Film History

Sarah Lawrence students approach film, first and foremost, as an art. The College’s film-history courses take social, cultural, and historical contexts into account—but films themselves are the focus of study and discussion. Students seek equal artistic value in Hollywood films, art films, avant-garde films, and documentaries, with emphasis on understanding the intentions of filmmakers and appreciating their creativity.

As a valuable part of a larger humanistic education in the arts, the study of film often includes the exploration of connections to the other arts, such as painting and literature. Close association with the filmmaking and visual-arts disciplines enables students working in those areas to apply their knowledge of film to creative projects. And within the film-history discipline, the study of film gives students insight into stylistic techniques and how they shape meaning. Advanced courses in specific national genres, forms, movements, and filmmakers—both Western and non-Western—provide a superb background in the history of film and a basis for sound critical judgment. Students benefit from New York City’s enormously rich film environment, in which film series, lectures, and festivals run on a nearly continuous basis.

Film History 2022-2023 Courses

History and Aesthetics of Film

Open, Lecture—Year | 10 credits

This class will provide both a detailed survey of the history of moving-image art and an introduction to key aesthetic and theoretical concepts in the study of film. We will study the major elements of film form—editing, cinematography, sound, mise-en-scène—as phenomena emerging from specific historical contexts and chart their development both over time and also as they travel around the world. While the emphasis of the earlier part of the course will be on film’s European and American origins, we will approach film as a truly global phenomenon with considerable attention devoted to East and South Asian, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern cinemas. While the basic structure of the course will be chronological, we will develop the vocabulary and viewing skills necessary to identify and analyze the key components of film texts as we proceed; for example, our examination of editing will be situated within our discussion of 1920s American and Soviet cinema, while possible uses and aesthetic implications of sound will be examined alongside a number of diverse early experiments with sound. Other key moments to be studied will include the development of “classical” Hollywood cinema (and challenges to it), the emergence of new national art cinemas in the post-World War II era, the radical cinema of the 1960s and ’70s, and developments in film aesthetics since the introduction of digital filmmaking techniques in the 1990s. Key theoretical approaches in film studies will also be situated in their historical context, including early debates around film’s status as art from the 1910s and ’20s, inquiries into the relationship between photography and reality from the post-World War II period, and different critical approaches to the analysis of the ideological implications of film and its relationship to the spectator.

Faculty

Introduction to Japanese Anime

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Japanese animation, or anime, is a global phenomenon—a cultural export that has come to stand in for Japan itself in much of the world. Defined by a national identity as “Japanese” but beloved by an international audience of fans and creators, anime is a contradictory and diverse group of texts that allow us to begin to think about what it means for culture to flow globally in the 20th and 21st centuries. In this course, students will learn about the history of Japanese animation from the 1920s to the present. The course offers broad exposure to Japanese animation, from mainstream television cartoons to experimental art animation, but with an emphasis on the specific tradition of Japanese animation production that came to be known globally as “anime.” We will discuss anime as an intermedial consumer art form deeply connected to other media, such as manga (comic books), toys, video games, literature, music, traditional art, and live-action film. Our own experiences of anime as consumers/fans will be placed in context with academic theories of animation and methods for the study of anime. Students will learn about the Japanese cultural and historical context while also examining their own position in creating global anime reception. Assignments will help students develop research skills in Japanese studies, formal film-analysis skills, and creative methods for scholarly engagement. Themes will include production and marketing (e.g., “the media mix”), technology and labor, gender and sexuality, propaganda and political interests (e.g., “Cool Japan”), race and colonialism, genre, auteurism, reception and fan culture (e.g., “otaku” and “fujoshi”), religion, comedy, video games and interactive media, and intertextuality. Works discussed will include Astro Boy; films by Miyazaki Hayao, Galaxy Express 999, Sailor Moon, Doraemon, Mobile Suit Gundam, Naruto, manga by Hagio Moto, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Osomatsu-san, stop-motion animation by Kawamoto Kihachirō, and the works of Shinkai Makoto.

Faculty

The Movie Musical

Open, Lecture—Fall | 5 credits

Long dismissed as shallow mass entertainment, the movie musical remains an understudied genre despite its century-long popularity, global scope, and recurring role in film history. This lecture course offers a layered cultural history of the movie musical from the 1920s to the present, approaching it as a uniquely intermedial, transnational perspective from which to study film. Students will learn to read movie musicals through a mixture of formal analysis and material history. We will read canonical scholars, as well as more recent multidisciplinary work on the movie musical as a site for ideological contestation; performance politics; and aesthetic, narrative, and technological experimentation. In particular, we will highlight the genre’s power for hiding labor behind spectacles of seemingly spontaneous mass performance and rehearsing modern social conflicts through heterosexual couple-driven, dual-focus plots (Jets vs. Sharks, town vs. city, etc.). Other topics include: the roots of the movie musical in vaudeville, minstrelsy, opera, and ballet; the musical’s relationship to new cinematic technologies, labor forms, and industrial practices; the musical’s relationship to questions of gender, sexuality, and race; and the musical as a globally circulating and mutating “mass” cultural form. While much of our focus will be on classical Hollywood (1920s-1960s), we will also watch films from France, the Soviet Union, England, East Germany, Mexico, India, and Australia.

Faculty

The Working Girl Around the World

Open, Lecture—Spring | 5 credits

Since the Lumière brothers filmed their female employees leaving the factory in 1895, the "working girl" has become a fixture of global cinema. This lecture course approaches this archetypal modern character as a foundational figure for film history and an important vernacular link for national film industries competing with Hollywood. We begin by asking: What is a working girl? How has the category changed over the course of the 20th century, as the category has circulated around the globe? And how, despite its fraught ideological construction, can we turn the category into a tool for intersectional feminist film history? With these questions in mind, we launch our investigation in the United States and Europe—and then move onto the Soviet Union, Japan, China, India, South Korea, Mexico, Senegal, and Cameroon—by reading classic film theory, short fiction, and local histories of film culture and gendered labor alongside films about shopgirls, dancing girls, telephone girls, factory girls, office girls, laundresses, and maids. Topics to be discussed include working girls as moviegoers, cultural imperialism and vernacular modernism, migration and mass reproduction, sex work, workplace romance, and contradictions of capital and care. In this class, students will conduct comparative, multimedia analyses of film texts and read global film history through the globalization of modern gendered labor.

Faculty

Arcades, Trains, and Hysterics: 19th-Century Foundations of Film

Open, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

This seminar will examine film history and analysis through a proto-cinematic lens inspired by the Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin’s montage-style compendium of Parisian modernization. With this canonical academic experiment as catalyst, we will excavate the 19th-century techno-cultural foundations of film, placing a particular emphasis on the train, department store, factory, metropolis, and mental life. How did these modern developments shape the materiality and content of early films? And what do they have to tell us about film today? Alongside weekly screenings, we will read classic texts of critical theory (Marx, Freud, Simmel, Benjamin, Kracauer, Adorno); modern/modernist fiction (Poe, Baudelaire, Zola, Pirandello, Keun, Du Bois); and new cultural history on hysterical performance, shell shock cinema, human motors, spectacular realities, and slapstick modernism. We will also watch films directed by Charlie Chaplin, René Clair, Jacques Tati, Chantal Akerman, Boots Riley, and Bong Joon-ho. In this class, students will get an overview of European modernity studies and learn to read films media-archaeologically, tying them to the major industrial shifts, perceptual transformations, and hybrid forms from which cinema emerged as a dominant mass medium.

Faculty

Understanding Experience: Phenomenological Approaches in Anthropology

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

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

Advanced, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Histories of Modern and Contemporary Art

Open, Lecture—Year

This yearlong course is an introduction to modern and contemporary art from 1860 to the present, focusing on its histories and counter-histories, canonical narratives, and underrepresented artists. In the fall, we will explore modernism in Europe, North America, and Latin America, investigating how artists responded to a world ravaged by fascism, colonialism, and war; altered by industry, technology, and rationalized forms of labor; and tested by shifting national, ethnic, and gendered identities. What representational strategies did artists use to respond to these upheavals? How is the history of Eurocentric avant-garde art also one of colonization and cultural appropriation? The course serves as an introduction to the historical avant-gardes, including Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, Vorticism, Dada, Surrealism, Muralism, the Harlem Renaissance, Abstract Expressionism, and Neoconcretism—as well as to alternative modernisms that fall outside the canon, including so-called “outsider” art, queer modernisms, and modernisms in India and Japan. In the spring, we will explore a sea-change that began in the 1950s as artists tested modernist categories of painting and sculpture; incorporated new technologies such as television and video into their art; and questioned patriarchal hierarchies through protest, activism, and audience participation. Our main focus will be art from 1960 to 2000, including Gutai, Happenings, Pop Art, Fluxus, Minimalism, Global Conceptual Art, Site-Specificity, Earthworks, the Chicano Arts Movement, the Black Arts Movement, Feminism, Video Art, Institutional Critique, Installation, Activist Art, Participatory Art, Relational Aesthetics, Craft, and New Media, with less attention paid to art since 2000. Throughout, we will focus on specific artworks and gain a vocabulary for close looking, while also attending to primary sources (manifestos, letters, statements, poems) and secondary, art historical and theoretical accounts. Assignments will include papers and reviews (based on works in New York City collections), weekly worksheets, peer reviews, presentations, reading responses, a contextual research essay, and a Wikipedia editing assignment. This course is a lecture-seminar hybrid. One lecture a week will be presented to introduce you to the broader movements. Weekly group conferences will look at case studies of artists responding to a dominant modernism, as well as methodological debates about decentering the canon.

Faculty

Queer(ing) India: Literature, Film, and Law

Open, Seminar—Fall

What is a queer perspective on culture and society? This course aims to provide an introductory survey to queer narratives and cultural production from India and the Indian diaspora as a way to think through this question. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century to the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, political and cultural manifestos, postcolonial novels, and contemporary films. In 2018, the Supreme Court of India finally struck down from the Indian Penal Code Section 377, a colonial-era law used to criminalize homosexuality and other “unnatural” sex acts, after more than a decade of legal battles. The fight for legal rights was accompanied by growing queer representation in popular culture and literature. The supposed “coming out” of queerness into Indian social and cultural life in the last 10 years, the demand to be seen and heard, has been critiqued by some as a by-product of “Westernization” or the influence of “foreign-returned” elites inspired by the Euro-American LGBTQ movement. This has brought with it the need to understand the diversity of queer India as well as the diaspora. In the case of the diaspora, we will work to de-center the Euro-American diaspora, paying attention to long histories of migration to the African continent and indentured labor in the Caribbean and the Pacific as sites for possible South-South solidarities. Taking seriously questions of race, caste, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures might be and what it might reveal. Thinking through the ways in which experiences of gender and sexuality were iterated and experienced across times and spaces will help us think through the specifics of each text (and its contexts) while also following threads and connections beyond. By considering these questions, this course hopes to think through the contradictory realities of a moment in India during which major Bollywood studios are producing gay dramas and even rom-coms, while questions of sexuality, gender, class, caste, and religious identity are being violently weaponized by mobs with seeming impunity granted by a Hindu-nationalist state. Students will engage with a diverse set of cultural, political, and legal artifacts—such as the writings of “founding fathers” like Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar—as well as legal briefs opposing the punitive Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which further stigmatizes non-normative gender identities by requiring transgender people to register with the government. We will read fiction, old and new, such as Untouchable (1935), The God of Small Things (1997), and A Life Apart (2016), as well as watch movies ranging from indie films like Chitrangada (2012) to Bollywood rom-coms like Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan (2020).

Faculty

Global Queer Literature: Dystopias and Hope

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this seminar, we will study queer texts and films, considering their particular articulations of queer life and its possibilities. Texts will cover a large swath of time, from the early 20th century until the present, and will range across genres such as speculative feminist fiction, first-nations narratives, postcolonial novels, and contemporary Bollywood films. We will end the course by looking at science fiction that explores life in spaces that some consider dystopian futures but are already becoming the present for many. As this arc indicates, an underlying theme of the course will be the maintaining of the creativity and vitality of everyday life while drowning in literal and discursive trash. Across the globe, queer lives have already been lived in materially and discursively toxic contexts. Engaging with text and films produced across the world—set in places such as South Africa, India, Argentina, and even galaxies yet undiscovered—we will think through the lessons that the creation of a queer life illuminate for us. Queer life within the context of this seminar refers to the multifarious ways in which marginalized and non-normative bodies and peoples create social and political lives. Carefully considering the contexts and possibilities that the characters encounter, we will explore how “queer” is a term that translates and mutates in interesting ways across time and place. In paying attention to the specificities of the texts, “queer” itself is thus a term that we will reckon with. Taking seriously questions of race, class, nationality, and gender, we will consider what a queer orientation to those hegemonic structures produces or reveals—not only in past literary texts but also as a way of imagining a hopeful future. As we encounter air and water that is more polluted, toxic even, than at any time in which homo sapiens have walked the Earth, the only response may seem to be pessimism. Rejecting pessimism, we will ask what queer futures and hope we can imagine at a moment of planetary crisis. Potential texts: Sultana’s Dream, Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1905); Lihaaf, Ismat Chugtai (1942); The House of Hunger, Dambudzo Marechera (1978); The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi (1990); Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999); Bloodchild, Octavia Butler (1994); Animal’s People, Indra Sinha (2007); Moxyland, Lauren Beukes (2008); The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, Arundhati Roy (2017); Happy Together (film, 1997); Margarita With a Straw (film, 2014); and Pumzi (film, 2009).

Faculty

Live Time-Based Art

Component—Year

In this class, graduates and upper-class undergraduates with a special interest and experience in the creation of time-based artworks that include live performance will design and direct individual projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and discuss relevant artistic and practical problems, both in class on Tuesday evenings and in conferences taking place on Thursday afternoons. Attributes of the work across multiple disciplines of artistic endeavor will be discussed as integral and interdependent elements in the work. Participation in mentored, critical-response feedback sessions with your peers is a key aspect of the course. The engagement with the medium of time in live performance, the constraints of presentation of the works both in works-in-progress and in a shared program of events, and the need to respect the classroom and presentation space of the dance studio will be the constraints imposed on the students’ artistic proposals. Students working within any number of live performance traditions are as welcome in this course as those seeking to transgress orthodox conventions. While all of the works will engage in some way with embodied action, student proposals need not fall neatly into a traditional notion of what constitutes dance. The cultivation of open discourse across traditional disciplinary artistic boundaries, both in the process of developing the works and in the context of presentation to the public, is a central goal of the course. The faculty members leading this course have roots in dance practice but also have practiced expansive definitions of dance within their own creative work. This course will culminate in performances of the works toward the end of the semester in a shared program with all enrolled students and within the context of winter and spring time-based art events. Performances of the works will take place in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Theatre or elsewhere on campus in the case of site-specific work.

Contemporary Moving-Image Art

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course highlights the work of a single contemporary artist each week, providing masterclasses and conversations with them both in person and in virtual space. The highlighted artists’ work will cover a range of visual forms, including feature films, video art, internet art, installation art, virtual reality, and video games. The themes explored in the works presented will provide a broad view of political representation, formal experimentation, and personal expression. Through weekly visiting-artist lectures, we will explore the history of the moving image; discuss its impact on broader cultural issues; and analyze the power of this art form as a tool for self expression, a platform for worldbuilding, and an agent of social change. Conferences will be dedicated to discussing the work in small groups, considering it within the field of contemporary moving-image art. Students are expected to make connections between the work presented in class and current issues through weekly written responses.

Faculty

Not for Children: Alternative Animation, 1960–present

Open, Large seminar—Spring

This seminar course will take the form of a screening and discussion seminar, designed to provide an overview of auteur animation based on alternative writing and the relationship of form and style to content. We will examine various forms of animated films produced between 1960 and the present, with some time spent on the history and cultural crosscurrents within which this work was produced. The class will survey a wide range of work from a diverse selection of artists, including Oscar Fischinger, Lotte Reiniger, Renske Mijnheer, Stacey Steers, Karen Yasinsky, Adam Beckett, Christine Panushka, Chris Sullivan, William Kindridge, Lius Cook, and many more. The focus of the class is on animated film forms alternative to commercial animation; hand-drawn, cell-painted, cutout, stop motion, pixilated, puppet, and, more recently, CGI independents. In most cases, artists retaining control of their own work—unlike the battery of decision makers in commercial studio systems—will be the guiding factor in selecting work for review. As a class, we will look for aesthetic consequences and structural differences within the auteur system vs. an animation studio’s divisions of labor. All students are expected to fully participate in discussions during class meetings. Animation production will not be taught in this class; however, creative conference projects in studio arts, writing, media, and performing arts will be encouraged. Students will be expected to conduct research outside of class; to deliver a class presentation on an area of personal interest related to the social, political, and art movements in the experimental animation genre; and to complete a conference project or paper.

Faculty

Experimental Animation: Materials and Methods

Open, Seminar—Fall

Animation is the magic of giving life to objects and materials through motion. Whether through linear storytelling or conceptual drive, a sense of wonder is achieved with materials, movement, and transformation. Combining digital processes with handmade techniques, this class helps students hone their design skills to create short works that communicate through simplicity. The emphasis of the class is on process and concept, starting with a series of workshops intended to enhance student's skills in idea generation, concept development, and material animation techniques. The class includes instruction in a variety of undercamera, stop-motion processes, including: cut-out paper animation, sequential drawing, sand, after-effects motion graphics, simple object animation, and green-screen performance for stop motion. All aspects of progressive movement are covered, especially the laying out of ideas through time and the establishment of convincing motion. The course includes instruction in basic design techniques, material manipulation, movement and timing, color, and concept development. A brief foundational study of the history of experimental animation is introduced through viewing animated film work of artists from around the globe. During the semester, each student completes five short animated films, ranging in length from 30 seconds to two minutes. Students are required to provide their own external media hard drive and to purchase some additional art materials. Software instruction includes AfterEffects, Adobe Premier, and Dragonframe. The aim of this course is to explore freely with materials in order to trailblaze fresh narrative and aesthetic possibilities in animation. Final projects may be executed as animated or hybrid films or as animated video projections for installation or performance. Collaborations with music, dance, or theatre students can be established at the incentive of individual class participants.

Faculty

2D Digital Animation: Short Narratives

Open, Seminar—Year

In this class, students will develop animation and storytelling skills by focusing on the process of creating animated short films. Participants will develop and refine their personal style through exercises in story design and assignments directed at translating ideas into moving images. Digitally-drawn images (with the option to include live action and photographs) will be assembled in sync to sound. Compositing exercises cover a wide range of motion-graphic features, including green screen, keyframing, timeline, effects, 2D space, layering, and lighting. Exercises in the fall will provide students with a working knowledge of the software Harmony by Toon Boon. The fall semester, taught by Robin Starbuck, includes instruction exercises in all of the production steps required to produce a short, animated film of one-to-three minutes. These include the basic principles of animation, color and visual design, story development, continuity, motion, timing, frame-by-frame digital drawing, and rotoscoping. The spring semester, taught by Scott Duce, will involve the hands-on production of a single, short, animated film or PSA by each student. The Toon Boom software will be used for the students’ animated film production in the spring. Harmony is a creative, efficient software used in the film and TV animation industry. No prior drawing experience is necessary.

Faculty

Storyboarding for Film and Animation

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course focuses on the art of storyboard construction as the preproduction stage and previsualization for graphics, film/video, and animation. Students will be introduced to storyboard strategies, exploring visual concepts such as shot types, continuity, pacing, transitions, and sequencing into visual communication. Both classical and experimental techniques for creating storyboards will be covered. Emphasis will be placed on production of storyboard drawings, both by hand and digitally, to negotiate sequential image development and to establish shot-by-shot progression, staging, frame composition, editing, and continuity in film and other media. Instruction will concentrate primarily on drawing from thumbnail sketches through final presentation storyboards and animatics. The final project for this class will be the production by each student of a full presentation storyboard and a low-res animatic in a combined visual, audio, and text presentation format. Knowledge of storyboards and animatics from this class can be used for idea development and presentation of your project to collaborators, for pitching projects, to professional agencies, and—most importantly—for you, the maker. Storyboard Pro software will be used throughout this course.

Faculty

Radical Strategies: Experimental Documentary

Open, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we examine the experimental documentary form as political/social/personal discourse and practice. We take as a starting point avant-garde documentary production and explore this in the manner that theorist Renov defines as “the rigorous investigation of aesthetic forms, their composition and functionm,” and in which, “poetics confront the problematics of power...” Throughout the semester, students will produce a series of experimental film exercises while simultaneously researching and producing a single, short, experimental documentary film for conference work. This class acquaints students with the basic theory and purpose of experimental film/video, as compared to narrative documentary formats. Instruction will include critical methodologies that will help establish aesthetic designs for a student’s own work. In the class, we will survey a wide range of avant-garde documentary films from the 1920s to the present, with the central focus being student’s options for film production in the context of political and cultural significance. The various practices inherent in experimental documentary film speak to a range of possibilities for what a movie might be. Within these practices, issues such as whose voices are heard and who is represented become of crucial Importance.

Faculty

Documentary Filmmaking: The Personal Is Political I

Open, Seminar—Fall

In this documentary course, students will locate themselves in larger movements for change in order to produce a three-to-five minute film. The projects may be grounded in portraiture, historically informed, and even the experimental and will exist through a lens of social change and personal experience. Students will work in teams to produce their films, building trust among each other as collaborators and practicing filmmaking as essentially interdependent creative work. Students will be required to make their work public and create social-engagement strategies for their final films. Given these unprecedented times—as we are presented with new opportunities to shift our understanding of self, community, and the roles that we can play in pursuing a just future—this course is for those who are committed to using filmmaking as a tool for change. This semester-long collaboration is equal parts media creation, screenings, and an understanding of the power of artists in movements for justice.

Faculty

Propaganda and Mass Communications in Modern History

Intermediate, Large seminar—Spring

This seminar provides an interdisciplinary analysis of the phenomenon of propaganda and mass communications within modern society. How does propaganda “work”? How should we characterize the individuals and institutions that shape and disseminate it? What are the specific languages and visual symbols that propagandists have typically used to persuade and communicate with mass audiences? How have both “democratic” and “authoritarian” societies sought to generate consent? And how, in turn, have individuals and social groups drawn the line between what is truth and what is propaganda? Although the manipulation of information for political ends has been intrinsic to human societies across history, this course focuses on the so-called “axial age of propaganda,” beginning with World War I, which saw the emergence of tightly organized, large-scale, government-sponsored propaganda efforts across Europe and the United States. This course will utilize a variety of case studies to explore the symbolic content of specific kinds of propaganda and the institutional milieux that produce it, paying attention to propaganda that seeks both to overthrow social structures and to maintain them. We will place special emphasis on the interwar period, when—amid the onset of totalitarian regimes in Europe—the very nature of “public opinion” and mass society were hotly debated by intellectuals and interpretive experts. The course will also closely investigate the emergence of mass communications “experts” during World War II and trace their role in shaping social-science research throughout the Cold War. Finally, the course will consider the ubiquity of propaganda in contemporary society, focusing on the role of image-making professionals working in the spheres of political campaigning, advertising, and public relations.

Faculty

Beginning Italian: Viaggio in Italia

Open, Seminar—Year

This course, for students with no previous knowledge of Italian, aims at giving the student a complete foundation in the Italian language with particular attention to oral and written communication and all aspects of Italian culture. The course will be conducted in Italian after the first month and will involve the study of all basic structures of the language—phonological, grammatical, and syntactical—with practice in conversation, reading, composition, and translation. In addition to material covering basic Italian grammar, students will be exposed to fiction, poetry, songs, articles, recipe books, and films. Group conferences (held once a week) aim at enriching the students’ knowledge of Italian culture and developing their ability to communicate. This will be achieved by readings that deal with current events and topics relative to today’s Italian culture. Activities in pairs or groups, along with short written assignments, will be part of the group conference. In addition to class and group conferences, the course has a conversation component in regular workshops with the language assistant. Conversation classes are held twice a week (in small groups) and will center on the concept of viaggio in Italia: a journey through the regions of Italy through cuisine, cinema, art, opera, and dialects. The Italian program organizes trips to the Metropolitan Opera and relevant exhibits in New York City, as well as offering the possibility of experiencing Italian cuisine firsthand as a group. The course is for a full year, by the end of which students will attain a basic competence in all aspects of the language.

Faculty

Intermediate Italian: Modern Italian Culture and Literature

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

This course aims at improving and perfecting the students’ speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills, as well as their knowledge of Italy’s contemporary culture and literature. In order to acquire the necessary knowledge of Italian grammar, idiomatic expressions, and vocabulary, a review of all grammar will be carried out throughout the year. As an introduction to modern Italian culture and literature, students will be introduced to a selection of short stories, poems, and passages from novels, as well as specific newspaper articles, music, and films in the original language. Some of the literary works will include selections from Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, Natalia Ginzburg, Gianni Rodari, Marcello D’Orta, Clara Sereni, Dino Buzzati, Stefano Benni, Antonio Tabucchi, Alberto Moravia, Achille Campanile, and Elena Ferrante. In order to address the students’ writing skills, written compositions will be required as an integral part of the course. All material is accessible on MySLC. Conferences are held on a biweekly basis; topics might include the study of a particular author, literary text, film, or any other aspect of Italian society and culture that might be of interest to the student. Conversation classes (in small groups) will be held twice a week with the language assistant, during which students will have the opportunity to reinforce what they have learned in class and hone their ability to communicate in Italian. When appropriate, students will be directed to specific internship opportunities in the New York City area, centered on Italian language and culture.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Text and Theatre

FYS—Year

This course explores the relation between the play as written text and the play as a staged event. More than any other literary form, drama depends upon a specific place and time—a theatre and its audience—for its realization. The words of a play are the fossils of a cultural experience; they provide the decipherable means by which we can reconstruct approximations of the living past. With this goal in mind, we will read and examine texts from Ancient Greece to contemporary New York (with many stops in between) in an attempt to understand the range of dramatic possibility and the human challenge of making theatre. This course will have weekly conferences for the first six weeks and biweekly conferences thereafter.

Faculty

Plundered: Tales of Extractivism and Resistance

Open, Small Lecture—Spring

First, it was gold. Then, it was silver, sugar, oil...bananas, avocados. Taking as its point of departure Eduardo Galeano’s foundational study, The Open Veins of Latin America, this course will explore the centuries-long history of plunder—and resistance—in Abya Yala through fiction and nonfiction, feature films, and documentaries. We will look at some of the most pressing environmental and social-justice issues in the region—including deforestation, industrial pollution, and access to water—with an eye toward the relationship between activism and artistic expression. Our contextualized readings and viewings will include public statements and creative works from land defenders; Pablo Neruda’s condemnation of neoimperialism in his poem, The United Fruit Company; Samanta Schweblin’s gothic novel about the horrors of agrochemicals; a narrative film set against the successful uprising against water privatization in Bolivia; and frontline journalism. This course will focus on the lands colonized by Spain and Portugal and the intersecting forms of neocolonial violence to which they continue to be subjected but will not lose sight of the resonances between these histories and those that took, and are taking, place across the continent. This interactive small lecture will fully participate in the collaborative interludes and other programs of the Sarah Lawrence Interdisciplinary Collaborative on the Environment (SLICE) Mellon course cluster.

Faculty

Acting Up: Theatre and Theatricality in the Long-Running 18th Century

Open, Large seminar—Year

From soap operas to sketch comedy, drag shows to musical theatre, Restoration and 18th-century Britain helped to shape the modern conventions of dramatic art and popular entertainment. The period also introduced an early form of celebrity culture, thanks in part to the rise of England’s first professional female actors and the reign of a king, Charles II, who loved theatre and all-too-public extramarital sex. At the same time, the increasing prominence of drama raised unsettling questions about the nature of performance, not only as a form of artistic practice but also as an element of social and political life. What if, for instance, our putatively God-given identities (king and subject, wife and husband) were merely factitious roles that we could adopt or discard at will? This seminar considers how authors and theatrical professionals from the 1660s to the 1820s imagined the potential of performance to transform—or sometimes to reinforce—the status quo, with a look ahead to plays and films that have inherited and adapted the legacy of 18th-century entertainments, as well as backward to the Renaissance drama that paved the way for Restoration stagecraft. Our emphasis will be on plays, with a survey of major Restoration and 18th-century comedies (some of the funniest ever written), parodies, afterpieces, heroic tragedies, imperial pageants, sentimental dramas, and Gothic spectacles by authors such as William Wycherley, George Etherege, John Dryden, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, John Gay, Henry Fielding, Elizabeth Inchbald, Pierre Beaumarchais, and Georg Büchner. We will also consider nondramatic writing on performance and theatrical culture, including 18th-century acting manuals, racy theatrical memoirs, and a “masquerade novel” by Eliza Haywood, as well as earlier plays by the likes of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. More contemporary playwrights and filmmakers under consideration may include Bertolt Brecht, Jean Genet, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Edward Albee, and Jeremy O. Harris. This is a large seminar, with group conferences that include assigned reading.

Faculty

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

Open, Seminar—Fall

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

Faculty

Philosophy Through Film

Open, Lecture—Spring

You care about movies (I presume). Why do you care about movies? Because they entertain you? Because they are beautiful? Because they are informative? Because they make you feel things? The guiding thought of this class is that we care about movies because they participate in the practice of philosophy (or at least they have that potential). Of course, this also presumes that we care about philosophy (a claim that will take some time to defend). To test that hypothesis—that films have the potential to participate in the practice of philosophy—we first need to consider what the practice of philosophy is. Then, we will need to say something about what film is. And then, we can examine whether film can do philosophy. In the first part of the course, we will analyze the medium of film in order to clarify the characteristics of it that would allow it to be philosophical. In the second part of the class, we will explore how those characteristics of film contribute to how we think philosophically about our lives. In particular, we will explore problems pertaining to subjectivity (What it is to be a human being?) and to ethics (How do I know the right thing to do?). Each week we will watch a film (including Jeanne Dielman, Psycho, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Get Out, and Spring Breakers) and read a philosophical text (including Aristotle, Cavell, Merleau-Ponty, Parfit, and Adorno) with the aim of placing the two in conversation.

Faculty

Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art

Open, Seminar—Fall

Art seems to be an inextricable part of human life. The question that guides this class is seemingly simple: What is art? As will soon become clear, answering this question proves to be exceedingly difficult; for example: Are trees works of art? Is an iPhone a work of art? Is a movie a work of art? Are all movies works of art? Is a doodle in your notebook a work of art? It may turn out that no definitive answer to our guiding question is possible; however, without demarcating between what counts as art and what doesn’t, art refers to everything and, consequently, to nothing special. This class investigates how works of art become meaningful. The narrative of the class traces the different frameworks used by philosophers over the last 2,500 years to pursue this question. We will follow a historical narrative, learning how these frameworks have responded both to each other and to the artworks of their time. We will read texts by Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Danto, Benjamin, and others, as well as analyze artworks from Sophocles, William Shakespeare, Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, John Cage, Kara Walker, Jordan Peele, and many others. At the end of the semester, our aim will be to articulate what is so special about art and why we care about it.

Faculty

Psychocinematics: Film, Psychology, and Neuroscience

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Why are movies so compelling to us? When you think about it, it is odd to spend so much time sitting still in a chair, in the dark, staring at a flat screen and watching flickering light without the possibility of interacting with the depicted characters or affecting their actions in any way. Philosophers argue that movies tap into our dream mechanisms. Psychologist Ed Tan calls films “emotion machines.” Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks claims that movies hijack evolutionary mechanisms of mind that evolved for other purposes. In this perceptual psychology course, our focus will be on how study of fundamental faculties of mind and body—perception, attention, emotion, and memory—can inform our experience of viewing and, perhaps, making movies. Switching our point of view, we will also investigate how the study of film can advance our understanding of the workings of perception, attention, emotion, and memory. We will watch some films together and discuss clips from many others that you select and present to the seminar group. This is a good course for people who are interested in interdisciplinary work that integrates artistic and scientific approaches to the material at hand. The course format is a small lecture (30 people), with one lecture and one small seminar (10 people) every week.

Faculty

Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways that individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through literature, film, music, and visual art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Sara Gómez, Samanta Schweblin, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia García La Novia Sirena, and many more. We will also study the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation-state. An important aspect of this course will involve following activist movements in real time and working with social-justice initiatives in Yonkers and its surroundings. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

Faculty

Words and Pictures

Open, Seminar—Fall

This is a course with writing at its center and other arts—mainly, but not exclusively, visual—around it. We will read all kinds of narratives, children’s books, folk tales, fairy tales, graphic novels...and try our hand at many of them. Class reading will include everything from ancient Egyptian love poems to contemporary Latin American literature. For conference work, students have created graphic novels, animations, quilts, a scientifically accurate fantasy involving bugs, rock operas, items of clothing with text attached, nonfiction narratives, and dystopian fictions with pictures. There will be weekly assignments that involve making something. This course is especially suited to students with an interest in another art or a body of knowledge that they’d like to make accessible to nonspecialists.

Faculty

Writing About the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

This class will examine and produce a range of work from the journalistic to the critical, from the practical to the mystical, in the vast landscape of arts writing. We will write liner notes, catalogue copy for gallery shows, short reviews, long reviews, critical essays, and deep and subjective interior meditations on our experience of artists and their work. We will read broadly across time—possibly including, but not limited to, Samuel Johnson on Richard Savage, Wordsworth and Coleridge on themselves, Nietzsche on Wagner, Adorno (via Thomas Mann) on Opus 111, V. S. Naipaul on Flaubert, Amiri Baraka on Billie Holiday, Virginia Woolf on Thomas Hardy, Thomas De Quincey on Shakespeare, James Baldwin on Richard Wright, Glenn Gould on Barbra Streisand, Mark Strand on Edward Hopper, Jean-Luc Godard on Nicholas Ray, Pauline Kael on Sam Peckinpah. Students should feel confident in their familiarity with one or two art forms, broadly understood, and should expect, along with the reading, to write several small and two larger (7-12 pages) pieces. Conference work will comprise research projects on those artists or works of art, or both, that class members, in consultation with the instructor, decide are their special province.

Faculty