Fall 2018 Expos 20 Courses

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

 

THE AESTHETICS AND POLITICS OF CHILDHOOD
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 249, 250
Lusia Zaitseva
TTH 12, TTH 1:30

Course description coming soon.
THE ART OF SHOCK
Expos 208
Alison Chapman
MW 3

Spring 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 isonly 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.

 

BREAKING THE RULES
Expos 228, 229
Margaret Rennix
MW 10:30, MW 12

Spring 2018 Syllabus

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.

 

BUDDHISM, MINDFULNESS, AND THE PRACTICAL MIND
Expos 244, 245
Ezer Vierba
TTh 112, TTh 3

Spring 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.

 

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

Fall 2017 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.

 

EXISTENTIALISM
Expos 234, 235
Ben Roth
MW 1:30, MW 3

Spring 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 20
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 206, 207
Sarah Case
MW 1:30, MW 3

Course description coming soon.

 

EXPOS 20
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 217, 218
Alexandra Gold
TTh 9, TTH 10:30

Course title and description coming soon.

 

EXPOS 20
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 221, 222
Reed Johnson
TTh 10:30, TTH 1:30

Course title and description coming soon.

 

EXPOS 20
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 248
Eve Wittenberg
MW 10:30

Course title and description coming soon.

 

THE FEMME FATALE
Expos 225
Lindsay Mitchell
TTh 12

Spring 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.

HUMAN RIGHTS AS HISTORY
Expos 226, 227
Shannon Monaghan
TTh 10:30, TTh 12

Spring 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.

HUMANS, NATURE, AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Expos 219, 220
Martin Greenup
MW 9, MW 10:30

Spring 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.

 

JOURNEY TO MARS
Expos 232, 233
Ramyar Rossoukh
MW 9, MW 10:30

Spring 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.

 

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

Course description coming soon.

 

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

“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.

 

PRIVACY AND SURVEILLANCE
Expos 240, 241
Gillian Sinnott
TTh 9, TTh 10:30

Spring 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.

 

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Expos 215, 216
Julia Galindo
MW 9, MW 10:30

Fall 2017 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.

 

RELIGIOUS PLURALISM IN THE UNITED STATES
Expos 202, 203
Jacob Betz
TTh 1:30, TTh 3

Spring 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.

 

RESPECTABLE LADIES, REBELLIOUS WOMEN
Expos 204, 205
Willa Brown
TTh 12, TTh 3

Spring 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?

SOCIETY AND THE WITCH
Expos 223, 224
Richard Martin
MW 1:30, MW 3

Spring 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.

 

TERRORISM OR FREEDOM FIGHTER
Expos 236, 237
Sparsha Saha
MW 12, MW 1:30

Fall 2017 Syllabus

The saying “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” long ago entered the realm of cliché’, but given that it persists, what does it really mean? How does the international community define terrorism? Does everyone agree on a definition? What causes terrorism? Is religion to blame? How can terrorism be successfully addressed via policy? This course will investigate terrorism through a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods and social science fields. We will begin by discussing the case of the Vietnam War to see how it affects our thinking about one definition of terrorism in circulation today from a recent UN Security Council Resolution. We’ll consider the complex evidence of primary sources from the era, including a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and a documentary from the 1960s with original war footage. Then, we will compare various theories that seek to explain the motivations of terrorists and terrorist organizations. Drawing on ideas from leading scholars in political science, sociology, and psychology, we will weigh in on the debate over whether terrorists are motivated by their “hearts” versus their “brains” as we examine the case of the Islamic State (ISIS). Finally, students will apply what they have learned in the previous units to a specific case that students choose to make an argument about the motivations of, the international response to, and the categorization of a violent political organization. Students will have an opportunity to derive specific policy recommendations based on their argument and findings, thinking through precisely how their research might impact the world around them.

 

TRAGEDY AND EVERYDAY LIFE
Expos 252
Jonah Johnson
MW 10:30

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

Spring 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.

 

WHO'S GOT THE POWER?
Expos 209, 210
Matt Cole
TTh 1:30, TTh 3

Spring 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.

 

WHY SHAKESPEARE?
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).

WIZARDS AND WILD THINGS
Expos 201
David Barber
TTh 1:30

Spring 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.

 

WORK IN THE MODERN WORLD
(New Course in Fall 2018)
Expos 251
Rachel Meyer
MW 12

Course description coming soon.