Cowell College One, Imagining Justice

Cowell College One, Imagining Justice, is a first-year seminar designed to introduce students to university-level discourse, including key skills and common practices, and to facilitate analytical reading and engaged, well-reasoned responses to works from a variety of disciplines, all centered around the overarching theme of justice. It begins with and builds on the summer reading done in Cowell 1A. The course’s first priority is building college-level reading proficiency in many genres as a foundation for ongoing practice in analytical writing skills. It emphasizes critical thinking and analysis in discussions and assignments, while also giving students opportunities to increase their speaking and presentation skills to the extent possible given the course format, and to engage in creative expression. It also offers you an opportunity to try out and play with big ideas, to think aloud with others about the world around you, theorize, make mistakes, consider and reconsider your and others’ ideas and beliefs, and revise things you said or wrote before.

The course is based upon a slowly changing syllabus of significant texts–classical and modern–chosen because they reward close reading and stimulate thoughtful interaction between students and reflection on each students’ own experiences. This year’s course attends to our current moment of social disruption from the pandemic and sociopolitical issues (e.g., police power, anti-Asian crimes) with some particularly topical materials. We will use this moment in time as a lens through which particular issues about justice may be viewed, with some newly revealed or eclipsed, magnified or distorted. Your summer and fall texts include scholarly works on political and sociological issues, philosophical treatises, fiction, drama, films, podcasts, a graphic work, and a digital archive, introducing you to a broad array of genres, fields, and types of materials you’ll encounter throughout your university career. The Core course considers the characteristics and significance of the forms as well as the content of these texts, asking you to consider the metadata and broader context these challenging texts arise from, along with generic and discipline-specific standards, as well as creators’ uses and deviations from these expectations.

The principal assignment for students is to read/view/listen to (and re-read/review) the texts actively and analytically, to attend meetings prepared to engage in discussion of the material, and to respond to all assignments, formal and informal, thoughtfully, critically, and in the shared spirit of our Cowell motto, pursuing truth in the company of friends. As we discuss our justice-linked content, we will be working to build the ACMES skills described further in the learning outcomes below: Analysis, Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Engagement, Self-Efficacy.

Cowell’s motto is The Pursuit of Truth in the Company of Friends. Forging this “company,” your campus and peer community, is another central goal: This course gives you an opportunity to get to know one another and an instructor in a small setting that fosters intellectual intimacy and inquiry and focuses on respectful exchanges of differing perspectives and ideas. It encourages collaborative learning as students work together to plan and lead some class discussions, including doing and presenting related research.

The readings and other texts have been chosen to raise themes of justice, equality, and freedom. The course will also address ways in which philosophers and theorists, societies and individuals, and literary and other media may transmit, question, or revise notions of the just. How do we define justice? When can we say that, “justice has been served”? Do ideas about what is just differ according to time, place, and culture, or are some notions of justice arguable as universal values?


 On this site, you can find the following information:

Texts for Cowell College One:  Imagining Justice 2021


  1. Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2015
  2. The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich. Harper Perennial (ISBN-10: 0062671197  ISBN-13: 978-0062671196)

Fall Books
  1. Cowell Core Course Reader. Available only through Bay Tree Bookstore.
  2. Seeds of Something Different, An Oral History of the University of California, Santa Cruz Volume 1 e-edition, ed. Vanderscoff, Reti, Rabkin

    Free use for Cowell Students:

    SEEDS Volume I:

    SEEDS Volume II (optional):

  3. Kamo no Chomei, Hojoki A Hermit’s Hut as Metaphor Translated and annotated by Matthew Stavros (This translation is in the public domain and available as an inexpensive paperback with excellent notes and illustrations published by Licus Lusorum)
    ISBN-13: 9798633865431 Please use this Stavros translation
  4. Oresteia, by Aeschylus Trans. Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998. (Please buy this translation. ISBN-10: 0872203905; ISBN-13: 978-0872203907)
  5. Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. New York: Pelican Shakespeare (Paperback) eds. Braunmuller, AR; Orgel, Stephen. New York: Penguin 2017 (ISBN-10: 0143130226; ISBN-13: 978-0143130222)

We prefer that you have paper copies (rather than ebooks) of Fall Quarter books for use in class. Buy your books at the Bay Tree Bookstore. This summer, during orientation the books will be offered with a 20% discount. If you buy your books elsewhere, please be sure to get the version that is indicated in the list above. Please pay special attention to the translation version of the Oresteia.

Texts in other formats

  1. Digital Archive: Bancroft Library UCB Chinese Immigration to the United States, 1884-1944 A Digital Archive Timeline
  2. Podcast: Freakonomics Episode 413 “Who Gets the Ventilator” by Stephen J. Dubner
    Produced by Zack Lapinski  And/or Podcast: Radiolab “Playing God”

Summer 2021 Reading Assignment

Summer Reading

The assigned books and essay introduce many issues and areas related to justice. Please have these texts read by the beginning of the quarter, September 23. Your informal written responses to the summer reading, assigned below, you will turn in to your instructor electronically when class meetings begin October 1st and 2nd

We have selected three works that explore justice from different perspectives and genres. The first is a novel, the next a graphic text which considers intellectual theory and philosophy using a visual format, and the third is an essay about the shared values that underpin and shape ideas about justice across highly diverse cultures and historical periods. In our course, along with considering content—different ways to categorize and examine justice—we will also be considering how form and rhetoric play a role, looking at the impacts and effects of genres (for example, fiction, autobiography, and argument as well as thinking about larger categories, comparing, for example, visual texts and verbal texts).

Here are your summer reading texts. Please have them available to reference in classes. 

  1. The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich. Harper Perennial. ISBN-10: 0062671197  ISBN-13: 978-0062671196
  2. Unflattening Nick Sousanis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2015. ISBN-10: 0674744438 ISBN-13: 978-0674744431

Unflattening by Nick Sousanis. This book, a philosophical treatise using comics, asks us to reconsider perspective as a central aspect of how we know what we know, how we construct our understanding of reality, ourselves, and our social relations.  It speaks to how we may initially view things from a two-dimensional, flattened, or superficial perspective, and considers how vision, and visual media present us with models of seeking more complex, multidimensional views.

Note: To help us all grasp some of the conventions and strategies for reading serious graphic/comic texts, we have appended a short synopsis of key ideas from a worthy book that may interest you: Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud.

The Night Watchman, a rich, engaging novel by acclaimed author and National Book award winner Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians. It centers on a family and community in the 1950s threatened and harmed by political and social forces seeking to disband, dispossess, and destroy their lives, as they work to support and heal each other. The New York Times book review says Erdrich “delivers a magisterial epic that brings her power of witness to every page. High drama, low comedy, ghost stories, mystical visions, family and tribal lore — wed to a surprising outbreak of enthusiasm for boxing matches — mix with political fervor and a terrifying undercurrent of predation and violence against women.” Questions of justice are woven throughout as it asks us to explore the intertwining of the personal and political, of the human and natural worlds, of history and the present.

Books will be available at the UCSC Bookstore.

If you have any questions about your summer reading that were not resolved by orientation, please email Cowell’s Core Course Coordinator, Catherine Carlstroem, or instructor of Cowell 1A, Todd Thorpe.

If you have questions about enrollment, transcripts, or other concerns not related to the Cowell Core Course content, email Cowell Advising Office.

If you have difficulty (financial or other) accessing the texts, please email the Cowell Provost, Alan Christy.