Spring 2019 Liberal Studies Core Program

Course Descriptions

Please note that descriptions are for reference only and are subject to change prior to the start of the semester.

Spring Admit Courses

Creative Writing

Cultural Foundations II

Cultural Foundations III

Environmental Studies

Global Cultures

History of the Universe

Life Science


Science of Technology

Social Foundations II

Social Foundations III

Writing II

Creative Writing

Robin Goldfin

Creative Writing: Global Voices

Rob Fitterman

Creative Writing: Places

Cultural Foundations II

John Barna

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.

Liora Brosh

Heroism, Love, and Gender

This course studies the arts produced within diverse cultural traditions from the early Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. We will study how Islam and Christianity influenced ideals of heroism and love presented in literary texts. After studying the Christian layers of meaning in the epic Beowulf, we will read a number of Medieval romances and discuss how the Middle Ages constructed a new ideal of love, while exploring gender ideals. We will discuss why romantic love was so important to Medieval writers and to Western culture in general.  We will also study how late Medieval writers like Boccaccio developed a new vocabulary for writing about love. The course will end with the study of a Shakespearean romance, The Tempest, and some love poetry from the 17th century.  In addition, a significant part of the course will be devoted to studying the art history of the Middle Ages and then of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.


Peter Chapin

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.

Brian Culver

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 1 st 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 troubadour poetry, Nizami’s Layla and Majun, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, works by such visual 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 6 th through 17 th centuries answered these questions, and why during these centuries they thought it so important to do so.

Michael Gillespie

Images of the Self
How we construct images of the “self” within the construction of a given culture poses a challenge across cultures and across time, raising 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 7th through the 17th centuries, have abetted, thwarted, or inspired the development of a sense of self, in terms of one’s autonomy as well as in the individual’s relatedness to others. 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). We will read works from early Christianity to medieval epic and Arthurian romance, from Sufi and Andalusian poets to a Spanish mystic and to the Italian and English sonnet, music from chant to polyphony, a Shakespeare pastoral comedy and a polemical letter by a 17th century Mexican nun, a Chinese vernacular classic and tales by two indefatigable travelers representing the Christian and Islamic faiths respectively, as well as masterpiece moments of the Renaissance. We will examine related artwork throughout the class, covering the period of the course. Additionally—since no course that aspires to global coverage could exist without translation—we will pay continuing attention to the act of translation as a hermeneutic enterprise (that is, as a form of interpretation) and as a key component in cultural exchange.

Stephanie Kiceluk

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.

Heather Masri

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. One required field trip to the Metropolitan Museum will be scheduled for a
Friday early in the semester.

Joseph Salemi
Introduction to the Humanities, the Post-Classical Period
This course will consider a selection of major literary works and artworks from the end of the
Roman Empire up to the Renaissance and a bit beyond. It will focus on the particular differences that exist in the political, social, religious, and cultural assumptions of medieval and Renaissance thinking, and our common contemporary assumptions.
The course will be objective in its approach and treatment of all assigned material, and will
therefore be primarily a lecture class with ample opportunity for questions and discussion at all
times. However, due to the wide range of source material to be dealt with, open-ended
discussions of an extended and subjective nature are not possible. Tests will be objective—that
is, based on recalled knowledge of specific material covered in the lectures, and on directed
student essays written in standard English. For this reason, reactive or opinion-based or reader-
response approaches will be insufficient for attaining a satisfactory grade.
Out-of- class essay assignments will be carefully directed by means of a checklist, so as to
guarantee a very close examination of the required subjects. Possible essay titles will be
discussed in detail, in order to assure a specific focus in a student’s assignment rather than
vagueness or over-generalization. Every student out-of- class essay must adhere to a certain fixed format of length, style, and presentation. Student writing is expected to be of a scholarly and objective nature, and meticulously done before submission to the professor for a one-time- only grading.

Jared Simard
Magic and Mysticism, Folklore and Fantasy Travel

This course is an extension of my Cultural Foundations I course. There, we examined a series of parallel myths and archetypes that permeated through nearly all of the ancient civilizations. Cultural Foundations II continues this investigation focusing on a variety of accounts of magic, monsters, and mysticism from the end of antiquity to the 1700s. This is a very large time period to cover, to say the least, and we will take the approach of reading longer chunks of fewer texts from different time periods and civilizations. Possible texts we will read include but are not limited to: Beowulf, the tales of Sinbad from Arabian Nights, Journey to the West, The Blazing World, and Don Quixote. We will examine why elements of mysticism and magic occur in fantasy travel narratives and why such narratives were popular at all. Topics and concerns from folklore studies will also be brought into discussions of the texts as a way of deepening our analysis. Our concern will be with how humanity tries to make sense of the other, the unknown, and the far away and with how journey narratives have long been associated since antiquity with inward discovery.

Minu Tharoor

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.

Joan Varnum

Angels, Demons, and Chameleon Kings: Portrayals of Transformation,
dating from the Middle Ages through the Enlightenment

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

Eduardo Matos-Martin

Modernity and its Outcasts

What is the dark side of modernity? How do literary and artistic expressions of modernity engage with the outcasts, such as the condition of the colonized? How can we rethink the implications of modernity for the contemporary world context through literature and the arts? This course examines cultural representations of political and economic violence over the last three hundred years. We will begin our exploration with the historical processes of colonization and slavery in the 18th and the 19th centuries, and then focus on the 20th century experiences of fascism, dictatorship, oppression, war, colonialism and decolonization. Within this framework, we will attend to the cultural representations of the Armenian Genocide, the Spanish Civil War, fascism in Germany and Italy, the Apartheid in South Africa, the Dirty Wars in Latin America, the Central American Civil Wars, the Algerian decolonization, as well as the Lebanese Civil War. We will use the course materials to raise questions about violence in the contemporary world associated with globalization, and address experiences of exclusion and marginalization due to race, gender, class and ideological oppression. In that light, we will study a selection of literary and artistic genres, including novels, graphic novellas, short stories, film, drama, poetry, painting, photography, and propaganda murals.

Peter Nickowitz

Fashioning and Refashioning Stories in Literature, Painting & Film
In this section of CFIII, we explore a range of literary and artistic texts that exemplify central movements from the mid-17th through the 20th centuries. With these, we watch a series of films by international filmmakers (including Cukor, Kurosawa, Sofia Coppola, Farhadi, Ozu, Satyajit Ray, and Truffaut) that reinterpret aspects of literary Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Modernism, or Realism within a cinematic context and in so doing examine how these films are themselves representative of Post-Modermism.  In each text we explore major themes including the meaning and fashioning of the self, race, class gender, and sexuality; and the ways that these categories are defined and/or undone within the artistic texts.

Anthony Reynolds

Global Arts at the End of Representation

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

Fred Schwarzbach

In this class, we will explore some of the great works of art (broadly defined) of a number of the world’s cultures. We will range in time roughly from the Eighteenth Century to our own time, and we will explore some important and long-lived cultural genres, like the novel, lyric poetry, and the feature-length film. Our readings will circle around two broad themes: first, the moments of contact when cultures meet each other (e.g. the European colonization of the Americas and Africa); and second, the development of global artistic forms and practices. As we pursue our studies, we will come to a deeper understanding of what makes the modern world distinctively modern. Students will gain new perspectives on the contemporary global arts.

Environmental Studies

Genia Naro-Maciel

The only life forms recognized to date have developed here on Earth, and as the dominant species on this planet today, humans are the stewards of this unique process. Over evolutionary time an astounding array of organisms has evolved, including recently discovered microbes, fungi, plants, and beloved animals like koalas and whales. With the explosive growth of the human population, our species has increasingly impacted the other unique beings that share this planet. Habitat alteration, invasive species, pollution, climate change, overexploitation, and disease are causing an environmental crisis, which is ultimately driven by human population growth. Throughout the course, students will deeply consider these questions: What is the environment? Why is it important? Which environmental threats does the Earth face? What are the strategies to combat these threats? Course topics are explored through a mix of short lectures and active learning techniques including case studies, virtual and hands-on laboratory activities or exercises, documentaries, discussion, debate, and field trips throughout New York City. The course emphasizes the science involved in environmental decisions while also examining the roles of ethics, politics, and economics in real life environmental situations.

Global Cultures

Jeannine Chandler

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.

Davida Chang

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 1949, 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”.

Luis Ramos

Latin American Cultures

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

History of the Universe

Rhoda Berenson

We Are Stardust…

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

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

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

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

Lou Pataki

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.

Life Science

Kevin Bonney

From Molecules to Microbes
This course is designed to promote scientific literacy among non-science majors by examining fundamental principles and contemporary issues of biology. Topics discussed include bioethics, cancer, cells and molecules, evolution, genetics, immunology, and infectious diseases. Discussion of the historical and social context of major scientific advancements, and reflection on the relevance of scientific concepts to human health and daily life are key components of the course. Content is covered through interactive online lecture modules, in class lectures, hands-on activities, virtual labs, debates, and group discussions.

Nikolay Kukushkin

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.


Principles of Macroeconomics


Principles of Microeconomics


Science of Technology

Rhoda Berenson

Communication – From Talking Drums to Cell Phones

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

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

Social Foundations II

Maria Antonini

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.

Pamela Brown

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.

Johannes Lagerweij

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.

Farzad Mahootian

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.

Joseph Portanova

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).

John Ross

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.

Patricia Rosof

Social Foundations II: Cultural Interactions, New Religions and New Ways of Thinking

This course, which runs from the 7 th through 17 th centuries CE, looks at an increasingly

interconnected world. Islam, arising in the 7 th -century Arabian peninsula, rapidly spreads via

conquest and conversion to the Byzantine empire, east to the Sassanian Persian empire and

onward to India, and west to North Africa and Spain. Later in Europe, the Protestant

Reformation will give rise to new forms of Christianity. Aristotelian thought will influence

Muslim and Catholic thinkers, and with the European Renaissance and the scientific revolution

new modes of thinking and experimenting will be developed in an organized fashion.

Meanwhile, these worlds will come into contact through commerce and conflict, be it through

the Crusades, the travels of individuals such as Ibn Battuta and Benjamin of Tudela, the

organized travels of Zheng He, or the development and expansion of the Ottoman Empire. The

explorations funded by the Portuguese, the Spanish, the British, the French and the Dutch bring

west Africa and the Americas into this nexus of commerce, conflict and cultural diffusion.

The course requires close reading of a host of primary sources from the Koran (Qur’an)

to Machiavelli, Ibn Battuta and Thomas Hobbes among others. Regular, informed participation

in class discussion is an expected part of this class. In addition, there will be required analytical

papers, a midterm and a final. We will look at religious and philosophical thought but these will

all be placed within an historical context.

Joel Rozen


In this course, we move from ancient times to the ideals and dilemmas of the ensuing era. With the dawn of the medieval period, an “age of exploration” heralded a moment of radical change and excitement around the world: enhanced trade routes and travel fever brought vastly different people, paradigms, and civilizations into contact for the first time. The outcomes of such encounters included new religious, philosophical, and political ideas; new technologies; novel artistic and literary genres and movements—and, of course, new and terrifying episodes of warfare and conquest. Starting with the Middle Ages and ending with the Enlightenment, the course spotlights yet another important development that came about during this exploration-oriented era: cosmopolitanism, the rise of “global citizenship.” Although many scholars tend to think of “exploration” in terms of abstract aggression, imperialism, and quests for global dominance, we will complicate this portrayal by considering what exactly it might mean on the ground when cultures collide and people come into contact with strangers; when urban individuals are forced to live alongside (and even tolerate) the Other. We will pay special attention to the relationship between the local and the global, contemplating the particular ethical, religious, and political debates of the era, and considering how the big questions of the day resisted or accommodated European expansionism.

Laura Samponaro

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.

Beau Shaw
Revelation, Politics and Enlightenment

This course will address one of the central preoccupations of medieval and early modern thought: the role of revelation in respect of political communities and human enlightenment. Questions that we will be concerned with include the following: must human communities understand their basic laws as “divine” in some way? Or can human communities understand themselves as created simply by human reason? Does revelation assists human beings in knowing the truth—both the truth concerning nature, as well as the truth concerning morality? Or does revelation have nothing to teach concerning such truths? In asking questions such as these, the course will also be concerned with the role of revelation in respect of politics and enlightenment today. For example, why, today, do some insist that political communities must be guided by revelation? And is there any possible reconciliation—or even rational discussion—between those who believe only those truths discovered by the human mind and those who believe in truths provided by revelation? Authors whom we will read include Al-Farabi, Al-Ghazali, Judah Halevi, Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes.

Michael Shenefelt

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.

Yunus Tuncel

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.

Heidi White

Faith vs. Reason, Idealism vs. Realism, Justice vs. Power

The second semester of Social Foundations spans a thousand years of moral and political

philosophy, from the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the rise of Islam, through the

development of medieval philosophy, to the rise of the Renaissance and the Scientific

Revolution. Keeping their historical context in mind, we will focus on philosophical

questions that arise during the period, such as: What is happiness? What is the role of

faith and reason? What is human nature? What is the proper exercise of power? What is


Authors and texts may include Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy, Maimonides’

The Guide for the Perplexed, Qur’an, Letters of Heloise and Abelard, Aquinas’ On

Politics and Ethics, Machiavelli’s The Prince, Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses,

Descartes Discourse on Method and Meditations, Locke’s Second Treatise of

Government, Hobbes’ Leviathan, and Yamaga Soko’s The Way of the Knight.

Social Foundations III

Davida Chang

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.

Adedamola Osinulu

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.

Mitra Rastegar
Revolutionary Times
A defining feature of our time is that we expect our world and way of life to change dramatically from generation to generation, and even year to year. We often imagine these changes as signs of progress, although at other times we might ask, is this progress toward freedom? The course begins with two great revolutions that have shaped our ideas of human freedom and our current global conditions: the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. We will engage the works of thinkers grappling with the rise of modern industrial capitalism and the transformation of class structures (Marx and Smith), the emergence of new concepts of political and individual freedom (Rousseau, Mill, Freud, de Beauvoir), and struggles against global colonial empires (Gandhi, Fanon, Amin and Ahmed). Speaking from a range of historical, geopolitical, and social positions, and defining freedom differently, these texts nevertheless all address our central question, identifying oppressive social forces and proposing ways that individual or collective freedoms can be achieved.

Michael Shenefelt

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.

Dina Siddiqi

The Time of Modernity: Imperialism, Capitalism, Nationalism

The major texts of the period that ushers in modernity are forward looking, about overcoming the limitations and constraints of past and present (such as feudalism, religion, patriarchy) to build a better future.  Keeping in mind that the time of European modernity was also the time of colonization and capitalist expansion, we will first examine key texts – considered classics -- produced between the 18th and 20th centuries, primarily in Europe. As we will see, conceptions of Euro-American modernity as reflected in these texts relied upon and were profoundly shaped by imperial and colonial encounters in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.  In this light, we will analyze the silences, fractures, and contradictions constitutive of key ideas of “western” modernity – equality, rights, and notions of progress and civilization, and the implications thereof.  We will then turn to conversations within “empire,” to the debates and concerns that animated the lives of men and women living in British India and the colonial Middle East, who not only spoke back to Empire but also had distinct views on modernity itself.  

Writing II

Nancy Agabian

Social Justice in New York

This course will give you an opportunity to consider the myths and dreams that New York City represents, alongside the realities of living here, and how these two realms intersect. In particular, we will consider what about the city advances social justice and what impedes it. The texts we will be reading and writing about -- poems, short stories, articles, essays, criticism, oral histories and films – will address the values inherent in both the myth and the reality of the city through the prominent social issues that affect New Yorkers every day. A reporting assignment will get you out into the city to write on a pressing social issue, and the information you gather will help you to argue for change. Through discussing the course texts, analyzing them, conducting research, and forming arguments, you will ultimately present your own views and hopes for the city and the people who live here. Writers and thinkers to be read include Walt Whitman, Edwidge Danticat, Pedro Pietri, Jane Jacobs, Jelani Cobb, Chang-Rae Lee, and Jonathan Kozol.

Danis Banks

Loners, Outcasts, Oddballs, and Weirdos

What makes someone "odd"? Why are some people outcasted while others seemingly have no problem being "mainstream"? In this class, we will deconstruct the concept of the weirdo, the outcast, the loner, the loser. These categories share the idea of marginalization, but which margins exclude some for failing to conform, while others are located—squarely—within the norm? Students will explore that question through fiction by Lorrie Moore, Leo Tolstoy, and Herman Melville; creative non-fiction by Lucy Grealy, Rachel Kushner, and Fenton Johnson; and possibly a novel by J.M. Coetzee or Han Kang. We may visit a New York City museum and view a film to enrich our understanding of the outcast. Students will compose three formal essays, including memoir; the final essay will be a research paper on a subculture involving deviance or societal exclusion. Drafting, close-readings, and workshopping of student writing will form the basis of our discussions.

Marina Blitshteyn
Writing about/with Music 2
This course is for true fans, close readers, and deep thinkers. First we'll explore lyrics as poetical work, teasing the line between sound and sense with the intimacy and attention of the close reading process. Secondly, we will research the life of the artist, pulling from archives and errata to help us better understand the person behind the work. Lastly, and critically, we will put our love (or hate) of the sound together with our fascination of the person toward the creation of a little book on an album, whose organization we could model after the seminal Bloomsbury 33 1/3 series. With a multimedia approach, from poetry, essay, video, audio, as well as primary and secondary sources, this course will combine the pleasures of talking about music with all the rigor of essay composition and formal analysis. No prior knowledge of music theory necessary, come as you are.

Pamela Booker

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.

Joseph Colonna

The Uncanny in Modern Life: What if Nothing Anymore Can Shock Us?

In her essay “On Photography,” Susan Sontag states that the written word is a “less treacherous
form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images,
which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach
of the present.” Though she was writing in the 1970s, some might say her statement applies
more than ever to generations coming of age today. As citizens of the “information age”—as
students who have grown up with shocking and violent images available at a click--how do we
answer that question for ourselves? Are we still “shockable”? How might the written word be
“less treacherous” than images?

Nina d’Alessandro

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.

Marie Buck

This section of Writing II focuses on the self and the social and on writing as a mode of connectivity. We will look at texts that address social justice movements. illness and death, popular culture, war, mass incarceration, and sexual violence. One of our main interests will be tracing the connections between personal experience and larger political structures—or, the ways that one’s personal grief and unhappiness are inseparable from what is happening out there, to paraphrase John Edgar Wideman. We'll also think through how writing is able to do the work it so often does of linking people together. Readings include texts by Claudia Rankine, Amy Berkowitz, James Baldwin, and David Wojnarowicz. Your own writing projects will include research and personal narrative writing, with an emphasis on experimentation with genre.

Lisa del Rosso

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.

Robert Fitterman

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.

Robin Goldfin

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.

Amie Hartman

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.

Erin Heiser

Representation, Resistance, and Revolution
Throughout the term we will consider the notion of “representation” (a much-debated topic in academia, politics, and pop culture) and ask questions about the importance of representation in the age of divisive politics, in a world of vast civil and human rights abuses, oppressive governments, and radical ideologies. We will interrogate the ways that racist and misogynist ideas are fed to us, daily, throughout the culture while we think deeply about how all oppressions are interconnected. We will discuss the the ways that writers and other artists represent and resist oppression. And we will consider the meaning of the word "revolution" in relation to the word "resistance." Together we will “read” and write about a range of texts including essays, a novel, paintings, films and pop songs as you  engage in research and writing about your own responses to the ideas we encounter in the course.

Mitchell Jackson

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 NYC

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 develop their writing and research skills as they get to know New York, and all of the forces that make it what it is.  To do so, we will challenge our prevailing ideas about citizenship, ownership and work. The class will consider a variety of sources as we draft and revise 3 essays on the urban experience:  they may include readings, films, site-specific observation and artworks.  The course will appeal both to students who love writing, and those who could never imagine loving it!

Irina Langer

Investigating American Cultural Mythology

What do you think of when you hear the term American culture? Do you think of a certain food or music or works of art? What are the ideas about America that have brought people here from countries all over the world? Perhaps it is the public education that is believed to lead to economic and social empowerment. Or perhaps it is the American Dream, that notion of a better, bigger future for the children of immigrants that are born on American soil. This class will look into four basic cultural ideas that permeate American culture: the myth of the model family of the 1950s, the myth of empowerment through education, the myth of the American Dream, and the myth of Freedom in the post 9/11 world. We will examine these myths by looking at various texts including poems, plays, non-fiction, fiction and essays. We will also use visual texts such as film and paintings to examine the validity of the myths in current day society. The course requires three essays, each of which is closely connected to one myth.

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 Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri.  The major writing assignments are designed to hone students' research and analysis skills while expanding notions of what is possible in academic writing.  The three major essays are a thematic research analysis that entwines research with narrative, an interpretive textual analysis that is informed by outside research, and a piece of literary nonfiction that illustrates a distinct voice and mastery of writing conventions.  Students should expect to engage deeply with the course theme, while honing the kind of skills that will prepare them for success in advanced liberal arts courses across the curriculum.

Mitchell Meltzer

Where Did This City Come From: The Development of a Great Metropolis
The idea of this semester is to confront the phenomenon of modern New York, a largely vertical city on a twenty-four hour clock, a place with perhaps a greater international diversity that any other spot on the planet. We will use of the history of New York City—from the Lenape Indians to the beginning of the skyscraper city--to complete your education in prose writing, extending from the personal essays of Writing I into the challenge of dealing with research, with incorporating outside sources of knowledge into your own work in Writing II. Readings, lectures, documentary and feature films, along with some time exploring the City ourselves, will give everyone in the class a sufficient background to pursue individual interests.
There will be two short writing assignments intended to help you fully master the research skills you’ll need, and by midterm each student will be working on her or his own essay, focusing on any subject that involves New York City. The possibilities are limitless. This final essay will give you a chance to follow your own curiosity, then convey what you’ve learned and how it interests you to a reader—the very purpose of a research essay.

David Palmer

(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.

Stephen Policoff

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.

Suzanna Riordan

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.

Chris Rzonca

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.

Cynthia Thompson 

Crazy in Love
 What drove Miss Emily to her horrible deed? Why does Connie go with Arnold at the end? Can the brain really change itself? What’s wrong with mother at the Bate’s Motel? These are just a few of the questions raised in the readings/films for this course as we delve into the madness of characters portrayed in short stories, films and books, and study various psychological issues in household discussion and the media today.  We’ll analyze cultural and social mores, gender, and madness in writings throughout different epochs and a variety of genres. We’ll read Lauren Slater, Sedaris, Gabor Maté, David Foster Wallace, Frost and Steketee, Norman Doidge, Faulkner, Oates, Gilman, and Poe, to name a few. We’ll examine cultural and social mores, psychology, character, voice, and setting, and analyze how ideas are effectively conveyed through writing and film to inform our understanding of humanity.
This course will emphasize the process of academic writing through regular in-class writing, online forum responses, peer review, and formal essays, and research with MLA documentation.

Tim Tomlinson
Viewing and Writing About Movies

In this course we’ll watch a variety of movies, building an awareness of film issues, film history, and film vocabulary. We’ll put that work to use in our writing about film. The writing will include two papers, one near mid-semester, one longer research paper at the end, and a film journal to be maintained throughout the semester. A sequence of Student Perspectives (presentations) concludes the year. Viewing may include some of the following: Singin’ in the Rain, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Days of Heaven, Get on the Bus, Get Out, Y tu mama tambien, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Monsoon Wedding. Readings will be drawn from a number of journals, both popular and scholarly, and will include essays by James Baldwin, bell hooks, Pauline Kael, Robin Wood, and others. Questions the course raises include: how do movies challenge, expose, or reinforce ideologies? How have movies handled issues of race and gender? Do movies influence the way we envision the world? Do movies matter?

Peter Vilbig

In this course we’ll examine a wide variety of human experiences and how they shape the narratives by which we, consciously or no, define ourselves. You’ll have latitude in the choice of topics you wish to address in your writing as the semester proceeds, and while we’ll pursue the course goals of sharpening your skills in research and argumentation, we’ll approach research as meaningful inquiry and argumentation as an exploration and deepening of ideas that matter to us. We’ll approach the course theme through a series of inquiries about central human experiences: innocence and experience; desire and power; and laughter and melancholy. We’ll read a variety of fictional and non-fictional texts by writers, ranging from Roberto Bolaño to Anne Carson, and Rainer Maria Rilke to Soren Kierkegaard. We’ll also watch examples of comedy on film by Charlie Chaplin, Mel Brooks, and others while considering the implications, cultural and social, about what makes things funny.

Nancy Woodruff

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.

Jennifer Zoble

Delving into Diaries
This course will explore diary- and journal-writing practices and technologies across different eras and cultures. Students will read selections from the published diaries of notable authors, artists, and public figures, analyzing each one as both an expression of individual consciousness and an historical document--a window into the social and political conditions of a particular place and time. In addition to keeping their own journals and writing critical responses to the published journal material we’ll read together as a class, students will undertake independent research projects in NYU’s Fales Library, learning about archival research practices and pursuing their own investigations into the meaning and context of diaries collected there.

Spring Admit Schedule

Please note that descriptions are for reference only and are subject to change prior to the start of the semester.


Kathy Bishop

The Ancient World – East and West 

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

Liora Brosh

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

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

Katie Deutsch

The History of Love

This course examines the diverse and mutable meanings of “love” in the ancient world. Our sources include visual art and texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus, Euripides’ Bacchae, Sophocles’ Antigone, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Virgil’s Aeneid, Kalidasa’s The Recognition of Sakuntala, the Bible, and Ancient Greek, Latin, Egyptian, and Chinese poetry. Over the course of the semester we will examine “love” in its relation to desire, gender, and sexuality; sex and asceticism; self-possession, fragmentation, and loss; madness and creativity; duty and politics; visual representations and beauty; friendship; and religion and the desire for immortality. We will also think about ways of relating to, longing for, and appropriating the past: How can we read, for example, “Hellenism” (or “Classicism”) and “Orientalism” as modes of desire?


Gerasimos Karavitis

Politics, Ethics, and Epistemology in Ancient Times

In this course, we will study some of the most renowned texts of ancient times. We will treat these texts as portals to the worldviews of the ancient civilizations in which they appeared. Our general goal in studying these texts will be to develop more robust perspectives on the human condition. Our course will transgress territorial, temporal, and disciplinary boundaries. We will search for common denominators among the worldviews of people who inhabited very distant regions of the planet, and, with equal energy, we will seek to grasp the intense differences that existed among these worldviews. And we will ask after the use that ancient ideas might have for us today, as we try to give form to our lives in a world vastly different from those inhabited by the ancients.  
In studying our selected texts, we will focus on the ideas that ancient thinkers developed within three domains of thought: politics, ethics, and epistemology. With regard to politics, we will explore comments on the nature and value of different regime types, the relation between rulers and ruled, the institution of slavery, the phenomenon of war, the question of what makes a political order legitimate, the question of what makes rulers effective, and the problem of human freedom. In regard to ethics, we will explore comments that the ancients made on human happiness, filial piety, the distinction between virtue and vice, the notion of evil, and the tactics that one might employ in the struggle for self-mastery. As regards our epistemological inquiries, we will explore questions surrounding the definition of knowledge, the distinction between truth and opinion, the distinction between essence and appearance, and the idea of non-dualism, and we will also explore some of the insights that the ancients developed about the art of learning.  

James McBride

History, Politics and Religion in the Ancient World
This course provides students with an introduction to the philosophies, religions, polities, and economies of the ancient world.  Students will read foundational texts in the Greek, Hebrew, Roman, Chinese and Hindu cultures with particular attention to Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and Qin.  The course will introduce students to the rise of Western consciousness and the split between East and West that has become so important in the development of the modern world.  Among the many topics to be explored are social hierarchies, political models, imperial ideologies, slavery, gender roles, moral virtue, the sacred and the profane, and human liberation or salvation.  Among the historical characters to be encountered are Cyrus the Great, Xerxes, Darius, Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Tiberius, Nero, Qin Shi Huangdi, Moses, Paul and Jesus.

Joel Rozen

Building Social Worlds

In this course, we encounter the foundational texts of five very old, very influential traditions:
Greek, Roman, Abrahamic, Indian, and Chinese. Each of our readings is a classic that has greatly impacted human society and the way people live their lives; each has also spawned a huge literary echo chamber of commentary, meta-commentary, critique, and conversation over the centuries. Rather than read it all, the aim of this class is to stay close to the ancient works themselves — to identify some of the major social dilemmas the ancients faced, and to locate the key philosophical, mythological, and religious questions they were chewing on. Importantly, we will also place these dilemmas and questions in context: how have different political, cultural, personal, and historical circumstances shaped and occasioned the different texts? And conversely, what were the texts’ major contributions to the social worlds in which they were written?

To answer these questions, our approach will be threefold. First, we’ll consider key figures, texts, and concepts on their own terms, in the historical context of their own cultures. Second, we will think creatively — but also fairly and with great sensitivity — across cultures and eras, juxtaposing and comparing different figures, authors, events, and ideas, like Socrates and Jesus, Noah and Utnapishtim, democracy and oligarchy. And finally, we’ll look at this stuff in light of ourselves, setting ancient concerns and puzzles against contemporary experiences.
Of course, because our explorations are all largely text-based, we will have to devote some time to considering what literature “does”: how are these literary works meant to define, edify, enlighten, critique, mythologize, or even bewilder the societies they’re written for? How have the various texts we’re studying been used and repurposed over time? By examining the various ties linking society and literature, we will then try to understand what on earth this thing called literature “is”: what’s the difference, for instance, between a work of philosophy and a work of religion? Where do art and politics diverge? Can a work of literature’s value or application in society change over time? When does literature become propaganda? This class will dare us to reflect critically on these questions, and to consider why they’re worth asking.

Beau Shaw

This course will look at some of the most profound and fascinating philosophical,

religious and political thought developed in the classical civilizations of the ancient

world, and which still underlies our concepts and practices, and our cultures and political

orders, today. We will read Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, written

at the apogee of Ancient Greece; The Epic of Gilgamesh, an epic poem central to the

“cradle of civilization,” the cultures of Mesopotamia; and primary texts which articulate

the basic premises and directions of early Judaism and Christianity—Exodus, The Gospel

of Matthew, and Paul’s Letter to the Romans.


David Palmer

The Writer, The World, and The Text
What can writing reveal about the range of human experiences and worldviews? How can we use writing to convey our own ideas and to think about everyday life with more critical insight? In this class we will delve into these questions as we read about, discuss, and practice writing as an expansive yet thorny form of expression that enables us to make our way through the world: that is, to better articulate how we feel, think, and ponder what we call “reality.” To this end, we will do the following:

Sarah Dohrmann

Methods to the Madness

Writing I is a workshop-based course where students practice various forms of essay writing in a collaborative community. Readings, journal writings, in- and out-of-class writing exercises, and
classroom discussions will be used as tools in developing students’ writing practices. Writing is thinking, on the page. One must learn to write clearly to effectively communicate one's thinking. Essays in this course will grapple with questions of place, culture (i.e., a group’s behavior patterns and perceptions), and society (i.e., a group’s social systems and infrastructures), both local and global. (“Local” in this sense can mean something as magnified as your family or your high school.) What bothers or confuses you about the place, culture, or society from which you come? Or what bothers or confuses you about how others view your place of origin, your  culture, or your society? (I say “bothers” and “confuses” here because internal conflict is the wellspring of good essay writing.)

Students will compose three essays: a description essay, a cause-and-effect essay, and an essay that mixes methods (a variety of which can be found in The Bedford Reader). Through journal writing, students will learn to use their critical examinations of texts to generate essay ideas of their own. They will have things to say about the readings and about the questions that come up during class discussions of the readings, which will later lead to essay drafting. Sometimes students will feel overwhelmed by the readings and journal responses and their fellow classmates’ thoughts and by the writing process itself and they’ll panic. Panic is an early step of any writing project. There is not a writer alive who does not experience the panic. The trick is not to get stuck in it. In this course, students will learn how to move through their panic by
learning “methods to the madness”—methods of various essay forms so they can craft and hone their madness, shaping it into literary precision and power.

Kristi Steinmetz

Multidimensional Storytelling and The Art of Seeing

Now so, more than ever, multi-media content delivers images paired with words. Increasingly, in our hyper-packed digital world, we are simultaneously being told what we see and what stories to believe. But what stories are actually being told? And more importantly, what stories need telling? In this first-year writing course, we will focus on locating stories of identity and experience within current cultural realities. Both reading and writing assignments will engage with a variety of creative and expository forms including prose poems, literacy narratives, cultural memoirs, autofictions, visual essays, and critical essays. There will be an emphasis on peer workshopping, in-class writing, reflective writing, collaborative work, and discussion. Course texts may include selections from Harriet Jacobs; Edward Said; Alison Bechdel; John Berger; Charles Duhigg (on Disney’s Frozen); Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric; David Shields’s War is Beautiful; Ken Burns’s and Lynn Novick’s documentary The Vietnam War; Kara Walker’s exhibitions; and, related social media, mainstream ads, recent sitcoms, and experiential trips to NYC museums.

Sean Eve

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

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