Geography is a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, often seen as straddling the natural and social sciences and increasingly drawing upon the arts and other forms of expression and representation. For these reasons, Sarah Lawrence College provides an exciting context, as the community is predisposed to welcome geography’s breadth and interdisciplinary qualities. Geography courses are infused with the central questions of the discipline. What is the relationship between human beings and “nature”? How does globalization change spatial patterns of historical, political, economic, social, and cultural human activities? And how do these patterns provide avenues for understanding our contemporary world and pathways for the future?
Two seminars are taught on a regular basis: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development and The Geography of Contemporary China and Its Place in a Globalizing World Economy. In addition, a lecture course, Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development, provides students an opportunity to investigate these issues and their connections both in lecture and in group conference activities that include debates and special presentations.
As a discipline built on field study, students in geography classes participate in field trips—most recently, for example, to farming communities in Pennsylvania but also to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where students engage aspects of Chinese culture in walks through the community that expose the heterogeneity of China through food, art, religion, and language while simultaneously clarifying the challenges facing recent immigrants and legacies of institutions imbued with racism that are carved into the built environment. That is one of the overarching goals of contemporary geography: to investigate the ways that landscape and place both reflect and reproduce the evolving relationship of humans to each other and to their environments.
Open , Seminar—Fall
Brazil has been described as a serene republic, a racial democracy, and the country of the future—and most recently advertised as a site of favela tourism. Those labels encapsulate the ambitions, contradictions, and indeterminacies that Brazilians and Brazilianists wrestle with in coming to terms with the social, economic, and political landscape of a nearly continent-size country. To unravel the questions driving these myths, this course delves into the history of Brazil from the establishment of Portuguese settlements on the Atlantic coast in the 1500s and the world created by sugar mills to the return to electoral politics and the advent of neoliberalism at the turn of the 20th century. The course is organized as an excursion through Brazilian towns and cities (and their hinterlands) that captures a set of historical movements in Brazil: from the coast to the interior, from the Northeast to the South and Center, and from a colony to an empire and even to a regional and global power. Using images, maps, Brazilian voices, and historiography, the forays into cities such as Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Ouro Preto, São Paulo, and Brasília will give students a broad perspective and the analytical depth to understand the history of Brazil and the challenges that the country faces today. Our focus on the interplay between regional and national actors and trajectories, the geography of politics and economics, and shifts in the center of power will provide analytical tools to understand other national and even international contexts. By the end of the course, students will be able to understand the structural processes, political and economic conjunctures and the social and cultural interpretations that shape the history of Brazil. In addition, students will have developed the critical skills to understand and analyze fundamental concepts and processes in history and the social sciences, such as colonialism, imperialism, nation-state, industrialization, and national myths. Students will also be able to capture the nuances that make Brazil an economically and culturally rich country with a poor population and myriad forms of social inequality.
Intermediate , Seminar—Year
The Middle East has a long and rich urban tradition, boasting some of the world’s oldest cities. At the same time, the cities of the region have undergone profound changes over time, particularly as a result of the range of global forces, patterns, and linkages that are intrinsic to the process of “modernity” (a conceptual category that will be examined at great length). This course explores the lived experience of urban space as a lens through which to view broader transformations in the social, political, economic, and cultural history of the Middle East from late antiquity to the present. The course will also introduce students to some recent developments in urban theory and different methods that scholars have adopted to capture various aspects of city life, particularly in the modern period. To this end, the approach of the course will be interdisciplinary, drawing from such fields as art history, anthropology, sociology, geography, comparative literature, film studies, and political economy to explore the historical development of Middle Eastern cities through a variety of frames. In our effort to think beyond the “hard city” of bricks and mortar, particular attention will be paid to the cultural imagination and expression of various Middle Eastern cities in literature and film—our main “primary sources” in this course. Throughout the course, we will examine what cities have meant for Middle Eastern society and culture in a variety of contexts; study how various individuals and social groups across the region have experienced and used urban space; explore how writers, artists and filmmakers have attempted to imagine and render their urban milieus; and consider the extent to which the Middle Eastern experience of urban modernity has paralleled others around the globe. Cities to be covered include: Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus, Mecca, Baghdad, Tehran, Isfahan, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Aleppo, Alexandria, Beirut, Algiers, Marrakesh, Aden, Izmir, and Dubai.