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 2021-2022 Courses

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

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Telling Lives: Life History in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Through studying life-history narratives (one person’s life as narrated to another), autobiographical memoir, archival documents, and more experimental forms in print and on screen, we will explore the diverse ways that life courses are experienced and represented. Throughout our readings, we will carefully examine the narratives themselves, paying attention to the techniques of life-history construction and familiarizing ourselves with ethical, methodological, and theoretical challenges. We will consider a number of questions about telling lives: What is the relationship between the narrator and his or her interlocutor(s)? How does a life-history approach inform debates about representation? What can the account of one person’s life tell us about the wider culture of which he or she is a part? How can individual life narratives shed light on issues such as poverty, sexuality, colonialism, disability, racism, and aging? The selected texts attend to lives in various parts of the world, including Australia, Great Britain, the Caribbean, East Africa, and the United States. Students will also analyze primary sources and create a life history as part of their work for the course.

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Children in Imperial Projects

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

At the close of the 1920s, a Miss Wilson presented a paper at a London conference addressing, “The Education of European Children in Contact With Primitive Races.” In her talk, she described the life of rural white Kenyan settler children growing up with African playmates and expressed her concerns about the morally deleterious effects of such play on these future imperial leaders. This particular case illustrates discourse about the role of privileged white children in imperial regimes; but children of diverse social classes, races, and nationalities across the globe were all implicated in processes of imperial expansion and European settler colonization over (at least) the past three centuries. What was believed about children, done to children, and required of children was central to the success of imperial projects. In this seminar, we will examine a series of cases to understand the diverse roles, both intentional and unintentional, of children in imperial processes. In addition to the white sons and daughters of European settler colonists in Africa and Southeast Asia, we will look at the contrary things that were said and done about mixed-race children (and their mothers and fathers) at different historical and political moments of empire. We will learn, too, about the deployment of “orphans” in the service of empire. In the metropole, particularly British cities, orphan boys were funneled into the military and merchant navy, while children of both sexes were shipped across the globe to boost white settler populations, provide free labor, and relieve English poor-houses of the responsibility of taking care of them. The ancestors of many contemporary citizens of Canada, Australia, and South Africa were exported from metropolitan orphanages as children. In our intellectual explorations, we will deploy approaches from sex-gender studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory. Questions that we will explore include: Why did settler authorities in Australia kidnap mixed-race indigenous children and put them in boarding schools when such children in other colonies were expected to stay with their local mothers out of sight of the settlers? How did European ideas about climate and race frame the ways in which settler children were nursed in the Dutch East Indies? How did concepts of childhood and parental rights over children vary historically, socioeconomically, and geographically? How did metropolitan discourses about race, class, and evolution frame the treatment of indigent children at home and abroad? The materials for this class include fiction, memoirs, scholarly texts, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and visual images.

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Faking Families

Open, Seminar—Spring

In her study of transnational adoptees, Eleana Kim noted the profound differences between discourses about the immigration of Chinese brides to the United States and those describing the arrival of adopted Chinese baby girls: the former with suspicion and the latter with joy. Two ways that families form are by bringing in spouses and by having children. We tend to assume that family-building involves deeply personal, intimate, and even “natural” acts; but, in actual practice, the pragmatics of forming (and disbanding) families are much more complex. There are many instances where biological pregnancy is not possible or not chosen, and there are biological parents who are unable to rear their offspring. 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. Western notions of marriage prioritize compatibility between two individuals, who choose each other based on love; but, in many parts of the world, selecting a suitable spouse and contracting a marriage is the business of entire kin networks. There is great variability, too, in what constitutes “suitable.” To marry a close relative or someone of the same gender may be deemed unnaturally close in some societies; but marriage across great difference such as age, race, nation, culture, or class can also be problematic. And beyond the intimacies of couples and the interests of extended kin are the interests of the nation state. This seminar, then, examines the makings and meanings of kinship connections of parent and spouse at multiple levels, from small communities to global movements.

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Black England: From Tudors to Two-Tone

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

In 1596, Elizabeth Tudor wrote to lord mayors of major English cities that there were “of late divers blackamoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie…….those kinde of people should be sente forth of the land.” A common myth about England is that it was a homogeneously white nation until Jamaicans and South Asians emigrated to Britain after World War II. Another myth is that there were no slaves held in England. As the above quotation indicates, free Black people were already settled there in the 16th century; and they were already the object of scapegoating for increasing poverty in the land at that time. The 17th century brought African slaves to England and, by the 19th century, the great ports of London, Bristol, and Liverpool were populated by West Africans (free and unfree); Lascars (Muslim sailors from east of the Cape of Good Hope); and seamen from Shanghai and Guangzhou, who created the first European China Town in the London Docks. In this class, we will investigate the multiracial nature of England from the Tudor era to the late 20th century. We will consider temporal moves between free and unfree lives and the role of free Africans in the abolition movement. Articulations of race, gender, and sexuality will be central, particularly as they play out in family formations and economic activities. We will wrestle with the absence of people of color in discourses about the English past and with contemporary constructions of racist stereotypes, such as the 19th-century trope of the Chinese opium den. Finally, we will engage with cultural explosions in music (reggae, ska, two-tone), film (Young Soul Rebels, Bend it Like Beckham, The Stuart Hall Project), and literature (Fathima Zahra, Aizaz Hussain, Paul Gilroy) created by second- and third-generation children of Commonwealth immigrants, particularly as they articulate with antiracism movements. Our hands-on class materials will be multidisciplinary (anthropology, history, literature) and multimedia, with a particular focus on visual images, audio, maps, and archival documents.

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Global Modernism, Internationalism, and the Cold War: 1930s, 1960s, 1990s

Open, Lecture—Year

This course is an introduction to diverse trajectories of modern and contemporary art from contexts that include Russia, Mexico, Iran, China, Japan, Argentina, India, Nigeria, Brazil, Ethiopia, Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan, as well as Europe and North America. The course ties these trajectories together via the theme of “internationalism” and its shifting geopolitical stakes over the course of the 20th century. The course follows the creation of modern internationalism in institutions like the League of Nations, the United Nations, UNESCO, and the Non-Aligned Movement; to a shift from diplomatic internationalism to economic “developmentalism” and “globalization” led by institutions like the World Bank and the IMF; and related cultural internationalisms promoted by MoMA, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Venice and São Paulo Biennales, and even the Stalinist state and Chinese Communist Party. Lectures will examine topics like Mexican muralism and Rockefeller internationalism; Négritude and its influence on African postcolonial modernisms; the infamous “weaponization” of abstract expressionism during the Cold War; debates on socialist realism in the Second and Third Worlds; the arrival of postcolonial diasporas to London and Paris and, relatedly, developments in “calligraphic modernism” spanning from North Africa to East Asia; and finally the proliferation of post-medium and new media strategies around the world toward the end of the century. Taking a chronological journey through global modern and contemporary art, the course focuses on three key decades to examine how artists navigated the shifting pressures and opportunities of internationalism throughout the 20th century. We will ask: How did modern artists think about national identity and nationalism in the colonial and postcolonial periods? What were the stakes of abstraction versus realism in different Cold War contexts? Can modernism exist in a totalitarian state? How have “First World” ideologies informed how modernist history has been written in the past? How are global modernists expanding the canon today? And on whose terms? While the course will include canonical readings on modern and contemporary art from the West, we will also read work by thinkers including Hannah Arendt and Rabindranath Tagore on nationalism; Mark Mazower and Vijay Prashad on the shifting politics of internationalism; Geeta Kapur and Ferreira Gullar on postcolonial avant-gardes; and primary documents, including UNESCO conference proceedings and artist manifestoes. The course lays a particular focus on recent work on global modernism by scholars that include Chika Okeke-Agulu, Iftikhar Dadi, Kellie Jones, Joan Kee, Ana María Reyes, and Reiko Tomii. These readings will illustrate current debates and shifts in the field, opening onto questions of art historical method and ways of looking, especially as they pertain to contested and formerly marginalized domains of art history. Writing assignments will focus on New York-area collections; the course will include a guided field trip to MoMA.

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Home/Nation: 20th-Century Asian Art–via New York

Open, Seminar—Fall

This seminar is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. The course takes its title from Indian artist Rummana Hussain’s “Home/Nation” (1996), a multimedia installation reflecting on rising political violence in India at the end of the century—especially against minority groups. In 1998, Hussain completed a residency at Art in General in New York and was one of numerous artists from across Asia showing in the City during the “global” and “multicultural” 1990s. This seminar elaborates on this global turn by tracing prior histories of Asian art in the City; however, our discussion and reading will also spend equal time in Asian and New York-based histories of modern and contemporary art, looking across continents to consider parallels, inversions, connections, and disconnections between and among them. We will, therefore, examine artists like Hussain, who might have visited New York only briefly, along with those who have lived in the City for all or most of their lives. Artists examined will include Toshi Shumizu, Rabindranath Tagore, Chao Chung-hsiang, F. N. Souza, Isamu Noguchi, Zainul Abedin, Yoko Ono, Tehching Hsieh, Zarina Hashmi, and Shahzia Sikander. We will consider how artists grappled with splits between “home” and “nation,” both in Asia and in the United States, during the 20th century, taking into account major events in Asian history that include decolonization, the Cold War, and neoliberal globalization. We will also explore the impact of World War I and World War II on Asian minorities in the United States, the civil rights movement and related passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, the Vietnam War, and, more recently, the aftermaths of 9/11 and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Artistically, we will examine diverse trajectories of realism and abstraction, photography and performance, and new media and avant-garde strategies. Students will have the opportunity to visit New York-based museums, galleries, and archival collections, including the Asia Art Archive, as part of in-class and individual assignments. Seminar discussion and final papers will focus on primary documents: institutional correspondences and historical newspaper and magazine reviews, artist writings and interviews, and archival photographs, among other documentary forms. These records will be used to build on existing histories of Asian art in/via New York and, if possible, to rediscover new or forgotten ones.

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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 Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code 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 BR 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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Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: Movement as Language in Performance, Politics, and Everyday Life

Open, Seminar—Year

This course begins with a close reading of Alice Walker’s 2010 collection of poems, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, as an entry into the multiple layers of meaning and complexity that movement can convey and to the ways in which those layers of meaning serve to mobilize us as individuals and as collectives. Acknowledging the apparently limitless possibilities for defining dancing, dance, and movement, we will consider a range of specific references as archetypes: staged performances, public/political demonstrations, and quotidian choreographies that occur as a matter of course in natural and human-made settings. In additional to Alice Walker’s writing, texts from fields including dance, performance, literary criticism, feminism, science fiction, cultural studies, ethno-ecology, and activism, as well as examples of live and recorded performance events (formal and informal), will serve as inspiration for reading, seeing, thinking, conversing, and writing throughout the year. Histories and perspectives of all participants will be called upon to illuminate those materials and translate them into our own words. Class activities will include reading, writing, discussion, and accessible movement practices. Each student will pursue independent research arising from one or more class activities, which will include reading, writing, and presentation. For students taking the course as a regular seminar, conference work may build upon independent research for class or may be configured as a separate project. The aim of this course is to extend our recognition of movement and dancing as essential aspects of existence; to explore theoretical potentials inherent in that study; and to incorporate new insights into our reading, thinking, conversation, and writing practices.

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First-Year Studies: Working USA: American Workers in the Globalized Political Economy

Open, FYS—Year

Globalization, neoliberal political institutions, and information technology have created foundational changes in the structure and content of work, both in the United States and around the globe. These changes have also had an enormous impact on workers’ traditional modes of organizing and on their ability to pursue their economic and political interests. Today, only 6.7 percent of private-sector workers in the United States belong to unions. Partly as a result, inequality in the United States today rivals that of the pre-Depression 1920s, our (already modest) welfare state is in retreat, and political discourse and policy have become increasingly reflective of the interests of the wealthy. This course will explore the state of US workers (both native-born and immigrant) from the Civil War to the present. We’ll examine the major changes in the structure of the US economy (e.g., from small, competitive firms to huge, transnational oligopolies) and the implications of those changes on workers’ lives and the possibilities for organizing. We’ll explore the history of workers’ attempts to organize and the obstacles to their success, including divisions by race, gender, nativity, and sexual orientation/identity. We’ll examine recent efforts—such as worker centers, social movement unionism, and nonprofit organizing—to improve the conditions of workers outside a traditional union framework. And, time permitting, we’ll compare the state of the US labor movement with that of workers in selected countries. Requirements for the course include frequent short papers and periodic group presentations on the readings and a yearlong conference research project. 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 the students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects. Required texts will include: Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse, The Southern Key: Class, Race, and Radicalism in the 1930s and 1940s by Michael Goldfield, To the Promised Land: Martin Luther King and the Fight for Economic Justice by Michael Honey, and Making the Woman Worker: Precarious Labor and the Fight for Global Standards 1919-2019 by Eileen Boris.

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The Action Genre

Open, Lecture—Spring

Often derided as formulaic, politically conservative, overly macho, or just downright “dumb,” action films are often considered of low cultural value. But, increasingly, scholars have shown that action movies are a fruitful site for investigating the politics of race, gender, and sexuality. This course will begin by historicizing the roots of cinema as a spectacular form, briefly surveying early generic constructs such as chase films, female-driven silent serials, swashbuckling adventures, westerns, and sword-and-sandal epics. We will then turn our main focus to contemporary examples of action cinema from the 1980s to the present and consider the evolution of formal style and special effects, the popularity of global film franchises, stardom, and transcultural exchange. Through close readings of depictions of tropes such as the ’80s “hard-bodied” action hero, strong female leads, superheroes, buddy cops, and villainous “others,” we will consider how the action genre defines and deconstructs notions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and the corporeal—and, in turn, how their representations reflect historical, political, social, and cultural anxieties. In-class screenings will include recent action films, such as Fate of the Furious, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Terminator: Dark Fate, and works by directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, Michael Bay, and John Woo, among others.

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Media Lab: Youth Education and Community Engagement

Open, Seminar—Year

This yearlong course is designed for students with a strong interest in community work and digital-media production. We’ll explore new forms of research creation and pedagogical, performative mode of engagement by considering the role of digital media in making new connections, building friendships, and forging communities. We’ll begin the year by examining the relation of aesthetics to politics and exploring the myriad ways in which theory and praxis can inform one another—with special attention to digital-media pedagogy. Students will engage in a series of short exercises that will equip them with the basic skills needed for digital-media production. Students will then have the opportunity to put those skills into practice, as we design a new kind of after-school program and host a digital-media workshop for youth in consultation with the College’s community partners in Westchester (schedules and groups TBD). This course asks students to play the role of teaching artists, integrating their art form, perspectives, and skills into the community setting. Students will team up to teach and support youth participants to create short audio (fall) and multimedia pieces (spring) through which they show and tell stories about themselves and their communities. All workshops will take place on campus for four Saturdays in the first semester (in October and November) and possibly more in the second semester. This format will allow us to cultivate emerging moments of coming together that vitalize creative making, as well as to find innovative ways to share what was learned from the teaching experience. This interdisciplinary and practice-based course invites students from all disciplines. No prior experience in teaching and/or media production is required.

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Visions of Social Justice

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will collaborate with local nonprofit organizations and/or individual activists to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects are a combination of advertising, research, and social justice, providing valuable content for underresourced efforts while centering the powerful work of people challenging destructive paradigms. The class members will work in teams to produce their films and, ultimately, deliver material to their partner organizations to be used online and beyond. When appropriate, limited local travel will be involved, along with an opportunity to collaborate with organizers, activists, and community partners. Students will be encouraged to create social-engagement strategies in partnership with the organization or subjects that elevate their mission and work. 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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First-Year Studies: Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History

Open, FYS—Year

This is an interdisciplinary course in which we use literature and other cultural texts to illuminate a history of ideas, culture, and politics in the United States. The course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; they do, both intentionally and unintentionally, “political work” in revealing the world in the way that they shore up, modify, or work to change power structures. Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of context for these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how the stories reflect the material world that they seek to change; novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point and, therefore, need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources  that are always paired with a secondary-source chapter, article, or introduction; this pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves, to write history as well as read it. Themes of particular significance will include the construction of national identity, class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality. Conference projects in the fall will focus on history and literature to 1900; in the spring, on history and literature up to just yesterday. 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 student needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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Class, Race, Gender, Work: Readings in US Labor History

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Year

This course explores American labor systems and labor struggles from the colonial era to the present. Core topics include slavery and peonage, as well as wage work; the enduring legacy of settler-colonial regimes; and intersections of class, racial, and gender hierarchies. Along the way, we will focus especially on the complex relationship between mechanisms of oppression and collective forms of resistance: from slave rebellions to insurgent political parties, from bread-and-butter unionism to revolutionary workers’ movements, from community-based organizing to prison uprisings, and from fights against gendered violence to campaigns for sexual freedom. Readings include fiction, journalism, historical documents, and scholarship that invite us to reimagine both the past and possibilities for the future. Class discussion of research methods, analytic paradigms, and conference projects figures prominently in the syllabus.

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Social Protest and Cultural Critique: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the United States

Advanced, Small seminar—Year

“I pray you, then,” W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, “receive my little book in all charity, studying my words with me, forgiving mistake and foible for the sake of the faith and passion that is in me, and seeking the grain of truth hidden there.” In this yearlong course, we will study the words of American activists, who used story, memoir, and cultural criticism to create social change. From Thomas Paine’s brash Common Sense and a (seemingly) conservative seduction novel intended to protect young women, Susanna Rowson’s Charlotte Temple, in the late 18th century, through narratives of enslavement meant to awaken somnolent Americans to the moral tragedy in their midst, to critiques of the ills of capitalism in the 19th century, to revealing the profound injustices meted on immigrants, as well as migrants, in the early 20th century, to James Baldwin and other critics of racial prejudice in the 1960s, to the feminists of the Women’s Liberation Movement, we will analyze the “faith” and seek the “grain of truth” in these passionate cries for social justice.

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Theories at Heart

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course takes political aesthetics, from the Zapatistas to Amazonian autonomy projects, as a point of departure to ground historical understandings of interculturality from an indigenous perspective. The course seeks to develop students’ critical skills as they acquire tools to talk about transcontinental political aesthetics. While engaging this aesthetics of resistance, students will be exposed to a series of critical theories that convey the depths of cultural memory—which is necessarily tied to a local indigenous history remembered in the community by heart. Students will read historical and literary texts from the 16th century onward, as well as secondary readings from recognized scholars interested on indigenous historiography. Thus, students can compare various indigenous perspectives—from the Amazon to the Andes and Chiapas and the people of Turtle Island—contextualized in each nation’s colonial long-durée.

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Reconstructing Womanhood I: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1830–1930

Open, Seminar—Fall

“But if you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply—any. I do not care what case you put; let them be sea-captains, if you will,” Margaret Fuller wrote in Woman in the 19th Century in 1845. Not 10 years later, Fanny Fern’s autobiographical protagonist tells her daughter, when asked if she would write books when a woman, “God forbid,” because “no happy woman ever writes.” In this small seminar, we will discuss what US women writers imagined they could be and why they wrote (happy or not). We will read both major and forgotten works of literary activism from women writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, focusing on issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Gendered Histories of Sickness and Health in Africa

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

How does an individual’s gender expression determine how s/he or 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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Reconstructing Womanhood II: Writers and Activists in the United States, 1930–1990

Sophomore and Above, Small seminar—Spring

“You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,” begins Maxine Hong Kingston’s 1976 memoir of a girlhood among ghosts. This course will be a continuation of the work of the fall, as well as a stand-alone seminar. In this semester, we will explore the stories that women writers have not always told—focusing, in particular, on women writers from outside the mainstream of the time, women who chronicled and critiqued an American world that sought to silence them in some way. As in the fall, we will focus around issues of gender and gender convention; race, racial prejudice, and the legacy of enslavement; immigration, migration, and national identity; class and elitism; and sex and sexuality.

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Gender, Education, and Opportunity in Africa

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Spring

In modern Africa, equity in education—whether in relation to gender, ethnicity, race, class, or religion—remains an important arena of debate. As formal colonial rule ended on the continent and more African nations gained independence, education became synonymous with modernity and a leading indicator of a country’s progress toward development. Gender and class biases played (and continue to play) a powerful role in determining who received access to formal education. Even though traditional education was believed to be “accessible to all,” the demands of traditional education were often arduous, painful, and in direct conflict with Western schooling. While African governments and multilateral organizations like the United Nations and UNICEF emphasize the importance of more children attending school, disruptions as a result of political conflict, civil war, or infectious disease (including tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and now COVID-19) undermine families’ abilities to keep children in school. This class studies the history of education in Africa, focusing on a wide variety of training, classroom experiences, and socialization practices. In particular, we will investigate the influence of gender in defining access to educational opportunity. An awareness of the significance of both formal and nonformal education has been reflected within the realms of African politics, popular culture, literature, and film. Because of this, we will use a range of sources to investigate how gender influences access to educational opportunity. We will begin by questioning prevailing constructs of gender and determine how relevant Western gender categories have historically been for African societies. By focusing our readings on countries as diverse as Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Senegal, and South Africa, students will develop a broad overview of educational policy changes and practices across the continent and leave the class better able to analyze debates about education in Africa.

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Queer Americans: Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, and James Baldwin

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Year

Queer Americans certainly, James, Stein, Cather, and Baldwin each fled “America.” James (1843-1916) and Stein (1874-1946) spent their adult lives in Europe. Cather (1873-1947) left Nebraska for Greenwich Village after a decade in Pittsburgh, with a judge’s daughter along the way. Baldwin (1924-1987) left Harlem for Greenwich Village, then the Village for Paris. As sexual subjects and as writers, these four could hardly appear more different; yet, Stein described James as “the first person in literature to find the way to the literary methods of the 20th century,” Cather rewrote James to develop her own subjects and methods, and Baldwin found in James’s writings frameworks for his own. In the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, James, Stein, and Cather witnessed the emergence of modern understandings of homosexuality and made modern literature, each pushing boundaries, always in subtle or dramatic ways. (Stein, for example, managed to parlay the story of her Paris life with Alice B. Toklas into an American bestseller in 1933.) In the second half of the 20th century, Baldwin began to dismantle modern understandings of sexuality and of literature. Examining the development of their works side by side will allow us to push the boundaries of lesbian/gay/queer cultural analyses by pursuing different meanings of “queer” and “American” through an extraordinary range of subjects and forms. Beginning with James on gender, vulnerability, and ruthlessness, this course will range from Cather’s pioneers and plantations to Stein on art and atom bombs and Baldwin on sex and civil rights. We will read novels, novellas, stories, essays, and memoirs by James, Cather, and Baldwin, plus Stein’s portraits, geographical histories, lectures, plays, operas, and autobiographies. Literary and social forms were both inextricable and inseparable from the gender and cross-gender affiliations and the class, race, and ethnic differences that were all urgent matters for these four. James’s, Stein’s, Cather’s, and Baldwin’s lives and works challenge most conventional assumptions about what it meant—and what it might mean—to be a queer American. Conference projects may include historical and political, as well as literary, studies, focusing on any period from the mid-19th century to the present.

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Perverts in Groups: Queer Social Lives

Open, Seminar—Fall

Contradictory assumptions about the relation of homosexuals to groups have dominated accounts of modern LGBT life. In Western Europe and the United States, from the late-19th century onward, queers have been presented as profoundly isolated persons—burdened by the conviction that they are the only ones ever to have had such feelings when they first realize their deviant desires and immediately separated by those desires from the families and cultures into which they were born. Yet, at the same time, these isolated individuals have been seen as inseparable from one another, part of a worldwide network, always able to recognize their peers by means of mysterious signs decipherable only by other group members. Homosexuals were denounced as persons who did not contribute to society; homosexuality was presented as the hedonistic choice of reckless, self-indulgent individualism over sober social good. Nevertheless, all homosexuals were implicated in a nefarious conspiracy, stealthily working through their web of connections to one another to take over the world—or the political establishment of the United States, for example, its art world, theatre, or film industries. Such contradictions could still be seen in the battles that have raged since the 1970s, when queers began seeking public recognition of their lives within existing social institutions, from the military to marriage. LGBT persons were routinely attacked as threats (whether to unit cohesion or the family) intent on destroying the groups they were working to openly join. In this class, we will use these contradictions as a framework for studying the complex social roles that queers have occupied and some of the complex social worlds they have created—at different times and places, shaped by different understandings of gender, race, class, ethnicity, and nationality—within the United States over the past century and a half. Our sources will include histories, sociological and anthropological studies, the writings of political activists, fiction, and film.

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Pretty, Witty, and Gay

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Are you ready to review your cultural map? As Gertrude Stein once said, “Literature—creative literature—unconnected with sex is inconceivable. But not literary sex, because sex is a part of something of which the other parts are not sex at all.” More recently, Fran Leibowitz observed, “If you removed all of the homosexuals and homosexual influence from what is generally regarded as American culture, you would be pretty much left with Let’s Make a Deal.” We do not have to limit ourselves to America, however. The only question is, where to begin: in the pantheon, in prison, or “in the family”; in London, Paris, Berlin, or New York; with the “friends of Dorothy” or “the twilight women.” There are novels, plays, poems, essays, films, and critics to be read and read about, listened to or watched. There are dark hints, delicate suggestions, “positive images,” “negative images,” and sympathy-grabbing melodramas to be reviewed. There are high culture and high camp, tragedies and comedies, the good, the bad, and the awful to be enjoyed and assessed. How has modern culture thought about sexuality and art, love and literature? How might we think again? Conference work may be focused on a particular artist, set of texts, or genre or some aspect of the historical background of the materials that we will be considering.

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First-Year Studies: Difficult Womxn of the Americas

Open, FYS—Year

Difficult womxn go against the grain: They make noise. They make trouble. They challenge categories, preconceptions, and assigned roles and shine light where some would rather not look. Through novels, films, and essays by thinkers and artists like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Octavia Butler, Cristina Rivera Garza, Judith Butler, Lucrecia Martel, Frida Kahlo, Sara Gómez, Margaret Atwood, and Lia Garcia La Sirena, this course will explore questions of gender, labor rights, race, borders, bodies, and environmental issues, among others. Students will learn how to analyze cultural objects and theory, to build arguments around plot elements or imagery, and to ground their analysis effectively in social and cultural contexts. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them at the College, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their writing skills through workshops.

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Milton, Blake, and the Bible

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.

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Italian and Japanese Women Writers: A Dialogue

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

This course will examine literature written by 20th- and 21st-century Italian and Japanese women writers. We will explore how their works address social issues related to family, marriage, and women’s changing roles, as well as the place of women’s writing in Italian and Japanese literary canons. Our readings will include works by Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Paola Masino, Ada Negri, Rosa Rosà, Anna Banti, Anna Maria Ortese, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Dacia Maraini, and Elena Ferrante for Italian literature; Higuchi Ichiyo, Ota Yoko, Hayashi Fumiko, Enchi Fumiko, Ariyoshi Sawako, Oba Minako, Yoshimoto Banana, Tsushima Yuko, Ogawa Yoko, Tawada Yoko, and Oyamada Hiroko for Japanese literature. Primary sources will range from fiction (novels, short stories, and fictional diaries) to autobiographies, diaries, and plays supplemented with secondary texts on women’s literature and histories. In addition to the lectures, students will attend weekly group conferences, and there will be group conference options for intermediate/advanced language students (in Italian and Japanese, respectively) to focus on developing language proficiency (e.g., by reading literary works in the original language, producing written compositions, and discussing works in Italian or Japanese). No previous background in Italian or Japanese language, literature, or history is required for this course.

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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 Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, from the Indian Penal Code 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 these 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 BR 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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Crime, Punishment, and Freedom in African American Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

African American literature has been intertwined with crime and punishment since at least the 17th century. One of the earliest textual sources about American slavery, the John Punch case, is a tribunal transcript detailing the crime of a Black man and his punishment of slavery. In the following 200 years, the slave narrative as a genre came to cohere around the climactic crime of stealing the property that is one’s self. After emancipation, African American writers decried public portrayals of Black people as criminal in prison literature, lynching narratives, and more. What, exactly, is the relationship between African American literature and crime? To answer this question, we will read African American literature chronologically, written by authors like Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison. In so doing, we aim to better understand both crime’s role in constituting African American literature and African American literature’s portrait of crime. Short assignments throughout the class (including critical and creative responses and short, close readings) aim to help us better understand the texts in the moments in which they were produced and to develop the skills necessary to approach these texts critically.

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Literature in Translation: 20th-Century Italian Literature and Culture

Open, Seminar—Fall

The course will explore 20th-century Italian literature, focusing on important intellectuals, works, and movements that helped shape it and their connection with the arts, cinema, and society at large. Italy had become a unified nation by 1860, and its literature addressed issues such as (national and personal) identity, tradition, innovation and modernity, the role of literature and of the writer, and the changing role of women in Italian society. We will explore the interrelation between Italian literature and crucial historical events—such as the Great War, the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, the Resistance, the birth of the Republic, the postwar economic boom, the students’ and women’s movements of the 1960s and ’70s, the terrorism of the “Anni di Piombo”—until the recent contribution of migration literature to the Italian literary canon. Among the authors and intellectuals, we will explore Sibilla Aleramo for her literary treatment of the issue of female emancipation at the beginning of the century; Luigi Pirandello and his work as a novelist and playwright; Gabriele D’Annunzio as a poet, playwright, and novelist but also a war hero and politician; F. T. Marinetti, whose futurist manifestos and literary works reflected his desire to renew Italian art, literature, and culture in general; B. Mussolini’s fascist regime, its dictates, and their influence on propaganda literature and cinema; Ignazio Silone’s novels on the fascist era; Roberto Rossellini’s neorealist cinema; Italo Calvino’s, Beppe Fenoglio’s, and Elio Vittorini’s literature of the Resistance; Primo Levi’s depiction of The Holocaust; and women writers such as Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, and Dacia Maraini. Readings will be supplemented by secondary source material that will help outline the social, historical, and political context in which these authors lived and wrote, as well as provide a relevant critical framework for the study of their works. On occasion, we will watch films that are relevant to the topics and period in question. No previous knowledge of Italian is required. Students proficient in Italian may opt to read sources in the original language and write their conference projects in Italian. Conference topics may include the study of a particular author, literary text, or topic relevant to the course and that might be of interest to the student.

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Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

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Cold War Black Feminism

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

When Black feminist writing boomed in the 1970s, the United States was squarely in the middle of the Cold War. Accordingly, Audre Lorde decried the United States invasion of Grenada, June Jordan railed against the Vietnam War, and Assata Shakur penned her autobiography in asylum in Cuba. Yet, Black feminism has primarily been considered a domestic affair. How might we better understand Black feminist literature by reading it in the context of the Cold War? This course aims to answer this question first by reading proto-Black-feminist authors writing in the early Cold War and then returning to the famous authors of Black feminism to consider their portrait of international affairs. Authors may include Ann Petry, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, and others. Along the way, we will read recent scholarship to understand the historical context in which those texts were written. In so doing, we aim to better understand the Cold War’s effect on Black feminism and what those canonical texts of Black feminism can tell us about American foreign policy. Short assignments may include brief historical essays, short close readings, and response papers.

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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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African American Poetry After Emancipation

Open, Seminar—Spring

The sharp rise in African American literacy during Reconstruction gave rise to an increase in African American textual production and, especially, poetry. How did African American poetry respond to the conditions of emancipation and seek to exceed those conditions? This course aims to answer this question by taking the long view of African American poetry, beginning with Reconstruction and Nadir-era poets like Paul Laurence Dunbar and Charlotte Grimke. We will then follow their influence upon Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes and Jessie Redmon Fauset, Black arts and Black feminist poets like Gwendolyn Brooks and Amiri Baraka, and 21st-century poets like Terrance Hayes, Danez Smith, and Eve Ewing. This course aims to introduce students to the broad array of postemancipation poetry, so we will read across a variety of poetic forms in historical context. In so doing, we aim to better understand African American poetry, its relationship to history, and the ways in which poetry aims to describe Blackness as exceeding the juridical category of emancipation. Short assignments will include poetry recitation, pastiche, close readings, descriptions of form, and more.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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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, as well as our own experiences. The musical repertory will include medieval and Renaissance music, music by Bach, songs by Schubert, and examples from the symphonic repertory by 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 we need as the class proceeds.

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The Music of Russia

Open, Large Lecture—Spring

This course will survey the great contributions of Russian composers to Western music from the first half of the 19th century to the end of the Soviet era and beyond. We will study these works in the context of the important historical events and intellectual movements that galvanized Russian artists: the desire to find the appropriate expression of Russian identity, the ambivalence toward the achievements of Western Europe, the ideals of civic responsibility, the aestheticism of the later 19th century, the Russian Revolution, and the repressions of Soviet society. Composers to be studied include Glinka, Tchaikovsky, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky. No prior music courses or knowledge of music theory is required.

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Existentialism

Open, Lecture—Spring

Does life have a purpose, a meaning? What does it mean “to be”? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a woman (or to be a man)? What does it mean to be black (or to be white)? What makes us into who we are? What distinguishes each of us? And what, if anything, is in common to all of us? These and other questions are raised by existentialist philosophy and literature, mostly through interrogation of real-life experiences, situations, and “fundamental emotions” such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, and shame. In the first half of this class, we will get acquainted with the core tenets of existentialist thought by reading two of its most influential figures: Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Martin Heidegger (Germany, 1889-1976). In the second half, we will analyze texts by authors who set out to expand or challenge these core tenets on the grounds of their experiences of oppression. These authors are Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, and Jean Améry. Group conference will meet weekly and play a central role in this course. In it, we will mostly read literary texts or watch films that are relevant to the work of the above-listed authors. Conference material will include stories by Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, and Ralph Ellison and films like The Battle of Algiers (1967) and Monsieur Klein (1977).

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Women Philosophers in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Open, Seminar—Year

Western philosophy originated in Ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago, addressing fundamental questions about being and time, about the human condition, about ethics and politics, about science and religion. Despite the fundamental and universal nature of these questions, philosophy was practiced (at least publicly) mostly by men for the majority of those 2,000 years. It was not until the 20th century that this convention began to be significantly challenged, both practically (by the fact that more and more women entered the forefront of philosophical discussion) and theoretically (by questioning the validity and scope of this male-dominant tradition). This yearlong course is a survey of 20th-century continental philosophy that, countering the aforementioned tradition, focuses exclusively on the work of women in philosophy. Among the authors we may read are Sarah Ahmed, Hannah Arendt, Simone de Beauvoir, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, bell hooks, Luce Irigaray, Melany Klein, Julia Kristeva, Audre Lorde, Maria Lugones, Simone Weil, Sylvia Winter, and Virginia Woolf. Some of these philosophers are feminists or consider the issue of sexual difference as central to their work or to philosophy in general; some are not. More importantly for our purposes, surveying their thought will be our means of acquiring a comprehensive view of the key developments in continental philosophy of the 20th and 21st centuries and the relations between them, including phenomenology, existentialism, psychoanalysis, critical theory, structuralism and poststructuralism, feminism, black feminism, and trans-feminism, decolonial and queer theories. During the fall semester, in addition to biweekly individual conferences, first-year students will have a biweekly group conference, in which we will discuss the nature of academic work in general and practice research, reading, writing, and editing skills.

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Decolonizing Philosophy

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this course, we will think about the various strategies for reforming the philosophical “canon” with decolonial aims in view. Some of the questions that will guide our discussions throughout the semester are: How does academic decolonization differ from political decolonization? What are the connections between philosophy as an academic discipline and the historical reality of colonialism? Does decolonial theory require a break with the Western tradition of thought? And, if not, what are the advantages and disadvantages of remaining in dialogue with the Western “canon”? What are the various decolonizing strategies, and what goals do they enact? In the first half of the course, we will read a variety of key texts within decolonial theory that propose very different answers to these questions. Some of the thinkers we will look at include Walter Mignolo, Marisa Belausteguigoitia, Audre Lorde, Kwasi Wiredu, Lewis Gordon, and Nadia Yala Kisukidi. The second half of the course then moves on to put into practice one strategy for decolonizing philosophy in order to allow us to engage these questions more concretely. This strategy involves reading “canonical” texts of European phenomenology—including texts by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger—through the lens provided by decolonial thinkers such as Paulin Hountondji, Frantz Fanon, and Mariana Ortega. Beyond equipping students with the tools to think critically about canon formation and the meaning of academic decolonization, this course will familiarize students with seminal texts in Latinx and Africana traditions of decolonial theory, as well as with critical and decolonial phenomenology.

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International Perspectives on Psychology

Open, Lecture—Fall

What does psychology look like outside of the United States? How does psychology operate across multiple cultures? In this course, we will attempt to answer these questions as we explore multiple international perspectives of psychology. First, we will begin with an examination of the history of psychology as a field. Next, we will grapple with arguments for and against international psychology. Our course will explore the development of psychology in multiple parts of the world. Our readings will focus on tracing the roots of specific schools of psychology, such as liberation psychology and South African psychology, and examining case studies in India, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the former Soviet Union, and El Salvador. Readings may include perspectives from theorists such as Martin-Baro (liberation psychology), Sunil Bhatia (decolonizing psychology), Frantz Fanon (postcolonial theory and psychology), and Lev Vygotsky (cultural-historical psychology). Lastly, we will explore the role of international organizations and mental health, such as the WHO and the UN. In conference work, students will be encouraged to explore international perspectives of psychology beyond the examples discussed in class. This course is open to students interested in psychology, mental health, international relations, politics, regional studies, and anthropology.

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Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

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Doing Research With Young People

Open, 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. Fieldwork in partnership with the Early Childhood Center or Community Partnerships is also possible.

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Emerging Adulthood

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

We have time, energy, questions, and few responsibilities. We want to push the envelope, resist compromise, lead revolutions, and turn the world upside down. Because we do not yet know quite how to be, we have not settled and will not let the dust settle around us. —Karlin & Borofsky, 2003

Many traditional psychological theories of development posit a brief transition from adolescence to adulthood; however, many people moving into their 20s experience anything but a brief transition to “feeling like an adult,” pondering questions such as: How many SLC alums can live in a Brooklyn sublet? What will I do when I finish the Peace Corps next year? In this course, we will explore the psychological literature concerning emerging adulthood, the period from the late teens through the 20s. We will examine this period of life from a unified biopsychosocial and intersectional perspective.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Sociology of Global Inequalities

Open, Lecture—Spring

The focus of this lecture will be to introduce students to the processes and methods of conducting sociological research projects using a transnational and/or comparative lens. We will be taking, as our starting point, a set of global themes—loosely categorized as human rights, culture, migration, health, climate, and development— through which we will try to build our understanding of inequality in various forms and in different contexts. The approach we will take here in designing research will be one that aims to move beyond the national or the nation state as a bounded “container” of society and social issues; rather, we will aim at a better understanding of how different trends, processes, transformations, structures, and actors emerge and operate in globally and transnationally interconnected ways. For example, we can look at migration not simply through the lens of emigration/immigration to and from particular countries but also through the lens of flows and pathways that are structured via transnational relationships and circuits of remittances, exchanges, and dependencies. As part of group conferences, students will be asked to identify one of the key global themes through which they will examine issues of inequality, using a range of methods for data collection and analysis—datasets from international organizations, surveys, questionnaires, historical records, reports, and ethnographic accounts—which they will then compile into research portfolios produced as a group.

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Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Measuring Difference: Constructing Race, Gender, and Ability

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will explore the sociology of classification, a subfield that critiques the ways in which society measures differences like race, gender, ability, and other social categories that communicate social worth. Three questions guide our inquiry: How does society construct and understand categories of difference? How do people experience and resist categories of social difference in themselves? How does social difference shape institutions like the family, education, employment, and government? Each week, students will engage a selection of texts that put theory, substantive research on social categories, and critical responses to them in conversation with one another. For a final class project, students will explore one area of social difference through individual and group writing assignments. Those assignments will provide training in documentary analysis, a qualitative method often used in historical and ethnographic research. Students will leave the course with the ability to identify areas of social difference, the practices through which these are produced, and a systematic critique of the ways in which measurement creates inequality in the social world.

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Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

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Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways in which individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through the literature, film, music, and visual art of Miguel Ángel Asturias, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Rebecca Lane, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia Garcia La Sirena, and many more. We will also learn about the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation state; an important aspect of this course will be engaging with activist efforts in real time. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

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Performance Art

Open, Seminar—Spring

Since the early 20th century, artists have explored performance art as a radical means of expression. In both form and function, performance art pushes the boundaries of contemporary art. Through this form of expression, artists have produced powerful works about the body and the politics of gender, sexuality, and race. This course surveys performance art as a porous, transdisciplinary medium open to students from all disciplines, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, sculpture, video, filmmaking, theatre, dance, music, creative writing, and digital art. Students will learn about the history of performance art and explore some of the concepts and aesthetic strategies used to create works of performance. Drawing on historical and critical texts, artists’ writings, video screenings, and slide lectures, students will use a series of simple prompts to help shape their own performances. Artists and art movements surveyed in this class include Dada, Happenings, Fluxus, Viennese Actionism, Gutai Group, Act-Up, Joseph Beuys, Judson Church, Ana Mendieta, Gina Pane, Helio Oiticica, Jack Smith, Leigh Bowery, Rachel Rosenthal, Jo Spence, Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Terry Adkins and the Lone Wolf Recital Corps, Carolee Schneemann, Martha Wilson, Adrian Piper, Martha Rosler, Lorraine O’Grady, Joan Jonas, Karen Finley, Janine Antoni, Patty Chang, Papo Colo, Paul McCarthy, Matthew Barney, Ron Athey, Orlan, Guillermo Gomez Pena, Narcissister, Annie Sprinkle, Vaginal Davis, Kris Grey, Carlos Martiel, Autumn Knight, Amanda Alfieri, Hennessey Youngman, Savannah Knoop, Shaun Leonardo, Francis Alys, Andrea Fraser, Tania Bruguera, Zhang Huan, Regina Jose Galindo, Aki Sasamoto, Pope.L, and many more.

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Black-and-White Darkroom: An Immersion

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will focus on the technical and conceptual underpinnings of black-and-white photography. Students will learn how to use the 35mm film camera and how to print in the darkroom. We will cover a wide range of technical topics, including exposure, film development, printing on RC and fiber paper, toning, and split-filter printing. In-class lectures will introduce students to historical and contemporary practitioners, with a focus on voices and perspectives that have too often been sidelined in photo history curricula. Weekly shooting assignments will challenge students to engage with the complexities of the medium and think beyond traditional modes of presentation. Reading and writing assignments will supplement studio work. In addition to art criticism, we will read fiction and poetry by writers such as Mary Karr, Elena Ferrante, Rebecca Solnit, and Jorie Graham. Some of the guiding questions for our class will include: How can we use photography, the indexical medium, to investigate what we don’t understand? How can making images teach us about the people and places closest to us? And how can printing and installation choices support our artistic arguments? At the end of the semester, each student will present a body of work on a topic of their choice.

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Diversity and Equity in Education: Issues of Gender, Race, and Class

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

The education system is a central institution in the socialization of young people and the maintenance of the modern nation state. Schools support meritocratic models of society by providing opportunities for social mobility. Paradoxically, schools also reproduce gender, racial, and class inequality. In this course, we will examine the roles that schools play in the transmission of culture, formation of identity, and reproduction of social structures. Paying special attention to gender and its intersection with other social categories, we will look at practices and policies that shape students’ performance as they strive for competence, achievement, and acceptance. We will also analyze the larger political and economic contexts that shape both schools and the communities in which they are situated.

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Experiments With Truth: Nonfiction Writing From the Edges

Open, Seminar—Spring

Nonfiction writing is defined not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not fiction; but what it is not comprehends a vast territory. We will spend the semester looking at the more unusual, experimental, and lyrical inhabitants of this territory: personal essays masquerading as anthropological studies or paleontological meditations or political screeds; blog posts from medieval Japan and Renaissance France; diaries; poems in the form of diary entries; essays masquerading as poems; micro nonfictions; feuilletons; prose poems passing themselves off as travelogues; koans; sermons; speeches; prayers. We will read a variety of writers from the past (among, but not limited to, Sei Shonagon, Montaigne, Sir Thomas Browne, Wilde, Pessoa, Gandhi, Mandelstam, Elizabeth Bishop, V. S. Naipaul, and the unknown genius who wrote the Book of Job) and from the present (John D’Agata, Bhanu Kapil, Anne Carson, Jonathan Franzen). After the first few weeks, we will alternate, week-by-week, sessions discussing reading with sessions discussing student work. Conference work will comprise discussion of reading tailored to individual students and the equivalent of two large pieces of writing in whatever form student and instructor agree upon.

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Edgy Memoirs

Open, Seminar—Fall

There are memoirs that people write when they’ve had a great acting career or been president of a large country. We read these for their historic/cultural value. Our interest is in the story of their lives. But another kind of memoir tries to tell another kind of truth. Those are more personal stories of dysfunction, addiction, oppression, and overcoming the odds. These stories may take us on alcoholic journeys or tales of abuse into scary families and scarier souls. They can also be funny, uplifting, and redemptive. In this workshop, we attempt to uncover that kind of truth; but this isn’t a class in autobiography; rather, it’s a class in telling a story. What differentiates these stories from other tales of grief and woe is that they are, quite simply, well-told. We will read memoirs by authors such as Michael Ondaatje, Kathryn Harrison, Garred Conley, Cathy Hong Park, David Sedaris, Nick Flynn, James McBride, and Jeanette Taylor, as well as memoirs by recent Sarah Lawrence graduates such as T Kira Madden and Anna Qu. And we will attempt to write one of our own. The emphasis will be on how to tell our stories. Exercises and prompts will be designed to help jumpstart you.

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