Gender and Sexuality Studies

The gender and sexuality studies curriculum comprises courses in various disciplines and focuses on new scholarship on women, sex, and gender. Subjects include women’s history; feminist theory; the psychology and politics of sexuality; gender constructs in literature, visual arts, and popular culture; and the ways in which gender, race, class, and sexual identities intersect for both women and men. This curriculum is designed to help all students think critically and globally about sex-gender systems and to encourage women, in particular, to think in new ways about themselves and their work.

Undergraduates may explore women’s studies in lectures, seminars, and conference courses. Advanced students may also apply for early admission to the College’s graduate program in women’s history and, if admitted, may begin work toward the master of arts degree during their senior year. The MA program provides rigorous training in historical research and interpretation. It is designed for students pursuing careers in academe, advocacy, policymaking, and related fields.

Gender and Sexuality Studies 2022-2023 Courses

First-Year Studies: Global Kinships: An Anthropological Exploration of Connectedness

FYS—Year

A common feature of human societies is the enforcement of rules that determine social relations, particularly regarding kinship. With whom may one be sexual? Whom may a person marry? Which children are “legitimate”? To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies. And marriage across great difference—such as age, race, nation, culture, or class—can also be problematic. Social rules govern the acceptance or rejection of children in particular social groups, depending on factors such as the marital status of their parents or the enactment of appropriate rituals. And configurations of gender are always key to family arrangements. Kinship has always been plastic, but the range and speed of transformations in gender and kinship are accelerating due to globalization and to new medical and digital technologies. New medical technologies create multiple routes to conceiving a child, both within and without the “mother’s” womb. New understandings of the varieties of gender and new techniques in surgery permit sex/gender confirmations and changes. Self-administered DNA tests permit individuals to learn about their geographical roots and, sometimes, to discover close blood kin whom they did not even know they had. Digital media permit searches for babies to adopt, surrogates to carry an embryo, blood kin separated through adoption, and siblings sharing the same sperm-donor father. Globalization permits the movement of new spouses, infants, genetic material, embryos, and family members. Kin who are separated by great distance easily chat with each other in virtual family conversations on Skype. In this First-Year Studies seminar, we will look at many sites of gender and kinship through a variety of conceptual approaches, including theories of race, gender, queerness, the postcolonial, and anthropological kinship studies. Our topics will include transnational adoption between Sweden and Chile, the return of adoptees from China and Korea to their countries of birth, commercial surrogacy in India, polygamy in East and West Africa, cross-class marriage in Victorian England, incest regulation cross-culturally, African migrations to Europe, and same-sex marriage. Questions to explore will include: Who are “real” kin? Why do we hear so little about birth mothers? Why were intelligence tests administered to young babies in 1930s adoption proceedings? What is the experience of families with transgender parents or children? What is the compulsion to find genetically-connected kin? How many mothers can a person have? How is marriage connected to labor migration? Why are the people who care for children in foster care called “parents”? How is kinship negotiated in interracial families? Our materials for this class include ethnographies, scholarly articles, films, memoirs, and digital media. In the fall semester, students will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group research and writing activities. In the spring semester, students will have biweekly conferences.

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

How does a chronic illness affect a person’s orientation to the everyday? What are the social and political forces that underpin life in a homeless shelter? What is the experiential world of a deaf person, a musician, a refugee, or a child at play? In an effort to answer these and like-minded questions, anthropologists in recent years have become increasingly interested in developing phenomenological accounts of particular “lifeworlds” in order to understand—and convey to others—the nuances and underpinnings of such worlds in terms that more orthodox social or symbolic analyses cannot achieve. In this context, phenomenology entails an analytic method that works to understand and describe in words phenomena as they appear to the consciousnesses of certain peoples. Phenomenology, put simply, is the study of experience. The phenomena most often in question for anthropologists include the workings of time, perception, emotions, selfhood, language, bodies, suffering, and morality as they take form in particular lives within the context of any number of social, linguistic, and political forces. In this course, we will explore phenomenological approaches in anthropology by reading and discussing some of the most significant efforts along these lines. Each student will also try her or his hand at developing a phenomenological account of a specific subjective or intersubjective lifeworld through a combination of interviewing, participant observation research, and ethnographic writing.

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On Whiteness: An Anthropological Exploration

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Putih, Blanken, Blankes, Wazungu, Caucasian, Blanc, White, Oyibo, Onye ocha, Brancos, Blancos...all these words, in different parts of the world, have denoted particular populations as white. Who counts as white people varies, however, and has as much to do with behaviors and perceptions as with pigmentation. Settlers in overseas colonies, for example, ensured their ongoing privileged whiteness through particular behaviors, including racial segregation and the creation of leisurely pursuits and manners that mimicked the metropole. Whiteness is a complicated and messy category of particular relevance at this historical moment, and we will approach it in several ways. First, we will consider the discipline of anthropology as the source of an analytical toolkit. Having mastered that, we can conduct a more critical exploration of the discipline of anthropology and its practitioners’ work on questions of white and nonwhite. We will then turn to the examination of particular sites where whiteness has been generated and contested. These include the Dutch colonies of South Africa and Indonesia and British-occupied Kenya, followed by contemporary and more local expressions of whiteness—including white nationalism and popular culture in postwar Great Britain and shifting notions of whiteness in the United States. In all of our explorations, we will examine the constructions of whiteness as it articulates with gender, class, sexuality, and popular culture and also with broader political contexts. Our resources will include anthropological texts, film, memoir, and fiction. The structure of the seminar is discussion-based. All students will participate in the discussions, both by speaking and by listening to each other.

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Specters of the Subject: Hauntologies of Ghosts, Phantasms, and Imaginings in Contemporary Life

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

“The future belongs to the ghosts,” remarked the philosopher Jacques Derrida in 1996. His interlocutor, Bernard Stiegler, phrases the main idea behind this statement: “Modern technology, contrary to appearances, increases tenfold the power of ghosts.” With the advent of the internet, various forms of social media, and the ubiquity of filmic images in our lives, Derrida’s observations have proven to be quite prophetic, such that they call for a new field of study—one that requires less an ontology of being and the real and more a “hauntology” (to invoke Derrida’s punish term) of the spectral, the virtual, the phantasmic, the imaginary, and the recurrent revenant. In this seminar, we consider ways in which the past and present are haunted by ghosts. Topics to be covered include: specters and hauntings, figures and apparitions, history and memory, trauma and political crisis, fantasy and imagination, digital interfaces, and visual and acoustical images. We will be considering a range of films and video, photography, literary texts, acoustic reverberations, internet and social media, and everyday discourses and imaginings. Through these inquiries, we will be able to further our understanding of the nature of specters and apparitions in the contemporary world in their many forms and dimensions. Students will be invited to undertake their own hauntologies and, thus, craft studies of the phenomenal force of specters, hauntings, and the apparitional in particular social or cultural contexts.

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Gendering in African Postcolonies

Sophomore and Above, Large seminar—Spring

This seminar explores ways in which gender operates in myriad African contexts during colonial and postcolonial periods. We will interrogate concepts of gender and of the postcolonial, identifying the ways in which colonial relations endure beyond the period of occupation. We will begin by historically looking at local articulations of gender in Nigeria (female political power), Sudan (boy wives) and Kenya (intersexuality). Reading European colonial’s narratives about gender in African contexts will tell us much about their own gender systems and their (mis)understandings of African societies. Readings will describe contested attempts by European government officials and missionaries to abolish practices that they consisered “barbaric,” such as the use of traditional medicinal practices, “paganism,” and circumcision. As we look at the period from the end of formal colonial rule to the present, we will analyse ongoing transformations in gender systems as they articulate with global issues. Of particular interest will be the ways in which Western feminist and queer-rights discourses impinge on African systems of gender and sexuality, resulting in a new kind of colonial relationship. The class will be discussion-based. Our texts will be archival documents, ethnographies, films, historical accounts, and fiction. Our writers will include Mariama Baa, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Ifi Amadiume, Ann Stoler, Gayle Rubin, and many more.

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Histories of Modern and Contemporary Art

Open, Lecture—Year

This yearlong course is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from 1860 to the present, focusing on its histories and counter-histories, canonical narratives, and underrepresented artists. In the fall, we will explore modernism in Europe, North America, and Latin America, investigating how artists responded to a world ravaged by fascism, colonialism, and war; altered by industry, technology, and rationalized forms of labor; and tested by shifting national, ethnic, and gendered identities. What representational strategies did artists use to respond to these upheavals? How is the history of Eurocentric avant-garde art also one of colonization and cultural appropriation? The course serves as an introduction to the historical avant-gardes, including Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, Vorticism, Dada, Surrealism, Muralism, the Harlem Renaissance, Abstract Expressionism, and Neoconcretism—as well as to alternative modernisms that fall outside the canon, including so-called “outsider” art, queer modernisms, and modernisms in India and Japan. In the spring, we will explore a sea-change that began in the 1950s as artists tested modernist categories of painting and sculpture; incorporated new technologies such as television and video into their art; and questioned patriarchal hierarchies through protest, activism, and audience participation. Our main focus will be art from 1960 to 2000, including Gutai, Happenings, Pop Art, Fluxus, Minimalism, Global Conceptual Art, Site-Specificity, Earthworks, the Chicano Arts Movement, the Black Arts Movement, Feminism, Video Art, Institutional Critique, Installation, Activist Art, Participatory Art, Relational Aesthetics, Craft, and New Media, with less attention paid to art since 2000. Throughout, we will focus on specific artworks and gain a vocabulary for close looking, while also attending to primary sources (manifestos, letters, statements, poems) and secondary, art historical and theoretical accounts. Assignments will include papers and reviews (based on works in New York City collections), weekly worksheets, peer reviews, presentations, reading responses, a contextual research essay, and a Wikipedia editing assignment. This course is a lecture-seminar hybrid. One lecture a week will be presented to introduce you to the broader movements. Weekly group conferences will look at case studies of artists responding to a dominant modernism, as well as methodological debates about decentering the canon.

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Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down from the Indian Penal Code Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first-nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how “queer” is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, “queer” itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals—not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

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Clinical Perspectives: Challenges to Child and Adolescent Development

Advanced, Seminar—Spring

How do varying childhood experiences impact children’s mental health and wellbeing? What happens when the course of development is affected by trauma or depression? This seminar will focus on challenges that arise in child and adolescent development, drawing upon approaches in clinical psychology, developmental psychology, and cultural psychology/clinical ethnography. We will analyze how particular psychological experiences and behaviors have been typically understood as abnormal or pathological and how they are intertwined with the experience of child development. We will also explore critical commentaries on clinical diagnosis and treatment in order to analyze the merits and drawbacks of the common approaches to these issues. Students will learn about the clinical categories of conditions such as ADHD, autism, depression, and anxiety, as compiled in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). We will look at case examples to illuminate the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, course, and treatment of such psychological conditions in childhood and adolescence. Through readings and course discussion, students will be invited to question the universal applicability of Western clinical approaches that rest on particular assumptions about normality, behavior, social relations, human rights, and health. We will also explore how diagnostic processes and psychological and psychiatric care are, at times, differentially applied in the United States according to the client’s race/ethnicity, class, and gender and how clinicians might effectively address such disparities in diagnosis and care. Students will complete conference projects related to the central themes of our course and may opt to work at the Early Childhood Center or a local community program that serves children or adolescents.

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Political Economy of Women

Open, Seminar—Year

What factors determine the status of women in different societies and communities? What role is played by women’s labor, both inside and outside the home? By cultural norms regarding sexuality and reproduction? By religious traditions? After a brief theoretical grounding, this course will address these questions by examining the economic, political, social, and cultural histories of women in the various racial/ethnic and class groupings that make up the United States. Topics to be explored include: the role of women in the Iroquois Confederation before white colonization and the factors that gave Iroquois women significant political and social power in their communities; the status of white colonist women in Puritan Massachusetts and the economic, religious, and other factors that led to the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692; the position of African American women under slavery, including the gendered and racialized divisions of labor and reproduction; the growth of competitive capitalism in the North and the development of the “cult of true womanhood” in the rising middle class; the economic and political changes that accompanied the Civil War and Reconstruction and the complex relationships between African American and white women in the abolitionist and women’s rights movements; the creation of a landless agricultural labor force and the attempts to assimilate Chicana women into the dominant culture via “Americanization” programs; the conditions that encouraged Asian women’s immigration and their economic and social positions once here; the American labor movement and the complicated role that organized labor has played in the lives of women of various racial/ethnic groups and classes; the impact of US colonial policies on Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican women’s economic and political status on both the Island and the mainland; the economic/political convulsions of the 20th century, from the trusts of the early 1900s to World War II, and their impact on women’s paid and unpaid labor; the impact of changes in gendered economic roles on LGBT communities; the economic and political upheavals of the 1960s that led to the so-called “second wave” of the women’s movement; and the current position of women in the US economy and polity and the possibilities for more inclusive public policies concerning gender and family issues. In addition to class participation and the conference project, requirements include regular short essays on the readings and approximately a half-dozen longer essays that synthesize class materials with the written texts.

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The Movie Musical

Open, Lecture—Fall

Long dismissed as shallow mass entertainment, the movie musical remains an understudied genre despite its century-long popularity, global scope, and recurring role in film history. This lecture course offers a layered cultural history of the movie musical from the 1920s to the present, approaching it as a uniquely intermedial, transnational perspective from which to study film. Students will learn to read movie musicals through a mixture of formal analysis and material history. We will read canonical scholars, as well as more recent multidisciplinary work on the movie musical as a site for ideological contestation; performance politics; and aesthetic, narrative, and technological experimentation. In particular, we will highlight the genre’s power for hiding labor behind spectacles of seemingly spontaneous mass performance and rehearsing modern social conflicts through heterosexual couple-driven, dual-focus plots (Jets vs. Sharks, town vs. city, etc.). Other topics include: the roots of the movie musical in vaudeville, minstrelsy, opera, and ballet; the musical’s relationship to new cinematic technologies, labor forms, and industrial practices; the musical’s relationship to questions of gender, sexuality, and race; and the musical as a globally circulating and mutating “mass” cultural form. While much of our focus will be on classical Hollywood (1920s-1960s), we will also watch films from France, the Soviet Union, England, East Germany, Mexico, India, and Australia.

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The Working Girl Around the World

Open, Lecture—Spring

Since the Lumière brothers filmed their female employees leaving the factory in 1895, the "working girl" has become a fixture of global cinema. This lecture course approaches this archetypal modern character as a foundational figure for film history and an important vernacular link for national film industries competing with Hollywood. We begin by asking: What is a working girl? How has the category changed over the course of the 20th century, as the category has circulated around the globe? And how, despite its fraught ideological construction, can we turn the category into a tool for intersectional feminist film history? With these questions in mind, we launch our investigation in the United States and Europe—and then move onto the Soviet Union, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Mexico, Senegal, and Cameroon—by reading classic film theory, short fiction, and local histories of film culture and gendered labor alongside films about shopgirls, dancing girls, telephone girls, factory girls, office girls, laundresses, and maids. Topics to be discussed include working girls as moviegoers, cultural imperialism and vernacular modernism, migration and mass reproduction, sex work, workplace romance, and contradictions of capital and care. In this class, students will conduct comparative, multimedia analyses of film texts and read global film history through the globalization of modern gendered labor.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political II

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

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Space, Place, and Uneven Development: Building the Countermap of New York City

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

The 1981 collection, This Bridge Called My Back (edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua), is a landmark text in women’s political and organizing literature. Forty years later, the text understandably no longer sits comfortably alongside our more contemporary critiques of gender and class. Despite its limits, and what no longer ages well, Audre Lorde’s essay, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, still resonates. We find the adage in our texts to one another, in our organizing materials, and in our own writing. For geographers, generally, and mappers, specifically, we encounter Lorde’s provocation every time we decide to map. The history of cartography is inexplicably linked to the history of imperialism and colonialism. Maps built the master’s house. And yet, despite this, countermaps of our experiences have also emerged to tell our stories of resistance. What do we make of this? Are they, too, tools that eventually undermine our efforts to carve out a different way of being and doing? Or are they truly radical bulwarks against racial capitalism? Whereas the Critical Cartography course in the fall focused on geography literature as it relates to GIS, this course discusses the politics of placemaking and, therefore, necessarily combines feminist, urban, and economic geography literatures. Here, we will situate what we already technically and critically know about spatial practices into the much broader context of placemaking in the unequal city. Our focus is New York, but our lens is varied. Student conference projects will focus on identifying particular vectors of inequality in New York, illustrating the spatial aspects of social, environmental, economic, or any other issue of the student’s choosing. This course will also be an opportunity for students to explore alternative, qualitative mapping practices.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he/they receive health care in Africa? In what ways does gender influence who provides health care, the kind of care that they offer, or the social determinants of peoples’ health? In the 19th, 20th and early-21st centuries, African citizens, refugees, and internally displaced persons have had to cope with a range of health care challenges. These include: high levels of disability as a result of car accidents and work-related injuries; disruptions to health care services and food provision stemming from war or political unrest; lack of supplies and access to quality care, resulting from neoliberal economic policies; and, most recently, the challenges of food insecurity due to seasonal locust infestations. These concerns paint a bleak picture of the status of health and health care provision in Africa. Epidemics like ebola and cholera complicate conditions for people seeking to improve the quality of their health. In addition, pandemics like HIV/AIDS and now COVID-19 have transformed demographics and gender relations in both predictable and unexpected ways. Despite these challenges, millions of African men, women, and children find ways to survive and respond creatively in order to address their needs for health and wellbeing. This class is organized around the understanding that the idea of “good health” is a useful critical lens through which to analyze gender-related questions. How do women, men, and LGBTQ+ individuals organize, navigate, and seek care in order to attain good health? What historical, political, and economic factors influence the provision of quality health care? How have African citizens, governments, faith communities, activists, and indigenous healers responded to the challenges associated with disease and the goal of maintaining good health? Because the African continent is massive and every country is complex and diverse, this class will use case studies from countries like Rwanda, South Africa, Nigeria, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Kenya to answer these questions. In addition, students will be able to choose other African countries to study in depth in order to gain as broad a picture as possible of this complex and important topic. While we will primarily focus our inquiries by using historical works, we will actively monitor innovations in African countries resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of developing a deeper understanding of what it takes to maintain a sense of “good health” in Africa.

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First-Year Studies: The Invention of Homosexuality

FYS—Year

Different historians trace the invention of homosexuality to different historical moments from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. The invention of heterosexuality, it would seem, followed after. Certainly the term “heterosexual” appeared only after the term “homosexual” was coined in the later 19th century. Neither meant, at first, what they mean today. In this class, we will study the development of modern understandings of same-sex desire in relation to understandings of sex, gender, race, class, nation, nature, culture, and opposite-sex desire. We will be drawing centrally on literary works, especially novels, which have been crucial sites for the construction and dissemination of modern conceptions of sexuality. But we will also be reading histories, science, laws, letters, and polemics, and watching films. Although we will be considering some earlier materials, we will focus on two periods: first, from the 1880s to the 1960s; then, the 1960s to the present. By the 1880s, almost everyone agrees, a recognizably modern understanding of homosexuality was becoming available. The sexual/cultural landscapes that subsequently developed were not radically rearranged until the 1960s, when the gay and women’s liberation movements insisted on a political analysis of sexuality. Over the past 50 years, that political analysis and the activism it has fostered have had profound consequences for LGBT lives and cultural presences, even as earlier understandings still persist. This course will serve as an introduction to a broad range of modern literature; to fundamental works in the history of sexuality and contemporary queer studies; and to critical thinking about how we talk, read, and write about sex. Though class materials will be generally focused on Europe and North America from the 1880s to the present, conference work may deal with histories, politics, or cultural works from this context; conference projects may also be focused on other times and places. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Queer theory emerged in the United States, in tandem with Queer Nation, at the beginning of the 1990s as the intellectual framework for a new round in ongoing contests over understandings of sexuality and gender in Western culture. “Queer” was presented as a radical break with homosexual, as well as heterosexual, pasts. Queer theorists and activists hoped to reconstruct lesbian and gay politics, intellectual life, and culture; renegotiate differences of gender, race, and class among lesbians and gay men; and establish new ways of thinking about sexuality, new understandings of sexual dissidence, and new relations among sexual dissidents. Nevertheless, queer theory had complex sources in the intellectual and political work that had gone before. And it has had, predictably, unpredictable effects on subsequent intellectual and political projects. This class will make the history of queer theory the basis for an intensive study of contemporary intellectual and political work on sexuality and gender. We will also be addressing the fundamental questions raised by the career of queer theory about the relations between political movements and intellectual movements, the politics of intellectual life, and the politics of the academy—in the United States, in particular—over the past half-century.

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Virginia Woolf in the 20th Century

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

“On or about December 1910,” Virginia Woolf observed, “human character changed....All human relations shifted—those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.” In her novels, essays, reviews, biographies, and polemics, as well as in her diaries, letters, and memoirs, Woolf charted and fostered the cultural and political forces behind those changes as they developed across the century. Over the course of that century, Woolf’s image also changed from that of the “invalid lady of Bloomsbury,” a modern, a madwoman, and perhaps a genius to that of a monster, a feminist, a socialist, a lesbian, and an icon. While focusing on the development of her writing, we will also consider her life and its interpretation, her politics and their implications, and the use of her art and image by others as points of reference for new work of their own. Her family, friends, lovers, and critics will all appear. We will also be reading her precursors, her peers, and those who—in fiction, theatre, and film—took up her work and image in the decades after her death. This course will serve as an introduction to 20th-century fiction, feminist literary study, lesbian/gay/queer studies, the study of sexuality, and the study of politics in literature. Conference projects might focus on one other writer, a range of other writers, one of these approaches to literary analysis, or another aspect of feminist or lesbian/gay/queer studies.

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First-Year Studies: Literature Is Not a Luxury: African American Women’s Writing

FYS—Year

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury,” Audre Lorde writes. “It is a vital necessity of our existence.” Poetry, Lorde continues, helps to bring about an understanding of what is, as well as to imagine what might be. This understanding of literature as shedding new light on existence and as sketching new possibilities held a profound political importance for the tradition of Black women’s writing, in which literature was called upon to demonstrate the worthiness of Emancipation as well as of civil rights. This seminar seeks to study that tradition, its political importance, and its artistic achievements by studying the long history of Black women’s writing in America across a variety of forms and genres. Over the course of the first semester, we will focus especially on the gendered and sexual conditions of slavery by authors who experienced it and by modern writers imagining it—reading works by authors such as Phyllis Wheatley, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Natasha Trethewey, and more. Over the course of the second semester, we will turn to the post-Emancipation era, focusing especially on the evolving meanings of gender and sexuality amidst Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary—reading authors such as Ida B. Wells, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, and more. Along the way, we will do short creative and critical assignments to better acquaint ourselves with the methods of research, of thought, and more. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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The Poetry of Earth: Imagination and Environment in English Renaissance Drama

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

One of John Keats’s sonnets begins, “The poetry of earth is never dead.” This interactive small lecture will step back from Keats—to the writing of several of his great predecessors in the English Renaissance—to reflect on how imagination shaped environment and how environment shaped imagination in the early modern period. Late 16th- and 17th-century was a time of transition between traditional, feudal society (with its hierarchical ideas of order, of humanity, and of nature) and emerging modernity (with its secularizing humanism, its centralization of political and economic power, its development of increasingly dense and complex urban centers, and its commitments to the study and potential mastery of nature through empirical science). With early modernity came all of the challenges to natural environment and its resources with which we are so familiar and by which we are challenged: urban sprawl and environmental degradation, privatization of land, air and water pollution, deforestation and exhaustion of other resources, and diminishment of local species populations. We will study how several major writers register and responded to these tensions and these changes in what we might call their environmental vision, their imagination of nature as wilderness, the "other” to civilization and its values; as chaos and threat; as liminal space of transformation; as pastoral retreat; and as cultivatable human habitation and home. Class reading will include two early plays of Shakespeare—A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You LIke It; Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene; John Milton's environmental epic, Paradise Lost, and poems leading up to it; Andrew Marvell's lyric poetry; and Margaret Cavendish's The Blazing World. Conference work will entail more extended work in any of these writers and literary modes and will provide opportunities to explore other writers of the early modern period who are engaged in theorizing and imagining nature—including studies in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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Tradition and Transformation: 17th-Century British Literature

Open, Seminar—Year

In the 17th century in England, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and the established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. We will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart courts and the robust and bawdy urban century of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by Donne, Jonson, Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Bacon, Burton, and Browne; and the early poetry of Milton. The second semester will be devoted to major writers during the periods of the English Revolution and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy. Our primary attention will be on the radical politics and the visionary poetics of Milton, particularly Paradise Lost and Samson Agonistes; but we will also study the work of the cavalier and libertine court poets, as well as Andrew Marvell, Katherine Phillips, Aphra Behn, and John Dryden. John Bunyan’s spiritual allegory Pilgrim’s Progress and Behn’s colonial romance novel, Oroonoko, will provide a retrospect of the imagined and the social worlds that we have traversed and a prospect of the worlds to come.

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Art of Indetermination: Eastern Praxis in Dialogue With Feminist and Postcolonial Thought

Sophomore and Above, Large seminar—Year

This cultural-studies course offers the opportunity to study the nature of aesthetic experience within an Eastern philosophical framework. In particular, feminist, queer, and postcolonial thinkers offer prescient points of cultural translation for Taoist and Buddhist practices in the contemporary context—which this course posits is a world shaped by globalization, social movements, visual culture, and digital media. We will read selections of key works within contemporary critical theory, while assembling individual archives of sound, image, and text to explore in writing and conversation. Students are invited to inhabit the figure of the cultural critic in experimental ways by engaging diverse modes of Eastern and Western praxes. The format of this course balances short lectures, seminar-style discussions, small-group projects, and individual portfolios of writing and/or multisensorial media production.

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Metaphysical Poetry

Open, Seminar—Fall

The best lyric poets of 17th-century England have been loosely characterized as “metaphysical poets” because of their “wit”; their intellectual range, rigor, and inventiveness; the versatility and trickery of their poetic strategies; and their remarkable fusion of thought and passion. Masters of paradox, these poets stage and analyze their expressive intensities with technical precision. They eroticize religious devotion and sanctify bodily desire with fearless and searching bravado. They stretch their linguistic tightropes across a historical arena of tremendous political and religious turmoil, in response to which they forge what some critics consider to be early evidences of the ironic self-consciousness of modernity, poetic dramatizations of the Cartesian ego. We will test these claims, as well as the sufficiency of the category “metaphysical,” against the evidence of the poems themselves. We will closely read significant poems of Donne, Jonson, Herbert, Phillips, Herrick, Vaughan, Crashaw, Milton, Marvell, and Behn. We will attend primarily to how they work as poems, looking at argument, structure, diction, syntax, tone, image, and figure. We will also consider their religious, cultural, and psychological implications. Students will prepare three papers based on class readings. Conference work is recommended in correlative topics: the English Bible, Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Shakespearean and Jacobean drama, or influences on and comparisons to Romantic or Modern English poetry.

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Movement and Migration: Modern Caribbean Women’s Writing

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

Though discussions of immigration in the United States have recently focused on the transnational movement of people from Central and South America, this country, in general, and the Eastern Seaboard, in particular, have long been porous to the movement of Black people from the Caribbean. From the 16th-century importation of Africans enslaved in Barbados to the Carolinas, through the immigration of African Americans to Haiti after Haitian Independence, up to the contemporary seasonal migration of Jamaican farmworkers to Upstate New York, Black people have long moved between the United States and the Caribbean. How might we understand the gendered, racial, and classed dimensions of migration differently if we focused on the recent history of Caribbean arts and letters? This course seeks to answer this question by studying anglophonic 20th- and 21st-century Caribbean women’s writing on migration between the metropole (be it New York City, London, or elsewhere) and the Caribbean. Reading across forms (novels, poetry, and so on) and genres (historical fiction, epics, etc.), we will attend to the writings of authors such as Edwidge Danticat, Jamaica Kincaid, Dionne Brand, M. Nourbese Philip, and more. Along the way, we’ll read recent works of theory and scholarship to advance our understanding of the texts and the subjects. In so doing, we will seek to understand how modern Caribbean women’s writing continues to influence Black studies and Black thought across the globe. Short assignments may include close readings, historical papers, and more.

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Gender and Sexuality in the Irish Novel

Open, Seminar—Spring

Irish writers have long been interested in the correlation between gender and sexuality and issues of religion, class, colonization, revolutionary nationalism, migration, and poverty. When Ireland became the first nation to vote in favor of gay marriage by national referendum in 2015, Irish voters were acutely conscious of their country’s fraught history: Years of sexual-abuse scandals within the Catholic Church had weakened the hold of the Church on voters, and young Irish voters, in particular, now wanted their country to take a progressive lead on the world stage. This course will chart changing attitudes toward gender and sexuality from the 19th to the 21st century. We will do so by examining works of literature, history, and anthropology. Particular attention will be paid to literary genres, such as the national tale in which the 1800 Act of Union was figured as the marriage between a feminized Ireland and a masculine England; the Big House novel—an Irish variant of the country-house novel—pioneered by women writers; Gothic novels like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray; the expatriate modernist novels of James Joyce and Elizabeth Bowen; banned books that were silenced by national censorship boards in the mid-20th century; and the new wave of 21st-century Irish writers led by Sally Rooney.

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Care Work, Climate Adaptation, and the Settler Colony

Open, Seminar—Spring

How might we care for each other in the midst of accelerating planetary change? This course provides us with the theoretical frameworks to grasp the long and multifaceted history of environmental crisis on this continent and, likewise, to grasp the diversity of critical, careful responses to imposed disaster. The course begins with the proposition that dominant structures of care in the settler colony—afforded by the nuclear family, the state, and private enterprise—depend upon and reproduce racialized and gendered exploitation bound to the same systems that make environmental crisis inevitable. Throughout the semester, we will explore other literary and scholarly theorizations and enactments of care work that move outside dominant care regimes and that have always been responsive to environmental crisis in its long history. The reading for the course moves from Indigenous studies to queer studies to the energy and environmental humanities, illuminating critical intersections of use to a student interested in any one of those fields. Primary and secondary texts include works by José Esteban Muñoz, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Natalie Diaz, Sophie Lewis, Kim TallBear, Sheena Wilson, Imre Szeman, Samuel R. Delany, and Dean Spade, among others. Assignments for the course encourage students to take inspiration from the texts on our syllabus. In other words, you may present your work in creative as well as critical forms. Podcasts, manifestos, websites, –zines…are all more than welcome.

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Black Trans Studies

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

The publication of the first issue of Trans Studies Quarterly in 2014 both announced a field and institutionalized already existing knowledge production. In the years since, trans studies, in general, and Black trans studies, in particular, have continued to expand, yielding new ways of thinking about identity, state violence, and the political production of life, among other things. This course seeks to acquaint students with recent developments in Black trans studies. We begin with writing about early American history to study the ways in which the understandings of gender by enslaved Africans differed from European colonial genders. We continue through the 19th century to read narratives of slavery alongside recent scholarship on such narratives in Black trans studies. And, finally, we turn to the 20th and 21st centuries, focusing on artistic production by Black trans authors in mediums such as film, visual art, and literature. On top of our central focus on the relationship between race and gender, we will pay special attention to resistance, incarceration, and visibility—engaging with cultural producers such as Janet Mock, Tourmaline, Rivers Solomon, CeCe Macdonald, Danez Smith, and more. Along the way, short critical assignments will help us to engage more closely and more deeply with research methods, cultural criticism, and individual cultural works.

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The Philosophy of Music

Open, Large Lecture—Fall

Music is central to most of our lives. How can we understand the experience of music? What does music express? If it expresses emotions, how do those emotions relate to the emotions that we experience in everyday life? Can music without words express emotions with as much clarity as music with words? As a background to these questions, we will look at issues concerning the nature and experience of art in general. We will examine the views of writers such as Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer, Dewey, and Adorno and compare how they understand the role of art in society, along with our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory of composers such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and Stravinsky. We will study those works using the techniques of formal analysis that are generally used in music-history classes but also attempt to draw out the many contextual threads: How are they embedded in a culture, and how do they reflect the temperament and orientation of the composers? While most of our musical examples will be from the classical repertory, other styles will occasionally be relevant. The goals of the class are to understand how musical and philosophical thought can illuminate each other and to deepen our awareness of the range and power of music. No prior knowledge of music theory or history is required; we will introduce and define the terms that we need as the class proceeds.

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The Philosophy of Sex and Love

Open, Seminar—Year

One of the fundamental transformations to occur in society and culture over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries is the understanding of sex and love and the relation—or nonrelation—between them. Among the many catalysts for this change, we may count changing perceptions of sexual difference, gender, sexuality, gender identity, and gender roles; an increasing range of possibilities for reproduction or nonreproduction; and the problematization of the nuclear, monogamous, heterosexual family structure. This yearlong seminar will engage in the philosophical examination of these topics. While we will read some ancient philosophy, including Plato’s Symposium and some late-modern texts by the Marquis de Sade and the Baron von Sacher-Masoch (the authors who gave their names to Sadism and to Masochism, respectively), most of our readings will be from 20th- and 21st-century sources, including Sigmund Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Bataille, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Lee Edelman, Paul Preciado, Maggie Nelson, and Luce Irigaray. Students will be required to not read Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Gender and Sexuality in Greek Literature and Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

Modern discussions of gender and sexuality have a predecessor in the literature and philosophy of ancient Greece, which have informed recent thought on the topic. Of the Greek discussions, we shall focus on just a few. We shall begin with poetry by Sappho, Sophocles’ Antigone, and Euripides’ Bacchae. We shall go on to Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae, Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes’ Ecclesiazusae, and Book Five of Plato’s Republic.

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Feminist Ethics

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course investigates the ways in which feminist philosophers have challenged traditional approaches to moral philosophy. We will look at feminist ethics as not just a branch of ethics (for instance, one addressing the concerns of women) but as an approach to ethics as a whole that puts pressure on dominant moral philosophies— specifically, those inspired by Kant and Mill. Feminist philosophers have sought to correct the privileging of the male standpoint and question its characterization as neutral. Where traditional moral philosophy focuses on individual moral subjects, feminist interventions have illuminated the social and material conditions under which moral problems arise and moral actions occur. Over the course of the semester, we will consider how feminist ethics invite us to reconsider: (1) the way moral theories determine what counts as harmful or wrong; (2) how moral psychology construes our motivation to act and our responsibility for what we have done; and (3) individual social issues, including misogyny, abortion, and our thinking around sex. Our aim will be to appreciate how these thinkers expand the scope of moral consideration and to ask previously ignored or obscured questions. How does one’s upbringing shape their moral outlook, and should it change what one is responsible for? How does being oriented by care reframe what we take ethics to be about? What kinds of beings (and things) are eligible for moral consideration? Should this include animals? Or the environment? How does a feminist perspective allow us to notice systematic oppression on the grounds of race or sexuality? In working through these questions and others, some of the thinkers we will read include Elizabeth Anscombe, Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Claudia Card, Patricia Hill Collins, Cora Diamond, Carol Gilligan, bell hooks, Eva Kittay, Iris Murdoch, and Margaret Walker.

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Justice, Care, and the Lifespan Revolution: A Community-Based Seminar

Open, Seminar—Spring

What does it mean to age with dignity? What is required, both individually and socially, to fairly and with dignity provide the special care that the elderly often require? Special urgency attends these questions today, as we are in the midst of a lifespan revolution with many people living more than twice as long as the average person did just a few generations earlier. This urgency is compounded by the fact that the organization and distribution of care labor does not yet adequately reflect this lifespan revolution or the transition to highly mobile and less traditional societies characterized by rapid social and technological changes—changes that can make aging harder and care more difficult to provide. Societies in which an ever-larger portion of their populations have entered elderhood face issues to do with justice in the distribution of care, the nature and forms of ageism, or the isolation of those deemed elderly from the rest of society. Meanwhile, the organization and distribution of care labor remains deeply structured by traditional assumptions, as well as inequalities and prejudices that occupy the intersections of age, gender, and race. Viewed simultaneously from these angles, the lifespan revolution presents new and pressing ethical issues about how best to lead a complete and extended human life. The lifespan revolution also presents issues of justice about how society can productively incorporate—while also respecting and caring for those living far longer than humans have in the past—and fairly distribute “Love’s Labor” of caring. These will be among the most urgent issues of ethics and justice in the middle of the 21st century. This course will examine these issues, in part, by drawing on a variety of academic fields, including philosophy, political theory, psychology, cognitive science, labor studies, and literature. This is also a community-based course; we will partner with Wartburg, a diverse adult care community in Mount Vernon, NY, close to the College. In the first half of the course, students will study the range of issues described above and begin to develop a more specific focus on how lifelong learning contributes to well-being in elderhood. This focus serves as preparation to offer “cognitive care” to the elderly members of the Wartburg community and will be accompanied by visits to Wartburg so that students can get a sense of its members and their interests and have an opportunity to observe lifelong learning in practice. Students will also develop short classes or workshops to offer at Wartburg as the main focus of their conference work. In the second half of the course, the study of specific issues of justice and care presented by the lifespan revolution will continue but also be supplemented by engagement at Wartburg, as students offer the courses or workshops that they have developed to the residents there.

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Family Caregiving Across the Lifespan

Open, Seminar—Spring

Care and caregiving are aspects of daily life that each of us depend upon at various times throughout our lives. Yet, care remains hidden and devalued in our current sociopolitical climate in which women continue to provide a majority of care. In this course, we will look at care, both as an orientation and as an activity provided by family and friends to people with disabilities and older adults. An ethics of care will provide a lens through which to explore the experiences of family caregivers. Specifically, our focus will be on caregiving youth, young-adult, and male family caregivers, as well as on paid caregivers and care receivers living with a variety of disabilities and chronic illnesses. Students will have the opportunity to engage with qualitative research methods, such as interviews and photovoice, as we explore care and caregiving from a variety of perspectives. This course will take an interdisciplinary approach and introduce students to the various literatures on family caregiving. From psychology to public health, we will consider care as a reciprocal process that ebbs and flows throughout the lifespan. We will read from feminist theory, critical disabilities studies, psychology, and public health, as well as look at how care is portrayed in popular culture, film, and books. We will learn about individual and policy responses geared toward supporting family caregivers, as well as about organizations that are dedicated to creating better conditions of care for all of us. There may be opportunities to engage with grassroots advocacy organizations and with research (with me) for conference, although this depends upon the status of the research and the community-based projects.

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Doing Research With Young People: Research, Policy, and Activism

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

How is research conducted with young people? What are the ethical dilemmas when working with children, adolescents, and young adults? Instead of focusing on traditional research methods on subjects, this course will explore the possibilities of conducting research with, or alongside, young people. This is an interdisciplinary course, and our readings will be pulled from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, history, anthropology, education, criminal justice, and critical childhood studies. First, we will examine the sociohistorical context of children, adolescents, and youth. Next, we will investigate the rights of young people and the policies that designate them as protected populations. This course will survey a number of different research methods with youth participants, including but not limited to interviews, mapping, narrative analysis, youth participatory action research, and visual and performative research. We will apply a critical eye to a number of case studies of young people dismantling systemic oppression and working toward racial, immigration, and environmental justice. Students will develop their own conference project, focusing on how to conduct research with young people.

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Migration, Mobility, and Modernization: Exploring Received Narratives in American Jewish History

Open, Seminar—Spring

What is “Jewish” about American Jewish history? Does a single “American Jewish history” even exist? What does “Jewishness” mean, and does it differ from “Judaism”? How do we reconcile history and memory? This course invites us to think critically about American Jewish history beginning in the colonial period when Jews first settled on American shores, thereafter, and continuing into the present. These questions will allow us to explore how Jews developed a diverse and fluid array of social, cultural, political, and religious practices as they encountered new social structures, ideologies, and cultures throughout what became the United States. Our discussions will center Jewish communal formation and evolution in response to the changing conditions of the United States over time, as we trace how these innovations contributed to the diversity of Jewishnesses that we recognize today. We will examine Jewish immigration to the United States, a complex and multifaceted process that encompasses immigrants’ decisions to leave their homes, journey across land and sea, arrive in a new country, build new lives, and grapple with the question of naturalization and negotiating multiple types of borders throughout. Additionally, we will consider how gender, race, ethnicity, class, religion, and disability shaped American Jews’ self-understandings, relationships to the places where they settled, and interactions with the people and governmental institutions that they encountered along the way. In our classroom community, we will deepen our conceptions of American Jewish history by analyzing texts featuring both storied figures and marginalized voices, as we learn to apply different theoretical approaches and examine how historical narratives evolved and coalesced. Students will analyze primary sources, write creative pieces unpacking historical events, and produce a research paper on a topic of their choice. The readings chosen for this course are not meant to be exhaustive but, rather, to strengthen students’ understanding of American Jewish history, provide a range of theoretical approaches to enhance their analytical toolboxes, and illuminate the construction and perpetuation—and, when relevant, associated agendas—of American Jewish historical narratives.

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Sociology of the Body, Disability, Illness, and Health

Open, Seminar—Year

In this yearlong seminar, we will examine bodies: how disability and illness shape life experience; the ways in which the body is surveilled by government and other institutions, including the medical profession; and the individual development of social identity. The course explores several themes, including the politics of reproduction, agency and labor, bodies in transition, stigmatization, and resisting bodies. Substantive topics include the experience of pregnancy, gender development in childhood, the development of sexual identity, the onset of severe mental illness, the isolating experience of physical decline, and the politics of death and dying. For their conference work, students are invited to select one bodily experience, disability, or illness to explore in depth. The first semester will be devoted to background reading and the development of a research question. This will lay the groundwork for second-semester data collection and analysis.

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Contextualizing Communications: The Poetics of Seeing

Open, Seminar—Fall

Seeing is not a natural process or an individual activity; rather, it is embedded in social forces and imbued with historically and spatially constructed meanings. This seminar is designed to interrogate how we communicate and to make meaning from such a vantage point. While the course takes a broadly construed sociology of culture as its point of departure, it also understands sociology as what a British sociologist called a “parasitical” discipline that frequently disrupts and violates disciplinary borders and boundaries. This course will follow in that vein. Our initial readings—which will include Raymond Williams, Edward Said, Aime Cesaire, and John Berger—will set the conceptual framework for what follows. We will draw upon literature, film and music, (auto)biography, letters, diaries, oral histories, and archival and legal texts emanating from different parts of the globe, with an emphasis on cultural productions about and from the Global South and/or diasporic communities. Our analyses will be framed in terms of a number of themes and questions, relating these to the contexts within which the works were produced. We will start with an overview of historical and methodological questions; examine colonial texts and their critiques, the production of nationalism(s) and identities, censorship, postcoloniality and the violence of “home,” and conclude with transformative visions. It is hoped that this perusal of a diversity of genres and voices will enable us to rethink the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity, fiction, biography and fact, and political and social censorships to which their producers subscribe or against which they struggle, as well as struggles over voice and in the remaking of space. Our goal is to problematize naturalistic “ways of seeing” (a term borrowed from John Berger) and, thus, show how seeing (through sonic, cinematic, and literary constructions) is both an ideologically regimented activity and a creative form of emancipatory action. Rather than seeing our readings as the expression of individual genius, we will engage with them as a way to become astute readers of the material poetics of social life.

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Travel and Tourism: Economies of Pleasure, Profit, and Power

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This course takes a long view of travel, seeing it as a “contact zone”—a contradictory site of learning and exchange, as well as exploitation. Among the questions the course will address are the following: What are the reasons for travel historically and in the modern world? What factors draw individuals to travel singly and as members of collectivities? What sites draw the traveler and/or the tourist? What is the relationship between the visited site and the sight of the visitor? How is meaning produced in/through/of particular sites? How do these meanings differ, depending on the positionality of the traveler? What makes particular sites inviting? What is the relationship between the visitor and the local inhabitant? Can one be a traveler in one’s own home (site)? What is the relationship between travel and tourism, pleasure and power in/through travel? How are race, gender, and class articulated in/through travel? We will examine these questions through a multiplicity of sources—including but not limited to diaries, journals, and memoirs by travelers, as well as films and scholarly writings on travel and tourism. Throughout, the relation between material and physical bodies will remain a central focus of the course. Conference possibilities include analyses of your own travel experiences, examination of travel writings pertaining to specific places, theoretical perspectives on travel and/or tourism, or the political economy of travel. Fieldwork locally is yet another possibility for conference work.

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Technology and Social Identity

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the nature of agency—or the motivation behind and responsibility for action—and the role of technology in shaping personal social identity. We begin by discussing how to treat nonhumans as actors in their own right before exploring key concepts that include Donna Haraway’s cyborg and Bruno Latour’s hybrid agent—concepts that allow us to consider how humans utilize nonhumans in their environment (assistive technologies for people with disabilities, animals, clothing, etc.) to enact social identity and become inseparable from them. This lays a foundation for us to explore how social identities like race, gender, ability, and socioeconomic status are made and unmade in interactions with technology. We will consider how identities are shaped by institutions, embodied in individuals, and conceived as lifelong projects. In past conference projects, students have explored deaf identity and cochlear implants, responsible pet ownership and leashes, bicycles in urban space, and hacking culture on video-game servers.

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Readings in Latin American Literature

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

This course is meant for students who have a solid command of Spanish and are capable of conducting language work at an advanced level. The main purpose of the class is to develop and consolidate a reading capacity that will allow the in-depth study of literary texts in the original language and from all over the Spanish-speaking world. An important segment of the seminar will be devoted to the examination of the most relevant works inscribed in the tradition of so-called “magical realism,” exploring its roots in Africa and the Indigenous cultures of Latin America. This includes fiction by Rosario Castellanos, María Luisa Bombal, Gabriel García Márquez, Cristina Peri Rossi, Alejo Carpentier, and Lydia Cabrera, among others. We will then proceed to examine the connections between the fantastic as a genre and the complexities of politics, both historically and in the most recent literary manifestations. In the course of study, we will also cover fundamental moments of the Latin American poetic tradition from its origins to the present day. Women writers will be one of the main areas of literary analysis, as their productions have resulted in a radical reversal of the canon—as is also the case with LBGTQ+ and Afro-Caribbean authors.

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Performance Art

Open, Seminar—Fall

Experiment and explore contemporary performance art. Surveying a range of important artworks and movements, we will review the histories, concepts, and practices of performance art. Born from anti-art, performance art challenges the boundaries of artistic expression through implementing as material the concepts of space, time, and the body. Examples of artists that we will review are John Cage, Joan Jonas, Bruce Nauman, Martha Rosler, Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Pope.L, Laurie Anderson, Anne Imhof, Joseph Beuys, Janine Antoni, Suzanne Lacy, Narcissister, Pauline Oliveros, Aki Sasamoto, and Anna Halprin, to name a few. Dialogues introducing performance art are utilized in sculpture, installation art, protest art, social media, video art, happenings, dada, comedy, sound art, graphic notation, scores, collaboration, and movement. Students will be able to relate the form and function of performance art though workshopping ideas, experimentation, improvisation, and movement—thereby developing the ability to confidently perform in any manner of the performance-art genre.

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First-Year Studies: Fiction Workshop: Writing and the American Racial Imaginary

FYS—Year

In what ways have American writers and artists rendered the felt experience of race and racial inequality? How might we understand race and racism not only as social forces but also as imaginative ones? And how might we productively grapple, contend, and engage with our own positions as artists and citizens within these historical and imaginative legacies? In other words, how might we fruitfully think about what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda have recently called—in their anthology of the same name—“the racial imaginary”? Over the course of this yearlong creative writing workshop, students will be asked to explore the American racial imaginary by examining writing in a variety of genres and disciplines—from short stories to personal essays and poetry, as well as academic criticism and historical scholarship—in the interest of producing and workshopping their own original writings. Students will have biweekly individual conferences with the instructor and biweekly group conferences devoted to workshopping, watching films, or attending lectures through the Writing Colloquium or the MFA program’s series of guest lectures.

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Children’s Books: A Reading and Writing Adventure

Open, Seminar—Fall

Who doesn’t love Frog and Toad? Have you ever wanted to write something like it—or like Charlotte’s Web or A Snowy Day? Why do our favorites work so well and so (almost) universally? We will begin by reading books we know and books we missed and discuss what makes them so good. We may look at books for older children and consider what good children’s history and biography might be like. We will talk about the place of the visual, the careful and conscious use of language, notions of appropriateness, and age level. Then, we will try our hand at writing picture books, older children’s narratives, collections of poems like Mother Goose. Conference work will involve making a book, an animation, or a game for children with narrative content.

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