Freshman Seminars

Student reading textbook in class

In this section, we have highlighted freshman seminars that are taught by faculty in the Division of Arts & Humanities. First-year students have until 6 pm EST on August 22 to apply for a fall seminar. Visit the website of the Freshman Seminar Program for further information!

A&H Freshman Seminars 2022-23

Fall 2022

FRSEMR 35E: What is Beauty?
Francesco Erspamer

Beauty does not promise or imply the possibility of verification—there will be no comprehensive research and no day of reckoning to finally prove that Leonardo’s Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony are in fact beautiful. Perhaps this is precisely the reason why we need beauty, and why it is worth studying: because it teaches the contingency of values and the revocability of absolutes. Beauty is a most effective training for tolerance and innovation. In the early part of the seminar we will analyze Kant's approach to aesthetics. We will then study the evolution of the concept of beauty throughout history, with examples mostly taken from the culture of a country, Italy, that has successfully self-fashioned itself as the land of beauty.

FRSEMR 33C: Borges, García Márquez, Bolaño and Other Classics of Modern Latin American Fiction and Poetry
Mariano Siskind

This course introduces students to some of the most important Latin American literary works produced during the twentieth century. We will explore the ways in which these novels, short-stories, essays and poems interrogate the historical traumas, political contexts and aesthetic potential of the region between 1920s and 1980s. We will shed light on their place in the historical and cultural formation of the literary canon, as well as on the concept of ‘classic’. The goal of this seminar is two-fold. On the one hand, it introduces students to the Latin American literary and critical tradition through some of the best and most interesting literary and critical works (each novel or grouping of short stories and poems are paired with an important critical essay that situates them historically and aesthetically). On the other, it provides them with the fundamental skills of literary analysis (close reading, conceptual and historical framing, continuities and discontinuities with the aesthetic tradition), and that is why I have selected a relatively small number of readings, in order to have time to work through them, discuss them and have some flexibility to extend the classes we dedicate to a given author when our discussions merit it. 

FRSEMR 33R: The Chinese Language, Present and Past
C.-T. James Huang

This seminar offers an opportunity to learn about the Chinese language, by observing and analyzing its linguistic structure, history, cultural tradition and social relevance. With a partially hands-on approach, we shall look at the fundamental principles that make up the sound system and govern the grammar of Mandarin, with particular attention to those features that distinguish Chinese from English and other languages, including its system of tones, its writing system, its word-order and syntactic patterns, and how the language has developed in over 2000 years of its recorded history. Looking deeper, we see how the study of Chinese may contribute to our understanding of language as a central component of human cognition.  The seminar is designed for students with some experience of the Chinese language (e.g., with some prior formal instruction or as heritage speakers of Mandarin or any other Chinese dialect). The analytical skills acquired will be of use as an aid to improve on one’s proficiency, or in preparing for study in linguistics, translation, East Asian study, and/or artificial intelligence.

FRSEMR 64T: Immigrant Memoirs: Women’s Lives from Eastern Europe to America
Aleksandra Kremer

In this seminar we will read memoirs and personal essays (as well as a few poems and a play) written by women who had moved from eastern Europe to the United States (and in some cases to the UK and Canada, too). What did they think about their new countries? What happened to their first languages as they lived surrounded by the English language? What did their alienation and assimilation look like? How did their attitude to English evolve? We will read about identity, memory, and loss, about abandoning and rediscovering one’s ancestry, about children and adults, about working-class immigrants, successful writers, and part-time college teachers, and their varying reasons for emigration, which included wars, discrimination, poverty, and love. The authors we will discuss come from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, from former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and include several Jewish and Yiddish-speaking writers. The earliest migrations described in these memoirs take place around World War II and the Holocaust, the most recent texts refer to the war in Ukraine. What image of eastern Europe emerges from these texts? How do these stories inform our views of ethnicity and immigration today? What do they tell us about our own identities? All students interested in these questions are welcome to join us, there are no prerequisites.  

FRSEMR 62U: Zombies and Spirits, Ghosts and Ghouls: Interactions between the Living and the Dead
Shaye Cohen

Virtually all the cultures and religions of the world, from ancient to contemporary times, have teachings and rituals about death. In this seminar we will deal with a subset of this very large topic, namely, the relationship of the living and the dead. The dead are often depicted as still‐living in some way and still in communication with us and our world. Are they friendly or hostile? Beneficent or malevolent? Think “undead” and “zombie” versus “saint” and “angel.” In this course we will look at some of the myriad ways that religions and cultures conceive of the relationship of the living with the dead. We the living care for the dying and the dead, and hope that the dead will care for us, but how this works exactly is the subject of much speculation. American secular culture, at least in its cinematic expression, has a vigorous belief in the afterlife, especially in having denizens of the afterlife, in the form of zombies, ghosts, and poltergeists, intrude on the world of the living. In our seminar we will survey this rich set of themes as expressed in literature, art, music, cinema, and philosophy.

FRSEMR 60C: Comics and Graphic Novels
Stephanie Burt

Comics and graphic novels, or sequential art, are one of the world’s great storytelling media: we’re going to learn how to read them, how to talk about how they get made and how they work, how to understand—and how to enjoy— some of the kinds of comics and graphic novels (that is, some of the genres) that make up the history of this medium in the modern English-speaking world. That history has three strands, which cross and re-cross, but which need to be understood independently, and we will see all three: short-form strip comics, designed for newspapers beginning in the 1890s and now flourishing on the Web; action-adventure and superhero comics, invented in the late 1930s, transformed in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, usually created by teams, and important to popular culture today; and a third strand beginning with “underground” or “alternative” comics or comix (with an x) in the 1960s and evolving into long form graphic novels, often created by single writer-artists, today.  That history comes with visual references, which you will learn to recognize; comics also comes with its own set of theoretical terms, which you’ll learn to use. Comics today share a medium (pictures and usually words in sequence) but belong to several genres: we’ll learn how to talk about them, and how they’ve evolved.You’ll get the chance to make comics, and to figure out how creators collaborate, advocate, distribute, and sometimes even earn a living from the comics they make, but the course will focus on existing comics, from McCay to Bechdel, from Kirby to Ms. Marvel— as events in culture and as works of art.

FRSEMR 61F: Cartoons, Folklore, and Mythology
Joseph Nagy

The creators of cinematic (and later TV) animation have perennially turned to traditional oral and literary tales about fantastic heroes, villains, tricksters, and settings for their story material.  In the world of the animated “short” and feature-length film, myths, epics, legends, and folktales could come to life in a highly stylized, kinetic, and visually arresting way.  Cartooning created a pathway for traditional stories to live on in the consciousness of twentieth-century viewers, and also for these old tales to be adapted to changing times.  Hence animation offers not only an influential modern commentary on the folklore and mythology of the past but also a contemporary mythology of its own, deeply meaningful to adults and children alike. In this freshman seminar, students are invited to take what might be considered mere entertainment very seriously, closely reading texts of traditional stories in tandem with critically viewing animation that draws its inspiration from those stories. For a final assignment, each student will be called upon to choose some animation (a short or a clip from a feature-length film) to share with the rest of the seminar, to provide some background for it, and to lead a discussion of the animation in light of what else we will have seen, learned, and said.  While the instructor’s contribution to the seminar will primarily focus on animation from 1900 to 1960, students when choosing which sample of animation to share will be welcome to present later or contemporary examples of the cartooning art—including perhaps even their own.

FRSEMR 61U: Reading the Novella: Form and Suspense in Short Fiction
Jonathan Bolton

Short enough to read in a single sitting, but more complex and absorbing than short stories, novellas give us some of our most intense reading experiences. Indeed, many of the enduring classics of world literature, from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilich to James Joyce’s The Dead, take advantage of the novella's compression and acceleration of plot––features that are also suited to horror, mystery, and other forms of “genre” fiction. In this seminar, we will read some of the great masters of the novella form, including Eileen Chang, Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, H. G. Wells, Alice Munro, and Katherine Anne Porter, as well as other examples from around the world, including Eastern Europe, China, and Japan. Readings of 50-125 pages a week (all of it in English) will allow us to work closely with some classics of modern fiction, going down to the level of word choice and sentence structure, but we’ll also consider the way authors build and sustain suspense, the different forms of narrative resolution, and other questions of plotting and structure. We will also talk about how to get the most out of your weekly reading experiences—I’ll ask you to set aside solitary time for your reading each week and, as far as possible, to read each novella in just one or two sittings. You'll keep a reading journal, including 2-3 pages of writing each week; a number of short creative and analytical assignments will help you understand the choices made by authors as they shape their stories for this most demanding and exciting of fictional forms.

FRSEMR 64Y: "Ignorant Schoolmasters" and Experts
Doris Sommer

What is the best way to teach, by guiding students guide toward discovery or by explaining what teachers know to students who should learn? The alternative answers have fueled millennial debates. One side defends facilitators who may or may not be experts in the target subject. They provide enough instruction to ignite curiosity, but no more since heavier hands can crush student initiative and instill resentment for school. The other side endorses the transfer of knowledge from teachers who master a subject, set standards, and evaluate progress. Today’s proposals innovate insofar as they recover, recombine, and rename sometimes forgotten pedagogies developed over a long durée. From a humanist perspective, the current and renewable debates about how to teach raise questions about forgetfulness, gaslighting, and about the dynamics of professionalization in education. Our seminar will consider the trail of controversies, the effects on teaching and learning, as well as opportunities to enhance current practices. Readings include both standard and neglected texts with a standing invitation to “go off on a tangent” and supplement assigned readings with student-researched materials. We start with a contemporary political philosopher who considers what is at stake for democracy in these educational debates.

FRSEMR 72S: Religion and the Black Protest Tradition
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham

This seminar explores the long tradition of Black protest against racial discrimination and oppression in the United States by focusing on the role of religion, as represented by selected individuals, institutions, and movements for social change during the pre-Civil War Era, the Civil Rights and Black Power years of the 1950s through 1960s, and the struggle against legacies of systemic racial inequities today. From abolitionist protest through Black Lives Matter, this protest tradition has always included more than African Americans, and thus we will discuss the influence of individual white allies where relevant to specific themes. Taking both a thematic and interdisciplinary approach, we will compare as well as contrast ideas and strategies in the same time period and over different time periods. And we will engage a range of secondary sources, survey data, and also primary sources, such as sermons, speeches, newspaper articles, convention minutes, interviews, music, and the visual arts.

FRSEMR 64S: Metamorphoses of Life
Daniel Carranza

If trees could speak, what would they say? How does that annoying fly buzzing around perceive the room you both inhabit – perceive you? And what kind of traumatic shock could transform you into a mute tree? Or lead you to wake up and discover you have become an insect?
In this seminar, we will explore how living things undergo metamorphosis in mythic narratives, poetry, and visual art. How does the Western mythic tradition from Ovid to Kafka imagine such jarring, even violent, self-transformations? In what ways do organisms already metamorphose in remarkable ways that defy observation? Do the environments of different species appear radically differently to each? And how might we make sense of this interplay between radical transformation and obstinate persistence in natural and cultural ‘environments’ alike?

FRSEMR 33O: Animation - Getting Your Hands on Time
Ruth Lingford

Students in this practice-based seminar will experiment with a variety of animation techniques to gain new perspectives on time. Using drawing, we will break down time into frames, understanding movement as both a liquid flow and a sequence of distinct infinitesimals. Using pixilation, a technique from the beginning of cinema, we will analyze and deconstruct human movement, then reassemble it for magical effect. Using strata-cut animation, we will attempt to think of time as a solid, and to visualize the progression of time in terms of volume and shape. Using editing software, we will explore cinematic constructions of time though the use of cutting and juxtaposition. Each session will include screenings, discussion and practical work. There will be practice-based assignments each week. Each student will have the opportunity to make a film of around one minute, using an animation technique of their choice. Or they may decide to collaborate with others to make a longer piece.

FRSEMR 30M: California in the 60s
Kate van Orden

This seminar examines American youth culture in the "long" 1960s through the lens of music in California. A range of popular and art music will be considered, from San Francisco psychedelia, L.A. rock-n-roll, surf rock, outlaw country, funk, and the ballads of singer-songwriters to the early minimalism of Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and John Adams. Much of our attention will be concentrated on a few spectacularly influential albums: The Doors (the group’s debut album, 1967), Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow (1967), an album definitive of the Summer of Love, Sly & the Family Stone’s Stand! (1969), and the self-titled Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969), an album that turned the tide of pop music away from blues-based rock-n-roll toward acoustic guitars, folk elements, and singing in harmony. Our musical “texts” for the class will be sound recordings, so you will not have to read scores. Come with open ears, an open mind, and a desire to learn from listening. In addition to studying musical genres, performance styles, and the effects of technology (radio, recording, electric instruments), the seminar will delve into the social movements in which music played a crucial role: the Civil Rights Movement, protests against the Vietnam War, the ecology movement, gay liberation, and feminism.

FRSEMR 30Q: Death and Immortality
Cheryl Chen

In this seminar, we will discuss philosophical questions about death and immortality. What is death? Is there a moral difference between "brain death" and the irreversible loss of consciousness? Is the classification of a person as dead a moral judgment, or is it an entirely scientific matter? Is death a misfortune to the person who dies? How can death be a misfortune if you are no longer around to experience that misfortune? Is it possible to survive after death? What does it mean for you to survive after your death? Is there such a thing as an immaterial soul distinct from your body? Is immortality something you should want in the first place? Even if you do not live forever, is it nevertheless important that humanity continues to exist after your death? By discussing these questions about death, we will hopefully gain insight about the importance and meaning of life.

FRSEMR 33X: Complexity in Works of Art: Ulysses and Hamlet
Philip Fisher

Is the complexity, the imperfection, the difficulty of interpretation, the unresolved meaning found in certain great and lasting works of literary art a result of technical experimentation?  Or is the source extreme complexity—psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual?  Does it result from limits within language, or from language’s fit to thought and perception?  Do the inherited forms found in literature permit only certain variations within experience to reach lucidity?  Is there a distinction in literature between what can be said and what can be read?  The members of the seminar will investigate the limits literature faces in giving an account of mind, everyday experience, thought, memory, full character, and situation in time.  The seminar will make use of a classic case of difficulty, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and a modern work of unusual complexity and resistance to both interpretation and to simple comfortable reading, Joyce’s Ulysses.  Reading in exhaustive depth these two works will suggest the range of meanings for terms like complexity, resistance, openness of meaning, and experimentation within form.

FRSEMR 34X: Language and Prehistory
Jay Jasanoff

It was discovered around 1800 that the major languages of Europe, along with the ancient languages of India and Iran, were descended from an unattested parent, formerly known as “Aryan” or “Indo-Germanic,” but today usually called Proto-Indo-European. The identification of the Indo-European family raised many questions, some purely linguistic (e.g., what was Proto-Indo-European like; was it grammatically complex or “primitive”?), and some more far-reaching (e.g., who were the speakers of Proto-Indo-European; why did Indo-European languages spread so widely?). Questions of the first type eventually led to the birth of the academic field of historical linguistics. Questions of the second type, however, led many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century intellectuals to posit a genetically and culturally superior Aryan “race.” This idea is now universally rejected, but evidence from language still figures importantly in specula-tion about the remote past. Recent debates about the origins of “Western civilization,” for example, center on the alleged presence of Egyptian elements in Greek, while theories about the settlement of the Americas sometimes cite supposed linguistic connections between the New World and other continents. This seminar, after surveying the basic elements of historical linguistics, will explore the use and misuse of such methods. What, if anything, does the fact that languages are related tell us about their speakers? How can we distinguish genuine cases of language contact or “influence” from the kinds of resemblances that come about through pure chance? Answers to questions like these will be sought through case studies, with readings chosen to illustrate and contrast scholarly and unscholarly approaches. The work for the course will consist of readings, four or five short problem sets, and a final project with both written and oral components.

FRSEMR 35N: The Art and Craft of Acting
Remo Airaldi

We’ve all watched a great performance and wondered, “How did that actor do that?” Acting is undoubtedly the most popular, most widely experienced of the performing arts, and yet, in many ways, it remains a mystery. This seminar will give students an opportunity to demystify the art of acting by introducing them to the basic tools of the trade—they will learn about the craft of acting by actually “doing” it. It will provide an introduction to acting by combining elements of a discussion seminar with exercises, improvisations and performance activities. Improvisation will be used to improve group/ensemble dynamics, to minimize habitual behaviors, and to develop characters. Students will explore a range of acting techniques designed to give students greater access to their creativity, imagination and emotional life. The aim will be to improve skills that are essential to the acting process, like concentration, focus, relaxation, observation, listening, collaboration and so on. Students will attend and critique theatrical productions at the Loeb Drama Center and in the Boston area. Material from these productions will be used by students in in-class performance activities.

FRSEMR 65E: Wit, Irony, Comedy
Thomas Wisniewski

In life, as in literature, humor often takes us by surprise: it gives delight; it lightens our mood; it makes us laugh. The question is: why? Laughter, in many ways, is a mystery. If tragedy’s existence is all too easy to explain— suffering needs to be borne, and we yearn to find explanations for it—then it’s comedy that’s the enigma. Taking the comic seriously, this seminar provides a broad investigation into the psychological, sociological, philosophical, dramatic, and literary functions of humor. To understand how what we find funny changes in relation to shifting social, cultural, and historical contexts, we will bring a range of approaches to bear on the study of humor: wit and wordplay; the phenomenon of laughing; satire and irony; jokes and joking; sexual humor and the taboo; parody; humor in performance, including stand-up; the question of gender; obstacles that confront female humorists; religious humor; ethnic humor, especially Jewish; queer camp humor; Black humor; the differences between verbal wit and visual humor; humor and comedy as a refusal of the tragic: literature with a comic surface and tragic depth. Throughout the semester, we will study literary works from Shakespeare to the present day as well as theater history, performance, film, television, stand-up comedy, cartoons, etc. Works by psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists will supplement our analysis.

FRSEMR 64U: Stories of Gender and Justice
Karen Thornber

With gender inequities and biases pervasive within and across cultures worldwide, and the global pandemics of gender-based violence and structural violence further intensified by the Covid-19 pandemic, how have individuals, groups, communities, and nations globally fought for (and against) gender justice? How have struggles against gender injustice intersected and conflicted with struggles against racial, ethnic, environmental, health, LGBTQIA+ and other forms of injustice?    
Gender justice, as is true of justice more broadly, is often discussed in the abstract, or as a matter of law, political history, protest movements, enfranchisement, and similar phenomena. Yet at its core, justice involves individuals and their experiences - both their suffering and their triumphs - experiences most directly accessed through stories. In this seminar we'll explore a range of stories and different forms of storytelling on gender justice, from novels and films to memoirs/personal histories, histories, and creative nonfiction. Some narratives with which we will engage are Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Ito Shiori's Black Box: The Memoir that Sparked Japan's #MeToo Movement, Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals, Cynthia Enloe's The Big Push: Exposing and Challenging the Persistence of Patriarchy, and Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua's This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. Students will be encouraged to write their own stories on gender and justice.  

FRSEMR 64X: Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? —Photography in French Literature
Matthew Rodriguez

The history of modern and contemporary French literature is intertwined with the history of photography, and French writers have significantly influenced how we think and write about photography. Writers have approached photography since its invention with curiosity, disdain, fear, and wonder. To understand these different ways of thinking about photography, our seminar asks the following questions: Does photography represent the triumph of technology over art? Is a photograph a work of art? How does photography shape the way we look at the world? Does a photograph represent objective reality or is it just a fiction? What can we learn from a photograph?
Writers have responded to these questions explicitly and obliquely across a variety of genres, including the novel, the essay, and the memoir, and in works that blur the boundaries between different genres. In our seminar, we will draw on all of these forms of writing and on many different kinds of photographs as we practice reading and looking closely.
We will study works by Marcel Proust, Marguerite Duras, Roland Barthes, Hervé Guibert, Patrick Modiano, Sophie Calle, and Annie Ernaux, among others. We will discuss how these authors use photography to write about memory, mourning, self, and identity. We will also think about how we define ourselves in relation to images and how literature can help us look more closely and critically at photography as we make our way through our own image-saturated realities. Students will put these insights into practice in visits to the Fogg Museum to examine photographs from Harvard’s collections and in short creative writing assignments (pastiches) in which they will assume the “eye” of different authors.

FRSEMR 65F: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful: The Ethics of Art
Patrick White

What, if anything, is the relationship between art and morality? Can art be immoral? Or is it a mistake to evaluate a work of art in such terms? Can the moral of a content of a work bear on its aesthetic value, that is, whether it is good art? What of the moral status of artists—does the (im)morality of an artist bear on the success of her work? Should art serve as an instrument of moral education? A force for liberation? A method of unifying people? How do the arts shape who and what is seen? And how should we think of the representation (or appropriation) of race, gender, and culture in the arts? This seminar will challenge students to grapple with questions of art, ethics, and the human condition alongside contemporary and historical thinkers alike—from Plato to Confucius to Tolstoy. In addition to philosophical texts, we will engage with a wide variety of art, including poetry, film, theater, painting, sketch comedy, classical music, rock and roll, and games. And maybe most importantly, we will engage with one another—this is a class in which all of us will be doing philosophy together, working through what we think about fundamental questions of art and ethics. The seminar will meet in the Harvard Art Museums and include a trip to the MFA, providing opportunities to see many of the seminar’s central artworks in person and consider questions about the ethically and politically significant work of art collection and exhibition.

FRSEMR 63L: Memory Wars: Cultural Trauma and the Power of Literature
Nicole Suetterlin

How do we respond to a traumatic event? Denial, acceptance, blame, reconciliation… there are many stances we can take toward a harmful act we have experienced or committed in the past. When entire populations have suffered or perpetrated crimes against humanity, the question of how to deal with this traumatic past can spark a full-blown memory war – such as the one currently raging in the U.S. over Confederate monuments. In this seminar, we explore how the catastrophic events of the Holocaust, slavery, and Apartheid affect the way we think and act as individuals, groups and citizens today. What power do literature and the arts have in bringing peace to a society at war with its past? Materials include acclaimed American, German, and South African writers such as Toni Morrison, Paul Celan, and Sindiwe Magona; human rights philosopher Hannah Arendt; comedian Trevor Noah; and civil rights lawyer and Harvard Law School graduate Bryan Stevenson, who has been fighting racial bias in the U.S. criminal justice system for the past three decades. Topics include literature about the Holocaust, slavery, and Apartheid; Germany’s and South Africa’s recent “ethical turn” in memory culture; reconciliation and reparation; mass incarceration; punitive vs. restorative justice; social justice.

FRSEMR 63R: What is a Classic?
Rachel Love

The question of what makes certain works ‘classics’ has plagued readers ever since they had more than one book to choose from. When faced with more works of literature and art than one could consume in a single lifetime, the label ‘classic’ provides readers with a narrowed selection that is guaranteed to be worth the time and effort to engage with, that is vital to participation within an intellectual community. Classical literature, classical art, classical music—all suggest art forms that are fundamental, elevated, perhaps even elite… but why? And who gets to decide what qualifies as ‘classical’, especially when those who constitute today’s intellectual communities are increasingly heterogenous and have greater access to an impossibly vast, impossibly diverse trove of global artistic production? In this seminar, we are going to read ‘The Classics’—defined within universities as the study of literature from ancient Greece and Rome—in order to open up larger questions about the nature, purpose, and consequence of labelling certain works, aesthetics, and ideas ‘classical’. We will read selections from a broad sampling of written works that survive from antiquity, learning firsthand what it means to read a classic. At the same time, we will be reading, watching, and listening to a diverse array of media that explain, criticize, and reimagine the role of classical literature and ideas in today’s world.

FRSEMR 64I: Looking for Clues. Ancient and Medieval Art @ Harvard
Evridiki Georganteli

Objects are essential primary sources for the study of the past. They are imbued with tales of their makers, of societies in which they took shape, of customs and beliefs that lent them meaning, and of routes that facilitated their dissemination. In this interdisciplinary and highly interactive Freshman Seminar, participants will hone the art of looking through the close-up study and discussion of ancient and medieval ceramics, textiles, and metalwork from the world-class collections of the Harvard Art Museums, the Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East, and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Art-making at the Harvard Ceramics Program will further help us associate these museum objects, detached from their geographical, historical, and archaeological context, with imagery, feelings, and the life of ancient and medieval craftsmen.
Ceramics, textiles, and metalwork circulated throughout millennia along routes of trade, warfare, diplomacy, and pilgrimage, transcending linguistic, religious, and cultural borders. The materials and the techniques used in their creation reveal the economic resources, technological know-how, and political agendas of their makers. The reception, appreciation, life and afterlife of these objects shed light on the societies that consumed and treasured them. Looking for Clues. Ancient and Medieval Art @ Harvard is intended for students interested in Classics, History, Art History, Archaeology, Folklore and Mythology, Comparative Literature, Political Science, Economics, and the Study of World Religions. Handling sessions, group discussions, art-making, and a research paper on a choice object or a group of objects from the Harvard Collections offer students a sense of immediacy and appreciation of world cultures.

FRSEMR 64O: Migratory Identities
David Damrosch

The world is being reshaped by waves of migration, as millions of people seek new social and economic opportunities, often fleeing war, political or religious oppression, or environmental degradation. Writers and filmmakers too have often migrated or gone into exile, and a wide range of modern and contemporary writing probes the losses and gains that minority populations have experienced after arriving as “strangers in a strange land.” This seminar will take up a series of compelling works by migrant artists who take migrancy as their theme, from Derek Walcott and James Baldwin in the 1940s and 1950s to Salman Rushdie, Marjane Satrapi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the 1990s and 2000s. Each week’s primary works are paired with an interview or essay by or about the writer or film maker. We begin with writers who look back at colonial situations in the Caribbean, Africa, and Indochina; then we’ll look at immigrants’ experience within metropolitan centers, and we’ll end with works that probe the ongoing connection of people to the places they’ve never really left behind.

FRSEMR 60R: The Beginnings Of Business
Gojko Barjamovic

Business as a way of life has existed for thousands of years. In The Beginnings of Business we explore where many of the practices that we tend to take for granted today come from. What are the origins of money? What causes trade to occur and thrive? How has trust been built, and what are the ways in which people have sought to cheat (and avoid being cheated)? We’ll investigate these questions through the lens of multiple disciplines—archaeological and textual evidence from the ancient world, economics, history, and anthropology. By understanding what was needed to create businesses in the past, we’ll be able to understand modern limitations that exist in the world today.

FRSEMR 62L: Knowing Cicero
Jared Hudson

More than any other person from Greco-Roman antiquity, the Roman orator, politician, and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) appears to be someone we can “get to know.” Over eight hundred detailed, often highly personal, letters of his survive (most not intended for publication), as well as around a hundred from his correspondents, not to mention his fifty-odd extant speeches (most promoting a particular persona) and several self-portraits in his philosophical and rhetorical dialogues. Such a relative abundance of documentation, together with a fertile and complex afterlife in subsequent literature and culture, has led to a number of assumptions about Cicero’s “character” or “personality”—the man behind so many eloquent words. Yet a quick look at past reactions reveals just how changeable posterity’s judgment of Cicero the man has been: “Every one admires the Orator and the Consul; but for my Part, I esteem the Husband and the Father. His private Character, with all the little Weaknesses of Humanity, is as amiable, as the Figure he makes in publick is awful and majestic.” (Steele, 1710); “the most unstable and timid of all Roman statesmen” (Mommsen, 1856); “We may say then without discrediting Cicero, that he was not altogether fit for public life” (Boissier, 1897); “a man of mild temper and of constitutional timidity, but of honest heart and sincere purpose” (Strachan-Davidson, 1900); “no other antique personality has inspired such venomous dislike” (Shackleton Bailey 1971). This seminar offers an in-depth investigation of what it might mean to “know Cicero” today, some two thousand years after he lived. After an introduction to ancient approaches to biography, it will use selections from the Letters alongside scholarly biographies to explore key phases of Cicero’s life in which the most fascinating and vivid glimpses of his personality are on offer. The last sessions will be devoted to contemporary representations of “Cicero the man” in popular fiction and television. By getting to know Cicero we will consider what his compelling life has to teach us about self-presentation, persuasive speech, and the limits of biography.

Spring 2023

Coming soon!