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Upcoming Theme (AY 2024-25)


For the 2024-25 academic year, the theme for the Symposium will be “Black & White.” It is a seemingly simple dichotomy that stretches across disciplines and thinking. Scientifically, white is pure light and black marks the light’s absence. In terms of color, black and white are thought to be shades and not colors at all. But symbolically, black and white are powerful signifiers across cultures with layers of complimentary and conflicting meaning.

Humans recognize the limitations of a binary like black and white but may also simultaneously take comfort in the order and simplicity it offers. We reach for truth, news, and facts in black and white. Complex histories of race and ethnicity are condensed to black and white with accompanying stereotypes. Harmony in nature and the mind is represented by Yin and Yang, the oppositional forces swirling between dark and light, night and day, cold and hot, feminine and masculine. Growing out of these cultural traditions, popular culture like literature, film, video games, photography, fashion, food, etc. draw from this layered symbolic history. Courses in this year’s Symposium will consider black and white from a variety of disciplines and approaches. The discourse generated will explore the ways reality and symbolism intersect.

Possible Course Areas for "Black & White"

  • Black and white as a symbol of truth (e.g., journalism, photography, news, data, the law, etc.)
  • The history of Black and white as racial coding in the U.S. and across the globe (i.e., colorism, Blackface, cultural appropriation, hegemony, colonization, Afropessimism, etc.)
  • Boundary-work and the separation of science from non-science
  • Black and white symbolism in literature, language, and popular culture
  • Black and white in rituals, costumes, and cultural metaphors (e.g., surrounding death and mourning, White Coat ceremony, baptism, etc.)
  • Color theory and symbolism (e.g., monochromatic painting, cultural commentary through color, etc.)
  • Black and white photography (e.g. the importance of light, the gravity of the image, etc.)
  • Black and white films (e.g. pre-code Hollywood, chiaroscuro, etc.)
  • Black and white in fashion (e.g., material patterns like herringbone, houndstooth, and checkerboard; the little black dress for a night out to a white wedding dress for the big day, etc.)
  • Visually representing the past as black and white
  • Rorschach ink blots, psychology, and personality
  • Feminist/Indigenous/Black criticisms of objectivity and scientific ways of knowing
  • Quantifying feelings, medical scales, rendering emotions into data, etc.
  • Evolution, adapting to predators, and black and white animals
  • Black foods by color (i.e., squid ink pasta, black and white cookie, forbidden black rice, charcoal as an ingredient, black garlic, etc.)
  • Foods culturally coded as Black and/or white and their associated histories
  • Apartheid states, colonialism, borders, and difference
  • White paper and being coded for public consumption
  • White cowboy hats vs. black cowboy hats; heroes and villains represented through color
  • Millennial gray in interior design
  • Fluidity and spectrum as opposed to binaries

Sample Course Descriptions

The Barcode: Rendering a World of Data (and Produce) in Black and White

In 1949, a former Drexel graduate student came up with the idea for the barcode to help grocery stores get customers through the checkout more quickly. The barcode became a new means of visually representing data in a scannable format, allowing for products to be categorized, tracked, and checked out in unprecedented ways. Those black and white lines that we see on almost every product we buy (not to mention on test tubes, medical bracelets, cars, tickets, and seemingly endless QR codes) are celebrating their 75th anniversary of invention in 2024. In those 75 years the barcode has transformed data, technology, and the retail industry. This class will explore those transformations, including the evolution of the categorization and visualization of information, development of new associated technologies (including the laser), and how commerce has been forever changed. We will approach the topic through Science, Technology, and Society, History, and Data Science.

Symbolism and Style: Allegory in Film Using Both Black and White and Color

There are black and white films and there are color films, but there are few films that use both. Filmmakers create a variety of effects, both symbolic and stylistic, by incorporating color or black and white. Time, memory, dream, illusion, and so much more can be conveyed in the interplay. In some cases, rendering in both color and black and white layers cultural allegories into the visual storytelling. As a class, we will view The Wizard of Oz (1939), Pleasantville (1998), Raging Bull (1980), Memento (2000), Kill Bill: Volume I (2003), and Bonjour Tristesse (1958) as well as clips from other popular media. Students will conduct film analyses and investigate whether this is still an effective tool for storytelling.

Pitching a Course for the Symposium

If you are interested in being a part of the 2024-25 Symposium, consider submitting a course proposal for review. Here’s how it works:

  • Identify a potential interdisciplinary co-instructor

    An interdisciplinary co-instructor simply means someone with a different academic background or expertise than you.

    Don’t have an interdisciplinary co-instructor yet? No problem!
    Faculty interested in teaching for the Symposium but in need of an interdisciplinary co-instructor attend the Course Proposal Networking Session to identify a potential partnership. If a co-instructor is successfully identified following the session, the faculty pair may then submit their official course proposal for consideration prior to the April 1st deadline. The networking session is required if you propose a course without a co-instructor!

    • Register for the 2024 Course Proposal Networking Session now by submitting the Symposium Course Proposal Form and following prompts by Sunday, February 18, 2024.
    • Plan to attend the Friday, February 23, 2024 networking session!

    Already have a co-instructor in mind? Great!
    Faculty who have already identified an interdisciplinary co-instructor may submit their official course proposal for consideration any time prior to the April 1st deadline. Depending on the proposal, faculty may be asked to revise or potentially attend the Course Proposal Networking Session.

  • Submit a 2024-25 Symposium course proposal

    Complete the AY 2024-25 Symposium Course Proposal Form by April 1, 2024.

    If your course proposal is selected...

    • Attend the Symposium Faculty Kick-off Event in Summer
    • Prepare for your upcoming course!