Fall 2018 Expos 20 Courses

Fall 2018 Expos 20 course descriptions and teaching times will be updated on this page  throughout August and September. 


View course descriptions for this fall semester’s new courses.

Expos 208
Alison Chapman
MW 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

From Michelangelo’s fleshly angels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel through to Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987), art has never shied away from representing difficult subject matter – or from courting controversy. In the twentieth century, some critics even argued that art is only effective when it jolts us out of our customary ways of relating to the world, or when it makes explicit the structures of violence and oppression that operate invisibly. This course will begin by exploring works of art and literature by Michelangelo, Edouard Manet, and Charles Baudelaire that were considered transgressive in their time but which have since been incorporated into the canon of art history. Is an artwork deemed shocking because of its own intrinsic qualities, or because of the norms and values of its viewing culture? How did these creations and their controversies shape or redirect the course of art history? In our second unit, we will study some contemporary artists who understand “shock” to be an integral part of their aesthetic projects. In looking at Damien Hirst’s pickled animal installations, or Tracey Emin’s own stained mattress set in the middle of the Tate Gallery, or Kara Walker’s provocative 75-foot-long sphinx made out of sugar, why do these artists want their audience to feel such alarm and unease? We will consider these artworks alongside readings by feminist critics, philosophers, and art theorists who defend art even at its most outrageous extremes. Can shock motivate moral or ethical reasoning? Is shock a particularly political feeling? And why are images or representations of the body so central to this genre of art? The third unit will investigate how institutions – like museums, the media, and even universities like Harvard – play a role in either canonizing transgressive art or else fanning the flames of public outrage. Students will have the opportunity to visit the Harvard Art Museum as they work on their final, individual research papers.

Expos 244, 245
Ezer Vierba
TTh 112, TTh 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

Today, mindfulness is touted as a panacea, the secret to happiness and health, superb sex and unparalleled productivity. The hype is not entirely new, however. For decades, ostensibly Buddhist ideas have been tossed around in the West as recipes for success in just about any art or craft. But what hides behind this craze? Can Buddhist teachings offer us tools with which to achieve our goals, or are we corrupting Buddhism by applying it in such a way? What have artists and practitioners thought of the use of meditative tools, and how have they integrated Buddhist terms like “bare awareness” and “emptiness” into their work?

In order to answer such questions, we will start the course with a reading of the Satipathāna Sutta, the Buddha’s instructions on mindfulness mediation. A close reading the text in our first unit will give us a glimpse of the ancient Buddhist practice, its complexity and richness. As we move into our second unit, we will read the text that first gave the West the idea that Buddhism can allow us to “hit the mark” without trying to do so, Eugen Herrigel’s bestselling 1948 book, Zen in the Art of Archery. Using Edward Said’s classic work, Orientalism, we will ask if Herrigel was romanticizing Zen Buddhism, and if he was, what the consequences of such a romanticization have for Japan and the West. In our last unit, we will read the work of Chögyam Trungpa, one of the most charismatic masters to have taught in the West. His lectures inDharma Art will provide us a glimpse into the way Buddhist religious-artistic practices have influenced contemporary artists in the West. By looking at Trungpa’s Tibetan “crazy wisdom,” we will try to understand what Buddhist ideas of self/not-self mean, and why artists have taken such avid interest in them.

As we read these texts, we will also practice mindfulness meditation, as well as various other forms of Buddhist meditation. In doing so, we will think about these meditations both practically and critically, at the same time as we refine our analytical understanding of Buddhist ideas.

Expos 213, 214
Janling Fu
MW 1:30, MW 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

"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.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 242, 243
Spencer Strub
TTh 9, TTh 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus
Note: This Expos class requires an independent research trip into Boston outside of normal class hours. 
In winter 2018, Boston and coastal Massachusetts experienced two “hundred-year floods” in quick succession.     Coming hard on the heels of costlier disasters elsewhere, the impassable roads in the Seaport and icebergs in the streets of Scituate were widely understood as a sign of things to come. The changing shape of the New England coastline raises tough questions: how should governments and peoples prepare for, and adapt to, a changing climate? How do we stave off the worst-case scenarios, and how should we mete out responsibility for the damage that’s already been done? And how might our society––our politics, our culture, our sense of justice and our narratives of ourselves––transform in response to the unfolding global ecological crisis?
While such questions are usually left to activists, engineers, and urban planners, this course will ask you to begin to answer these questions using the tools of the humanities. We’ll begin by exploring the way we talk about the world-to-come today, focusing on the writer Elizabeth Rush’s portraits of coastal communities confronting sea level rise and the loss it entails. In the second unit, we turn to questions of ethics and politics. We’ll weigh Aldo Leopold’s foundational “Land Ethic” – which calls for a society that respects an “ecological conscience” – against more recent work on the role that race and class play in exposure to environmental risks. In doing so, we’ll develop richer, more sensitive accounts of the interaction between nature and society. The course ends by considering the case example of Boston itself. In class, we’ll assess Climate Ready Boston’s reports together, analyzing how the city is preparing for “climate resilience.” In a final capstone project and research paper, you’ll prepare your own neighborhood-specific studies that respond to these reports, drawing on our readings in ethics and political thought as well as your own discoveries in the research process – a process that will ask you to survey climate scientists’ projections, delve into the history of Boston, and even walk the shoreline of the city. The goal is to develop and articulate your own vision for a just and livable future for New England.
Required Research Travel:
As part of the research for Unit 3, students will be expected to coordinate with each other and visit a neighborhood in Boston subject to climate impacts. This trip will require taking the T and walking. A response paper recording observations from this trip is due November 9th; the research trip can be made at any point beforehand.
Expos 234, 235
Ben Roth
MW 1:30, MW 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

“Existence precedes essence.” According to Jean-Paul Sartre’s slogan, we are not born with a purpose given to us by god, human nature, or society, but are instead “condemned to freedom,” to create ourselves through the choices we make. In our first unit, we will grapple with the idea that we create our own values, reading Sartre’s lecture “Existentialism Is a Humanism,” and consider a recent philosopher’s attempt to understand what it means to describe life as absurd. Concerned as they were with concrete situations, existentialists also produced a great deal of literature in addition to philosophy. In our second unit, we will think about coming of age, inauthenticity, and the performance of gender and identity in stories by Simone de Beauvoir (Sartre’s lifelong intellectual partner) and David Foster Wallace. Finally, at the end of the course, students will write a research paper about a major existentialist literary text of their choice, examining themes like bad faith, despair, freedom, and authenticity in a classic novel by Sartre, Beauvoir, or Albert Camus, or in a more recent text influenced by that tradition, such as Richard Wright’s Black Boy, Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, Kobo Abe’s The Face of Another, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder, or Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, among other possibilities.

Expos 225
Lindsay Mitchell
TTh 12

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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 noir novella Double Indemnity. In our second unit, we’ll move to a fictional account of a more powerful femme fatale published in the 1970’s post-feminist movement, and examine Stephen King’s novel Carrie alongside the updated film adaptation, Brian de Palma’s eponymous cult classic. 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.

  This course will be offered in Spring 2019
  Sarah Case
  Fall 2018 Syllabus
Note: This Expos class requires students to visit the neighboring community of Allston to conduct research outside of class hours.
“In wilderness is the preservation of the world,” wrote the pioneering environmentalist, Henry David Thoreau, over one  hundred years ago. Since then, our ideas about wilderness have become even more complicated. Away from the noise and crowds of daily life, refuges like America’s National Parks and local public parks provide a place to connect with and appreciate the power of the natural world. But with more and more people living in cities, access to these preserves is increasingly expensive and exclusionary, and debates rage over whether hoards of visitors are doing more harm than good to fragile ecosystems. With an increasing awareness of the dangers presented by climate change and the benefits of spending time in nature, environmentalism is on the rise. But what are the issues at stake with this increasing focus on living sustainably? Has access to nature and green space, especially in urban areas, become a privilege of the elite? This course will consider the boundaries of environmentalism, thinking about why access to green space matters in an increasingly urbanized world, and how this issue plays a role in larger debates about equality and social justice.
Our first unit will focus on the green spaces of Harvard’s campus. You’ll question the role that access to nature plays in student life by analyzing a campus site of your choosing We’ll then move to examine questions of public access to parks by exploring two case studies: Denali National Park in Alaska and Manhattan’s Central Park. We’ll think through the thorny relationship between sustainability and public space at play in these popular destinations. Our third unit will consider the relationship between urban green space and social justice by focusing on contested development projects in the neighboring community of Allston, site of Harvard’s recent expansion. With local residents being priced out, we will question who urban green initiatives really benefit. Students will analyze new environmental projects in Allston, such as housing developments and parks, to think about the ethics of sustainable development in urban settings.
Required Research Travel:
During Unit 3, students will arrange to visit the neighboring community of Allston to research green initiatives and their impact on the local community. This will involve working in pairs, and taking public transit and/or walking. The tentative deadline for conducting this research will be in early November.
Expos 226, 227
Shannon Monaghan
TTh 10:30, TTh 12

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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, and where do they come from historically? We begin our course by looking at arguments for human rights arising out of the ideas of the Enlightenment, as well as their “strange triumph” in the aftermath of the violence of the Second World War. After analyzing the development of the idea over time, we’ll think about how different individuals have interpreted the idea of “universal” rights. We’ll read primary sources from two Muslim women writers on the example of what is often called the Islamic veil, one supportive of the practice and one against, setting our discussion against the backdrop of the development of humanitarianism during the colonial period in the Middle East. Who has, historically, decided what is included in the categories of “universal” and “inherent”? 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; Samantha Power’s arguments for international humanitarian intervention in the face of genocide; Ta-Nehisi Coates’s argument in The Atlantic for reparations to the descendants of black American slaves; the growing debates over transgender rights; the role of the Nuremberg legacy in the success (or failure) of trying war crimes today; and even Harvard’s own complicated relationship to slavery in the United States.

Expos 219, 220
Martin Greenup
MW 9, MW 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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.

Expos 232, 233
Ramyar Rossoukh
MW 9, MW 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

Evoking President Kennedy’s famous speech to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, on October 11, 2016, President Obama called for the United States to launch humans to Mars by 2030 and to one day settle there. The quest to achieve this goal has dominated recent headlines from NASA’s landing of the Curiosity Rover to Hollywood’s renewed fascination with the red planet. Mars has become the next great frontier in human conquest and exploration. Why Mars? What is at stake in our efforts to reach Mars? What does it say about life here on Earth? Over the semester, we will look at a range of scholarly literature on Mars as well as films, science fiction, and virtual reality simulations to examine some possible futures in which humans have colonized outer space and become a multi-planetary species. Our launch will be a close analysis of the film The Martian to discover key themes and topics in media representations of Mars. We will next chart a path through Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles to explore connections between science, technology, and art in our imagination of human life and the experience of difference on Mars. The course will conclude with a broader inquiry of Mars as the next frontier of human entrepreneurship that critically engages with the science and ethics of proposed future Mars missions (Mars One, SpaceX, UAE’s Mars 2117, among others). Students will write a final research paper on a topic of their choice that builds on course readings, activities, and discussion.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 230, 231
Kip Richardson
MW 12, MW 1:30

   Fall 2018 Syllabus

To many people, the current era seems like a golden age of political satire. Judging solely by the number of viral comedians, late-night shows, humor books, parody websites, and meme generators, the genre certainly seems to be thriving. Yet critics, both liberal and conservative, have raised substantive concerns about this explosion of satirical content, questioning its corrosiveness, its persuasive efficacy, and its contributions to the democratic public sphere. Others, in a rather different vein, have argued that satire is actually dying—or already dead—victim to the surreality and self-parody of modern political life. This course will ask students to weigh in on these questions about the value and viability of social and political satire. In Unit 1, students will consider when, if ever, do jokes go “too far”? Using a recent controversial example, such as the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents Dinner routine, students will try to theorize whether humor should be held accountable to positive moral standards, or whether it is inherently anarchic and deconstructive. In Unit 2, we will read Paul Beatty’s acclaimed novel, The Sellout (2015), a “tragicomic” satire of race in America, alongside several classical essays in the psychology of humor. Putting these texts in conversation will enable students to think about how satire “works,” how it makes us laugh, and the potential roles it might play in discussions about sensitive political subjects. Finally, in Unit 3, students will be tasked with assessing the real-world effects of political satire, selecting their own historical (e.g., anti-immigration political cartoons from the 1870s) or contemporary (e.g., The Daily Show) case study.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 211, 212
Margaret Doherty
MW 9, MW 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

“Reader, I married him.” As this famous line from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre reminds us, writers have long been preoccupied with matters of the heart. Courtship plots are everywhere, from the novels of Jane Austen to the “rom-coms” of the 1980s and 1990s to essays you can find every Sunday in the “Styles” section of the New York Times. For centuries, marriage was primarily an economic relationship, and love outside of marriage ended in humiliation or even death. But what happens when society expands the options for living and loving? What happens to the courtship plot when women choose not to be wives, or when people who once couldn’t marry now can? When couples are as likely to meet through Tinder as they are through mutual friends? In this course, we’ll explore what courtship plots can tell us about changing concepts of gender, sexuality, family, and freedom. We’ll start with fiction by Edith Wharton, one of the American literature’s keenest social observers (and, incidentally, one of the inspirations for the TV show Gossip Girl). By closely reading her accounts of love and marriage in New York’s high society at the turn of the twentieth century, we’ll ask what stories about eligible bachelors and old maids can tell us about a society’s values and beliefs. In our second unit, we’ll turn to more recent courtship plots that trouble traditional conceptions of romance, marriage, and the family. Our texts will include the story “Brokeback Mountain” (and scenes from the Oscar-winning film), short fiction from Pulitzer-prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri, and the viral New Yorker short story “Cat Person.” Using feminist theory, queer theory, literary criticism, and recent sociologies of dating, we’ll examine what new romantic possibilities—and problems—exist for couples today. Finally, in our third unit, students will pick a modern love story of their choosing—a novel, a memoir, a film—and, drawing on the work of critics and scholars, make an argument about what this story shows us about our society’s sexual mores.

  (New Course in Fall 2018)  
  Expos 228, 229
  Margaret Rennix
  MW 10:30, MW 12

   Fall 2018 Syllabus

Note: This Expos course requires participation in some activities outside of normal class hours.

Immigration has become an increasingly divisive topic in U.S. politics, as thousands of people fleeing violence and poverty in Central America have arrived at the nation’s border. While conversations about immigration tend to focus on its economic and cultural implications, the specific experiences of immigrants can get lost in the political shuffle. Who are the people who are coming to the U.S. border? What has motivated their journeys? Once they arrive, what happens to their individual stories and experiences? Who receives those narratives? How are they used? In this course, students will try to answer these questions, grappling with one of the most pressing moral and social issues U.S. lawmakers and citizens are confronting today. But rather than just approaching the complexities of immigration using academic literature, students will engage actively with how narratives of immigration are told and transformed, especially as individual experiences get processed into legal asylum cases. Students will have the opportunity to meet with and pose questions to lawyers and law students from the Harvard Law School Immigration Clinic, as well as lawyers working on the border at the U.S. family detention center in Dilley, Texas. They will also exit the gates of Harvard to attend immigration court proceedings, visit local immigrant neighborhoods, and talk with activists about their hopes and frustrations regarding immigration reform. This course aims to be a multifaceted intellectual experience, allowing students the opportunity to witness directly how academic arguments can affect human lives. And students will be asked to participate in this process, offering their own claims about how immigration policy should be shaped based on what they learn over the course of the semester. In Unit 1, we will start by looking at concepts of nationhood and community, asking students to critique arguments for and against open borders—including those by political philosophers Richard Carens and David Miller, and economist Bryan Caplan. In Unit 2, we will turn to the self-articulated experiences of immigrants to the United States, reading Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends and a number of redacted affidavits from asylum seekers, to consider how “tricky” cases—like those involving minors who have complicated relationships with gangs in their homelands—ought to affect how asylum cases are made. Finally, in Unit 3 students will write a research paper in which they will use an immigration story of their own choosing to argue for changes in United States policy. They will write this paper in conjunction with creating a capstone project: a five-minute video on a specific immigration issue that will then be shared with the community partners they’ve engaged with throughout the course.

There will be two outside-of-class activities students will be asked to attend at specific times, and for which they should plan to keep their schedules open:
  • November 8, 5-7 p.m.—A panel discussion with local immigration activists
  • December 7, 4-6:30 p.m.—A capstone fair (the capstone fair will happen within these hours, but will not take the entire time)
Expos 240, 241
Gillian Sinnott
TTh 9, TTh 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

Most of us are vaguely aware that our online activities are extensively monitored by corporations in search of profits and that the government may be watching or listening to some of our communications in the name of national security. It is easy to decry this state of affairs as Orwellian, or, on the other hand, to reassure ourselves that surveillance only harms those with something to hide. In this course we will seek to move beyond these simplistic responses by considering the rights underlying privacy claims and by closely examining how surveillance operates in practice. In the first unit, we will explore the powerful, but surprisingly elusive, concept of privacy. Are we concerned only about the possibility that information gathered about us will be abused? Or is there something more fundamentally troubling in the government reading people's emails, or in corporations having records of our internet browsing histories? In the second unit, we will consider government surveillance, specifically the National Security Agency’s power to monitor the content of calls and emails originating from non-American citizens who are outside the United States. Do these non-citizens have any privacy rights vis-à-vis the U.S. government? Are there adequate legal protections for American citizens whose communications—both dangerous and innocent—are swept up in surveillance that is targeted at foreigners? In the final unit we will turn to the issue of privacy rights against corporations. Do we have a right to be forgotten online, or should truthful information about private citizens be available via internet search engines indefinitely? Can internet users be regarded as having given meaningful consent to privacy agreements that they have not read and would in any case likely not fully understand? For this unit, students will write a research paper about the appropriate limits on the power that private entities have over our online lives.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 221, 222
Reed Johnson
TTh 10:30, TTH 1:30

   Fall 2018 Syllabus

During the Second World War, Nazi SS officers executed some twenty thousand Polish prisoners of war, burying their bodies in hastily-dug mass graves in a pine forest near Russia's western edge. In April 1943, news of the atrocity was broadcast over US-government funded radio stations, adding to the long litany of Nazi crimes against humanity. The only problem? The story wasn't true. The mass graves were real, but the Polish prisoners had in fact been killed several years earlier by Soviet officers on orders from Josef Stalin—or "Uncle Joe," as he was known affectionately in the US. In today's parlance, the broadcast was "fake news." Truth, as the saying goes, is war's first victim, and the conflicts of the twentieth century saw the widespread use of propaganda on all sides. But what explains the wide reach of deception and influence campaigns today? How has social media galvanized new tools of mass persuasion, and how has a fragmented and polarized media landscape enabled their spread? In this course, we'll look at the history and current state of propaganda, disinformation, fake news and conspiracy theories. We'll start with a look at online influence campaigns, using a collection of political memes promoted by Russia's so-called "troll factory" to analyze common tactics and rhetorical strategies. In our second unit, we'll shift from images to film with an analysis of the documentary Kony 2012, a video with over a hundred million views on YouTube, and controversies around its adoption of viral marketing strategies for a humanitarian initiative. Our final unit will address propaganda narratives and disinformation—a subject students will explore through a research paper on a contemporary conspiracy theory or mass influence campaign of their choice, illuminating the broader factors attending its emergence and spread.

Expos 215, 216
Julia Galindo
MW 9, MW 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

Who gets ahead in America? Why do some succeed while others fail? Given knowledge of someone’s background or personal characteristics, can we predict if she will become successful? How do we account for the influence of various complex factors, including personality, family, and community? 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 by examining individual-level, person-centered theories of success with readings on grit, the growth mindset, and multipotentiality. Next, we will read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success alongside a longitudinal, ethnographic study of 12 American children and a seminal treatise on the role of race in the American classroom. As part of our broader inquiry into the environmental factors that impact success, we will explore how race, class, and familial wealth and resources affect children’s lived experiences of childhood and, later, their chances of successfully getting into college. In the final unit of the course, students will answer the question, “What does it take to be successful at Harvard?” Students will select their own pop-science book on a self-help topic like willpower, motivation, happiness, or creativity, research the relevant academic literature, and create a written proposal with an accompanying short presentation to disseminate their findings. 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.

Expos 202, 203
Jacob Betz
TTh 1:30, TTh 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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.

  This course will be offered in Spring 2019 
  Lusia Zaitseva 
  Fall 2018 Syllabus 

Cultural attitudes toward childhood have long been complex. Novelists, poets, and philosophers alike have espoused the virtues of cultivating cherished qualities of childhood: the playfulness, authenticity, and boundless curiosity of children unburdened by the stifling responsibilities of adulthood. But, as educators and political commentators remind us at every turn, childhood is also a condition to be overcome, a state of unsophisticated lack of discipline and immaturity that our leaders should avoid. These tensions have made children—so often spoken for and about on the page and screen, but rarely speaking for themselves—into vessels of meaning for a wide variety of purposes, from rallying cries urging military involvement abroad to immigration reform at home. In this course, we’ll consider what representations of childhood can tell us about the adult world and childhood itself. What is the root of adult anxieties about children? And what are the moral and practical costs of upholding certain images of childhood—for example, its innocence—to both adults and children themselves? We’ll begin our exploration of these questions by attending to the imagined worlds of authors from several different cultures: British science fiction author Brian Aldiss and contemporary writers Ludmilla Petrushevskaya and Lesley Nneka Arimah of Russia and Nigeria, respectively. What deeper meanings, we will ask, can be uncovered by attending to representations of children and the child’s point of view in their works? Next, we’ll shift our gaze to the highly controversial photographs of Sally Mann as we question the limits of acceptable representation of childhood. In the third unit, students will have the opportunity to conduct their own original research as we explore how childhood figures in a range of recent debates from climate change to slacktivism.

Expos 204, 205
Willa Brown
TTh 12, TTh 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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. While modern feminism fights against restrictive stereotypes, why did some women fight to keep them? How can we snap out of our modern frameworks and try to fully understand the past? This course will examine the curious history of “respectable” womanhood focusing on three moments 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. A field trip to Salem on February 3rd will give us a chance to try to understand what the 17th century felt like, and why women might have had different priorities then. Next we will move forward two centuries to read the fascinating memoir of anti-lynching crusader Ida B Wells, a woman whose entire career depended on navigating the line between respectability and defiance. 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 poet Barbara Deming, 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?

   (New Course in Fall 2018)
   Expos 236, 237

   Sparsha Saha
   MW 12, MW 1:30

   Fall 2018 Syllabus

The “Engaged Scholarship” components of this course include activities outside class time (these are tentative dates that will be finalized in September, so please note that they are subject to change).
Today, the United States Congress is 19.4% female. That statistic trails the world average of 23.3%, with Nordic, European, sub- Saharan African, and Asian countries achieving better gender balance in national legislatures than the U.S. Some scholars contend that when women run, they are no more likely to win or lose compared to their male counterparts, though they are simply less likely to run in the first place. Other scholars identify a strong correlation between voting and sexist attitudes, notably in the 2016 U.S. election. But the puzzle persists: what accounts for the persistently low levels of female political representation in American politics, particularly since the United States boasts some of the highest levels of female participation in the labor market, especially in executive positions? Our course explores this question as it examines how prejudicial attitudes about women manifest themselves in American political life and society. In Unit 1, we begin by examining the popular argument that women should have more political representation because they would be better political leaders. In this unit, you will also have a chance to engage in the Harvard community by interviewing peers, neighbors, and other members of Harvard Square to get a sense of beliefs about women in politics. In Unit 2, we turn our attention to recent case studies, including Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to investigate how gender stereotypes may or may not have played a role in the outcomes of their political races. Finally, in Unit 3, you will contribute to the scholarship in this field, by researching the phenomenon that Massachusetts lags behind other states when it comes to female political representation at the state and gubernatorial level. We will partner with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (www.mwpc.org) to help them address this problem at the state level by writing a policy paper with recommendations that draw on your research into this issue.
  •  Interviews with Harvard peers and members of Harvard Square community to be completed before October 10 (not set time, flexible dependent on individual schedules).
  • Panel symposium featuring female politicians, candidates for office, academics, and other stakeholders to be held on Nov 14, 4-6pm. Location TBD.
  • Capstone Presentations to Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, HQ in Boston, MA in early December, specifics TBD.

Expos 223, 224
Richard Martin
MW 1:30, MW 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 217, 218
Alexandra Gold
TTh 9, TTH 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

In a powerful essay, the late writer and activist Audre Lorde suggested, “Where the words of women are crying to be heard we must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.” Lorde is not alone in asking us to pay attention to and take responsibility for women’s stories; for centuries scholars and activists alike have championed the words of women, including women of color and queer women, whose stories have routinely gone untold or unheard. Yet if this issue has always been pressing, the call to heed women’s stories seems especially urgent at a moment when such stories have come to dominate the cultural landscape and public consciousness – from news accounts to popular shows, literature to social media. This course responds to this moment by examining how women’s stories are narrated across a variety of media and exploring what impact the sharing of them can have. Our first unit will focus on short stories by contemporary women authors Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, and Jenny Zhang that raise questions about the body, family, love, and society. Our second unit then turns to television, studying Hulu’s 2017 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. Informed by readings in critical feminist theory, we’ll consider how the show probes the troubling connections between gender, authority, power, and image. Finally, our third unit engages visual and performance art alongside movements like #MeToo and #SayHerName, offering students an opportunity to pursue independent research projects that explore the relations between art, activism, and social media.

Expos 252
Jonah Johnson
MW 10:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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' Oedipus Tyrannus (429 BCE) and 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. Unit 2, we will compare Shakespeare's Othello (1603/4) with a recent adaptation of the play by Toni Morrison, Desdemona (2012), asking about the role of specific cultural features (such as race, class, and gender) in producing particular kinds of tragic effects. 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.

Expos 238, 239
Adam Scheffler
TTh 12, TTh 1:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

Hell is popular. In fact, it’s been doing much better than heaven. It’s practically a literary consensus that Dante’s best book is his Inferno not Purgatorio or Paradiso, and that Milton, a Christian believer, got so carried away in describing Satan and hell that he ended up being “of the Devil’s party without knowing it” (Blake). And the world today may be more secular than in past generations, but hell is doing just fine. Harvard presents its own interesting case: Currier House’s annual “Heaven and Hell” party has situated “Hell” in a room that can hold about 500 people whereas “Heaven” can fit only about 50. (This past year heaven was eliminated entirely.) But what are the components of hell – what archetypes or depictions of hell and the underworld helped to cement their importance in culture? And why is hell so alive in secular culture? Why do those people who don’t believe that hell is real want to keep imagining it again and again (in Supernatural, in South Park, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.)? In our first unit, we will examine famous underworld themes and archetypes as we look at short excerpts from Gilgamesh, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Jonathan Edwards, the story of Persephone, and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. In our second unit, we’ll consider how these themes and archetypes are taken up by recent secular texts such as a Stephen King short story, the film Pan’s Labyrinth, and a New Yorker article by Harvard Professor Danielle Allen about her cousin’s experience in the American prison system. Finally, in our third unit, students will select and research a contemporary depiction of hell, and make an argument about how that hell works as a metaphor for a real-world issue or fear (such as the sleaziness of Hollywood, or bickering families, or mental illness, or the vastness of outer space). Throughout, we will try to better understand the curious attraction of hell, and why its 4,000-year-old story shows no sign of ending.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 248
Eve Wittenberg
MW 10:30

   Fall 2018 Syllabus

Please note that on occasion class will meet at the Harvard Global Health Education and Learning Incubator at 104 Mount Auburn St., 3rd floor.

The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any country in the world. What we are getting for all that money? Are we more healthy than all of the world? How would we even know if we were healthier? What “health” is and what it means to be “healthy” are more challenging questions than they may seem. It may be living very long, having healthy behavior, or being happy. It could be a combination of all of these, and it could be different for different people. Understanding what we mean when we talk about health is important to promoting health, so we know what we’re aiming for. This course will explore what health is, what it means to be healthy or not healthy, and how we can improve people’s health. In Unit 1 we will look at definitions of health from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and see how well they work in case examples-- whether, for instance, someone like Stephen Hawking would be considered healthy by these definitions, and what may be missing from them. In Unit 2 we will assess policies designed to improve health, focusing on obesity and weight. We will read conflicting views of obesity as a medical condition or a descriptor of body size, and grapple with a situation where opinions and science point in different directions. The Unit 2 essay will tackle how should we develop policy around obesity in this context of contradicting perspectives. In Unit 3 students will conduct independent research on ways to improve college students’ health, building from the definition work of Unit 1 and the policy work of Unit 2. The materials for the course will consist of medical and public health articles, online health data sources, and videos/TED talks. Students will have the opportunity to participate in “verbal practice” exercises at Harvard’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator to help them write and communicate to audiences more effectively.

Expos 209, 210
Matt Cole
TTh 1:30, TTh 3

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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? As the course progresses, we will converse with the dissident writers who confronted the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century, examine the student-led movements that toppled dictatorships in the 21st, and consider what these episodes can teach us about the techniques of domination and resistance in democratic societies like our own. To that end, we’ll conclude the course by testing our theories of power against some recent and acclaimed documentaries, from films like Jehane Noujaim’s The Square and Laura Poitras’ Citizenfour, which give us front row seats to history-making acts of revolution and civil disobedience, to polemical works like Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Craig Ferguson’s Inside Job, which aim to expose the workings of power in relation to racial and economic inequality.

Expos 246, 247
Jeffrey Wilson
TTh 9, TTh 10:30

Spring 2018 Syllabus

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 one of Shakespeare’s least popular plays, Henry VI(about feuding English families during a bloody civil war), alongside one of the most popular TV shows right now, Game of Thrones (which, like Henry VI, was based on the Wars of the Roses). We’ll also read Henry VI in light of some controversial recent computer-based scholarship arguing that Shakespeare actually didn’t write much of the play. 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).

Expos 201
David Barber
TTh 1:30

Fall 2018 Syllabus

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.

(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 251
Rachel Meyer
MW 12

Fall 2018 Syllabus

This course explores the structure and experience of work in the contemporary political economy with an eye toward both its liberating and oppressive potential. How do different forms of work affect our life circumstances, personalities, and connections to each other? In the first unit we will examine jobs—including some professional occupations like physicians and financial analysts—where social class is ambiguous or problematic, leading us to the question of who is a worker. How and to what extent are working class jobs different from professional jobs? In unit two we explore the crucial issue of workers’ control over their own labor and the concept of alienation. We examine accounts of deskilling, the separation of mental and manual labor, and the consequences of these processes for workers’ experience on the job. To what extent does alienation occur in offices versus factories versus service counters? For the final unit we will critically engage in a debate about the development of “flexible” labor and the ways in which workers’ connections to employers, occupations, and locations have become more fluid and transitory. We will explore what flexibility means in a variety of contexts and ask: does flexibility lead to liberation or loss of identity? Does it bring self-fulfillment or insecurity? What does flexibility mean for tech workers in Silicon Valley and bankers on Wall Street? Our texts consist of case studies and ethnographic accounts representing a variety of workplaces along with readings from prominent social theorists who in different ways seek to elucidate the conditions of work under modern capitalism.