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 Spring 2022 courses that give these issues special prominence.
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 Spring 2022 courses that give these issues special prominence.
This is a seminar in creative nonfiction writing that will take science and the environment as its subject matter. Students will research and write a series of magazine-style articles about science or scientists, intended for a general readership. Along the way, they will hone their interviewing and research skills and expressive capabilities, while contending with issues of factual accuracy, creative license, authority, and responsibility, along with the basic tenets of longform nonfiction. Ultimately students will explore the ways that hard science and subjective prose are interrelated forms. No prior experience with science is required.
How should governments respond to the problem of climate change? What should happen to the level of greenhouse gas emissions and how quickly? How much can the present generation be expected to sacrifice to improve conditions for future generations? How should the costs of mitigation and adaptation be apportioned between countries? Should significant funds be allocated to the study of geo-engineering? We will consider these and other questions in an effort to understand our responsibilities in respect of climate change, with a special focus on the structure of the analytical frameworks that have been dominant among policymakers.
This course will introduce key concepts, methodologies, and arts from Indigenous feminist perspectives on environmental justice. To do this, we will examine five 21st century Indigenous environmental justice case studies from Turtle Island (North America) and Oceania: Idle No More, Mauna Kea, Sogorea Te’, Standing Rock, and the Pacific Climate Warriors. Together we will explore critical theorizations that attend to a range of contemporary issues influencing Indigenous feminist thought today: land, water, and ecology; ceremony and genealogy; healing and care work; science and medicine; reparations and justice. Course texts will include film, podcasts, poetry, visual arts, essays, and more from Indigenous womxn and Two-spirit scholars, artists, and activists.
Islands, both a part of and apart from the main, offer ready-made laboratories for linguistic, biological and political investigation. Islandness as such encourages national literature, philosophy, and vacation. Our seminar, with its ecological and philosophical focus, centers on fictional an factual islands as well as Canadian ice floes, the always changing marine coastlines of tidal islands, and Planet Earth itself, Critical readings include: Peter Sloterdijk’s Foams, Judith Shalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands, Sigmund Freud’s writings on his own world as “a little island of pain swimming in a sea of indifference,” Immanuel Kant’s “History of Lands and Islands,” and Shell’s Islandology. Literary and filmic works include Shakespeare’s Hamlet, John Donne’s argument that “No man is an island,” Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, More’s Utopia, Hae-Jun Lee’s “Castaway on the Moon,” Joseph Newman’s “This Island Earth,” and island travel (and vacation) literature chosen by us as a group. Requirements: one short paper and one term paper.
Joyce Chaplin and Sarah Dimick
Nature changes, nature persists, and in this recurrence of variety and predictability, we humans can find meaning and value for ourselves. This course is your opportunity to think about these natural patterns. We will examine how phenological observations—of recurring environmental phenomena like harvests, frosts, blooming dates, and migratory arrivals—have been recorded, understood, and used. We will generate our own phenological records in and around Harvard in early 2022, and we will collaborate on a projection mapping project to share our knowledge with the larger community. Phenology is now a scientific practice, but phenological observations used to be common among ordinary people, who used those natural occurrences to make practical decisions, as when to plant crops and when to harvest them. Many people have lost that awareness, or they are only regaining it with a sense of helpless alarm, as climate change and loss of biodiversity drastically alter seasonal shifts. Within this crisis, and ability to find “strength in what remains behind” is something that the humanities can help with, perhaps at least as much as the sciences.
The 21st Century forces us to rethink the relationships between humans, nonhumans and the things we make and discard. This course invites you to re-situate yourself in the planet by considering our interaction with the world and its manifold things through the study of Latin American culture.
The United States and China are global economic and military powers. They have a rich history of commerce, friendship, alliance, and antagonism. Both countries have been shaped and re-shaped by the nature of their mutual relations. Their relationship is in crisis, the outcome of which will do much to define the world of the 21st century.
This University-wide course invites undergraduates and graduate students to examine together the present and future of U.S.-China relations in the light of their past. What are the enduring patterns and issues in China’s relations with the United States? How have these two countries perceived each other over time? How has trade defined the relationship from the Opium War to Huawei? How has war shaped experiences in the United States and China, and what are the risks of military confrontation today? What are the prospects for cooperation on global crises such as climate change? What is the role of American and Chinese universities, such as Harvard and Tsinghua, in shaping mutual relations in a time of global pandemic?
The course emphasizes active, participant-centered discussions of major issues, texts, and contemporary events, and will engage with Harvard Business School cases, experts on the U.S.-China relationship, and the rich resources of Harvard’s schools and the Harvard Center Shanghai. In their final project, students, working in groups, will address a central challenge in the Chinese-American relationship and propose a solution.
This course revisits structures, refines speaking and writing skills, and advances critical linguistic exchanges through the discussion of environmental, cultural, economic, and social issues of sustainability. Through the interpretation of films, novels, short stories, newspaper articles, podcasts, maps, and comics, you will be empowered to discuss such topics, relevant both for the Italian discourse and on a global scale, while revisiting and expanding vocabulary and reviewing grammar in context. Class discussions will encourage the interpretation, analysis, and discussion of current media (advertisements, documentaries, social media, and articles) on climate change, the slow food movement, environmental justice, sustainable tourism, migration and activism. Assignments (oral presentations, weekly written essays, short video recordings) are designed to advance discussions of Italian culture, introduce you to contemporary spoken and written Italian language (i.e., colloquial language), and refine fluency and pronunciation.
This course considers the relationships between systems of human injustice and environmental issues—including industrial disasters, ocean acidification, and resource extraction. We examine environmental justice writing and artwork with a transnational, interconnected approach. For example, we ask how the Ogoni activist Ken Saro-Wiwa’s writing on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta anticipates Native American protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. We draw connections between a poem documenting silicosis in the lungs of West Virginian coal miners and a novel portraying the aftermath of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal. We compare a nonfiction account of Kenyan women resisting deforestation and an iPhone app reclaiming public access along the Malibu coast. We explore questions of voice, genre, and narrative, cataloguing the strategies writers and artists use to reach a global audience.
When accepting the Oscar for Best Actress in 2015 Patricia Arquette said the following: “The truth is, right under the surface, there are huge issues that are at play that do affect women, and it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we all fought for to fight for us now.”
This course examines why such statements are part of a larger and longer tradition of disappearing black women and why they are popular in the cultural zeitgeist. Through extensive reading and tough discussion this class examines the current discourse around sexual harassment and assault from the #MeToo movement through the informed lens of Harriet Jacobs’s slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Both “texts” involve navigating spaces of subjugation and supremacy and yet one voice has remained steadily ignored in mainstream audiences. We will also look at the intersection of race and gender that Incidents reveals and trace how these remain intact or not through today.
Contemporary Jews are as likely to view their tradition as inherently oppressive to women as they are to see it as an inspiration to activism for feminism and civil rights. This course follows the construction of Jewish gender identities beyond the stereotypes, sometimes in collision with modern gender norms, sometimes in accommodation, and sometimes in open rebellion. It considers challenges to both demographic and cultural reproduction that place pressure on personal decisions, group dynamics, identity, and intergroup relations for members of minority religions. The instructor, an historian, and the guest interlocutor, Yakir Englander, will bring together historical accounts of the anxieties and opportunities that accompanied the construction of modern Jewish gender identities with halachic textual traditions opening alternative possibilities. Gender as a key marker of group identity forms a central axis of inquiry through three case studies: Jewish masculinities from Talmud study to military service and comic book superheroes; Ultra-orthodox communities, in which the rejection of modern gender roles is a defining marker; and, Jews as critics of gender and sexuality, including feminist and trans engagement with Jewish tradition. Guest interlocutor Yakir Englander will visit the class 3 times to introduce the project of reading classical Jewish texts in modern perspectives and the practice of havruta (text study in pairs or groups). A product of both a traditional yeshivah education and a doctorate in feminist theory, Englander combines these approaches to open the topic of gender and Judaism beyond Western academic approaches. Jointly offered with Harvard Divinity School as HDS 2050.
At first glance Henry James and James Baldwin may seem worlds apart. Yet these two enormously influential writers share much in common. Both are New Yorkers; both spent a good deal of their lives as expatriates; both are celebrated for their queerness, a feature of their style as much as their sexuality. Both were serious, moralizing, and passionate observers of the "American Scene"; both writers are deeply committed to investigating and exploring the privacy of consciousness and the currency of experience. Henry James was James Baldwin’s favorite writer. Colm Tóibín has called Baldwin, “the Henry James of Harlem.” What attracted Baldwin to James across their vast racial and class differences? What lessons about the art of fiction can we learn by reading each in the light of the other? Not only the Jamesian influence on Baldwin—but what Baldwin allows us to see might be missing or muted in James. We will think very closely about the subject that deeply occupied both of them: America. And what America means from perspectives acquired from outside of America, looking back in. We will also investigate the expression and communication of sexuality, gender, race, class, money, politics and taste alongside assorted criticism, reviews, and other essays of interest.
What does it mean to “do” feminism, or to “be” a feminist in the 21st-century United States? What can we make of the dominant social expectations for a woman’s life? This course explores contemporary ideals of feminine success, including their physical, familial, professional, and political manifestations. We will engage with highly-contested topics—including sexual violence and Title 9; work-life balance; the imperatives of self-care and presentation; and new models for sexuality, reproduction, family, motherhood, and domestic life—using the tools of theory and cultural studies to interrogate their framing within popular discourse. Throughout, we will critique ideological formations of gender, particularly as bounded by race, class, and sexuality.
This is a workshop class where students will learn the art of literary longform journalism and compose stories that take on questions of gender, feminism, sexuality and power, while simultaneously exploring how the media represents gender and learning the history of women in journalism. No profession has been as important to feminists in challenging society than journalism — even as journalism has been historically resistant to a feminist vision. Students will master the fundaments of great reporting and writing — interviewing, structure, voice, style, and ethics — while crafting their own magazine-style stories that grapple with ground-level gender dramas.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a writing sample of about 1,000 words in any genre that showcases your creative abilities, along with a note about why you want to take the class and what your writing interests are. If you have previous journalism/literary writing experience, please include that, too.
This course seeks to map a history and to expand the boundaries of what is commonly thought of as queer cinema. We will explore LGBTQ films within a variety of frameworks, including but not limited to queer history, theory, and politics, and across a range of modes and genres, from classical Hollywood to the experimental underground. Looking beyond a predominantly white Western canon, we will consider examples of queer films from around the world, and the cultural and cinematic contexts from which they emerged. Throughout the course we will also engage with larger issues of representation and resistance, the practice of queer reading, and the question of queer form and queer aesthetics.
Are quilts the great American (folk) art? From intricately stitched whole-cloth quilts, to the improvisational patchworks of Gee's Bend; from the graphic simplicity of Amish quilts to the cozy pastels of depression-era quilts; from the Aids Quilt to art quilts; quilts have taken on extraordinary significance in American culture. This class surveys the evolution of quilt-making as a social practice, considering the role of quilts in articulations of gender, ethnic, class and religious identities, and their positions within discourses of domesticity, technology, consumerism, and cultural hierarchy.
This class is an introduction to Shakespeare’s writings and their representations of sex, gender, romance, love, and queerness. We will study poems about erotic and queer desire, plays that stage ideas about gender and gender fluidity, and film adaptations that bring modern perspectives to race and sexuality. Readings will include such plays as Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Macbeth, and Measure for Measure; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and films by Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, and Julie Taymor. Throughout our course, we will ask: how are the forms of gender identity and sexual expression we encounter in Shakespeare’s works familiar, or different? How might they challenge, inspire, or disturb us today?
Magic had long been an integral part of how people made sense of the world around them, but between 1450 and 1750 some 80 to 100,000 people (mostly women) were executed under charges of witchcraft in western Europe alone. During the same period, a literal witch hunt threatened the lives of elderly or widowed women, peasants, Indigenous healers, and West African Muslims. In this course we will explore what magic and witchcraft meant and how the charge of witchcraft came to be so deadly in western Europe, North America, colonial Latin America, the Caribbean, and West Africa in the world before 1800. Such fears of witchcraft might seem odd or alien to us now, but understanding witch hunts can help us interpret the social and cultural ramifications of the host of significant changes that ushered in the modern world. Through a variety of readings we will reflect on the way conceptions of magic and witchcraft intersected with ideas of gender, race, and colonialism. Grappling with the history of the early modern witch hunt can help us make sense of things like the rise of conspiracy theories in the present day. Texts for the course will include Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and Monty Python, as well as records from the colonial Inquisition, testimonies from witch trials, healing manuals, treatises on demonic possession, and guidebooks on how to catch a witch.
Examination of the literature of ancient Christianity in all its diversity opens doors to understanding how this tradition shaped and was shaped by sex/gender protocols, practices and discourses of the ancient Mediterranean world. To understand these negotiations, appropriations, and contestations we will take up a variety of topics and figures, such as images of the divine; medical, mythical, and cosmic bodies; sexualities and social structures; passion and dress; rape and martyrdom; stories of Mary Magdalene; images of Jesus. We will ask: What resources does this material offer for your own reflections?Jointly offered in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences as Religion 1410.
NB: This is a limited enrollment course. To apply, send a statement to firstname.lastname@example.org (selection process will begin Thurs. Jan. 20) with the following information: your name, degree program, year of study, school or university, previous relevant academic background, and a brief statement of your goals for the course.
In this course, students will explore some key political, institutional, and ethical questions related to democracy as such—What is a people? Who wields power in a democracy? Where does that power come from?—via study of the ancient Athenian democracy. Classical Athens, the city of Socrates and Plato, Aeschylus and Thucydides, developed a form of democratic government beginning in the very end of the sixth century BCE. In addition to learning how this democracy was achieved and functioned, we will consider its limitations and failures. Readings include the works of playwrights and historians, philosophers and pamphleteers, documents written by committees and orators, and select works of modern scholarship and democratic political theory, including cutting-edge work on the relevance of ancient democratic institutions for thinking about contemporary democracy.
This course provides a survey of the history and culture of divided Germany during the Cold War. It examines the conditions leading to the foundation of two separate states, the role of the Allied Powers in East and West Germany, the ideological conflicts between them, and their different responses to dealing with a shared fascist past. Drawing on sources from literature, film, radio, theater and art, we will engage with key political debates and societal changes, such as the “economic miracle,” rearmament/the arms race, the instauration of socialism and its demise, the Berlin Wall and the erection of the inner German border, the student movement, the rise of feminism and environmentalism, pacifism and the “Peaceful Revolution” of 1989. We will look into how writers and artists interfered in, or even shaped, these debates; and we will study how specific literary and artistic genres and media helped fuel political counter-discourses and protest on both sides of the Wall.
There is a time to erect statues, and a time to topple them. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the toppling of Soviet monuments – initially as a nation-wide grassroots initiative and subsequently as state policy – has become emblematic of the political, social, and cultural tensions in contemporary Ukraine. In this course, we will explore the dramatic transformations in Ukrainian culture from the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 through the Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014 and into the Russo-Ukrainian hybrid war that began in 2014 and continues to this day. We will investigate art and literature as mediums of the nation’s attempts to define its identity, and look at how culture can serve as a vehicle for protest while still preserving its aesthetic autonomy. We will pay special attention to how ethnic minorities have defined their place in the nation’s political culture. Our discussions will cover a wide range of genres, from graphic art to cinema and literature. By the end of the course, we will have discussed various strategies for dealing with uneasy pasts. We will have learned to interpret the ever chaotic news from this region, and will have discovered some hidden gems of European literature along the way.
Is Genghis Khan’s characterization “as terrifying as genocide and as dreadful as the plague” (Time, Dec. 31, 1999) sufficient? His legacy entailed the destruction of social and cultural order, but paradoxically, his empire also forged a dynamic relationship between nomadic and sedentary societies. Genghis Khan’s successors fostered a climate of intense cultural activity in art and architecture, producing complex fusions of artistic traditions between the Middle East and China. These are the major concerns of the course, which focuses on the art and architecture produced from the thirteenth century on under Genghis Khan and his successors. Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde traversed Eurasia to create a world empire, their most enduring legacy stamped on the lands of Iran and Central Asia through their successors, the Ilkhanid and Timurid dynasties. This imperial order established a new relationship between nomadic and sedentary societies, an ongoing symbiosis of “steppe” and “sown.” To bolster their claim to rule, successive leaders exploited the knowledge of indigenous bureaucrats and craftsmen to execute their cultural program. Regional artistic traditions were manipulated and transformed into new hybrids that could demonstrate the ruler's power to the nomadic elite and to the multi-cultural urban populations under their control. These works reveal an evolving political structure and social order. The course examines how meanings are encoded through language, forms, and aesthetic features, how they are made legible, and how they may function as propaganda.
The environments from which the Mongols emerged and into which they journeyed are initially considered in terms of the heritage, culture, and ecology of the Mongols and the peoples of the lands they conquered. How did the Mongols remember their nomadic past as the balance of their lives shifted, when they became increasingly sedentarized? Which symbolic elements could be easily translated through the available forms of sedentary art and architecture? In subsequent lectures, key monuments of Ilkhanid and Timurid art and architecture will provide a framework for analyzing different facets of the process of cultural assimilation, the changing Mongol response—at first hostile and then receptive—to the sedentarized cultures that they encountered and then ruled.
Key readings are extracted from a wealth of recent literature in addition to primary sources available in English translation. No previous classes in Islamic art and architecture or in Middle Eastern history and culture are required.
That that conspiracy theory you read while scrolling through your Twitter feed last week...that subversive meme just posted to Harvard Memes for Elitist 1% Tweens...that spooky contemporary legend circulating on Creepypasta...that hilarious prank you just saw on TikTok...that infuriating “fake news” your uncle keeps amplifying on Facebook...that 4-Chan board that you wish you hadn’t read...your frenemy’s latest Instagram post: all of these and more comprise our consequential objects of study in this course. Exploring the wild world- wide-web of "informal vernacular culture" being created, transmitted, and adapted by deterritorialized online communities of 21st century folk, we'll think through the powers, potentials, and peculiarities of online storytelling in relationship to community- building, political engagement, social change, and everyday negotiations of individual and group identity. Investigating online discourses is especially important in a “post truth” age, in whose popular discourse “witch hunts,” "internet trolls, “deep state cabals,” “occult economies,” “fake news”, ethno-nationalist myths, and salacious sex rumors, regularly collide with international politics, climate catastrophes, violent conflicts, economic crises, mass migrations, social justice movements, and everyday life in villages and cities across the globe.
Our journey to the depths and heights of the contemporary online world will introduce us to viral videos, dank memes, contemporary legends, fantastical folk beliefs, conspiracy theories, and a whole host of folk-communities-in-the-making, allowing us to think though the relationship of everyday online culture to ancient storytelling traditions, folkloric motifs, and pre-internet ways of knowing, being, and interacting. What new folk groups, storytelling genres, intersubjective possibilities, and political potentialities are arising as a result of online engagement? What kinds of connections are people seeking, and what kinds of meaning are they making through memes, TikToks, “Finstas”, Facebook posts, Twitter DMs, Slack channels, Snapchats, and other forms of digital storytelling? What are the powers and potentials of online communities and internet folklore and how are they being harnessed in projects of future-making? This course invites students to research, analyze, and participate in digital storytelling in an attempt to better understand ourselves and our historical moment through folkloristic engagement. Course texts include ancient myths, Twitter threads, trickster tales, ethnographic essays, dank memes, theoretical articles, YouTube videos, your friends’ folkloric repertoires, and your own wild imaginings. Course work will include discussion posts, training in online ethnographic methods, a folklore collection and documentation project, and an analytic essay with a creative option.
Putting Chinese politics on the map, this course asks how the government deals with the enormous challenges of ruling over a vast terrain with a diverse population, encompassing super-rich urban metropolises as well as poor rural peripheries. We begin with statecraft traditions from the late imperial era; and end with China's place on the future global maps of the 21st century. Topics include: macro-regions; priority zones of governance; Special Economic Zones; the Chinese equivalent of “blue states and red states;” rising inequality; ethnic minorities and borderlands; economic development models; urbanization and city planning; collective action in digital space; domestic and international migration; environmental politics; and the geo-politics of the “One Belt One Road” initiative. We will set aside class time for a hands-on introduction to producing and interpreting maps of China.
Steve Biel and Lauren Kaminsky
The specter that haunted Europe when the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 continues to shape American political discourse to this day. “From the very get-go,” wrote a Mississippi newspaper columnist as the pandemic entered its second year, “COVID was used by the leftists in this country to seize power, fundamentally change our nation and usher in totalitarian socialism.” This course reveals how charges of fealty to radical “foreign” ideologies have operated as rhetorical and political strategies for much of U.S. history. The so-called First Red Scare, precipitated by World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, followed on fears and persecution of anarchists, socialists, and other labor radicals in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. In the Second Red Scare after World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Senator Joseph McCarthy, the FBI, and others conducted widespread investigations of suspected communists and purged “subversives” from all levels of government, the entertainment industry, public and private schools, colleges and universities. Beginning with mid 19th-century fears that revolutionary uprisings could spread from Europe to the United States, “Red Scares” explores anxieties about subversion and perversion in American politics and culture. Readings will include texts by Karl Marx, Lucy Parsons, Emma Goldman, Eugene V. Debs, Sacco and Vanzetti, John Dos Passos, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Lillian Hellman, as well as films such as On the Waterfront, My Son John, Salt of the Earth, and The Manchurian Candidate.
In the first half the twentieth century, Europe was the site of two wars that depleted the world’s population, dislocated millions, and stripped once diverse regions of the continent of their minority populations. Later, even as Europe managed to rebuild, progress occurred under the shadow of two hegemonic superpowers in possession of weapons capable of incinerating not just both sides of the Iron Curtain but the entire planet. In a 1966 profile of Bertolt Brecht for The New Yorker, Hannah Arendt wrote of “the terrible freshness of the post-war world”—in which all that poets could do in the rubble was laugh at the sky that remained. As Europe destroyed and reinvented itself through the twentieth century, how did humor serve as a tool for working through all this tragedy? This course will draw on sources in various media to examine how comedy can be a means of not just coping with history but investigating it. We will consider humor as a tool of political critique, historical analysis, and mourning and pay particular attention to the boundaries and historicity of taste. Assigned readings and films include works by Terry Eagleton, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Karel Čapek, Ernst Lubitsch, Milos Forman, and Yasemin Şamdereli.
How and why did there come to be two competing and adversarial states on the Korean peninsula in our contemporary world, one a prosperous capitalist democracy of global reach, and the other an impoverished dictatorship, bordering on theocracy and almost totally estranged from the international community—both claiming exclusive rights to speak for the Korean people and the Korean “nation” as a whole? In this course, we will explore not only the two contemporary Korean societies, North and South, but also to Korea’s pre-modern and colonial periods, and to explore together the roles played by China, Japan, the United States, and Russia (Soviet Union) in shaping modern Korean history. We will look beyond the headlines to come to a more complex and nuanced understanding of the conflict on the Korean peninsula as one grounded in the history and legacies of the past hundred years. By showing the tumultuous changes, some good, some ill, on the Korean peninsula since the late 19th century, the course challenges us to confront the constantly shifting nature of historical forces, and to examine the ethical dimensions of particular historical choices. Readings will include primary source materials from each period, and assignments will culminate in a research paper or other capstone project that engages with the individual actors, historical forces, and global politics that have shaped the two Koreas.
We are exposed every day to terms referring to ethnic groups, and we tend to accept these terms uncritically, assuming that we know what they mean and to whom they refer. These labels help to shape our sense of ourselves, of others, and of ourselves in relation to others. Yet the ethnic identities associated with such terms are in fact ambiguous and malleable, constructed of a shifting array of elements, including genetics, shared history, language, religion, economy, political institutions, music, architecture, and foodways. Ethnic descriptors encode attributes, either positive or negative, with which people want to associate themselves or others. So, in order to understand the claims implicit in the use of an ethnic label, we need to evaluate the bases for assigning it and who allows a people the identity they claim for themselves.
This course takes as a case study the idea of the “Celt,” a term thrown around so freely that it sometimes seems to be as much a brand as an ethnonym. In our readings and a series of hands on exercises, we explore the ways in which the history, languages, material culture, and cultural mythology of Celtic peoples are used both to construct and to deconstruct Celtic identity. Then we examine the cultural and political forces that have motivated these constructions and deconstructions.
Studying what “Celt” has meant over the course of the past 2500 years, you will develop tools for analyzing the bases of ethnicity claimed by a people or attributed to them by others. And by examining the ways in which the name “Celt” has been both adopted as a badge of honor and assigned as a way of dismissing conquered peoples, you will better understand the ways in which ethnic labels manipulate attitudes toward the groups with which they are associated.
The Greco-Roman world produced powerful expressions of freedom and democracy—and also witnessed the enslavement and oppression of vast numbers of people. The legacy of the classical world has exhibited a similar duality: it has inspired white supremacists as well as advocates for racial justice, imperialists as well as post-colonial nation-builders. Through study and discussion of the classical world itself (its history, art, and literature); its later reception by politicians, writers, artists, and activists; and Classics as a scholarly discipline, we will examine various ways in which classical antiquity has intersected with structures and ideologies of oppression—and has also animated acts of liberation and resistance.
This course explores the relationship between coloniality, race and ecology through the lens of “catastrophe.” We will examine a variety of theoretical and literary sources that deploy or refute tropes of the “end of the world.” We will study different uses of “catastrophe” to denounce the destruction of a particular world, re-imagine the past, or proclaim the impossibilities of the present. Through the readings and discussions, we will analyze the aims, effectiveness and limitations of talk of catastrophe in the contemporary context.
The origin of blues music—and therefore gospel, jazz, and hip-hop—has been traced directly to Mali, West Africa. Within Malian ideology, dance is a culture and there is no separation between dance and theatrical practice. Koteba is a masquerade performance tradition that utilizes the theatrical elements of satire to comment on and confront civic injustices within the Bamana ethnic society. Koteba is a word that means “big snail” in the Bamana language, and like the snail, it carries the ideologies and cosmologies of the Bamana people on its back. There are nearly 20 rhythm and movement stylings situated within Koteba. In a multiday festival, these dances are traditionally performed in succession, and often executed with the dancers forming concentric circles, which gives this theater tradition its snail-like name. Traces of this masquerade tradition can be found throughout the Caribbean and the United States in the form of Carnival and Mardi Gras.
This class will focus on unpacking four of the dance and rhythm stylings over the course of 12 weeks: (1) Forokotoba, (2) Tansole, and (3) Bara/Baradong. The traditions of Noh drama, Sanskrit theater, and Greek tragedy have informed the development of American dance and theatrical forms, and similarly, a deep investigation of Koteba masquerade performance traditions will offer students of theater and dance informative tools as theorists, practitioners and historians.
Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The Jazz Messengers were more than just a musical group; they were one of the greatest institutions in modern jazz, paving the way for several generations of musicians to develop new and original approaches to composition and improvisation. This course will introduce students to the Jazz Messengers and the concept of hard bop created by artists searching for new musical expressions, as a necessary evolutionary step after Be-Bop in modern Jazz. Students will be become familiar with the Jazz Messengers’ repertoire, gaining insight and practical experience by first playing and memorizing their songs, and, afterwards, transcribing and studying the recordings of key compositions. Additionally, students will gain proficiency in performing compositions by some of the Messengers’ most prolific alumnae, including pianist Horace Silver, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Cedar Walton, saxophonist Benny Golson, and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. Each week the students will make presentations on the selected class readings which are intended to deppen their understanding of the music by providing the social context in which this music was developed. Finally, students will select, rehearse, and perform some of the Jazz Messenger compositions in an end-of-semester concert.
Two Restoration Comedies (The Rover and She Stoops to Conquer) and a Jacobean Revenge Tragedy (‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore) walk into a rehearsal room. They’ve been produced for centuries because of their riveting outsized characters, witty repartee, critique of the salacious lives of the British upper classes, extreme displays of emotions, swordfights, and appearances of hearts that bleed (quite literally). How can we use and decolonize these plays, drawing lines of connection between the dramas of the Jacobean and Restoration period that have been so deeply tied to the values espoused by the Anglo/European dramatic cannon and current forms of popular culture? Lead Production Studio artist Stevie Walker-Web in collaboration with student participant/performers will stage a new comedic play using a pastiche of these three dramas and enliven them with current pop cultural dramas that play on many of the same dramatic tropes (Revenge! Gossip! Incest! Housewives!)
The guiding principle for director Stevie-Walker Webb, the course instructor, is Audre Lorde’s proposition, “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Walker-Web uses Lorde’s critical observation to decolonize canonical white texts both on the page and in our bodies. By adapting canonical texts and borrowing from pop cultural genres, Walker-Web’s intention is to generate a performance process and production that reclaims black joy. That reclamation attends to the impact on people of color, those who are gender non-conforming and queer when they are asked to embody identities that erase them. The goal of this Production Studio is to revisit "taken for granted texts" and redefining them by imagining ways that so many who have been excluded for centuries can appear in contemporary productions of these works.
From an interdisciplinary perspective, this course explores the ways in which film and photography recount past and present human migrations, and how they contribute to and question the construction of the social imaginary of the migrant. Focusing on migrations particularly related to Spanish-speaking countries, we will examine themes such as "global” vs. “local”; conceptions of hybridity, otherness, belonging, border, assimilation, and neo-racism; the paradoxical nature of the “migrant”; the role of history, language, religion, and culture in the acceptance and rejection of foreigners; the relationship between border and identity; the feminization of migrations; the use of the term "illegal" in relation to migrations; and the emergence of “new" identities; among others. We will learn how to analyze the complexities of film and photography, considering movies, documentaries, photographs, and other visual materials which cover past and present migrations from Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. We will also study the history of migrations, and will examine the intricacies of the concept of migrant (as both emigrant and immigrant), paying particular attention to the different stages of migrants' journeys (the departure from the home country; the crossing of transit countries and borders; the arrival; and the settlement or forced deportation). No previous knowledge of film or photography required.
Through a north American jazz lens, this immersive research-performance course charts and explores the histories, connections, evolutions and fissures between Black improvisational-dance and live improvisational-music. Guided and informed by elder/expert teach-ins, archival research, audio and video transcription, dance-based ancestral recall, physical improv, performance devising, failure and iteration, members of this class will develop and curate performances and performance-environments where improvisational-dance, and live improvisational-music are reintegrated.
Part lecture series, part lab, and part performance-workshop, students in this class will learn and practice through a combination of:
listening-to/watching - conversations and live-explorations between Prof. Spalding and visiting scholars, practitioners, and elders in improvisational-dance and jazz idioms. (such as, but not limited to: Terri Lyne Carrington, Donald Eno Washington, Shamel Bell, Joh Camara, Intisar Abioto, Maurice Chestnut)
transcribing (sound and movement) - Each week, we will transcribe (within, and out-of class) rhythms, melodies, forms, gestures, steps, movements, group-performance-structures, and more, from archival audio and video recordings, as well as from in-class demonstrations and teachings.
integrating prompts, transcriptions and research into new, exploratory performance – Each 3rd week of class, students will prepare and offer an iteration of their own dance and live-music performance, guided by the prompts of our guest lecturers/elders/scholars/practitioners, and Prof. Spalding.
Students in this course will explore, iterate and learn alongside Prof. Spalding, as she researches and develops her own forthcoming dance/music project “Off Brand(g)Odds”.
The final for this course will be a live concert/experience, created and performed by students, and featuring selected guest teachers/elders/guides.
Those interested in this course must offer a 50-100 word story, essay, poem, manifesto, or equivalent, about why they are interested in this course. Additionally, students must send two (2) separate recordings or videos of their playing and/or dancing/movement. The recordings of students’ playing and/or dancing/movement must be at least 2:00 minutes in length, and no longer than 4:00 minutes in length.
“They that walked in darkness sang songs in the olden days – Sorrow Songs – for they were weary at heart.”
- W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
This course explores the brilliant resilience and demonstrative hope of the Black folk through an exploration of the Black Choral Tradition. From the Sorrow Songs of slavery (spirituals) to the Good News of Gospel Music, to the Conservatory Concert Stage and beyond, the sacred sounds of Black folk will be experienced through three interpretive lenses: the message, the messenger(s) and the approach used to communicate. This semester’s journey will borrow from the fields of musicology, ethnomusicology, black studies, literature, history and theology to engage in two areas of inquiry: what does sacred sound like? And, how do we learn to hear it? Through an assortment of weekly reading, listening and writing assignments students will experience what scholar, Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. coined, the power of Black Music and the call for equality and justice for all. Students do not have to be musically literate or performance-oriented to take this course. Students, should, however be courageous to accept the invitation to explore in an experiential manner, the sacred sounds of Black Folk.
“Serious study of African-American music requires getting to know the music, which means listening to it and, if possible, performing it. One should sing the slave songs, the hymns, the “tunes” of jazz pieces, the themes of classical compositions.”
- Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History