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Civilization in the West: Beasts, Books, and Human Beings

HY105 (FE105)

Blocks 1 and 2: Carol Neel

This course fulfills the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement.

This course explores humankind’s encounter with the natural world as mediated by technologies of knowledge from the ancient Mediterranean to contemporary America.  Readings range from the first-century Roman Pliny the Elder’s natural history to the Bill Bryson’s account of walking the Appalachian Trail in the late 1990, from medieval bestiaries to Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species .  A variety of films, including François Truffaut’s Wild Child, will complicate conventional historical interpretation of major works in literary and scientific traditions. 

Course activities will include essays and research papers of differing lengths, with opportunities for revision and peer critique throughout, as well as individual and group oral presentations on primary source materials.  Students will be introduced to important elements in the historian’s toolkit, including strategies for critical reading and analytical response.

HY 105’s discussion-centered classroom will occasionally relocate from Palmer Hall for workshops at the Press at Colorado College and Tutt’s Library’s Special Collections.  These opportunities will emphasize the ways in which historians, artists, and readers of words and images make and understand fantastic creatures.  Attached to this course description is a fourteenth-century manuscript illumination of a knight attacking an overgrown garden snail.  Students in HY 105 will interrogate this and other such images and texts from past and present, asking how these representations show differing understandings of human nature in relation to the world outside ourselves.  An expedition to Colorado Spring’s mountainside zoo with contrast these imaginative constructions with the lived experience of animals and people on the natural-human boundary.

A two-block course with one instructor; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


• Serves as a gateway to majors in History, History-Political Science, History-Philosophy, Classics-History Politics.  HY 105 in this version also serves as the entry requirement to the thematic minor in The Book.

• Both blocks, taken together, fulfill two units of the History, History-Political Science, History-Philosophy, Classics-History Politics majors.

• Afternoon commitments (writing workshops, Press activities, Special Collections sessions, and films will occur approximately two times per week, and will be clearly indicated on the syllabus for the two blocks web-mounted in August.

• One off-campus field trip to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

• No prior experience is envisioned beyond interest in the past.

• Interested students are welcome to begin exploring readings listed on the syllabus before Block 1 begins.