Politics

The study of politics at Sarah Lawrence College encompasses past and present thinking, political and interdisciplinary influences, and theoretical and hands-on learning. The goal: a deep understanding of the political forces that shape society. How is power structured and exercised? What can be accomplished through well-ordered institutions? And how do conditions that produce freedom compare with those that contribute to tyranny? Questions such as these serve as springboards for stimulating inquiry.

Rather than limit ourselves to the main subdisciplines of political science, we create seminars around today’s issues—such as feminism, international justice, immigration, and poverty—and analyze those issues through the lens of past philosophies and events. We don’t stop at artificial boundaries. Our courses often draw from other disciplines or texts, especially when looking at complex situations. Because we see an important connection between political thought and political action, we encourage students to participate in service learning. This engagement helps them apply and augment their studies and leads many toward politically active roles in the United States and around the world.

2019-2020 Courses

Politics

First-Year Studies: American Ideologies and American Dreams

Open , FYS—Year

In 1931, historian James T. Adams wrote about the idea of the “American Dream” in his volume, Epic of America, and argued that the American dream is one where individuals and communities “...dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement...It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.” What does it mean to be American today? How about in the past? What are the beliefs and ideas that many Americans hold about the United States and themselves? How have these ideas changed over time? How do these ideas manifest themselves in historical and contemporary politics and discourse? We will explore those questions together and do so with the tools and concepts that come from political science. We will look at basic American politics, the problems of collective decision making, the purposes of government, the formal institutions of national government—Congress, the Supreme Court, the Presidency, and the bureaucracy—congressional and presidential elections, the role of the media, and the mobilization of citizens through political parties and interest groups. Our examination of those institutions and ideas will be interdisciplinary in nature and will present a number of the major general theories underlying the study of American government. This will give us the knowledge of the structure and operation of the institutions of the American political system and how their roles intersect, compete, and complement each other. Additionally, we will become familiar with the actors and the institutions within our federal government and with those institutions affecting our federal government. From this investigation, students will gain an awareness of the role of citizens, interest groups, political parties, and politicians within the American political system. Moreover, students will better understand the role of politics and strategy in the operation and impact of the government. Taken collectively, we will develop the ability to synthesize the material from the course to develop our own opinions regarding the proper role of government in our society. We will be talking about politically charged and often divisive issues, including abortion, immigration, race relations, and homosexuality. This FYS seminar will be an open, nonpartisan forum for discussion and debate. As such, the course will be driven by data, not dogma. We will use a variety of approaches based in logic and evidence to find answers to various puzzles about American policy and will treat this material as social scientists—not ideologues. Comfort with numbers and statistics is expected. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks; biweekly conferences thereafter.

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Introduction to Social Theory: Philosophical Tools for Critical Social Analysis

Open , Lecture—Year

How can social order be explained in modern societies that are too large, fluid, and complex to rely on tradition or self-conscious political regulation alone? Social theory is a distinctly modern tradition of discourse centered on answering this question and focused on a series of theorists and texts whose works gave rise to the modern social sciences, overlap with some of the most influential modern philosophy, and provide powerful tools for critical understanding of contemporary social life. The theorists whose works form the backbone of this course explore the sources of social order in structures, many of which work “behind the backs” of the awareness and intentions of those whose interaction they integrate and regulate. The market economy, the legal and administrative state, the firm and the professions, highly differentiated political and civil cultures, racial and gender order, a variety of disciplinary techniques inscribed in diverse mundane practices—one by one, these theorists labored to unmask the often-hidden sources of social order in the modern world. Moreover, this understanding of social order has evolved side-by-side with evaluations that run the gamut, from those that view Western modernity as achieving the apex of human freedom and individuality to those that see it as insinuating a uniquely thorough and invidious system of domination. This class will introduce many of the foundational texts and authors in social theory, the social sciences, and social philosophy—including Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas. In this way, we will also cover various schools of social explanation, including: Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and (in group conferences) critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and feminism. The thread connecting these disparate authors and approaches will be the issue of the worth or legitimacy of Western modernity, the historical process that produced capitalism, representative democracy, religious pluralism, the modern sciences, ethical individualism, secularism, fascism, communism, new forms of racism and sexism, and many “new social movements.” Which of the institutions and practices that structured the process of modernization are worth defending or reforming? Which should be rejected outright? Or should we reject them all and embrace a new, postmodern social epoch? In addressing these, we will grapple both with classical texts and with the contemporary implications of different approaches to social analysis.

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Introduction to International Relations

Open , Lecture—Fall

War made the state, and the state made war. —Charles Tilly

This course will take a critical approach to the study of international relations. First, we will study the main theories (e.g., realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism), concepts (e.g., the state, anarchy, sovereignty, balance of power, dependency, hegemony, world order), and levels of analysis (systemic, state, organizational, and individual) in the field. Then we will apply those various theoretical approaches and levels of analysis to current international conflicts and crises in order to better understand the many ongoing debates about war and peace, humanitarian interventions, international institutions, and the international political economy. Some of the questions that we will explore include: Why do states go to war? Why do some humanitarian interventions succeed while others fail or simply never materialize? Why are some regions and states rich while others are poor, and how do these inequalities shape international relations? How do international organizations help to reinforce or moderate existing interstate political and economic inequalities?

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Moonshots in Contemporary American Politics

Open , Seminar—Fall

While this course is open, prior background in American politics and history is preferable.

While recently it may feel like American government never accomplishes much at all, particularly at the federal level, sweeping change does happen—either seemingly at once or over a period of time. This course will look at a range of circumstances when advocates across the political spectrum have pushed ambitious agendas over the last few decades and at various levels of government. We will attempt to draw some conclusions about the factors that might make ambitious agendas succeed, including querying whether those factors are distinct in meaningful ways from the factors that make less ambitious agendas succeed. The course will also attempt to explore differences and similarities in the ways that conservatives and liberals have approached pursuing such agendas. The class will begin with an overview of some theoretical literature about agenda-setting in politics and the role of advocacy work and will continue with applied case studies.

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African Politics

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course offers a comprehensive introduction to African politics, challenging common assumptions and misunderstandings of the continent. We will investigate persistent political institutions, as well as mechanisms of political and economic change. Key questions include: How are postcolonial African states distinctive from other postcolonial states? How do the politics of patronage, prevalent in many African states and societies, affect processes of political and economic change such as democratization and the implementation of structural adjustment and poverty alleviation programs? What role have external influences, from colonialism to current forms of European and North American influence, played on the continent? What impact has China’s rising role (alongside other Asian states) had? What choices and trade-offs have Africa’s postcolonial leaders and citizens faced? This course will not investigate the experiences of all African states but will address these questions by drawing upon the experiences of a few countries: Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. The course will begin with an in-depth analysis of the colonial experience, decolonization, and the legacy of colonialism. We will then move on to address key questions regarding postcolonial governance, concerning: the nature of the postcolonial African state, the role of violence in governance, the nature of popular demands for democracy, and popular rebellion and elite resistance. The final section will build upon the first two by investigating approaches to, and ideals of, economic development—including structural reforms, aid, trade, debt, private investment, and social programs—to unearth the contradictions and promises of those processes.

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Intervention and Justice

Open , Seminar—Spring

What are the appropriate responses to widespread human-rights violations in another country? Are there cases in which military humanitarian intervention is warranted? If so, who should intervene? What else can be done short of military intervention? Once the violence has subsided, what actions should the international community take to support peace and justice? This course will explore critical ethical and legal questions. We will consider key cases of both intervention and nonintervention over the last three decades, from Rwanda to Libya, and consider a range of responses to those actions. Finally, we will evaluate different pathways to pursuing truth, justice, and reconciliation in the aftermath of gross violations of human rights. Cases include the International Criminal Tribunal and domestic courts established in Rwanda after the genocide, South Africa’s pioneering Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court.

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Chaos or Calm: The 2020 Elections

Open , Seminar—Spring

In the midst of a seemingly polarized and anxious American polity, the 2020 election cycle will be a referendum on both President Trump and the 116th Congress. This course will attempt to contextualize the current state of social and political affairs in the United States and examine why so many Americans feel disillusioned about the economic and political scene. Many believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. They see an economy that is not improving, a social and political world that is deeply divided and full of anger, and endless fighting about numerous topics, including gun control, immigration, the environment, and global engagement. These concerns will all have a potent impact on the outcome of the 2020 elections. This course will examine these current sentiments as the backdrop for understanding the 2020 electoral cycle. We will focus on what political science can tell us about electoral politics, with the electoral process itself being one of the most fundamental aspects of American democracy: allowing citizens to choose their representatives, from local county boards to the occupant of the White House. Accordingly, we will examine present and past research on numerous questions relating to elections, such as: Who votes and participates, how, and why? How does income, religion, race, and geographic region play into electoral behavior? What about institutions—such as electoral rules, various debates and the Electoral College? What about the role of mass media and social media platforms? What about the art of persuasion; that is, do campaigns matter or is it simply the economy? These are a sampling the puzzles that we will tackle. And while the course will certainly spend a considerable amount of time looking at the presidency, we will also focus on congressional races and local races, as well.

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International Politics and Ethnic Conflict

Open , Seminar—Spring

Writing about the democratic transitions and ethnic conflicts that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel pessimistically declared in his 2002 novel, The Judges, that “the malevolent ghosts of hatred are resurgent with a fury and a boldness that are as astounding as they are nauseating: ethnic conflicts, religious riots, anti-Semitic incidents here, there, and everywhere. What is wrong with these morally degenerate people that they abuse their freedom, so recently won?” Although written from a perspective of moral outrage, one would be hard-pressed to find a quote that more accurately illuminates both the sense of severity associated with ethnic conflict, broadly defined, and the absolute lack of understanding of its causes. Indeed, the end of the Cold War was seen by many conservative and liberal thinkers as “the end of history” and the beginning of a steady march toward global political stability and peace. Yet, despite an explosion in the number of electoral democracies, the frequency and intensity of bloody and brutal scenes of ethnic violence seemed to belie all expectations. The proliferation of such violence over the last 30 years has thus caused many scholars and policymakers to more critically examine their assumptions about the sources and potential solutions to the issue of ethnic conflict as an international problem. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, commentators like Wiesel—and even many politicians—still frequently attribute the sources of such strife to the existence of “morally degenerate people,” ethnic diversity, or the history of animosity between various ethnic communities. Looking at the problem from a more holistic perspective—which engages with the economic, cultural, and political motivations underlying ethnic conflict—this course will challenge these commonly-held assumptions about the cause of ethnic violence and explore some possible solutions for preventing further conflicts or resolving existing ones. We will devote special attention to the relationship/s between democratization and ethnic conflict, because democracy promotion is one of the key foreign policy goals embraced (at least rhetorically) by many democratic states, including the United States. Some of the questions that this course will address include: What are the main sources behind political conflicts deemed “ethnic”? What is the role of the international community in managing ethnic conflicts? What is the effect of democratization on territorial integrity and political conflict between ethnically divided communities? What constitutional designs, state structures, and electoral systems are most compatible with ethnically divided societies? What is the role of humanitarian interventions, and are they successful?

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Democracy, Diversity, and (In)equality

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

Modern democracy, as defended by its most progressive advocates, promised to resurrect an ancient form of popular self-rule on a newly inclusive and egalitarian foundation. At certain points in recent history, it has seemed credible to believe that the “moral arc of the universe bends toward justice”—i.e., that the long-term trend of modern political life moved in the direction of democratic polities that treated all members with equal concern and respect; realized genuine fair equality of opportunity for all; limited social inequality so as to render it compatible with political equality; and repaired historical injustices like those rooted in race, gender, sexuality, and class. Since the beginning of the current century, however, this claim has appeared far less credible. Instead, modern politics appears increasingly less equal, inclusive, just, and democratic. On the one hand, democratic societies have become increasingly unequal as a result of globalization, changes in the nature and remuneration of work, new policies and technology, and new political conditions. On the other, the hitherto dominant (understood variously in racial, ethnic, national, gender, and/or religious terms) appear increasingly unwilling to surrender their privileges in the name of social justice, diversity, or inclusion—even while democratic societies are increasingly diverse as a result of immigration and demographic shifts and their citizens less willing to “forget” their many differences to melt into a dominant national culture. These two trends are far from unrelated: The failure to preserve fair distributions of income, wealth and opportunity contribute to the rise of nationalism and reactionary populism, while the fracturing of common civic identities undermines the resources of commonality and solidarity needed to resist the concentration of wealth and power in ever-smaller elite circles. These developments raise some basic questions: Is 21st-century democracy increasingly an instrument of unjust politics, impotent in the face of the social changes that globalization and galloping technological change produce, and perhaps simply doomed? Or might it be possible to reform democracy to render it compatible with conditions of deep diversity while also making it capable of securing the requisite degrees of political and social equality? This course will explore these questions in a number of ways. We will study exemplary historical statements of the ideal of democracy, drawing on traditional works in political philosophy. We will also draw on contemporary work in sociology, anthropology, cultural and legal studies, and political science to examine the nature of social and cultural diversity—including religion, class, gender, sexuality, and race. We will draw on a similar range of disciplines to seek to comprehend the causes and consequence of the widening inequality characteristic of almost all economically advanced democratic societies. Finally, we will explore works that bring these themes together by examining current scholars efforts to (re-)articulate the ideal and practice of democracy in light of increased diversity and inequality.

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Related Disciplines

Scholars at Risk: The Politics and Practice of Human-Rights Advocacy

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

The course focuses on the history and politics of the human-rights regime and humanitarianism, human-rights advocacy (theory and praxis), advocacy networks, information politics, advocacy strategies and techniques, and human-rights monitoring and reporting. Every day, throughout the world, scholars, teachers, and students are threatened, imprisoned, and killed as part of targeted attacks on higher education individuals and institutions. Scholars At Risk (SAR) is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that monitors violations of academic freedom worldwide, provides scholarships for threatened scholars, and advocates for the release of imprisoned scholars. In partnership with SAR, students in this course will select the case of an imprisoned scholar, research the case, and create an advocacy campaign for the scholar's release. This may take the form of an online social media campaign (creating Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts to monitor developments related to the case and disseminate information), authoring articles for campus and local media, organizing on-campus panel and speaker events to raise awareness, fundraising, creating documentary shorts or other art forms about the case, and lobbying local, state, and federal elected officials. Students will gain practical experience working on a real-world case with a reputable NGO, analyzing human-rights situations, and authoring advocacy reports.

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Rising Autocrats and Democracy in Decline?

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

At the end of the Cold War, many Western writers wrote triumphantly about the global victory of democracy and capitalism. Today, we are bombarded with news stories of autocrats, both at home and abroad, undermining democracy. We hear that democracy is dying while markets and inequality reach new heights. This seminar will address the connections between liberal democracy and market capitalism as they have reinforced and contradicted one another. We will explore the role of social movements in bringing about change and the alternative ideals they have offered. To understand the challenges that individual states face, we begin with the wave of democratization from the late 1980s and consider the ways in which economic conditions contributed to pressure for change and economic policy limited possible outcomes. We will also consider Latin American and African state experiments with social democracy and redistributing wealth. The class will study the interaction between democracy and the market to focus on the last decade in the United States and globally and to ask: Is democracy in decline? We will investigate how populist leaders and extreme income inequality threaten ideals of democracy. We also explore the role of recent popular uprisings, from Occupy and the Arab Spring in 2011 to Algeria and Sudan in 2019. The class will consider the role of social media in propelling protest and the rise of surveillance capitalism in tracking our movements. As we evaluate the present, we will consider a range of popular responses to these challenges, as well as alternative frameworks for the future.

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Related Disciplines

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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Related Disciplines

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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Introduction to Economic Theory and Policy

Open , Lecture—Year

This yearlong lecture will, broadly speaking, cover introductory microeconomics and macroeconomics from a wide range of theoretical perspectives, including neoclassical, post-Keynesian, Marxian, feminist, and institutional political economy perspectives. The objective of the course is to enable students to understand the more “technical aspects” of economics (e.g., usage of supply/demand analysis within and outside neoclassical economics), as well as some economic history and the history of economic thought. The theoretical issues will be applied to contemporary policy debates, such as the Green New Deal, inequality, health care, and international trade.

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Economics of the Environment and Natural Resources: Market Failures, Capitalism, and Solutions

Open , Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have understood the importance of the environment and natural resources. John Stuart Mill, a classical economist, argued: “Is there not the Earth itself, its forests and waters, and all other natural riches, above and below the surface? These are the inheritance of the human race, and there must be regulations for the common enjoyment of it....No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of civilized society.” What property-right regimes are proper for solving the “problem of the social cost”? Is privatization the only solution, as the market fundamentalist economists have argued? Why do developing countries have higher pollution levels? Are pollution activities migrating to developing countries? In Donora, Pennsylvania, “smoke ran like water” in the 1940s and led to deaths and impaired health. But in most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such changes? What are the most efficient ways to deal with pollution? Environmental degradation is far from being over in developed countries. Who is being impacted more by pollution? Why do certain population groups tend to suffer more from environmental harms? Scientists provide ample evidence that the current economic path is unsustainable, and serious policies are needed to deal with the challenge. But the policies are seriously inadequate. Why? What political economy factors are determining the environmental policies? In this course, we will apply economics principles to understand how societies use and misuse the environment and natural resources.

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Intermediate Microeconomics: Conflicts, Coordination, and Institutions

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Prior knowledge of microeconomics is required.

Economics was born in the 18th century, around the same time as capitalism emerged in Europe. Since then, economists have sought to understand the ways in which people allocate, produce, exchange, and distribute things in capitalist societies and how such activities impact people’s well-being. For the most part of the 20th century, microeconomics centered on the “efficiency” of the free market. Since the late 20th century, contending paradigms in microeconomics have successfully challenged the narrow definition of “efficiency” and broadened the scope of analysis from free market to a variety of institutions in which the market is either unfree or absent. In this course, we will examine fundamental questions, such as: What are the incentives of individual decision-making under different circumstances? How do individuals make decisions? What are the social consequences of individual decision-making? We will not only learn about traditional issues such as how individual consumers and firms make decisions and the welfare properties of the market but also will examine how individuals interact with each other, the power relationship between individuals, the power relationship of the labor market and the credit market and inside the firms, the situations where individuals care about other than their self-interests, the successful and unsuccessful coordination of individuals, and the institutional solutions for improving social welfare.

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Economics of Environmental Justice: People, Place, and Power

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

We frequently observe that the burden of environmental harms and/or the benefit of environmental protection are unequally distributed in a society. Within a nation, the underrepresented households, such as minorities in the United States, bear a disproportionate burden. Globally, under the neoliberal regime, trade and financial lateralization have made it easier to transfer highly polluting economic activities to the Third World. Moreover, the capitalist development in the Third World has increasingly deprived the rural communities and the urban poor of their environmental rights. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices may arise and affect different people with different power in different places. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields, such as economics, political science, sociology, environmental studies, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options.

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Intermediate Macroeconomics: Main Street, Wall Street, and Policies

Intermediate/Advanced , Seminar—Spring

Prior knowledge of macroeconomics is required.

Keynes not only revolutionized economic theory in 1937 but also led generations of economists to believe that the government should play an active role in managing a country’s aggregate demand. Yet, since the 1980s, the theoretical and policy world of mainstream economics took a great U-turn and, once again, embraced the fundamental role of the free market. In macroeconomics, this is reflected by the pursuit of goals such as fiscal austerity, balanced budget, financial deregulation, and liberalization of international finance. In this course, we will examine the fundamental debates in macroeconomic theory and policy making. The standard analytical framework of aggregate demand, aggregate supply, labor market, inflation, exchange rate, and economic growth will be used as our entry point of analysis. On top of that, we will examine multiple theoretical and empirical perspectives on money, credit and financial markets, consumption, investment, governmental spending, unemployment, international finance, growth and distribution, economic crisis, technological change, and long waves of capitalist societies. More recent progressive theories and policies will be discussed, such as universal basic income and job guarantee, modern monetary theory, etc.

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Introduction to Property: Cultural and Environmental Dimensions

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Course background in the social sciences, arts or humanities will be useful.

Few issues are more contentious in the environmental arena than those surrounding struggles over rights to private, as well as common, property resources. What is property, and how is it made? How are property rights performed, publicized, and enforced? Debates over the “commons” implicate ideas of citizenship, community, the public good, justice, and governance. Controversies over public space, community gardens, genetic recombinant research and rights to the genome, blood supplies and public health, and North-South disputes over rights to biodiversity, as well as debates over landscapes in the Middle East, are part of this contested terrain. This course introduces ideas, practices, and cultures of property (private, public, and collective); debates, claims, arguments over the commons; and the environmental and social consequences of different property regimes. What will be the fate of urban coastal cities and property rights in the Anthropocene? At the end of this course, students should possess clear understandings of the cases covered in class, including key ideas about property, its arguments, tensions, and pivotal keywords. These conceptions and understandings will be obtained through writing, critical thinking, and seminar discussions and should be useful both inside and outside the classroom.

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Intermediate French I (Section I): French Identities

Open , Seminar—Year

Course conducted in French. Admission by placement test (to be taken during interview week at the beginning of the fall semester) or completion of Beginning French. The Intermediate I and II French courses are specially designed to help prepare students for studying in Paris with Sarah Lawrence College the following year. 

This course will offer a systematic review of French grammar and is designed to strengthen and deepen students’ mastery of grammatical structures and vocabulary. Students will also learn to begin to use linguistic concepts as tools for developing their analytic writing. More than other countries, France’s identity was shaped by centuries of what is now perceived by the French as a historically coherent past. In this course, we will explore the complexities of today’s French identity or, rather, identities, following the most contemporary controversies that have shaken French society in the past 20 years while, at the same time, exploring historical influences and cultural paradigms at play in these débats franco-français. Thus, in addition to newspapers, online resources, recent movies, and songs, we will also study masterpieces of the past in literature and in the arts. Topics discussed will include, among others, school and laïcité, cuisine and traditions, immigration and urban ghettos, women and feminism in France, France’s relation to nature and the environment, the heritage of French Enlightenment (les Lumières), devoir de mémoire, and the relation of France with dark episodes of its history (slavery, Régime de Vichy and Nazi occupation, Algerian war). Authors studied will include Marie de France, Montaigne, Voltaire, Hugo, Flaubert, Proust, Colette, Duras, Césaire, Djebar, Chamoiseau, and Bouraoui. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.

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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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Beginning Greek

Open , Seminar—Year

This course provides an intensive introduction to Ancient Greek grammar, syntax, and vocabulary, with the aim of reading the language as soon as possible. By mid-semester in the fall, students will be reading authentic excerpts of Ancient Greek poetry and prose. Students will also read and discuss selected works of Plato, Aristophanes, Thucydides, and Ps.-Xenophon in English. During the spring semester, while continuing to refine their grammar and reading skills, students will read extended selections of Plato’s Apology in the original Greek.

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International Law

Open , Lecture—Fall

In a global landscape pocked by genocide, wars of choice, piracy, and international terrorism, what good is international law? Can it mean anything without a global police force and a universal judiciary? Is “might makes right” the only law that works? Or is it true that “most states comply with most of their obligations most of the time”? These essential questions frame the contemporary practice of law across borders. This lecture provides an overview of international law—its doctrine, theory, and practice. The course addresses a wide range of issues, including the bases and norms of international law, the law of war, human-rights claims, domestic implementation of international norms, treaty interpretation, and state formation/succession.

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The Third Reich: Its History and Its Images

Open , Lecture—Fall

Ever since the defeat of the Third Reich, the term “Nazi” has served as a term to mark political enemies—though in the 1980s the term also acquired a more ironic edge, think of Seinfeld’s “soup Nazi.” The accusation, as well as the ascription of the moniker today, is as much grounded in historical reality as in mythmaking. But today, when real neo-Nazis are marching in the streets—for example, Charlottesville—and the “Death of Democracy” is debated, it has become paramount to understand the actual history of the Third Reich: the policies, culture, and appeal, as much as the deeds and destruction of National Socialism. This lecture begins with the crisis of Weimar democracy and ends with the aftermath of World War II and the attempts to (re)establish a democratic order in Europe. Students will be introduced to the policies of the Third Reich, both from the angle of National Socialists and from that of their victims. This history is a story of exclusion and inclusion; it is also a history of images. From the very beginning, the Third Reich used film to present itself in more or less subtle forms of propaganda. But films also played an important role in defining the Third Reich from the outside. Thus, in addition to the lectures, one weekly film screening will be held at which we will watch movies from the era produced by the Third Reich or its opponents. We will discuss these films in the context of the lectures during our group conferences.

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Postwar: Europe on the Move

Open , Lecture—Spring

When World War II ended, Europe was a continent of displaced peoples. It was a continent on the move: returning POWs, emigrating Displaced Persons, refugees, and arriving occupation soldiers. The postwar period is sometimes dubbed a history of the unwinding of populations, the return or resettlement following the logic of nation states. Yet the assumption that, once that was done and the Cold War started, populations stayed put until 1989 is misleading. Successive attempted revolutions in the East begot more political refugees. Decolonization and industrialization resulted in the immigration and recruitment of non-native European populations, as well as the return of European colonial settlers. In addition, Europeans moved to the cities, turning the continent from one in which almost half the population lived in the countryside in 1950 into a predominantly urbanized one within the span of 30 years. Political crisis abroad, Europeanization, the fall of the Iron Curtain, and globalization led to still more mobility. The so-called migration crisis of 2015 is thus but one of a series of migratory events—and by far not the largest. This lecture introduces students to the history of Europe, both Eastern and Western, since 1945. The movements of peoples and borders will provide students with insight into political, cultural, and social developments of the continent following the defeat of the Third Reich. In order to avoid an undue Euro-centrism and remain critical of the language that we use to talk and think about migration, the lectures will be twinned with a number of group conferences that are conducted jointly with Partibhan Muniandy and his class on Lexicons of (Forced-)migrations.

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Making Latin America

Open , Seminar—Year

The making of Latin America, a region deeply embedded in global histories of capitalist expansion, imperial domination, and circulation of Western ideas, must nonetheless begin by looking inward. The course examines the ways in which landowners and campesinos, intellectuals and workers, military blacks, whites, and mestizos understood and shaped the history of this region in the world. From the early settlements in the Americas and the pre-Hispanic civilizations to the contemporary battles between neoliberals and neosocials, this yearlong course offers a survey of the more than five centuries of the history of the region that we know as Latin America. After an overview of the intellectual and political debates about what the term “Latin America” means and encompasses, the first half of the course will survey the fall of the Aztec and Inca empires, the colonial order that emerged in its stead, independence from Iberian rule, and the division of the empire into a myriad of independent republics, or states, searching for a “nation.” By focusing on specific national trajectories, we will then ask how the American and Iberian civilizations shaped the new national experiences and how those who made claims on the “nation” defined and transformed the colonial legacies. In the second semester, the course will delve into the long 20th century and the multiple experiences of and interplay between anti-Americanism, revolution, populism, and authoritarianism. We will ask how different national pacts and projects attempted to solve the problem of political inclusion and social integration that emerged after the consolidation of the 19th-century liberal state. Using primary and secondary sources, fiction, and film, the course will provide students an understanding of historical phenomena such as liberalism, mestizaje and racial democracy, caudillismo, populism, and reformism, among other concepts key to the debates in contemporary Latin America.

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History and Memory on Screen: The Third Reich in Film, From The Great Dictator to Inglorious Basterds

Open , Seminar—Spring

Movies shape the way we see the world. They also shape the way we think about history. The miniseries Holocaust of 1978 did more to sensitize not only the American but also the German public toward the mass murder of European Jews—and also popularized the term—than most books written about the Holocaust until then. Schindler’s List, 15 years later, once more confronted audiences with the very personal histories of Jewish victims during the Holocaust while, at the same time, introducing the figure of the “good German.” While films about the Third Reich and the Holocaust continue to be reliable box office hits, both as blockbusters and as art house movies— Alone in Berlin, Operation Valkyrie, The Fall, and Inglorious Basterds are just a few examples from the 2000s—attempts to visualize the Third Reich from outside already began during its existence. This course seeks to investigate the changing representations of the Third Reich. The films literally put changing views about its history on screen and shape the public’s idea about the Third Reich. Over the course of the semester, we will analyze the range of genres and approaches to the topic in their historical and national context. Most of the movies will be from the United States and Germany, with forays into Eastern European and Israeli representations of the Third Reich. This is not a film-studies course but, rather, one that explores the legacy and memory of the Third Reich through film. The movie screenings will be accompanied by weekly readings. By the end of the semester, students will have familiarized themselves with the different and historically contingent ways in which the Third Reich was—and is—viewed. Students will be introduced to using films as historical sources and to the influence of movies on public history, as well as to the legacy of the Third Reich in postwar politics. Having taken the fall 2019 lecture, The Third Reich, is helpful but not mandatory.

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The Problem of Empire: A History of Latin America

Open , Seminar—Spring

Most Latin American nations emerged as independent states in the early 19th century, long before Europe’s imperialist “scramble for Africa” came to solidify our ideas about the meaning and character of imperialism. Despite Latin America’s nominal political independence, the notions of empire and the problems of imperialism remain key tools for historians seeking to understand the development and experience of Latin America in the 19th century and beyond. Using terms such as “despotic rule,” “the “imperialism of free trade,” “informal empire,” “foreign intervention,” “hegemony,” or “our own backyard,” historians, economists, politicians, and diplomats have sought to describe what it means for Latin America to be the object of imperialism. Furthermore, from bourgeois intellectuals to authoritarian rulers, many influential figures have attributed the region’s economic, cultural, and political problems to what they considered the legacies of colonialism. It is precisely to these puzzling and shifting meanings of imperialism and the impact over peoples, economies, and polities that this course is devoted. Through the history of Latin America, the course will examine the multiple dimensions of empire; analyze the different forms of foreign interventions that are grouped under the umbrella term “imperialism”; and identify the historical legacies that can be traced back to imperial rule, practices, and strategies. The course will try to give historical specificity to the concept of imperialism by focusing on specific individuals, groups, and classes. The course will also assess the balance between internal and external, local and global factors that shape the trajectory of the region in order to understand when the concepts of imperialism and colonial are accurate and useful and when they are not. After a brief introduction to theoretical concepts and to the voices of advocates and critics of empire, the course will survey the history of Latin America through each of the following fundamental dimensions of empire: territory, production and extraction, race and ethnicity, and ideas and ideologies.

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Democracy and Emotions in Postwar Germany

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

The passion of the people has been treated as both the foundation of democracy and its greatest threat. Groups of people, not least women, were denied the vote because of their supposedly too emotional nature. More recently, in light of decreasing voter turnout and frustration with the political process, politicians, pundits, and the press have made contradicting appeals to the hearts—but also the minds—of citizens across democratic societies. This seminar explores the ambivalent connection of emotions and democracy in the case of post-1945 Germany. While the focus lies on the Federal Republic, the claim of the German Democratic Republic to be a different kind of democracy is taken seriously. Both East and West tried to formulate new rules for political feelings following the rise and defeat of the Third Reich. For both states, the connection of bodies, spaces, and practices in the attempt to establish democratic sentiments will be examined. The course combines a chronological account, with a typology of different feelings and practices. The role of architecture—for example, for the connection between governing and governed—will be discussed, as will be the role of guilt and its different expressions in establishing democratic communities in East and West. By the end of the semester, students will have gained familiarity with the political history of postwar Germany and with the history of emotions.

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Liberation: Contemporary Latin America

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

After the military regimes that swept Latin America came to an end in the last quarter of the 20th century, a new era of liberation emerged. The transition to democracy, and the broad-based coalitions then formed, renewed the hopes and expectations of justice, equality, and freedom that had been shattered by torture, censorship, and state power. But the era that emerged from those transitions—one which is coming to an end—is full of contradictions. Alongside the liberations of prisoners and the press and the return to party politics came the demise of social revolution and the retreat of the left. Alongside the liberalization of markets and the so-called neoliberal reforms came innovative social policies and a multiplicity of social movements, the most salient of which are led by indigenous groups and peasant-based organizations. Similarly, the ascendancy and hegemony of liberal ideas and policies gave rise to a new left, which brought the world’s attention back to Latin America with its combination of growth and equality. This course will examine the dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in which contemporary Latin America emerged; study the origins of neoliberalism in Latin America and its economic and political repercussion; delve into the contradictions of the democratic transitions and their legacies; and explore the new rural, labor, feminist, and indigenous movements that have challenged both neoliberalism and democracy.

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Public Stories, Private Lives: Theories and Methods of Oral History

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

The goal of this class is to introduce students to the best practices of oral-history interviewing, theory, and methodology. Oral-history methodology has moved from being a contested approach to studying history to becoming an integral method for learning about the past. Around the world, oral history has been used to uncover the perspectives of marginalized groups (women, ethnic minorities, workers, LGBTQI communities) and to challenge “official” historical narratives. It is now a mainstay of social history, helping researchers uncover voices that might otherwise be marginalized or ignored. In this regard, oral history has become one of the most important methods in a historian’s toolkit. Life histories enable us to focus on individual experiences and consider the historical significance of one person’s life. Long used by anthropologists and sociologists, life-history methods continue to be rediscovered by historians seeking to enrich their understandings of the past. Conducting oral-history or life-history research entails more than listening to someone talk and recording what he or she has to say. Researchers must approach their work with knowledge, rigor, respect, and compassion for their research subjects. Toward the goal of developing those skills, this class will focus on several contentious questions associated with oral history. Questions that we will ask include: Is there a feminist oral history that is different from other kinds of historical inquiry? What is the role of memory? What is the role of intersubjectivity, and how much does the researcher influence the interview process? How should researchers catalogue and make their work accessible? Are there ethical considerations to doing oral-history or life-history research, and are they different from other types of historical methodologies? How have social-media and digital technologies changed the practice of oral history, and what ethical/methodological questions do those technologies raise?

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Advanced Italian: Fascism, World War II, and the Resistance in 20th-Century Italian Narrative and Cinema

Advanced , Seminar—Year

This course is intended for advanced students of Italian who want to better their comprehension, as well as their oral and written skills, in the language and their knowledge of Italian literature. This will be achieved by reading literary works and watching films in the original language, producing written compositions, and also through in-class discussion of the material. The course examines the manner in which crucial historical events that occurred during the 20th century—specifically the rise and fall of fascism, World War II, and the Resistance—were represented within Italian literature and cinema of the time, as well as throughout the decades following the end of the war (up to the 1970s). Literary texts will include those authored by Ignazio Silone, Vasco Pratolini, Italo Calvino, Mario Carli, Renata Viganò, Carlo Cassola, Beppe Fenoglio, Elio Vittorini, Alberto Moravia, and Carlo Mazzantini. Films will include fascist propaganda and documentaries (from the Istituto Luce’s archives), as well as films by Roberto Rossellini (his fascist-era War trilogy, as well as his neorealist films), Vittorio De Sica, Luigi Comencini, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuliano Montaldo, Ettore Scola, Luchino Visconti, Liliana Cavani, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Federico Fellini. Conference topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, or film that might be of interest to the student. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York area centered on Italian language and culture. Literary texts will be on reserve in the library or available for purchase; critical material will be available through MySLC. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant; students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian.

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First-Year Studies: The Perils of Passion: Ancient Greek History for Today’s Troubled Times

Open , FYS—Year

Are we unwittingly reliving the past? Authoritarianism, magical thinking, and tribalism are beginning to characterize the 21st century as they characterized archaic Greece. Over centuries, however, the ancient Greeks experienced a movement in the opposite direction: They began to prioritize reality, condemn tyranny, and experiment with broader forms of political participation. In the fifth century BCE, the ancient Greeks devised, simultaneously, the concepts of history and democracy. As the Athenians were experimenting with the world’s first-ever democratic political institutions, the historians Herodotus and Thucydides distinguished history from myth and offered examples of behaviors to emulate or to avoid. These early historians can help us today to analyze facts, identify causes and consequences, and avoid the pitfalls of the past. Students will read (in English translation) Herodotus’s Histories and Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War, as well as selected works by Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristotle, and Ps.-Xenophon. Students will meet with the instructor individually for a half-hour conference once every two weeks. On the alternate weeks, when individual conferences do not meet, the entire class will meet for a group conference.

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Slavery: A Literary History

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course aims to provide a long view of literary representations and responses to slavery and the slave trade in the Americas, from William Shakespeare to Toni Morrison. Expressing the conflicted public conscience—and perhaps the collective unconscious—of a nation, literature registers vividly the human costs (and profits) and dehumanizing consequences of a social practice whose legacy still haunts and implicates us. We will study some of the major texts that stage the central crises in human relations, social institutions, and human identity provoked by slavery, considering in particular how those texts represent the perverse dynamics and identifications of the master-slave relationship; the systematic assaults on family, identity, and community developed and practiced in slave-owning cultures; modes of resistance, survival, and subversion cultivated by slave communities and individuals in order to preserve their humanity and reclaim their liberty; and retrospective constructions of, and meditations on, slavery and its historical consequences. Since literary structure and style are not only representational but also are means of subversion, resistance, and reclamation, we will do a lot of close reading. Readings will be drawn from the works of William Shakespeare, Aimé Cesaire, Aphra Behn, Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, and Edward P. Jones. Conference work may entail more extended work in any of these writers or literary modes or other writers engaged in the representation and interrogation of slavery; may be developed around a major theme or topic; and may include background study in history, philosophy, geography, politics, or theory.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open , Lecture—Fall

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 so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course, and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Conference work, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue graduate work and/or research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Introduction to Social Theory: Philosophical Tools for Critical Social Analysis

Open , Lecture—Year

How can social order be explained in modern societies that are too large, fluid, and complex to rely on tradition or self-conscious political regulation alone? Social theory is a distinctly modern tradition of discourse centered on answering this question and focused on a series of theorists and texts whose works gave rise to the modern social sciences, overlap with some of the most influential modern philosophy, and provide powerful tools for critical understanding of contemporary social life. The theorists whose works form the backbone of this course explore the sources of social order in structures, many of which work “behind the backs” of the awareness and intentions of those whose interaction they integrate and regulate. The market economy, the legal and administrative state, the firm and the professions, highly differentiated political and civil cultures, racial and gender order, a variety of disciplinary techniques inscribed in diverse mundane practices—one by one, these theorists labored to unmask the often-hidden sources of social order in the modern world. Moreover, this understanding of social order has evolved side-by-side with evaluations that run the gamut, from those that view Western modernity as achieving the apex of human freedom and individuality to those that see it as insinuating a uniquely thorough and invidious system of domination. This class will introduce many of the foundational texts and authors in social theory, the social sciences, and social philosophy—including Thomas Hobbes, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Jürgen Habermas. In this way, we will also cover various schools of social explanation, including: Marxism, structuralism, poststructuralism, and (in group conferences) critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and feminism. The thread connecting these disparate authors and approaches will be the issue of the worth or legitimacy of Western modernity, the historical process that produced capitalism, representative democracy, religious pluralism, the modern sciences, ethical individualism, secularism, fascism, communism, new forms of racism and sexism, and many “new social movements.” Which of the institutions and practices that structured the process of modernization are worth defending or reforming? Which should be rejected outright? Or should we reject them all and embrace a new, postmodern social epoch? In addressing these issues, we will grapple both with classical texts and with the contemporary implications of different approaches to social analysis.

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Greek Tragedy: Electras

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

There is only one story about which tragedies exist by all three of the great Greek tragic poets—the murder of Clytemnestra to avenge her murder of Agamemnon. We will read all three plays—Aeschylus’s Libation Bearers, Sophocles’s Electra and Euripides’s Electra—with special attention to the relation between Electra and Orestes as co-conspirators in the plot against Clytemnestra. Each play is concerned with the question of justice in its relation to a political life. Insofar as its principle is justice, political life points toward universality. Insofar as its existence depends on excluding some from its borders, it must assert its particularity. Political life involves treating fellow citizens according to universal principles because they are like family. We want our polis to be good, but we want it to be good because it is ours. In Greek tragedy this problematic togetherness of the good and one’s own is repeatedly represented as the tension between the polis and the family—which, in turn, is expressed as a tension between male and female principles. All of these issues are present in all three plays but in quite different ways. We will read them with a view to understanding the importance of those differences.

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Ancient Philosophy (Aristotle)

Intermediate , Seminar—Spring

This course will be devoted to a careful reading of a small number of texts from a major figure in ancient philosophy. The goal of the course is twofold. It is first designed to acquaint students with one of the seminal figures of our tradition in more than a superficial way. Doing that will force us to slow our usual pace of reading, to read almost painfully carefully, with a view to understanding the thinker as he wrote and as he understood himself and not as a stage in an historical development. The second part of the goal of the course is to introduce and encourage this kind of careful reading. The text for spring 2020 will be Aristotle’s Rhetoric. We do not ordinarily claim knowledge of what is most important to us—the good, the beautiful, and just things. Still, our practical lives require that we are not content merely to withhold judgment about them. Accordingly—about the good, the beautiful and the just—we are generally persuaded and seek to persuade. We convince and are convinced without simply teaching or learning. If this sort of thinking is intrinsic to incomplete beings, to human beings, when rhetoric claims be an art or a science of persuasion, this would seem to amount to a claim to be an art or a science of the human. We will read Aristotle’s Rhetoric in light of this tacit claim and with a view to the question: What does it mean that human beings are put together in such a way that we both must and can be moved by persuasion?

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International Perspectives of Psychology

Open , Lecture—Fall

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

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First-Year Studies: From Schools to Prisons: Inequality and Social Policy in the United States

Open , FYS—Year

Inequality and social policy go hand in hand in the United States. From the schools to the criminal justice system, policies structure our lives by either contributing to or helping to scale back inequality. This course introduces students to policymaking through the lens of different issue areas in the United States. Students will examine major policy areas—including immigration, criminal justice, health, and education—along three axes. First, we will explore these areas socially and historically to see how debates and policies have evolved. We will also draw from the social-science literature to examine the strengths and weaknesses and the intended and unintended consequences of those policies. Second, we will explore the complicated system of institutions that have the power to make public-policy decisions in each of those areas and across federal, state, and local levels. Finally, we will explore the role of different actors in attempting to influence and implement policy—organized interests, experts, and local communities. Students will leave the class with an understanding of major policy issues, policymaking, and how to effect policy change. This foundational information will feed into broader discussion about inequality in the United States. Biweekly individual conferences will alternate with group conference activities.

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The American Welfare State

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

This course will assess the historical and political trajectory of the American welfare state. Students will learn about the US policy response to economic inequality and poverty via redistributive policies and evaluate different theories about why the response has been so weak. In addition, the course will explore the role of mulitiple actors and factors that have shaped this policy area, with particular attention to public opinion, interest groups, race relations, social movements, and the state. Race, immigration, and gender will also be important axes of analysis, as they have been intimately linked with the development of the welfare state and its evolution, as well as evolving understandings of race, immigration, family, and work. Finally, the course will allow for broader based discussions on the US welfare system in relation to US ideals and in relation to the welfare systems of other countries. Overall, students will gain an understanding of the scope, form, and function of social welfare provision in the United States into the contemporary period.

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The Politics of “Illegality,” Surveillance, and Protest

Advanced , Seminar—Fall

Over the past few years, newspapers, television, Facebook and Twitter have disseminated images of unauthorized immigrants and their allies taking to the streets to protest punitive immigration policies. The aerial shot of downtown Los Angeles on March 25, 2006, with more than 500,000 immigrants and allies wearing white t-shirts, was only one in a series of images that captured the 2006-2007 demonstrations in big cities where they were expected, like Chicago and New York, but also in smaller towns and cities in Nebraska, Colorado, Indiana, and elsewhere. More recently, images of unauthorized youth facing off with police and immigration officials have become more commonplace, the newest of these images being a young woman in Los Angeles sitting atop a ladder surrounded by police awaiting her fate. These images speak to us of a movement for immigrant rights that calls us to engage with questions of immigration enforcement, “illegality,” and citizenship. In this course, we will explore the historical, legal, and cultural construction of “illegality.” Rather than a strictly legal category, “illegality” has been constructed over time through policy and discourse. As such, we will ground our investigation of the present in an investigation of the past. Students will assess the evolution of immigration-control practices and of the construction of “illegality,” from the US focus on policing the Chinese through the buildup of the US-Mexico border and into the present. Our study of contemporary debates will center on the shifts in immigration control and the actions of key elite and grass-roots actors in attempting to shape this politics of enforcement. Students will use the theoretical tools provided by studies of immigration enforcement, social movements, and the politics of membership and belonging to assess immigration politics over time and to offer ways forward in the contemporary moment.

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Beginning Russian

Open , Seminar—Year

At the end of this course, students will know the fundamentals of Russian grammar and will be able to use those fundamentals to read, write, and, above all, speak Russian on an elementary level. Successful language learning involves both creativity and a certain amount of rote learning—memorization gives the student the basis to then extrapolate, improvise, and have fun with the language—and this course will lay equal emphasis on both. Our four hours of class each week will be spent actively using what we know in pair and group activities, dialogues, discussions, etc. Twice-weekly written homework, serving both to reinforce old and introduce new material, will be required. At the end of each semester, we will formalize the principle of rigorous but creative communication that underlies all of our work through small-group video projects. Students are also required to attend weekly meetings with the Russian assistant; attendance at Russian Table is strongly encouraged.

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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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Detention, Deportation, Dispossession: From Incarceration to Displacement

Open , Seminar—Fall

In her book, Expulsions, Saskia Sassen highlights a globally growing transnational project in which masses of people are being systematically, often violently, pushed out of their homelands through various forms of dispossessions—from land grabs and development projects to war and environmental pressures. These expulsions are bringing about an unprecedented international crisis of displacement, manifesting as refugee and asylum crises, trafficking, and other forms of undocumented flows of people across borders and continents. Simultaneously, the politicization of migration has become a powerful weapon for conservative, far-right, and nationalist populist movements around the world to mobilize xenophobic rhetoric against minorities and immigrant populations, leading to the worrying reemergence of “strong-man” politicians such as Bolsonaro in Brazil, Salvini in Italy, Orban in Hungary, Modi in India, and Trump in the United States. We are increasingly seeing the consequences of mass displacement and populist nationalism coming to a head in the detention, criminalization, and deportation of people at the borders of, and even within, countries. Throughout this seminar, we will be examining the history and logics of dispossession and displacement and the production of “ghost populations”—noncitizen and stateless people who are then subjected to detention and incarceration, as well as to the threat of deportation. The readings and material in the seminar cover a broad range of countries and regions, taking a transnational sociological lens at the structures, institutions, and processes that produce expulsions and displacement around the world. Our objective is to gain a better understanding of those systems of displacement as interconnected, rather than isolated, outcomes of economic and sociopolitical transformations.

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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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The Ideas of Photography

Open , Seminar—Spring

This course is a hybrid. Each week, for the first 10 weeks of the semester, a different photographic idea or genre will be traced from its earliest iterations to its present form by means of slide lectures and readings. And each week, students will respond with their own photographic work inspired by the visual presentations and readings. Topics may include personal dressup/narrative, the directorial mode in photography, contemporary art-influenced fashion photography, new strategies in documentary practice, abstraction, the typology, the photograph in color, and narrative photography. In the final weeks of the semester, the emphasis will shift as students work on a subject and in a form that coincides with the ideas they most urgently wish to express. No previous experience in photography is necessary nor is any specialized equipment. A desire to explore and to create a personally meaningful body of work are the only prerequisites.

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The New Narrative Photography

Open , Seminar—Spring

A photograph alone, without caption, is like a simple utterance. “Ooh!” or “aah!” or “huh?” are responses to it. But when pictures are presented in groups with an accompanying text—and perhaps in conjunction with political or poetic conceptual strategies—any statement at all becomes possible. Then, photographs begin to function as a sentence, a paragraph, or an even 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. Without formal agreement to do so, they have created a new medium, which might be entitled: The New Narrative Photography. In this course, students will study the work of these 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 work in 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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First-Year Studies: Ecopoetry: Poetry in Relation to the Living World

Open , FYS—Year

Poetry is the human song called out: in joy, in love, in fear, in wonder, in prayer, in rebuke, in war, in peace, in story, and in vision. The human poem collects us together, individuates us, and consoles us. We read poems at funerals, at weddings, graduations...they accompany us through the gates of our lives, in public, or in private...shared through a book, a computer, a letter, a song. Now we find ourselves at the brink of an unstoppable ecological disaster. A change of consciousness is necessary. How can poetry accomplish this? For a long time, we have not noticed how our civilizations and technologies have affected the rest of the living world. This course will ask questions: Who do we think we are? Who taught us that? Who are we in relation to the other animals? To trees and plants? To insects? To stars? How have our human myths informed those relationships? How are those myths evident in our human world today? What is poetry? What is ecopoetry? How can poetry instruct? How can poetry document? How can poetry re-vision? Prophesy? Protest? Preserve? Imagine? In our time together, you will read poetry written by published poets. You will write your own poems, one each week, and share them with each other. You will keep observation journals, meet with another person in our class each week in a poetry date, and meet with me in individual and small-group conferences. We will proceed as curious learners and writers. Through our close study, each of you (in conference work and together) will learn about a very specific aspect of the natural world that interests you (an animal, a forest, a coral reef, etc.) and then teach the rest of us in class what you have learned. We will learn how to write poems about these subjects so that the poem itself becomes an experience we have never had before. And we might slowly move away from the human as the center of the poem and welcome the rest of the living world in. We will know more at the end of this class about the other animals and plants and insects and rivers and oceans. If our hearts break with this deepening relationship, we might also discover a great joy and a new responsibility. We will want to share what we have learned and written with the wider community. We will find ways to do that. I can assure you, we will be changed. Students will have an individual conference every other week and a half-group conference on alternating weeks.

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First-Year Studies: Writing and the Racial Imaginary

Open , FYS—Year

In what ways have American writers and artists rendered the felt experience of race and racial inequality? How might we understand race and racism not only as social forces but also as imaginative ones? And how might we, as writers and readers, productively grapple, contend, and engage with our own positions as artists and citizens within these historical and imaginative legacies? In other words, how might we fruitfully think about what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda have recently called—in their anthology of the same name—“the racial imaginary”? Over the course of this yearlong creative-writing workshop, students will be asked to explore the American racial imaginary by examining writing in a variety of genres and disciplines—from short stories to personal essays and poetry, as well as academic criticism and historical scholarship—in the interest of producing and workshopping their own original writing. During the fall semester, students will meet with the instructor weekly for individual conferences. In the spring, we will meet weekly or every other week, depending on students’ needs and the progress of their conference projects.

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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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Our World, Other Worlds

Open , Seminar—Year

This is a writing course that explores the use of episodes in a world made of words. We read short stories, parts of novels, poems, newspaper articles, and essays from many times and worlds and occasionally watch episodes and films. We also do exercises designed to help practice character drawing, dialogue, pacing, composition, editing, and world building. Still, much of the work of the class involves writing episodes of a long work that becomes our conference work and can be completed in one or two semesters. These works are discussed in small groups, whose members become experts on each others’ creations. Many of the works take place in an imaginary world, some are memoirs, others go back and forth between worlds. The course is open but involves a willingness to enter sympathetically into someone else's work over time and to be an informed reader for that person. It also involves the ability to work on a piece of writing for at least a semester.

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