The Interdisciplinary Studies Program (ISP) Syllabus, Fall 2011 (PDF Version)

Theme A
A3 The Individual in Society: Assassinations
Fall 2011
Tuesdays 8:10-10:40 am
Room 205

Professor Friss and Professor Capuana
Home Departments: History/Theatre
Office number/phone/hours: TBA
Email: Prof. Friss (, Prof. Capuana (

Course Description: Political assassinations have not only changed the course of history, but they have also served as inspiration for artists and scholars who have woven these seminal moments into our historical memory. In this course, we will explore how historians, essayists, playwrights, novelists, filmmakers, and other artists have interpreted the theme of assassination.

Course Objectives:
• Students will understand how, and the possible reasons why, history and important historical events, such as assassinations, are used in cultural and artistic texts and media.
• Students will be able to critically analyze cultural and artistic texts and media through different critical lenses from a historical criticism that takes the artist’s biography and milieu into consideration to a sociological criticism that includes some of the cultural, economic, and political context of the work.
• Students will be able to read across disciplines, genres, and formats
• Students will be able to communicate orally in a variety of formats and across disciplines, e.g. in small and large groups, and presentations.
• Students will develop the research and writing skills necessary in college and beyond. The course builds on the kind of analytic reading and writing that is the cornerstone of your academic life.
• Students will marshal evidence and methods from different disciplines in support of an argument.
• Students will recognize themselves as active learners, thoughtful citizens, and decision makers.

Required Texts (Bring texts we are working on to class)
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (Arden Shakespeare)
Albert Camus, The Just Assassins (Vintage Books)
Emily Mann, Execution of Justice (Samuel French)
Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman, Assassins (Theatre Communications Group)
A folder/binder to store written work and class notes

Attendance: Class meetings are focused around group work, discussions of the readings, research strategies and techniques, and important writing skills, techniques, and conventions.

Official ISP policy is:
• 3 absences (for whatever reason) equals a final course grade of ‘F’
• 3 late nesses equals 1 absence
• Over ½ hour late equals 1 absence
• Students with a documented, ongoing serious health issue—which may affect their attendance—should speak with a member of the faculty and the program counselor.

Written Assignments: You will be expected to produce written work in advance of, and during, most class meetings. All assignments completed outside of class (including drafts) must be typed and double-spaced. We regularly check email and encourage you to send your paper drafts as attachments.

> Low and Middle Stakes Assignments: Much of this regularly assigned writing will simply be marked as either completed or not completed because its purpose is to facilitate discussion, thinking, or research. Simply completing the work is enough to prepare you for class. Another significant set of these regular assignments will receive brief comments and an evaluation of satisfactory/unsatisfactory. Additionally, failure to complete a majority of the evaluated assignments with a mark of “satisfactory” will negatively impact your final grade.

Each unit will begin with a review of a “discussion question” given during the class before. The question is open-ended and should be about one page typed (double-spaced). There are (7) discussion questions.

> High Stakes Assignments. There are (3) major paper or writing assignments that weigh heavily in the calculation of your final grade. For each of these writing assignments you will engage in a drafting process that includes peer-review and instructor feedback before the work is revised and evaluated for a grade. The low and middle stakes assignments are tailored to help you do well on these assignments.

Final Project/Presentations:

Throughout the semester we have examined how artists have interpreted historical acts and produced creative projects focused on the theme of political assassinations. Now, it’s your turn. On the last day of class we will hold a symposium in which each student presents his or her own artistic rendering of a historically significant assassination. You might choose to write a scene from a play, compose a song, write an excerpt from a novel, or produce a short film, among other possibilities. In addition to your own artistic interpretation of an assassination you must write (and turn-in) a self-reflection about the piece you created. You will want to think about the works (both primary and secondary sources) that we examined throughout the semester and the ways in which history and art intersect. Why did you choose the particular medium? What do your creative choices reveal about your own interpretation/knowledge of the historical event? The in-class presentation should last about eight minutes and the self-reflection should measure between three and four pages.

Participation: Class participation is a fundamental part of your learning. Techniques for research, critical reading, thinking, and writing are important skills that can only be learned through practice and active engagement in the course. You will be well positioned to participate if you complete the writing assignments before coming to class, volunteer your ideas in class, and generally come to class ready to talk. Since we believe that oral communication is about as important as written communication, we will also assign individual class “presentations” over the course of the term. You must complete these presentations to receive full participation credit.

Calculation of Grade (in rough order of assignment)
20%- First Written Assignment
20% – Second Written Assignment
20% – Third Written Assignment
25% – Final Project
15% – Low and Middle stakes assignments, participation.
John Jay College grading criteria
A, A- Excellent
B+, B, B- Very Good
C+, C Satisfactory
C-, D+, D, D- Poor
F Fail

Note on Late Work. Obviously, none of us plans to hand in late work. To ensure that our intentions are linked to incentives in the class, late work is significantly penalized. Low stakes and middle stakes assignments are considered “uncompleted” if not handed in on time. (This means that you are not permitted to hand them in late.) On the other hand, all drafts of the papers must be submitted. Late first, second, or third drafts are penalized by a one-half (1/2) grade reduction on the final draft grade for each class day that a draft is late. Late final drafts are penalized one full letter grade for each class day they are late. What does it mean to be “late” with an assignment? An assignment is late if it is not submitted by the end of class on the date it is due. We will not accept email submissions of assignments, and won’t count a paper as late if you are absent on the due date and we have received the paper by email. But our “failure to receive” an emailed paper does not excuse your failure to submit a hard copy on the due date.

Note on Plagiarism. Please be aware that the official definition of plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of three (3) or more words from another person’s writing. You must cite your sources. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and can result in expulsion and a permanent record on your college transcript. If you are unsure about any material that your have included in an assignment, please contact us. You can also go to
Deliberate plagiarism on any assignment (low, middle, or high stakes) will result in a grade of F for the course. This F can become a permanent mark on your transcript.

Group Work
Throughout the semester you will be asked to work in groups. This puts the responsibility of learning on you.
Here are some guidelines for working in groups:
• give encouragement
• respect others
• stay on task
• use quiet voices
• participate actively
• stay in your group

You are responsible for your own learning. You are equally responsible for the learning of your classmates.

Contact information for ISP Admin and Writing Tutors:
Bertha Peralta-Rodriguez, Program Counselor & Coordinator (
Priscilia Acuna, Program Secretary (
Liz Balla ISP Writing Tutor (

Schedule (subject to change):

8/30: Introduction
Syllabus review, course expectations and goals
Robert A. Fein, “Assassination in the United States: An Operational Study of Recent Assassins, Attackers, and Near-Lethal Approachers,” Journal of Forensic Sciences

9/6: Shakespeare and Caesar
Shakespeare’s Plutarch’s Lives of Julius Caesar pps 91-104
Gary B.Miles, “How Roman are Shakespeare’s ‘Romans?’” Shakespeare Quarterly
Acts I-II of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
Discussion Question #1

9/13: Shakespeare and Caesar
Acts III-V of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar on film (scenes from the movie of the play Julius Caesar and from the HBO series Rome screened in class)

9/20: Lincoln
Robert Toplin, “Introduction,” History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past
Albert Furtwangler, “John Wilkes Booth as Brutus,” Assassin on Stage
The Conspirator screened in class
First Paper Due

9:27: Lincoln
Harold Holzer, “Dying to Be Seen: Prints of the Lincoln Assassination,” Lincoln Seen & Heard
A Historian’s Perspective on The Conspirator

10/4: NO CLASS. According to the University, today is a Friday.

10/11: Assassins, Justice, and Camus
Sally Boniece, “The Spiridonova Case, 1906: Terror, Myth, and Martydom,” Kritka:Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History
Albert Camus, The Just Assassins
Discussion Question #2

10/18: Assassins, Justice, and Camus
Albert Camus, The Just Assassins
Second Paper Due

10/25: JFK
“JFK” screened in class

11/1: JFK
Robert Toplin, “JFK,” History by Hollywood: The Use and Abuse of the American Past
Robert A. Rosenstone, “Film maker/Historian,” History on Film/Film on History
Background on the assassination
Discussion Question #3

11/8: Execution of Justice: Harvey Milk
Emily Mann, Execution of Justice
Wendy Melillo, “Testimony that Counted” Washington Post
Discussion Question #4

11/15: Execution of Justice: Harvey Milk
Emily Mann, Execution of Justice
Third Paper Due

11/17: Last Day to Drop Without Penalty

11/22: NO CLASS. According to the University, today is a Thursday.

11/29: Assassins on Stage
Read scenes 1-8 of Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman, Assassins
Raymond Knapp, “Assassins, Oklahoma!” and the ‘Shifting Fringe of Dark around the Camp-Fire’” Cambridge Opera JN
Discussion Question #5

12/6: Assassins on Stage
Read scenes 9-17 Stephen Sondheim & John Weidman, “Assassins”
Discussion Question #6

12/13: Final Projects Due and Class Presentations

Finals Week: Meetings/Reflections