Spring Term Schedule
Cities of the World explores the histories of a selected group of global cities during notable moments in their social, economic, and political lives. It spans roughly 40 centuries from ancient Mesopotamia to post-world war South America to investigate how cities have been made by, and have made, humans. This course will focus on one or two cities based on a theme each week and discuss the urban built environment and monumental architecture in their historical context. In this course, students will learn about the history of major cities such as Rome, Cairo, Tenochtitlan, Angkor, Paris, Beijing, Isfahan, New York, and Brasília. More importantly, they will comprehend critical social, economic, and political themes from the “Agricultural Revolution” to Capitalism. Finally, they practice how to “read” urban spaces by developing their spatial analytical skills in historical contexts.
Divided into three parts—Canon Formation, Money Laundering, and Identity Presentation— this course approaches the museum both as an object of critique (by artists as well as critics and historians) and as a site of production. Increasingly, museums adopt strategies first implemented in “alternative spaces”: artists join curators in selecting and installing artworks in museums, and dance and performance “enliven” its spaces. What do we make of the many distinctions—between art and non-art, around national and ethnic identities, between present and past—that museums are built on, and are continually redefining? This course requires short papers that respond to museum and non-museum shows.
This course explores key topics related to the social, cultural, and political contexts of art museums in the 21st century. A broad overview of the academic and professional field of museum studies will be presented alongside an in-depth examination of specific topics of concern to museum professionals. These topics include: the roles of the museum in society; the relationship between the museum and the artist; the ways in which museums engage communities; and how museums are reckoning with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. The Memorial Art Gallery (where much of this course will be taught) will serve as a case study for many contemporary issues in museum studies.
This course will offer a survey of African American film and filmmakers from the early 20th century to the 21st. Directors we will study include: Oscar Micheaux, Ivan Dixon, Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks, Charles Burnett, Carl Franklin, Dee Rees, Cheryl Dunye, Julie Dash, Kasi Lemmons, Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, John Singleton, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele. We will also explore the incisive critical and theoretical work African American critics have produced in response to these films and the contexts in which they emerge.
This course explores textiles as vital objects in human lives for millennia. It explores a selection of these luxurious textiles and their intersection with social, economic, and political lives in the Islamic world between the ninth to the eighteenth centuries. At the end of the semester, students will have an overall picture of Islamic dynastic history, its broad geographical expansion from Spain to India, and its cultural themes such as political system, social structure, economic sectors, religious rituals, cross-cultural exchanges, diplomatic gifting, royal leisure, and funerary practices. This course invites students to see artifacts as not merely passive objects but active agents in history as well as their everyday lives. It also discusses a few technical aspects of weaving textiles and looks at textiles as three-dimensional objects. Finally, this course will assist students with developing their critical thinking, research, and writing as crucial skills to succeed in their future careers through weekly readings, visual analysis, in-class discussions, and research projects.
This seminar attends to the vast proliferation of printed material in Europe between 1450-1700, to print’s reception, critical history, materiality and use. Participants will focus on the conceptual, social, and economic facets of print through weekly discussions of engravings, etchings, woodcuts, and books. While our attention will be directed towards specific material techniques and technologies (e.g. hand-coloring, reproductive engraving) chiefly in Northern Europe, we will concern ourselves also with the many modalities of print’s reception throughout the world, with mechanical reproductions’ role in shaping (or defying) early modern habits of mind, with the way print inflected notions of authorship, with the manner in which print’s historical agency has been understood, and more urgently, with the new politics of "replicative" media today Topics to be discussed include: intaglio processes, the collecting, copyright, sale, and marketing of devotional engravings; Protestant-Catholic propaganda and broadsheets; print and identity formation in the Renaissance workshop; natural history, science, cartography, and astrononomy's use of reproduceable images; documentation of the New World; demarcations of high/low culture; the idea of pictures as evidence. We will spend time in the Memorial Art Gallery with works by Dürer, Raimondi, Schedel, Bruegel, Altdorfer, Ortelius, Cock, van Leyden, Ghisi, Callot, Breydenbach, and Rembrandt, as well as with treatises and essays on the early collecting of prints. Readings will include selections from Chartier, Benjamin, Ong, Grafton, McLuhan, Koerner, Latour, de Piles, Warburg, Deleuze, and others.
When Spanish and Portuguese explorers stumbled upon a sunny "America" that was new to them, they encountered balmy wonders – armadillos, cities, and gold. By contrast, when the English crashed into their own unseen continent a century later, they landed in the arctic, and found, to some extent, nothing. Icy, unpopulated, commodity- poor, visually and temporally “abstract,” the Far North - a different kind of terra incognita for the early modern imagination than the sun-drenched Indies, offered no clear stuff to be seen or exploited. With this, this seminar contends, the Arctic quietly yet powerfully challenged older narratives of world- and picture-making. Neither a continent, nor an ocean, nor a meteorological circumstance, the Arctic forced explorers, writers, and early artists from England, the Netherlands, and Germany to grapple with a different kind of “ecology.” Here, there were virtually no exotic animals, teeming forests, or enchanting civilizations to study, exploit, or exterminate - yet. In the frigid North, that is, the idea of description as a kind of accumulative endeavor of “representation” - of exoticism as synonymous with abundance - was thrown into question; the North was unsettling not because of dazzling difference, but because of monotonous sameness. Rather than an Eden, to Renaissance travelers the arctic was something like the moon.
This course adopts an anthropological approach towards understanding the dramatic socio-cultural transformations that have followed in the wake of China’s post-Mao economic reforms. What happens when a society officially committed to economic and gender equality witnesses the rise of stark social divisions? Beginning with an historical overview of the key features of the Maoist and post-Mao periods, we will move on to examine such issues as the creation of a market economy, the rise of new social classes, rural to urban migration, changing ideologies of gender and sexuality, new attitudes towards education and work, transformations in family life, religious revival and conversion, and the influences of global popular culture and mass consumption, with an eye towards identifying both continuities and departures from the Maoist era. Throughout our discussions we will consider the implications of these changes for China’s political, social, and economic futures.
Focused on but not limited to the first half of the 20th century, this course explores representations of Japan in a wide range of visual and material culture: e.g., ephemera generated by tourism, education and entertainment; advertisements and souvenirs; and wartime propaganda traveling similar routes of exchange. Travel brochures, guidebooks, photographs, postcards, films and other objects reflect changing concepts of urban space, rural culture, industry, geography, and military and political authority. Recurrent iconography and coded images link tourism and educational objects and images with evolving concepts of and questions regarding modernity, nationalism and cultural identity: e.g., how is the meaning of “modernity” in Japan useful to a study of the continuous transformation of culture in specific contexts, as in the transition from ukiyo-e culture to photography and animated films? This lecture/discussion course has a digital component: students work hands-on with the Re-Envisioning Japan Collection and digital archive, learning both critical analysis and digital curation skills. The course includes weekly film assignments and one field trip each to the Memorial Art Gallery and George Eastman Museum. No audits, Instructor permission required.
Moving images recorded on analog film defined the 20th century in an unprecedented way. This course considers the tangible object that is the source of the image onscreen, and the social, cultural, and historical value of a reel of film as an organic element with a finite life cycle. We focus on the analog photographic element and its origins (both theatrical and small gauge), the basics of photochemical film technology, and the state of film conservation and preservation worldwide. Guest lectures by staff of the Moving Image Department of George Eastman Museum provide a first-hand look at film preservation in action, allowing us to consider analog film as an ephemeral form of material culture: a multipurpose, visual record that is art, entertainment, evidentiary document, and historical artifact. Weekly film assignments. Class meets on River Campus and at George Eastman Museum (900 East Ave, no admission fee but students provide their own transportation). No audits, no pre-requisites. Enrollment limited by hands-on nature of course.
Revolutions and Revolt is an experimental course that examines 20th century German cultural history. We will explore questions of social justice, representation, and political expression clustered around three major revolutionary moments: the German Revolution of 1918, the German Student Movement of 1968, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Our course will be oriented by a careful reading of Marx and Engle's Communist Manifesto, that, while also defining the conditions of possibility for an empowered proletarian class, can also be used a tool to reflect on the revolutionary features of language, poetry, and art. We will think about specific genres – the manifesto, the pamphlet, political theater, and film, as genres that calls or could call "revolution" into being. These historical hinge points (a term I am borrowing from Matt Christman) bring various emancipatory impulses into relief, beyond the history of class conflict described in the Communist Manifesto, and we will engage with pacificist, anti-fascist, feminist, and Jewish texts and artworks. This course is conducted in English, and our readings are English translations of German texts, but if students of German would like to work on original texts, these can be provided along with alternative assignments where German language practice might be implemented.
This course explores the beginnings of the horror and detective genres in the 19th century. Particular attention is devoted to the narrative structure, tropes, and psychological content of the strange tales by Poe and Hoffmann. Theories of horror are also addressed to include discussions by lessing, Todorov, Huet, and Kristeva. NOTE: THIS COURSE IS TAUGHT IN ENGLISH
The properties of letters and numbers have been associated with the occult from ancient times on. This course will explore the creative development of this concept from Greek and Hebrew thought in medieval and early modern traditions where language served to hide, protect, conjure, and transform: the letters of the Paternoster that defeat the devil, Odin’s Mead of Poetry, Taliesin’s aretalogies, Germanic runes, riddles, charms, loricae, spells, ciphers (the indecipherable Voynich Manuscript, the banned Steganography by Trithemius of Sponheim), magic and foreign alphabets, deific languages (the Irish “Evernew Tongue”), glossolalia, demonic languages, invented languages (Hildegard of Bingen’s Lingua Ignota), John Dee’s “language of the angels,” Enochian,” adopted by Aleister Crowley for his “Order of the Golden Dawn.” I want to discover what properties in language do more than just signify. Exercises, creative projects, and a final research paper.
This course focuses on drama written by Shakespeare's contemporaries. Classes center around careful analysis of individual plays. We discuss, among other topics, the plays' tragic and comic inflections, depictions of psychological interiority, meditations on love and desire, staging of death, use of props, fascination with sensational and often violent events, and insistent references to contemporary performance practices. We also become familiar with a range of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theatrical spaces—their geographical locations and physical properties, the composition of their audiences, the training and performance practices of their actors, and the aesthetic, social, and political contexts of their productions. We consider plays written by Beaumont and Fletcher, Dekker, Ford, Jonson, Kyd, Marlowe, Middleton, and Webster and, when possible, view scenes from recent staged productions.
Satisfies the pre-1800 literature, the dramatic literature, the literature, and the 200-level literature requirements for various English major and minor tracks. Satisfies a requirement in the Humanities/English cluster, Plays, Playwrights, and Theater. Appropriate for all students, from those in their first semester at the university to senior English majors. No restrictions -- all students welcome.
We will investigate the peculiar quality of romanticism and the particular achievements of romantic writers in the United States during the period before the Civil War. Three capacious topics will organize discussions: nature and art, society and history, and individuals and communities. As part of each of these topics, we will also consider the pressures and controversies around slavery, race, and gender that were dividing the States in the decades before the Civil War. We will read works by Cooper, Childs, Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Melville, Poe, Douglass, Jacobs, Hawthorne, Stowe, Whitman, Lincoln, Dickinson, and others. Of particular interest throughout the term will be the hopes and anxieties, allegiances and resistances, aesthetic triumphs and political frustrations that characters American romantic artists and have made the imagination a crucial part of the nation's life and an indispensable resource for its people even at moments when fundamental conflicts threatened to end the nation altogether.
What is America? A country? A continent? A political ideal? A culture? This course traces the development of ideas about America, from its historical beginnings to our own time, from European fantasies about the New World and its possibilities to the experiences of settlers and citizens facing its realities. We will explore the competing and even contending narratives of America in a wide variety of cultural documents, from orations, sermons and political tracts to novels, poems, photographs, and films. The course is open to all interested students and required for all American Studies majors.
“Make it New” has generally been accepted as modernism’s battle cry, and 1922 has often been seen as the year modernism changed the world with the publication of key modernist masterpieces. But a century on, the novelty of its classics invites reinvestigation. We will explore how contemporary writers and filmmakers have recast and transformed iconic texts by writers like Conrad, Forster, Joyce, and Woolf for new times and new audiences, sometimes literally taking them apart and re-piecing them together. What happens when a novel is transposed to a new medium, genre, or point of view? What do the texts look like in transnational and multicultural settings? What happens when Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is refigured as a Vietnam era film or a graphic novel? What if Mrs. Dalloway is reduced to a five minute YouTube video? Looking at multiple versions of a few key texts, we will apply theories of adaptation and media studies, including ideas of remediation and remixing. We will also look at how digital technologies have produced new modernist artifacts, allowing us to explore multiple versions of a single text.
In recent years, we have seen a virtual explosion of writing by women, with women’s novels constituting some of the most widely read and critically admired work being produced today. The global reach of both its authors and audiences has made contemporary women’s writing a truly international phenomenon. We will examine what makes this work especially innovative: its experimentation with new voices and narrative forms and its blurring of genre boundaries. We will look at the dialogue it has established with the past, where it often finds its inspiration, self-consciously appropriating earlier literary texts or rewriting history. We will also consider what special challenges this work poses for its readers. Looking at works originating in a wide range of locations, this course, will explore the diverse shapes of contemporary women's imagination and attempt to account for the compelling interest of this new body of fiction.
This course explores three of Italy’s most prominent post-WWII directors, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Liliana Cavani, who developed distinct cinemas and contributed radical representations to key cultural debates. Students will examine each filmmaker’s specific thematic and stylistic innovations, such as Fellini’s carnivalesque and dreamlike states, Antonioni’s use of space and color, and Cavani’s marginal figures and use of flashback. Students will also compare how their works address three of postwar Italy’s and the West’s most critical questions: modernization, the 1968 student protests and the legacy of Fascism. Films include: Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Amarcord; Antonioni’s Red Desert and Zabriskie Point; and Cavani’s The Cannibals and The Night Porter. Assignments include: historical, biographical and critical readings, film screenings, short papers and a final essay. Readings will be in English and films will be shown with English subtitles.
This course examines major historical movements and styles in the documentary film tradition, and explores the spread of documentary across a range of media platforms. We will study the expository documentary, ethnographic film, the direct cinema and cinéma vérité movements, documentary’s intersections with avant-garde film, mock documentary and hoax films, personal and autobiographical film and video, animated documentary, and digital interactive documentary media.
Encountering early texts in their manuscript and print contexts, as the original readers would have, is a dramatically different experience from reading medieval and early modern literature today. Although differences in letter forms, bindings, ink, illumination practices, spelling, rubrication, punctuation, glossing, and page layout all contribute to this, perhaps the most significant difference is the way in which multiple texts were compiled and grouped into codices by medieval scribes and early modern printers. The miscellany, in fact, is the norm among vernacular books in England for most of its literary history. A medieval reader would have encountered Beowulf alongside a poetic translation of the Hebrew Bible’s Judith and the prose Letter of Alexander to Aristotle; readers of the codex in which Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is found might instead have been more interested in Pearl or Cleanness; Wyatt first appeared to most Renaissance English readers fifteen years after his death in Tottel’s Miscellany. Yet today, Beowulf is nearly a household name, while its neighbors (copied by the same two scribes in London, British Library, MS Vitellius A.XV) are nearly forgotten. This research seminar will explore practices of compilation in several early books and recent scholarship examining important miscellanies; we will also read two late-medieval works (by the English poet Thomas Hoccleve and the German mystic Henry Suso) which dramatize the process of creating a collection of disparate texts. The term will conclude with student reports on individual miscellanies of particular interest to their own research, as well as some “pseudo-miscellanies” (such as the eighteenth-century Bog-House Miscellany, purporting to assemble poetry from the walls of public toilets across Britain).
A seminar on the intersection between violence and literature. We’ll consider three types of writing and the relationships among them: a select archive of literary works (from classical epic and tragedy to contemporary lyric and fiction) that thematize violence in illuminating or challenging ways; some literary criticism which take violence as a privileged category of literary analysis (e.g., Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence); and some of the philosophical literature on the theory of violence (Nietzsche, Benjamin, Girard, Arendt, Fanon, Agamben, Butler).
The modern histories of both racism and abolitionism can be traced to the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, a period that witnessed genocidal trade wars in South Asia, the enslavement of millions of Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the deracination of many of the First Nations of the Americas. Writers at the time—those who glorified these and other atrocities, those who condemned them, and those who simply stood by as they happened—almost always interpreted these events within the conceptual vocabulary we now associate with religion: the language of soul, spirit, prophecy, witchcraft, apocalypse, redemption, salvation, damnation, angelic inspiration, and demonic possession. This course seeks to interrogate this connection. To what extent does an awareness of this spiritual dimension of the economic, social, and psychological histories of race illuminate past texts? Present circumstances? Future possibilities? While the course focuses on early modern Anglophone writers (including William Shakespeare, Mary Rowlandson, Phillis Wheatley, Olaudah Equiano, and Ottobah Cugoano) it also emphasizes urgent scholarly and literary-critical writings of recent years which have sought both to interpret the world and to change it.