they will be making choices that affect the treatment of animals.”

Language and Gender
In this course, students will explore how patterns of speaking reflect and construct our experience of gender.

“There have been many interesting debates in the media lately with regard to issues about language and gender—the use of creaky voice (or vocal fry) among young women, for example, and the use of singular ‘they,’” says Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literature David Divita, who is teaching the course.

“ID 1 seemed like an interesting venue for introducing students to these debates, which occur in both popular and academic milieus and thus provide a way of showing what distinguishes the two.”

Students in the course will collect original language data that they will analyze using the concepts and issues brought up in the course.

“I hope that my students will come to appreciate the crucial role that language plays in our experience and understanding of gender.” 

Our Troubled World Imagined: Theatre and the Environment
In this course, Theatre Professor James Taylor combines theatre and the study of the environment.

“It is hard not to notice climate change issues, and reading about them has both fascinated and intrigued me,” says Taylor. “This then led to thinking about how climate change and the theatre might be interconnected.” 

The course will look at what theatre has to tell about mankind’s relationship with the environment, how dramatists have looked at environmental concerns through their work, and how theatre can catalyze or inspire activism in our immediate future.

“I hope that the students will come to appreciate the wildly imaginative power of theatre. I also hope students will come to understand more fully both the urgency and the complexity of contemporary climate change issues,” he says.

China from Inside and Out
Professor of Chinese Allan Barr’s course will examine how Chinese society has been understood and depicted in a variety of narrative forms over the last 50 years. Students will do this through a variety of readings by both Chinese and Western authors, including Yu Hua, Li Yiyun, Mark Salzman, Amy Tan and others.

“In the past when I have taught ID 1, my courses have tended to focus primarily on Chinese novels and short stories in translation. This year I decided to broaden the scope to include works written in English about China — memoirs by American authors, for example — as a way to explore how perceptions of the Chinese experience are shaped by such factors as cultural assumptions, generational attitudes, family background and the historical moment,” says Barr.

To see the full selection of Critical Inquiry courses, visit the catalog here.