Fall 2018 Liberal Studies Core Program Course Descriptions
Please note that course descriptions are for reference only and are subject to change
Advanced Writing Studio and Creative Writing
AWS: Translation and Difference
Students in this workshop translate a single author of their choice over the whole semester. The translation process includes in-class peer critiques as well as instructor feedback. The final product is a polished translation portfolio introduced by a short essay on rendering the author’s individual style in English. The theoretical aspect of the course examines the implications, for translators, of the hypothesis of linguistic relativity (briefly, that different languages model the world differently). Aspiring translators learn to analyze grammatical and vocabulary differences between languages in order to develop equivalents that are more precise in meaning. They also learn to attend to significant sound patterns. Finally, the course discusses the impact of the global dominance of English on literary and translation markets.
Other Voices, Other Rooms: Autobiography, Memoir, and the Global Self
In this course, we will be examining how writers write, how we read, and how observing and transforming our own reading skills and attitudes about language can help us improve our own prose. We will be focusing specifically on autobiography and memoir, and how differing notions of “selfhood” help construct our stories, as well as help us read and interpret the stories of others. While autobiography is generally understood to refer to the narrative of a whole life, memoir tends to take on a specific theme or time period in one’s life. Nevertheless, we will explore and compare the genres themselves.
We will explore memoirs/autobiographies in traditional forms, through poetry, film, fiction, and nonfiction to explore how people have written about themselves and why. We will also compare how cultural, socio-economic, and geographic differences may influence and inflect both the process of memoir writing and the way that writing gets interpreted and used across varies histories and cultures. We will focus our own writing toward the autobiographical and will work with experimental forms in an intense workshop environment. The goal of the course is to become better critical readers of the genre, while at the same time working rigorously and critically on our own written production.
Why focus on writing the “self”? Because writing and creating languages of artistic remembrance and history-making are the tools we use to make our way in the world; we write to explore, explain, complain, cry out, critique, commiserate, declare, decry, denounce, demystify…you get the idea. Writing is a way not only of recording thoughts and emotions, facts and fictions, but it is the process of using language that brings those elements of our lives into being in the first place. And if you are going to make your way through this messed-up, alienating, strange, and glorious place called existence, you better hope you can talk and that people will listen. In turn, you need to understand how other people use memory, so you can craft your own. Otherwise, what’s the whole point?
Creative Writing: Global Voices
Creative Writing: Places
In the biting, satirical essay “How to Write About Africa,” Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina details the many clichéd ways non-Africans have written about his home continent (“darkness,” “safari,” “the Starving African,” “the celebrity activist”). In Creative Writing: Places, we’ll write about place/s in several different forms (fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry), and we’ll read the work of a gallery of international poets and writers that might include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Junot Diaz, Luisa Igloria, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sigrid Nunez, James Salter, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Franz Wright, and others (list subject to change). We’ll learn to read as writers by looking closely at how these authors solved the problems of place and setting. We’ll consider the relationships between place and character, place and writer, and place and reader, all the while drawing from Wainaina’s critique of lazy, generic (and worse) description. Participants produce a writing portfolio that will include drafts of several poems and flash fictions, at least one short story, and the beginnings, perhaps, of either a novel or a memoir, all of which will be discussed—constructively, sensitively—in class workshop sessions.
Cultural Foundations I
The Heroic in the Ancient World
This course will focus on the roots and nature of our global culture, in its ancient background as seen in literary classics and art. Emphasis is placed on the theme of the heroic as exemplified in both literature and images in ancient art. .Epics of Gilgamesh, Homer and Virgil will be followed by the tragic drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles among others.
Fragments, Ruins, and Empty Spaces: Tracing the Human in the Ancient World
It is an irony of modern cultures that even as almost all trace their foundations to ancient times, they do so across a chasm of historical and linguistic difference as well as decay. While this means that today's knowledge of these cultural products remains incomplete, at the same time this incompleteness can be the source of much imagination and creativity. How do we "read" ancient texts? How do they function as cultural foundations while at the same time mirroring later perspectives, fantasies and desires? This course will examine the construction of the ancient world through key cultural works and their later reception across the globe, attending to the problem of incompleteness posed both for and by the works themselves. One theme that runs from the ancient far east to Mediterranean cultures is a fascination with the limits of human capacity and knowledge: with our mortality, our flaws, and with the idea of human experience as never quite "finished." This topic of incompleteness is embedded in many of the most influential works of the ancient world, from cave drawings to Egyptian tomb architecture to the Hebrew Bible. In this course we will look at the art, literature, and where possible music of the ancient world in this dual context, as the object of modern yearnings and as a profound articulation of human yearning itself.
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.
Death, Divinity and Power in the Cultures of the Ancient World
This course surveys the literature and art of diverse ancient civilizations. We will learn how the cultures of the Near East, Egypt, Greece, and India conceived of the forces that shape human life. We will explore different visions of the divine expressed in ancient texts like The Ramayana, Gilgamesh, the Hebrew bible, The Odyssey and Medea. Conceptions of death also shaped ideas about the purpose of life, and of art. We will study Egyptian art meant to ensure an eternal life and Greek art that was a kind of antidote to the darkness of death. We will also gain insight into ancient views of what it meant to be civilized, and what role women played in this pivotal ancient ideal. Overall, the visual arts and literary texts of antiquity will be studied in a cross-cultural context as we explore how artists and poets represented life lived under the shadow of powerful gods, and an inevitable death.
Traditions and Transformations
Cultural Foundations 1 examines global literary and visual arts from prehistory through the end of antiquity. We will investigate what art is and what it allows us to do and to know. We will 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. Works of art do not exist in isolation, and an important concern of the course is the way in which they are transformed in different cultural contexts, including our own. Potential texts include Gilgamesh, the Odyssey, Oedipus the King, the Mahabharata, the Hebrew Bible, the Aeneid, the Book of Songs, and the poetry of Sappho and T’ao Ch’ien.
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?
Crossing Cultures: Translating the Ancient World
It is no overstatement to say that we possess civilization because we have learnt to translate out of time.
—George Steiner, “Understanding as Translation,” After Babel
Cultural Foundations I examines human literary and artistic expression from its origins through the end of antiquity, roughly the 7th century ACE. In the course, we will explore a host of ancient cultures, from the Near Eastern to Egyptian to Chinese to Indian to Greek and Roman to early Christian.
But what occurs in the moment that we encounter these cultures? What does it mean to “cross cultures” and what happens when we cross from one culture to another? This course foregrounds the concept of translation—as both a literal transfer, or “carrying across,” of meaning and as a metaphor for understanding.
We will analyze various symbolic sets—systems of belief, values, conventions, narratives—and how they are represented—in different languages, cultures, times, and media (literature, art, and film). We will learn to read these cultural expressions, pondering what happens when we in the contemporary world encounter the past. The course is global in scope, and we will explore connections among various parts of the ancient world that can help us better comprehend our own modern experience. To this end, we will supplement the historical texts that we will read and discuss with more contemporary reflections on similar themes, helping to open up the historical texts even further and to demonstrate certain continuities and discontinuities.
Imitations of Life
Animals whose behavior is incompletely ruled by “species memory” create models for themselves using external media such as sculpture, painting and, above all, language. In this class we will explore the media and models of ancient societies whose artists struggled to articulate human beings’ place in the world, their vulnerability to fate, and their duties and actions toward each other. Although our texts come mainly from West Asia, our geographic focus has no center, and we will be concerned with relationships between ancient cultures as much as with culture itself.
Ancient Foundations for the Modern World
Ancient Foundations for the Modern World is offered on the premise that no bright lines trace static borders around the life span of a work of literature. Indeed, works of literature are unforeseeably revisable, and infinitely adaptable. How was one to know that Homer’s Odyssey would be brought into the twentieth century by James Joyce’s Ulysses, or into the year 2000 by the Coen brothers in their modern film adaptation of the epic O, Brother, Where Art Thou? We can never predict when the cultural past will be brought into the present, for what purposes, or what transformations will take place in this process. We can, however, establish a critical awareness of how world literature is not something that is finished; it is perpetually transformed and rewritten. We can explore how a literary work establishes a dialogue between the past, the present, and even the future. And we can come to understand how each time a text re-emerges onto the cultural landscape, it is at once the same and something new. By way of example, we will study iconic literary works from the distant past, and we will examine how these works live on by way of modern adaptation and reinterpretation by the modern creative world. One overriding goal of this course is to establish a keen understanding of how literary works from the ancient world can belong to multiple cultural eras, while we will also learn how to think critically about the social and political contexts through which ancient works reappear in the modern cultural world. This course is a seminar; your active participation in class discussion is welcome and expected.
Strangers in Strange Lands
This course pursues two—perhaps irreconcilable—educational objectives. One is to expose
students to some of the main works of art and literature created up to and in the first
millennium of the common era. Not intended for our use, these works speak to us only when
we submit them to the violence of our cultural and linguistic framing, including translation. The
second objective is, nonetheless, to emphasize the cultural otherness of these works, to
indicate their resistance to being met on our terms, and to try to discover their own terms of
use. Our manner will be secularist, skeptical, and morally relativist. The main themes of the
works chosen are migration, refugeehood, empire, and resistance to assimilation. Selective
attention will be paid to materials from the Roman period.
What are the most significant and striking artistic works humanity has produced, and why should people today consult them? We will try to answer these questions in Cultural Foundations I by looking at literature, art, and theatrical production associated with four regions and the ancient (prior to 400 C.E.) cultures that flourished in them. You will study some of the oldest surviving objects of human artistry, considering them as both artifacts (representing distinctive aspects of their cultures of origin) and as art (how they speak to us, across space and time, in important and powerful ways). We’ll look at literature (epic, drama, lyric), visual art (sculpture, mosaic, architecture, script, and illustrations), and music (instruments). Regions and civilizations that produced these artifacts include The Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, Egypt), the Middle East (Mesopotamia), The Americas (Maya), Asia (China), and Southeast Asia (India). You will actively participate in this class in a series of discussion-based seminars, in-class writing, and brainstorming exercises. You will frequently work in small groups or pairs. Everyone will make formal presentations. Sometimes we will hold classes in museums or libraries. When you are not in class, you will be spending a lot of time reading and looking at art on your own. You will document your classroom discussions in a (b)logbook of your learning.
Duty, Death, and Devotion
We will examine ancient literary, visual, and architectural texts that have exerted global cultural influences and provided aesthetic pleasure, investigating how and why these texts served such functions in the past and what their value is for the present. Through close critical analysis, we will consider the roles of the arts in the ancient world and what they have come to mean for modernity. We will concentrate on the epic as a literary vehicle for encoding social and religious traditions and values, interrogating how this form was developed and utilized and why its primacy was challenged by other literary forms. We will engage various ancient modes of apprehending the nature of the cosmos and divinity, and we will explore how the arts facilitated personal introspection and expression. We will examine different literary and visual texts by considering these topics: heroes and kings, community, individual voices, and gods incarnate. Among our readings: the Ramayana, Gilgamesh, the Iliad, the Aeneid; selections from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ashvaghosha, and the Samyutta Nikaya.
City and Empire in the Ancient World
This course examines ancient literature and art/architecture with a thematic slant: we will explore their intersection with religion and politics, paying particular attention to sacred spaces and monuments, to representations of the crowd, to violence, and to attempts to contain violence. The weekly reading load is substantial, with assignments ranging from the epics of Gilgamesh and Odysseus, to Oedipus Rex, Shakuntala, and large parts of the Bible. Our approach will be interdisciplinary (via anthropology, psychology, sociology, politics, economy, philosophy) and filtered through various theoretical lenses (Eliade, Mumford, Foucault, Freud, Girard, and others).
Introduction to the Humanities via the Ancient World
This course will consider a selection of major literary works and artworks from the earliest Babylonian era up to the end of the Roman Empire and a bit beyond. It will focus on the particular differences that exist in the political, social, religious, and cultural assumptions of ancient societies, and our common contemporary assumptions.
The course will be objective in its approach and treatment of all assigned material, and will therefore be primarily a lecture class with ample opportunity for questions and discussion at all times. However, due to the wide range of source material to be dealt with, open-ended discussions of an extended and subjective nature are not possible. Tests will be objective—that is, based on recalled knowledge of specific material covered in the lectures, and on directed student essays written in standard English. For this reason, reactive or opinion-based or reader-response approaches will be insufficient for attaining a satisfactory grade.
Out-of-class essay assignments will be carefully directed by means of a checklist, so as to guarantee a very close examination of the required subjects. Possible essay titles will be discussed in detail, in order to assure a specific focus in a student’s assignment rather than vagueness or over-generalization. Every student out-of-class essay must adhere to a certain fixed format of length, style, and presentation. Student writing is expected to be of a scholarly and objective nature, and meticulously done before submission to the professor for a one-time-only grading.
Creating and Connecting the Arts in the Global Past
Cultural Foundations I provides an introduction to the literature, art, architecture and music from early times to around the end of the Roman Empire, and the Gupta and Han dynasties. Starting with the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley and the Aegean region, we will study the cultures that developed in the classical Greek, Roman and Indian contexts, focusing on particular artifacts, and the cross-cultural influences and interchanges that produced them. Our texts include sections of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, ancient epics such as The Odyssey and The Mahaharata, the poetry of Sappho and Juvenal, Greek drama in The Oresteia and the Indian play The Recognition of Sakuntala, in addition to art and music from these regions. We will discuss the significance of the works in their own historical contexts, as products of global exchanges, and what they mean to us now.
Quests, Queries, Art, and Adventure: Portraying the Dynamics of Change in the Ancient World
What sparks the human desire to venture into unknown parts of the world? Is it to find a lost love, to flee a natural disaster, to fight a war, or to answer a divine call? Whether prompted by choice or necessity, humans have encountered catalysts of change since antiquity, and have expressed these experiences through a variety of media. In this course, we’ll study and interpret how masterworks of the Ancient World from the Near East, Egypt, China, India, Greece, and the Roman Empire portray change.
Our learning process will be active and collaborative. Your class participation will be vital. Each of you will participate in the interactive “Reacting to the Past” game Byzantine Iconoclasm, 726-843, a contest of ideas that centers on the issue of whether the divine should be portrayed, and, if so, how. You will visit the Met Museum in connection with the game.
Cultural Foundations III
Aesthetics, Alienation, Authenticity
This course will combine analytic reading of philosophical, critical and literary texts with a contextualizing study of artworks and performance pieces from the 18th Century to the present day in order to understand how cultural products animate and inform the discussion of what it means to be human. Themes will include the nature and experience of beauty, alienation and familiarity, the adequacy of language, silence, and the existentialist quest for authenticity.
Texts will include selections from Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows (aesthetic theory from the Western and Eastern traditions); selections from the prose and poetry of Wordsworth, Keats, and Baudelaire (Romanticism to Modern); essays by Marx, Nietzsche, and Sartre (theories of alienation, language, and performance); short stories by Kafka, Márquez, and Cortázar from the absurdist and magic realist traditions (Modern to Postmodern); a play by Samuel Beckett and selections from novels by J.M. Coetzee, Zadie Smith, and Chimamanda Adichie (Postmodern to Contemporary).
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 works, asking questions about the way in which and not just what they 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, Larsen, Coetzee, and Murakami.
The Challenges of Modernity
This course is the capstone of the Cultural Foundations sequence, building on what has been learned in previous semesters while bringing us from the Early Modern world to the present day. The course explores the ways art has both responded to its historical moment and re-shaped the way we see the world. In particular, we will focus on the way this period presents a series of challenges to the status quo. We begin with the Romantic poets and artists who rejected the restrictions of Enlightenment and Neoclassical aesthetics—the first of many challenges to established conventions about the value and meaning of art that we will see during the course. Many of the works that we study also challenge existing social structures and hierarchies, taking on issues of race, class, and gender and challenging Western dominance in an increasingly globalized world.
Fashioning and Refashioning Stories in Literature, Painting & Film
In this section of Cultural Foundations III, we will explore selections of literature, paintings, and films that exemplify central movements from the 17th century through the 20th. With these, we will watch a series of films by international filmmakers (including Cukor, Kurosawa, De Sica, Sofia Coppola, Farhadi, Lumet, 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. Writers and artists we may study are include: Austen, Delacroix, Ibsen, Kauffman, Manet, Moliere, Nochlin, Said, Satrapi, and Woolf. Themes include the natural, alienation, love, marriage, and the meaning and fashioning of the self especially with respect to race, gender, and sexuality.
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).
Cultural Foundations III
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. Among the writers and others whose work we will study are Voltaire, Wordsworth, Mary Shelley, Conrad, Achebe, Woolf, Borges, Lu Xun, and Chaplin.
The City and the Country; Modern Modes of Representation
This course explores a period of history characterized by a rapid process of industrialization and urbanization across the globe. With the rise of the modern city came an important reflection within the arts on the new urban environments and on the lost and persisting rural landscapes; we will take representations of the country and the city as a thematic trope. Through this theme you will be introduced to four key shifts in modes of artistic representation through the period, which organize the chronological structure of the course: the Romantic sublime; Impressionism; Modernism; and Postmodernism. Within each part we will explore the rationales for the focal mode and build an understanding of them in relation to different media. Each part will explore the influence of a different global context, including for example: German Romanticism; French and Japanese aestheticism; British and American modernism; Latin-American postmodernism. (Note that this course requires extensive verbal participation in class, both in discussion and in individual presentations.)
Texts studied might include, for example:
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Lisa Rodensky (ed.), Decadent Poetry
Paintings by Monet and Friedrich
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
Dean’s Circle Research Seminar
In the 21st century we are seeing increasing narratives of exclusion and closure and the physical
hardening of borders with elaborate surveillance technology and the reemergence of walls,
fences, and military presence. This flurry of construction, heralding what one journalist called
“the new age of the wall,” reflected in the building technologically sophisticated and potentially
lethal structures is matched by a gendered rhetoric of infiltration and contamination of otherwise
safe spaces, criminalization of immigrants, and a politics of fear and suspicion. The practice of
blaming economic and political hard times on others and, consequently developing elaborate
narratives of otherness and mechanisms for separating, expelling or even liquidating the
dangerous and guilty others is not new. Periods of deep crises emerge as moments of exclusion,
attempts at (re)creating social cohesion, and opportunities to assert the need for new
demographic policies. These are times in which to (re)ignite symbolic and physical border
conflicts, reiterate who we are, name those “others” responsible, and focus on reclaiming “our”
space. Secession and separation, territorial integrity, sovereignty and citizenship (re)emerge as
themes with heightened sensitivity and immediacy loaded with multiple meanings and
In this Dean’s Circle, we will be focusing attention on the physical mechanisms of separation in
frontier technologies and immigration and asylum policies of multiple countries and spaces as
well as the symbolic and discursive mechanisms of closure and separation. We will look at walls
in their concrete and symbolic forms in historical, local, and global contexts, and as
contemporary expressions of crises and the violence of forced mobility/immobility. And at the
same time, we will study resistance to the corrosive politics of closure and renegotiations of
space, place, and association. We will engage with colleagues from NYU Abu Dhabi in these
explorations and work with them in Abu Dhabi during the January Term.
Principles of Microeconomics
The course is a thorough introduction to the analysis of individual choices made by households, firms, and government agencies. We will begin with an overall view of essential economic concepts such as opportunity costs, comparative advantage, and market equilibrium. Then, we will focus on the theory of consumer behavior and consumer choice through the analysis of utility, indifference curves, and budget constraints. We will move on to the study of business firms and their decisions about optimal output within different market structures (perfect competition, monopolistic competition, oligopoly and monopoly). We will also examine the labor, capital, and financial markets and, in this context, the causes of income inequality will be explored. Finally, we will analyze economic efficiency and the role of government in bringing about such outcome.
Principles of Macroeconomics
The course aims to provide students with a basic degree of economic literacy to better understand our current social system. The focus of this introduction lies with the analysis of supply and demand as a basis for microeconomic reasoning about production, consumption, the case for and against government intervention, and the relation between different factors of production and income distribution.
Economics is a technical discipline with its own specialized vocabulary and methodology; it is also a discourse where informed positions widely diverge. A major theme of the course is thus that economics is not simply a compendium of dry facts or bits of knowledge about the economy, but a set of tools and different perspectives that enable us to comprehend, interpret, and debate a range of social and historical questions. By the end of the semester, students will be able to better grasp as well as to analyze complex social problems from different perspectives.
The first part of the course familiarizes students with the scope and methods of economic reasoning, the role of the division of labor in productivity growth, and the interplay of supply and demand in markets. The second part focuses on the formulation and application of microeconomic tools of analysis, i.e., market equilibrium, externalities, and production costs.
The third part of the course investigates different market structures in terms of the level of competition, and the role of factor markets (labor, land, capital) with particular regard to their implications for the distribution of income (wages, rents, profits).
This course uses an interdisciplinary framework to explore environmentalism as a worldview, a movement, and as a way to connect academic endeavors with real-world problems. We consider a broad range of themes, including the overlapping influences of politics, economics, cultural assumptions, and history in determining the shape of contemporary environmental debates. How and why have environmental issues become global concerns? What is the place of environmentalism in daily life? What might be your role in shaping the planet's immediate and long-term ecological health?
We will study the beginnings of modern environmentalism (some sources claim it started with hunters; others say with philosophers), investigate the consequences of conflicting definitions (what is nature?), and examine several contemporary controversies (can curbside recycling really make a difference?). We’ll look at a trend called greenwashing, consider structural sources of environmental injustice, learn why the most vexing environmental issues are called wicked problems, and delve into debates about the Anthropocene.
Introduction to Environmental Studies in the Anthropocene
The only life known to us so far has 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. With the explosive growth of the human population, especially since the Industrial Revolution, our species has increasingly impacted the other unique and complex beings that share our planet. Why does this matter? This is a question that students will contemplate through four lines of inquiry: What is the environment? Why is it important? Which environmental threats does the Earth face? What are the strategies to combat and survive these threats? Course topics are explored through a mix of short lectures and active learning techniques such as discussion, presentations, in-class exercises, and field trips, to create a sense of fun and excitement in and outside the classroom.
AFRICAN GLOBAL CULTURES
This course will examine the work of artists and writers concerned with representations of Africa.
We will investigate ideas about African history and literature from various perspectives, including oral
stories of the pre-colonial past, legacies of colonial violence, and writing in the wake of national
liberation movements. Rather than a survey of African literatures, we will explore the artistic and
intellectual movements of Négritude, Indigenism, Liberation, and Postcolonialism within works of
African cultural production. The course is designed to highlight the diversity in African cultures and
to challenge popular representations that all too often reduce the complex history of the continent
into unpunctuated images of war, famine and disaster. Over the course of the semester we will
develop a critical perspective of the influence and interconnection of diverse cultural productions of
CARIBBEAN GLOBAL CULTURES
Islands in the Caribbean archipelago have been variously characterized as paradisical, the sites of wealth-producing plantations, the ideal Spring Break destination, even as staging posts for narcotics traders. Caribbean landscapes function as metaphor, emblem, symbol, or even characters. Landscape – and geography - is implicated in the ways the identities of Caribbean states have been influenced by an accumulation of images, cultivated primarily by non-Caribbean individuals and agencies, including Columbus’ journal entries, the documentation of European colonial governments and settlers, the brochures travel agents and the fantasies of tourists. Often in conflict with the fantasy projections of others, Caribbean peoples face the ongoing challenge of reclaiming their islands and building their societies, still haunted by histories of slavery and colonialism, while still subjected to multiple forms of commodification, consumption and economic domination. Based on readings from literature, history and cultural studies, this course takes an interdisciplinary, transnational approach to unpacking connections between the histories of slavery, indentureship and European colonialism and the Caribbean’s current realities of inequality, internally – in particular inequalities of race and gender - and in its economic relations with the West. Questions addressed include: How have the residual legacies of slavery and colonization facilitated consumption in and of the Caribbean? And what cultural resources and strengths are deployed or lost to migration?
EAST ASIAN CULTURES
Change and Continuity in Chinese History
This course introduces East Asian cultures, focusing to a greater or lesser extent on China, Japan, and/or Korea. This semester we will focus on studying the dynamics of change and/in continuity in Chinese history, including the role of the West in this process in the modern era. We will explore trends in Chinese thought and culture from the beginnings of Chinese civilization, and examine how these trends are transformed (or not) through time. While in the beginning the focus will be on early Chinese philosophies and religious traditions (Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Buddhism), the later part of the course will involve an analysis of modern Chinese political and economic policies (Mao’s China, Deng’s Reform Era). Emphasis will be on integrating the textual analyses of primary and secondary sources with the larger historical narrative.
China -- Quest for Stability and Peace, Wealth and Power
Communism has existed in China only since 1949, and is not the sum total of Chinese ways for ethnic Chinese on the mainland, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, or in the Chinese Diasporas within and beyond East Asia. This class will focus largely on the ancient past, China’s Age of Antiquity (1100s to 200s BCE), and introduce students to some of the major works of Chinese traditional thought. The intellectual and philosophical developments of this period influenced China’s later cultural and political evolution, and are important for understanding modern-day Chinese assumptions. Moreover, the roots of Chinese tradition are also important for understanding the differences between Chinese and Western modes of thought as to the issues of good government, moral development, the individual’s place in society, and what it means to be human.
LATIN AMERICAN GLOBAL CULTURES
Latin American Global Cultures
Latin America and the Caribbean is a diverse region with a wealth of different cultures, societies, economies and political systems (including Latinos in the U.S.). Our focus will be on politics and economic development. After a historical overview of the region during the first few weeks, the class will build on that foundation to quickly reach the 20th -century and 21st -century. We will analyze recent economic and political developments. The focus is generally historical, sociological, political and economic, but culture and the arts are also widely discussed.
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?
MIDDLE EASTERN GLOBAL CULTURES
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, planetary systems, and the universe itself, as well as study of the earth and the development of life on earth and in the universe. The course traces the development of western scientific thought from the work of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo to the discoveries of Newton, Einstein and Hubble, among others. The course seeks to give students an understanding not only of modern science, but also of its development and of the methods, strengths and limitations of science.
"The history of our universe may be the key to our future." (Abrams & Primack)
Louis P. Pataki
History of the Universe
Some fourteen billion years ago the universe we know began to expand from an incomprehensibly tiny volume of space. Today the universe continues to expand into space that it creates in the expansion. Some four and a half billion years ago a star formed from the remnants of four or five generations of previous stars. Nuclear reactions within those stars had assembled the heavy elements that made the formation of Earth and of life possible. We can sit here and, to a degree, understand how that happened.
In this course you will learn what we know about our universe. More importantly, you will come to understand why we believe the things we think we understand. Emphasis will be historical, our developing, changing understanding of the universe and the effect of those changes on society. In so far as is practical it will be hands on through the use of simple experiments and computer simulations. A significant portion of the course will involve the “Planetary Project” where you will work as a part of a scientific team to discover properties of a fictitious planetary system. This project will involve significant writing responsibility over a four week period.
Life Science: 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, and infectious diseases. The theme of evolution and an emphasis on human health is woven throughout the course. In keeping with the integrated, interdisciplinary nature of Liberal Studies, we incorporate discussion of the historical and social context of major scientific advancements, and the relevance of these concepts to daily life into our discussion. Content is covered through a mixture of online lecture modules, in class lectures, hands-on activities, debates, and group discussions.
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 telephone, radio, television, lasers, and cameras will be investigated.
Social Foundations I
From Mythos to Logos: The Ascent of the Church of Reason and the Demystification of the World
This course will provide the opening chapter in an ongoing saga whose central theme is forged by a competition of two world views vying for man's allegiance in his quest to understand the meaning of his existence and his struggle to feel at home in the world. It will chronicle and develop the passage of a mythic, mystical, religious paradigm for understanding and interpreting causation, one that allows for the intervention of supernatural involvement in human affairs, to one that defines the Greek experience and its reliance upon a more rational, scientific, and depersonalized account of of what constitutes human experience. The course will commence with the Biblical portrayal of beginnings and pass to the first coming of reason that serves to define Hellenism and the world as seen through the lens of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and their supporting cast. The course will terminate with the resurgence of the religious sensibility that has come to define the Middle Ages and best captured in the visions of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Careful consideration of the political and ethical consequences of adopting either of these competing paradigms and will provide the adhesive that will offer thematic continuity to our study of each participant engaged in this powerful and critically relevant dialogue.
Mythic Origins of Philosophy and Science
The standard Social Foundations I (SF-I) spans the period from pre-history to 700 CE and examines relationships between patterns of action, belief and thought in ancient societies as compared with those of current cultures. In my section of SF-I emphasize philosophy, religion and science as key formative socio-cultural factors. We study the historical development of religion, science and philosophy in Greece, India and China, as well as reflecting philosophically on the basis and rationale of their concepts. Key texts include the philosophies and cosmologies of Apology, Meno, Phaedrus and Timaeus (Plato), On Christian Doctrine (Augustine), Dao de Jing (Lao Tzu), the Upanishads, the Bible, and The Man in the High Castle (P.K. Dick). The latter is work of speculative history that casts an interesting light on the intersection of “western” and “eastern” worlds.
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.
The Logical Structure of Desire
This course has as its focus what has come to be known as the “Axial Age,” a period from roughly the 7th to the 3 rd centuries B.C.E. where many of the seminal texts, at the foundations of a number of philosophical and religious systems still with us today, were compiled and/or written. Recognizing many of these texts for their unique voice and diversity of viewpoint, we will nonetheless see that they, and the Axial Age, share a singular, common theme: structuring desire. From what to want and not want, from what should be pursued to make a life good to what when pursued makes a life bad, it is this that nearly every text we will encounter in this course takes as its central subject. But, and here is the question that will hang in the background throughout the entire course, to what end? Is it possible or even desirable to break desires into categories with some lauded and others sanctioned?
Histories and Societies, Citizens and the Disenfranchised, Cultural Contacts and Conflicts
Among the ancient civilizations studied will be Egypt, Greece, Rome, and China. Themes will include the ideal state, the relationship between the individual and society, the disenfranchised (in particular women and slaves), and contacts and conflicts between cultures.
Although there will be works of philosophy included, this is not primarily a philosophy course. The approach will be historical, though also interdisciplinary--drawing upon analysis of art and literature produced by the civilizations studied, as well as philosophical models of ideal societies. Instructor will guide students through galleries at the Metropolitan Museum outside of class time. Readings may include the following texts (a sample list): Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War; Confucius’ The Analects, Plato’s The Republic, Tacitus’ The Annals of Imperial Rome, St. Augustine’s City of God, and selected shorter readings from ancient Egyptian texts as well as selections from the Biblical books of Exodus, Maccabees, and the Gospel of Matthew.
There may be some assignments involving interpretation of art works in relation to the issues studied. The instructor is a historian with interest in art and literature; the course will reflect these interests--especially the historical.
J. Ward Regan
Early Human Civilization and the beginnings of Politics
This course focuses on the development and transmission of the various ways of understanding human identity and social relations. Starting at the earliest stages of human culture, cultures have repeatedly addressed questions central to human beings ideas about themselves and their attempts at understanding of the universe. Texts are chosen from a cultural/philosophical perspective from Asia, Africa and the Fertile Crescent to the Mediterranean, Western Europe. The course starts in pre-history and ends in late antiquity.
Seminal Works of the Ancient World
Ranging from the Mediterranean to East Asia and from the earliest river civilizations to the 5th century of the Common Era, this course introduces students to the moral, political, philosophical, and religious thought of the ancient world. By analyzing texts from the ancient Mesopotamian, Jewish, Chinese, Indian, Greco-Roman and Christian traditions, we will explore such topics as forms of governance, relations between the human and the divine, the nature of justice and power, the well-lived life, and relationships among humans. These texts will be studied as well in their historical context. The course requires close reading of the texts and active, thoughtful class participation. Written work will include response papers in which students will have an opportunity to analyze key ideas in the work they have read and to comment upon their significance.
The Ancient World and Its Influence Today
“Equality is most unequal,” Cicero asserted in the first century B.C.E. What do concepts like equality, freedom, and justice mean to the ancients and to us today? How do the socio-political views of the ancient Greeks and Romans continue to influence us? In this course, we shall examine how the political, social, and ethical ideas of the ancients have impacted our own respective, current points of view. The goal of this course is not only to introduce you to texts that have shaped the way we think but also for you to study them as a means for constructing your own arguments, both in speech and in writing. While adopting an attitude of critical engagement towards texts and ideas, you will examine not only what a particular argument is but also how that argument is presented. In turn you will learn how to develop your own arguments and present them in a clear and persuasive fashion.
The Ancient World
This course uses classic texts to survey the moral and political thought of ancient times. We seek to discover a common humanity as expressed through four different literary traditions—those of ancient Greece, the Bible, classical China, and ancient Rome. Historical topics include the rise and fall of the Greek city-states, the development of classical Greek philosophy, the intellectual ferment of China before its unification, the imperial expansion of Rome, the rise of Christianity, and the dissolution of Roman authority during the early Middle Ages.We also consider philosophical issues that arise during the period, such as the proper exercise of political power, the authority of the state over the individual, the relation of religion to morality, the good life, rationality and knowledge, free will, the relation of mind and body, fundamental ethical principles, and the effects of political freedom. The course asks students to examine these issues critically. Class discussion will be crucial.
Wisdom of the Ancient World and its Legacy
In this course, we will read texts from the classical period through the early part the Middle Ages within the context of history of ideas. The course will focus on some of the important questions of philosophical, political, social, historical, and religious discourses and explore a variety of topics such as: the question of origin, the relationship between mythology and reason (and human and divine), the connection between justice and power, the make-up of an ideal state, the origin of moral conduct, the value of meditation in human life, and the origin of evil. We will start with an exploration of the origin of Western philosophy in ancient Greek culture and study the ideas of different schools of thought that flourished in this period. After the phase of early Greek thought, we will read Plato and Aristotle. As we read from Chinese and Hindu texts, we will try to understand how Greek and Asian philosophies agree and disagree in their approaches to a variety of topics from politics to ethics. After examining some of the Roman schools and reading a book from the Bible, we will read some parts of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and move on to the medieval period. We will end our class with Augustine’s Confessions. Students are expected to learn the tools of critical thinking, cultivate analytical skills for and techniques of textual interpretation and gradually learn comparative textual analysis.
Religions and Philosophies of the Ancient World
The topic of this course is the ancient world, and more specifically, ancient people's beliefs about society, humanity, and the gods. That topic is still very broad, so we will narrow our focus to four main religions and four main philosophies. The religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. The philosophies are Confucianism, Platonism, Hedonism, and Stoicism. All originated between 1500 BCE and 500 CE, and all still have followers around the world today. (The second-most popular world religion, Islam, wasn't founded until 600 CE. We will examine it in the spring term.)
One reason to study ancient religions and philosophies is that we are all living in an increasingly globalized world. More and more we will all interact – economically, politically, socially – with people who have different beliefs and values from ours. Many are guided by these ancient philosophies and religions. This course is an opportunity to learn about how people can be different from each other, and yet still similar, and how they might communicate with each other.
Another main reason to study religions and philosophies is that it will help you clarify your own beliefs and values. For example, do you believe that a personal god created everything and watches over you? Do you rely on observation and clear thinking to know what the world is like, or can you know through intuition, or feelings, or tradition? Studying popular religions and philosophies helps you develop your own worldview, which means your identity.
Justice, Happiness, and the Good Life
This course focuses on some of the classic texts of the ancient world and of the early Middle Ages—such as those of ancient India, classical China, the Judaic tradition, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome. We will explore the ways that Indian, Hebrew, Chinese, Greek, and Roman philosophers and theologians have envisioned the self in relation to questions of metaphysics, ethics, and political theory. Keeping their historical context in mind, we will focus on philosophical issues that arise during the period, such as the nature of justice, the authority of the state over the individual, the relation of religion to morality, the quality of the good life, and fundamental ethical principles. Authors and texts may include the Book of Job, Tao Te Ching, Dhammapada, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Plato’s Apology and Republic, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the Gospel according to Matthew, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, and St. Augustine’s Confessions.
Social Foundations III
Exploring Orientations in Thought Since 1750
This course explores modern intellectual paradigms in philosophy, psychology, and political theory. Questions are posed seeking to articulate the visions, preoccupations, and anxieties comprising the emerging modern Mind. Topics will included critiques of Communism and Capitalism, responses to accelerating industrialization and urbanization, and the bias of human species exceptionalism carried over from ancient religions challenged by new understandings of the human place in Nature. Readings will include the writings of Rousseau and Alexis de Tocqueville, Freud, Marx and Engels, J.S. Mill, Rosa Luxembourg, Gandhi, Naguib Mahfouz, Natsume Soseki, John Muir, E.L. Doctorow, and Frans de Waal.
Dr. Joyce Apsel
Politics, Power and Rights
“’The state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” - Walter Benjamin
This multidisciplinary course examines the development of ideologies and their impact on politics and global movements from the 18th century to the modern world analyzing thinkers, events and movements in Europe to North America, Asia, Africa and Latin America. How do contrasting views of human nature and the human condition influence theories of government, law, and the emergence of a series of human rights norms? What is the relationship between ideology, politics and power?
We analyze concepts of freedom and oppression, and historic designs to eliminate inequities and create more just societies. Patterns explored include progress and regress in history and tensions between revolutionary ideology and praxis; the emergence of secular ideologies such as nationalism, liberalism, communism and fascism, and the persistence of different forms of violence in history. Readings include: Mill and Marx to Freud, Fanon, and Coetzee.
The Search for Liberty, Wealth and Power.
This course will examine two themes of transformation from the 18th to 20th centuries: The Quest for Liberty and The Search for Wealth and Power. With the first theme, we will use primary sources to examine why democracy is so hard to establish and sustain by looking at the contradictions of constitutional government that created (and still create) tensions and challenges faced by all democracies, even “mature” ones (e.g. America). With the second theme, we will examine the rise of globalization and its consequences, i.e. how the pursuit of wealth by Western Europeans enriched their home countries but subjugated or exploited others, forcing the modernization of societies beyond Europe (with East Asia as a case study). Under the impact of Western colonialism and imperialism, debates in non-Western countries arose over the viability of Western moral values, political systems, and economic developmental models; such debates still persist today.
The Age of Revolution
Our course tackles the concept of revolution both literally as a transformation in government and metaphorically as an epoch of rapid, far-reaching change. We begin with how the French Revolution of 1789 was experienced by intellectuals and others in France, then focus on a simultaneous upheaval in France’s most profitable colony. Haiti was the birthplace of the first successful slave revolt in modern history and the second anti-colonial revolution in the Atlantic world after the American revolution. From the Haitian Revolution we move to the workers’ uprisings in 1848 Europe that were celebrated as “the Springtime of the Peoples,” studying how major intellectuals responded to the demands for equality and justice put forward by these uprisings. Thinkers had diverse and complex reactions, embracing and theorizing the revolts’ significance (Karl Marx), expressing ambivalence about their consequences (J.S. Mill), or decrying them as the rise of mediocrity in the modern world (Friedrich Nietzsche). From the 19th century we transition to two major revolutions in the 20th century: anti-colonial independence struggles, and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Readings include historical narratives and the writings of Mohandas Gandhi and Frantz Fanon.
Are we masters in our own house?--On the Limited Space within which we May and Must realize our Freedom.
In this course we will examine some major intellectual and historical developments and events that took place from the early 18th century to the time period of our contemporary world. We will focus, in particular, on ideas of social liberty, freedom and equality -- ideas that we will find developed in texts by Rousseau, Kant, and Mill. Some of these ideas inspired and led to the rise of revolutionary movements. However, these same ideas often lent themselves to justify and, thereby, maintain the establishment of global colonial empires and the exploitation and forms of enslavement that go with it. We will also read critiques of these Ideas by, for example, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Foucault, as well as by some non-Western thinkers such as Tagore, and Achebe.
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.
This course will center on a single question: What follows if humanity is viewed as continuous with, not exceptional in, nature? We will begin by investigating how much of the philosophy that lead up to the 19th and 20th centuries and formed the focus of Social Foundations I and II, as well as much of the philosophy in the 19th and 20th centuries, was based upon the assumption of human exceptionalism. We will then critique that assumption, focusing on three philosophers who themselves seem to challenge it yet who ultimately yield to it (i.e. Nietzsche, Marx and Freud). With that done we will turn to the project of seeing what results might follow from a critique of human exceptionalism for knowledge, identity, freedom and power/politics. Authors such Frithjof Bergmann, Judith Butler, Charles Darwin, Michel Foucault, David Lewis, Richard Rorty, Gilbert Ryle, Amartya Sen, Roberto Unger and Ludwig Wittgenstein will here take center stage.
Histories and Societies, Slavery, Imperialism, Nationalism, Encounters and Conflicts, the Disenfranchised
The course will focus on certain themes from the 18th to the 20th century, often in a global context. Among these will be slavery, imperialism, nationalism and challenges to colonialism (especially in China, Japan, and India) and encounters between cultures and societies. Among the questions examined will be the effects of slavery and oppression, both on the colonizers and the colonized. There will also be a focus on the disenfranchised (women, for example) in society.
Although there will be works of philosophy included, this is not primarily a philosophy course but one that focuses on history and society. If you are looking for a philosophy-only course, this is not it. This course will involve a historical and interdisciplinary approach, drawing upon analysis of art and literature, as well as some works of history and philosophy. Readings may include the following texts (a sample list): Rousseau’s The Social Contract; Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Mary Prince, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto, Mill’s On Liberty, Fukuzawa’s Autobiography, Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, and selections from Gandhi’s political works.
There will be some assignments involving interpretation of art works in relation to the issues studied. The instructor is a historian with interest in art and literature; the course will reflect these interests--especially the historical.
A defining feature of our time is that we expect our world and way of life to change dramatically from generation to generation and even year to year, hopefully as progress, but also often causing greater insecurity. This course explores revolutions in thought and in the structures of life that shape our current condition beginning with two great revolutions: the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. We engage the works of thinkers grappling with the rise of modern industrial capitalism and the transformation of class structures (Marx and Smith), the emergence of new concepts of political and individual freedom (Rousseau, Mill and Freud), and struggles within global colonial empires (Gandhi and Fanon). These works emerge from or inspire various liberation movements, such as the Indian and Algerian Independence movements, and the US Women’s Liberation and Civil Rights movements (de Beauvoir and bell hooks). While these works emerge from specific historical contexts, their insights about the central problematic of human freedom--including the nature of humanity, the sources of inequalities, and the means by which a just society can be achieved--continue to resonate.
Through our analysis we will trace the connections and divergences between European thinkers and thinkers engaging other geopolitical, cultural and socioeconomic context. We will also analyze the broad influence of these texts and relate the debates between them to our social and political context today. Our approach will include close reading, comparative analysis and extrapolation to other contexts and cases, including through an independent research project each student will develop over the course of the semester.
J. Ward Regan
The Making of the Modern World
This course is designed to be an introduction to the modern intellectual disciplines of philosophy, psychology, sociology and political science. We will also attempt to understand what has become know as "the Crisis of Modernity". The texts come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and represent the establishment or reputation of intellectual paradigms. This course will also take into account current events so as to set them in the context of previous historical and philosophical development.
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.
Society vs. Freedom: the Existential Rebellion
This class continues the examination of philosophic, religious, political, social, and historical ideas from the Enlightenment and the revolutions of the 18th century to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We read on crucial debates in moral philosophy, as between Kant and the Utilitarians (Mill) and from the later part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, we study the most significant critiques of the modern age: Marx’s critique of political economy, Nietzsche’s critique of European culture, and Freud’s psychoanalytic critique. These three thinkers become indispensable to understand the twentieth century; their ideas help shape many of the artistic, political, philosophical, and psychological movements of our times. The class ends by exploring various texts from the later part of the twentieth century; texts that have much to say on post-war issues such as feminism, independence movements, the cultural upheaval of the 60s, and colonialism. We read philosophical and political texts and fiction and engage in a discussion as presented by these authors. Texts are chosen from among the major writers of the period, such as Rousseau, Thomas Jefferson, Kant, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Sartre, De Beauvoir, Fanon, and Che Guevara. Students are expected to further their critical thinking, analytical skills, techniques of textual interpretation and comparative textual analysis.
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. Seeing how ideologies work should help us figure out how to interpret today’s world.
The Writer, the Self, and the City
In this course, students discover self and city in assignments that take them out into the streets of New York, inviting them to explore the many ways that solitary urban walkers may use the occasion to reflect on their inner lives and to analyze the social/cultural world around them. The act of walking, in the tradition of writers from Charles Baudelaire in Paris to Philip Lopate in Manhattan, serves as a model for writing the essay: the way a thoughtful urban walker wanders, discovers, and retraces steps parallels the way a writer develops and revises ideas and restructures forms. Writing description, narration, reflection, and formal analysis, experimenting with style and structure in journals, students create and revise ideas of the city and self. They consider urban life through assigned essays, stories, poems, film, and song. Recent texts have included works by Philip Lopate, Joan Didion, AndréAciman, James Baldwin, Colson Whitehead, Jane Jacobs, Walt Whitman, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Laura Nyro, Italo Calvino, Pico Iyer, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen, as well as writing by NYU freshmen at other global sites.
Coming of Age
What does it mean to "come of age"? Does one have to be a certain age for it to occur? Rites of passage are related to the process, but which rites, and how? In this section of Writing I, we will explore how one comes of age through particular milestones, and whether the trajectory is ever fully complete: that is, we might be always growing into ourselves, becoming who we are. Readings may include stories by T.C. Boyle, John Updike, and Lorrie Moore, non-fiction by Richard Rodriguez and Darryl Pinckney, and the novel The End of Eddy by Édouard Louis. Students will write three papers, one of which will involve researching an element of their own coming-of-age. Shorter pieces of less formal writing will also be required. We'll probably view a film and visit a NYC museum as part of the discussion of what it means to become an adult.
This section of Writing I focuses on space, place, and time. We will read about New York City, borders, travel, treatment of bodies in public, space and social justice, and cultural imaginings of the future and past. In the first unit, you’ll consider yourself in the context of places that are significant to you. In the second unit, we’ll move into considering space socially and politically. In the third unit, our focus will be on science fiction and other engagements with the future and past as ways of thinking through contemporary spaces and places. You will read analyses of the Back to the Future series and write your own cultural analysis.
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.
Global Borrowed Culture
Cultures have always borrowed from other cultures, but we live in an age where cultural repetition, repurposing, or borrowing has been revolutionized by digital culture. Today, contemporary culture-makers feel less need to hide behind the veil of originality and are more openly quoting and revealing their borrowed sources—think of sampling in music. Even further, many complexities emerge, globally, over issues of identity, marketing, surveillance, hacking, etc. which all have a foot in the cultural borrowing of data and ideas. How did we arrive at this cultural moment? What does this use of global borrowing tell us about 21st global culture? Is borrowed culture a result of a global consumer culture? What are the legal and political implications of artistic and economic cultural appropriation? To engage in a conversation about these issues, we will be reading several key texts, such as Lethem’s “The Ecstasy of Influence”, Boon’s “In Praise of Copying” and Said’s “Orientalism.” By extension, our own writing will reflect a new awareness for how our ideas develop in concert with the ideas around us. Additional, our writing will experiment with new forms of expository writing and analysis.
In this course we will investigate stories and narratives about people, places, things and events- as well as our own stories in order to develop and sharpen our ideas. To what extent do stories capture the “truth”? How do we connect to stories that may be foreign to us? Why do some stories intrigue and some disturb us? How is power related to story? How do stories and narratives shape us? Through this lens, we will work toward becoming more confident and skilled academic writers through practice and reflection. Our texts will include memoir, fiction, essay, drama and film. We will approach writing in this class as a practice and a process that develops over time. You will be asked to write both in and out of class and to write a lot. You will write in order to explore your ideas and assertions in informal ways, through short assignments in and out of class, as well as to present these ideas formally- in longer essay assignments.
Between the World and You
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” begins the opening paragraph of Joan Didion’s essay “The White Album.” This course will take Didion’s assertion as a point of entry for examining a wide range of essays from the personal to the persuasive as we investigate the ways that all of our stories are interconnected. Throughout this course we will learn how to write about our own experiences and ideas and also how to respond to ideas others have voiced. As students reflect on themselves and the world around them, we will be especially attuned to issues of gender, class, race, sexuality, and geographical location. Our class discussions and our writing will be spurred by studying both short and long form essays from some of the greatest contemporary writers of our time including Didion, James Baldwin, David Foster Wallace, Ta-Nahesi Coates, and David Sedaris among others.
Mary Helen Kolisnyk
The Writer, The World, The Text – The City as Place
This is a course in essay composition, though maybe not of the kind you are accustomed to. In it, you will write 3 essays which will emerge from a series of smaller writing exercises. The smaller exercises allow you to try out a diverse array of writing styles and modes, and to practice interpretations and analyses; with feedback on these, you will be challenged to develop your outlook and responses — to discover what more you can say. The entire process will activate the creativity and insight that you will finally emerge in sophisticated final drafts.
Readings and discussions in class will address issues and experiences of the city and, when possible, current events directly connected to NYC. Our goal will be to understand how we are influenced by place, and how it shapes our thinking. Drafting and revision work usually includes excursions out into the neighborhoods of the city.
Irina Rich Langer
The Insider’s Guide to the Outsider: Understanding and Utilizing the Outsider’s Voice in Critical Interpretation of Texts
We will be reading essays, short novels, and poetry in a variety of rhetorical modes that are written from the point of view of “the outsider;” whether that is the cultural outsider, the socio-psychological outsider, the sexual outsider, the racial outsider, or the physical outsider, these writers and directors are able to convey to the reader/viewer the depth of their situation in a language that exemplifies persuasive, engaging prose while employing Standard Written English (SWE) as well as other dialects when appropriate. Your own experience as an outsider, including being a freshman at a large university, will be used in your written work in dialogue with the authors that we read, including Toni Morrison, Albert Camus and Sherman Alexie.
The World of the Written Word
As a species, we’ve been talking to one another for at least ten times longer than we’ve been writing, 50000 years compared to 5000. Even as recently as 200 years ago, 90% of humanity could neither read nor write. Thus the world of the written word is not a “natural” but a human creation. The earliest written texts, as opposed to lists, are no more than about 4500 years ago in Ancient Egypt and Sumer, 3500 years ago in India, China, and Ancient Israel, and 2800 years ago in Europe. Socrates, one of the most important early philosophers of Western tradition, executed 2400 years ago, was illiterate.
The Surface (and Below It)
In this writing class, we will consider many different kinds of writing. We will take a look at: 1) a handful of essays, on subjects ranging from how we alter the space we are occupying to gender/body imagery. 2) Some photographs (famous and otherwise), and how we perceive/read them. 3).Some advertisements (both historical and current) and the imagery/worldview used and evoked therein. 4). Some narratives, especially looking at evocations of horror (Poe, Carter) and sexuality (Minot, Daum). 5). Some poems, and the multifarious ways in which love relationships have been portrayed.
We will read these variegated texts, write responses to most of them, and especially, we will consider how the appearance of the text is not always the same as the inner meaning of the text (and how that is sometimes true in our own lives as well).
Academic Writing: Real World Topics
This course provides students with an introduction to the diversity, complexity and interconnectedness of writing in higher education today, serving as an introduction to scholarly writing and also to the kinds of thinking and inquiry undertaken across the university curriculum. The course works under the assumption that first-year writing is best approached by responding to contemporary and sometimes controversial issues treated from multiple disciplinary and critical perspectives. Topics under consideration include living in a digital culture, learning in a digital age, living in a global culture, sustaining our global environment, our post-human future, and surviving economic crisis and the future.
The Meaning of the University
Why do we go to college? What do we learn at the university? What does it mean to learn and
what is the difference between high school and college learning, writing and thinking? What have
other students, professors, writers, and artists said about these issues? What can we learn from
them? In this course, we will explore many aspects of learning and education in the broadest
sense through the careful analysis of essays and films. Such analysis will form the basis of your
own exploration that will include your reflection on and your analysis of your personal experience
of what it feels like to be a student at New York University in 2018. While grappling with these
issues and ideas, you will be developing your own skills of thinking and writing.
Multidimensional Storytelling and The Art of Seeing
According to art critic John Berger, “Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” Now so, more than ever, multi-media content delivers images paired with words. Increasingly, in our hyper-packed digital world, we are simultaneously being told what we see and what stories to believe. But what stories are actually being told? And more importantly, what stories need telling? In this writing intensive course, we will focus on locating multidimensional stories of identity and experience within current cultural realities. Both reading and writing assignments will engage with a variety of creative and expository forms including prose poems, literacy narratives, cultural memoirs, autofictions, graphic dramadies, and critical essays. Course texts will include selections from Edward Said and Jean Mohr; Alison Bechdel and Virginia Woolf; Charles Duhigg (on Disney’s Frozen); Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric; David Shields’s War is Beautiful; Joy Harjo’s and Leslie Marmon Silko’s storytelling; Kara Walker’s silhouettes; I Am Malala (the memoir) and He Called Me Malala (the documentary); Marina Abramovic’s performance art; Caitlyn Jenner’s reality show I Am Cait; social media, mainstream ads, recent sitcoms, and experiential trips to the New Museum and The Met Breuer.
Ways of Seeing
Each student brings a unique perspective to life in New York City. This semester we’ll be writing and talking about your interaction with the city, and exploring life here through stories and essays where setting and voice are strong factors. We’ll visit historic places in the neighborhood, and read Subway Stories, and The Mole People, to get you thinking about New York’s culturally rich mix of people, the social issues here, and how it reflects larger world issues especially in light of today’s political climate. Essays dealing with stereotypes and prejudices will ask you to examine your ways of seeing culture, gender, race, disabilities, and social status to name a few. Finally, you’ll venture into the city’s great museums to analyze your way of seeing a work of art. This semester’s goal is to analyze, discuss, and write about ways of seeing art, history, prejudice, and oneself within the bustling Big Apple… and beyond.
Alternative Selves, Alternative New York
In her journals, Susan Sontag says that a writer must be four people: the obsessive, the fool, the stylist, the critic. In Alternative Selves, Alternative New Yorks, students will write about their own multi-faceted (obsessive, foolish, stylish, critical) selves in a semester-long journal. Students will also write about New York City through various prompts, and from a variety of perspectives. Reading for the course will include Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963, by Susan Sontag, and a gathering of essays, poems, songs, stories, and films, that present multiple New Yorks—those, for instance, of our current Nobel Laureate in Literature, and of Rebecca Solnit, Zadie Smith, Philip Lopate, The Drifters, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Eileen Myles, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Writing: multiple drafts of two short essays, one long, plus journal. Reading: close, and slow.
Writing I: Identities
Identities is thematic in nature, centering on notions of identity as related to family, culture, race, national origin and gender. The essay assignments in this class will ask you to explore these overlapping themes in relationship to various works of nonfiction, fiction and art as well as in light of your own experiences. We will draw upon readings from writers as diverse as Pico Iyer, Urvashi Butalia, Brian Doyle and Chimimande Ngozi Adiche in order to explore the identities that are assigned to us as well as those we choose. We will also make at least one museum visit in order to explore visual representations of identity. The course will be taught as a combination seminar/workshop, with a great deal of class discussion, peer interaction, group work and individual attention from the instructor. You will write three essays, each of which will go through more than one draft.
The Short and the Short of It
In this course we’ll explore short prose literary forms. While brevity and speed seem to have eclipsed most other communicative values in our dizzying, oversaturated age, they're not the only defining features of micro-writing. Short forms play with the explicit and implicit, and reward concentration (in the sense of applying sharp attention as well as the sense of distilling or refining), making them instructive and inspiring models for practices of close reading, sentence composition, and focused revision. They encourage us—as readers and as writers—to consider, and reconsider, what we’ve learned about specificity and ambiguity, rhythm and pacing, and organization and structure. Students will draw from assigned materials, observation, and memory to produce short works that both creatively and critically engage with their sources. Our class meetings will combine live reading, discussion, writing exercises, and workshop/peer review, so students should come with a curious, daring, and participatory mindset.
Identity, Experience, and Coming of Age
The concepts of adolescence and coming of age are deeply embedded in the American consciousness. What defines coming of age? Is it a universal experience? How do coming-of-age experiences define who we are and how we see the world? In this course, we will explore these core questions through reading, research, and writing. Readings will include a wide range of nonfiction, from literary journalism to texts on adolescent psychology and queer theory, as well as literature by authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Alison Bechdel, Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, and Chang-Rae Lee. For the major writing assignments, which include a research paper, an interpretive textual analysis, and a narrative essay, students will consider how their personal lenses shape the ways they read, write, and see the world. Students should expect to engage deeply with the course theme, while honing the kind of intensive research, analysis, and writing skills that will prepare them for success in advanced liberal arts courses across the curriculum.