HC421H: Emerson and Einstein: Interdisciplinary Artist Activists for Civil and Human Rights

Professor: Barbara Mossberg

4.00 credits

  • CRN 24989: Monday, 1400-1650 @ CHA 201

Poetry and science merge, converge, blur, and blend in this study of genius that rocked - and still rocks - our world. Bursting and bending disciplines, joyously defying definitions of field - Einstein the scientist playing the violin and encouraging humanities, Emerson the poet urging study of science and history. Despite the seeming impenetrability of e=mc2 and “The American Scholar,” considered “genius,” Emerson and Einstein were celebrities, famous iconic minds and legends who shaped their centuries - and ours - public intellectuals who were understood more than not. Quoting and quoted, it is as writers in the public realm and popular culture that they became movers and shakers, as metaphor makers that they became change agents. Their metaphoric imaginations challenged and changed science and social sciences in how we think about our world and what “matters,” from transformative emergent complexity and chaos theories to civil and human rights and environmental policies. We ask, what makes them so powerful?

Humanities advocates, teachers and preachers shaping 19th and 20th century thought, they continue in our own day to be some of the most influential writers ever published, spawning continuous revolutions in science, literature, and cultural understanding. We investigate formative texts for these great minds’ own learning and development as writers. What did they come to believe and practice as intellectual leaders? How and why did they use their “authority” as peace activists for human rights? We examine the paradox that such seemingly difficult thinkers seek a common world view, literally and morally, in terms of conscience, courage, empathy, kindness, and goodness. Feisty iconoclasts, Emerson and Einstein’s lives and writings inspire ways to see our own worlds with imagination and insight as “miracle” worthy of excitement, awe, and wonder, and a rousing social critique to foster better behavior to one another and our earth. In active and original learning, students will develop a curriculum for what wisdom the world needs now--and teach it, translate wisdom into different formats for our times, produce a play (the genius Steve Martin), write an original podcast based on Radiotopia, and consider your own writing and teaching in the public realm. What would Emerson and Einstein advise YOU to do to contribute to our world? Invoke your own inner genius to find out.