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Grant number like: AQ-50260-10

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Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC 27109-6000)
Cynthia M. Gendrich (Project Director: September 2009 to September 2012)

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

$24,800 (approved)
$24,800 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2010 – 12/31/2011

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "Why Do People Laugh?"

The development of a first-year undergraduate seminar on comedy and humor drawing from ancient to modern sources, including Aristophanes, Moliere, Wilde, and Toole.

This first-year seminar course will ask, Why do people laugh? The why aims to examine both the potential functions of laughter -- psychological, physiological, social -- and what makes us laugh. In the thousands of years it has been studied, laughter has always been a gauge of society's rules, preoccupations, and attitudes. It is also been hailed as a marker of psychological and physical well-being. Theorists have speculated that we laugh because we feel superior or surprised, because we need release, because we are weak, sacrilegious, or cruel, yet most people don't think about why they laugh. What induces or stifles it? What are its benefits and limits? This course will examine these questions and more, through core readings, including essays by Aristotle, Castlevetro, Bergson, and Langer, among others; plays by Aristophanes, Moliere, and Wilde; and novels by Austen and Toole, supplemented by materials from psychology, physiology, religion, the visual arts, and music.