2013-2014 History Courses
First-Year Studies: Inventing America: Cultural Encounters and American Identity, 1607-1877
“The past is a foreign country,” T.H. Hartley once declared, and perhaps the past of one’s own country is doubly so. The present, after all, always seems inevitable. Surely the United States of 2013 is but the flowering of the seeds planted so many centuries ago. This course seeks to challenge this assertion, as we consider not only how Americans in the period between 1607 and 1877 differed from us but also how much they differed from one another. How did the early and diverse European colonists themselves deal with unfamiliar cultures at a time when the very concept of newness was alien to them? We must not forget that Columbus believed that he had simply discovered a new route to India. As different as they were from each other, neither the Native Americans who lived in North America, nor the Europeans who colonized that region, nor the Africans whom the colonists imported as slaves had any intention of establishing a new nation. Consequently, in examining American history from the early 17th century to the Civil War, the question should be not why did the United States divide during the Civil War but, rather, why were Americans able to unify as a nation at all? In our consideration of this question, we will focus on two interrelated themes: how these different cultures interacted with and affected one another and how Americans defined their identity. Who was considered American, and what did it mean to be an American? What was the relationship between American identity and other forms of social identity such as gender, class, race, and culture? We will address these questions by examining major political, social, cultural, and intellectual developments in American history from the colonial period to the Civil War and Reconstruction. Specific topics to be studied will include the European colonization of North America, relations between European settlers and Native Americans, the relationship between the colonies and Britain, the causes and effects of the American Revolution, the shift to a capitalist economy and the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the character and development of slavery, and the causes and consequences of the Civil War. We will use both primary and secondary sources, but the course will place particular emphasis on primary documents as part of an effort to view history from the perspectives of historical actors themselves.
First-Year Studies: Place, Landscape, and Identity in the Middle East
What does it mean to “belong” to a place, and how do people’s sense of belonging affect their worldviews? All too often, the Middle East is portrayed in Western media as a place defined by perpetual conflict and upheaval. By the same token, prevailing interpretations of Middle Eastern history and society tend to present the region’s inhabitants as intensely ideological—at once primarily motivated by, and inured to, oftentimes violent struggle in the service of broad political forces for change (of which Islamism represents perhaps the most commonly cited example). In this course, we will attempt to challenge such widespread conceptions of the Middle East as a hyperpoliticized region by approaching it through an entirely different optic—the relationship that various Middle Eastern societies have forged with the places and spaces they inhabit. How have different environments and landscapes—from the Sahara Desert and the ancient and continuously occupied cities that dot the region (such as Baghdad or Damascus) to the lush Nile valley—shaped the way that people in the region think about their identity? How have denizens of the Middle East negotiated their local identities with broader regional geographies, and how did the onset of imperialism and nationalism affect this dynamic? How has a fundamental concern with place, landscape, and identity been represented in Arab, Persian, and Turkish literature and art over the centuries? What is the proper relationship between geography and history, and how can an exploration of this relationship help us make better sense of the experience of various Middle Eastern societies? This course will provide a broad overview of Middle Eastern history from late antiquity to the present, focusing throughout on people’s subjective relationships with the varied geographies of the Middle East as its central framework for unpacking the region’s diversity and complexity.
Becoming Modern: Europe from 1760 to 1914
What are the distinctive features of our “modern” civilization? A partial list would include representative democracy, political parties, nationalism, religious pluralism and secularization, mass production, rapid technological change, consumerism, free markets, a global economy, and unceasing artistic experimentation. All these characteristically modern things became established in the 19th century, and most of them were pioneered by Europeans. Yet in Europe, with its ancient institutions and deeply-rooted traditions, this new form of civilization encountered greater resistance than it did in that other center of innovation, the United States. The resulting tensions between old and new in Europe set the stage for the devastating world wars and revolutions of the 20th century. In this course, we will examine various aspects of the epochal transformation in ways of making, thinking, and living that occurred in Europe during what historians call the “long 19th century” (1789–1914). We will also survey the political history of the period and consider how the development of modern civilization in Europe was shaped by the resistance it encountered from the defenders of older ways. The course reading will focus primarily on the most innovative regions of 19th-century Europe: Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, and Italy; but we will also give some attention to the Habsburg Empire and Russia, which gave birth to some of the most influential ideas and artistic trends of the 20th century during the three decades that preceded World War I. In our group conferences, we will discuss a broad range of contemporary evidence testifying to the changes, tensions, and conflicts of this era—from government documents, revolutionary proclamations, and political tracts to philosophical and scientific essays, fiction, plays, poetry, and works of visual art.
Imagining Race and Nation
This course will rethink the narrative of American urban and ethnic history up to the 21st century in terms of what historian Anthony Marx called “Making Race and Nation.” At times, a nation is born in a revolutionary war; and, at times, a nation is born in the poetic, sermonic, and lyrical dreams of a national community. America is an imagined national community, whose history is continuously reworked in poetic images that help generations of American people reorder and make meaning of this country’s dynamic chaos. Thus, an underpinning of history writing is the poetic imagination. This course explores major contours in the long road of democratic revolution that led to the Barack Obama White House. For centuries, a black president of the United States was unimaginable. Far too many Americans conceived of America as a White Nation. In that national vision, nonwhites were thought to be segregated somewhere outside of the boundaries of full American citizenship. By exploring painting, theatre, photography, film, and historiography, this course will rethink the metanarrative of American history in terms of unfinished American revolutions attempting to remake race and nation in the modern world.
The period l9l9-l920 saw the eruption of numerous civil disorders: riots, strikes, new social and cultural movements, and political parties. New patterns of production and consumption were also beginning. While all these were responses to long-established tendencies in economic life, in class and racial conflict, and national liberation struggles, it is not a coincidence that so many appeared within a few months of each other. They stemmed from the disruption and trauma of the war, which transformed all existing trends in ways that reverberated throughout the interwar period and beyond. The goal of this course is to examine, from a global perspective, the possibilities for good and ill that were opened up. It is clear, for example, that the war disrupted major tendencies in the socialist and workers' movements. The Russian Revolution and the rise of international communism marked a break with important parts of the traditional left and seemed to some to have established a vital and exciting new kind of polity; to others, a frightening and aggressive new enemy of civilization. We will study the debates over the Soviet Union in the light of these profound disagreements. It is also clear that the war meant new directions in world capitalism. One of the most significant was the unleashing of American economic power. We will study how developments in the U.S. oil and automotive industries impinged on Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa in the search for petroleum and rubber. At the same time, we will learn how this economic buildup enabled capitalism to replicate itself through the creation of such industries as advertising, which took on a new vitality in this period. Its seductive images of individual desires and personal fulfillment permitted it both to shadow and to rival the collective movements that worked for social change. Conflict over social change occurred on many fronts. Movements of national liberation in the British Empire were now placed in the context of the gradual eclipse of British power, even as Britain emerged victorious from the war and as a major power in redrawing maps of many contested terrains. Against this background, we will look at British efforts to deal with popular aspirations in India, Ireland, and Palestine with the outbursts of violence that often characterized state action in these matters. Other important subjects include the movements for gender and sex equality and justice for workers and African Americans. They had to face a long-running 19th-century social Darwinist ideology, which the war had made only more toxic as witness the reception given to returning black soldiers expecting a better life, the restrictions on U.S. immigration, and the appeal of racism, anti-Semitism, and many other ethnic prejudices to wide sectors of opinion. In the field of sex and gender, new movements of protest and affirmation grew up while old ones declined. The goal of woman suffrage having been achieved, the suffragist style of feminism began to disappear along with its liberal, rationalist, and parliamentary values. The war had done much to destroy them in all parts of the political spectrum and had cleared the way for many new cultural phenomena, including fascism, artistic modernism, and the emergence of a new gay people's consciousness, to name just a few. Cities such as Paris, New York, and Berlin offer case studies of the vibrant subcultures that flourished during these years. Course readings and topics will include: the John Dos Passos novel Nineteen-Nineteen; Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio; Rudyard Kipling's short story Mary Postgate; Margaret McMillan's Paris 1919, on the Treaty of Versailles; selections from Mein Kampf; literature on the steel strike of 1919 in the United States; the 1919 Amritsar Bazaar massacre in India; Pan-Africanism and American racial disturbances of that year and the responses of such people as Garvey and DuBois; the coming of the private automobile and its relationship to highway construction, suburbanization, and the onrush of the extractive industries-into Liberia, for example into Liberia-searching for cheap rubber; the rise of public relations and the "engineering of consent," as it was called by a founder of modern advertising, and how it worked both in political propaganda and in the sale of commodities; and the emergence of new styles of sexual expression. For written work, students will select subjects from the syllabus and explore them more deeply in a few short essays, using extra reading in consultation with the instructor.
Open to any interested student.
According to our national mythology, social insurgencies of the 1960s originated in the United States and pitted radical youth against the American mainstream. The real story is much more complicated. Politically speaking, “the sixties” began in the late 1940s and extended well into the 1970s, the ferment was by no means confined to youth, and developments within the United States were following global patterns. Revolutionary movements and ideas reverberated from Asia and Africa to Europe and the Americas, and they mobilized people from virtually all walks of life. This course will situate US movements within their global contexts and will focus especially on movements inspired by revolutionary nationalism and its various permutations among activists addressing issues of colonialism, class, race, gender, and sexuality. Readings include historical documents, as well as scholarship; we will also make ample use of music and film. Open to any interested student.
Literature, Culture, and Politics in US History
This course is premised on a series of assumptions: First, that the public words and stories that Americans choose to tell have meaning; that they reflect ideas, concerns, presumptions, and intentions about their time period; that they do, intentionally and unintentionally, "political work” in revealing the world in the way that they do (i.e., that they work to reveal, shore up, modify, or change the power structure in some way). Second, this course assumes that you, the reader, have some sense of the backdrop to these stories (or that you will work to acquire one) and, hence, have some sense of how they reflect the material world that they seek to change. Novels, stories, memoirs, and critical essays all derive from a single vantage point, a positionality, and need to be understood as one voice in a larger conversation coming from a particular time and a particular place. Third, these readings are largely primary sources that are always paired with a secondary source chapter, article, or introduction. This pairing presumes a desire on your part to grapple with the material of this moment yourselves to write history, as well as to read it. Themes of particular significance will include the constructing of national identity, class and class consciousness, the experience and meaning of immigration, slavery and particularly race, and the political significance of gender and sexuality.
The Cold War in History and Film
The half-century conflict that developed after 1945 between the United States and the Soviet Union—along with their respective allies—manifested itself in many different spheres of life. This course will explore the integral role that film played on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Following an introductory survey of the main events of the Cold War, we will examine a series of major films (mostly in chronological order), focusing on the context in which they were made and the larger historical themes that they contain. Various genres—such as the rubble film, the thaw film, the Czech new wave, the spy film, the musical, and animation—are also represented. A sampling of the syllabus includes The Murderers Are Among Us, The Cranes Are Flying, On the Waterfront, Man of Marble, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and Goodbye Lenin! A short written assessment is required after each of the weekly screenings, and supplementary readings will be assigned, as well, to aid our discussions. For conference, students are encouraged to investigate the work of an individual director during this era, the depiction of a specific Cold War event or issue in several films, or the national cinemas of countries, particularly in the Eastern bloc.
Global Africa: Theories and Cultures of Diaspora
Changes in migration patterns, immigration laws, and refugee policies have meant that Africans are living and working in unexpected places. Studies of the African diaspora used to focus on the dispersion of Africans as a result of the trans-Saharan, transatlantic, and Indian Ocean slave trades. More recent scholarship has focused on new African diasporas: Senegambians in Harlem, Ghanaians in Germany, Nigerians in Japan. These modern day dispersals, powered in part by the forces of globalization, demand new levels of analysis by scholars. People of African descent have made lasting contributions to the societies where they now live. Unfortunately, because their positions have historically been defined by racism and servile status, these contributions have often been appropriated, stolen, or ignored. The goal of this class is to bring the contributions of African migrants to the forefront of intellectual discourse. We will attempt to answer the questions: What constitutes the contours of the African diaspora? How have African migration patterns changed over time? What role has class, ethnicity, gender, religion, and race played in notions of return or exile? Although this is primarily a history class, we will make use of geography, sociology, anthropology, autobiography, literature, film, and music as sources. By the end of the semester, students will have a clearer understanding of how present-day African immigration patterns fit into a larger history of voluntary, involuntary, and forced migration.
The Disreputable 16th Century
In this course, we will examine fundamental beliefs about the world shared by most 16th-century Europeans and discuss the writings of a number of 16th-century thinkers and men of letters who challenged one or another of these beliefs. We will be paying particular attention to beliefs that secular-minded modern Westerners are likely to find “disreputable”—intellectually preposterous, morally outrageous, or both. Almost all well-educated people in 16th-century Europe believed that the earth was the center of the universe; that human destinies were dictated, at least to some extent, by the influence of the planets and stars; that the welfare of their communities was threatened by the maleficent activities of witches; and that rulers had a moral duty to compel their subjects to practice a particular religion. It is a valuable exercise in historical imagination and human sympathy to learn what 16th-century people believed and how these beliefs fit together to form a coherent picture of the world. Given the gulf between this vision of the universe and our own, it should not be surprising that many of the 16th-century writers whose names are most familiar to us today were “disreputable” in their own time. We remember them because the unconventional views with which they scandalized their contemporaries prefigured features of our own outlook. There is much to be learned about the mind of the 16th century by studying the various ways in which these dissidents challenged the received wisdom of their age; there is also much to be learned by considering to what extent, in spite of their intellectual daring, they continued taking for granted many of their society’s basic assumptions. The 16th century was the century of the Reformation and early Counter-Reformation. But this course is not primarily concerned with the theological beliefs that separated Protestants and Catholics. On the contrary, the beliefs about the world that will engage our attention were cherished by virtually every respectable person, whether Catholic or Protestant, in 16th-century Latin Europe; and the ideas of the dissident thinkers we will be reading were, in most cases, denounced by Protestants and Catholics alike.
Based on a True Story? Latin American History Through Film
This course looks at critical historical moments and issues over five centuries of conflict and change in Latin America through the vehicle of film. The emphasis is on feature films created for a popular audience by Latin American directors (particularly from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba), with a few examples of how Latin America has been portrayed by filmmakers in Europe and the United States. We will look at issues of authenticity and voice, some of the pitfalls of using film to understand history, and at the role of cinema in the creation of national and popular memory. Although most of these films have been analyzed on many levels, the emphasis of this particular course will be on content and social or political vision rather than film theory, technique, or aesthetics. The topics or epochs that we will examine include: the encounter/conquest; slavery and race; colonial women; nationalism; dictatorship and the disappeared; El Norte—the United States and Latin America; urban indigeneity; revolution and power; revolution and culture wars; imperialism and globalization. Required readings will include historical monographs and primary sources, and one of the two weekly class meetings will be a film showing. There is no language prerequisite for this course; all films are available with English subtitles.
Espionage in the 20th Century
What has been called the world’s second-oldest profession truly came of age in the present era. Never before have so many countries—ranging from superpowers to aspiring third-world regimes—invested such vast resources into the creation and maintenance of permanent intelligence organizations. This course will explore not only the reasons behind this major historical development but also the different branches of intelligence, specifically cryptography, covert action, estimates and analysis, and counterintelligence. Besides examining how espionage has influenced the larger course of events, we will discuss the ethical dilemma of a secret government agency operating within a democratic society and the obstacles in providing reliable intelligence for policymakers. Particular attention will be given to the Cold War conflict, as well as to the more recent War on Terrorism. Relying on a variety of sources and approaches, the class assignments will consist of autobiography, historical analysis, case studies, fictionalized accounts, and film. For conference, some past topics have included the evolution of the Mossad, the case of the double agent Robert Hanssen, the life and writings of Lawrence of Arabia, and women in the OSS.
Art and the Sacred in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages
No time in history saw a richer, more varied expression of sacred art than the European Middle Ages. And no other age has known as powerful, as all-embracing a religious institution as the medieval church. In this interdisciplinary lecture course, we will ask why the Christian church and the art made in its service took such extraordinarily varied forms in the 1,000-year period from the catacombs to Chartres, from the third century to the 13th. We will also ask why certain features of contemporary Christianity that are looked upon as quintessentially Catholic rather than Protestant were established not in the earliest years of the church but in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages: monasteries and nunneries, the cult of the Virgin, a celibate clergy, and a papal monarchy with virtually unlimited powers. Since Christianity is a religion not only for the here and now but for the afterlife, of special interest will be perplexing beliefs such as that we on Earth might affect the fate of the dead in purgatory and, conversely, that some of the “very special dead” might assist the living or perhaps punish them. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the course will be studying these topics in visual, as well as in written, texts; for instance, in the architecture and decoration of early Christian and Romanesque churches and, at St. Denis and Chartres, in the birth of the uniquely Western style that we call Gothic. By also examining how sacred words were illuminated in manuscripts linked to Lindisfarne, Kells, and Charlemagne’s court, we will attempt to engage with a novel expression of spirituality in the Middle Ages: the book as icon. Near the end of our course, we will follow men and women from all over Europe on their pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, stopping at such memorable French Romanesque churches as Vézelay, Conques, and Moissac. In New York City museums, students will have opportunities to view chapels and cloisters brought from Europe, as well as sculptures, ivories, metalwork, stained glass, books, paintings, and tapestries that are among the world’s most precious treasures. Lectures will be devoted primarily to art; the weekly group conferences, to readings from the Middle Ages.
Ideas of Africa: Africa Writes Back
The continent of Africa has been variously described as the birthplace of humanity, the Motherland, a country, a continent, and a heart of darkness. All of these descriptions reflect representations of Africa, but how accurately do they reflect reality? This course analyzes the intellectual history of ideas about Africa and argues that some ideas have an enduring shelf life—even when they have been consistently proven to be inaccurate. We will critically interrogate historical and anthropological studies, travelers’ accounts, media representations, and films created by non-Africans. However, we will also examine the critical responses by African philosophers, novelists, academics, artists, and journalists who have attempted to address these images.
In Tolstoy’s Time
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) wrote what are generally agreed to be two of the greatest novels of all time, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But in addition to writing epic novels, Tolstoy lived an epic life. The young Tolstoy was a dissolute aristocrat who won literary fame with stories about his experiences as a soldier during the Crimean War. As he aged, Tolstoy became increasing preoccupied with spiritual questions and with the sufferings of Russia’s peasants. His spiritual turmoil eventually precipitated a conversion that transformed Tolstoy into the champion of a drastically simplified Christianity and a pioneer advocate of nonviolence who, as such, greatly influenced Gandhi. By the end of his life, Tolstoy was one of the world’s most famous people, a moral teacher who was an object of adulation to millions inside and outside Russia. But the leaders of Russian culture, while admiring his novels and his advocacy for the oppressed, were meanwhile articulating visions of their country’s future completely at odds with the principles for which Tolstoy stood. In this seminar, we will study the intertwining of one man’s biography with the history of the country that produced him—a country that he, in turn, portrayed with brilliant insight in his novels and stories. Students will be introduced to Tolstoy’s remarkable life and to his extraordinary achievement as a writer. We will read and discuss his major novels and some of his smaller works. The course will also provide an introduction to the history of Russia during Tolstoy’s long lifetime. We will examine how his Russian upbringing shaped him, how the problems of Russian society are reflected in his novels, and how Russians responded to the preaching and humanitarian activism in which he engaged from 1880 onwards. The course is intended to help students acquire a sophisticated understanding of Russian culture and society at the dawn of the 20th century.
The American Revolution and Its Legacy: From British to American Nationalism
It may be comforting to know that historians agree that an American Revolution did indeed occur. Less comforting but more intriguing may be the realization that historians do not agree on when it commenced and when it ended, much less on the full meaning of what exactly took place beyond the mere facts of the Revolution. Certainly, the question was profound enough to move John Adams to ask, “What do we mean by the Revolution?” In the fall, we will examine the causes and character of the Revolution by studying the political, intellectual, social, and cultural dimensions of this event. In the spring, we will look at how Americans adapted the legacy of the Revolution to the social and political changes of the 19th century and at how that legacy at once divided and unified Americans in this period. How were both opponents and defenders of slavery able to appeal to the Revolution to legitimize their views? What was the relationship between the Revolution and the Civil War? Was the Civil War a “second American Revolution”? By looking at how Americans used the memory of the Revolution to define their identity, the course ultimately aims to achieve a better understanding of the basis for, and nature of, American nationalism. Open to first-year students with permission of the instructor.
Rethinking Malcolm X and the Black Arts Movement: Imagination and Power
This seminar examines the old and new scholarship on the life and legacy of Malcolm X. Since Malcolm X was not only a political leader but also a spoken-word artist, the audio-visual recordings of speeches and interviews are central to the seminar. Students will also examine the controversies surrounding not only the Manning Marable biography but also the joint authorship of the Autobiography of Malcolm X with Alex Haley. Rethinking Malcolm X involves complicating one-dimensional caricatures by studying several dimensions of the man who propelled himself from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X to El Hajj Malik El Shabazz: dimensions such as the political, cultural, spiritual, intellectual, and symbolic, as well as private and public. Students will also pay attention to the legacy of Malcolm X on the Black Arts Renaissance that changed African American identity, purpose, and direction.
Sickness and Health in Africa
Depending on the level of his or her resources, a sick person in Africa potentially has access to a variety of options for treatment. How illness is perceived becomes a crucial determinant in how people seek care. Despite the array of treatment options, the state of public health in most African countries has become woefully inadequate. While the reasons for this decline in health status are related to questions of the international political economy, they can also be traced historically. This class studies the history of health, healing, and medical practices in Africa in order to identify the social, historic, and economic factors that influence how therapeutic systems in Africa have changed over time. We will investigate a range of topics, including the place of traditional healers in providing care, the impact of the AIDS pandemic on overall public health, and the role of globalization in changing the structure of health-care delivery in most African countries.
Popular Culture in the Modern Middle East
How can we characterize the relationship between culture and modernity in the Middle East? Is there even (or has there ever been) such a thing as “popular culture” in such a multi-layered and diverse region? This intermediate seminar examines the cultural history of the Middle East from roughly the late-18th century to the present, taking culture as a crucial lens through which to view broader political and social transformations in the region. Along the way, we will also examine some theoretical and comparative scholarship on the formation and interpretation of cultures on various levels—as well as the constitution of mass society and media—and consider its relevance to the historiography of the modern Middle East. Topics to be covered include: coffeehouses and local neighborhood life; poetry, oral tradition and story-telling; nationalism and the fraught formation of national cultures; the impact of colonialism on Arab, Ottoman, and Persian cultural identities; diglossia and the tension between formal and colloquial Arabic cultural production; literacy, print media, and the issue of reading publics; popular cinema and cultural intimacy; celebrity; radio, television, and the rise of transnational pan-Arab culture; social networking and new media; music videos; and the role of art and culture in the “Arab Spring.” Basic familiarity with the Middle East is preferred though not required.
The Cuban Revolution(s) from 1898 to Today
Cuba has an impact on world affairs and culture completely disproportionate to its size and population. This is true not only in the political sphere but also in such varied areas as music, sports, and medicine. This course will look at elements of continuity and change in three revolutionary movements: the 19th-century struggle against slavery and Spanish colonialism, which ended with the US occupation of 1898; a revolutionary anti-dictatorial upsurge in the 1930s; and the socialist revolution of 1959. We will examine how the internal dynamics of revolutionary Cuba have developed over the last 54 years (economic challenges, relations between workers and the State, race relations, changes in the family, art and revolution, generational differences and the role of youth). We will look at the reasons for the half-century of hostility between the United States and Cuba and consider the possibility of improved relations. The course will use film, art, and first-hand accounts, as well as historical and political analysis, to look at the contradictory reality of Cuba today. Students planning to apply to the Sarah Lawrence study-abroad program in Havana are strongly encouraged to take this course.
Romanesque: A Research Seminar in Religious and Secular Iconography, the Language of Artistic Forms, and Medieval History
Romanesque: Mont-St-Michel and Chartres; Durham Cathedral; Cluny, Autun and Vezelay; Conques and Moissac; Cistercian “architecture of silence”; the Royal Abbey of St-Denis. How Roman was Romanesque? How different is Gothic? Iconography as a language, the language of Romanesque forms, and medieval history: All three religions of the book have rich traditions of verbal exegesis; but unlike Judaism and Islam, only Christianity created and sustained an elaborate visual language to represent and interpret its sacred texts. If the study of the subject matter in art is iconography, what such an investigation might mean in practice can vary widely from identification of personages, episodes, and symbols to the more challenging, historically-oriented examination of which text is the basis for the imagery (if indeed the imagery is grounded in a text); why that imagery or architectural form was chosen in a particular time and place; and what such choices might have meant to a patron, an artist, and their community. In short, iconography is about human beings making choices. Thus, one might need to consider biblical exegesis, theology, legends, and historical context (including society, politics, heresies, psychology, and climates of opinion), in addition to possible artistic models—indeed, all the tools of history. Our goal in this course are to strive for a more inclusive study of iconography while investigating one of the most creative ages in European art and culture: the Romanesque (usually dated from 1000 to 1200). To move toward this goal, we will engage in critical analyses of interpretations by some of art history’s past masters—Emile Mâle, Erwin Panofsky, and Meyer Schapiro—scholars who sought the relationships of words to images, of art to historical context, and of scholars working today. Student research projects are the core of this research seminar. We will learn how to use the library and online research tools and refine skills to better use images in doing research and making presentations. Students will present findings orally and in written drafts to the class for help and criticism. We will take advantage of our proximity to three of the world’s greatest collections of medieval art at The Met, The Cloisters, and the Morgan Library. Previous college study in some aspect of ancient, medieval, or Renaissance/Reformation culture, though not necessarily in art history, is a prerequisite.
Effort, Merit, Privilege
This course is a history of ideas and practices connected to the notion of advancement by merit rather than by inherited status or wealth. This comparatively modern idea is more complex than it may appear. We will focus on four epochs in which personal merit came increasingly to the fore. The first is the age of the French Revolution and Napoleon. With the cry, “The career open to talent,” and the abolition of feudal privilege, the revolutionaries helped to further the development of individualism, self-assertion, and personal ambition while, at the same time, implicating the citizen more and more deeply in the apparatus of the state. The second era will be 1859 to 1870 in Britain, from the publication of “The Origin of Species,” with the anxieties it provoked about the struggle for existence, to the education act of 1870. This act, which followed a major liberalization of the suffrage, set popular education on its feet as a national project. We will study the right to vote and get an education as the means by which the culture created marks of merit. We will also look at the struggles of those excluded, such as women and the very poor. The next period is the aftermath of the American Civil War, from Reconstruction to Jim Crow. The slaves, now free—what was to become of them? Should they compete in society at large, or was it their lot to be kept permanently in a kind of quasi-slavery without the right to vote or go to school? The last period brings us up to the present with its many instances of meritocracy. The postwar foundation of the welfare state will be examined in the light of the many challenges to it, especially from the forces promoting inequality that coexist with unprecedented opportunities for talented individuals. We will look at the problems this poses for education, wealth, and social well being. Best for students with some previous exposure to history or the social sciences.
Gender, Education and Opportunity in Africa
In modern Africa, equity in education—whether in relation to gender, ethnicity, race, class, or religion—remains an important arena of social and political debate. As formal colonial rule ended on the African continent and more African nations gained independence, education became synonymous with modernity and a leading indicator of a country’s progress towards development. Gender has consistently played a powerful role in determining who would receive access to education. An awareness of the significance of both formal and informal education has been reflected within the realms of African politics, popular culture, literature, and film. This class studies the history of education in Africa, focusing on a wide variety of training, classroom experiences, and socialization practices. In particular, we will investigate the influence of gender in defining access to educational opportunity. We will begin by questioning prevailing constructs of gender and determine how relevant western gender categories have historically been for African societies. By focusing several of our readings on countries as diverse as Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe, students will develop a broad overview of educational policy changes and practices throughout the African continent.
Women and Gender in the Middle East
Debates over the status of Middle Eastern women have been at the center of political struggles for centuries—as well as at the heart of prevailing Western media narratives about the region—and continue to be flash points for controversy in the present day. This course will attempt to explore the origins and evolution of these debates, taking a historical and thematic approach to the lived experience of women in various Middle Eastern societies at key moments in the region’s history. Topics to be covered include: the status of women in the Qur’an and Islamic law, the Ottoman imperial harem, patriarchy and neopatriarchy, the rise of the women’s press in the Middle East, women and nationalism, the emergence of various forms of women’s activism and political participation, the changing nature of the Middle Eastern family, the politics of veiling, Orientalist discourse and the gendered politics of colonialism and postcolonialism, women’s performance and female celebrity, and women’s autobiography and fiction in the Middle East. Throughout, we will interrogate the politics of gender, the political and social forces that circumscribe Middle Eastern women’s lives, and the individuals who claim authority to speak for women. The course will also briefly examine gender and sexuality as categories for historical analysis in the modern Middle East. Previous coursework in either modern Middle Eastern history or women’s history is encouraged but not required.
Women/ Gender, Race and Sexuality in Film: History and Theory
This yearlong seminar analyzes the representation of gender, race, sexuality, and class in cinema from its origins to the present. Students develop critical understandings of film, not only as part of American cultural/social history but also as political vehicles for activism and change. We study movies as part of historical processes and assess interpretations, often rooted in feminist, sociopolitical, and postcolonial theories. A variety of film selections will be discussed: early motion pictures, action/adventure, classical Hollywood, early and contemporary Afro-American cinema, avant-garde, film noir, second-wave feminist film, documentary, queer cinema, global cinema, masculine genre, ethnic film, fantasy/horror genres.
Women, Culture, and Politics in US History
Through fiction, memoir and cultural criticism, political activism and popular culture, American women have expressed their ideas, their desires, their values, and their politics. This course will approach U.S. history through the words and actions of all kinds of American women from the early 19th century through the late 20th century. Using both primary sources and histories narrow and broad, we will explore questions of race, class, sexuality, and gender and analyze the ways in which women have intervened and participated in the political and cultural world. This is a research seminar. Considerable attention will be paid to the gathering and parsing of archival and other types of primary evidence, careful and trenchant argumentation, and the development or refinement of a fluent and graceful expository writing style. Open to Juniors and above, Sophomores with permission.