Urgent Topics

Poster saying Black Lives Matter

A great many courses within the Division of Arts & Humanites touch upon issues important to today's students of the humanities. Here is a selection of Fall 2022 courses that give these issues special prominence.

Climate Crisis

EMR 151: Quechua, Indigenous language revitalization and Global Indigeneity
Americo Mendoza-Mori

Are Indigenous languages and cultures a thing of the past? Although Indigenous peoples make up less than 6% of the global population, they speak more than 4,000 of the world’s approximately 6,700 languages. At the same time, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues indicates that two Indigenous languages die every two months. Indigenous Language reclamation is crucial to the identity and resistance efforts of many communities: additionally, this process contributes to the preservation of Indigenous knowledge systems (IKS), a series of practices and wisdoms developed within Indigenous societies from across the world. Nowadays, IKS engage in global conversations on social and environmental justice, climate change, decolonization, human rights, education, etc.
This seminar will explore the state of Indigenous language and culture revitalization, official and Indigenous grassroots language planning and policy initiatives at global and local platforms, and the particular study of Quechua language. The language-learning component of this course aims to provide a more holistic and practical approach of the course’s theme. Quechua is the most spoken Indigenous language family in the Americas, with almost 10 million speakers in Latin America and with important diasporic populations in the United States, Spain and Italy.
Community testimonies, guest speakers (scholars, language activists and teachers), multimedia content, interdisciplinary readings, and class debates will be part of the dynamics of this course. This is a speaking seminar, open to all students, that will promote oral communication and critical thinking skills through discussions, projects, and prepared presentations. No previous knowledge of Quechua is required.

HIST-LIT 90FI: Race and Empire in the Americas
Hannah Waits

This course explores the culture and politics of imperialism in the Americas from the early 19th century to the present, with particular attention to race and ethnicity. We ask how formal and informal imperial relationships developed by looking at French, British, and especially United States imperialism across the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Focusing on topics like revolution, migration, military occupation, tourism, climate change, and humanitarianism, we examine how empire functioned on the ground for those who imposed it and those who resisted, appropriated, or accommodated it. Course texts include theory from Frantz Fanon and Gloria Anzaldúa, fiction by Jamaica Kincaid, documentaries like No Más Bebés and Aftershocks of Disaster, and primary sources like imperial maps from the Pusey library collection, Central American political cartoons about the US, and oral history accounts by Bracero workers.

HIST-LIT 90FO: Pacific Worlds
Rebecca Hogue

This course examines the Pacific, not as an object of exploration, but as an agent of oceanic relations. We will begin with the ancestral connections between Pacific Islands, travel through the 18th and 19th centuries as we interrogate the entanglements of European imperialism and native Pacific sovereignty, through to the role of the Pacific in World War II and the Cold War, before landing in the 21st century and the modern Indigenous Oceanic connections of environmental movements. Inspired by Banaban-scholar/activist/poet Teresia Teaiwa’s notion of the “polygenesis” of the Pacific, course texts will be drawn from oral histories, navigational charts, paintings, photographs, poetry, fiction, personal narratives, film, carvings, tattoo, and regalia. Working in collaboration with the Peabody Museum’s Pacific collection, we will have a heightened emphasis on material culture as methods of transit, commerce, exchange, storytelling, histories, and futures. How does navigation, as metaphor and material practice, inform our understandings of historical and contemporary ecological relationships, like climate change and the protection of sacred sites?

Gender & Sexuality

ENGLISH 90RV: Empire and Revolution, Sex and Gender, Race, Slavery, and Abolition
James Engell


The literatures of race and slavery, gender, empire, democracy, and revolution that shaped our modern world.  Excerpts from Dryden, Astell, Behn, Pope, Swift, Montagu, Johnson, Equiano, Gibbon, Paine, Burke, Wollstonecraft, Blake, and Shelley and some fiction as well.


EASTD 154: Threads: Histories and Theories of Clothing and Fashion
Melissa M. McCormick


This course focuses on fashion and clothing in Japan from the medieval period to the present day. It aims to build a knowledge base of historically contextualized case studies through readings, lectures, and discussions. In the process, it explores questions about clothing as a site around which societal debates occur, where personal and collective identities are shaped, and where foundational philosophical ideas come into focus. Theoretical readings will allow students to apply what they learn to a variety of topics beyond Japan for final papers and projects. Topics will engage with issues of gender, colonialism, and racialization in inter-Asian and internationalist contexts.


ENGLISH 210Q: Queer/Medieval
Anna Wilson


The /  in this course title can suggest a slippage or interchangeability; opposition and polarization; or erotic or romantic friction. This course functions as an introduction to queer theory as an intellectual tool with which to read texts far removed from the political, cultural, and social discourses from which queer theory emerged. We will ask: what can queer theory offer readers of medieval literature in its explorations of gender, sexuality, race, power, narrative, trauma, and time? We will read a range of queer theorists from foundational works to new thinkers, including but not limited to Judith Butler, C. Riley Snorton, Lee Edelman, Eve Sedgwick, José Esteban Muñoz, and Carolyn Dinshaw, alongside a selection of medieval texts from the European middle ages (roughly 500-1500). Texts will be in modern English translation or in Middle English (no experience in Middle English is required, the class will include additional support for those who have not read Middle English before). Medieval texts may include Aelred of Rievaulx’s Rule of Life for a Recluse, The Book of Margery Kempe, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the poems of Baudri of Bourgeuil and other twelfth century Latin poets of the Loire school, the plays of Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, The King of Tars, and Roman de Silence. 


EMR 152: Memory and Diaspora
Eleanor Craig


Diasporas are frequently invoked to emphasize shared history and the possibility of shared identity. Yet the question of what is held in common is in constant negotiation and flux. We will consider how contemporary ideas about race, culture, and belonging are entangled with what is remembered, and how and why. They evolve from complex dealings with migration, intergenerational dynamics, gender, sexuality, language, and religion, and with internal and external narratives of origin, dispersion, and authenticity. Our interdisciplinary course materials situate individual and collective experiences in contexts shaped by colonialism, enslavement, war, imperialism, and racial formation. We will explore how these works aim to reckon with what they inherit from the past in order to remake relational and political possibilities for the present and future. 

Politics & Propaganda

EAFM 222: Media Cultures in the People's Republic of China 

Jie Li


This graduate seminar examines the changing mediascape in China from the 1950s to the present. Every week, we will focus on one or two different media forms or technologies, from propaganda posters, photography, cinema, radio, loudspeakers, cassettes, to television, video, Internet, surveillance systems, and digital platforms. We will ask question such as: How have mass media represented and transformed Chinese culture, history, and society? To what extent was the Chinese revolution a media revolution, and is there a media revolution going on now? How have various media served propaganda and surveillance, facilitated grassroots activism and creativity, circulated as commodities or connected communities? How have media technologies affected perception, experiences, and memories of socialism and postsocialism, as well as the aesthetics, ethics and everyday practices of every decade? What might be specific or special about each medium, and how have different types of media interacted in the Chinese context?


GENED 1012: The Art and Politics of Propaganda: The Nazis and Their Legacy

Eric Rentschler


Why did Nazi sights, sounds, and propaganda prove to be so captivating and compelling for German audiences of a modern nation and how do we explain the continuing impact of Nazi images and fantasies to this very day, which is to ask, what do “they” have to do with “us”?

As thinking beings we consider the limits of human potential and wonder what is the worst. The Nazis obsess us because they were masters of extremity who brought to the world unprecedented violence, destruction, and murder. They were also masters of propaganda who engineered sophisticated techniques of mass manipulation; in this endeavor cinema and modern media assumed a seminal role. This course considers why films proved to be so essential to the Hitler regime and so captivating to German audiences of the Third Reich. It also reflects on the continuing allure of Nazi sights and sounds for contemporary mass culture.


AFVS 144M: Photography and Ecology
Makeda Best


Integrating the study of art history, research-based artistic production, theory, and environmental studies, the aim of this course is to critically and actively explore the contemporary interplay between photographic vision and environmental history; the shifting composition, structure, and function of landscapes; cultural constructions of nature and environmental perceptions; environmental justice, politics, and policy; and, the role of photography in responding to how humans create and impact landscape patterns and process.


AFVS 194: David Lynch and the American Imaginary
Dennis Lim


The course explores the work of David Lynch, one of American cinema’s most singular figures. We will consider Lynch’s narrative features, experimental shorts, and TV series (as well as his painting, photography, and music) in relation to various cinematic and artistic traditions. Drawing on a range of frameworks, including narratology, politics, place, surrealism, spirituality, trauma, psychoanalysis, and language, we will examine the contradictions at the heart of the Lynchian sensibility and its relationship to the myths, icons, and taboos of postwar America. Final projects can take the form of a paper, a curatorial project, or a film.


MODGRK 10: Introduction to Modern Greek Texts
Calliopi Dourou


This course is designed for students who possess an intermediate level in Modern Greek. It aims at further development of reading and listening comprehension as well as oral and written expression. The students will expand their vocabulary in thematic areas, such as technology, arts, environment, education, and politics. The course will also offer a targeted review of advanced grammatical phenomena, such as passive voice, indirect speech, and subordinate clauses. At the same time, the students will delve deeper into Modern Greek culture by being exposed to various cultural media, including prose (literary and journalistic), film, and music.


Race & Ethnicity

HIST-LIT 90EV: Sound and Color: Music, Race, and US Cultural Politics
Lucy Caplan


Although race is often presumed to be a visual phenomenon, it is also created and produced through sound. But what does race sound like? What might we learn when we attune our ears to the music and noise that race makes in popular music, on the stage, and in literature? How can texts like songs, films, and novels both reinforce and challenge cultural hierarchies and arrangements of social power? This course explores the sonification of race and the racialization of sound, music, and noise in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present. The first unit will consider examples ranging from blackface minstrel shows (the nineteenth-century nation’s most popular form of entertainment) to the noise ordinances that governed sonic life in urban immigrant neighborhoods at the turn of the twentieth century. In the second unit, we turn our attention to two important postwar genres, the novel and the Broadway musical. Investigating works like Ralph Ellison’s majestic Invisible Man (1952) and shows like West Side Story (1957), we’ll ask how mid-century artists and writers re-imagined the relationship between race and sound. The third and final unit focuses upon a selection of contemporary case studies; for instance, Pixar’s Soul (2020), or the Afrofuturist worldmaking of Janelle Monáe. As we delve into these cultural texts, we’ll listen closely to how they represent race in relation to other analytical categories such as gender, class, sexuality, and citizenship. In addition to developing skills in interdisciplinary analysis and close reading, students will also have the opportunity to pursue creative projects. 


SLAVIC 260: Russia and Race
Justin Weir


This graduate seminar, run as a workshop, will be aimed at providing graduate students with the background knowledge and tools for teaching an undergraduate course on race in Russian culture. We will consider 19th- and 20th- Russian/Soviet literature and film (including works by Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy), Russian intellectual history, Soviet ethnic policy, and the reception of Russian/Soviet novels and theory in American literature (primarily Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright). Questions to be posed include the historical role of race in Imperial Russian and Soviet culture, the entanglement of race and ethnicity in Russian and Soviet cultural politics, and the possibilities and limitations of comparisons with American culture.


ENGLISH 90RV: Empire and Revolution, Sex and Gender, Race, Slavery, and Abolition
James Engell


The literatures of race and slavery, gender, empire, democracy, and revolution that shaped our modern world.  Excerpts from Dryden, Astell, Behn, Pope, Swift, Montagu, Johnson, Equiano, Gibbon, Paine, Burke, Wollstonecraft, Blake, and Shelley.  Some fiction as well.


ENGLISH 90DR: Digital Race Studies: Storytelling, Power, Community
Maria Dikcis


This course will introduce students to critical race approaches to digital culture, primarily through Asian American, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx perspectives on and experiences with settler colonialism, racial capitalism, state violence, war, and empire. Together, we will explore how racial formations in the U.S. have shaped and been shaped by the infrastructures and interfaces of our digital world, as well as how communities of color give voice to their histories, desires, and creativity through digital cultural production. To guide our explorations, each week we will examine several projects that foreground the intersection between race, politics, and culture, including curated digital archives, mapping projects, database storytelling, network visualizations, born-digital literature, and longform, media-rich journalism. Additionally, this course is designed to be very hands-on and oriented toward digital humanistic research (also known as Digital Humanities) as an applied field of knowledge. Students will therefore have the opportunity to experiment with and engineer their own digital tools that center communities of color. (No prior technical knowledge is required.)


ENGLISH 312HF: Race and Ethnicity Colloquium
Glenda Carpio, Jesse McCarthy


The colloquium focuses upon dissertations in progress and other research topics of mutual interest.