The Stories We Tell is based on the premise that we are story-telling animals. There have been human societies without the wheel, but none without stories. We use stories to make sense of experience, to understand where we are coming from, and to orient ourselves in the world. Today, we are asked to produce stories to get into college, to run for president, to pitch start-up companies, and to turn scientific insight into new policies. Where do these stories come from?
The course draws on our entire storytelling inheritance from around the globe. We single out different types of stories, from the hero-epics of the ancient world (Gilgamesh) and pedagogical story-collections (1001 Nights) to the invention of psychological realism by the first novelist (Murasaki Shikibu), and we supplement those with modern storytelling techniques from Asia (Eileen Cheng) to Latin America (Clarice Lispector). Since our most important stories are not confined to literature, we also include those religious and philosophical storytellers (Confucius; Socrates) as well as political stories (Declaration of Independence; Communist Manifesto) that have shaped human affairs. Along the way, we examine the technologies, from clay tablets and papyrus scrolls to print and the Internet, thought which these stories have survived into the early twenty-first century and are shaping our world today.
The course includes in-class exercises, research assignments (Wikipedia entries), and a final exam.