History 4314/5314

A History of the Future: Millennial Visions in Film in Literature



Dr. Laura A. Smoller                                                                                           

Phone: 569-8389

Email: lasmoller@ualr.edu                                                                                                            

Office hours: T 3-4, W 10:30-11:30, and by appointment

Stabler Hall 604K                                 

Spring 2013: W 6:00-8:40, SH 408                                                                                                                                      




Through literature and film, this course examines how people at various points in the past have imagined our future--and the ways in which those "millennial visions" were conditioned by specific historical contexts. The course looks at both positive and negative views of the future, and at secular as well as religious predictions for humankind's fate, asking always how our visions of the future, like a fun-house mirror, reflect in sometimes monstrous or exaggerated terms the concerns of the present.





Part 1: Religious visions of the future


Week 1—1/16                   Introduction


Week 2—1/23                   Apocalypse and millennium in the Christian tradition


Reading: Revelation; Joachim of Fiore, selections (both ER)


Week 3—1/30                   The Seventh Seal (screening and discussion)


Week 4—2/6                      The Rapture (screening and discussion)



Part 2: Technology and the future


Week 5—2/13                 The Revolutions of the Modern Age


                  Reading: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein


Week 6—2/20                   2001: A Space Odyssey (screening and discussion)


Week 7—2/27                   The Industrial Revolution


Reading: Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century


Week 8—3/6    Blade Runner (screening and discussion)





N.B.: Last day to drop an individual class is March 12.



Part 3: Cold-War visions of a nuclear holocaust


Week 9—3/13                   On the Beach (screening and discussion)


Spring break: March 18-22


Week 10—3/27                What survives in the post-nuclear world?


Reading: Walter J. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz


Week 11—4/3                   Dr. Strangelove (screening and discussion)



Part 4: Society, family, and gender in the future


Week 12—4/10                American Progressivism and millennialism


Reading: Edward Bellamy, Looking Backwards: 2000-1887


Week 13—4/17               Feminism at the turn of the twentieth century


Reading: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland

Special guest: Professor Mary Louise Roberts, University of Wisconsin


Week 14—4/24               THX 1138 (screening and discussion)


Week 15—5/1                   Seventies utopias and dystopias


Reading: Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time








Timeline of texts and films

Revelation-----ca. 81-96 C.E.

Joachim of Fiore, selections-----between 1184 and 1202

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein-----1818 (rev. 1831)

Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century-----1863

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backwards: 2000-1887-----1888

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland-----1915

The Seventh Seal-----1956

On the Beach -----1959

Walter J. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz-----1959

Dr. Strangelove-----1964

2001: A Space Odyssey-----1968

THX 1138-----1971

Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time-----1976

Blade Runner-----1982

The Rapture------1991





Books to purchase:

                  Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin, ISBN-13: 978-0143105039).

                  Jules Verne, Paris in the Twentieth Century (Del Rey: ISBN-13: 978-0345420398).

                  Walter J. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz (EOS: ISBN-13: 978-0060892999).

                  Edward Bellamy, Looking Backwards: 2000-1887 (Signet: ISBN-13: 978-0451531162).

                  Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (Signet: ISBN-13: 978-0451525628).

                  Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (Fawcett: ISBN-13: 978-0449210826).




Course requirements for undergraduate students:

                  --Attendance at all classes, along with active, informed, and enthusiastic participation in all discussions. (10%)

                  --A one- to two-page (250-500 word) response to each reading assignment and film, due in class on the day of the discussion in the case of readings and to be submitted via Blackboard within 48 hours (by Friday at 6 p.m.) in the case of films screened in class. (40%)

                  --A take-home midterm, due March 3 in class. (20%)

                  --“Ownership” of one of the films or readings in the course, involving a 5-minute oral presentation about either the work’s creator or the historical context in which it was produced, plus a written bibliography. (You may not use Wikipedia as a source.) (10%)

                  --A take-home final or 8-10 page paper (topic to be chosen in consultation with the instructor), due Wednesday, May 8, by 5 p.m. The paper can focus on one or more of the readings or films from the class, or you may elect to examine some other vision of the future not covered in class. If you elect the paper option, you must have your topic approved in writing by February 27. (20%)


About the responses: The responses are meant to focus your thinking about the films and texts to be discussed in the classroom. You may respond to the material in any way you choose, but I will award higher grades for response papers that offer more analysis and insight into the way the text or film reflects its historical context and that use specific examples (and quotations, when possible) to back up their arguments. An adequate plot summary will result in a grade of 7 out of 10 points on the response. Additional points will be awarded for consideration of the historical context in which the work was produced, analysis of the structure and or symbols employed in the given work, comparisons to other works analyzed in the class, questions for discussion raised in the paper, and the use of specific examples and quotations to back up your arguments. Responses should be word processed and double-spaced.


About the “ownership” of a film or reading: In a short, five minute presentation, you will orient the class about either 1) the historical context in which the work was produced, specifically thinking about contemporary events to which the author or film-maker was responding (for example, for Revelation, to Roman persecutions of Christians in the late first century); or 2) the author or film-maker responsible for the work being discussed, situating the work within that person’s life story, larger body of work, and artistic or literary style or goals. You will hand in a bibliography (University of Chicago humanities style) with your presentation citing at least three sources; Wikipedia is not a valid source.


Requirements for graduate students:

Graduate students must complete all of the assignments above (with the same weighting for the grade), with the following exception. In lieu of the take-home final or final paper, graduate students must write a 15-page paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor (due on May 8). The paper may either be a primary-source based research paper or a historiographical survey relating to course themes.



                  Grades are computed on the following scale:

                A=90-100%       B=80-89%          C=70-79%          D=60-69%         F=0-59%



General policies:

Late work will be penalized 10% for each calendar day late.  I do not accept emailed assignments without prior arrangement and only under the most exigent of circumstances.


Students are responsible for all material covered in and announcements made in class; attendance is, thus, crucial for doing well in the course. Participation in discussions is a critical component of the course.  The instructor reserves the right to impose a failing grade for the course after a student’s absence from four or more discussions.  (For the sake of accounting, three tardies will constitute one absence.) Students who are absent from more than three consecutive classes without excuse and without contacting the instructor will be administratively withdrawn from the course.


Learning objectives:

At the end of this course, students will be able to


Student learning objectives for the history major:

1.  Demonstrate a significant degree of knowledge about both United States and World history through completion of a broad selection of courses in history.
2.  Ask appropriate historical questions that demonstrate an understanding of the discipline of history and distinguish it from those of other disciplines.
3.  Distinguish between primary sources and secondary sources used in the writing of history and know how to use and analyze each appropriately. Students will thus be able to:
a.   Analyze a primary source as a product of a particular historical context;
b.   Respond critically to a secondary source, taking into account the primary sources used by the historian, the historian’s methodology, the logic of the argument, and other major interpretations in the field.
4.  Present historical analysis and arguments in a clear written form, including the ability to construct an argument by marshaling evidence in an appropriate and logical fashion.
5.  Write a research paper that asks a significant historical question, answers it with a clear thesis and a logical argument, supports it with both primary and secondary sources documented according to the standards of the Chicago Manual of Style, and is written in clear and artful prose with the grammar and spelling associated with formal composition.


Students with disabilities:

Your success in this class is important to me, and it is the policy and practice of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to create inclusive learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have a documented disability (or need to have a disability documented), and need an accommodation, please contact me privately as soon as possible, so that we can discuss with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) how to meet your specific needs and the requirements of the course. The DRC offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations are established through an interactive process among you, your instructor(s) and the DRC. Thus, if you have a disability, please contact me and/or the DRC, at 501-569-3143 (V/TTY) or 501-683-7629 (VP). For more information, please visit the DRC website at www.ualr.edu/disability.

Classroom etiquette:  

Please turn off all cell phones before entering the classroom or set them to a silent alert; do not read or send text messages in class.  In the rare event you must enter late or leave class early, please let me know in advance.         


Cheating and plagiarism

Cheating and plagiarism are serious offenses and will be treated as such.  ("Plagiarism" means "to adopt and reproduce as one's own, to appropriate to one's use, and incorporate in one's own work without acknowledgment the ideas of others or passages from their writings and works."  See Section VI, Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Behavior, Student Handbook, p. 39.  Copying directly from the textbook or an encyclopedia article without quotation marks or an identifying citation, for example, constitutes plagiarism.)  Anyone who engages in such activities will receive a failing grade in the course and will be turned over to the Academic Integrity and Grievance Committee for University disciplinary action, which may include separation from the University.


Copyright notice:

Copyright © by Laura Smoller as to this syllabus and all lectures. Students and auditors are prohibited from selling notes during this course to (or being paid for taking notes by) any person or commercial firm without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course.



The instructor reserves the right to change topics and assignments on the syllabus at any point in the semester.