English Department Lists October Events for Common Context Program

Common Context overview

New for the 2010-2011 academic year, and replacing the Common Text program, is the English Department’s Common Context program. For its 100-level core literature and writing courses, the department will select a context for the academic year that has strong contemporary resonance in the lives of individuals and potential to promote interdisciplinary learning and conversation around campus from a variety of cultural, historical and political perspectives. Sample contexts might include water, beauty, work, exploration, war and peace, the city, happiness, family, atonement, or sanctuary.

2010-2011 Common Context: “Water”

One does not have to be a prophet to predict that in the coming decades nations will go to war in order to assert their claims to diminishing water resources. These contested claims may become the epicenter of global politics much as oil is at the present time. As is often the case in these conflicts, it will be the poor who will suffer the most as increasingly few global players decide the “market” price of this essential resource.

Of course, the centrality of water in human life is nothing new. Throughout history, cultures and civilizations have formed habitations around bodies of water (the Nile, the Euphrates, the Yangtse, the Ganges, and so on); water also has borne important symbolic value, acting as an agent of cleansing and rebirth.  
In literature, water has resonated as a central element, reflected in works that deal with river and ocean crossings, islands and castaways, ports and harbors, storms and floods, thirst and baptism, to name a few. Water as a context offers the possibility of rich conversations across disciplines as well as an opportunity for students to reflect on a valuable resource and its political, economic, social, and cultural significance.


Faculty panel, “Blue Planet: Water in a Global Context,” noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12, O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium.

St. Thomas faculty will discuss global water issues within the context of their respective disciplines. Dr. Todd Lawrence, English, will moderate this panel.

Participating faculty members include:

  • Elise Amel, Environmental Studies and Psychology
  • Kanishka Chowdhury, English
  • Steven Hoffman, Political Science
  • Kaye Smith, Engineering
  • Kevin Theissen, Geology

Film series, “Chinatown,” 7-9 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, Room 126 (auditorium), John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts.

“Chinatown,” Roman Polanski and Robert Towne’s 1974 homage to film noir, features the genre’s usual elements: a private eye and a femme fatale, powerful criminals, and an ever-changing plot.

The film, however, also is based on a historical event: the 1904 Owens Valley “Land Grab.” Corrupt Los Angeles city officials attempted to persuade the citizenry of southern California to provide the growing city with greater access to water. Meanwhile, the officials profited financially by controlling water rights in that area. This event becomes the focus of the film: An investigation into the mysterious death of a Los Angeles water official uncovers to what lengths people will go in order to control water, the most precious commodity of Los Angeles county.

Faculty panel, “Water and Literature,” noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium.

St. Thomas English Department faculty will examine the themes and issues in specific water-related texts. Paul Lai will moderate this panel.

Participating faculty members include:

  • Young-ok An
  • Alex McEllistrem-Evenson
  • Michael Mikolajczak
  • Anne Roth-Reinhardt
  • Liz Wilkinson

For more information about the common context events, call the English Department, (651) 962-5600.