Asian Studies

Asian studies is an interdisciplinary field grounded in current approaches to the varied regions of Asia. Seminars and lectures are offered on China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia. Courses explore Asian cultures, geographies, histories, societies, and religions. Visual and performing arts are included in the Asian studies curriculum. Faculty, trained in languages of their areas, draw on extensive field experience in Asia. Their courses bridge humanities, social sciences, and global studies.

Students are encouraged to consider studying in Asia during their junior year. The Office of International Programs assists students in locating appropriate opportunities. Recent Sarah Lawrence College students have participated in programs of study in China, India, and Japan.

2019-2020 Courses

Asian Studies

Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries within East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raises important historical themes of Asian modernity, questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty (1644-1911) even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. For example, did the evolving samurai culture of the Tokugawa era lay a socioeconomic foundation for Japan’s political and economic modernity in the late 19th century? And did deep changes in Qing China society destabilize the dynastic balance of power as early as the 18th century? Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism. How and why were their empires built, and how did they end? How were the nation-states we now call China and Japan formed. and how was nationalism constructed (and reconstructed) in them? What role did socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.

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Writing India: Transnational Narratives

Open , Seminar—Fall

The global visibility of South Asian writers has changed the face of contemporary English literature. Many writers from the Indian subcontinent continue to narrate tumultuous events surrounding the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule. Their writings narrate legacies and utopian imaginings of the past in light of current images that range from dystopian visions to optimistic aspirations. The seminar addresses themes of identity, fragmentation, hybridity, memory, and alienation. These themes link South Asian literary production to postcolonial writing from varied cultures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Accounts of South Asian communal violence (Hindu and Muslim fundamentalisms, caste and class conflicts) reflect intersectional issues and global urgencies. The cultural space of India has been repeatedly transformed and redeployed according to varied cultural projects, political interests, and economic agendas. After briefly considering representations of India in ancient chronicles of Chinese, Greek, and Persian travelers, we explore modern constructions of India in excerpts from writers of the British Raj. Our major focus is on India as remembered and imagined in selected works of writers, including Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy. Film narratives are included. We apply interdisciplinary critical inquiry as we pursue a literature that shifts increasingly from narrating the nation to narrating its diasporic fragments in transnational contexts.

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Asian Imperialisms, 1600-1953

Open , Seminar—Fall

East Asia, like much of the globe, has been powerfully shaped by the arrival, presence, and activity of imperialist power in the region. In fact, in both China and Japan, nationalism is founded on resistance to the encroachments of Western imperialism. Both nations cast themselves as victims to the rapacious West. And yet, often unnoticed by patriots and pundits, both China and Japan are deeply indebted to their own domestic imperialisms, albeit in very different ways. Relying on a wide range of course materials (historical scholarship, paintings, lithographs, photographs, literature, and relevant primary sources), this course is an intensive investigation of the contours of Asian imperialism, covering the colonialism of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the aggressive Western expansion in the 19th century, and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). We will ask what features (if any) these very different empires shared and what set them apart from each other? How and why were Asian empires built, how did they end, and what legacies did they leave? We will excavate the multi-ethnic Qing imperium for how it complicates China’s patriotic master narrative. Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western powers’ Civilizing Discourse? What are the legacies of Qing colonialism for China’s modern nation-state? The Qing campaigns to subjugate the Mongols in the northwest and the colonization of the untamed southwest both predated the arrival of Westerners and the Opium War (1839-42). How does that impact our understanding of the clash between China and the rapidly expanding West? We will trace earlier academic views on the classic confrontation between these two presumed entities before examining more recent revisionist formulations on the Western penetration of China. What were the processes of Western intrusion, and how did Western imperialism come to structure knowledge of China? And finally, we will turn to the Japanese Empire. What were its motivations, its main phases, and its contradictions? Should we understand it as similar to Western imperialism or, as an alternative, something unique? What are the implications of both those positions? To understand the Japanese empire in both its experiential and theoretical dimensions, we will range widely across Japan’s possessions in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. The questions and topics in this seminar will complicate the master narratives that prevail in both East Asia and the West, not to delegitimize or subvert Asian sovereignties but, rather, to understand the deeply embedded narratives of imperialism within those sovereign claims and to see how those narratives (and their blind spots) continue to frame and support policies and attitudes today.

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Images of India: Text/Photo/Film

Open , Seminar—Spring

This seminar addresses colonial and postcolonial representations of India. For centuries, India has been imagined and imaged through the lens of orientalism. In recent decades, writers and visual artists from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh have been actively engaged in reinterpreting the British colonial impact on South Asia. Their work presents sensibilities of the colonized in counternarration to images previously established during the British Raj. Highlighting previously unexposed impressions, such works inevitably supplement, usually challenge, and frequently undermine traditional accounts underwritten by imperialist interests. Colonial and orientalist discourses depicted peoples of the Indian subcontinent both in terms of degradation and in terms of a romance of empire, thereby rationalizing various economic, political, and psychological agendas. The external invention and deployment of the term “Indian” is emblematic of the epoch, with colonial designation presuming to reframe indigenous identity. Postcolonial writers and artists are now renegotiating identities. What does it mean to be seen as an Indian? What historical claims are implicit in allegories of ethnicity, linguistic region, and nation? How do such claims inform events taking place today, given the resurgence of Hindu fundamentalism? For this seminar on the semiotics and politics of culture, sources include works by influential South Asian writers, photographers, and filmmakers.

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Virtue and the Good Life: Ethics in Classical Chinese Philosophy

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course centers on the close, detailed reading of a small number of foundational texts in classical Confucianism and Taoism. Our focus will be to explore how these texts might fit “virtue ethics,” which emphasizes moral character and the pursuit of a worthwhile life. Some attention will be paid to other forms of ethics, including those that stress either the adherence to duties and obligations or the social consequences of ethical action. Our primary goal, however, will be to examine the ways in which classical Chinese philosphers regarded personal virtues and “good character” as both a prerequisite to and an explanation of appropriate action and its consequences. Among the more specific topics that we will explore are: ideal traits of virtue, the links between moral values and different understandings of human nature, the pyschological structures of virtue, practices leading to the cultivation of virtue, the roles of family and friendship in developing moral values, and what constitutes a good life.

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Sacrifice

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

This seminar explores themes of sacrifice in classical Indian and Western traditions. After exploring case studies from ancient India and Greece, we analyze survivals of classical sacrifice in contemporary literature and cinema. Sacrificial practices bridge religious, political, and economic aspects of culture. The sacrifice of a scapegoat channels violence and legitimizes acts of killing or destruction in order to serve social interests of surrogacy and catharsis. As sacrament, sacrifice represents transformational mystery. As ceremonial exchange, it facilitates negotiations of status, observance of boundaries, and the redistribution of goods. In specific cultural settings, sacrifice functions as celebration, as a manifestation of goodwill, as insurance, and/or as a source of communion. Seminar topics include: offerings, gift exchange, fasting and feasting, the warrior ethic, victimization and martyrdom, bloodletting and scarification, asceticism, and renunciation. The seminar addresses the politics of sacrifice and scapegoating through critical inquiry and case studies of the targeting of ethnic scapegoats, sati (widow murder/suicide), court and prison rituals, gender bullying, and charity—including service tourism. Primary texts include Hindu myths and rites, selected Greek tragedies, Akedah paintings, the Roman Catholic Eucharist liturgy, and selected contemporary short stories and films. Readings are drawn from anthropology, literature, comparative religions, and cultural studies.

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Hindu Iconography and Ritual

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This seminar explores symbols, signs, images, and icons associated with Hindu rituals and mythology. After an introduction to semiotics, we study diverse Hindu festivals, including: 1) observances based on lunar and solar calendars, 2) life-cycle sacraments, and 3) occasional ceremonies that occur due to special circumstances. Occasional ceremonies range from personal healing rites to communal rituals performed for relief from droughts, floods, famines, and epidemics. By examining popular festivals, feasts, and fasts, we analyze the multisensory modes of expression used in Hindu observances. Music, chants, and recitations coincide with mandala designs, scroll paintings, dance, and dramas to signify the message of each ceremony. Because Hindu myths and rites are so numerous and elaborate, students gain an understanding that is helpful in analyzing festivals and ceremonial practices cross-culturally. Readings and viewings are drawn from anthropology, comparative religions, and cultural studies.

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How Things Talk

Open , Lecture—Spring

A long-standing tradition within Western thought has conceptualized language as a system of signs clearly separate from material reality and aimed at enabling the transmission of information. The divide between the intangible realm of language and the material domain of things has dominated scholarship across several disciplines, leaking into common sense. This lecture course questions this deeply entrenched divide and suggests that, in order to understand our contemporary moment, we need to bring into the same analytical field both the linguistic and the material. The course readings provide an introduction to anthropology’s theories and methods through an investigation of how words and things mediate and enable human experience, creating the complex semiotic landscapes that we inhabit. Throughout the semester, students will be introduced to a series of theoretical and ethnographic readings aimed at illustrating the blurred boundaries between words and things, subjects and objects, signs and referents, artworks and artifacts, gifts and commodities, alienable and inalienable possessions. On the one hand, the course will challenge the classic language-world divide that has dominated both academic scholarship and popular common sense. Contrary to the view that language is exclusively a system of symbols that stand for and allow speaking about the world, a series of theoretical readings, practical exercises, and ethnographic case studies will reveal the materiality and performativity of language. Through this journey, language will appear as a material entity and as a form of action endowed with the power to shape the world. On the other hand, the course will dialogue with the emerging cross-disciplinary interest in materiality to invert the longstanding exploration of how people make things and generate a new reflection on how things make people. Contrary to the deeply entrenched opposition between subjects and objects, a selection of essays drawn from recent material culture studies will show how things mediate social relations and how inanimate objects may, in fact, be endowed with a form of agency.

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On Whiteness: An Anthropological Exploration

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

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

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Language and Capitalism

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

One of the effects of advanced capitalism is to complicate the distinction between words and objects and between humans and things. Given the radicalization of market ideologies of our contemporary moment, what counts as inalienable spiritual values opposed to alienable material entities? What should and what should not have a price? Which is the original, and which is the copy? Is a brand a symbol that stands for a product or a product in itself? How can we distinguish medium from message? Is kindness a virtuous demeanor or a form of immaterial affective labor that requires the performance of specific acts of speech? This advanced seminar will engage the role of language—both as a symbolic code and as a material tool—in the spreading of late/neoliberal capitalism. While most analyses of the world’s current order tend to focus on political and economic aspects, this course explores how certain ways of speaking and using language may partake in producing capitalist forms of reasoning and practical conduct. Students will learn, for example, how to look at graphic artifacts (e.g., street signage, wall texts, typefaces, letterforms, logos, and other types of graphic media) as socially and politically meaningful semiotic technologies that shape our contemporary capitalist landscapes. They also will learn how to analyze new protocols of discourse that characterize our everyday lives: the customer satisfaction survey, the service encounter, the checklist, the logbook, the flowchart, the electoral mission statement, the training session, etc. In spite of their apparent ordinariness, these discursive genres/textual artifacts are key for the production of the self-improving and self-reflexive subjects required by the regimes of moral accountability and the forms of market rationality that characterize our contemporary moment. While reading ethnographic analyses of specific technologies of discourse, students will engage broader questions: How pervasive are neoliberal structures of practice? To what extent can neoliberalism be represented as an overarching and coherent global trend generated by the homogenizing forces of Western capitalism? Is our moral and affective experience completely shaped by the extension of economic rationality to all areas of life? The aim is to show how, within a regime of advanced capitalism, life and labor unfold through complex interplays of semiotic codes, affective registers, and material objects.

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Beginning Chinese

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is designed for students who have no or little knowledge of Chinese language. In this course, we will develop four language skills (speaking, listening, reading, and writing) through lesson learning and interactive communications. By the end of the academic year, we will be able to conduct daily conversations and read short passages on a variety of topics at the level of intermediate-low. Chinese culture will also be explored and discussed.

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Intermediate Chinese

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This course is designed for students who have finished one year of Chinese or its equivalent. We will continue improving the Chinese language skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. An emphasis will be placed on communication and discussion in both conversational and written Chinese. By the end of the year, students will be able to read some newspaper articles, stories, and essays and hold conversations on topics of daily life that extend into culture, arts, and politics.

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Introduction to Animation Studies

Open , Lecture—Fall

Students who are interested in pursuing a film-making project for their final project have the option of registering for this class under Filmmaking and Moving Image Arts.

To animate is to bring to life, to instill movement into that which would otherwise be still. Animated films grant their viewers access to imaginary worlds that are frequently populated by anthropomorphic animals, fantastical environments, and utopian societies. But animation takes many forms. This course offers a broad survey of the global history of animation by embracing the diversity of those forms and by encouraging students to draw connections between the techniques and materials employed by animators and the political, social, and cultural functions of animated texts. Students will be introduced to a wide variety of ways in which animation has historically been created, including works made with sand, paper, puppets, pixels, clay, cels, pinscreens, garbage, and other unconventional materials. Along the way, students will familiarize themselves with key films, filmmakers, filmic technologies, and filmmaking traditions by studying animation from various eras, genres, industries, and countries. In addition to featuring numerous works from Japan and the United States, weekly screenings will incorporate animated shorts and feature films from many different regions, including Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Iran, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and Swaziland. In-class discussions and course assignments will urge students to grapple with complex questions and issues in the field of animation studies.

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Indian Cinemas

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course is designed to introduce the different periods, forms, and idioms of Indian sound cinema (post-1931) to both those who are initiating their study of Indian cinema and those who are interested in contextualizing and expanding their current understanding of the cinematic medium within the Indian subcontinent. The course aims to: (i) provide a systematic introduction to the historical and linguistic range of production that Indian cinema studies attempts to address; (ii) introduce the key films, directors, stars, genres, formal techniques, and themes of Indian sound cinema; and (iii) emphasize the interdynamic relationship between India’s regional, national, and global cinema. Starting with pre-independence Indian cinema, the course moves chronologically through the decades to the contemporary period, all the while providing a political, economic, social, and cultural background to the universe of these plural film practices. The required readings encompass a multidisciplinary approach to the study of cinema in India and include both conceptual and historical writings on the different aspects of Indian cinema. The lectures, along with the readings, intend to introduce students to the predominant critical approaches in the field of Indian cinema studies. The writing component of the course encourages students to develop their skills of analysis and interpretation to address either/both formal questions (such as issues of aesthetics, narrative, genre, visual style) and sociocultural questions (such as issues of representation, tradition/modernity, private/public, nationalism, globalization, etc.).

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open , Lecture—Year

Where does the food we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? If so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have the answers changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as the critical counterpoints, that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World,” access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the green and gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation-states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape, but rarely determine, the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester, if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analyses of certain course topics and will include debates and small group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice, related to the course; the poster will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as at a potential public session.

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The Geography of Contemporary China: A Political Ecology of Reform, Global Integration, and Rise to Superpower

Open , Seminar—Fall

Some experience in the social sciences is desirable but not required. Advanced first-year students are welcome to interview.

Despite widespread daily reporting on China’s rise to superpower status—and both its challenge to and necessary partnership with the United States—what do we really know about the country? In this seminar, we will explore China’s evolving place in the world through political-economic integration and globalization processes. Throughout the seminar, we will compare China with other areas of the world within the context of the broader theoretical and thematic questions mentioned below in detail. We will consistently focus our efforts on reframing debates, both academic and in mass media, to enable new insights and analyses not only concerning China but also in terms of the major global questions—in theory, policy, and practice—of this particular historical moment. We will begin with an overview of contemporary China, discussing the unique aspects of China’s modern history, and the changes and continuities from one era to the next. We will explore Revolutionary China and the subsequent socialist period to ground the seminar’s focus: post-1978 reform and transformation to the present day. Rooted in the questions of agrarian change and rural development, we will also study seismic shifts in urban and industrial form and China’s emergence as a global superpower on its way to becoming the world’s largest economy. We will analyze the complex intertwining of the environmental, political-economic, and sociocultural aspects of these processes, as we interpret the geography of contemporary China. Using a variety of theoretical perspectives, we will analyze a series of contemporary global debates: Is there a fundamental conflict between the environment and rapid development? What is the role of the peasantry in the modern world? What is the impact of different forms of state power and practice? How does globalization shape China’s regional transformation? And, on the other hand, how does China’s global integration impact development in every other country and region of the world? Modern China provides immense opportunities for exploring key theoretical and substantive questions of our time. A product first and foremost of its own complex history, other nation-states and international actors and institutions—such as the World Bank, transnational corporations, and civil society—have also heavily influenced China. The “China model” of rapid growth is widely debated in terms of its efficacy as a development pathway and, yet, defies simple understandings and labels. Termed everything from neoliberalism, to market socialism, to authoritarian Keynesian capitalism, China is a model full of paradoxes and contradictions. Not least of these is the country's impact on global climate change. Other challenges include changing gender relations, rapid urbanization, and massive internal migration. In China today, contentious debates continue on land reform, the pros and cons of global market integration, the role of popular culture and the arts in society, how to define ethical behavior, the roots of China’s social movements—from Tian’anmen to current widespread social unrest and discontent among workers, peasants, students, and intellectuals—and the meaning and potential resolution of minority conflicts in China’s hinterlands. Land and resource grabs in China and abroad are central to China’s rapid growth and role as an industrial platform for the world, but the resulting social inequality and environmental degradation challenge the legitimacy of China’s leadership like never before. As China borders many of the most volatile places in the contemporary world and increasingly projects its power to the far corners of the planet, we will conclude our seminar with a discussion of global security issues, geopolitics, and potential scenarios for China’s future. Weekly selected readings, films, mass media, and books will be used to inform debate and discussion. A structured conference project will integrate closely with one of the diverse topics of the seminar.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

Some experience in the social sciences is desirable but not required.

In this intermediate seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy, of which the "Third World" is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial "development" to understand the evolving meaning of the term. The case studies will also help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines—widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of “a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class—the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, students will be encouraged to do primary research over spring break.

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Making Modern East Asia: Empires and Nations, 1700-2000

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong seminar is a sustained look at the recent history of China and Japan, the major countries within East Asia. Placed alongside each other, the often wrenching history of Japan and China over the past three centuries raise important historical themes of Asian modernity, questioning both its sources and how we define it. Often portrayed as a direct import from the West in the 19th century, we will ask whether modernity might instead be traced to legacies of Japan’s isolationist feudalism under the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867) and China’s multiethnic Manchu dynasty (1644-1911), even as we acknowledge the far-reaching impact of Euro-American imperialism. For example, did the evolving samurai culture of the Tokugawa era lay a socioeconomic foundation for Japan’s political and economic modernity in the late 19th century? And did deep changes in Qing China society destabilize the dynastic balance of power as early as the 18th century? Both China and Japan have entrenched master narratives that portray themselves as victims of the West, but we will also investigate the contours of Asian imperialism. How and why were their empires built, and how did they end? How were the nation-states we now call China and Japan formed, and how was nationalism constructed (and reconstructed) in them? What role did socioeconomic, cultural, and international crises play in fueling nationalist sentiments? How and where was radicalism (of various forms, including Maoism) incubated? The impact of war, preparing for it, waging it, and rebuilding in its wake will be a repeated theme, too. And finally, we will look at Asia’s economic dynamism, covering both Japan’s post-World War II capitalism (and its roots in the wartime imperialist project) and China’s transition to a market economy. Course readings consist of historical scholarship regularly punctuated by primary sources, documents, fiction, and some film.

Faculty
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Asian Imperialisms, 1600-1953

Open , Seminar—Fall

East Asia, like much of the globe, has been powerfully shaped by the arrival, presence, and activity of imperialist power in the region. In fact, in both China and Japan, nationalism is founded on resistance to the encroachments of Western imperialism. Both nations cast themselves as victims to the rapacious West. And yet, often unnoticed by patriots and pundits, both China and Japan are deeply indebted to their own domestic imperialisms, albeit in very different ways. Relying on a wide range of course materials (historical scholarship, paintings, lithographs, photographs, literature, and relevant primary sources), this course is an intensive investigation of the contours of Asian imperialism covering the colonialism of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), the aggressive Western expansion in the 19th century, and the Japanese Empire (1895-1945). We will ask what features (if any) these very different empires shared and what set them apart from each other? How and why were Asian empires built, how did they end, and what legacies did they leave? We will excavate the multi-ethnic Qing imperium for how it complicates China’s patriotic master narrative. Does Qing ethnic policy toward native Miao tribes differ from Western powers’ Civilizing Discourse? What are the legacies of Qing colonialism for China’s modern nation-state? The Qing campaigns to subjugate the Mongols in the northwest and the colonization of the untamed southwest both predated the arrival of Westerners and the Opium War (1839-42). How does that impact our understanding of the clash between China and the rapidly expanding West? We will trace earlier academic views on the classic confrontation between these two presumed entities before examining more recent revisionist formulations on the Western penetration of China. What were the processes of Western intrusion, and how did Western imperialism come to structure knowledge of China? And finally, we will turn to the Japanese Empire. What were its motivations, its main phases, and its contradictions? Should we understand it as similar to Western imperialism or, as an alternative, something unique? What are the implications of both those positions? To understand the Japanese empire in both its experiential and theoretical dimensions, we will range widely across Japan’s possessions in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria. The questions and topics in this seminar will complicate the master narratives that prevail in both East Asia and the West, not to delegitimize or subvert Asian sovereignties but, rather, to understand the deeply embedded narratives of imperialism within those sovereign claims and to see how those narratives (and their blind spots) continue to frame and support policies and attitudes today.

Faculty
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Japanese I

Open , Seminar—Year

This course is for students with no previous knowledge of Japanese. Students will develop basic communicative skills in listening comprehension and speaking, as well as skills in reading and writing (katakana, hiragana, and 145 kanji) in Japanese. While classes will be devoted primarily to language practice, an understanding of Japanese grammar will also be emphasized as an important basis for continued language learning. Classes will meet three times weekly, and tutorials with a language assistant will meet once a week.

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Japanese II

Intermediate , Seminar—Year

This advanced-beginning course is for students who have completed Japanese I or its equivalent. Students will continue to develop basic skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing while expanding their vocabulary and knowledge of grammar. At the end of the course, students should be able to handle simple communicative tasks and situations effectively, understand simple daily conversations, write short essays, read simple essays, and discuss their content. Classes will meet three times weekly, and tutorials with a language assistant will meet once a week.

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Japanese III/IV

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course is for students who have completed Japanese II or Japanese III (or their respective equivalents). The aim of the seminar is to advance students’ Japanese language proficiency in speaking and listening, reading (simple essays to authentic texts), and writing in various styles (emails, essays, and/or creative writing). Students will meet for classes and conferences with the instructor and for weekly individual tutorials with a language assistant.

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Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open , Seminar—Fall

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, Britain, 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 these 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 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. Assignments for this course will include one presentation, two short class essays (6-8 pages), and your conference paper. Potential primary texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Passing, Nella Larsen (1929); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); Douloti the Bountiful, Mahasweta Devi (1995); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Elizabeth Costello, J. M. Coetzee (2003); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); 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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Japanese Diary Literature, Essays, and the “I” Novel

Open , Seminar—Fall

No previous background in Japanese studies is required for this course.

In this seminar, we will read personal narratives over the last millennium to examine how personal experiences are translated and transformed in writing. We will begin with selections of diary literature, including Ki no Tsurayuki’s Tosa Diary (c. 935), in which a fictional female narrator claims that she will “try her hand at one of those diaries that men are said to keep” and explore the connections between gender and writing. We will also read the Kagero Diary (c.974), whose author is known as the Mother of Michitsuna, and consider both its autobiographical elements as well as its psychological self-expression and critical perspective on Heian marriage politics. Next, we will turn to personal essays referred to as zuihitsu (literally translated as “following the brush”), including imperial lady-in-waiting Sei Shonagon’s The Pillow Book (c.1005), Buddhist recluse Kamo no Chomei’s An Account of a Ten-Foot-Square Hut (c. 1212), and more secular Buddhist monk Kenko’s Essays in Idleness (c. 1329-1333). Finally, we will turn toward the modern “I” novel (shishosetsu)—an autobiographical narrative that often involves a form of confession of one’s personal life—to read works by writers such as Tayama Katai, Shiga Naoya, Hayashi Fumiko, Dazai Osamu, Tsushima Yuko, Mizumura Minae, and others. Alongside these texts, we will read other critical sources that explore questions of genre, translation, biographical and other historical “facts,” and how these influence and challenge our readings of personal narratives.

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Reading Ōe Kenzaburō and Murakami Haruki

Open , Seminar—Spring

No previous background in Japanese studies is required for this course.

In this course, we will read English translations of two of the most famous contemporary Japanese writers, Ōe Kenzaburō (b.1935) and Murakami Haruki (b.1949). Ōe was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 for creating “an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today.” Murakami’s fiction has been described as “youthful, slangy, political, and allegorical” and seamlessly blends the mundane with metaphysical elements. We will consider not only differences between these two writers’ works but also their similar themes—social outcasts, alienation, search for identity, memory and history, legends and storytelling. Our readings will include novels, short stories, nonfiction, and other essays. Several films will complement our readings.

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Cross-Cultural Listening

Open , Lecture—Fall

No prior experience in music is necessary. This course may be counted for either humanities or social science distribution credit. This course may also be taken as a semester-long component.

This course will explore the relationship of listening, music, and sound across different cultural and historical contexts. Recent scholarship on listening and sound has revealed how listening plays a crucial role in the formulation of theories about music, and we will study how various ideas about listening inform contemporary understandings of music and sound. Drawing research from the field of sound studies, cultural theory, and ethnographic case studies in ethnomusicology and anthropology, we will understand key concepts of listening with specific musical and sonic examples. Course units may include technologies of listening, listening as an impetus for empathy and to stimulate political action, strategies for listening to cultural and musical difference, and music and sound as tools for both torture and healing. Individual class sessions may include sound technologies such as the phonograph and the MP3; soundscapes; music therapy; and the listening contexts of individual genres such as South African pop, Buddhist chant, Arabic maqamat, muzak, and EDM. Participation in one of the world music ensembles is strongly encouraged.

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Virtue and the Good Life: Ethics in Classical Chinese Philosophy

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course centers on the close, detailed reading of a small number of foundational texts in classical Confucianism and Taoism. Our focus will be to explore how these texts might fit “virtue ethics,” which emphasizes moral character and the pursuit of a worthwhile life. Some attention will be paid to other forms of ethics, including those that stress either the adherence to duties and obligations or the social consequences of ethical action. Our primary goal, however, will be to examine the ways in which classical Chinese philosphers regarded personal virtues and “good character” as both a prerequisite to and an explanation of appropriate action and its consequences. Among the more specific topics that we will explore are: ideal traits of virtue, the links between moral values and different understandings of human nature, the pyschological structures of virtue, practices leading to the cultivation of virtue, the roles of family and friendship in developing moral values, and what constitutes a good life.

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First-Year Studies: The Buddhist Philosophy of Emptiness

Open , FYS—Year

The concept of a “thing”—an entity that exists in and of itself, separate from all other things—is nothing but a useful fiction: In the real world, there actually are no “things” that meet that description. This, in a nutshell, is the startling proposition advanced by the Buddhist doctrine of śunyatā, or “emptiness,” as the Sanskrit term is usually translated. Often misconstrued by critics as a form of nihilism (“nothing exists”), idealism (“all that exists are mental phenomena”), or scepticism (“we can never know what really exists”), the emptiness doctrine is better interpreted as a radical critique of the fundamental conceptual categories that we habitually use to talk about and make sense of the world. This FYS course has several aims. In general, it is designed to help students develop the kind of research, writing, and critical thinking skills that are needed for academic success in college and in whatever career paths they may pursue thereafter. More specifically, the course aims to impart a clear, accurate understanding of the “emptiness” doctrine as it developed in the context of Buddhist intellectual history and found expression in various genres of classical Buddhist literature. Another aim of the course is to explore ways in which the emptiness doctrine, if taken seriously as a critique of the mechanisms and inherent limitations of human knowledge, may be fruitfully brought to bear in a number of different disciplines, academic and otherwise. In the fall semester, the class will read and discuss a number of Buddhist texts—primary sources in English translation from the original Sanskrit or Chinese—that advocate the philosophy of emptiness, as well as some secondary scholarship on the subject. Students will also be given a series of homework assignments that target basic academic skills in the humanities and social sciences (e.g., how to do bibliographic research and evaluate the reliability of sources, how to annotate scholarly writing, etc.). Individual conference meetings with the instructor in the fall will be devoted to learning and improving those skills. In the spring semester, the class will read and discuss a number of scholarly works written in English that deal with Western (non-Buddhist) traditions of historiography, literary theory, and scientific inquiry. The readings are designed to introduce students to some of the main intellectual trends in the humanities, social sciences, and “hard” sciences that they are likely to encounter in other college courses. At the same time, the class will learn how to use the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness as an analytical tool to critique the conceptual models employed in the various academic disciplines treated in the readings. For individual conference work in the spring, each student will be required to use that tool to analyze the fundamental nomenclature—the way of dividing up the world into “things”—employed by some particular field of human endeavor, which may be an academic, artistic, or athletic discipline or any other endeavor (e.g., political or economic) in which the student is especially interested. At the end of the semester, each student will have half of a class meeting to introduce his or her particular field of inquiry to everyone else. Students will select some representative readings that the class will do in advance, lead a discussion of those readings, and present their own critical analysis of the nomenclature used in the field in question. All students will have an individual conference meeting with the instructor on a weekly basis for the first six weeks of the course; thereafter, conferences may be held on a biweekly basis, depending on student progress.

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The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia

Open , Lecture—Fall

This intoductory course treats the evolution of Buddhism in India, from the origins of the religion as a group of “world-renouncing” ascetics through the development of large, state-supported monastic communities and the emergence of the major reform movements known as Mahāyāna and Tantra. The course also focuses on the Buddhism of two regions of the world—Southeast Asia and the Tibetan plateau—where the respective traditions have been most self-consciously concerned with maintaining precedents inherited from India. Equal attention is paid to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audio-visual materials. For students who wish to continue studying the development of the Buddhist tradition in other parts of the world, a companion lecture course, entitled The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia, is offered in the spring semester.

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The Buddhist Tradition in East Asia

Open , Lecture—Spring

This introductory course focuses on the Buddhism of East Asia: China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. Buddhism first began to take root in China in the early centuries of the Common Era, having been transmitted from India via Central Asia and the maritime states of Southeast Asia. Buddhism initially met with much resistance, being branded an “alien” cult that was at odds with native Chinese (especially Confucian) values. Eventually, however, the Indian religion adapted to Chinese culture and came to have a profound influence on it, spawning new schools of Buddhism such as Tiantai, Huayan, Pure Land, and Chan (called Zen in Japan). The smaller, neighboring countries that fell under the sway of Chinese civilization—Korea, Japan, and Vietnam—first imported forms of Buddhism that had taken shape in China, not India; but each, in turn, further changed the religion in ways that accorded with their own indigenous cultures. Equal attention is paid in this course to: (1) matters of philosophy and doctrine, (2) religious rites and practices, and (3) social and institutional arrangements. The lectures are accompanied by copious audio-visual materials. The course has no prerequisite, but it is suitable for students who have already taken the companion lecture, The Buddhist Tradition in India, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, which is offered in the fall.

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Changing Places: Sociospatial Dimensions of Urbanization

Open , Seminar—Year

The concept of space will provide the thematic underpinning and serve as the point of departure for this course on cities and urbanization. Space can be viewed in relation to the (human) body, social relations and social structures, and the physical environment. In this seminar, we will examine the material (social, political, and economic) and metaphorical (symbolic and representational) dimensions of spatial configurations in urban settings. In our analysis, we will address the historical and shifting connotations of urban space and urban life. Moving beyond the historical aspects of urbanization and transformations therein, we will turn our attention to the (re)theorization of the very notion of spatial relations itself. Here, emphasis will be placed on representational practices and processes whereby social “space” is created, gendered, re-visioned. “Space” will no longer be seen simply as physical space but also in terms of the construction of meanings that affect our use of, and relation to, both physical and social settings. While economic factors will continue to be implicated and invoked in our analysis, we will move beyond the economic to extra-economic categories and constructs such as notions of power, culture, and sexuality. The focus will also shift, as the year proceeds, from macroanalyses to include an examination of everyday life. Through our exploration of these issues, we will attempt to gauge the practices and processes whereby social space is gendered, privatized, and sexualized and distinctions are established between “inside” and “outside” domains and between public and private realms. Particular attention will be paid to attempts by scholars and activists to open up space both theoretically and concretely. The theoretical/conceptual questions raised lend themselves to an analysis of any city; so while many of our readings will be New York City and US-based, the course will have relevance to cities globally. Students should feel free to extend the analysis to other places that are of interest to them. This applies particularly to conference work.

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

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course takes a long view of travel, seeing travel as a “contact zone,” a contradictory site of learning, exchange as well as exploitation. Among the questions the course will address are the following: What are the reasons for travel historically and in the modern world? What factors draw individuals to travel singly and as members of collectivities? What sites draw the traveler and/or the tourist? What is the relationship between the (visited) site and the sight of the visitor? How is meaning produced of particular sites? How do those meanings differ, depending on the positionality of the traveler? How and why do particular sites encourage visitors? What is the relationship between the visitor and the local inhabitant? Can one be a traveler in one’s own home (site)? What is the relationship between travel and tourism, pleasure and power in/through travel? How are race, gender, and class articulated in and through travel? These and other questions will be addressed through a careful scrutiny of commercial (visual and written) writings on travel and tourism; diaries, journals, and memoirs by travelers; and films and scholarly writings on travel and tourism. Our emphasis will be on an examination of travel and tourism in a historical context. In particular, we will focus on the commodification of travel as an acquisition of social (and economic) currency and as a source/site of power. We will study different forms of travel that have recently emerged, such as environmental tourism, heritage (historical) tourism, sex tourism, as well as cyber travel. Throughout, the relation between material and physical bodies will remain a central focus of the course. Conference possibilities include analyses of your own travel experiences, examination of travel writings pertaining to specific places, or theoretical perspectives on travel and/or tourism. Fieldwork locally is yet another possibility for conference work.

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Nonfiction Writing Seminar: Mind as Form: The Essay, Personal and Impersonal

Open , Seminar—Fall

The essay has been used as a vehicle of intimacy and directness not only by writers of all genres but also by artists of other art forms and by intellectual workers in a wide variety of fields. Why is this? Maybe because the essay is flexible enough to adapt to the shape, structure, and movement of our minds as they actually function. We will examine the essay by reading 15 to 20 significant examples of the genre, ranging from contemporary writers (Maggie Nelson, David Foster Wallace, Nancy Mairs, Claudia Rankine, among others) to writers from recent history (Sontag, Didion, Mailer, Eiseley, Baldwin, Orwell, Tanizaki), to its classic writers (Yeats, Pater, Hazlitt), to its creator (Montaigne), and then to its prehistory in the sermon, the meditation, the epistle, the spiritual autobiography (Edwards, Basho, Augustine, St. Paul, Plato). Conference work will comprise two essays, both to be presented to the whole class, and a series of exercises.

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Nonfiction Workshop: To Tell the Truth

Open , Seminar—Year

This yearlong class will explore the mysteries of reading and writing what has been called “nonfiction,” focusing particularly on questions around what has been called lying and what has been called telling the truth. Was Toni Morrison right when she said our minds have an “antipathy to fraud”? Does lying have a syntax? What are the cultural contexts, nourishments, and manipulations that may affect what happens between a writer or reader and a drafted or published sentence? Is it possible to identify a lie in print? When you write, is it possible to lie less? Is it possible to “tell the truth”? In conference, we’ll discuss drafts of student work; in class, in light of the questions above and as a way of guiding our own makings, we’ll discuss readings that may include the work of June Jordan, Graham Fuller, Teju Cole, Wallace Stegner, Dionne Brand, William F. Buckley, Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, and Bertolt Brecht—with the work of James Baldwin throughout. You’ll be expected to attend class, respond to assigned and suggested readings, and participate in discussions. By the end of the first semester, you’ll have written at least five pages exposing a lie in print and have given a brief presentation on your process; by the end, you’ll have produced 20 pages of publishable nonfiction in whatever form you choose. The only prerequisites are a passion for reading that equals your passion for writing and a willingness to undertake whatever might be necessary to read and write better on our last day of class than on our first.

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