Fall 2017 Liberal Studies Core Program Course Descriptions

Please note that course descriptions are for reference only and are subject to change.

Advanced Writing Studio and Creative Writing

Cultural Foundations I

Cultural Foundations III


Environmental Studies

Global Cultures

History of the Universe

Life Science

Science of Technology

Social Foundations I

Social Foundations III

Writing I

Writing II

Advanced Writing Studio and Creative Writing

Chris Packard

Advanced Writing Studio: International Shorts

Students in this course will examine short works (stories, essays, poems, films) in their historical and material contexts.  Students will also produce their own short works (stories, essays, poems, film scripts) and will seek publication or other appropriate public venues for them. What can be read in one sitting, looked at in a glance, or absorbed during a lunchbreak differs from longer works in form, obviously, but does it also differ in lastingness? Does shorter mean more ephemeral?  Magazines, not books, feature them; film festivals, not mainline cinema distributors, feature them. They are collected and bound together, rarely standing alone on a bookshelf or in a DVD case.  In formal citations, they get jailed in quotation marks, not emphasized in italics.  By design and distribution, shorts don’t live long, yet regions claim them as expressions of fixed national identities in a given moment of time, and literary histories elevate them to gems of an epoch. What correlations can be made between regional expressions of a local culture and international forms of compressed writing and short-duration films?  How has web publishing and streaming video changed the marketplace for short pieces of writing and film?

Tamuira Reid

Creative Writing: Global Voices

Susanna Horng

Creative Writing: Places

Cultural Foundations I

John Barna

The Heroic in the Ancient World

This course will focus on the roots and nature of our global culture, in its ancient background as seen in  literary classics and art. Emphasis is placed on the theme of the heroic as exemplified in both literature and images in ancient art. .Epics of Gilgamesh, Homer and Virgil will be followed by the tragic drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles among others.

Kathy Bishop

The Ancient World – East and West 

We shall examine some of the major works of the Eastern and Western ancient world – literary and religious as well as architectural, and visual. Students will develop a familiarity with the conventions of lyric, epic, and drama. Through reading, discussion, and critical writing, students will discover some of the great works of world civilization – material valuable not only in itself but as a frame of reference for the study of later works of art/literature/music which rely heavily on these Classical models. Particular attention will be paid to exploring why these great works are still relevant today and why they matter. Some of the books we will read include the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Ramayana, and the Bhagavad Gita.

Liora Brosh

Death, Divinity and Power in the Cultures of the Ancient World

This course surveys the literature, music, and art of diverse ancient civilizations. It focuses on how ideas about death, divinity, and power shaped life and art in the Near East, Egypt, Greece and India. How did beliefs about death shape what writers saw as the purpose and meaning of life? Why did Greek art emphasize life while Egyptian art served the dead?  Why are gods and kings, who hold power over the living, seen as tragically flawed by one people yet as perfect by another?  We will gain insight into ancient views about the nature of civilized life under the shadow of imperfect rulers, powerful gods, and an inevitable death. The arts of antiquity will be studied in a cross cultural context by reading texts as diverse as The Ramayana, Gilgamesh, the Hebrew bible, and Homer’s The Odyssey as well as by viewing sculpture, architecture, and painting.

Lindsay Davies

Ancient Human Ecologies
A human ecological approach to past cultures is the investigation of the relations between humans and their environments: natural, built, and social. Human's are both products of and produce the worlds in which they live.  That dynamic exchange, as cultures form and develop in the early stages of human history, will be our concern. Amongst other things, we will 1. explore the human exploitation of natural resources in building communities and cities; 2. examine the interaction between humans and animals as represented in literature and art; and 3. consider how the human imagination is fueled by the natural world. In addition to studying works of art and cultural artifacts, we will read works of literature from a range of ancient societies, including the Near East, Egypt, China, India, Greece, and Rome.

Michael Gillespie

Crossing Cultures: Translating the Ancient World

It is no overstatement to say that we possess civilization because we have learnt to translate out of time.

—George Steiner, “Understanding as Translation,” After Babel

Cultural Foundations I examines human literary and artistic expression from its origins through the end of antiquity, roughly the 7th century ACE. In the course, we will explore a host of ancient cultures, from theNear Eastern to Egyptian to Chinese to Indian to Greek and Roman to early Christian.

But what occurs in the moment that we encounter these cultures? What does it mean to “cross cultures” and what happens when we cross from one culture to another? This course foregrounds the concept of translation—as both a literal transfer, or “carrying across,” of meaning and as a metaphor for understanding.

We will analyze various symbolic sets—systems of belief, values, conventions, narratives—and how they are represented—in different languages, cultures, times, and media (literature, art, and film). We will learn to read these cultural expressions, pondering what happens when we in the contemporary world encounter the past. The course is global in scope, and we will explore connections among various parts of the ancient world that can help us better comprehend our own modern experience. To this end, we will supplement the historical texts that we will read and discuss with more contemporary reflections on similar themes, helping to open up the historical texts even further and to demonstrate certain continuities and discontinuities.

Molly Martin

Ancient Foundations for the Modern World

Ancient Foundations for the Modern World is offered on the premise that no bright lines trace static borders around the life span of a work of literature. Indeed, works of literature are unforeseeably revisable, and infinitely adaptable. How was one to know that Homer’s Odyssey would be brought into the twentieth century by James Joyce’s Ulysses, or into the year 2000 by the Coen brothers in their modern film adaptation of the epic O, Brother, Where Art Thou? We can never predict when the cultural past will be brought into the present, for what purposes, or what transformations will take place in this process. We can, however, establish a critical awareness of how world literature is not something that is finished; it is perpetually transformed and rewritten. We can explore how a literary work establishes a dialogue between the past, the present, and even the future. And we can come to understand how each time a text re-emerges onto the cultural landscape, it is at once the same and something new. By way of example, we will study iconic literary works from the distant past, and we will examine how these works live on by way of modern adaptation and reinterpretation by the modern creative world. One overriding goal of this course is to establish a keen understanding of how literary works from the ancient world can belong to multiple cultural eras, while we will also learn how to think critically about the social and political contexts through which ancient works reappear in the modern cultural world. This course is a seminar; your active participation in class discussion is welcome and expected.

David Larsen

Imitations of Life

Animals whose behavior is incompletely ruled by “species memory” create models for themselves using external media such as sculpture, painting and, above all, language. In this class we will explore the media and models of ancient societies whose artists struggled to articulate human beings’ place in the world, their vulnerability to fate, and their duties and actions toward each other. Although our texts come mainly from West Asia, our geographic focus has no center, and we will be concerned with relationships between ancient cultures as much as with culture itself.

Nancy Reale

Duty, Death, and Devotion

We will examine ancient literary, visual, and architectural texts that have exerted global cultural influences and provided aesthetic pleasure, investigating how and why these texts served such functions in the past and what their value is for the present.  Through close critical analysis, we will consider the roles of the arts in the ancient world and what they have come to mean for modernity.  We will concentrate on the epic as a literary vehicle for encoding social and religious traditions and values, interrogating how this form was developed and utilized and why its primacy was challenged by other literary forms.  We will engage various ancient modes of apprehending the nature of the cosmos and divinity, and we will explore how the arts facilitated personal introspection and expression.   We will examine different literary and visual texts by considering these topics: heroes and kings, community, individual voices, and gods incarnate.  Among our readings: the Ramayana, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Aeneid; selections from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ashvaghosha, and the Samyutta Nikaya.

Martin Reichert

Religious Space and Violence

This course has a thematic slant: we will examine religious space and violence in literature (e.g., Genesis, Gilgamesh, Iliad, Bhagavad Gita, Jataka Tales, Gospel of Mark), art/architecture (ziggurat, temple, stupa, Parthenon), and dance from antiquity.  Our approach will be interdisciplinary (via anthropology, psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy) and filtered through various theoretical lenses (Nietzsche, Freud, Eliade, Girard, and others).  You might want to consider a different section of this course if you: think religion is not a topic that ought to be discussed in polite company, or to be examined as an intellectual subject; are squeamish about graphic representations of human or animal sacrifice; have an aversion to reading (there's a reading assignment due on the first day of classes), writing, research, and public speaking.

Anthony Reynolds

The Art of (Early) Globalization

Though we may associate globalization with what Gilles Deleuze calls the recent global integration of our capital markets, the word itself suggests a process of “world making,” as Jean-Luc Nancy reminds us, that is as old as human culture itself. In Cultural Foundations I we consider the role of the arts in the emergence and development of early cultures around the world. We consider the ways in which early cultures developed and practiced the arts as primitive intellectual tools – as a means by which to project form and meaning onto the world. We consider the ways in which our earliest images, stories and poems are gradually formalized and consolidated over countless generations until “the story becomes a social heritage and possession. We consider the arts as the source of our early structures of belief (myth and religion) and of our later institutions of knowledge and inquiry (philosophy and science). In short, we consider the various ways the arts have contributed to the early processes of world making that have shaped our cultures, our institutions and our consciousness from prehistory through antiquity.

Joseph Salemi

Introduction to the Humanities via the Ancient World

This course will consider a selection of major literary works and artworks from the earliest Babylonian era up to the end of the Roman Empire and a bit beyond.  It will focus on the particular differences that exist in the political, social, religious, and cultural assumptions of ancient societies, and our common contemporary assumptions.

The course will be objective in its approach and treatment of all assigned material, and will therefore be primarily a lecture class with ample opportunity for questions and discussion at all times.  However, due to the wide range of source material to be dealt with, open-ended discussions of an extended and subjective nature are not possible.  Tests will be objective—that is, based on recalled knowledge of specific material covered in the lectures, and on directed student essays written in standard English.  For this reason, reactive or opinion-based or reader-response approaches will be insufficient for attaining a satisfactory grade.

Out-of-class essay assignments will be carefully directed by means of a checklist, so as to guarantee a very close examination of the required subjects.  Possible essay titles will be discussed in detail, in order to assure a specific focus in a student’s assignment rather than vagueness or over-generalization.  Every student out-of-class essay must adhere to a certain fixed format of length, style, and presentation.  Student writing is expected to be of a scholarly and objective nature, and meticulously done before submission to the professor for a one-time-only grading.

Joan Varnum

Quests, Queries, Art, and Adventure: Portraying the Dynamics of Change in the Ancient World

What sparks the human desire to venture into unknown parts of the world? Is it to find a lost love, to flee a natural disaster, to fight a war, or to answer a divine call? Whether prompted by choice or necessity, humans have encountered catalysts of change since antiquity, and have expressed these experiences through a variety of media. In this course, we’ll study and interpret how masterworks of the Ancient World from the Near East, Egypt, China, India, Greece, and the Roman Empire portray change.

Our learning process will be active and collaborative. Your class participation will be vital. Each of you will participate in the interactive “Reacting to the Past” game Byzantine Iconoclasm, 726-843, a contest of ideas that centers on the issue of whether the divine should be portrayed, and, if so, how. You will visit the Met Museum in connection with the game.

Kyle Wanberg

Love and Death in the Ancient World

When we think of the ancient world we usually think of great epics with stories of heros, gods, and goddesses. The legends of their great loves and deaths have come down to us through the ages, and there is much of aesthetic, cultural, and critical value we can gain from exploring them. But this course questions whether it is also possible to explore within these works the residues of otherness and fantasies of security that accompany them. In other words, how are the social and political worlds fashioned by opposing themselves to some outside, some other? We will investigate the ideas of love and death from different ancient perspectives, examining how communities are joined together through states of fantasy about primitive sociality and early experiences of sacrifice, the craft of politics, and metaphysical beliefs. These ideas, while we can find them reflected in the ancient world, also have important consequences for us today. This course places special emphasis on classical forms of thought, experience, and representation in the ancient world that are still part of our everyday modern existence and continue to influence the way we understand our own relationships to love, death, and alterity.

Cultural Foundations III

Brown, Pamela

Aesthetics, Alienation, Authenticity

This course will combine analytic reading of philosophical, critical and literary texts with a contextualizing study of artworks and performance pieces from the 18th Century to the present day in order to understand how cultural products animate and inform the discussion of what it means to be human.  Themes will include the nature and experience of beauty, alienation and familiarity, the adequacy of language, silence, and the existentialist quest for authenticity.  

 Texts will include selections from Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (aesthetic theory from the Western and Eastern traditions); selections from the prose and poetry of Wordsworth, Keats, and Baudelaire (Romanticism to Modern); essays by Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre (theories of alienation, language, and performance); short stories by Kafka, Márquez, and Cortázar from the absurdist and magic realist traditions (Modern to Postmodern); a play by Samuel Beckett and selections from novels by J.M. Coetzee, Zadie Smith, and Chimamanda Adichie (Postmodern to Contemporary).  

Christopher Packard

Selfies, a literary and visual history

This is a course in self-statements in print and visual cultures from various parts of the world (India, the

Americas, Europe) over the last 300 years, with a focus on early national identities and self-

representations during times of social change.  Artists and writers who produce representations of themselves hold a relationship to the “author” that other types of literature and art do not.  Do readers/viewers, too, find lessons that are more authentic than in other genres?   What forms work best in conveying selfhood:  print, portraits, sculpture, film, performance?  How do self-statements convey individual identity? social status? political affinities?  Expect to read Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Thoreau, Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Ghandi, and Ginsberg.  Among self-portrait artists to be studied are Rembrandt, van Gogh, Cassatt, Khalo, Husain, Warhol, and Mapplethorpe.  Filmmakers who turn the camera on themselves include Jean Rouch, Kenneth Anger, Marlon Riggs, and Bill Viola.  Students in this class will experiment with their own self-statements, along with research essays and

classroom presentations.

Anthony Reynolds

Global Arts at the End of Representation

The Cultural Foundations sequence traces the global history of mimesis. Having examined its birth and global consolidation in previous semesters, we now come to the final chapters in its history: 1. the collapse of representation over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Rousseau, Goethe, Keats, Delacroix) culminating in twentieth-century modernism (Woolf, Blanchot, Resnais, Duras); and 2. the return of representation in postmodernism (Borges, Rushdie) and postcolonialism (Said, Rushdie).

Kyle Wanberg

Outsiders in Art and Literature

What does it mean to be an outsider? What is his/her position vis-à-vis the norm? This course will focus on the artistic productions of iconoclasts, aliens, non-conformists, and “others.” We will investigate the figure of the outsider from post-Enlightenment perspectives, examining forms of alienation in the era of industrialization, colonization, and mass consumerism and in view of emerging constellations of race, gender, and class. Engaging with the artistic and intellectual movements of Romanticism, Modernism, Existentialism, and Postmodernism, we will develop an understanding of the complex figure of the outsider and the experience of alterity in each of these contexts. This course places a special emphasis on the collapse of traditional representation during the rise of modern imperialism with important consequences for how humans think and experience art. The course is designed to provide you with a critical perspective of the interconnections between the world, its boundaries, and its outsiders.

Shouleh Vatanabadi

Cross-Cultural Contact Zones

This course will examine a variety of cultural texts from the Enlightenment to the present with a special emphasis on the complex dynamics of global cultural encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans. Literary texts and critical writings as well as different forms of artistic expressions will be studied with particular attention to their social, cultural and historical contexts. Class readings will be arranged around such topics as exploration and discovery; imperial and Orientalist imaginaries; and colonial and postcolonial discourses. Class discussions will incorporate such issues as the intersections of race and gender, connections of power and knowledge, representations of the exotic other as well as the intertextualities and dialogisms articulated on the site of the cultural texts. The course, overall, aims to emphasize the significance of different geographies and histories of cross-cultural “contact zones” in constructing and shaping contemporary global cultures.


Ascension Mejorado

Principles of Macroeconomics

This course offers an analytical foundation to the most relevant principles of macroeconomics and their application to contemporary issues in the global economy. After a brief introduction to the production possibilities frontier and supply and demand analysis, major topics in macroeconomics will be examined including the difference between the Classical and the Keynesian schools regarding the causes of economic fluctuations and the role of the government in the economy. Economic growth, as well as the basic debates around inflation and unemployment will be extensively analyzed. The course will also explore the role of monetary and fiscal policies in preventing recessions and their effects on the macroeconomy. Finally, a general overview of trade balances and exchanges rates will follow. The usual macroeconomic topics will be expanded to explain recent events when appropriate.

Johann Jaeckel

Principles of Microeconomics

The course aims to provide students with a basic degree of economic literacy to better understand our current social system. The focus of this introduction lies with the analysis of supply and demand as a basis for microeconomic reasoning about production, consumption, the case for and against government intervention, and the relation between different factors of production and income distribution.

Economics is a technical discipline with its own specialized vocabulary and methodology; it is also a discourse where informed positions widely diverge. A major theme of the course is thus that economics is not simply a compendium of dry facts or bits of knowledge about the economy, but a set of tools and different perspectives that enable us to comprehend, interpret, and debate a range of social and historical questions. By the end of the semester, students will be able to better grasp as well as to analyze complex social problems from different perspectives.

The first part of the course familiarizes students with the scope and methods of economic reasoning, the role of the division of labor in productivity growth, and the interplay of supply and demand in markets. The second part focuses on the formulation and application of microeconomic tools of analysis, i.e., market equilibrium, externalities, and production costs.

The third part of the course investigates different market structures in terms of the level of competition, and the role of factor markets (labor, land, capital) with particular regard to their implications for the distribution of income (wages, rents, profits).

Environmental Studies

Global Cultures


Ifeona Fulani

An Introduction to African Cultures: Questions of Representation.

This course will introduce students to literature and film from Sub-Saharan Africa and, through our readings of the selected texts, to the social, cultural and political issues they reflect.  Our readings of fiction, non-fiction and films will be the starting point of our study of three main topics: (a) colonialism and the struggle of Africans for self-representation, (b) representations of contemporary socio-cultural developments and political conflicts and (c) contemporary issues of gender, sexuality and sexual politics. Throughout the course our discussions will also address two pervasive questions: how do African artists – writers and film-makers – effectively contest disparaging Western beliefs about, and portrayals of the continent? And how, if at all, do the texts we will consider negotiate differences between African and Western values?


Ifeona Fulani

Caribbean Cultures

Islands in the Caribbean archipelago have been variously characterized as paradisical, the sites of wealth-producing plantations, the ideal Spring Break destination, even as staging posts for narcotics traders. Caribbean landscapes function as metaphor, emblem, symbol, or even characters. Landscape – and geography - is implicated in the ways the identities
of Caribbean states have been influenced by an accumulation of images, cultivated primarily by non-Caribbean individuals and agencies, including Columbus’ journal entries, the documentation of European colonial governments and settlers, the brochures travel agents and the fantasies of tourists. Often in conflict with the fantasy projections of others, Caribbean peoples face the ongoing challenge of reclaiming their islands and building their societies, still haunted by histories of slavery and colonialism, while still subjected to multiple forms of commodification, consumption and economic domination. Based on readings from literature, history and cultural studies, this course takes an interdisciplinary, transnational approach to unpacking connections between the histories of slavery, indentureship and European colonialism and the Caribbean’s current realities of inequality, internally – in particular inequalities of race and gender - and in its economic relations with the West. Questions addressed include: How have the residual legacies of slavery and colonization facilitated consumption in and of the Caribbean?  And what cultural resources and strengths are deployed or lost to migration?


Jeannine Chandler

Change and Continuity in Chinese History

This course introduces East Asian cultures, focusing to a greater or lesser extent on China, Japan, and/or Korea. This semester we will focus on studying the dynamics of change and/in continuity in Chinese history, including the role of the West in this process in the modern era.  We will explore trends in Chinese thought and culture from the beginnings of Chinese civilization, and examine how these trends are transformed (or not) through time. While in the beginning the focus will be on early Chinese philosophies and religious traditions (Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Buddhism), the later part of the course will involve an analysis of modern Chinese political and economic policies (Mao’s China, Deng’s Reform Era). Emphasis will be on integrating the textual analyses of primary and secondary sources with the larger historical narrative.

Davida Chang

China -- Quest for Stability and Peace, Wealth and Power

Communism has existed in China only since 1949, and is not the sum total of Chinese ways for ethnic Chinese on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, or in the Chinese Diasporas within and beyond East Asia.  This class will focus largely on the ancient past, China’s Age of Antiquity (1100s to 200s BCE), and introduce students to some of the major works of Chinese traditional thought.  The intellectual and philosophical developments of this period influenced China’s later cultural and political evolution, and are important for understanding modern-day Chinese assumptions.   Moreover, the roots of Chinese tradition are also important for understanding the differences between Chinese and Western modes of thought as to the issues of good government, moral development, the individual’s place in society, and what it means to be human.


Patricio Navia

Latin American Cultures

This course provides students with a general view of Latin American and the Caribbean. We study the region’s history, culture, arts, society, economy and recent political developments. Prior knowledge of Latin America is not required. In fact, because of the diversity within the region, some students familiar with one country will learn plenty about other countries. Latin America and the Caribbean is a diverse region with a wealth of different cultures, societies, economies and political systems. By providing a historical overview of the region during the first weeks, the class will build on that foundation to quickly reach 20 th -century and 21 st -century Latin America. We will also discuss Latinos in the U.S. The focus is generally historical, sociological, political and economic, but culture and the arts are also widely discussed.

Luis Ramos

Latin American Cultures

It is often said that literature and politics are inextricably linked in Latin America. But how has literature helped shape political discourse in the region and how has politics, in turn, informed its literature and art? Drawing from a wide range of disciplines (literary criticism, history and political theory) and genres (poetry, fiction and the visual arts), in this course we will closely examine works that probe the boundary between politics and art under shifting historical conditions. We will begin by considering the origins of Latin American literature’s intimate relation to politics through works that recall the pre-colonial past or record indigenous rebellions against Spanish authorities. We will then turn to artists and writers who were instrumental in redefining the role of literature and art as revolutionary weapons or as instruments of nation-building in the independence era. Finally, we will examine works that probe the boundaries of the national body by casting a critical light on state violence in the twentieth-century. Among the leading questions that will inform class discussion: How has the political and aesthetic function of literature in Latin America changed over time? How has the intellectual historically assumed the role of agent or critic of the state? What do literature and art suggest about the relation between the state and its margins, between history and memory, and between elite and subaltern subjects?


Shouleh Vatanabadi

Middle East Cultures

This interdisciplinary course explores cultures, social institutions, political economies, and social change in contemporary Middle Eastern and North African societies. Using cultural studies as our critical framework we will examine historical and literary texts, as well as films and other artistic expressions to gain an understanding of the cultures and socio-political relations in this diverse region. We will begin with an examination of the early history of the region, starting with the rise of Islam and the pre-modern empires, moving on to discuss the complexities of the modern Middle East with a focus on such topics as colonialism, modernity and nationalism and the subsequent postcolonial complications. The course will incorporate contemporary media and popular culture of the region to provide a widespread perspective of the Middle East in a globalized and transnational world.


Minu Tharoor
Narratives of Cultural Invention and Change

This course introduces us to important aspects of the cultures, history and politics of the countries that comprise the region of South Asia (e.g. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka). We will briefly consider elements of the past (from 3000 B.C.E) and focus on the historical, social and cultural developments of more recent periods. The wide-ranging course materials -- mainly literary texts, art and films, supplemented with historical and social writings – provide insight into the diversity and adaptations that constitute the multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-layered cultural past and present of this region and its contacts with other parts of the world. An important objective will be to critically engage the materials in the construction of narratives of interchange, contestation, assimilation, fusion and friction in South Asia and its role in the world.

History of the Universe

Rhoda Berenson

We Are Stardust…

The history of the universe is the story of how the universe evolved from a tiny dense blob of particles and energy to the enormous, mind-boggling universe of today –vast regions of space inhabited by islands of galaxies filled with stars, many orbited by planets, at least one of which has life – life composed of stardust.

In this course we will focus on how scientists developed this story, what evidence they have that this story makes sense and what mysteries are still unsolved.  Thus, the course follows the history of how people – curious people—from the earliest times to the present looked around the universe and tried to make sense what they observed.

We will first learn how one can determine such characteristics as the mass, temperature, motion and chemical makeup of such unreachable objects as planets and stars.  Then we will look at why stars shine and how they eventually evolve into such odd objects as red giants, white dwarfs, and black holes and why “we are stardust.”  Lastly, we will investigate current ideas and still open questions about dark matter, dark energy and the origin and fate of the universe.  Throughout we will note the process of science – its successes and shortcomings.

Students will be expected to read the text before coming to class and the classroom time will be spent in discussions and lab activities that are designed to supplement and further explicate the textbook.

Gerceida Jones

The New Universe

Students in History of the Universe examine science as a way of looking at the world. They learn about the nature of the universe and about changes in the universe over time, including the origin and development of stars, galaxies, planetary systems, and the universe itself, as well as study of the earth and the development of life on earth and in the universe. The course traces the development of western scientific thought from the work of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo to the discoveries of Newton, Einstein and Hubble, among others. The course seeks to give students an understanding not only of modern science, but also of its development and of the methods, strengths and limitations of science.  

"The history of our universe may be the key to our future." (Abrams & Primack)

Louis P. Pataki

History of the Universe

Some fourteen billion years ago the universe we know began to expand from an incomprehensibly tiny volume of space.  Today the universe continues to expand into space that it creates in the expansion.  Some four and a half billion years ago a star formed from the remnants of four or five generations of previous stars.  Nuclear reactions within those stars had assembled the heavy elements that made the formation of Earth and of life possible.  We can sit here and, to a degree, understand how that happened.  

In this course you will learn what we know about our universe.  More importantly, you will come to understand why we believe the things we think we understand.  Emphasis will be historical, our developing, changing understanding of the universe and the effect of those changes on society.  In so far as is practical it will be hands on through the use of simple experiments and computer simulations.   A significant portion of the course will involve the “Planetary Project” where you will work as a part of a scientific team to discover properties of a fictitious planetary system.  This project will involve significant writing responsibility over a four week period.

Life Science

Kevin Bonney

Life Science: From Molecules to Microbes   

During this course, we will examine some of the fundamental principles and contemporary issues of biology, including bioethics, cancer, genetics, and infectious diseases such as AIDS and Ebola. The theme of evolution and an emphasis on human health will be woven throughout the course. In keeping with the integrated, interdisciplinary nature of Liberal Studies, we will focus on the historical and social context of major scientific discoveries and the relevance of these concepts to our daily lives. Our discussions will be informed by readings from science journals, nonfiction books, and recent newspaper articles. Course activities will promote scientific literacy and immersion in the culture of science.

Science of Technology

Rhoda Berenson

Communication – From Talking Drums to Cell Phones

 In this course we will focus on understanding the science behind various communication and related technologies.  We will follow the intertwined histories of science, technology, and society demonstrating how technological developments are inspired by scientific investigations and these investigations are, in turn, inspired by inventive technology.  Interspersed are the stories of the creative personalities who provided the theories, applied the science, or conceived the inventions.   We will consider how each new technology has affected society and also investigate some plans for future technologies and consider their possible impact.


Most of the science is learned through inquiry-based group activities rather than lectures or textbook. These activities are a mix of hands-on and computer-based experiments in that illustrate the scientific method and the role of experimentation in producing scientific results, while illuminating the science behind the particular technology being studied. Algebra is sometimes used to clarify ideas, but the emphasis is on the understanding of basic concepts and the experiments that discover or test these concepts.  Scientific areas include the basic principles of electromagnetism, acoustics, the wave and quantum nature of light, and quantum electronics in order to understand the technology of communication from the earliest means to the telegraph to cell phones.  As the course progresses other technologies such as telephone, radio, television, lasers, and cameras will be investigated.

Social Foundations I

Bob Gurland

From Mythos to Logos: The Ascent of the Church of Reason and the Demystification of the World

This course will provide the opening chapter in an ongoing saga whose central theme is forged by a competition of two world views vying for man's allegiance in his quest to understand the meaning of his existence and his struggle to feel at home in the world. It will chronicle and develop the passage of a mythic, mystical, religious paradigm for understanding and interpreting causation, one that allows for the intervention of supernatural involvement in human affairs, to one that defines the Greek experience and its reliance upon a more rational, scientific, and depersonalized account of of what constitutes human experience. The course will commence with the Biblical portrayal of beginnings and pass to the first coming of reason that serves to define Hellenism and the world as seen through the lens of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their supporting cast. The course will terminate with the resurgence of the religious sensibility that has come to define the Middle Ages and best captured in the visions of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Careful consideration of the political and ethical consequences of adopting either of these competing paradigms and will provide the adhesive that will offer thematic continuity to our study of each participant engaged in this powerful and critically relevant dialogue.  

Bill Klein

Ancient Theories of Governance

This course on ancient social thought examines the points of contact between psychological, moral and political theory in some key Hebrew, Greco-Roman, and Chinese texts. Much of the material revolves around the question of how one should govern one’s desires and passions in order to live a good or virtuous life, but this simple question becomes more complex when we think of governance in its socio-political dimensions.  How does the public sphere of each culture allow for an exchange of opinion among the elites on questions like the above?  How does each society determine who (women, slaves, workers, or just aristocratic men?) is capable of virtue and how joint decisions should be made? Plato's complex subversion of the vocabulary of equality and free speech that emerged in democratic Athens will be a special focus.  We’ll attempt to ground our reflections on some awareness of pertinent socio-economic trends, but the main emphasis is on close reading of the classic texts.

Farzad Mahootian

Mythic Origins of Philosophy and Science

The standard Social Foundations I (SF-I) spans the period from pre-history to 700 CE and examines relationships between patterns of action, belief and thought in ancient societies as compared with those of current cultures. In my section of SF-I emphasize philosophy, religion and science as key formative socio-cultural factors. We study the historical development of religion, science and philosophy in Greece, India and China, as well as reflecting philosophically on the basis and rationale of their concepts.  Key texts include the philosophies and cosmologies of Apology, Meno, Phaedrus and Timaeus (Plato), On Christian Doctrine (Augustine), Dao de Jing (Lao Tzu), the Upanishads, the Bible, and The Man in the High Castle (P.K. Dick). The latter is work of speculative history that casts an interesting light on the intersection of “western” and “eastern” worlds.

Albert Piacente

The Logical Structure of Desire

This course has as its focus what has come to be known as the “Axial Age,” a period from roughly the 7th to the 3 rd centuries B.C.E. where many of the seminal texts, at the foundations of a number of philosophical and religious systems still with us today, were compiled and/or written. Recognizing many of these texts for their unique voice and diversity of viewpoint, we will nonetheless see that they, and the Axial Age, share a singular, common theme: structuring desire. From what to want and not want, from what should be pursued to make a life good to what when pursued makes a life bad, it is this that nearly every text we will encounter in this course takes as its central subject. But, and here is the question that will hang in the background throughout the entire course, to what end? Is it possible or even desirable to break desires into categories with some lauded and others sanctioned?

Joseph Portanova

Histories and Societies, Citizens and the Disenfranchised, Cultural Contacts and Conflicts

Among the ancient civilizations studied will be Egypt, Greece, Rome, and China. Themes will include the ideal state, the relationship between the individual and society, the disenfranchised (in particular women and slaves), and contacts and conflicts between cultures.

Although there will be works of philosophy included, this is not primarily a philosophy course. The approach will be historical, though also interdisciplinary--drawing upon analysis of art and literature produced by the civilizations studied, as well as philosophical models of ideal societies.  Instructor will guide students through galleries at the Metropolitan Museum outside of class time. Readings may include the following texts (a sample list):  Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War; Confucius’ The Analects, Plato’s The Republic, Tacitus’ The Annals of Imperial Rome, St. Augustine’s City of God, and selected shorter readings from ancient Egyptian texts as well as selections from the Biblical books of Exodus, Maccabees, and the Gospel of Matthew.

There may be some assignments involving interpretation of art works in relation to the issues studied. The instructor is a historian with interest in art and literature; the course will reflect these interests--especially the historical.

J. Ward Regan

Early Human Civilization and the beginnings of Politics

This course focuses on the development and transmission of the various ways of understanding human identity and social relations. Starting at the earliest stages of human culture, cultures have repeatedly addressed questions central to human beings ideas about themselves and their attempts at understanding of the universe. Texts are chosen from a cultural/philosophical perspective from Asia, Africa and the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean, Western Europe. The course starts in pre-history and ends in late antiquity.

Laura Samponaro

The Ancient World and Its Influence Today

“Equality is most unequal,” Cicero asserted in the first century B.C.E. What do concepts like equality, freedom, and justice mean to the ancients and to us today? How do the socio-political views of the ancient Greeks and Romans continue to influence us? In this course, we shall examine how the political, social, and ethical ideas of the ancients have impacted our own respective, current points of view. The goal of this course is not only to introduce you to texts that have shaped the way we think but also for you to study them as a means for constructing your own arguments, both in speech and in writing.  While adopting an attitude of critical engagement towards texts and ideas, you will examine not only what a particular argument is but also how that argument is presented.  In turn you will learn how to develop your own arguments and present them in a clear and persuasive fashion.  

Michael Shenefelt

The Ancient World

This course uses classic texts to survey the moral and political thought of ancient times. We seek to discover a common humanity as expressed through four different literary traditions—those of ancient Greece, the Bible, classical China, and ancient Rome. Historical topics include the rise and fall of the Greek city-states, the development of classical Greek philosophy, the intellectual ferment of China before its unification, the imperial expansion of Rome, the rise of Christianity, and the dissolution of Roman authority during the early Middle Ages.We also consider philosophical issues that arise during the period, such as the proper exercise of political power, the authority of the state over the individual, the relation of religion to morality, the good life, rationality and knowledge, free will, the relation of mind and body, fundamental ethical principles, and the effects of political freedom. The course asks students to examine these issues critically. Class discussion will be crucial.

Yunus Tuncel

Wisdom of the Ancient World and its Legacy

The course will focus on some of the important questions of philosophical, political, social, historical, and religious discourses and explore a variety of topics such as: the question of origin, the relationship between mythology and reason (and human and divine), the connection between justice and power, the make-up of an ideal state, the origin of moral conduct, the value of meditation in human life, and the origin of evil. We will start with an exploration of the origin of Western philosophy in ancient Greek culture and study the ideas of different schools of thought that flourished in this period. After the phase of early Greek thought, we will read Plato and Aristotle. As we read from Chinese and Hindu texts, we will try to understand how Greek and Asian philosophies agree and disagree in their approaches to a variety of topics from politics to ethics.

Philip Washburn

Religions and Philosophies of the Ancient World

The topic of this course is the ancient world, and more specifically, ancient people's beliefs about society, humanity, and the gods.  That topic is still very broad, so we will narrow our focus to four main religions and four main philosophies.  The religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity.  The philosophies are Confucianism, Platonism, Hedonism, and Stoicism.  All originated between 1500 BCE and 500 CE, and all still have followers around the world today.  (The second-most popular world religion, Islam, wasn't founded until 600 CE.  We will examine it in the spring term.)

One reason to study ancient religions and philosophies is that we are all living in an increasingly globalized world.  More and more we will all interact – economically, politically, socially – with people who have different beliefs and values from ours. Many are guided by these ancient philosophies and religions.  This course is an opportunity to learn about how people can be different from each other, and yet still similar, and how they might communicate with each other.

Another main reason to study religions and philosophies is that it will help you clarify your own beliefs and values.  For example, do you believe that a personal god created everything and watches over you?  Do you rely on observation and clear thinking to know what the world is like, or can you know through intuition, or feelings, or tradition?  Studying popular religions and philosophies helps you develop your own worldview, which means your identity.

Heidi White

Justice, Happiness, and the Good Life
This course focuses on some of the classic texts of the ancient world and of the early Middle Ages—such as those of ancient India, classical China, the Judaic tradition, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome. We will explore the ways that Indian, Hebrew, Chinese, Greek, and Roman philosophers and theologians have envisioned the self in relation to questions of metaphysics, ethics, and political theory. Keeping their historical context in mind, we will focus on philosophical issues that arise during the period, such as the nature of justice, the authority of the state over the individual, the relation of religion to morality, the quality of the good life, and fundamental ethical principles. Authors and texts may include the Book of Job, Tao Te Ching, Dhammapada, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Plato’s Apology and Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the Gospel according to Matthew, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and St. Augustine’s Confessions.

Social Foundations III

Maria Antonini

Exploring Orientations in Thought Since 1750

This course explores modern intellectual paradigms in philosophy, psychology, and political theory.  Questions are posed seeking to articulate the visions, preoccupations, and anxieties comprising the emerging modern Mind.  Topics will included critiques of Communism and Capitalism, responses to accelerating industrialization and urbanization, and the bias of human species exceptionalism carried over from ancient religions challenged by new understandings of the human place in Nature.  Readings will include the writings of Rousseau and Alexis de Tocqueville, Freud, Marx and Engels, J.S. Mill, Rosa Luxembourg, Gandhi, Naguib Mahfouz, Natsume Soseki, John Muir, E.L. Doctorow, and Frans de Waal.  

Jeannine Chandler

Revolution in the Creation of the Modern World

The last semester of Social Foundations examines major intellectual and historical events from the Enlightenment and the Qing dynasty (around 1700) to the contemporary world. This period has seen some of the most rapid and significant changes in human society and scientific understanding. At the same time many of the enduring questions of humanity have become even more critical as disparate cultures interact in a new global arena. In this course, we will investigate the ideas, events, people and places of the last three hundred years through the lens of revolution. This time period has produced revolutions in culture, economy, politics, empire, nation, hierarchy, race, gender, and thought. This era saw waves of creation and destruction, celebration and rage, prosperity and war. In this course, we will collectively work towards an understanding of revolution in all of its manifestations in the modern period. The focus of the course will be integrating the textual analyses of primary sources with the larger historical narrative.

Davida Chang

The Search for Liberty, Wealth and Power.

This course will examine two themes of transformation from the 18th to 20th centuries:  The Quest for Liberty and The Search for Wealth and Power.  With the first theme, we will use primary sources to examine why democracy is so hard to establish and sustain by looking  at the contradictions of constitutional government that created (and still create) tensions and challenges faced by all democracies, even “mature” ones (e.g. America).  With the second theme, we will examine the rise of globalization and its consequences, i.e. how the pursuit of wealth by Western Europeans enriched their home countries but subjugated or exploited others, forcing the modernization of societies beyond Europe (with East Asia as a case study).  Under the impact of Western colonialism and imperialism, debates in non-Western countries arose over the viability of Western moral values, political systems, and economic developmental models; such debates still persist today.

Regina Gramer

Empire, Violence, Protest

This course provides a historical approach to some of the most fundamental and innovative ideas that emerged from the Enlightenment to the present.  We will study classic texts written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Frantz Fanon, and Simone de Beauvoir within the context of their own time period and test their ideas from a variety of different perspectives, such as cross-cultural and interdisciplinary ones.  What stakes, for instance, did slaves in Saint Domingue have in the French Revolution, or national politics in global markets, Marxist revolutionaries in British colonialism, psychologists in capitalism, psychiatrists in decolonization, or African-Americans in the emancipation of European women? We will discuss the ways in which empire, capitalism, war, and globalization have shaped discourses on race, class, gender, violence, and human rights since the French Revolution and explore their contemporary relevance.  Students will learn how to conceptualize, substantiate, and write a research paper of their own choice.

Johannes Lagerweij

Are we masters in our own house?--On the Limited Space within which we May and Must realize our Freedom.

In this course we will examine some major intellectual and historical developments and events that took place from the early 18thcentury to the time period of our contemporary world. We will focus, in particular, on ideas of social liberty, freedom and equality --  ideas that we will find developed in texts by Rousseau, Kant, and Mill. Some of these ideas inspired and led to the rise of revolutionary movements. However, these same ideas often lent themselves to justify and, thereby, maintain the establishment of global colonial empires and the exploitation and forms of enslavement that go with it.  We will also read critiques of these Ideas by, for example, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault, as well as by some non-Western thinkers such as Tagore, and Achebe. .

Osinulu, Adedamola

The Self and Others

How to define the self and determine its relationship to others is a question that has occupied the minds of thinkers throughout the centuries. Beyond meeting the immediate needs for survival – food, shelter, etc. – much of our existence as humans is spent navigating relationships with others. In this third iteration of Social Foundations, we will examine how theorists from the Enlightenment to the present have defined the relationship between the individual and other individuals, between the individual and society, between the individual and government, between the individual and her employer, and between one group of people and another. We will therefore start with Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and end with Kwame Anthony Appiah (1954-present). Along the way we will encounter ideas about rights, liberty, revolution, legitimate government, property, and violence as explained through philosophies like the Enlightenment, Liberalism, Marxism, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Anti-Colonialism, and Cosmopolitanism.

Albert Piacente

“Without Exception”

This course will center on a single question: What follows if humanity is viewed as continuous with, not exceptional in, nature? We will begin by investigating how much of the philosophy that lead up to the 19 th and 20 th centuries and formed the focus of Social Foundations I and II, as well as much of the philosophy in the 19 th and 20 th centuries, was based upon the assumption of human exceptionalism. We will then critique that assumption, focusing on three philosophers who themselves seem to challenge it yet who ultimately yield to it (i.e. Nietzsche, Marx and Freud). With that done we will turn to the project of seeing what results might follow from a critique of human exceptionalism for knowledge, identity, freedom and power/politics. Authors such Frithjof Bergmann, Judith Butler, Charles Darwin, Michel Foucault, David Lewis, Richard Rorty, Gilbert Ryle, Amartya Sen, Roberto Unger and Ludwig Wittgenstein will here take center stage.

Joseph Portanova

Histories and Societies, Slavery, Imperialism, Nationalism, Encounters and Conflicts, the Disenfranchised

The course will focus on certain themes from the 18th to the 20th century, often in a global context. Among these will be slavery, imperialism, nationalism and challenges to colonialism (especially in China, Japan, and India) and encounters between cultures and societies. Among the questions examined will be the effects of slavery and oppression, both on the colonizers and the colonized. There will also be a focus on the disenfranchised (women, for example) in society.

Although there will be works of philosophy included, this is not primarily a philosophy course but one that focuses on history and society. If you are looking for a philosophy-only course, this is not it.  This course will involve a historical and interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon analysis of art and literature, as well as some works of history and philosophy. Readings may include the following texts (a sample list):  Rousseau’s The Social Contract; Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Mary Prince, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Mill’s On Liberty, Fukuzawa’s Autobiography, Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, and selections from Gandhi’s political works.

There will be some assignments involving interpretation of art works in relation to the issues studied. The instructor is a historian with interest in art and literature; the course will reflect these interests--especially the historical.

Mitra Rastegar

Revolutionary Times

A defining feature of our time is that we expect our world and way of life to change dramatically from generation to generation and even year to year, hopefully as progress, but also often causing greater insecurity. This course explores revolutions in thought and in the structures of life that shape our current condition beginning with two great revolutions: the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. We engage the works of thinkers grappling with the rise of modern industrial capitalism and the transformation of class structures (Marx and Smith), the emergence of new concepts of political and individual freedom (Rousseau, Mill and Freud), and struggles within global colonial empires (Gandhi and Fanon). These works emerge from or inspire various liberation movements, such as the Indian and Algerian Independence movements, and the US Women’s Liberation and Civil Rights movements (de Beauvoir and bell hooks). While these works emerge from specific historical contexts, their insights about the central problematic of human freedom--including the nature of humanity, the sources of inequalities, and the means by which a just society can be achieved--continue to resonate.

Through our analysis we will trace the connections and divergences between European thinkers and thinkers engaging other geopolitical, cultural and socioeconomic context. We will also analyze the broad influence of these texts and relate the debates between them to our social and political context today. Our approach will include close reading, comparative analysis and extrapolation to other contexts and cases, including through an independent research project each student will develop over the course of the semester.

J. Ward Regan

The Making of the Modern World

This course is designed to be an introduction to the modern intellectual disciplines of philosophy, psychology, sociology and political science. We will also attempt to understand what has become know as "the Crisis of Modernity". The texts come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and represent the establishment or reputation of intellectual paradigms. This course will also take into account current events so as to set them in the context of previous historical and philosophical development.

Laura Samponaro

Man: The Mirror has Many Faces 

Freud once asserted that there had been three great wounds inflicted upon human narcissism-Copernicus, Darwin, and himself. In SFIII, we examine texts that advance, challenge, and re-define the humanistic perspective. By looking at man in all of his many guises-from homo sapiens to homo oeconomicus-we will investigate how socio-political, economic, and scientific ideas from the Enlightenment to today have impacted our own respective, current points of view. The goal of this course is not only to introduce you to texts that have shaped the way we think but also for you to study them as a means for constructing your own arguments, both in speech and in writing. While adopting an attitude of critical engagement towards texts and ideas, you will examine not only what a particular argument is but also how that argument is presented. In turn you will learn how to develop your own arguments and present them in a clear and persuasive fashion.

Shenefelt, Michael

Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions

This course examines major intellectual and political movements of the modern world—from the opening of the 18th century down to the present. Vast new international markets emerge during this period, and so do new political systems. Over all, the period is one of accelerating change.  Topics include the Enlightenment, the expansion and disintegration of global colonial empires, the rise of representative democracy, the nature of American slavery, the dangers to personal privacy and individual freedom represented by mass opinion, the new, 19th-century idea of the unconscious mind, and new forms of social strife generated by industrialization. Class discussions are crucial.

Yunus Tuncel

Society vs. Freedom: the Existential Rebellion

This class continues the examination of philosophic, religious, political, social, and historical ideas from the Enlightenment and the revolutions of the 18th century to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We read on crucial debates in moral philosophy, as between Kant and the Utilitarians (Mill) and from the later part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, we study the most significant critiques of the modern age: Marx’s critique of political economy, Nietzsche’s critique of European culture, and Freud’s psychoanalytic critique. These three thinkers become indispensable to understand the twentieth century; their ideas help shape many of the artistic, political, philosophical, and psychological movements of our times. The class ends by exploring various texts from the later part of the twentieth century; texts that have much to say on post-war issues such as feminism, independence movements, the cultural upheaval of the 60s, and colonialism.

Shouleh Vatanabadi

Cross-Cultural Contact Zones

This course will examine a variety of cultural texts from the Enlightenment to the present with a special emphasis on the complex dynamics of global cultural encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans. Literary texts and critical writings as well as different forms of artistic expressions will be studied with particular attention to their social, cultural and historical contexts. Class readings will be arranged around such topics as exploration and discovery; imperial and Orientalist imaginaries; and colonial and postcolonial discourses. Class discussions will incorporate such issues as the intersections of race and gender, connections of power and knowledge, representations of the exotic other as well as the intertextualities and dialogisms articulated on the site of the cultural texts. The course, overall, aims to emphasize the significance of different geographies and histories of cross-cultural “contact zones” in constructing and shaping contemporary global cultures.

Writing I

David Damstra

Reading and Writing

The Course title, Writing I, seems incomplete—Reading and Writing is closer.  But  even that calls for a subtitle: we read and we reread, “receptively” (closely, in an  engaged way, pausing for the occasional look-up) and with “resistance” (critically, where is this going? what’s in between the lines?) And then we write and rewrite, taking an idea from a text and developing it, making connections with other texts, and perhaps with a personal narrative. In the course of each of three units we respond to every assigned text (1-2 pp) and write three essays, each with three drafts (5-6 pp). On to the audience, workshops, a term briefly defined as by helping others, you help yourself. The first draft is peer-reviewed; the second and third are read by the instructor, but each student has the opportunity to read a D2 or D3 to the class. Clear, concise, well-organized writing that leads to your personally stamped idea is the goal of any writing, and if all that sounds a bit ponderous it doesn’t have to be—when you’re at the point where it says what you want it to say, it can be fun as well.

Nina d’Alessandro

The Writer, the Self, and the City

In this course, students discover self and city in assignments that take them out into the streets of New York, inviting them to explore the many ways that solitary urban walkers may use the occasion to reflect on their inner lives and to analyze the social/cultural world around them. The act of walking, in the tradition of writers from Charles Baudelaire in Paris to Philip Lopate in Manhattan, serves as a model for writing the essay: the way a thoughtful urban walker wanders, discovers, and retraces steps parallels the way a writer develops and revises ideas and restructures forms. Writing description, narration, reflection, and formal analysis, experimenting with style and structure in journals, students create and revise ideas of the city and self. They consider urban life through assigned essays, stories, poems, film, and song. Recent texts have included works by Philip Lopate, Joan Didion, AndréAciman, James Baldwin, Colson Whitehead, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Laura Nyro, Italo Calvino, Pico Iyer, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen, as well as writing by NYU freshmen at other global sites.

Sean Eve

The City as Mirror: Approaching the Self Through Investigating New York

This course will involve exploring an aspect of NYC you individually choose  as a means to  locate your personal objectives as a writer and thinker, and in order to help you develop a more distinct and personal written discourse,  The course will take your ideas through a range of forms, from the personal essay, to a short video, to a final  multi-dimensional text you  construct to capture your subject in a range of ways best suited to your long-term goals.  The focus of the course is on helping prepare you for future academic, creative and  professional demands, with a particular emphasis on how one’s relation to place is a vital component of self-realization.

Robert Fitterman

Global Borrowed Culture

Cultures have always borrowed from other cultures, but we live in an age where cultural repetition, repurposing, or borrowing has been revolutionized by digital culture. Today, contemporary culture-makers feel less need to hide behind the veil of originality and are more openly quoting and revealing their borrowed sourcesthink of sampling in music. Even further, many complexities emerge, globally, over issues of identity, marketing, surveillance, hacking, etc. which all have a foot in the cultural borrowing of data and ideas. How did we arrive at this cultural moment? What does this use of global borrowing tell us about 21st global culture? Is borrowed culture a result of a global consumer culture? What are the legal and political implications of artistic and economic cultural appropriation? To engage in a conversation about these issues, we will be reading several key texts, such as Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence”, Boon’s “In Praise of Copying” and Said’s “Orientalism.” By extension, our own writing will reflect a new awareness for how our ideas develop in concert with the ideas around us. Additional, our writing will experiment with new forms of expository writing and analysis.

Amie Hartman

Questioning Narratives

In this course we will investigate stories and narratives about people, places, things and events- as well as our own stories in order to develop and sharpen our ideas. To what extent do stories capture the “truth”? How do we connect to stories that may be foreign to us? Why do some stories intrigue and some disturb us?  How is power related to story? How do stories and narratives shape us? Through this lens, we will work toward becoming more confident and skilled academic writers through practice and reflection. Our texts will include memoir, fiction, essay, drama and film. We will approach writing in this class as a practice and a process that develops over time.  You will be asked to write both in and out of class and to write a lot.  You will write in order to explore your ideas and assertions in informal ways, through short assignments in and out of class, as well as to present these ideas formally- in longer essay assignments.

Erin Heiser

Between the World and You

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” begins the opening paragraph of Joan Didion’s essay “The White Album.”  This course will take Didion’s assertion as a point of entry for examining a wide range of essays from the personal to the persuasive as we investigate the ways that all of our stories are interconnected. Throughout this course we will learn how to write about our own experiences and ideas and also how to respond to ideas others have voiced. As students reflect on themselves and the world around them, we will be especially attuned to issues of gender, class, race, sexuality, and geographical location. Our class discussions and our writing will be spurred by studying both short and long form essays from some of the greatest contemporary writers of our time including Didion, James Baldwin, David Foster Wallace, Ta-Nahesi Coates, and David Sedaris among others.

Susanna Horng

Book It! Creative Autobiography & Artists' Books

In this seminar, students will write three creative autobiographies and assemble them into a self-designed edition of five Artists' Books. The goals of this course are a) to experiment with genres conventions, b) to make creative connections across texts c) to produce material culture in the form of contemporary artists' books d) to deepen your engagement with NYC. Course readings and films, collaborative workshops, and experiential learning events will model creative methodologies, build community, and hone critical thinking and writing.

Mary Helen Kolisnyk

The Writer, The World, The Text – The City as Place

This is a course in essay composition, though maybe not of the kind you are accustomed to.  In it, you will write 3 essays which will emerge from a series of smaller writing exercises.  The smaller exercises allow you to try out a diverse array of writing styles and modes, and to practice interpretations and analyses; with feedback on these, you will be challenged to develop your outlook and responses — to discover what more you can say.  The entire process will activate the creativity and insight that you will finally emerge in sophisticated final drafts.

Readings and discussions in class will address issues and experiences of the city and, when possible, current events directly connected to NYC.  Our goal will be to understand how we are influenced by place, and how it shapes our thinking.  Drafting and revision work usually includes excursions out into the neighborhoods of the city.    

David Larsen

Writing as Social Interaction

The importance of good writing skills is rightly stressed. What’s less often mentioned is that writing skills are social skills, in that they build relationships with readers. Skilled writers anticipate responses, and much of their craft is dedicated to evading the reader’s power to cast their text aside. Our class is a laboratory for discovering those skills and cultivating them, with a special focus on beginnings and endings (where readerly resistance is sharpest). The critical essay is our default medium, and exceeding the standards for effective writing is our common goal – a pragmatic goal that cannot be reached without a good deal of poetic technique and some experimental daring. Our schedule of readings is designed to provoke self-awareness as writers and readers looking forward to enhanced participation in the world of actions and ideas.

Mitch Meltzer

The World of the Written Word

As a species, we’ve been talking to one another for at least ten times longer than we’ve been writing, 50000 years compared to 5000. Even as recently as 200 years ago, 90% of humanity could neither read nor write. Thus the world of the written word is not a “natural” but a human creation. The earliest written texts, as opposed to lists, are no more than about 4500 years ago in Ancient Egypt and Sumer, 3500 years ago in India, China, and Ancient Israel,  and 2800 years ago in Europe.  Socrates, one of the most important early philosophers of Western tradition, executed 2400 years ago, was illiterate.

Carley Moore

Essaying:  the Image, the Poem, the Listicle, the Blog Post, and the Essay

In this course, we will explore the contemporary literary and academic essay and it’s relationship to smaller forms like images, poems, lists, and blog posts.  While our larger projects will be essays, our smaller projects will allow us to navigate and mine these smaller genres and to see how all genres connect.  Many cultural critics, writers, and artists believe that the essay, with its focus on connecting the personal to the political, its ability to attract readers globally with just a click or two, and its space for diverse voices, is experiencing a renaissance.  I agree!  In this course, we will explore the essay in all of its newfound power and reach.

Some of our texts will include:  The Women by Hilton Als, Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, Negroland by Margo Jefferson, and The Best American Essays 2015 edited by Ariel Levy.      

James Polchin

The Writer and the Photographer

In this workshop-style writing seminar, we will explore the intersections of photography and writing, and consider each medium’s effort to offer insights and ideas. In considering the cultural, political, and visual force of photography and writing, we will ask: What can the work of writing help us understanding about photography? And, more profoundly, what can the visual force of photography help us see about the work of writing? In exploring this nexus between words and images, the seminar raises questions about our relationship to both, and how each medium comes to shape an understanding of ourselves and the worlds we encounter. We will engage with a diversity of essays about the meaning and practice of photography. Through this process, we will focus on expanding writing skills, and become more attentive to the craft of contemporary essays. Writing projects will draw on individual interests and use experience and research to create narrative and reflective essays. Each student will be expected to develop his or her own lines of inquiry through the course material, taking on independent approaches to their writing.

Stephen Policoff

The Surface (and Below It)

In this writing class, we will consider many different kinds of writing.  We will take a look at: 1) a handful of essays, on subjects ranging from how we alter the space we are occupying  to gender/body imagery. 2) Some photographs (famous and otherwise), and how we perceive/read them. 3).Some advertisements (both historical and current) and the imagery/worldview used and evoked therein. 4). Some narratives, especially looking at evocations of horror (Poe, Carter) and sexuality (Minot, Daum). 5). Some poems, and the multifarious ways in which love relationships have been portrayed.

We will read these variegated texts, write responses to most of them,  and especially, we will consider how the appearance of the text is not always the same as the inner meaning of the text (and how that is sometimes true in our own lives as well).

Michael Rectenwald

Academic Writing: Real World Topics

This course provides students with an introduction to the diversity, complexity and interconnectedness of writing in higher education today, serving as an introduction to scholarly writing and also to the kinds of thinking and inquiry undertaken across the university curriculum. The course works under the assumption that first-year writing is best approached by responding to contemporary and sometimes controversial issues treated from multiple disciplinary and critical perspectives. Topics under consideration include living in a digital culture, learning in a digital age, living in a global culture, sustaining our global environment, our post-human future, and surviving economic crisis and the future.

Chris Rzonca

The Meaning of the University

Why do we go to college? What do we learn at the university? What does it mean to learn and what is the difference between high school and college learning, writing and thinking? What have other students, professors, writers, and artists said about these issues? What can we learn from them? In this course, we will explore many aspects of learning and education in the broadest sense through the careful analysis of essays and films. Such analysis will form the basis of your own exploration that will include your reflection on and your analysis of your personal experience of what it feels like to be a student at New York University in 2016. While grappling with these issues and ideas, you will be developing your own skills of thinking and writing.

This course is designed to help you become more confident, skilled, and successful writers through an exploration of the essay form. Sustained work with the essay will allow you to develop and grow as writers yourselves and to become more familiar and fluent with idea, evidence, and reflection. Our work together this semester will also prepare you for other writing in the University.

In order to achieve these goals, we will write a lot, both in and out of class. Informal writing and exercises will help you to identify ideas to explore in essays. In drafting and revising each essay, you will have the opportunity to pursue, shape, and present a central idea; to develop evidence that supports the idea; to consider effective ways to reach an audience; and to address technical and editorial concerns. Therefore substantial changes will occur between the first and final drafts. I hope this class will allow you to begin to see yourselves as writers, who are also a part of the larger New York University community of writers, readers, and thinkers.

Kristi Steinmetz

Multidimensional Storytelling and The Art of Seeing

According to art critic John Berger, “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” Now so, more than ever, multi-media content delivers images paired with words. Increasingly, in our hyper-packed digital world, we are simultaneously being told what we see and what stories to believe. But what stories are actually being told? And more importantly, what stories need telling? In this writing intensive course, we will focus on locating multidimensional stories of identity and experience within current cultural realities. Both reading and writing assignments will engage with a variety of creative and expository forms including prose poems, literacy narratives, cultural memoirs, autofictions, graphic dramadies, and critical essays. Course texts will include selections from Edward Said and Jean Mohr; Alison Bechdel and Virginia Woolf; Charles Duhigg (on Disney’s Frozen); Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric; David Shields’s War is Beautiful; Joy Harjo’s and Leslie Marmon Silko’s storytelling; Kara Walker’s silhouettes; I Am Malala (the memoir) and He Called Me Malala (the documentary); Marina Abramovic’s performance art; Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait; social media, mainstream ads, recent sitcoms, and experiential trips to the New Museum and The Met Breuer.

Cynthia Thompson

Ways of Seeing
Each student brings a unique perspective to life in New York City. This semester we’ll be writing and talking about your interaction with the city, and exploring life here through stories and essays where setting and voice are strong factors. We’ll visit historic places in the neighborhood, and read Subway Stories, and The Mole People, to get you thinking about New York’s culturally rich mix of people, the social issues here, and how it reflects larger world issues especially in light of today’s political climate. Essays dealing with stereotypes and prejudices will ask you to examine your ways of seeing culture, gender, race, disabilities, and social status to name a few. Finally, you’ll venture into the city’s great museums to analyze your way of seeing a work of art. This semester’s goal is to analyze, discuss, and write about ways of seeing art, history, prejudice, and oneself within the bustling Big Apple… and beyond.

Tim Tomlinson

Alternative Selves, Alternative New York

In her journals, Susan Sontag says that a writer must be four people: the obsessive, the fool, the stylist, the critic. In Alternative Selves, Alternative New Yorks, students will write about their own multi-faceted (obsessive, foolish, stylish, critical) selves in a semester-long journal. Students will also write about New York City through various prompts, and from a variety of perspectives. Reading for the course will include Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, by Susan Sontag, and a gathering of essays, poems, songs, stories, and films, that present multiple New Yorks—those, for instance, of our current Nobel Laureate in Literature, and of Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Philip Lopate, The Drifters, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Eileen Myles, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Writing: multiple drafts of two short essays, one long, plus journal. Reading: close, and slow.  

Nancy Woodruff

Crossing Borders, Changing Cultures

This course will explore issues related to many types of borders—geographical, cultural, psychological (i.e. childhood and adulthood) and artificial (Partition)—with a special emphasis on migration and displacement. Through readings and films from Samar Yazbek, Chris Cleave, Pico Iyer, Urvashi Butalia, Thomas McCarthy and others, we will look at what it means to migrate, to live on the border or to inhabit multiple worlds (places, cultures, identities) at once. We will also make a trip to the Museum of Modern Art to view an exhibit, Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter.   Writing assignments are designed for you to examine and reflect upon what is gained and lost by crossing the border from world to another.  This course will be taught as a workshop, and you should be prepared to share your work often and to offer thoughtful and useful commentary on the writing of your peers.  

Jennifer Zoble

Writing in Place
Where have you been, as a resident, a visitor, a daydreamer? How have the places you’ve known helped to shape the way you see, hear, speak, write? In this course, we’ll examine texts from a variety of authors, cultures, and media that explore places both real and imagined. We’ll consider the techniques used by these artists to render the places they’ve known in all their complexity and specificity, and we’ll use their works as formal and inspirational models in crafting our own personal essays. Authors will include Zadie Smith, Virginia Woolf, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, James Baldwin, Luc Sante, Joan Didion, Valeria Luiselli, and Richard Rodriguez, among others.


Writing II

Robin Goldfin

Cammie Kim Lin

Identity, Experience, and Coming of Age

The concepts of adolescence and coming of age are deeply embedded in the American consciousness.  What defines coming of age?  Is it a universal experience?  How do coming-of-age experiences define who we are and how we see the world?  In this course, we will explore these core questions through reading, research, and intensive writing.  Readings will include a wide range of nonfiction, from literary journalism to texts on adolescent psychology and queer theory, as well as literature by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alison Bechdel, Sherman Alexie, Junot Diaz, and Chang-Rae Lee.  For the major writing assignments, which include a research paper, an interpretive literary analysis, and a personal essay, students will consider how their personal lenses shape the ways they read, write, and see the world.  Students should expect to engage deeply with the course theme, while honing the kind of intensive research, analysis, and writing skills that will prepare them for success in advanced liberal arts courses across the curriculum.