Spring 2017 Liberal Studies Core Program
Please note that descriptions are subject to change prior to the start of the semester.
Creative Writing: Global Voices
"One must be absolutely modern" wrote Arthur Rimbaud in the 1870s. Today, being absolutely modern often means responding to a new digital culture. All forms of creative writing have transformed in response to new technologies, and these changes are best seen across the globe. In the course, we will read authors that will expose us to new ways of writing from various cultures, perspectives, and styles.
Creative Writing: Places: Portraits of New York
In her famous 1967 essay “Goodbye to All That,” Joan Didion writes about the years she spent in New York during her twenties: “Just around every corner lay something curious and interesting, something I had never before seen or done or known about.” Indeed New York has for centuries provided inexhaustible source material for writers attentive to its revelations. In this course we’ll examine poetry, prose, and drama written about this city, with a focus on documentary forms, while combing its streets and institutions to capture sounds, images, found text, and interviews to use in our own New York-inspired writing.
Cultural Foundations II
The Heroic Tradition in its Global Setting
This course follows Cultural Foundations I by focusing on the nature of our global culture of the post-ancient world. Special emphasis will be placed on moments of encounter between international cultures, intercultural transmission of ideas and values, and how differences within a culture relate to differences across cultures. Not limited by geographical or racial boundaries, the literature and arts placed in context will reveal our global culture as a universal amalgam of many cultures through interference with or appropriations of other values, artistic endeavors, and philosophies. Conceptions and distinctions of the divine, power and disenfranchisement, beauty, and love will be examined in international context, as reflected in the literary and enriching arts. The situations encountered by protagonists in all of the literature below will exemplify the very nature of the irreducibly human condition in any culture, both in the past and in today’s global cosmopolitan culture.
In Cultural Foundations II we shall examine some of the major works spanning the
period from the early Middle Ages to the Baroque period -- literary, visual, and musical.
Students will develop their knowledge of the conventions of lyric, epic, and drama. Through reading, viewing, listening, discussion, and critical writing, students will discover some of the great works of world civilization – east and west.
Sample texts: Dante’s Inferno, Nizami’s Layla and Majnun, Shakespeare’s Othello, Rumi’s poetry
Art/Music: Italian Renaissance painting, Middle Eastern architecture, Gregorian chant,
Art, Religion, and the Self
Cultural Foundations 2 examines literary, musical, and visual arts from the rise of Islam to the 17 th century. We will both closely read and analyze individual “texts,” asking questions about the way in which and not just what they mean, and consider the social and cultural roles they play. The course will give particular attention to the relation in the medieval and early modern periods between religious traditions and works of literary, musical, and visual arts. Another important focus of the course will be the role of the “self” in art and literature, and we will consider not only the different conceptions of the self reflected in the works, but also the implications of the way in which the self is represented in art and literature. Potential texts include Tang poetry, Rumi, Dante, Arabian Nights, Marie de France, Shakespeare, Milton.
Modern vs. Classic – Progress or Decline?
Do the arts progress? Can the very idea of progress - an idea we readily apply to scientific discovery and technological change - be relevant to the creation of such things as stories, paintings, and songs?
Cultural Foundations II covers a period of time during which many cultures throughout the world asked these questions. By the middle of the 1st millennium CE, the cultures of Europe, the Near East, South Asia, and China all had ancient pasts that each culture regarded as “classical” – as a standard by which to compare and evaluate later work. And each of these cultures wondered how it might measure up to its own past cultural achievement.
By comparing with one another such works of literature as Nizami’s Layla and Majun, Zeami’s Atsumori, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, works by such artists as Fan Kuan, Kamal al-Din Bihzad, and Michelangelo, and such music as Islamic plainsong, Indian raga, and J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, we will discover how different cultures from the 6th through 17th centuries answered these questions, and why during these centuries they thought it so important to do so.
The Invention of the Self
This class looks at how writers, artists, and musicians conceive of and represent the self. The course will be bookended by two "crisis autobiographies" – the Confessions of Augustine and of Rousseau. During the semester we will look between these two texts at cross-cultural constructions of subjectivity and interiority in the European, Arabic, and East Asian traditions, from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. We will examine narratives of crisis and conversion, sin and redemption, exile and return; and we will think about autobiographies, biographies, (self-)portraiture, and autopsies. We will pay special attention to accounts of journeys, whether they be psychological (the journey inward), spiritual (the journey to the divine), or physical (the journey through space). Our authors will include Augustine, Avicenna, Rumi, Dante, Petrarch, Montaigne, Vasari, Shakespeare, Milton, Wu Cheng'en, Basho, and Rousseau; and we will carefully study the visual arts and music.
Modern Encounters With Medieval Traditions
This course continues the work of Cultural Foundations I. We read and appreciate, observe and evaluate the cultural heritage of 1,000 years, from the 7th century to the 17th. The worlds we study – European, Arabic and Chinese civilizations – offer rich opportunities in music, art, and literature. Our sources will include religious practices and folk tales, travel and warfare, political turmoil and artistic innovations. We will seek connections to our own world in histories and philosophies, and we will analyze the power of modernizing transformations in cultural production. Our music moves from monastic chants to Bach chorales and our authors include Arab poets of medieval Spain, Dante, Tu Fu and Shakespeare. Artistic sources include the sculptors of Buddhist China and the fresco masters of the Italian Renaissance. Foremost in the plan of study is students’ growth as writers, critics and observers. We will draw from New York City’s great cultural resources to enhance our modern encounters with some of the medieval period's most fertile, complex and fascinating traditions.
The Self and Civilization
How we construct a sense of “self” poses a challenge across cultures and across time. The very notion of “constructing” a self raises important intellectual and personal issues that bear on our potential and our possibilities. In this class, we will explore how various cultures, from approximately the 8th through the early 18th centuries, have abetted, thwarted, limited, and inspired the development of a sense of self. We will analyze “texts,” in the broadest sense of that word, that cover a variety of genres, periods, languages, interpretive strategies, and media (including literature, art, and music).The course is global in scope and will encourage you to explore connections among the works and among the cultures.Possible texts include poems by Wang Wei, Beowulf, an essay by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the Chinese novel Monkey, and Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther.
Voyages and Voyagers
Travel is a fundamental feature of the human experience, whether a voyage is undertaken from home to a nearby town or a faraway land, to the depths of hell or the kingdom of the gods. Travel can represent a physical displacement that requires negotiation with new people and customs, or an encounter with the foreign landscapes that inhabit our innermost selves. In this class we will explore the rhetorical and thematic roles of travel in religious and historical texts, fiction, poetry, and the visual arts. We will focus on travel as it affects the spread of knowledge through material records, in writing and illustration, as well as through contact between peoples. We will consider the historical role of travel in war, diplomacy, and exploration, analyzing how such travels shape the perception of “home” and “self” as they expand the conception of “away” and “other.” Finally, we will consider how our own studies constitute a form of travel, as we explore the reaches of world cultures and literatures, reshaping our understanding of the world and of ourselves.
This course continues the thematic and historical lines of inquiry begun in Cultural Foundations I and follows them from the rise of Christianity to the rise of modernism. The literature, art, and architecture produced during this period are a testament to the past as well as a repudiation of it. As a result, major works of this time often reflect tension, conflict, and restless questioning that revolve around the matrix of ideas they inherited about God, love, and good and evil as well as art, nature, and beauty. They also grow out of exchanges, peaceful or otherwise, between differing societies. As we examine these works, we will keep these tensions in sharp focus, especially as they shape modern constructions of gender, personal identity, and the meaning of human life. Although the achievements we will study helped to create our ‘selves’ and our present cultural heritages, they are not to be seen as a series of steps on a path of global ‘progress.’ They are, rather, to be explored as crystallizations of successive periods of rebirth and dissolution in the continuing struggle that we, as individuals and as societies, undertake to reinvent and renew human culture and its possibilities.
Out of the Garden and Into the World
This course examines literature and visual art from the Middle Ages to the beginnings of the modern world, focusing on the ways writers and artists have sought to resolve the conflicting interests of self/other, romance/religion, and nature/culture. In doing so, we will come to a better understanding of how art has shaped the way we see the world today. One image that we will see recurring in various forms is that of the garden—a site of harmony with nature and the Divine but also a setting for sin and conquest. We will examine the depiction of nature in Chinese poetry and landscape painting, the image of Paradise as a garden in Muslim art and literature, and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden in Milton’s Paradise Lost. We will also read Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the context of European colonial expansion and ideas about the “Other.” One required field trip to the Metropolitan Museum will be scheduled for a Friday early in the semester.
Religion, Sensuality, and the Pre-Modern World
Liberal Studies concerns becoming conversant with some of the most significant and striking artistic works humanity has produced. The themes of religion and sensuality -- and the relationship between the two --informed the choices of texts for the class. One of the course’s goals is to illuminate patterns in religion and sensuality we see in the past that continue in contemporary societies around the world, yet also to investigate how and why the patterns change. In this second part of the three course series, we will cover the modern geographic areas of Africa (W. Africa), Europe (France, Italy, and England), the Middle East (Arabian Peninsula), Asia (China), and Southeast Asia (India) as they existed from 599 AD through the early 1700s. In order to understand and appreciate the literature, art, and music of the time period, we will study the cultural history that forms the underpinning of the works. Students will be encouraged to see how pre-modern globalization, with its wide circulation of ideas and goods, functioned in the past. Possible texts include: Wisdom of the Prophet (Hadith); The Essential Rumi; The Arabian Nights; Lais of Marie de France; The Divine Comedy; T’ang Dynasty Poetry, the Amarusataka, John Donne’s Poetry, Indian Mystical Poetry.
Love and Transcendence
We will examine a variety of kinds of texts—literary, visual, and musical—that have exerted cultural influences and provided aesthetic pleasure, considering how and why these works served such functions in the past and what their meaning is today. We will focus on the arts as vehicles for encoding social and religious traditions and values of various cultures by concentrating on how different kinds of love are represented. We will also interrogate different means by which various cultural groups have sought to attain and/or express transcendence.
Students will become acquainted with a sampling of the most influential works of the time periods covered and continue to explore museums and other resources available in NYC. By studying the assigned texts, students will engage with a variety of philosophical, psychological, and aesthetic questions such as: What is love? How can love—divine or romantic—aid in the search for transcendence? What is the function of the beautiful? How can art be used as an agent of social change? What is mankind’s relation to nature and/or the divine?
Among the required literary texts are the following: the Qur’an, the Canterbury Tales, Dante’s Inferno, The Recognition of Sakuntala, The Lais of Marie de France, and
Rumi’s Spiritual Verses.
This course has a thematic slant: we'll focus on desire and the violence it generates by studying a variety of works, ranging from the Qur’an, Rumi, and Arabian Nights, via Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe, to Ying-ying, Mulan, and Mozart. Our approach is interdisciplinary and filtered through theoretical lenses such as anthropology, psychology, gender studies, and mimetic theory. Be warned that the reading load is heavy and that I tend to call on taciturn students in class. If you have an aversion to reading (there's a reading assignment due on the first day of classes), public speaking, and presentations, not to mention writing and research, this course is not for you.
This Cultural Foundations course examines the construction of the Orient in the imagination of the arts of Christian Europe from the 9th to the 17th centuries, tracing its origins in the encounters and exchanges of the early Middle Ages to its installation in the culture of later, Colonialist empires. The course explores prose and poetic literature, art, and music, with an emphasis on the cross-cultural exchange of forms and ideas as well as their use in the construction of a Self and an Other. By continually tracing the development of these traditions through close reading and the direct comparison of the works—across times, genres, and media—students will gain a sense of the role interdependence and intersectionality play in the construction of identity, in the past as well as today.
Inter-woven Cultural Travels, Tales, and Tracings
This course introduces students to major developments in literature and the arts from the 7th to the 17th centuries C.E. in several inter-connected regions: Islamic-era cultures in southern Spain, Persia and India; Germanic-Christian cultures in western Europe; the revival of Classical humanistic learning and the arts; Yuan and Ming dynasty Chinese arts; and the expansion of global travel and trade. We will examine the diverse influences, exchanges and innovations that generate and shape works of art such as the Gothic Cathedrals, the Taj Mahal, the Grand Mosque at Cordoba, Chinese landscapes, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, romances from Persia and France, Sufi music and poetry, and Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” We will also study ideas and relationships produced through different travel writings -- the sagas of the Vikings, Sinbad's adventures, the Monkey-God's journey to the west, and Christopher Columbus’ letters.
Angels, Demons, and Chameleon Kings: Portrayals of Transformation, dating from the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period
Like a chameleon that changes its color to conceal its true self from view, Shakespeare’s Richard III is a masterful pretender, capable of showing qualities of charm, brilliance, or deceit at any moment. Shakespeare’s character will serve as the touchstone for our studies in this course, “Angels, Demons, and Chameleon Kings: Portrayals of Transformation.” This course will be active and collaborative. You will be encouraged to participate as an individual and as a member of a learning group in the interactive “Reacting to the Past” game: Marlowe and Shakespeare 1592, a play competition in which the rival London acting companies of seasoned playwright Christopher Marlowe and young upstart playwright Will Shakespeare vie for sponsorship and licensing of their plays. Throughout the course, we will interpret some of humankind’s greatest achievements in literature and the arts, including masterworks by Rumi, Dante, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Voltaire.
Cultural Foundations III
The Enlightenment through Modernity - Division, Marginalization, Partition and Migration
Cultural Foundations III focuses on the world’s great traditions in literature, music, the visual and performing arts from the Enlightenment through Modernity. It familiarizes students with the impact of the colonial and post-colonial eras on global developments in culture.
This particular course covers the following regions of the world:
The goal of this course is to achieve a broad understanding of the contemporary politics, history, and culture of the above regions of the world that experienced one form or the other of division, partition, marginalization and migration—mostly as a result of war or the politics of decolonization.
To enable us to examine the manner in which history and politics led to the creation works of art in a variety of media, we will study such literary works as Cracking India by Bapsi Sidhwa (and Earth 1949, its film adaptation), Christopher Isherwood’s memoir Goodbye to Berlin (and the stage musical and film adaptations of it entitled Cabaret), the film Sarah’s Key by filmmaker Gilles Paquet-Brenner, starring Kristin Scott-Thomas) based on the novel of the same name by Tatiana de Rosnay, The Battle of Algiers by milestone filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, the novel Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee and Endgame, a 2009 British film directed by Pete Travis from a script by Paula Milne, based upon the book The Fall of Apartheid by Robert Harvey. We will also examine contemporary visual arts through the work of Pablo Picasso (especially Guernica) and Marc Chagall.
This course will take the pattern of brief lectures at each class that will introduce the historical and sociological contexts for the prescribed works. This will be followed by a detailed textual discussion of the works under consideration. Where possible and relevant, we will intersperse this pattern of classes with the viewing of films followed by a class discussion.
Subjects of Modernity
Cultural Foundations 3 examines literature and the visual arts of global modernity from the eighteenth century to the present. We will closely read and analyze individual texts, asking questions about the way in which and not just what texts mean, and consider the social and
cultural roles they play. Modernity placed new emphasis on the subject, and an important
concern of the course will be the formulation of subjectivity in art and literature. We will look at
the ways in which works reproduce and undermine modern notions of the subject as an
autonomous and self-determined individual, and consider who is excluded from such
conceptions as well as other modes of subject formation. Potential texts include Mary Shelley, Poe, Borges, Flaubert, Melville, Conrad, Larsen, Coetzee, and Murakami.
The Art of Nostalgia
Svetlana Boym has described nostalgia as a “romance with one’s own fantasy,” a “longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed.” This course examines how cultures and individual artists re-imagine and mythologize the past, their artistic inheritances, and worlds East and West. In this course we look at nostalgia as concomitant with aesthetics: how might desire and (displaced) homesickness provide the basis for the study of artworks and of the beautiful and the sublime? To what extent is the “aesthetic experience” predicated on a longing for a retrospective future or a prospective past? In looking at texts and artworks we examine and interrogate dichotomies that thinkers of the 18th-20th centuries labeled as “sublime” and “beautiful,” “Dionysian” and “Apollonian,” and “naïve” and “sentimental” – as well as “self” and “other,” “New World” and “Old World,” and “East” and “West.” In a globalized world of cultural exchange, we examine not only how the “West” assimilates and appropriates the “East,” but how the “East” assimilates and appropriates the “West.” We read texts by authors such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, Rousseau, Burke, Mann, Nietzsche, Pound, Lu Xun, Woolf, Stoppard, Walcott, Said, and Rushdie, and study the visual arts, music, and film.
Global Artistic Movements
This course is an introduction to the global artistic movements from the mid-18th-century to the present; these movements include the Enlightenment, Neo-Classicism, Romanticism, Transcendentalism, Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, Post-modernism, and the Auteur theory in film. Within these, we will explore major themes inherent to each movement including the rights of the individual vs. the demands of the group; the meaning and fashioning of the self, race, and gender; and the struggle for, and meaning of, democracy, liberty and freedom. In exploring these themes, it will be a central aim of the course to understand the aesthetic and social functions and values of particular literary genres such as autobiography, drama, essay, novel, and poetry as well as those of painting, photography and film. By understanding and analyzing such elements in interpretation as context, audience, figural language, and narrative structure, we will explore how artistic texts act in and on cultures and societies, and how narratives shape and inform how we live.
The (In)Humanity of War
Like it or not, we have become a generation of war, and by scrutinizing the multi-aspects of war, we will try to understand how war has shaped global culture. In this cultural foundations course, we will examine how various writers, artists, composers, soldiers, and civilians have imagined and understood how war shapes life and art. Beginning with the eighteenth-century and ending with the late twentieth-century, we will study the literary and artistic representations of: patriotism and nationalism; justice and criminality; liberty and oppression; just wars and war crimes; free speech and propaganda; victory and defeat; heroism and cowardice; identity and gender; survival and death.
Injustice and Protest in Literature and Art
<protestari> pro-forth + testari-to call to witness. This course will study chronologically (starting with Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” and ending with Pussy Riot and Ai Weiwei) various literary and artistic forms of protest in response to moral and political injustice. Does the individual have both a legal and moral right to disobey an unjust law, and voice that dissent? Does the artist have legal, moral, and artistic rights to publicize injustice? We will consider what the individual’s own particular obligation, if such a demand of conscience exists, is toward calling out and correcting a violation of an individual’s or group’s rights; we will examine to what extent is simple awareness or witnessing insufficient; evaluate the success or failure of declarations of disapproval and courses of action. Various global literary and artistic expressions of protest to be studies include: literature, songs/music, painting/sculpture, etc.
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.
Environmental decisions are frequent and important in daily life at the levels of both personal behavior and governmental policy. Students in Environmental Studies learn about modern environmental science in the context of contemporary global issues, exploring the impact that the decisions of nations and individuals have on local and world ecologies. The course emphasizes the science involved in environmental decisions while also examining the role of ethics, politics, and economics in all real life environmental decisions.
Students examine such topics as ecology and biodiversity, including the nature and effects of succession, evolution, and invasive species; the atmosphere, including air pollution, ozone depletion, and climate change; sources, use, and misuse of water resources; human population and feeding the world’s people, including developments in agriculture and genetic modifications of organisms; and the nature of earth’s energy resources and their use by humankind.
Themes central to the various components of the course include the question of sustainability of ecosystems and the role of humans as an integral part of their environment. Students examine the nature of environmental decisions and the use, limitations, and misuse of environmental science in making those decisions. Additionally, they explore the impact that environmental decisions have on cultures around the world, investigating global issues such as biological conservation, human population growth, and the use of chemical and biological technologies.
Each of these topics is explored through global case studies, scientific literature, historical environmental literature, and national and international policy protocols. Students attend and write about events throughout New York City related to critical local and global environmental issues, including special exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo, and other local institutions that highlight the topics covered in the course.
M. Aaron Owen
This course provides a basic scientific knowledge and understanding of how our world works from an environmental perspective. We will explore the methods, results, and interpretations of recent and historical scientific research to develop an understanding of how the scientific method is used to address public health and environmental issues. The course format will involve a mixture of lecture, peer discussion of current research, and group activities. We will cover current environmental issues facing students today including: population growth and its increasing demands on our planet; the causes and consequences of climate change on local and global scales; agricultural practices and their environmental consequences including the controversies surrounding GMOs and pesticide use; energy types, their impact on the environment, and the sustainability of their use; and finally, the world as an ecosystem, including pollution and waste management, biodiversity and invasion biology, and our role in shaping the future generations’ world. Each topic will be viewed through scientific, environmental, social, political, and economic lenses to provide students with a thorough understanding of its complexity.
South Asian Cultures: South Asian Civilization
The goal of this course is to achieve a broad understanding of the contemporary politics, history, and culture of the Indian sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). Using a variety of literary texts, the dynamic relationship between tradition and modernity in the countries of South Asia will be examined.
This course will take the pattern of lectures at each class that will introduce the historical and sociological contexts for the prescribed texts. This will be followed by a detailed discussion of the texts under consideration. Where possible and relevant, we will intersperse this pattern of classes with the viewing of films, video cassettes, news-clips, etc. Students are strongly urged to watch at least some of the films from the list below, in their own time, to enhance their understanding of the contemporary state of the Indian sub-continent.
East Asian Cultures: Change and Continuity in China
Description: This course introduces East Asian cultures, focusing to a greater or lesser extent on China, Japan, and/or Korea. Aspects of East Asia’s traditional and modern culture are presented by study of some of the area’s Great Books, as well as other literary, political, philosophical, religious and/or artistic works from the traditional, modern, or contemporary periods. 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, the later part of the course will involve an analysis of modern Chinese political and economic policies. Emphasis will be on integrating the textual analyses of primary and secondary sources with the larger historical narrative.
East Asian Cultures: The Quest for Stability, Wealth and Power
All societies, modern and pre-modern, have similar aspirations. Using primary sources, this class will explore how these were attempted in one region. Although there will be some thumb-nail sketches of modern East Asia, the class will focus largely on the ancient past, particularly China’s Age of Antiquity or Classical Age (1100s to 200s BCE), and introduce students to some of the Great Books and major works of Chinese traditional thought. The intellectual and philosophical developments of this period are important as they influenced China‘s later cultural and political evolution, and still color the assumptions of modern-day Chinese. One aim is for students to understand that Communism has existed in China only since l949, and that its ideas are not the sum total of Chinese ways for ethnic Chinese on the mainland, in Hong Kong, on Taiwan, or in the Chinese Diasporas within and beyond East Asia. Another goal is to provide students with a perspective of how China’s current quest for power is part of a recurring development in Chinese history. Yet another aim is to enable students to compare and contrast Chinese and Western perceptions of common societal concerns, such as: The individual’s place in the community; the issues of good government; the challenges of moral development; what constitutes the “good life”; and what it means to be “human”.
History of the Universe
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.
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, climate change, the Double Dark Theory and the ultimate question, "Are we Alone"? 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)
Where Are We? Is Anyone Else Out There?
History of the Universe is an introductory, college level physical science course which uses astronomy as its unifying theme. In this course we will study how people in various times and various cultures saw the universe and their place in it. We will examine what evidence people used to shape their understanding of the universe. We will see how their cultures shaped their understanding and how that understanding, in turn, influenced their cultures.
We will develop an understanding of physics and chemistry sufficient to get a basic understanding of how modern science determines the nature of our universe. Laboratory exercises will help you learn, and help you learn the nature of scientific inquiry. In the sixteen week Fall and Spring semester courses we will conduct an integrated three week project in which you will act as part of a scientific team to determine the nature of a fictitious planetary system and to compare it to our own Solar System.
Ultimately, we will get to the point where we can have a discussion, based in scientific understanding, of the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe and of the challenges of communication, should other intelligent life exists.
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 HIV/AIDS and Zika virus. 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 case studies. Course activities will promote scientific literacy and immersion in the culture of science.
The Greatest Epic
Modern evolutionary theory is a grandiose explanation for both unity and diversity of life on Earth. Life’s unity stems from its origin in a single ancestor. Life’s diversity is a result of constant change that shapes it. In this course, we will use the theory of evolution to make sense of life on Earth. Starting at life’s origins 4 billion years ago, we will follow the footsteps of evolution to understand how atoms became genes, genes became animals, and animals became humans. We will examine both the philosophical and practical meaning of life’s major evolutionary milestones such as multicellularity or the development of language. We will specifically emphasize the role and place of humanity in the system of the natural world by focusing on how human culture arises naturally from the principles of evolution, physiology and neural sciences.
From DNA to Darwin
In this course we'll discuss the process of science and how it is used to build knowledge about the natural world. Throughout the semester we'll examine not only the biology of living things but also the associated social, economic, legal and ethical issues. The overarching theme of the course will be evolution, which is the fundamental theory of biology. We'll begin by learning about the structure and function of DNA from The Double Helix and then about the relationship between genes, mutations, and proteins. Next we'll read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and discuss the topics of cancer and medical testing. Modern genetics and biotechnology will be addressed by examining inheritance and the techniques involved in DNA fingerprinting and gene sequencing. We’ll then study natural selection by reading On the Origin of Species and then incorporating our knowledge of molecular biology to discuss the modern theory of evolution and speciation. Real life examples of human evolution will be examined in more detail. We'll round out the semester by covering the biology Ebola and HIV/AIDS. Throughout the semester students will complete several assignments including participating in a Citizen Science project and visiting the American Museum of Natural History. This course is “flipped” which means that I will not be lecturing in class. Students will complete readings, view short lectures online and complete short quizzes before class meetings. In class we will discuss readings, go over quizzes, and complete a variety of activities like case studies, model building and more.
Principles of Microeconomics
Science of Technology
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 copy machines, telephone, radio, television, lasers, and cameras will be investigated.
Social Foundations II
This course is the second of three, which explore key texts of the liberal arts tradition. Our readings will help us discover what some of the most prominent Renaissance, Enlightenment-era, and early modern world writers thought about justice, democracy, nature, death, and spirit(s). Our search will take us to the heart of the great revolutions of France and the fledgling colonies of America, and to the Near, Middle, and Far East and onto Latin America. Two themes that will merge will be a tracing of the narrative voice and the journey involved in extracting ideas across history. It is hoped that this journey into the past will help make sense of some of the ways of thinking and feeling about existence in the world today. A key learning objective will be the strengthening of critical thinking ability. We will critically assess the role this period’s ideologies have played in shaping the dominant mindsets or worldviews in the contemporary world.
Mystics, Warriors, Skeptics
This course will examine a selection of religious, social, and philosophical texts from the 7th to the 18th Century in order to reconsider fundamental questions about the relation between the individual and society. Themes will include the nature and goals of the faith-based community, the conflict between the subject-self and the object-self, the question of political legitimacy, historicity and the other, the warrior code, and doubt and causality.
Texts will include selections from both the revealed and mystical traditions of Islam and Christianity (the Qur’an, Ibn Arabi’s The Universal Tree and the Four Birds, Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae and St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night); selections from the histories and guides to life produced by the warrior cultures of colonial Spain, Aztec Mexico, and Shogunate Japan (Diaz’s The Conquest of New Spain, the Cantares Mexicanos and Yamamoto’s Hagakure); and selections from the philosophical works of Montaigne, Descartes, Al-Ghazali and Hume.
Great Ideas from the Renaissance and Enlightenment Set in a Modern Context
We begin with the Arabic Golden Age: Ibn Rushdie combined Aristotle with the Koran, but Al
Gahzali said this was heretical. St. Thomas Acquinas advised the Roman Catholic Church to
teach Aristotle and follow Ibn Rushdie's lead.
The translation of Aristotle's works opened the floodgates to a re-birth of Classical Greek and
Roman thought. Thomas More wrote about a Utopia, based on Plato's Republic, while Hobbes
and Locke debated Aristotle's political theories.
The Protestant Reformation inadvertently encouraged both capitalist and democratic
movements, along with a revolutionary change in the structure and doctrine of the Christian
The democratic movements emphasized "the rights of man". The next logical question was,
"what of the rights of women?" Mary Wollstonecraft and Condorcet militated for women's rights.
Finally, with capitalism and industrialism creating both an economic miracle and a social
tragedy at the same time, Adam Smith and Karl Marx described the new economy--one extolling
the miracle, the other condemning the tragedy.
Domination, Exploitation and Philosophy
The long period under investigation in this course saw the development of the the Christian pastorate and state, the Islamic ulama and state, the modern European colonial state, mercantile capitalism along with sophisticated financial institutions, slave-based modes of resource extraction in the colonial systems, as well as modern experimental and mathematical sciences. It also saw the disintegration of European spiritual unity corresponding with the division of global empires, and finally the bloody culmination of the Thirty Years War in the Peace of Westphalia, which channeled the aggressive European race for global domination and made possible the construction of the modern liberal order. Studying texts that reflect and sometimes explicitly stake a claim in these globalizing processes, we will refer back to the traditions studied in Social Foundations I and look ahead to contemporary debates.
From the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment
In this course we will examine major texts representing intellectual movements prominent in the world during the 11th to the 17th century. We will explore important ideas and questions that became urgent in that period and that are still relevant in our own society. One type of questions in this course concerns the nature and limits of knowledge. For example, how do you know, whether you are not dreaming while you are reading this? Other questions concern education. Most questions, however, will concern the foundations of a society in which people live decently together. For example, we will ask what kind of constitution and laws will keep the spirit of citizens high, that is, what will make citizens recognize that the common welfare and their own selfish interests overlap sufficiently, to justify the restraint and cooperation that society demands.
The Rise of Modernity: From Religion and Magic to Science & Technology
SF-2 spans the period from the late 7th century to the late 1700s. We will trace radical transitions in the history of ideas (philosophical, religious and some scientific) of this period. We will focus chiefly on one aspect of the story of this period: radical changes in the concept of nature, and the relationship between humanity, nature and the supernatural.
Ours is the story of the transformation of the ancient world, the rise and ubiquity of magical worldview in Europe, its interaction with orthodox Christianity, and its eventual replacement by science and technology. Radical uncertainty, stimulated by (and stimulating) major changes in worldview and political power, shifted philosophical attention to questions about the nature of knowledge itself. The central debate between rationalism and empiricism has shaped subsequent philosophical thinking ever since. Key Texts include, selections from the Qur’an; key texts by Al-Ghazali, ibn Rushd, Suhravardi, and Rumi; Aquinas,Quinque viae; Pico, Oration; Erasmus, The Praise of Folly; Neodaoist text The Golden Lotus; Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead; Descartes, Meditations; Hume, Enquiry; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Other texts include Yates, Giardano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition; Merchant, The Death of Nature.
Historical Background: From the late 8th to the late 13th centuries Abbasid “Houses of Wisdom” undertook the state-sponsored, systematic collection, translation and creative synthesis of mathematics, logic, philosophy, science and religion from Levantine, Byzantine, Greek, Indian, and Chinese sources. This unique and massive project gave rise to a wealth of cultural innovations. Medieval European assimilation—through military (the Crusades), economic (the “Silk Road”) and academic means—of the Islamic Empire’s vast resources stimulated the Renaissance of scientific, philosophical, religious and technological interests. European innovations quickened the pace of progress in nearly every field, including finance. The resulting rapid expansion of European culture and capital has been accelerating for the last 400 years, fueled by technological exploitation and transformation of nature, and aggressive colonization at the expense of indigenous societies worldwide. This period of intensive global adventures of exploration, discovery and exploitation gave rise the world as we know it, with all of its riches, its iniquities and its interdependencies.
The Rise of Modernity: From Religion and Magic to Science & Technology
This section of SF-2 spans the period from the late 7th century to the 1600s. We’ll trace key transitions in the history of (chiefly) philosophical, religious and scientific. Radical changes in the concept of nature have major impacts on the relationship between the intertwined worlds humanity, nature and divinity. The rise of Islamic civilization accelerated cultural interactions between European, Middle Eastern and Chinese civilizations. Radical uncertainty stimulates and is stimulated by major changes in worldview and political power. These changes shifted western philosophical attention, during the 16th and 17th centuries, from concepts of reality to concepts of knowledge. The dialogue between rationalist and empiricist approaches has shaped philosophical thinking ever since. Key Texts include, the Qur’an; classics of Islamic philosophy, mysticism, Christian theology, Hermeticism and humanism; the Chinese, Secret of the Golden Flower; The Tibetan Buddhist Book of the Dead; Descartes; Locke; Hume; Kant.
Religion and Politics in the Medieval World
This course introduces students to philosophies, religions, polities, and economies of late antiquity, the medieval world, the Reformation and Enlightenment. Students will read foundational texts in the late Roman, Byzantine, Muslim, and West European Christian cultures with particular attention to the encounter of the West with Islam. Among the many topics to be explored are authority in medieval civil and ecclesial institutions, philosophical conceptions of God and the good, Islamic political and social ideals, theories of representative government and the politics of power. Among the historical characters to be encountered are Constantine, Theodoric the Ostrogoth, Boethius, the Byzantine Emperor and Empress Justinian and Theodora, Muhammad, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Erasmus, John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Locke. In addition to short papers, a midterm and final, students will engage in a debate on a contemporary hypothetical, each side taking the political positions articulated by Erasmus and Machiavelli respectively.
Economic and Environmental History of the Post-Classical World
This class will explore the economic and environmental history of the post-classical world. Using a mix of primary documents and recent historiography, we will focus on the interaction between nominally “natural” and “social” forces. Though never reducing social and political events to purely environmental factors, the class readings and discussions will seek to breakdown the conceptual distinction between society and nature. We will read global history as a process in which the human and nonhuman elements of biophysical reality constantly shape and reshape each other. How have disease, climate, and geography interacted with, shaped and been shaped by human forces such as political violence, state formation, economic growth, and religious doctrine? We will examine the social impacts and causes of events like the bubonic plague, the Little Ice Age, and the Columbian Exchange ie, the transfer of animals, plants, diseases, and people between the American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres. We will explore Medieval Europe, the rise of Islam, the Mongol Empire, the Mayans and Aztecs of Mesoamerica, West African societies, the rise of the Atlantic slave trade, and we will spend a considerable amount of time looking at pre- and post contact Native Americans societies.
Histories and Societies, Citizens and the Disenfranchised, Cultural Contacts and Conflicts
The course includes the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, from c. 476 to 1700. Among the themes examined will be theories and practices of the state/community, encounters and conflicts, and the impact of these on the disenfranchised (in particular women and slaves). The geographic/ cultural focus will include the following areas, with representative texts (subject to change) assigned included in parentheses: Europe (St. Benedict, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Reformation writers, Hobbes, Locke), Byzantium and Islam (Procopius, The Qur’an), and Colonial Mexico (Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz). This course often uses visual sources to supplement the material and provide background. There will be some focus on History, as this is my area of expertise, though also some literary and philosophical material. There will also be one or two class trips (usually on Fridays outside of class time).
This course will study events and ideas starting with the beginnings of Islam, through the medieval period up to the early Enlightenment. The creation of the last major Abrahamic religion sets the stage for much of the political and religious conflict that would involve the Mediterranean world, western Europe and the middle east to India.
This period involves some of the most significant intellectual insights about the nature of the physical universe and the laws that govern it, as well as the beginning of the Global World with the European “discovery of the New World.
There is a dramatic tension between the force of history and human attempts to comprehend and order the world. We will also take into account current events in an effort to set them in the context of previous historical and philosophical development.
Through the Medieval Looking Glass
The course explores the philosophical and political thought of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the early Modern period through an analysis of some of the classic texts of each era. The goal for each student is to be able to read and analyze the text, write intelligently about the text, and become familiar with the work’s philosophical, historical, and cultural background and the impact the text has had on our society.
Rhetoric and Pre-Modernity: Questioning the Past
This course, which is comprised of medieval and pre-modern texts that are chosen for their debating value, treats substance and style as unified rather than separate entities. We shall examine not only what a particular argument is but also how that argument is presented. In order to examine conflicting, but often complementary points of view, we shall pair Machiavelli’s Discourses with his Prince, Hobbes’ On the Citizen with his Leviathan, and de Las Casas with de Sepúlveda. Similarly we shall compare al-Ghazali with Aquinas after we read the Koran as a way to understand the varied ways of understanding the relationship between faith and reason. Students study both sides of various debates so that they can develop their own viewpoints and learn how to present these in speech and in writing.
From the Medieval to the Early Modern World
This course spans a thousand years of moral and political thought, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. to the beginnings of modern times at the close of the revolutionary seventeenth century. Topics include the demise of the classical world, the rise of Islam, the development of medieval philosophy, the social thought of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the ensuing ferocity of the wars of religion, the emergence of the modern nation-state, the rise of modern science, and the foundations of the Bushido tradition in Japan. We aim at placing original texts in their historical setting and developing an appreciation of the merits and limitations of each. The emphasis is on critical analysis. Class discussion and analytical essays are crucial.
Idealism vs Realism
In Social Foundations II we will study topics in world history from about 500 BCE to about 1700, focusing on the theme of idealism vs realism. In the first half of the term we will examine various visions of an ideal society, including Tacitus’ Germans, Benedict’s monastery, Marco Polo’s China, and modern Muslims’ umma. In the second half of the semester, beginning with the Italian Renaissance and Machiavelli, the emphasis shifts to realist writers and their different view of human nature and the nature of society. But idealism never disappears; it simply takes new forms. John Locke created the modern idealism of natural rights, the rule of law, and equality. Representative texts include Benedict’s Rule, John Bowker’s What Muslims Believe, More’s Utopia, Diaz’s Conquest of New Spain, and Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government.
The Power of Religion and the Rise of Modernity
This class continues the examination of philosophic, religious, political, social, and historical ideas from the Middle Ages to the modern age. After reading from medieval Islamic and Christian philosophy and Chinese literature on Confucianism, we will explore the intellectual and cultural dynamics of the High Middle Ages of Europe and the developments in other parts of the world. The revival of Aristotle’s works, philosophical debates on Plato’s teachings, Jewish, Christian and Islamic mystical movements, the Holy Crusade, and the rise of the vernacular literature are some of the subjects we will cover. All of these will enable us to understand some of the important developments in this time period, which later became crucial for the rise of humanism and the Renaissance. We will then read Petrarch for humanism and Valla for Renaissance philosophy. Our next period will be the rise of modernity. Here we will first study More’s Utopia and then explore Erasmus-Luther debate on theological issues, as we study some of the important issues of the Reformation. Our next topic will be explorers and the early modern scientific spirit (Kepler, Copenicus and Galileo). Our course will end with readings from two important philosophical movements of the modern age: rationalism (Descartes) and empiricism (Locke). As we read from a variety of authors in this class, students are expected to further their critical thinking, analytical skills, techniques of textual interpretation and comparative textual analysis.
Social Foundations III
The Search for Liberty, Wealth, and Power
This course will examine two themes about the 18th to early 20th centuries: the further development of Western democracy (the Quest for Liberty), and the impact of Western global dominance as countries in the West and beyond contended for economic, political and military survival (the Search for Wealth and Power). With the former theme, we will explore the ideals and problems of Western societies shifting from authoritarian rule to mass democracy. With the latter theme, we will examine how the West rose to world dominance, and how some societies (Asia, for instance) responded to Western colonialism and imperialism. One aim is to answer the question of why democracy is so hard to implement and sustain, given the difficulties (if not failures) of societies instituting democratic systems (e.g. the Arab Spring, Iraq). Through primary materials, we will look at the contradictions and paradoxes of constitutional government that created (and still create) challenges faced by all democracies, even mature ones (e.g. America). Understanding these dynamics will suggest why today’s newer democracies are struggling, and why some societies were and are skeptical over the efficacy of Western institutions. Another objective is to look at the consequences of globalization. From the 1500s on, Europe’s political, economic and military rivalries intruded into other regions of the world, challenging or overthrowing indigenous regimes and undermining their traditional ways. Western libertarianism had its oppressive side that precipitated crises in non-Western countries forcing their modernization. Debates within these countries (with China as an example) raised questions as to the viability of Western ways, and the cultural “superiority” of the colonial/imperialistic powers. Such questions are still raised today. Students may find it uncomfortable to read such criticisms; but it is hoped that they will come to understand why such critiques were and are being made.
From Humans to Posthumans
This course develops around the notion of the “human,” presenting it not as a static category but as a process which is constantly evolving. In the first part of the course, we will explore key concepts such as evolution (Darwin) and the superhuman (Nietzsche), entering the emerging field of bioethics and the pros and cons of human enhancement. In the second part of the course, we will address the deconstruction of the notion of the human, highlighting the fact that the “human” is not one but many: from the Seventies and Eighties (Feminism, Critical Race Theory, Post-Colonialism) to the Nineties (Cyborg Theory, Queer Studies, Environmental Studies). We will then address the notion of the “posthuman,” which has become a key term to cope with the urgency for an integral redefinition of the human; specifically, we will explore the differences between Posthumanism and Transhumanism, entering actively into the debate. Lastly, we will reflect upon space migration and the future of our planet.
These are some of the readings:
Origin of Species or The Descent of Man (Charles Darwin)
Thus Spoke Zarathustra (Friedrich Nietzsche)
“Letter From Birmingham Jail” (Martin Luther King)
The Posthuman (Rosi Braidotti)
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.
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.
Selfies, a cultural history
Students in this course study selfies – autobiographies, self-portraits, confessional poetry, self-referential films -- from 1750 to the present. Charges of egotism and narcissism will be considered, but we hope too to celebrate artistic naval-gazing where merit is earned. 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, Mary Rowlandson, Frederick Douglass, Thoreau, Whitman, Gertrude Stein, Ghandi, and Ginsberg. Prolific self-portrait artists like Rembrandt, van Gogh, Khalo, Warhol, and Mapplethorpe will capture our eyes. Filmmakers who turn the camera on themselves include Jean Rouch, Maya Deren, 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.
Political Violence in Modernity
This class will look at modern perspectives on political violence as well as the relation between political violence and specifically modern phenomena. Questions that will be addressed are: What are the origins of political violence? Can institutions be constructed that limit, and even eliminate it? Or could such institutions be instruments of political violence themselves? Is political violence ever just? What is the relation between political violence and specifically modern phenomena, like the rule of law, global commerce, imperialism, colonialism, and secularism? Due to these modern phenomena, does political violence diminish or proliferate? Authors that we will read include Immanuel Kant, Max Weber, Georges Sorel, Carl Schmitt, Hannah Arendt, Mahatma Gandhi and Franz Fanon.
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.
In this course we want to examine the principal political ideologies that people have
adopted since 1700. Major changes in society cause people to step back and reassess their basic beliefs, to try to adjust to the new reality. The Scientific Revolution of the 1600s was one such change. It led to an ideological movement called the Enlightenment, which celebrated reason and science as avenues to progress. The French Revolution (1790s) was another radical change, but people disagreed on how to interpret it. Conservatives, romantics, and nationalists all reacted with different ideologies to make sense of the new reality. The Industrial Revolution (1770-1850) was another challenge: it led capitalists, Marxists, libertarians, and feminists to see people and society in new, and different, ways. In the late nineteenth century, Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859) seemed to explain Europe’s imperialistic dominance of the globe, and that dominance inspired yet other ideologies.
Self and the City
Writing II introduces students to advanced reading, writing, thinking, and research. It emphasizes writing as a means of critical thinking, inquiry, and discovery, through drafting, feedback, and revision. Building on skills developed in Writing I, students practice informal and formal writing, including a final research project. This section, Self and the City, will involve reading and writing about New York City, as well as reading memoir and practicing the art of memoir. Texts about the city will include pieces by John Berger, James Baldwin, and Colson Whitehead. Examples of memoir that we’ll read are by Sylvia Plath, Richard Ford, Lucy Grealy, and Chang-Rae Lee; we may read some Alison Bechdel and Proust as well. The final research project will be on a subculture or an element of your own background; articles from The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine, on subcultures, will be read to model the craft.
(Re) Writing Oral History
“Oral history is vital to our understanding of the cultures and experiences of the past. Unlike written history, oral history forever captures people’s feelings, expressions, and nuances of language.” (Donald A. Ritchie)
In this course we will use oral history as the basis of exploration for many issues confronting individuals in our society today, from immigration, to changing definitions of what it means to be an American, to whatever space and/or plage might mean to an individual or even a group.
In addition to collecting and transcribing oral histories, students will grapple with such questions as: What is oral history? How reliable is the information gathered by oral historians? What are the particular uses of oral history?
Visualizing Stories and Telling Tales
This class will be experienced as a writing workshop and of particular interest to creative
thinkers and writers. Our focuses will be multifold, with a special emphasis on critical
thinking and analysis, partnered to exploring a range of writing for performance and
visual arts practices. We will consider storytelling, identity, writing styles, and language
usage, through a variety of literary and performance texts, photography, media and visual
arts exhibitions, available to us here in New York City’s expansive, cultural backdrop.
You will express your examined discoveries in response essays, creative writings, and a
final research portfolio that reflects your interpretive analysis and originality.
The Self, the Social, and Making Change
Writing II introduces students to advanced reading, writing, thinking, and research. It emphasizes writing as a means of critical thinking, inquiry, and discovery, through drafting, feedback, and revision. Building on skills developed in Writing I, students practice informal and formal writing, including a final interdisciplinary research project.
In this section, we’ll focus on the relationship between the ‘private’ or ‘personal’ and the larger social structures that we are all a part of. We’ll pay particular attention to emotion and affect. In what ways are our individual feelings determined by structures outside of ourselves? How do people come to form collectivities that challenge those structures? We’ll think about both contemporary and past social movements, with an emphasis on the relationship between publicity and privacy. Possible texts include work by Samuel Delaney, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Edwidge Danticat, Dodie Bellamy, Virginia Woolf, Claudia Rankine, James Baldwin, David Wojnarowicz, and Amy Berkowitz. We’ll also pay special attention to form and style.
Family Memory, Myth, and History
What are ‘family myths’? How do they shape our lives? How can we know the truth when faced with unreliable memory? To what extent do we inherit the history of our ancestors? Students write memoir and family histories, as well as a researched, critical analysis of texts about family. Family in art, photography and film may be considered. Readings may include essays by Sigmund Freud, bell hooks, Joyce Carol Oates, Roland Barthes, Patricia Hampl, Maureen Murdock, Vivian Gornick, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc; memoirs and fiction by Antonio Barolini, Italo Calvino, Maxine Hong Kingston, James McBride and graphic novelist Art Spiegelman.
Writing New York
Writing New York (ed. Phillip Lopate) is divided into three parts: Immigration, Writers, and Landmarks. The readings, all NY centric, dovetail into the writing.
The main objective is to develop and refine the skills necessary for writing a university-level research paper. Whatever your current writing ability or background, this course increases your self-awareness as a writer, encourages your curiosity about research and sharpens your persuasive use of evidence. Reading and writing assignments are designed to focus upon these skills.
Writers: Choose an era that interests you and pick a corresponding writer who was either from New York or had a New York period. Analyze the writer and his work from a historical perspective. It is your job to discover the world in which they lived, immerse yourself in it, and parlay your research into a dazzling paper.
Immigration: students research their family backgrounds, including personal interviews. Readings past and present describe the immigrant experience. For generations, immigrants have come to America looking for a better life. Why opt for New York City?
Landmarks: Students pick a landmark where a political, social, or historical event took place, combining the event with research of the landmark; visiting the landmark is mandatory.
Robert (Bill) Dunks
Writing I and II comprise a two-semester writing sequence in which students develop analytical thinking abilities in the context of academic essay writing. In Writing II, students develop their skills in analysis and argumentation by exploring the ways in which the ideas of others can be incorporated into their own writing. Students read and discuss longer, more challenging texts; in their own writing, students are expected to incorporate a broad range of primary and secondary sources to develop and support their increasingly complex ideas. Students are familiarized with a wide variety of possible resources at the library and learn the mechanics and conventions of the academic research essay. The course continues to encourage in-class participation, collaborative learning, and workshop presentations.
Our Writing II class will be about improving your communication skills, particularly writing, through reading, observing, interacting with, and of course writing about, various texts. Specifically, you will work on improving your argumentative skills. Each of you will write both informally and formally and discuss these writings in class. In addition to improving your writing and reading, the class’s goal will be to exercise your critical thinking skills. To these ends, we will study raising awareness in writing as modeled by James Balog in Chasing Ice, class criticism as argued by Charles Dickens in Hard Times and Karl Marx in Wage-Labour and Capital, and criticism of education as presented by Paolo Freire, amongst others.
Urban Migration, Personal Redefinition, and Mythos of NYC as a component of
This course will explore how the fantasies we have regarding New York City are fundamental to how the city works and the real impact these fictions have on the lives we construct for ourselves here. Through a mix of personal reflection, hands on research, and bibliographic exploration, we devise projects that embody not only how fantasy is a component of agency in a general sense, but how this phenomenon plays out in our individual lives.
New Ideas, New Forms for the Essay
The challenge of this course is to find new ways to articulate your ideas. At this point, most writing students have had sufficient practice in organizing their ideas within the boundaries of a conventional academic essay (with thesis, body paragraphs, conclusion, etc.), but in this course we aim to complicated those received forms with some new structures of our own making. To this end, we will study writing that challenges the structure of the essay by, for instance, merging memoir, essay writing, and creative forms into one. The course will be organized around two major projects: 1) an autobiographical, mosaic research project that revolves around “you” but only by researching and writing about the subjects that have influenced your life (Griffin, Philip);
2) a creative response to a literary work that imitates, updates, bastardizes, or modifies the literary work in order to create a new work (Ionesco-Le Fraga, Conrad-Morrison, Baudelaire-Brown). These creative responses will be accompanied by a researched rationale that can also employ an unconventional form. As we consider this shift in essay writing, it’s important to realize that our own practice of writing could serve as a new way into analysis and understanding. Hopefully, we will discover that it is possible to treat the essay as an incomplete entity, still evolving, and still in dialogue with new writers and readers.
The second semester of Writing traditionally focuses on longer projects. These projects will ask you to write from your own experience as well as consult outside sources. We’ll begin by looking at ourselves and our other selves and by reading some texts that can help us on this journey. And because we know that any long journey begins with smaller steps, we will explore how shorter pieces can help you write an essay that is longer and more substantial. But the main goal, as always, is to help you develop fluency, confidence and clarity as writers. The rest follows.
Know Your City
Whether NYC is your permanent home or temporary one, for the time being, it is the city in which you live- your city. How well do you know your city? With over 8 million people and 800 languages, we are living in the largest and most diverse city in America. This semester, our focus is on getting to know our city by reading, inquiring, researching, reflecting, and writing about the people, places, communities, histories, narratives, controversies, legends and culture of New York City.
We will continue to develop and hone the critical thinking and writing skills you developed in Writing I- with the added emphasis on research and investigation.
We will write several short papers throughout the semester and two longer formal essays: One profile of a person or place in NYC, and one longer paper where you follow your own path of inquiry into a topic of your choosing related to NYC.
The Art and Politics of Memoir
What does it mean to write memoir and personal narrative? Is memoir simply the genre of the self-absorbed or might there be bigger, political implications for memoir writing? How do we theorize memoir and personal narrative? Can we apply the same techniques and standards that we use when examining fiction? When does the representation of a life become “art”? We will explore all of these questions and more throughout the semester as we examine personal narrative essays and full length memoirs by various authors. Some possibilities include: James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Claudia Rankine, Cheryl Strayed, Karl Knausgaard, Jeanette Winterson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Mary Karr, Victor Villanueva Jr, David Sedaris, Dalton Conley, Sherman Alexie, and Allison Bechdel.
Students will have the chance to dabble in their own memoir writing throughout the term, but will use course readings and discussions to generate a research project using primary and secondary sources.
In his book Epic of America James Truslow Adams, coined the term The American Dream: “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” In this course we will examine a variety of texts—fiction and creative nonfiction, film, music, and poetry—to illuminate how they address the idea of The American Dream. We will discuss the elements of the dream and explore questions including how has it changed over time, who has access to it, and who does not? During the semester, you will produce three major essays (each will which will require varying degrees of research), three response papers, and deliver a group presentation. The class also requires you to produce daily informal writing.
Mary Helen Kolisnyk
Writing a Place in the World
What makes New York the city we know, or believe, it to be? How do people find a place for themselves here? This course offers students opportunities to look into this question, using observation, experience and research to get to know New York, and the urban experience generally, better. To do so, we will practice writing skills and challenge our conventional thinking about our notions of citizenship, ownership and the city. The class will consider a variety of sources as we draft and revise 3 essays on the urban experience: readings may include Michel de Certeau, Andre Aciman and Rebecca Solnit, and topics may include graffiti, public space, and shopping. The course will appeal both to students who already consider themselves writers, and those who could never imagine doing so!
Investigating American Cultural Mythology - A Course in Research Methods
This course is a continuation of the work that you began in Writing I, with the main
objective being to develop and refine the skills necessary for writing a university-level research paper. Whatever your current writing ability or background, this course will increase your self-awareness as a writer, encourage your curiosity about research, and sharpen your persuasive use of evidence. Reading assignments and writing assignments are designed to focus upon these skills, as well as encouraging critical thinking.
Part of this class is a writing workshop, not a lecture, so your active participation and commitment are necessary at all times during the semester. Every class begins with a five-minute free writing warm up exercise, so it is important to be on time. Because of the need to focus your full attention on the discussion during class, no lap top computers are permitted in class.
Our class will focus much more on your ideas than it will on the mechanical aspects of writing. We will, of course, review basic grammar rules on an as-needed basis, but mainly activities in this writing class, both in the workshop and homework, will involve reading, discussing ideas, and writing informally in preparation for producing formal research essays.
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? To what extent might it be a cultural phenomenon? 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, and literature by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alison Bechdel, Russell Banks, Chang-Rae Lee, Junot Diaz, and Jhumpa Lahiri. Writing assignments will include a thematic research analysis, a comparative textual analysis, and a piece of literary nonfiction. 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.
The Artist’s Vision
How do art objects of our time focus and frame the way we see the world around us? In this course, we will build on our knowledge of the essay as a flexible, investigative form to complete two in-depth projects. The first essay will be a close reading of a television series in a cultural context, whose ultimate goal is to make a claim about the cultural/political moment whose meaning the series explores. The second essay will look closely at the career and work of a contemporary artist, and again we will build a context in order to have an original idea about how that artist’s vision asks us to understand some aspect of the world in which we live. For each project, we will research the medium in question and build a theoretical vocabulary to describe its larger implications.
Home and Away
This writing course will focus on human migration, as old as human history, and currently of striking prominence in the news accounts of Syrians fleeing westward, and Mexicans seeking opportunity to the north. To establish some perspective on so global a subject we’ll begin by reading and discussing two excellent, very short introductions entitled International Migration and American Immigration. Students will write an informal report, deriving from this initial investigation, after which the class will turn to the actual human experience underlying such a vast phenomenon as human migration, and how it can transform our ideas of nation, citizenship, identity, ethnicity, and home. Fiction writers such Amy Tam, Sandra Cisneros, Henry Roth and Salman Rushdie will offer us access to such considerations. There will be a formal essay due at the end of the semester, and a month-long maintenance of a journal or blog.
Writing about Moving Pictures
This second semester of the two semester sequence of Writing will take as its focus the subject of moving pictures: what they are, how they are made, their function as art and entertainment, their reception in private or with an audience—all with an emphasis on narrative, that is how they tell a story. Cinema, film, movies—and we’ll start with the connotations of these words—will be the subject, in different ways, of all three of the required assignments: two rather short essays, and a final research essay. We will consider the perspective of both the makers and consumers of motion pictures, the relation of cinematic art relation to the other arts, and the wide-ranging effects they’ve had on the world since their invention. The required text will be one of the standard books on the subject: How to Read a Movie by James Monaco, which comes in an electronic form that includes an excellent dictionary of terms and four hours of movie clips.
Ha Ha: Philosophies, Politics, and Cultures of Laughter
Why are you laughing and what does your laughter mean? There is certainly some truth to the axiom that to analyze a joke is to kill it, but that doesn’t mean the analysis isn’t worthwhile. In this course we’ll first consider a few ideas about laughter; we’ll then examine several case studies will help us test—via in-class discussions, informal and formal writing, and critiques—and further complicate philosophies of laughter. As the semester progresses, we’ll pay closer attention to the relationships between intercultural communication and laughter: the final project—an individual essay informed by group research—will give you the chance to conduct a sustained examination of the dynamics of laughter in an intercultural context of your choosing. Along the way, you will learn to incorporate in your writing the contextual awareness, curiosity, improvisation, and independent thinking that comedy, scholarship, and writing each entail.
Small Screens and the Politics of Looking
How do essayists write about visual texts like selfies, memes, and television shows? What can we see when we stare into the screens of our phones? What are the politics of looking and how have essayists negotiated the complicated relationship between voyeurism and activism? How is the essay itself an act of seeing and knowing? In this course, we will immerse ourselves in two long-essay projects: a contextualized close-reading essay of a long-form television show and an essay in which we use theory and history to make meaning out of cultural/political moment. Along the way, we’ll write sentences, aphorisms, blog posts, paragraphs, and poems. Some of our favorite essayists will include: Kwame Anthony Appiah, Roland Barthes, Roxanne Gay, J. Jack Halberstam, Emily Nussbaum, Claudia Rankine, Susan Sontag, and Slavoj Zizek.
Observing Others: Thick Description
Students in this class will study and write essays about ethnographies, or “thick” descriptions of people in their everyday contexts. After considering historical studies by Zora Neale Hurston and Clifford Geertz, students will engage in certain elementary field-working techniques while researching and writing an essay about communities in New York City. Questions central to our investigations are: What is the proper point of view when writing about cultures that are foreign to the writer? What are the pros and cons of insider and outsider status when studying cultures? We will critique the uses of film as a tool for studying humans and their habits. The final research project will be a research essay about New Yorkers and their communities.
(Dis)placement: Belonging and Alienation
We are all products of our environments, as the old cliché goes. Yet, each of us relates to the places we occupy differently. Who we are shapes how we experience new spaces, and those spaces affect our sense of self. In this course we will read and write about how people observe and identify with various places (including, but not limited to, nations, cities, and neighborhoods). We will consider the importance of perspective: how identity—race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and regional affiliation—and personal experience shape what a place means and even its appearance. At the same time, we will explore how writings about place shed light on the fundamental interconnectedness of human existence. Course requirements include reading various works of nonfiction, maintaining a writing journal, completing several short writing assignments, and working on an independent piece of writing based on primary and secondary research.
The Dream, The Journey, the Stranger
This course is rooted in an exploration of the late John Gardner’s famous dictum—There are only two stories in the world: I Went on a Journey and A Stranger Came to Town. Using short stories, a study of dream lore, and an interview project, we will consider the Journey/Stranger archetype in art, the unconscious, and our own lives. Readings include stories by Kafka, Oates, O’Brien, Carver (among others), magazine interviews, and The Dreamer’s Companion. Writing assignments include an interview/profile project, a dream research project, and a final essay on short stories.
Reading and Writing New York City
From the Golden Age of Henry James and Edith Wharton to the outpouring of creative and intellectual energies during the Harlem Renaissance, the 1960’s, and the AIDS crisis, New York has long inspired the imagination of writers and visual artists. This course will examine diverse representations of the city’s people, places and history in various narrative forms. What makes a text a New York narrative? What views of a particular historical/ideological moment do literature, film, and other media provide, and how do these views compare?
This course is designed to enhance critical thinking, writing and research skills through working on short papers throughout the semester, culminating in a longer paper that will use both primary and secondary sources. Our reading will collected in a packet made available to the students, and also the text They Say, I Say 3rd edition, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.
The Smart City of New York
This writing section will focus on the meaning of the “smart city” and the ways this collection of technology affects New York City. Topics of student research will revolve around the Hudson Yards project as an example of the way New York is remaking itself for the 21st Century and will explore the impact of technology on the city in such areas as politics, architecture, city planning, connectivity, privacy, social life, the arts, and commerce.
Kristi Marie Steinmetz
Body Captivities and Social Place: Intersections of Race, Gender, and Desire
In this writing intensive course, students will engage in multi-modal research projects involving inquiries of intersectionality. Students will learn research methods as they write a long-form essay using a variety of related sources. Interdisciplinary readings will include work from Gloria Anzaldúa, LeAnne Howe, Mary Louise Pratt, Joy Castro, Judith Butler, Ava DuVernay, Gloria Bird, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Ruth Behar, and Atul Gawande. We will also investigate mainstream media sources to locate and engage with current identity representations and social movements (such as #SayHerName and the Sioux’s battle against the Dakota oil pipeline). How can our own creative research writing enter into cultural conversations to shift normatives that maintain unjust social disparities?
Branching Out from the Family Tree
In this course the exploration of history through the lens of ancestry culminates in enlightening, and often surprising, new understandings of both history and family. You will practice a wide variety of research skills as you search for information not only about your ancestors, but also about the way history entwines with your family’s story. We will look at the way various writers have used memoir, historical research, family stories and interviews, as well as fiction to connect the historical past with the present. You will choose several branches of historical research to pursue in relation to your family history and create your own historical document illustrated with maps, photographs, documents, and newspaper articles, which explores personal connections between history, ancestry, identity, setting, and culture. Selections from this extensive paper will be shared in a final presentation to contribute to the class’s knowledge of what is always a most diverse and fascinating array of discoveries.
American Popular Music
The course is divided into two sections. The first develops a background in American popular music of the 20th Century, focusing on the 1920s into the 1980s. In this section, we'll listen to, read about, and write about songs, figures, and music from the period, including “Mood Indigo,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Respect,” Duke Ellington, Janis Joplin, James Brown, jazz, folk, and funk. Reading will include Greil Marcus'sMystery Train, essays by Ellen Willis and Lester Bangs, and a smattering of reviews. The second section will be devoted to research papers students develop in relation to the first section's foundational material. Research can involve music of more recent decades, and music from other traditions (Indian, Middle Eastern, etc.).
Food for Thought
This writing course will explore issues related to food: production, distribution, preparation, consumption, ethics, class. We’ll examine the history of food writing, discuss contemporary food movements, and consider the impact our eating has on others. For most of us, food is pleasure. In this class, we’ll ask how we can love to eat, but love to eat critically. You’ll write two long essays: a critical response to the food situation today in the form of an eating manifesto, and a question-driven research paper that begins with field work (finding and eating a specific dish in New York City) paired with an examination of texts held in NYU’s Fales Library Food and Cookery Collection (old recipes for said dish).
Writing Lives: Memoir, Profiles and Personal Essays
Writing Lives will explore the stories of self and of others. By looking at memoirs and personal essays by writers as diverse as Patti Smith, Joan Didion, Alison Bechdel, Oliver Sacks and Richard Selzer, we will examine the ways in which writers make sense of their private and public worlds through writing. In this class, students will write three longer works: a memoir, a critical profile, and an extended study of a memoir, biography or book of personal essays of their choice. The course will encourage you to read critically, conduct meaningful research, cite according to prevailing standards and, most importantly, write compelling and persuasive essays. I will run the course as a combination seminar/workshop, with a focus on discussion, textual analysis and revision.
Where Writing is Written
In this course, we ask a specific question: what does it mean to be contemporary? Rather than taking a historical view of the contemporary, this course will focus on the relationship between the personal and its ambient environment. How do we negotiate public space as private individuals? In what ways does the environment determine what and how we experience the world? How do people resist or submit to these structures? As such, we’ll pay particular attention to our daily engagement with the city and how writing plays a part alongside this shifting landscape. Possible texts include work by Bernadette Mayer, Claudia Rankine, Robert Smithson, Samuel Delaney, Roberto Bolano, and John Cage.
Where Is New York?
In his famous 1949 essay “Here is New York,” E.B. White writes: “The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain illusive.” White was just one of thousands of writers who’ve attempted over the centuries to mine Manhattan--and other equally intriguing parts of New York--for meaning. In this course we’ll examine a range of literary texts that explore New York as a historical and cultural juggernaut and wellspring of creativity. In addition to reading and analyzing these works, students will investigate local sites and institutions using a blend of ethnographic observation and archival research in NYU’s Fales Library.