Oberlin Center for Convergence (StudiOC)

Recasting Innovation

“What is now proved was once only imagined.”  ~William Blake

hree women professors sitting in cushy chairs. Photo.
Instructors of Recasting Innovation are Holly Handman-Lopez, Emily Barton, and Ellen Wurtzel.
Photo credit: Jennifer Manna

Recasting Innovation

Offered spring 2020

In the popular imagination, innovation can seem to lack context, as if all great ideas sprang from a vacuum or the brain of a brilliant lone inventor. In reality, all the innovations that have changed our world—for example, movable type, the aqueduct, or the zipper—have answered specific questions, problems, or challenges and were situated in particular places and moments in time. Many were collaborative enterprises, and many changed the world in ways their inventors could never have imagined.

Students in this learning community will explore the histories of innovation in three disciplines—history, fiction writing, and dance. Recasting Innovation traces the lineage of ideas, inventions, and practices we may take for granted. Through crafting creative/intellectual/corporeal experiences, students will embody and explore historical innovations and challenge themselves to experiment with success and failure.

HIST 278 and either DAN 205 or CRWR 256 are required for this learning community.


Course instructors for this learning community are Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance Holly Handman-Lopez, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing Emily Barton, and Associate Professor of History and Chair of Jewish Studies Ellen Wurtzel.

Holly Handman, instructor

DANC 205 Somatic Studies: The Anatomy of Innovation 
Meets 1 pm, Tuesday and Thursday; 4 credit hours; enrollment limit 22

The discipline of somatic studies, ‘‘Somatics’’ coming from the Greek word ‘‘soma,’’ meaning ‘‘the body in its wholeness,’’ underscores the indivisibility of body and mind. It also defies dualism and strives to improve embodied self-awareness.

This course will introduce students to broad somatic principles as they explore the history, theory, and practice of three fundamental somatic modalities: Sweigard Ideokinesis, Alexander Technique, and Bartenieff Fundamentals. Experiential learning sessions will offer opportunities for students to deepen perceptual capabilities and physical sentience. During the semester, an increase of ease, efficiency, and facility of movement, as well as expressivity, will be developed.

No prerequisite.

Ellen Wurtzel, instructor

HIST 278 The Productive Past: Innovation and the Early Modern World
Meets 9:30 am, Tuesday and Thursday; 4 credit hours; enrollment 30

Innovations do not occur in a vacuum, or spring fully born from the mind of an isolated genius; they are intimately embedded in the social, cultural, and biological contexts that produce them. 

This course examines theories and practices of innovation in the early modern period, when important changes transformed economic, scientific and medical epistemologies that continue to shape our views of knowledge, our bodies, and what we put into them. Using historical evidence as well as hands-on workshops, students will study the complexity of these innovations, particularly the real world stickiness of the problems they purported to address and the consequences of their adoption.  

Emily Barton, instructor

CRWR 256 Topics & Form: Historic and Historical Fiction
Meets 1:30 pm, Tuesday and Thursday; 4 credit hours; enrollment 15

In this 200-level creative writing course, students will read two kinds of texts: historical works of fiction that invented or popularized elements of craft we now take for granted, and contemporary historical fictions of diverse kinds, particularly those that explore the history of technology, work, and innovation.

Students will also have the opportunity to write historical fiction (broadly defined) of their own for workshop review. Weekly reading responses, creative work due on a regular, established schedule, and completion of final substantive work will all be important elements of the course.