(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 262, 263
TTh 12, TTh 1
Why is autobiography so key to the black literary tradition on both sides of the Atlantic? In this course we will search for answers by working our way through black autobiographies from a number of different genres. We will begin in the United States by reading excerpts from the “narratives” of former slaves, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Solomon Northrup, whose memoir was the basis for the award-winning film Twelve Years A Slave. What did the autobiographical truthfulness of these accounts accomplish? Why were they so important for the abolitionist movement? What do their popularity and political importance say about the nature of black suffering and its consumption as literature? We will then broaden the scope of our inquiry to consider narratives of blackness and suffering from elsewhere in the African diaspora. Our touchstone will be the Martinique-born philosopher Frantz Fanon, whose autobiographical engagement with racial trauma in Black Skin, White Masks remains one of the most important critical texts on blackness in the modern world. We will grapple with Fanon’s account of realizing – quite late in life – that he was black and what that meant. This will help illuminate the broader world of postcolonial African and Caribbean politics and literature, including the poetry of Aimé Césaire and the fiction of Ama Ata Aidoo. In the final section of the course, we will return to the United States to engage with the #blacklivesmatter movement and some of the provocative music, film, and prose in dialogue with it: Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. What do these new black autobiographies have in common with their antecedents? How has the conversation about black life and black suffering changed? Or, has it changed at all?
BREAKING THE RULES
Expos 241, 242
MW 10, MW 11
Everyone lives by rules, no matter how free they may feel. Some of these rules are written; others are unspoken. While we typically associate political rights with what it means to be “free,” the seemingly small social conventions of everyday life can limit our real or perceived liberties in powerful ways, too. The codes of conduct we follow when, for example, we use social media, when we go on dates, or when we work for a company all have the capacity to rein us in, and if we knowingly or unknowingly violate those norms, our freedom may be at the price of our membership in a community. This course will use literature and film to interrogate the relationship between social rules and individual freedom while considering the following questions: What does it really mean to be “free”? How does social obligation impact our access to personal freedom? Are we even aware of the ways that society controls our behavior, or are rules of social conduct largely invisible? As we seek the answers to these questions, we’ll start Unit 1 by performing close analysis of several short stories from both American and international authors—including Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor and National Book Award winner Ha Jin—and discuss how they negotiate the relationship between individual desire and social expectation. In Unit 2, we’ll turn to films like Mean Girls, The Social Network, and The Graduate as we read theories of individual and collective freedom, questioning how the socially constrained environments of high school and college impact individuals’ behavior and choices. Finally, we will conclude with a culminating research paper in which students will choose from novels, movies, or television series like Mad Men and Downton Abbey, in order to deconstruct the social pressures that impinge on us today. We will ask why these texts—produced in the last few years and yet rooted in historically constrained societies—have become popular ways of thinking through contemporary social predicaments.
CLASS AND CULTURE
It is commonplace to note that in the United States a large portion of the population self-identifies as “middle class,” even though our society is marked by deep, persistent, and increasing class inequality. Such self-identification, however, can obscure the complex and often contradictory ways in which we experience social class in our everyday lives. This course explores the cultural dimensions of social class in the U.S. from an ethnographic perspective, focusing on the everyday lives and cultures of ordinary Americans. We will consider questions such as the following. What is it like to be a working class person in a society heavily invested in ideas of individual advancement and meritocracy? How do professionals (the “upper-middle” class) define themselves and how do they view those above and below them in the class structure? How does social class shape people’s values, political views, and tastes? How are class boundaries created and maintained? The course readings are drawn mainly from anthropology and sociology.
Expos 228, 229
Elissa Krakauer Jacobs
MW 10, MW 11
Among animals, individuals choose mates based on biologically informative features such as long colorful tail feathers, large canines, or a red, swollen posterior. We typically assume that human attraction (and love) is much more nuanced and complex, but is it? Many features that humans find beautiful or attractive, such as small waists, curvy hips, broad shoulders, and large eyes, can be tied to biological explanations. Even behavioral features, such as nurturing behaviors, may be attractive for adaptive reasons. In this course we will explore biological explanations for these, and many other, aspects of human attraction. Using an evolutionary perspective, we will examine global patterns of attraction and challenge stereotypes of beauty. Are the Barbie-like women of Hollywood really most attractive to men? Do nice guys truly finish last? Do traditionally attractive features in western cultures—such as large breasts—actually provide an evolutionary benefit, or might some be false signals? In addition to exploring the biological roots of attraction, we will examine how principles of attraction are expressed in popular culture, as well as how they play out right here on a college campus. In the first unit, we will attempt to define the ongoing fundamental debate between those who explain human behavior like attraction as the result of evolution and those who see such behavior as determined by culture. We turn next to a comparison of the divergent explanations that have emerged in the body of research on female attraction. How do we reconcile some studies' findings that women want strong, aggressive men with high testosterone and large incomes with the findings of other studies showing that women prefer nurturing and intelligent men with slightly “feminine” qualities and facial features? Having wrestled with the question of what women want, our course concludes with the analogous question of what men want. Students will have an opportunity to undertake independent research as they explore the nature of male attraction in an era of complex messages about female beauty.
(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 225, 226
TTh 10, TTh 11
“To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and therefore, like power.” When Susan Sontag wrote these words, only journalists, artists, and tourists took photographs on a daily basis. Today our networked devices go everywhere our bodies go, and we are accustomed to taking and sharing pictures of ourselves and others throughout the day. In an age of Instagram and Facebook, perhaps it’s time to revisit the nature of photography’s power. In this course we will explore the documentary status of photographic images, and in particular, the way in which they communicate both knowledge and power. Certain questions will guide us: what kind of truth or reality can a photograph reveal? How might that same image distort reality? Is it right to photograph the powerless? Throughout the course we will pay particular attention to the collaboration -- and competition – between the photographic image and the written word. In the first two units we will center our discussion and writing on a series of photographic essays from LIFE magazine in order to understand how photojournalism shaped Americans’ understanding of themselves and others in the 20th century. In Unit 1 we will look at a photo-essay from 1965, which describes – and makes visible -- the anxieties of a first-year student at Yale and the cut-throat world of the Ivy League university fifty years ago. In Unit 2, we will turn to LIFE’s series on segregation and race in 1950s Alabama. Combining photographs and interviews, these ground-breaking articles conveyed the perspective of the segregationists -- and that of their victims. Your understanding of documentary photography and reporting after these two units will prepare you for the final unit in which you will conduct research and write a multi-source essay on a documentary film of your choice.
DRUGS, MIND, AND WAR IN THE AMERICAS
(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 258, 259
MW 11, MW 1
Psychoactive substances have played an outsized role in the modern history of the Americas. As marijuana is being decriminalized around the region, our class will ask how the Americas came to be embroiled in a war on the habits of its peoples. To provide background for our first unit, we will consider how the coca leaf, one of the defining symbols of indigenous culture in the Andes, has been transformed into cocaine, an international villain. We will then turn to analyzing a scene from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of the Four to understand an influential way in which psychoactive drug use has been imagined in Western culture. In the second unit, we will examine the stereotypical images of the psychoactive drug user in classic texts from Sigmund Freud, Aldous Huxley, and others. To do so, we will draw on Edward Said’s notion of “orientalism”—the long-running colonialist representation of non-European peoples as passive, irrational, part of nature, and in need of Western control. In our final unit, we will turn to investigating how the “War on Drugs” has changed the U.S. and Latin America, and consider whether we are currently at a historical watershed in the world’s relationship with drugs. Throughout the course, we will also explore the practice of meditation, both to consider what has become a powerful alternative in our culture to psychoactive substance use and to better understand our own minds and cultivate concentration and equanimity.
Expos 219, 220
TTh 1, TTh 2
"Food . . . is not art. . . . A good risotto is a fine thing, but it isn't going to give you insight into other people, allow you to see the world in a new way, or force you to take inventory of your soul." So William Deresciewicz, in an opinion piece for the New York Times, dismisses our society's rising fascination with food over the last few decades, from the explosion of cookbooks, food blogs, and bestselling histories of cod, salt, and sugar, to the glut of cooking shows, many featuring contestants dueling in gladiatorial kitchens. Like the ancient Romans, we have become obsessed with food. But is Deresciewicz right to say that food won’t give us insight into ourselves? Is it not possible that by examining what scholars and commentators call “foodways”— the various forces involved in how different cultures produce, buy, sell, and consume food—we learn much about ourselves and the world? In this course we will be guided by the maxim of famous anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, “food is good to think,” as we contemplate various foodways from a number of illuminating perspectives. In our first unit we delve into what makes food "disgusting" or "natural.” How do we categorize edible material as polluting or pure? What even counts as food in different societies? In our second unit, we explore what we can learn about food and culture by looking at successful cooking shows produced in different countries, for instance, Top Chef, Iron Chef, and The Great British Bake Off. What do these shows as cultural artifacts tell us about the values that are celebrated or perpetuated through food? Our third unit will consider global trends of commodities, economics, and food ethics. For this unit students will conduct a research of food practice centered in some way on Annenberg. Can we define what a dining hall does, or should do? How has the ritual and practice of dining changed over time at Harvard? Along the way, we will read classic works, from theories of food by anthropologists Mary Douglas, Jack Goody, and Michael Dietler, to ideas about food as a medium for relationships between people, including the relationships that make up a vast food economy of farms, factories, supermarkets, and our tables, as seen in the writing of novelists, essayists, and food journalists as diverse as Marcel Proust, David Foster Wallace, Wendell Berry, M.F. K. Fisher, and Michael Pollan.
THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT?
Expos 260, 261
MW 11, MW 12
Think of Harvard in ruins, its halls picked clean by marauders (like those in Mad Max) or by hungry undead (think World War Z). But what would it really be like to experience society’s collapse? In some artistic visions, Apocalypse offers not just devastation, but a clean slate – room to start over. How bad would the “end of civilization” really be? Ten years ago, Jared Diamond’s book Collapse described ancient and modern “ecocides” – social collapses after unsustainable environmental abuse. Diamond warned that “within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today,” our environmental problems, if not corrected, would similarly provoke “warfare … disease epidemics, and collapses of societies.” But many historians and archaeologists have vigorously challenged Diamond’s account of the past, fueling an ongoing and ethically charged debate about collapse: what collapse is, what (or who!) causes it, and whether its consequences might be catastrophic or quite livable for some remain contentious. Whether in our best research or in the latest film, collapse is hard to pin down. Together, we’ll chase collapse through the ruins. In Unit 1, we’ll read short fiction by George R. R. Martin, Elizabeth Bear, and John Langan, asking how post-apocalyptic visions balance annihilation and resilience. In Unit 2, we’ll then compare leading scholarly models for actual social collapse, and test those models against evidence from Rapa Nui/Easter Island. Finally, in Unit 3, students will write a research paper illuminating the fate of one past society that allegedly collapsed (examples include the ancient Indus Valley civilization, the Late Bronze Age Aegean, the Mayan cities, or the Norse settlements on Greenland). The journey may be sobering – but perhaps the “end of civilization” isn’t the end of the world, after all.
THE FEMME FATALE
Expos 235, 236
TTh 12, TTh 1
The femme fatale--the attractive, seductive woman who brings about the downfall of any man she encounters—has fascinated us through the ages, from Biblical figures like Eve, Delilah, and Salome and Ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra to Catwoman, or even Nicki Minaj’s media persona. In most stories, the femme fatale’s dangerous actions empower her, but she ultimately must also submit to the idea that her empowerment renders her a villain. How does this contradiction in the femme fatale’s character reflect tensions in our own evolving understanding of gender? How can the femme fatale character help us untangle the real gender problems that modern women and men face? This course will begin to explore these and other related questions by studying accounts of femme fatales in literature and film. In our first unit, we’ll explore 1920s and 1930s pulp fiction as a source of the modern fatale archetype, with special focus on James M. Cain’s pulp novella The Postman Always Rings Twice. In our second unit, we’ll move to a fictional account of two dueling femme fatales published during the height of the 1960s feminist movement, and examine Jim Thompson’s noir thriller The Grifters alongside the updated film adaptation by director Stephen Frears. Finally, in our third unit, students will research a modern day femme fatale, either real or fictional, and argue why the modern version is recognizable as a femme fatale, but also represents some evolution of, or twist on, the classic archetype. Here students will be challenged not only to apply broad theories and ideas from the course, but also to reach a greater understanding of what makes some modern women seem so dangerous.
Expos 239, 240
MW 10, MW 11
What’s for dinner? A seemingly simple question that raises even more. What should we eat? What do we eat? Why do we eat it? How we think about these questions in the context of dining at Harvard is the focus of this course. On the one hand, concerns about the environment or the welfare of animals or our own health might lead us to make deliberate choices about what we eat. On the other hand, less conscious forces – such as habits, how food is presented, culture, innate preferences – might also drive what we eat. In the first unit, we will consider the debate between “sustainable” and “industrialized” farming and ask what that debate can tell us about how we choose what to eat and perhaps how we should choose what to eat. In the second unit, we will take a look at a failed food-related policy aimed at addressing obesity: the ban on large-sized sodas in New York City undertaken a few years ago by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Using psychology research on eating, decision-making, habits, and behavior change, we will evaluate the policy and think about what lessons we can take away from its failure. In the final unit, students will apply what they have learned about why we eat what we eat to evaluate eating in Harvard’s dining halls. Students will select an area of interest to research further and will propose evidence-based changes to the current system. Throughout the course, we will use scientific evidence to inform our thinking about food and eating.
GOD AND GOVERNMENT
Expos 243, 244
MW 12, MW 1
The separation of church and state is often considered to be a cornerstone of modern democracy, but this idea has nevertheless been a difficult concept to put into practice. Must the state completely avoid any entanglement with religious groups, or merely act in a non-preferential manner toward them? How does a state determine whether a given belief or practice is religious (and thus deserving of legal protection) or simply ethical or cultural in nature? Is the ideal of a neutral political secularism even possible or desirable? And what should we think of the many global actors, from Latin America to the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa, who reject this ideal entirely? This course will consider the many questions and challenges raised by religious diversity for the modern state. We begin in the first unit by considering two influential early accounts of the proper relationship of governments to religiously diverse populations, James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On Civil Religion. In the second unit, we will consider several judicial decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, which highlight the contentious legal landscape over the concept of “religious freedom.” Our final unit turns to the international stage to examine several case studies from Brazil, Palestine, Nigeria, and India, to see how religious diversity is shaping contemporary global conflict.
HIV/AIDS IN CULTURE
HUMAN RIGHTS AS HISTORY
(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 237, 238
TTh 10, TTh 11
The U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has thirty articles, among them the more familiar — “life, liberty, and security of person” — and the less familiar — the right to a family, to cultural life, to rest and leisure. We often presume that human rights need no justification or explanation. But what are human rights? Are they really universal? We begin our course by looking at the origins of the concept itself. Some historians see human rights as the brainchild of the American and French Revolutions; others see them as an alternative system born at the end of the Cold War in frustration with traditional national and party politics. After analyzing the development of this idea over time, we’ll think about how human rights are (or are not) protected. We’ll draw on A Problem from Hell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who argues that powerful countries have a moral responsibility to prevent genocide. Power addresses examples such as the Rwandan genocide (where the U.S. failed to intervene) and the Balkan Wars (where NATO did intervene). But other experts say that intervention just makes suffering worse. When and why should a foreign power intervene to protect human rights? In the final unit, we will dig into several ongoing and highly contested issues in human rights, like the “right to be forgotten,” which would force Google to erase certain unwelcome search results; the race-, religion-, and gender-infused debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear headscarves in public spaces in France; Ta-Nehisi Coates’s argument in The Atlantic for reparations to the descendants of black American slaves; and the growing debates over transgender rights and restroom access.
HUMANS, NATURE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Expos 223, 224
MW 10, MW 11
Deforestation, overpopulation, pesticide use, toxic oceans, endangered species, global warming. How are we to make sense of the many environmental problems facing the Earth today? Although the sciences provide a factual account of environmental threats and ways of countering them, scientific facts seem not to be enough, since artists, writers, filmmakers, and even scientists find themselves turning again and again to their imaginations to respond to the environmental predicaments of industrial society. They may be doing what English Romantic poet Percy Shelley powerfully described 200 years ago as an essentially human and creative impulse: “to imagine that which we know.” How, then, have creative minds imagined – in essays, books, and movies – the very idea of nature, the place of humans in it, and their power to change the environment? In this course, we will consider both the possibilities and the problems that writers and filmmakers have imagined about human interactions with the natural world. We begin with the nineteenth century, when Romantic writers were urgently contemplating the meaning of nature in an age of increasing industrialization. In the first unit we interpret “Walking” (1862), the naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s seminal nature essay that imaginatively explores the concept of wildness. In the second unit we will critically compare the literary approaches of two popular books by scientists – Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia (2006). Through shocking critiques that draw upon the power of the imagination, both writers, in different ways, have tried to inform the public of the harm being done to nature in the hope that this harm can be averted. And in the final unit we will examine the techniques of documentary movies about relationships between humans and animals – Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) in which the filmmaker takes issue with the self-proclaimed environmentalist Timothy Treadwell who strove to protect bears in the Alaskan wilderness, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (2013) in which she delivers a brilliant polemic against the Sea World corporation and its treatment of captive killer whales.
JEWISH IDENTITY IN AMERICA
What does it mean to be Jewish in America in 2017? At a time when a majority of American Jews do not belong to a synagogue and an estimated one-third of married American Jews are married to non-Jews, is there such a thing as a shared identity among American Jews? This course will examine representations of Jews in American culture in an attempt to understand how Jewish-American culture has evolved since World War II, as well as how shifts in the cultural conversation about minorities in America have affected our conception of Jewish identity. As we consider recent works of literature, art, film, and television, we will question how they challenge and reinforce Jewish stereotypes, and how they continue to shape our ideas about assimilation, the Holocaust, ethnicity, and religious practice in America. We will begin by examining stories of assimilation by authors including Grace Paley, Allegra Goodman, Philip Roth, Nathan Englander, and others. We will then consider representations of the Holocaust, including Art Spiegelman's Maus, Judy Chicago's Holocaust Project, and Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm "survivor episode.” In the final unit of the course, students will choose their own sources as they research and develop their ideas about Jewish identity in American culture.
THE KNIFE’S EDGE
For most of human history, surgery has been a brutal, terrifying affair. Operations were carried out as quickly as possible to the sound of blood-curdling screams, and often ended in the patient’s death. Historian of medicine Martin Pernick observed of surgeons before the advent of anesthesia that “the emotional ability to inflict vast suffering was perhaps the most basic of all professional prerequisites.” To say the state of the art has advanced since then is an understatement—incredibly, it is now even possible for complex surgeries to be carried out by robot, directed remotely by surgeons hundreds of miles away. Yet whether the scalpel is wielded by robotic arms or flesh-and-blood hands, it remains the case that operations are performed by human beings who are fallible, on bodies that are mortal, and there is still no way to wholly eliminate risk. As the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande has put it, when you are sick, “it’s not science you call upon but a doctor.” It is this fundamentally human endeavor of surgery, always rooted in specific social and historical contexts, that is the subject of this course.
We begin the semester with historical and present-day accounts of surgical success and failure to explore what surgery has demanded from practitioners and patients over time. We next examine a major bioethical debate in one of the fields of surgery that has generated the most controversy and soul-searching throughout its history in societies around the world: organ transplantation. Lastly we consider an array of very different types of surgery that can significantly affect one’s identity, self-presentation, and social position, such as cosmetic, bariatric, gender reassignment, and cochlear implant surgeries. Through independent research projects on related surgical phenomena of their choice, students will explore how the advent and availability of certain types of surgery in particular contexts has shaped social norms, concepts of the normal and the pathological, prevailing principles of medical ethics, and individual experience and self-understanding. What constitutes necessity, medical or otherwise? What should we be empowered to choose—and how far should we be allowed to go? What are the implications of responding to social problems not with social action, but with a surgeon’s knife?
THE NARRATIVE SELF
Expos 246, 247
TTh 1, TTh 2
“Life must be understood backwards, but lived forwards” the philosopher Kierkegaard wrote. Sartre, in one of his novels, develops the thought: “You have to choose: live or tell.” Both suggest that living one's life and telling the story of it are mutually exclusive. Over the past few decades, many philosophers have disagreed, developing the view that understanding one's life as a story is not only something that most of us do, but allows us to become full persons and to live well. We will begin the course by considering some of these recent views. Are we right to speak of chapters of our lives and authoring ourselves? To explain someone's behavior by referring to her character, or alternatively her role? To use literary genres such as tragedy to describe events in real life? What is entailed by such metaphors? Do they withstand careful scrutiny? Do our lives enact typical narrative arcs? Should they? Or do such claims confuse fiction and reality? In the middle part of the course, we will look at two fictional works that investigate similar issues. In Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending, the narrator's understanding of his life is upset by revelations concerning his past; the novel explores the fallibility of memory and its relation to material evidence. In the recent Swedish film Force Majeure, a wealthy family's ski vacation is upset when the husband reacts to an avalanche in an apparently cowardly manner, raising questions about character and situation, and what it means to be brave. At the end of the course, we will consider some critics of narrative self-understanding, as well as more specific applications of it. Do empirical studies challenge the idea that we have stable character? Does understanding one's life as a story preclude living in the moment? If lives are like stories, do they have a genre? Students could begin from these or other questions as they develop their own final research topics.
PARADOX IN PUBLIC HEALTH
Expos 201, 202
MW 10, MW 11
What happens when public health efforts to improve the wellbeing of a population undermine the wellbeing of individuals in that population? Can this outcome be avoided? Public health is characterized by the implications of this fundamental paradox: the health needs of a population are often at odds with the health needs of the very individuals who comprise that population. How does this larger paradox play out across various public health campaigns? In this class, we will use scientific articles to consider potential paradoxes in public health, both historical and contemporary. In Unit 1, we will wrestle with issues of current vaccination requirements, and consider the intersection of personal choice versus societal responsibility using current MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines. In Unit 2, students will debate the nature of public health motivation and practice—who decides what existing public health needs are? Two case studies will guide this discussion: goiter—a successfully eliminated (but now reemerging!) disease of micronutrient deficiency—and ongoing tobacco-control efforts. In Unit 3, students will conduct their own research on a controversial modern public health issue of their choice, and consider how the larger tension between the individual and the population is manifested in the student’s particular selected public health controversy.
PRIVACY AND SURVEILLANCE
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Expos 221, 222
MW 9, MW 10Fall 2016 Syllabus
Who gets ahead in America? Why do some succeed while others fail? Given knowledge of someone’s background, can we predict if she will become successful? Is it possible to change the course of an individual’s trajectory? How do we account for the influence of various complex factors, including family, community, and society? In this course, we will examine questions of success, failure, achievement, and identity viewed through the lens of current theories in psychology. We will begin with The Overachievers, a best-selling journalistic account of the pressure for academic achievement felt by students at an elite public high school on the East Coast. We’ll consider how passion, motivation, and competition all contribute to an individual’s drive to succeed. Next, we will read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The story of success and apply it as a lens to analyze a longitudinal, ethnographic study of 12 American children. We will explore how race, gender, and familial wealth and resources affected these children’s lived experiences of childhood and, later, their chances of successfully getting into college. In the final unit of the course, we will use a popular psychology book on habits as a jumping off point to complete independent research papers that examine how factors like self-control, willpower, mindfulness, and creativity contribute to success. Throughout the course, we will use psychological theory to motivate questions and answers about human behavior in a society where the demand for success can be tantalizingly high and the fear of failure devastatingly relentless.
READING THE BODY
Expos 251, 252
TTh 10, TTh 11
What does it mean—and what has it meant—to have a body? Is a body a physical boundary separating a self from the rest of the world? If so, how do we account for cases like contagion or reproduction, where bodies implicate one another? How does the way we think about our bodies depend upon both the technologies we use to manage, diagnose, and measure them and the artistic forms we use to represent them? We’ll begin to explore these questions by visiting the Warren Anatomical Museum and the Putnam Gallery to examine Harvard’s morbidly fascinating collections of medical curiosities and instruments—which include phrenological models of the brain, fetal skeletons, medical diagrams and prints, early X-ray machines, Civil War surgical instruments, and even Phineas Gage’s skull. In our second unit, we will read across the boundaries of theology, literature, and science—genres we usually imagine as distinct—to understand how writers from a range of perspectives have grasped and represented the origin, construction, and development of the human body. We will examine the works of Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, William Paley, and Charles Darwin and analyze A. S. Byatt’s treatment of their debate in her novella, “Morpho Eugenia.” This interest in how the body has been understood in the past will inform your final research paper, where you will analyze representations of the body in the contemporary texts or contexts of your choice. Possibilities include (but are not limited to) disease films, modern dance, nude portraiture, college athletics, fitness magazines, and advertising. Throughout the semester, we will ask how and why the body has been theorized in such conflicting ways, calling into question any singular understanding of what constitutes a human body.
RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN THE UNITED STATES
The United States is arguably the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Americans possess a dizzying array of religious beliefs and behavior. And despite predictions to the contrary, levels of devout religious belief remain high, evidenced by recent controversies over a proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, as well as Supreme Court rulings on female access to contraception and same-sex marriage. How do people—including nonbelievers—experience this religious multiplicity? How are these vast religious differences negotiated socially, culturally, politically, and legally? Moving beyond theology, this course will explore the broad concept of lived religion in the United States. Through readings in fiction, law, history, and sociology, we’ll tackle these fundamental issues. In Unit One, we’ll read Ayad Akhtar’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Disgraced, to explore how religion affects intimate relationships among spouses, friends, and co-workers. In the second unit, we’ll wade into the constitutional quandary surrounding the First Amendment, dissecting legal scholars’ arguments over the limits of religious freedom. Through a series of case studies involving snake handling, home schooling, and drug use, we’ll examine the frequent tension that emerges from a Bill of Rights that both guarantees the free exercise of religion and requires some degree of secularism. Finally, in Unit 3, students will focus on a religious topic of their choosing, design a research proposal, examine both primary and secondary sources, and write a substantial research paper.
REPRESENTATIONS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY AND GOVERNMENT
Expos 214, 215
TTh 12, TTh 1
Beyond the abstraction of American democracy as government of, by and for the people, what does democracy look like in its physical manifestations? What can we glean about our definitions of and faith in American democratic governance from historical and artistic representations of it? This course will examine what U.S. democracy looks like—its electoral mechanics, its collective bodies, its buildings, and its personality—when brought to life in campaign commercials, architecture, and films. We will ask what these representations of government suggest about the political ideals they ostensibly embody. How do the depictions of government in these works shape our understanding of the possibilities and constraints of democratic action? In what ways can citizens participate (or not) in these figurations of government? Our first unit will explore presidential television advertisements from the 1952 to the recent salvos of the 2008 campaign. With an eye to uncovering how their narratives, imagery, rhetoric, and stagecraft imply particular assumptions about democratic governance, we will examine how such commercials ask us to consent to a particular version of “government by the people.” In our second unit we will study the architecture of the Massachusetts State House (which we will examine in person) and a few of Washington, D.C.’s federal buildings—the Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court Building, and the Pentagon. Analyzing architectural drawings, photos, paintings, and online tours of these buildings, we hope to uncover not just the symbolism of their styles but the effect that their shape and allocation of space have on individual and collective behavior. We will compare, in our final unit, conceptions of government in several conspiracy-theory films: The Manchurian Candidate, All the President’s Men, JFK, Wag the Dog, and State of Play. We will consider how each film reflects fears commonly held at the time of its creation—fears of communist infiltrations, presidential abuses of power, or corporate manipulations of government officials, among others. How do the respective fears depicted in these films challenge our definitions of democracy? How do such narratives reinforce our relationship with government?
RESPECTABLE LADIES, REBELLIOUS WOMEN
Expos 210, 211
TTh 11, TTh 12
Modern Americans typically view the idea of being “ladylike”—a notion of womanhood as bound up in respectability—as something restrictive, even demeaning. For a woman to be "ladylike," after all, often means she is relegated to a corner where she will not be assertive and empowered. But for centuries, women fought and died to be allowed that reputation. Being a “respectable” woman meant being fully human – and fully protected—and then over time that identity became a shackle to break free of. This course will examine the curious history of “respectable” womanhood to see what happened to those women who battled to be valued, sometimes for the most fundamental human status, and sometimes for the right to cross the bounds of propriety. What were the real risks of walking the line of respectable and unladylike and the dangers of stepping outside the lines? While modern feminism fights against restrictive stereotypes, why did some women fight to keep them? This course consists of three units, each focusing on a different moment in American history. We will begin with women who lost their lives when their neighbors began to question whether they really were “women” at all – the Salem witches. Using close reading skills we will sift through historical documents to understand just how the people of Salem were willing to decide some of their own daughters were not really human after all. Next we will move forward two centuries to read the fascinating memoir of anti-lynching crusader Ida B Wells, a woman who once travelled for two days to protect her reputation against slander. We will learn about race and womanhood in the late 19th century to understand why in order to be a reformer, Wells had to be a lady first. Finally, we will take on a research project on iconic 20th-century figures from Civil Rights lawyer Pauli Murray to Hillary Clinton, women who found themselves caught between being ladies and being leaders. Throughout we will examine how racial and sexual stereotypes posed not only challenges but also unexpected opportunities for rebels and reformers. What power does being a lady hold, and what boundaries does it create? What does it mean, both yesterday and today, to be not just female, but a woman?
THE SCIENCE OF EMOTION
Expos 255, 256
MW 11, MW 12
Reason has been routinely championed as the epitome of human achievement and framed as profoundly at odds with emotion. For much of the 20th century, scientists had even characterized emotion as unimportant. However, after the past 30 years of research, we now understand emotion to be a crucial factor in human behavior, including reasoning. This class will focus on the science of emotion. In Unit 1, we’ll explore what emotion is as we read several scientists’ divergent theories, including Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio, who disagree on whether love is an emotion. To help us evaluate their conclusions, we will consider a crucial theory offered by Paul Ekman, whose research on facial expressions of emotion was largely responsible for the modern field of emotion science. In Unit 2, we’ll explore the conundrum that emotions are at the heart of individual—and thus seemingly subjective—experience and yet have so many elements that seem to be universal among humans of all cultures. We’ll read sources that outline the “laws of emotion” that differentiate between emotion and feelings, and that present interesting data on emotion in children living in poverty. Our final unit will take up the matter of how cognition and emotion interact and give students an opportunity to research one of many perplexing questions in this subfield of emotion science: What, for example, is the role of emotion in decision-making? How does emotion interact with learning or moral judgments? How does emotion operate in adolescence or in various pathologies?
SEGREGATION AND BOSTON SCHOOLS: THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
Expos 231, 232
TTh 1, TTh 2
Note – The “Engaged Scholarship” components of this course include three required meetings outside class time that have been tentatively scheduled in March and April: a panel discussion held on Harvard’s campus with teachers from Brighton High (March 7 from 7-8:30 p.m.); a visit to Brighton High (students have the option of visiting on either April 5 from 7:45-10:45 a.m. or April 7 from 11:15 a.m.-2:15 p.m.); and a “Civics Fair” Hosted by the Harvard Ed Portal (April 28 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.).
Over sixty years after the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools are unconstitutional, segregation is on the rise. Today, despite widespread evidence that integrated education increases student learning and reduces prejudice, American public schools are increasingly divided by class and race. In this course, we investigate attempts to achieve educational equality in Boston, focusing on the decision to use busing to desegregate the public schools in the 1970s and the wave of violent opposition that followed. Throughout the semester, we undertake “engaged scholarship,” combining academic learning and community engagement by collaborating with Bostonians directly affected by these historical events—we partner with history teachers and students at a neighborhood high school in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system—and by focusing on communication with diverse audiences through writing, speaking, and visual presentation. To ground our understanding of the complex issues we will wrestle with, we begin with a journalist’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of school integration in the 1970s, contrasting the perspectives of black and white families. We next examine historical debates on the causes of the “antibusing” movement and pedagogical debates about how to teach controversial and contested historical topics. For the final project, we have the opportunity to further investigate these topics and other current challenges around educational equity facing BPS. In thoughtful collaboration with our community partners and through research, we design lesson plans for a high school course on desegregation and prepare arguments for why the various plans might be effective. We not only delve into the remarkable written and visual materials in Harvard’s libraries but also conduct conversations with teachers and students at Brighton High. The class culminates in a “Civics Fair” (held at Harvard’s Education Portal serving residents of the Allston and Brighton neighborhoods) in which students present their lesson plans and engage with our partners at Brighton High and other community members.
Expos 204, 205
TTH 10, TTH 11
Written from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century in the United States, slave narratives represented the story from slavery to freedom, the escape from the South to the North, and the intellectual journey towards literacy and public speaking. This course examines some famous representatives of the genre and the complex questions it provoked as well as post-Civil Rights modifications of such narratives. In the first weeks, we will investigate the popular Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845) as well as the sensational and widely read account of William and Ellen Craft’s flight to Boston, Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom (1860). We will analyze what roles literacy and rhetoric played in these texts, and hone in on the relationship between the black American writers of slave narratives and their white editors, who oversaw what was published, edited the narratives, vouched for their truth-value, and appended them with documents. In our second unit, we will focus on Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) to look at how modern writers modified and updated the genre after the 1960s. How did African American authors rewrite the slave narratives and their conventions? How do their portrayals of the slave community and the language of slavery differ from their predecessors? Finally, we will examine how the genre of the slave narrative changes in the hands of a white director. How does Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained (2012), Oscar-nominated yet also denounced as incendiary, modify the genre and the interaction between white editors and black American slaves? Our primary readings will be accompanied by seminal essays on the slave narratives, their literary development, and their high current cultural stakes.
SOCIAL WORLDS OF FRIENDSHIP AT HARVARD
Expos 217, 218
TTH 11, TTH 12
Note: This Expos course requires participation in several activities scheduled outside of normal class hours.
Social science research has traditionally suggested that we tend to seek out friends who are similar to ourselves. But is this always true? What factors inspire people to venture outside of their comfort zones through friendship – especially at Harvard? In collaboration with the Learning Lab at Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, this course explores the formation of social networks on our campus and investigates how meanings of identity and difference are constructed through the experience of friendship. In Unit 1, we examine Emerson’s renowned essay, “Friendship” (1841), working with his handwritten manuscripts at the Houghton Library to search for clues that illuminate Emerson’s often paradoxical thinking about the significance of friendship. We then carry forward the complexities of relationships that Emerson reveals into an interview-based research project that explores friendship and social life at Harvard. In Unit 2 we will read Harvard’s important Report of the College Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion (2015) as well as theories of “social capital” (the networks and support systems that promote health and happiness) as we analyze the delicate interplay between the processes of how people “bridge” across boundaries of their identities, and how they “bond” within particular friendship groups. We will also explore how meanings of difference and belonging play out across specific contexts of the College (e.g., Annenberg, blocking, extracurriculars, and student organizations). In small teams, students will design individual research projects through proposals that involve both writing and on-camera speaking at the Bok Center’s Learning Lab. In the third unit, students will carry out their individual research in close connection with their teams. Towards the end of the semester, we will publicly share our research findings through a class capstone project. For this class, students should be interested in working on visual presentations as well as written papers. This course is hands-on and heavily collaborative, modeling that which it studies – namely, a spirit of engagement, dialogue, and community.
SOCIETY AND THE WITCH
Expos 233, 234
MW 1, MW 2
Riding broomsticks and dancing in the woods at night, witches are often imagined to be outside society. But in these representations may be keys to understanding social norms, norms that get articulated through the witch’s very violation of them. In this seminar, we ask what discourses about witches tell us about the societies that produce them. We begin by examining anthropologists’ depictions of witchcraft among people who come to find magic believable: how do we understand the seemingly irrational idea that magic is real? Closely considering evidence from classic ethnographic accounts, we critically examine other scholars’ answers to questions such as this one by thinking across competing approaches to the study of magic. Next, we analyze the film Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the television sitcom Bewitched, bringing these pop-cultural phenomena into conversation with Mary Douglas’s treatise on Purity and Danger and Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of Masculine Domination. These theories help us examine, for example, how fictional representations of witches speak to political struggles over class and gender. For the research paper, each student chooses an example of witchcraft on which to conduct independent research. Sample topics include fairy tales, the Salem witch trials, neo-paganism, and the Broadway musical Wicked. What will unite our diverse inquiries is a common interest in the social significance of this seemingly marginal figure: the witch.
TRAGEDY AND EVERYDAY LIFE
The image of Oedipus blinding himself at the end of Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus is among the most violent in Western drama. Realizing that he has killed his father, married his mother, and brought a plague upon his people, Oedipus represents a human scenario too horrible to imagine. And yet Western culture does imagine it—it can't seem to stop imagining it—and the most horrible thing about the tragic fate of Oedipus is the suggestion that tragedy lurks within each of us as a fundamental risk of human existence. In this course we will examine tragedies both ancient and modern, asking why certain human scenarios are supposed to be tragic and whether those scenarios represent states of exception within the ordinary range of human experience—or exceptions that prove an unsettling rule. In Unit 1 we will read Sophocles' Antigone (442 BCE), examining the structure of tragic conflict and considering the manner in which this particular structure reflects the form of critical debate more generally. In Unit 2, we will compare Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus (429 BCE) and Shakespeare's King Lear (1606), asking whether the criteria of self-knowledge that plague Oedipus remain stable after two millennia or present themselves in a new "modern" fashion. In Unit 3 we will view a selection of films, including Vertigo (1958), Persona (1966), Memento (2000), and Black Swan (2010), asking whether the tragedy of contemporary culture can be understood as an everyday and insoluble conflict between individuals, themselves, and the societies in which they live.
THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY
Note: REQUIRED EXTRA MEETING OF THIS CLASS: Friday, March 24 at 6 - 7:30 p.m. in Lamont library
In our daily lives we negotiate our relation to the authority of government, religion, school, parents, and peers. But what is authority? How does an entity gain authority in the first place? What happens when authority is abused? What does it mean to challenge authority? And what does authority have to do with human rights? We’ll begin by reading the many-times-banned One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and we’ll investigate that explosive novel’s complex and nuanced treatment of, and reaction to, authority. Next, we’ll read work by one or more international authors. These formerly or currently “at-risk” writers will visit our class, and we will analyze their work and what it reveals about authority and what happens when a writer who challenges governmental and cultural authority speaks openly about, and through, her/his work. This ongoing inquiry into the nature of authority will shape our research topics in the third unit, when we will investigate and theorize answers to questions arising out of our explorations of such topics as authority and: education, language and rhetorical strategy, politics, human rights, and art.
How should we represent the horrors of war, and how should we remember it? These are questions that have fascinated writers since the time of Homer, but the answers to these questions changed in the modern era, when war started to seem less noble and heroic and more totalizing and destructive. This course looks at artistic representations of modern warfare and asks what effects war has on those who survive it. What happens when the body is whole, but the mind is broken? How does war live on the memories of those who fought, or in the collective memory of a nation? Can—or should—art be made out of these painful, violent experiences? We’ll start off with Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a powerful collection of stories based on O’Brien’s experiences as a solider in Vietnam. The stories encourage us to ask how truthfully we remember and what moral judgments we make when we choose which stories to tell. From there, we’ll pursue questions about memory and morality further by studying literature about the Great War, including Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. We’ll ask how national politics form in and around these wars and their legacies. Our last unit brings all of these topics together as we move from literature to the movies. We’ll watch Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, a movie that quickly became a classic of New Hollywood, and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s recent depiction of the War on Terror. Throughout the course, we’ll debate whether the experience of war can ever be adequately communicated to those who weren’t there, and whether these attempts can prevent future generations from repeating the mistakes of the past.
(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 208, 209
MW 10, MW 11
WHO'S GOT THE POWER?
(New Course in Fall 2016)
Expos 212, 213
MW 1, MW 2
Our news feeds today present a panorama of struggles over power, from elections and peaceful protests to riots, revolutions, and civil wars. In each case, those who hold power cling to it at all costs, while those who feel oppressed or excluded fight to attain some power of their own. In most societies, power is concentrated in the hands of a select few, and even in the world's democracies, many citizens continue to feel powerless—the playthings of some distant and shadowy elite, or of grand political and economic forces beyond their control. In this course, we will consider some of the fundamental questions regarding the nature of power: Does power always have to be "power-over," with one group dominating the rest? Or is it possible for groups of people to generate "power-with," empowering themselves to act in pursuit of shared goals? Is power ultimately synonymous with violence, or wealth, or political authority? Is it possible to exercise power over culture and ideas in addition to people and resources? We will approach these questions through the methodological lenses of political science, sociology, anthropology, and history, while also considering examples drawn from documentaries and current events. In our first unit, we will establish working theories of power-over and power-with, and consider their application to both democratic and non-democratic contexts. In the second unit, we will refine our concept of power-over, testing it against studies of power and resistance in Appalachian mining communities, Malaysian peasant villages, and American low-income urban schools. We'll also take an in-depth look at a headline-making study that claimed to prove that America is more oligarchy than democracy. In the final unit, we'll revisit the concept of power-with by exploring the strategies that social movements like the Civil Rights Movement use to develop and exercise power, and conduct further research into contemporary movements like the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, and Black Lives Matter.
Expos 264, 265
TTh 10, TTh 11
Shakespeare, we have all been told, is extremely important. You might agree or disagree with this pronouncement, but do you know why Shakespeare matters to so many people? Why does every high school in America assign Shakespeare? Why did the world erupt with jubilation on his 450th birthday in April 2014? Why did the British government pay $2.4 million to have Shakespeare translated into Mandarin? Does Shakespeare deserve all this fuss, or is he really overrated? In this section, Shakespeare lovers and haters alike are invited to consider the question of Shakespeare’s popularity by looking into the relationship between his methods of artistic creation and the values of the modern world. We’ll begin with a reading of the most famous artwork of the past millennium, Hamlet, a play about a bad philosopher trying to avenge his father’s murder. Then we’ll read Shakespeare’s Richard III (about a mentally unstable man willing to do anything, including murder, to gain political power) alongside the Netflix show House of Cards (which modernizes Richard III with twenty-first-century American politics). We’ll also run Richard III through some theories of criminology, a modern field that claims to offer scientific explanations for why crime happens. Finally, we’ll ask, “Why Shakespeare?” and entertain answers ranging from the cynical (Shakespeare is a dead, white male that other dead, white males have used to promote the values of dead, white males) to the euphoric (Shakespeare is universal; Shakespeare invented the human).
WIZARDS AND WILD THINGS
Once upon a time, there was no Harry Potter. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as children’s literature. When and if children learned to read, they read what grown-ups read. How then did writing for children as we now know it come of age? Why does the genre have such an enduring hold on our cultural imagination, even as it continues to provoke sharp debate over its greater purpose and value? Are classic children’s books like The Wizard of Oz, The Wind in the Willows, and The Cat in the Hat instructive or subversive, didactic or liberating? In this course we’ll examine selections from three centuries of popular prose and verse written expressly for and about children as we investigate how this eclectic canon reflects evolving ideas about childhood, changing views about educating and enchanting young readers, and persistent disputes over what and how children should learn from books. In Unit 1 we’ll survey landmark works in English for children from the Puritan through the Victorian eras, including The New England Primer, Grimms’ Tales, and Alice in Wonderland, as we consider what these texts tell us about the origin and evolution of the genre. In Unit 2 we’ll examine works by touchstone authors for younger readers including Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Rudyard Kipling, E. B. White, C. S. Lewis, Maurice Sendak, and others, drawing on the critical perspectives of thinkers such as John Locke, Bruno Bettelheim, Alison Lurie, and Marina Warner to assess arguments about the essential function of imaginative literature from infancy through adolescence. In the final unit, students will conduct their own research to place a major children’s author of their choice in a relevant cultural and historical context.