Spring 2018 Expos 20 Courses

Spring 2018 Expos 20 course descriptions and teaching times will be updated on this page throughout January. 

 

THE ART OF SHOCK

Expos 210, 211

Alison Chapman

MW 9, MW 10

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 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.

 

BLACK AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Expos 264, 265

Joshua Williams

TTh 1, TTh 2

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

Why is autobiography so key to the black literary tradition on both sides of the Atlantic? In this course we will search for answers by working our way through black autobiographies from a number of different genres. We will begin in the United States by reading excerpts from the “narratives” of former slaves, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Solomon Northrup, whose memoir was the basis for the award-winning film Twelve Years A Slave. What did the autobiographical truthfulness of these accounts accomplish? Why were they so important for the abolitionist movement? What do their popularity and political importance say about the nature of black suffering and its consumption as literature? We will then broaden the scope of our inquiry to consider narratives of blackness and suffering from elsewhere in the African diaspora. Our touchstone will be the Martinique-born philosopher Frantz Fanon, whose autobiographical engagement with racial trauma in Black Skin, White Masks remains one of the most important critical texts on blackness in the modern world. We will grapple with Fanon’s account of realizing – quite late in life – that he was black and what that meant. This will help illuminate the broader world of postcolonial African and Caribbean politics and literature, including the poetry of Aimé Césaire and the fiction of Ama Ata Aidoo. In the final section of the course, we will return to the United States to engage with the #blacklivesmatter movement and some of the provocative music, film, and prose in dialogue with it: Beyoncé’s Lemonade, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. What do these new black autobiographies have in common with their antecedents? How has the conversation about black life and black suffering changed? Or, has it changed at all?

 

BREAKING THE RULES

Expos 240, 241

Margaret Rennix

MW 10, MW 11

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

(New Course in Spring 2018)

Expos 262

Ezer Vierba

TTh 11

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 Satipatṭhāna 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 in Dharma 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.

 

DOCUMENTING LIVES

Expos 224, 225

Tamara Griggs

TTh 9, TTh 10

Spring 2018 Syllabus

In a long-forgotten short story published in 1958, an unloved businessman takes up photography as a hobby only to find himself obsessed by the nature of the medium. He comes to believe that the camera alone can capture and preserve the reality of things and people. “In order to really live,” he tells his friends, “you must photograph as much as you can, but to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographical every moment of your life.” The story writer was inspired by a new fad in the postwar decades: middle-class amateurs taking candid snapshots of everyday life on portable cameras. More than a half-century later, in an age of Instagram and Snapchat, our networked devices go everywhere our bodies go, and we are accustomed to taking and sharing pictures of ourselves and others throughout the day. But what does it mean to document our lives and those of others through photographs? What kind of truth or reality can photographs reveal about ourselves and the world in which we live? And what about our ethical obligations? Do we have a moral responsibility as producers and viewers of photographs? Finally, given the rise of Photoshop and the digital image, how can we even trust what we see?

We will pursue these questions through three case studies, beginning with controversy over Sally Mann’s family photographs, which set off a firestorm of criticism when they were exhibited in 1992. Through a close reading of Mann’s memoir, we will try to understand how and why her photographs tested the boundary between private life and public art. In the second unit, we will turn from photography-as-art to the rise of photojournalism, and in particular, to a ground-breaking series of photo-essays from Life magazine on racial segregation in the South. In our final unit, we will grapple with the problem of proof and deception in the digital age by exploring the critical response to the JPEG files shared among soldiers inside the Abu Ghraib prison at the height of the Iraq war.

 

DRUGS, MIND, AND WAR IN THE AMERICAS

Expos 263

Ezer Vierba

TTh 1

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

Psychoactive substances have played an outsized role in the modern history of the Americas. As marijuana is being decriminalized, our class will ask how the Americas have been embroiled in a war on the habits of its peoples. In our first unit, we will consider how the coca leaf, one of the defining symbols of indigenous culture in the Andes, has been transformed into cocaine, an international villain. In the second unit, we will look at the ways in which traffickers adapted to the growing appetites of American consumers in the 1980s and 1990s. Using Bandits, a book by the great 20th century historian, Eric Hobsbawm, we will analyze the social role that drug traffickers have played in their societies. In our final unit, we will ask how the “War on Drugs” has changed the U.S. and Latin America, and consider whether we are currently at a historical watershed in the world’s relationship with drugs. As we refine our analytical and writing skills, we will also spend some time on meditation, with the goal of better understanding our own minds, and cultivating concentration and equanimity.

 

EATING CULTURE

Expos 218, 219

Janling Fu

MW 9, MW 10

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 247, 248

Ben Roth

MW 1, MW 2

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 look at the concept of being-for-others—the idea that we never exist as pure individuals—in Sartre’s play “No Exit” (bearer of the famous line “hell is other people”) and a short story by his lifelong intellectual partner Simone de Beauvoir. Finally, at the end of the course, students will write a research paper about an existentialist novel of their choice, examining themes like bad faith, dread, freedom, and authenticity in a classic text by Sartre, De Beauvoir, or Albert Camus, or in a more recent one 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.

 

FAKING IT TO MAKE IT

Expos 226, 227

Andy Hakim

MW 1, MW 2

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

Between 2002 and 2005, serial impostor Esther Reed took classes in the Harvard Extension School and participated in the university’s debate team under the name Natalie Bowman. She later posed as an honors student at Columbia University. A similar deception took place at Princeton in the early 1990s when Alexi Indris-Santana, track team and Ivy Club member, was revealed to be a 31-year-old impostor named James Hogue. Reed’s and Hogue’s ability to pass as students at prestigious universities raises questions about the relationship between lying, success, and cultural standards. How do lies inform the ways we think about ourselves? What is the appeal of living one’s life as a masquerade or performance? In a world where technology increasingly blurs the lines between life and fiction, is deception ever justified? This course examines the ways deception impacts our lives and shapes our sense of self at a time when notions of what is real and what is fake are increasingly being called into question. We begin by analyzing the role of rumors and storytelling in The Great Gatsby, where F. Scott Fitzgerald reshapes our understanding of the confidence man by turning him into a cultural icon. Then, we examine the ethics and morality of deception by testing Friedrich Nietzsche’s and Sigmund Freud’s notions of truth against films such as ChicagoQuiz Show, and The Prestige. In our final unit, students will have the opportunity to research an instance of imposture in contemporary culture or fiction and make an argument that interprets and assesses its significance. Sample topics include hoaxes such as Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds broadcast, the creation of fake online identities for “catfishing” the unsuspecting, and race, class, and gender passing. 

 

THE FEMME FATALE

Expos 234, 235

Lindsay Mitchell

TTh 12, TTh 1

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.

 

GOD AND GOVERNMENT

Expos 242, 243

Kip Richardson

MW 1, MW 2

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

The separation of church and state is often considered to be a cornerstone of modern democracy, but this idea has nevertheless been a difficult concept to put into practice. Must the state completely avoid any entanglement with religious groups, or merely act in a non-preferential manner toward them? How does a state determine whether a given belief or practice is religious (and thus deserving of legal protection) or simply ethical or cultural in nature? Is the ideal of a neutral political secularism even possible or desirable? And what should we think of the many global actors, from Latin America to the Middle East to Sub-Saharan Africa, who reject this ideal entirely? This course will consider the many questions and challenges raised by religious diversity for the modern state. We begin in the first unit by considering two influential early accounts of the proper relationship of governments to religiously diverse populations, James Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s On Civil Religion. In the second unit, we will consider several judicial decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights, which highlight the contentious legal landscape over the concept of “religious freedom.” Our final unit turns to the international stage to examine several case studies from Brazil, Palestine, Nigeria, and India, to see how religious diversity is shaping contemporary global conflict.

 

HUMAN RIGHTS AS HISTORY

Expos 236, 237

Shannon Monaghan

TTh 11, 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? Are they really universal? We begin our course by looking at the “strange triumph of human rights” in the aftermath of the violence of the Second World War. After analyzing the development of this idea over time, we’ll think about how human rights are (or are not) protected. We’ll draw on A Problem from Hell, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who argues that powerful countries have a moral responsibility to prevent genocide. Power addresses examples such as the Rwandan genocide (where the U.S. failed to intervene) and the Balkan Wars (where NATO did intervene). But other experts say that intervention just makes suffering worse. How do we understand this debate in a historical context? In the final unit, we will dig into several ongoing and highly contested issues in human rights, like the “right to be forgotten,” which would force Google to erase certain unwelcome search results; the race-, religion-, and gender-infused debate over whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear headscarves in public spaces in France; Ta-Nehisi Coates’s argument in The Atlantic for reparations to the descendants of black American slaves; the growing debates over transgender rights and restroom access; 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 222, 223

Martin Greenup

MW 10, MW 11

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 245, 246

Ramyar Rossoukh

TTh 9, TTh 10

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.

 

THE KNIFE’S EDGE

Expos 255, 256

Maria Stalford

TTh 1, TTh 2

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

For most of human history, surgery has been a brutal, terrifying affair. Operations were carried out as quickly as possible to the sound of blood-curdling screams, and often ended in the patient’s death. Historian of medicine Martin Pernick observed of surgeons before the advent of anesthesia that “the emotional ability to inflict vast suffering was perhaps the most basic of all professional prerequisites.” To say the state of the art has advanced since then is an understatement—incredibly, it is now even possible for complex surgeries to be carried out by robot, directed remotely by surgeons hundreds of miles away. Yet whether the scalpel is wielded by robotic arms or flesh-and-blood hands, it remains the case that operations are performed by human beings who are fallible, on bodies that are mortal, and there is still no way to wholly eliminate risk. As the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande has put it, when you are sick, “it’s not science you call upon but a doctor.” It is this fundamentally human endeavor of surgery, always rooted in specific social and historical contexts, that is the subject of this course.

We begin the semester with historical and present-day accounts of surgical success and failure to explore what surgery has demanded from practitioners and patients over time. We next examine a major bioethical debate in one of the fields of surgery that has generated the most controversy and soul-searching throughout its history in societies around the world: organ transplantation. Lastly we consider an array of very different types of surgery that can significantly affect one’s identity, self-presentation, and social position, such as cosmetic, bariatric, gender reassignment, and cochlear implant surgeries. Through independent research projects on topics of their choice, students will explore how the advent and availability of certain types of surgery in particular contexts has shaped social norms, concepts of the normal and the pathological, prevailing principles of medical ethics, and individual experience and self-understanding. What constitutes necessity, medical or otherwise? What should we be empowered to choose—and how far should we be allowed to go? What are the implications of responding to social problems not with social action, but with a surgeon’s knife?

 

PARADOX IN PUBLIC HEALTH

Expos 201, 202

Jerusha Achterberg

MW 10, MW 11

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

What happens when public health efforts to improve the wellbeing of a population undermine the wellbeing of individuals in that population? Can this outcome be avoided? Public health is characterized by the implications of this fundamental paradox: the health needs of a population are often at odds with the health needs of the very individuals who comprise that population. How does this larger paradox play out across various public health campaigns? In this class, we will use scientific articles to consider potential paradoxes in public health, both historical and contemporary. In Unit 1, we will wrestle with issues of current vaccination requirements, and consider the intersection of personal choice versus societal responsibility using current MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines. In Unit 2, students will debate the nature of public health motivation and practice—who decides what existing public health needs are? Two case studies will guide this discussion: goiter—a successfully eliminated (but now reemerging!) disease of micronutrient deficiency—and ongoing tobacco-control efforts. In Unit 3, students will conduct their own research on a controversial modern public health issue of their choice, and consider how the larger tension between the individual and the population is manifested in the student’s particular selected public health controversy.

 

PRIVACY AND SURVEILLANCE
Expos 253, 254
Gillian Sinnott
TTh 10, TTh 11

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 220, 221

Julia Galindo

MW 9, MW 10

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 204, Expos 205

Jacob Betz

TTh 12, TTh 1

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 208, 209

Willa Brown

TTh 12, TTh 2

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?

 

THE SCIENCE OF EMOTION

Expos 259

Adrienne Tierney

TTh 10

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

Reason has been routinely championed as the epitome of human achievement and framed as profoundly at odds with emotion. For much of the 20th century, scientists had even characterized emotion as unimportant. However, after the past 30 years of research, we now understand emotion to be a crucial factor in human behavior, including reasoning. This class will focus on the science of emotion. In Unit 1, we’ll explore what emotion is as we read several scientists’ divergent theories, including Joseph LeDoux and Antonio Damasio, who disagree on whether love is an emotion. To help us evaluate their conclusions, we will consider a crucial theory offered by Paul Ekman, whose research on facial expressions of emotion was largely responsible for the modern field of emotion science. In Unit 2, we’ll explore the conundrum that emotions are at the heart of individual—and thus seemingly subjective—experience and yet have so many elements that seem to be universal among humans of all cultures. We’ll read sources that outline the “laws of emotion” that differentiate between emotion and feelings, and that present interesting data on emotion in children living in poverty. Our final unit will take up the matter of how cognition and emotion interact and give students an opportunity to research one of many perplexing questions in this subfield of emotion science: What, for example, is the role of emotion in decision-making? How does emotion interact with learning or moral judgments? How does emotion operate in adolescence or in various pathologies?

 

SEGREGATION AND BOSTON SCHOOLS: THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY

Expos 230, 231

Ariane Liazos

TTh 1, TTh 2

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

Note: This Expos course requires participation in several activities scheduled outside of normal class hours. Please see the meeting details following the course description.

Over sixty years after the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools are unconstitutional, segregation is on the rise. Today, despite widespread evidence that integrated education increases student learning and reduces prejudice, American public schools are increasingly divided by class and race.  In this course, we investigate attempts to achieve educational equality in Boston, focusing on the decision to use busing to desegregate the public schools in the 1970s and the wave of violent opposition that followed.  Throughout the semester, we undertake “engaged scholarship,” combining academic learning and community engagement by collaborating with Bostonians directly affected by these historical events—we partner with history teachers and students at a neighborhood high school in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) system—and by focusing on communication with diverse audiences through writing, speaking, and visual presentation. 

To ground our understanding of the complex issues we will wrestle with, we begin with a journalist’s Pulitzer Prize-winning account of school integration in the 1970s, contrasting the perspectives of black and white families. We next examine historical debates on the causes of the “antibusing” movement and pedagogical debates about how to teach controversial and contested historical topics.  For the final project, we have the opportunity to further investigate these topics and other current challenges around educational equity facing BPS. In thoughtful collaboration with our community partners and through research, we design lesson plans for a high school course on desegregation and prepare arguments for why the various plans might be effective. We not only delve into the remarkable written and visual materials in Harvard’s libraries but also conduct conversations with teachers and students at Brighton High. The class culminates in a “Civics Fair” (held at Harvard’s Education Portal serving residents of the Allston and Brighton neighborhoods) in which students present their lesson plans and engage with our partners at Brighton High and other community members.

 

Required Additional Meeting Times (tentative dates)

The “Engaged Scholarship” components of this course include three required meetings outside class time (tentative dates that will be finalized before classes begin):

  • Panel discussion held on Harvard’s campus with a teacher from the Snowden School and a representative from Facing History and Ourselves (March 6 from 7-8:30 p.m.)
  • Visit to Snowden (select ONE of the following three options: April 5 7-9:15 a.m.; April 6 10 AM – 12:15 p.m.; OR April 6 11:30 a.m.-1:45 p.m.);
  • The “Civics Fair” on May 1 or 2 from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

 

SOCIAL WORLDS OF FRIENDSHIP AT HARVARD

Expos 216

Dwight Fee

TTh 11

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

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

Social science research has traditionally suggested that we tend to seek out friends who are similar to ourselves. But is this always true? What factors inspire people to venture outside of their comfort zones through friendship – especially at Harvard? In collaboration with the Learning Lab at Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, this course explores the formation of social networks on our campus and investigates how meanings of identity and difference are constructed through the experience of friendship. In Unit 1, we examine Emerson’s renowned essay, “Friendship” (1841), working with his handwritten manuscripts at the Houghton Library to search for clues that illuminate Emerson’s often paradoxical thinking about the significance of friendship. We then carry forward the complexities of relationships that Emerson reveals into an interview-based research project that explores friendship and social life at Harvard. In Unit 2 we will read Harvard’s important Report of the College Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion (2015) as well as theories of “social capital” (the networks and support systems that promote health and happiness) as we analyze the delicate interplay between the processes of how people “bridge” across boundaries of their identities, and how they “bond” within particular friendship groups. We will also explore how meanings of difference and belonging play out across specific contexts of the College (e.g., Annenberg, blocking, extracurriculars, and student organizations). In small teams, students will design individual research projects through proposals that involve both writing and on-camera speaking at the Bok Center’s Learning Lab. In the third unit, students will carry out their individual research in close connection with their teams. Towards the end of the semester, we will publicly share our research findings through a class capstone project. For this class, students should be interested in working on visual presentations as well as written papers. This course is hands-on and heavily collaborative, modeling that which it studies – namely, a spirit of engagement, dialogue, and community.

 

SOCIETY AND THE WITCH

Expos 232, 233

Richard Martin

MW 1, MW 2

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 249, 250

Sparsha Saha

MW 12, MW 1

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.

 

THE UNDERWORLD

Expos 251, 252

Adam Scheffler

TTh 12, TTh 1

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.

 

THE VOICE OF AUTHORITY

Expos 261

Jane Unrue

TTh 11

 

NOTE: THERE IS A REQUIRED EXTRA MEETING OF THIS CLASS: Thursday, March 23rd from 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.

Can writing truly be a way to change the world? In this class we will explore the relation between authority and the acts of writing and speaking. How do we recognize and evaluate authority? Are we doing all that we can to earn our audience’s attention and get the results we want? What does it mean to write with authority? You will spend much of your time learning how to build effective arguments: translating your claims (arrived at through close reading, analysis, research, and devotion to technique) into essays that will captivate and illuminate. You may be surprised as you begin to discover what makes you a unique presence on the page and how much authority you already command. While some writing goals will shift, as you practice three distinct and important versions of the academic essay, others will remain central. Thus, the three essays that you will write and revise will build off of each other, and all essay assignments will connect to other writing assignments that you are likely to encounter at Harvard, at the same time preparing you to respond eloquently and effectively to worthy calls to action assigned by circumstances and events in the non-academic, or “real,” world in which we live. In Unit 1 you will develop close-reading skills to argue for an original analysis-based interpretation of authority in Ken Kesey’s controversial and groundbreaking One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In Unit 2, to approach building a sophisticated and complex comparative analysis, you will engage with works of poetry and fiction written by internationally acclaimed writers who have sacrificed immeasurably in the name of free expression. You will meet these writers, analyze their work, consider what it reveals about authority, and learn firsthand what can happen when a writer challenges governmental, religious, cultural, etc. authority. This ongoing inquiry into the nature of authority will shape our explorations in the third unit, when you will investigate and theorize answers to questions arising out of research into authority’s intersection with education, politics, language and rhetorical strategy, human rights, and art. Here, you will work independently, in small groups, and with Harvard librarians to stake out a position and a strategy for arguing persuasively. You will develop and hone skills such as researching and building a scholarly conversation; working with an annotated bibliography; structuring an argument from a variety of sources; targeting an audience; using sources correctly, strategically, and effectively; and writing with authority.

 

WASTELANDS

Expos 206, 207

Collier Brown

MW 9, MW 10

Spring 2018 Syllabus

 

The impenetrable wilderness of The Revenant, the diseased streets of Children of Men, the trash heap cities of Wall-E—these are the wastelands that fascinate our pop culture. On the screen, they come to life as horrifying alternate universes and dead civilizations—the very fates we must avoid at all costs. And yet wastelands are not exclusively the stuff of science fiction. In this course, we will grapple with both imaginary and actual wastelands. We will begin with short stories by Jack London, Thomas King, and Octavia Butler. From the icy wilds of the Yukon to the borderlands of Native American exile, these writers question the way wastelands have been imagined, especially in North America, over the past century. Next, we will turn to real wastelands—to the garbage dumps and arid landscapes where nothing grows. We will ask what these places reveal about their inhabitants, their struggles, and their achievements. Finally, students will research a wasteland of their own choosing—anything from the mega slums of Mumbai to the sprawl of Boston's unused rooftops. Along the way, we will investigate how wastelands form and evolve, and how people adapt to them. Are wastelands actually the places we should avoid at all costs, or are they the places we can no longer afford to ignore?

 

WHO'S GOT THE POWER?

Expos 212, 213

Matt Cole

TTh 10, TTh 11

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 266, 267

Jeffrey Wilson

TTh 10, TTh 11

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 203

David Barber

TTh 1

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.