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Grant number: AQ-51049-14

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AQ-51049-14

Butler University (Indianapolis, IN 46208-3487)
Christopher Bungard (Project Director: 09/13/2013 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on Comedy and the Human Experience

The development of a two-semester first-year seminar to explore the diverse functions of comedy, with attention to its cultural variation and its role in handling difficult topics.

The development of a two-semester first-year seminar to explore the diverse functions of comedy, with attention to its cultural variation and its role in handling difficult topics. Classics professor Christopher Bungard develops a two-semester first-year seminar that explores the role of comedy in human experience. From the laughter of God to the film The Gods Must Be Crazy, the question, Why is it funny? has endured since antiquity. More pointedly, the subject of comedy raises serious questions of its own. To what extent is comedy bound up in cultural norms? Does comedy alienate or invite? How does comedy play with human perceptions? What is the role of comedy in civic discourse? Can we laugh at war? Should we? After an introductory study of how comedy works, students engage in probing these deeper questions while exploring major trends in comedic history. Readings span ancient Athens and Rome, Renaissance Europe, the Middle East, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa, and modern America. They also span diverse genres, from plays and films to traditional fables and comic strips. Students read Aristotle, Aristophanes, and Aesop; Shakespeare, Molière, and Oscar Wilde. They also study Kyogen, a traditional form of Japanese comic theatre; they read Nigerian playwright and Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka and contemporary philosopher Alenka Zupancic. Classic films such as The Great Dictator, Duck Soup, and episodes of M*A*S*H round out the repertoire. Through performance of plays, a shared blog, and several writing assignments, students formulate their own theories about comedy. Bungard supplements his expertise on Roman comedy by reading primarily modern and global materials. He also attends local performances and speaks with professional comedians to familiarize himself with contemporary practice. He involves his students in Butler's annual undergraduate research conference and presents the work at other venues.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
Classical Literature; Interdisciplinary Studies, General; Literature, Other

Program:
Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Division:
Education Programs

Total amounts:
$21,796 (approved)
$21,796 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2014 – 5/31/2018