Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies (LGBT) is an interdisciplinary field that engages questions extending across a number of areas of study. Sarah Lawrence College offers students the opportunity to explore a range of theories and issues concerning gender and sexuality across cultures, categories, and historical periods. This can be accomplished through seminar course work and discussion and/or individual conference research.

2018-2019 Courses

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

First-Year Studies: The Invention of Homosexuality

Open , FYS—Year

Different historians trace the invention of homosexuality to different historical moments from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. The invention of heterosexuality, it would seem, followed after. Certainly the term "heterosexual" appeared only after the term “homosexual” was coined in the latter 19th century. Neither meant, at first, what they mean today. In this class, we will study the development of modern understandings of same-sex desire in relation to understandings of sex, gender, race, class, nation, nature, culture, and opposite-sex desire. We will be drawing centrally on literary works, especially novels, which have been crucial sites for the construction and dissemination of conceptions of sexuality. But we will also be reading histories, science, laws, letters, and polemics—and watching films. Although we will be considering some earlier materials, we will focus on two periods: first, from the 1880s to the 1960s; then, from the 1960s to the present. By the 1880s, almost everyone agrees, a recognizably modern understanding of homosexuality was becoming available. The sexual/cultural landscapes that subsequently developed were not radically rearranged until the 1960s, when the gay and women’s liberation movements articulated a political analysis of sexuality. Over the past 50 years, that political analysis—and the activism it continues to foster—have had profound consequences, even as earlier understandings still shape LGBT lives and cultural presences. This course will serve as an introduction to a broad range of modern literature; to fundamental works in the history of sexuality and contemporary queer studies; and to critical thinking about how we talk, read, and write about sex. Conference work may be focused on any period from the 19th century to the present.

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

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

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 “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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Queer Theory: A History

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

For students with a background in women's, gender, or LGBT studies.

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

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Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open , Seminar—Spring

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

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Faking Families: How We Make Kinship

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 a 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. Our topics will include the adoption and fostering of children, both locally and transnationally, in Peru, Chile, Spain, Italy, Ghana, the United States, China, and Korea. We will look at technologies of biological reproduction, including the global movement of genetic material in the business of transnational gestational surrogacy in India. We will look at the ways in which marriages are contracted in a variety of social and cultural settings, including China and Korea, and the ways in which they are configured by race, gender, and citizenship. Our questions will include: Who are “real” kin? Who can a person marry? Which children are “legitimate”? Why do we hear so little about birth mothers? What is the experience of families with transgender parents or children? What is the compulsion to find genetically connected “kin”? How many mothers can a person have? How is marriage connected to labor migration? Why are the people who care for children in foster care called “parents”? The materials for this class include literature, scholarly articles, ethnographic accounts, historical documents, and film.

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

Advanced , Seminar—Year

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

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Political Economy of Women

Open , Lecture—Year

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

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Body Politics: A Cultural History of the United States

Advanced , Seminar—Year

Open only to juniors, seniors, and graduate students.

Historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg argues, “In the 20th century, the body has become the central personal project of American girls.” Increasingly in US culture, the body is seen as the ultimate expression of the self; and that personal project has become a project of more than girls. This course will analyze the emergence of this consuming anxiety against the backdrop of other conversations about what are understood as women’s and men’s bodies: as workers, as mothers and fathers, as public figures, as sexual beings. Using cultural criticism, novels, and films, as well as history, we will discuss questions of body politics generally and how a study of the body reveals crucial cultural and political values. The way the body is displayed, hidden, used, misused, celebrated, transformed, and vilified provides a lens through which to make sense of ideals of gender, beauty, sexual politics, racial politics, labor politics, and family politics—all areas of interest in this class. Although most of the course will focus on the 20th century United States, the first third of the fall semester will be devoted to general questions about defining body politics and a quick look at the 19th century. We will end at the close of World War II in the fall and pick up at the same moment in the spring, finishing by May at or near the end of the 20th century. Conferences will involve research into primary materials. This will be a writing-intensive course, including (mostly) expository writing but also creative nonfiction.

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First-Year Studies: Fops, Coquettes, and the Masquerade: Fashioning Gender and Courtship From Shakespeare to Austen

Open , FYS—Year

This section of first-year studies traces the representation of gender difference and romantic attachment on the page and stage from 1590 to 1820, a crucial period in the consolidation of modern assumptions about sexuality, marriage, and gendered behavior. The emphasis will be on drama and prose fiction; but we will also sample a range of other expressive forms, including lyric and narrative poetry, visual satire and portraiture, conduct literature, and life-writing. Along the way, students will be introduced to some of the most compelling figures in European literature, all of whom share an interest in the conventions of courtship and the performance of gender: John Milton, the foremost epic poet in the language (we will read Paradise Lost in its entirety); Aphra Behn, England’s first professional female author; bawdy comic playwrights like George Etherege and William Wycherley; the innovative early novelists Eliza Haywood, Daniel Defoe, and Samuel Richardson; the masterful verse satirist Alexander Pope; the pioneering periodical writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; the cross-dressing memoirist Charlotte Charke; and Mary Wollstonecraft, the founder of modern feminism. Bracketing the yearlong course will be extended coverage of the two most influential authors of courtship narratives in English, William Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Additional attention will be paid to earlier writers on sex and marriage, such as Ovid and St. Paul, as well as to contemporary work in queer theory and gender studies. We will also consider select films that reflect the legacy of early modern fictions of gender by directors like Frank Capra and Alfred Hitchcock. Please note that this course will necessarily include candid discussions of sensitive subject matter, including sexual violence.

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17th-Century British Literature

Open , Seminar—Year

Prerequisite: At least one year of a college-level class in the humanities or a strong AP course in literature.

In England during the 17th century, the great ordering coherences of medieval and earlier Renaissance thinking seemed to disintegrate under the warring impulses of individualism and authority, empiricism and faith, and revolutionary transformation and reinforcement of tradition. Yet, even as monarchy and established church were challenged and torn apart, the 17th century produced an extraordinary flowering of drama, poetry, and prose that expressed the contradictory energies of the period. This course will study English writing of the 17th century in a roughly chronological sequence. The first semester will explore the aesthetics and ideology of the Stuart court and the robust and bawdy urban center of London through a reading of masques and plays by Jonson and Shakespeare and their contemporaries; dramatic and meditative experiments in “metaphysical” and moral verse by John Donne, Ben Jonson, Aemilia Lanyer, George Herbert, and other poets; various developments in scientific, philosophical, and meditative prose by Francis Bacon, Richard Burton, and Thomas Browne; and the early poetry of John Milton. The second semester will study major writing in the period of the English Revolution and Restoration. Our focus will be on Milton, but we will also study the poetry of the Cavaliers, Katherine Philips, Andrew Marvell, and John Dryden and the prose of Thomas Hobbes, John Bunyan, Aphra Behn, and Margaret Cavendish.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

Mathematical prerequisite: basic high-school algebra and geometry.

Correlation, regression, 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 important? And what exactly fueled the failure of statistical polls and projections leading up to the 2016 US presidential election? 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; specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design, 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. Conference work will serve as a complete practicum of the theory learned in lecture: Students working closely in small teams will conceive, design, and fully execute a small-scale research study. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Virtually Yours: Relating and Reality in the Digital Age

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong, open-level seminar will examine relating and reality in the digital age. In the fall semester, we will focus on ways in which humans have evolved to relate to each other and be related to and how our innate relational patterns fit (or do not fit) within the rapidly evolving digital world. We will consider ways in which digital life is changing how people relate and ways in which this may be challenging for some but beneficial for others. We will begin with relevant historical and developmental perspectives on attachment theory, human bonding, and shifting relational expectations. We will move on to consider how various realms of the digital world (e.g., social media, messaging, dating apps, video chats, artificial intelligence, virtual reality) impact our relational patterns, as well as aspects of self- and identity expression (e.g., of gender, sexuality, values, beliefs, interests). We will consider the role of digital spaces in making new connections, building friendships, falling in love, and maintaining romantic bonds, as well as bullying, revenge, trolling, and potential barriers to empathy that may occur when our gazes are fixed on screens and not on each other. We will also consider our emerging engagement with artificial intelligence and our attachment to digital devices themselves. In the spring semester, we will examine how reality has been defined historically, clinically, and culturally; how one’s sense of reality is shaped through development; and what internal, environmental, social, and cultural factors contribute to one’s sense of reality. Can reality ever truly be objective? Building on material from the first semester, we will examine the innate, developmental, cultural, and social psychological factors that shape our perception of reality and our choice of reliable sources—including the roles of race, gender, and ethnicity in those processes. We will consider how psychological constructs and psychometric measures of reality have taken those factors into consideration, both currently and historically. We will next consider ways in which one’s sense of reality may be impacted by clinical conditions such as brain injury, psychosis, depression, trauma, and anxiety; altered by substances such as psychedelics; influenced by dreams; and potentially enhanced through meditation. We will then consider how the content, pace, and sheer volume of information currently cycling through social media and 24 news outlets may impact our perception of reality. Classes will be both discussion-based and experiential, with opportunities for observation (e.g., observing children relating/engaging in play in the SLC Early Childhood Center (ECC), free from digital devices) and in-class activities related to weekly topics (e.g., comparing experiences engaging with early logic-based digital toys such as Simon and Speak n’ Spell vs. digital toys that express affection such as Furby and contemporary AI). Class reading will include primary- and secondary-source academic material from diverse perspectives in developmental, neuropsychological, clinical, and cultural psychology and related fields. Supplemental material will include relevant literature, memoir, TedTalks, and popular media coverage of related topics. Conference topics may include, but are not limited to, the role of digital spaces in forming and maintaining relationships; relationships formed to artificial intelligence and/or digital devices; and/or developmental, neuropsychological, clinical, social, and/or cultural perspectives on/shifts in relating in the digital age. Conference projects may be completed in the form of an APA-style literature review, original data collection, and/or a creative piece with academic justification and will include a class presentation.

Fieldwork and Community Partnerships. All students will be required to make a one-time observational visit to the SLC Early Childhood Center (ECC) and to the Wartburg center for older adults. Optional weekly fieldwork is available and encouraged for any interested students.

(Optional) Weekly Fieldwork Placement, Early Childhood Center (ECC). Students will work closely with classroom teachers one hour per week and will become part of the classroom (as advised and supervised by classroom teachers) while maintaining weekly observation logs relevant to seminar objectives and conference work.

(Optional) Weekly Fieldwork Placement: Creative Aging and Institute for Music & Neurological Function at Wartburg. Using digital tablets, students will help residents in dementia and Alzheimer’s care by creating personalized tablet programs (e.g., including apps for relaxation, connecting with meaningful music and photos), helping residents connect with important memories and important relationships throughout their lives. Students will be responsible for working with residents, staff, and family (if and when available) to develop personally meaningful tablet programs, help residents access these programs, and write a protocol to be shared with future caregivers and family members for continued use. (2 hour weekly time commitment on site plus 15-20 minutes travel time)

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Emerging Adulthood

Open , Seminar—Fall

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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Queer Bodies: A Cultural History of Medical and Scientific Knowledge

Open , Seminar—Fall

How have physicians and scientists studied and understood differences in sex, gender, and sexuality? What categories have they used, and how have these categories and the assumptions underlying them changed over time? How have popular conceptions of gender and sexuality influenced science, and vice versa? What has been at stake in viewing social differences as located in the body? How can we understand the medicalization and pathologization of queer bodies, genders, and sexualities in relation to broader cultural, moral, and political agendas? In this seminar, we will examine the history of scientific and medical study of sexual behavior, hormonal systems, the brain, and genetics. We will consider the varying relationships of gay, transgender, and intersex communities with science and medicine and tensions within those communities over whether scientific and medical knowledge is empowering or alienating. The books that we read will introduce students to the variety of methods and approaches used in the historical and sociological study of science and medicine, from close evaluation of the scientific evidence itself to analysis of the production of knowledge as a social activity and to broad analysis of science and medicine within politics, popular culture, and social movements. Conference work could hew closely to the topic of the seminar through the study of a particular debate, historical period, or area of scientific or medical research—or it could extend outward to a broader set of topics such as hormones and transgender health, the role of science in religious debates over sex and sexuality, or representations of queer bodies in art or popular culture.

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First-Year Studies: The New Narrative Photography

Open , FYS—Year

A photograph presented alone and without a descriptive caption is like a simple utterance: “ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” When pictures are presented in groups with accompanying text and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies, however, any statement becomes possible. Collectively, photographs can begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or a larger discourse. Whether working in fiction or nonfiction, artists such as Alan Sekula, Robert Frank, Susan Meiselas, Taryn Simon, Jim Goldberg, Roni Horn, and others have transformed the reach of the photograph. Collectively, they have created a medium: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of artists and others and will create their own bodies of work. If you have a story to tell or a statement to make, this course is open to you. No previous photographic experience is necessary nor is any special equipment. The opportunity to forge a new medium is rare. This course aims to create the forum and the conditions necessary for all to do so in a critical and supportive workshop environment.

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The Ideas of Photography

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is a hybrid. Each week of the first semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form through slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics include personal dress-up/narrative, composite photography/photographic collage, the directorial mode, fashion/art photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction/”new photography,” the typology in photography, the photograph in color, and the use of words and images in combination. In the second semester, the emphasis will shift as students choose to work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas that they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any special equipment. A desire to explore, to experiment, and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

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What’s the Story? A Radio Journalism Class

Open , Seminar—Fall

Almost two years into a politically divisive presidency that has fractured the country—and with the proliferation of fake news—journalism is more important than ever. And so are the skills required to do the job. The landscape of radio is exploding, and new podcasts are being launched almost faster than listeners can decide which episode to download next. These outlets, shows, and storymaking machines are hungry—both for stories and for the producers with the skills to know how to tell stories. In this class, we’ll learn the fundamentals of making radio news—both writing and production, for short stories and long. We’ll cover editing, software, interviewing skills, and, of course, how to hold your microphone. We’ll learn what makes a story, how to get good tape, and how to write for the ear (very different than for the eye—just try comparing an article from The New York Times with a transcript from NPR). We’ll also cover the skills critical for all nonfiction narrative storytelling, print or audio, from “Morning Edition” to “This American Life.” We’ll talk research, ethics, fact checking, how to find sources, and how to get them to talk. Finally, we’ll cover the art of the pitch. That’s industry lingo for selling your story. It’s no good getting the scoop if you don’t know how to sell your stuff. News is new. Come and learn something new.

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