Course offerings vary from semester to semester. Please consult the list below to determine which courses will be offered the current semester.
*New courses and descriptions for Spring 2014 are currently being added to this website. Please check back soon for updated information about Spring offerings.
Cultures Over Time (CUOT)
This course will consider the questions at the heart of the autobiographical genre across European and Mediterranean society from antiquity to the 20th century. In what ways is the form of the autobiography shaped by cultural ideas of the self? In what ways does it create a new thread in the function of the self in society? At the same time, we will explore nontextual (visual art, music) representations of the self as complementary or competing forms of reflection on the same questions. Finally, the course will attempt to assess the use of autobiography as a tool to understand history, assessing the importance, limitations and methods by which works of this type can be put to use in constructing an image of the past. For syllabus see here.
This course examines various ways of understanding the figure of the Roman emperor, by focusing on the first emperor Augustus. We will consider a range of textual and visual sources for the emperor, including poems, historical accounts, and coins, and place the emergence of the emperors within Rome’s political, religious and cultural traditions. Assessment will be by exams and a range of short papers. For syllabus see here.
Reading and discussion, in the contexts created by their cultural backgrounds, of important works by three authors from ancient and classical Greece and three authors from the Renaissance in Europe. Possible authors: Homer, Sophocles, Plato; Montaigne, Shakespeare, Cervantes. This course counts toward the Cultures Over Time requirement. For syllabus see here.
This course will examine the historical and contemporary relationship between the Islamic and the Western worlds in order to better understand the "clash of civilizations" thesis that dominates academic and popular discourse. It will combine analysis of key historical moments of contact, such as the Crusades, European colonialism and the 9/11 attacks, with an examination of how observers of these events represented each other over time. At the heart of this endeavor is an attempt to understand the “othering” process by which the Western and Islamic worlds came to see each other as essentially and incompatibly different. The course will conclude with excursuses into various recent controversies resulting from the presence of Muslim minorities in the West.
This course will examine one of the key ways through which French identity has been constructed over the past several centuries: through an interrogation of otherness and the meanings of difference. While the notion of a cultural “melting pot” is fundamental to American society, French society has been structured around a distinctly French notion of universalism: the idea that there are core universal values that must supersede those of any minority subculture. Thus, although Americans regularly embrace multiple identifications—as African Americans, or Jewish Americans, for example—in France that double alliance is largely experienced as a tension.
We will trace the roots of that tension by examining ways that otherness has inspired and troubled the French imagination through literary, historical and philosophical readings by major French writers from the 1500s to the present day. From Montaigne’s cannibals to the noble savages of Enlightenment texts, from Zola’s “J’accuse!” to the story of Babar, from the female other to the other as Jew to the other as Jewish female, we will explore the myriad ways through which France’s imagined others serve as manifestations of a cultural fascination with and anxiety about difference in its many forms. As we analyze the various intellectual conflicts that have arisen from the quest to understand what is deemed different, foreign, exotic or strange, we will also trace a struggle to define and circumscribe notions of French identity, selfhood and authority. At the semester’s end, we will use what we have synthesized from these thinkers to consider contemporary debates in French society about the place of religious and ethnic difference in the public sphere. For syllabus see here.
Coffee, the second most valuable commodity traded on world markets, is ubiquitous in contemporary American culture—so much so that it’s difficult to imagine that there was a time before coffee. But there was. Coffee wasn’t introduced into the Ottoman Empire until the end of the 15th century and into Europe until the 17th century. The world at the end of the 18th century looked very different than it had at the beginning of the 16th, and coffee had a lot to do with it.
We will examine the introduction and reception of coffee in the early-modern Ottoman world and subsequently in 17th– and 18th–century Europe. Using journalistic, literary and visual sources, we will explore how multiple societies responded to the introduction of coffee—a novel, foreign and exotic drink, as well as how the eventual European thirst for coffee impelled the development of a system of colonialism, or world trade. Drawing on approaches from disciplines including history, sociology and anthropology, we will trace how coffee, an everyday object, transformed cultures into which it was introduced. At the same time, we will consider how the act of drinking coffee took on divergent political and cultural symbolism in disparate contexts, including the Ottoman world, European nations and colonial societies.
The early modern world saw the birth of many aspects of culture and society that we consider “modern,” including “nightlife” in all its varieties, a bourgeois “middle class," “consumerism,” “public space” and “globalization.” Together we will analyze the central role coffee and coffeehouses played in their creation and in the creation of “modernity.”
For syllabus see here.
For many observers of European political history, the 19th century was one of unprecedented peace. Beginning with the fall of Napoleon in 1815, and lasting until the 1914 outbreak of the First World War, this era was punctuated with few international conflicts, while those that did occur were limited in scope. However, if we refocus our gaze to domestic affairs, we find that this period was actually more tumultuous than most others. The 19th century’s problem wasn’t war, but insurrection, as it unfolded in the wake of the American, French and Haitian revolutions. Moreover, the 19th spirit of revolt continued to animate the 20th century, as well as our own.
Turning first to the 19th century, and then to the 20th, we will explore this burgeoning culture of revolt, in a variety of its forms, so as to see how the spirit of revolution manifested itself in a myriad of ways—and how various forces attempted to respond. However, our concern will not only be to survey this vital and diverse culture, but to arrive at some specific insights into the nature of revolution. After all, in the glimpse it offers of dramatic political change, revolution distills many of the central concerns of political thinkers, insofar as we are motivated by the study of politics, and by their improvement. Into our study of the culture of revolt, we will therefore be tasked with understanding why some individuals risk life and limb to overthrow an old regime in the name of a new one.
Twentieth-century ethical theory was dominated by approaches concerned exclusively with duty or with utility. In recent years philosophers have evinced a renewed interest in virtue, i.e., character formation, the good life and the like. This entails greater attention to the concrete ways that ethical theory expresses the ideas and ideals of particular cultures. The cogency and relevance of philosophical argument is enhanced by attending carefully to implicit, unacknowledged presuppositions that require an understanding of social, psychological and religious practices and goals, not only as external influences, but as constituents of philosophical positions themselves.
We begin by examining three representative thinkers—Mill, Kant and Aristotle—with special attention to the place of character in their ethics and their cultural context. We then turn to other major thinkers, like Maimonides, Hume, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. The third part of the course introduces the late 20th-century debate and, time permitting, interdisciplinary themes relating to ethical emotions like honor, shame and guilt.
Contemporary World Cultures (COWC)
Honors and non-Honors
Literatures of the 20th and 21st centuries that share the legacy of massive historical dispersals of peoples, the dissemination of many of their respective cultures and their encounters with other cultures. African, Asian and Jewish diasporic literature, with an emphasis on American “minor” literatures (Asian American, African American, Jewish American) and Caribbean literature. Explorations of diasporic cultures’ survivals and transformations in hybrid forms resulting from the continued, and continuously revised, interactions with other, especially “host,” cultures. For syllabus see here.
Professor Van Ryn
This course examines the power relationships surrounding discussions of culture by looking at the interactions of race, ethnicity and religion through an interdisciplinary framework. Though most of the material discusses American cultural groups, we will maintain a global perspective through investigation of immigrant groups and examples from abroad. Selected topics include Thai immigrant and white Theravada Buddhism in the United States; diasporic Jewish cultures; Christian attempts to develop multiethnic congregations; African-American Islam; Central American liberation theology; and the Black Church in the United States. For syllabus see here.
This course traces the rise and spread of national movements in Europe and the Middle East from the French Revolution to the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Part I examines how contemporaries and subsequent scholars have understood the terms “nations” and “nationalism.” We then examine the emergence of liberal or civic nationalism in Western and Central Europe down to Italian and German unification in 1871. The transition from civic to ethnic nationalism in Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire is examined in the context of the gradual disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman empires in the period 1871–1914. It is in this context that we also analyze the various expressions of Jewish nationalism, both Zionist and non-Zionist forms, in a comparative context.
Part II of the course examines the victory of the principle of national self-determination in the first half of the 20th century. This idea culminated in the Treaty of Versailles and the emergence of new national states in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that resulted in both independent Arab states and European colonial rule. The new states of Eastern Europe and the Middle East both solved the national problem for those peoples who received statehood and simultaneously created new conflicts with regard to minorities within those new states. We shall differentiate types of minorities and examine minority policies in the new states and their international dimension. A survey of each new state will highlight the minority population and their unfulfilled national aspirations, often with their mother country across the border.
The interdisciplinary component will be satisfied by including artistic expressions of nationalism with a focus on music and painting. Furthermore, inclusion of theoretical texts in sociology (Max Weber) and history (Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson) will be presented and analyzed.
Traditional literature is also referred to as folklore. It encompasses the rituals, customs, superstitions and manners of a particular group that are passed orally or in writing from one generation to the next. We will discover the amazing diversity of what constitutes folklore and how it is defined. For now, recognize it is (1) the study of what the folk, not the elite, create and (2) the transmission—from generation to generation, from group to group, or from individual to . . .—of dance, costume, art, musical instruments, chants, proverbs, as well as a dizzying host of other creations. We will discuss how some believe contemporary or modern folklore is deemed folklore. For syllabus see here.
This course explores the emergence and incidence of genocide in the 20th and 21st centuries. Examined topics include the genocide of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire, atrocities of colonization, the Holocaust and more recent examples in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur. Discussion will include the following issues: What does “genocide” mean, and why is it a modern phenomenon? What are its root causes? What distinguishes it from ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity? Is this distinction a viable one? Can genocide be prosecuted or prevented? For syllabus see here.
Political geography correlates the variable of space with configurations of political and social power. Sovereignty, for example, exemplifies the exclusive power of the state over staked territory. The “power of place” for individuals/social classes is revealed in metonyms like Wall Street, Park Avenue, the barrio or ghetto. Urban planning impacts the power of urban classes. Borders and physical barriers like walls empower those within and depower those without. Political geography is today an exploding field due to transnational terrorism, environmental concerns, social protest movements, failed states, refugees and illegal immigrants. Political geography incorporates human geography, cultural geography and spatial geography. Through this course, students will come to understand that political and cultural development has a vital spatial (contextual) as well as time (historical) dimension. Their research project will entail mapping some urban, suburban or rural enclave in terms of its social power. How does otherness relate to the power of place? Select non-Western cultures will be examined in situ. For syllabus see here.
Two sections, one of which will be Honors
The historical relationship between East and West is a fundamental arena of cultural interplay. On the one hand, Asia is an undeniable global presence as the most populous and largest continent with one of the largest economies in the world. On the other, "Asia" is a Western construct representing the "unknown" and the "other" to civilizations as far back as the Ancient Greeks who indelibly named all the lands east of them as "Asia." We will tackle the extraordinarily complex idea of Asian culture to build a nuanced understanding of how cultural identity is shaped by literature, film and theater. Using Marco Polo’s Travels as a foundational text, to which we will return several times in the semester, we will trace the genesis and transformation of narratives about Asia as well as the role Asia has served in the construction of Western identity. After looking at literature from the age of explorers, we will examine works of the colonial period to consider the political and social narratives of authors from the imperial powers. Then we will pivot in the class and begin our exploration of post-colonial works by Asian writers, filmmakers and artists—both native and in diaspora communities. Focusing on writers who have reached the Western reader, we will consider how they represent a resistance to hegemonic narratives, and how we (the outsiders) receive and interpret these complex (and often contradictory) narratives.
We will explore both high and popular culture in this course, reading a variety of fiction, nonfiction and poetic works; viewing Bollywood and Hollywood films; visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rubin Museum to compare how Asian culture and art are displayed; reading some blogs; and even scrutinizing ancient maps. We will also write creatively and critically in several genres. Some of the themes of the class include empire, post-colonial literature, personal versus national narratives, Orientalism and the subaltern. Geographically, we will focus on China, the Indian subcontinent, Indochina (Vietnam) and Tibet.
Interpreting the Creative (INTC)
What do literature and film tell us about themselves and each other? How is reading a novel or short story different from “reading” a film? What happens when a story passes from one medium to another? By addressing these questions, this course will help student to develop a deeper understanding of literature and film and the relationships between them. The course will begin by examining the key elements of literary and cinematic storytelling and how these elements come together to produce the meaning of a story. Then we will explore various approaches used in the analysis of literature and film, including both theoretical texts and close readings of particular works in both media, with the aim of enabling students to create their own compelling interpretations of literature and film.
Course literary texts will include Zusak, The Book Thief; O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”; Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler; and Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. Films will include Sherlock Jr., Stranger than Fiction, Singin’ in the Rain, The Artist and Fahrenheit 451. Critical texts will include Plato, Book X of The Republic; Wilde, “The Decay of Lying”; Rushdie, The Wizard of Oz; and Villarejo, Film Studies: The Basics.
This core course will explore both Shakespeare’s ability to meld different genres and forms of art and later artists’ visions inspired by Shakespeare. Drawing on close reading, textual studies, genre studies, genre theory, media studies, film studies, art criticism, art history, literary studies, Shakespeare studies, influence studies, historical studies and cultural studies, we will focus on how each medium, each genre, each form of art and each artwork creates meanings; when we can assess an interpretation as partial, implausible or downright impossible; and how interpreters can arrive at probable or even compelling interpretations of individual creative works within the literary, visual and performing arts.
This course will focus on the recognition scene across a range of genres and periods, from literature and philosophy to contemporary visual media. We will begin the course with fiction by Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986) and Mendele Moykher Sforim (1835–1917). We will read selections from Homer’s Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, excerpts from several parshiot and from Megillat Ester (graphic novel version), aggadot from the Bavli and a tale from 1001 Nights. We will take a tour of recognition scenes across the canon of Anglo-American literary fiction. We will read short stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Stephen Crane, Henry James and Borges again, and a selection from Marcel Proust, followed by specimens of lyric poetry, dramatic monologue and post-Holocaust verse. We will look at the historical case of Martin Guerre, as refracted by an episode from "The Simpsons." We will read examples from philosophy including selections from Aristotle, Descartes, Hegel and Wittgenstein. We’ll also look at Diego Velázquez’s famous painting from 1656, Las Meninas (reproduced on the coursepack cover) and listen to excerpts from an opera by Mozart.
Our exploration of primary texts will be supplemented by a set of analytical and critical sources, e.g., chapters from Recognitions: A Study in Poetics by the literary critic Terence Cave and Interdisciplinary Studies on Anagnorisis, edited by Philip F. Kennedy and Marilyn Lawrence; A Course in Recognition by the philosopher Paul Ricoeur; as well an episode from "The Twilight Zone" and/or a film by Alfred Hitchcock or Bryan Singer.
This course will consider the ways that 19th-century Paris inspired artistic creation through its cultivation of a variety of new ways of seeing, which led in turn to new forms of entertainment. The artistic products of this rich and imaginative time were in many ways responsible for contemporary mass culture and our lingering fascination with the real. To explore this history to our own cultural tastes, we will employ a host of colorful characters as tour guides: from Balzac’s young student, who abandons legal studies for a Parisian education of another sort; to Baudelaire’s flâneur, who invented a whole new way of wandering the city; to Zola’s naïve young woman cruising the newly invented department store.
But we will not limit ourselves to the strictly literary: in addition to reading novels and poetry, we will consider the overlapping ways through which painting, art criticism, photography, early cinema, architecture and various kinds of public exhibits addressed the feelings of excitement and anxiety around the new points of contact that the modern French city offered. Juxtaposing poems with paintings, novels with photographs, we will compare the different idioms through which these art forms attempted to respond to a shared set of questions. As we consider the panoply of new desires, seductions and fascinations for which Paris itself seemed wholly responsible, we will also not fail to notice the deep and lasting impact of those practices on our current modes of entertainment and pleasure, from cinema to celebrity culture to reality TV.
This course, designed for those who love intellectual rigor, is an intensive study of selected arguments, as great creative works of the human mind. The arguments to be examined and evaluated are very important and are selected from various fields (philosophy, axiomatic set theory and physics). What you need to know about philosophy, logic and probability, in order to understand the arguments, is explained in lecture. What you need to know about set theory, mathematics and physics is explained through a combination of lecture and the material in the texts I have ordered. No prior technical background is presupposed, beyond an elementary familiarity with algebra. For syllabus see here.
The primary focus of this course is to explore the fiction writer's creative process from different angles, including inspiration, conception, development, revision and adaptation to the screen. We will be exploring together questions such as the following: What happens during the creative process? What is the relationship between an author's life and the author's fictional works? Where does literary inspiration come from? What do creators of fiction think about as they work? How do short stories and novels get written, rewritten, reimagined? In adapting fictional works, how closely do later writers and filmmakers follow the original work? How do audiences react to changes from the original? Students will read three novels and a selection of short stories, as well as some background and critical materials. Also, they will see screen versions of the three novels. For syllabus see here.
This course will examine the legacy of Mary Shelley's novel through literature, visual arts, music and contemporary journalism, exploring multiple ways that her work touches on themes that continue to resonate today: man playing God; monstrosity and otherness; fear and loathing; and humans and technology. In addition to studying the novel and some of its secondary literature, students will read science fiction, gothic stories and fantasy; view film adaptations of Frankenstein, thematically related films and art exhibitions; and write scholarly and creative works that consider some of the ways in which Frankenstein has taken hold of the modern imagination. For syllabus see here.
The arrival of Columbus’ caravels to the Caribbean islands of Guanahaní, Haiti and Cuba in the fall of 1492 forever changed the course of world history. There could be no turning back for either the Europeans or the Americans. This course examines the nature of that encounter–beginning with Columbus and following it through the first 150 years of European exploration, conquest and colonization of the Americas. How did European travel writers make sense of the “New World”? How did they relate to the people that inhabited the “West Indies”? Where can we find the voices of the Native Americans? How did the encounter transform the Europeans and the Native Americans? What challenges do we as modern, Western readers face when we attempt to understand the Columbine encounter?
We will pay particular attention to the ways that the Americas and the Americans are imagined, at the same time we will investigate the self-fashioning of the “Imaginers”; how does writing about others impact the self-understanding and self-presentation of the writer/observer?
Our focus will be on several Spanish narratives of the discovery and conquest of the Americas. In addition, we will consider the deceptions, distortions and illuminations offered by film. Shakespeare’s The Tempest will serve as a dramatic epilogue.
This course plumbs selected works by each of three master composers whose music exemplifies three distinct eras, cultures, styles and aesthetics. As we consider each composer’s music, we will also consider works of the other arts, especially visual arts, that parallel each composer’s work, and we will place each composer in the context of his time and place. For syllabus see here.
A close reading of selected works of Jonathan Edwards, RW Emerson and Walt Whitman to understand how the widely accepted notion of “American individualism” is in fact a cultural movement (embodied in the works of these authors) away from the authority and structure of collective life inherent in Church, State and Family toward a redefinition of individual agency and authority. These three “prophets” working in diverse literary or social forms—sermons, autobiographies, essays and poems—that actively undermine these institutions of communal activity and posit the “imperial self" as the sole source for human authority.
The culmination of this discussion will be the lifelong and organic work of Walt Whitman. Whitman produced multiple editions of his poems over his lifetime so we will be examining his development through the first edition of his poems in 1855, perhaps his finest edition in 1860 and the last edition published after his death in 1892. We will also be placing Whitman in the context of New York City and its growth as an imperial city by meeting on the Brooklyn Bridge (“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”) and walking to various Whitman “shrines” in Brooklyn, NY. If we can agree, I would gladly meet at Whitman’s home in Camden, NJ, for a reading from his poems.
Human Behavior and Social Institutions (HBSI)
This course focuses on “institutions" of justice and economic theory to examine the complexity of “human behavior” in settling legal disputes in an “efficient” way. Through research of databases and practical case assignments, students will learn to understand the importance, value and limitations of different types of data and how to use each type of data to develop hypotheses, describe and analyze findings, and arrive at conclusions supported by empirical research on assessing economic damages for litigation support. For syllabus see here.
Honors and non-Honors
This multidisciplinary seminar will provide an overview of social scientific research on the psychological and social processes that underlie political opinion. Students will learn about empirical research in psychology and political science dealing with the origins and consequences of mass political attitudes. Some of the major topics we will cover are psychological and survey research methodology, genetic and environmental influences on political attitudes, political thinking, public opinion and election polling, and aggregate political opinion. The course will focus heavily on empirical studies and their conclusions. It will also include a current events component in which students discuss articles and blog posts that analyze recent public opinion evidence. For syllabus see here.
In today’s world, education is probably the most important generalized determinant of life chances. Yet the amount and quality of education people receive is affected by a number of factors, including violence. Violence in schools is increasingly recognized as a major problem in the United States and across the world, and its effects—on students, teachers, classrooms and schools—are widely recognized as harmful and disruptive. This course will address the questions: What are the causes of school violence, and what predicts its uneven distribution across schools? What are some of the forms in which school violence manifests, and by what means does it disrupt academic functioning? And perhaps most important, what can be done to reduce violence in schools and improve at-risk students’ academic experience? To assist in this investigation, we will engage with theoretical and methodological perspectives from the disciplines of sociology, developmental psychology, criminology and public policy studies. For syllabus see here.
Experimental and Quantitative Methods (EXQM)
Professors Jiang, Khalfan and PotvinThis is an interdisciplinary course
that teaches students to appreciate scientific thinking in the social and
natural sciences and to employ mathematical quantitative and logical reasoning.
Students learn to connect theory and experiment and to test hypotheses via
experimental design. In this modular structured course, students interact with
a biologist, physicist, chemist, as well as social scientists to explore
research in the study of wide-spread diseases and health hazards
Please note that science students who take one or more years of college laboratory
science courses and one or more years of college level mathematics courses will
be exempted from the Experimental and Quantitative Methods core category.
The Natural World (NAWO)
Professors Barrios-Landeros, Cwilich and Feit
This course will convey to the students the relevance and impact of science in their everyday lives regardless of their background and career interest and to help them understand the process of scientific discovery, by discussing cutting-edge topics from different science fields during lecture and discuss related material during recitation. Students will learn how to critically read science articles from popular press and scientific journals. Rather than a basic science survey, this course will present topics focusing on the tools employed for
scientific discoveries and our underlying need that drives the exploration. We will address questions like: How do we decide which ideas are worth pursuing? How do we test those ideas? Why and how do scientists develop models in their efforts to study and predict natural phenomena? Why do we estimate outcomes and deal with uncertainty of the results? How is data gathered and analyzed?
First Year Seminar
Section 331, TR 3–4:15 p.m.
Throughout European and American history, people have been fascinated by the exceptional among us. Whether it is the most extraordinary athlete, the musical virtuoso or the most brilliant physicist, the “genius”—a person who is able to perform a task with an uncanny degree of skill, to do exceptionally more than those around them or think about a familiar problem in a way that shifts the paradigm of the thought that came before—is an archetype that seems to have always been the ideal (and envy) of society. But like all ideals, it has a discrete history and evolution. Where, when and why did the idea of genius emerge? How has it changed over time? How have different cultures understood the exceptional individual and his or her place in the social order? How have exceptional individuals been understood (or misunderstood) by those around them? Where is the idea of genius going and what is its impact on contemporary society at large? Using literary texts, music, art and other "primary" demonstrations of genius, as well as philosophical, anthropological and historical writing about the idea of genius and the history of ideas, these are some of the questions that this “history of ideas” course will investigate.
Students will be expected to keep a weekly journal, offer an in-class presentation of reading materials and regular participation in discussions, and compose one short "think piece" and one longer research essay to successfully complete the course.
Section 361, TR 6:45–8 p.m.
This course has two aims. One aim is to examine Hamlet as theater, touching on its historical context and looking at its resonance today. The second, but no lesser aim, is to look at how research is employed in the field of theater. Through the study of the play Hamlet, students use their understanding of research in the theater discipline and form their own research projects. Film, visual art, visiting artists and outside texts will be used to supplement the course.
Basic course requirements:
Sections 231 and 241, MW 3–4:15 p.m. and 4:30–5:45 p.m.
What we learn from family life is a large part of who we are as adults in the world. Writers write about family because these core relationships, these “long, strange rapport[s],” as D.H. Lawrence calls them, are perennially transformative.
In this course you will study poems, short stories and scripts portraying the joys and struggles of families ranging from English royals of The Queen to the African-American Youngers in Raisin in the Sun to the dysfunctional white middle-class Goodmans of the musical Next to Normal.
The course will introduce you to the analysis of literature as an academic discipline and to basic principles and methods of research. Weekly response journals; two short essays, including a piece about your family; and an oral presentation “preview” of what will evolve into a final researched essay are required. Class activities include discussion of readings, exploratory writing, development of written and oral arguments, investigations of primary and secondary source materials, and library visits.
Section 331, TR 3–4:15 p.m.
We will consider how and why Jews travel, raising questions of what Jewish travelers hope to learn about the world—and about themselves—as we think about how Jews write about and reflect on their journeys. We will begin with the experiences of medieval Jewish travelers, asking questions about the role of travel in medieval Jewish life and the conditions and contexts of such travel. Examining the narratives composed by medieval and early modern Jewish travelers, we will consider these travel writings in context; comparing them to travel writings by Muslims and Christians will yield a heightened sense of how Jewish journeys resemble and and how they diverge from the journeys of non-Jewish contemporaries. We will consider modern Jewish journeys, raising questions about how the experience of Jewish travel changes over time (or not). Writing is a critical component of this First Year Seminar; we will approach writing both as a tool for learning and as a skill to be learned.
Requirements include weekly reading journals, a short essay, a presentation introducing a class meeting's text that articulates the issues raised by that text and sets the agenda for class discussion, and the design of a research proposal on a course-related question of your choice.
Honors, section 231, MW 3–4:15 p.m.
In September 2008 many policymakers and titans of the financial industry genuinely feared that the financial world was crumbling, that the economic world as they knew it was coming to a horrible end. While we seemed to have avoided catastrophe, the reverberations from this episode are still with us. And yet this was far from the first financial crisis—in fact there have been many throughout U.S. history, and while they are important differences in details, they do have some characteristics in common. The primary objective of the seminar will be a deep understanding of the recent crisis, but also broader insight into the causes and effects of financial crises in general.
By the end of the semester you will:
Requirements include several short essays on readings discussed in class, a midterm exam on basic finance concepts, a final term paper based on the material in the class and a book chosen from a selection, participation in discussions, and group in-class presentations.
Section 241, MW 4:30–5:45 p.m.
How have psychologists traditionally viewed the study of human illness and wellness? By contrast, what is the new and cutting-edge field of “positive psychology,” and how is it applied in the quest to help individuals and communities to flourish and thrive?
Psychology research, theory and practice will be integrated. Students will learn how psychologists investigate questions and how they apply their findings in the real world.
Requirements include class attendance and participation in discussions; midterm exam; three 3-page take-home essays; periodic in-class writing exercises; online tutorial based on APA style, with accompanying online quiz; oral presentation; and a final term paper.
Section 241, MW 4:30–5:45 p.m.
In 1942, poet John Berryman wrote, "It's time to see the frontiers as they are, fiction, but a fiction meaning blood." Using readings and films, we will investigate the notion of the "Frontier" as America's creation myth, political ideology and national identity. While the story of the settling of the American West has often been told as a series of violent and romantic events populated by cowboys, warriors, sheriffs and the like, we will turn a critical lens on the West and its history of conquest. Using a survey of “Old West” narratives and modern counternarratives, we will look carefully at race, class, gender, religion and the environment in readings by William Cronon, Patricia Limerick, Sherman Alexie, Ian Frazier, Louise Erdrich, Cormac McCarthy, Frederick Jackson Turner, Rebecca Solnit and others. We will construct a more authentic and complicated vision of the frontier and how its mythology continues to play a part in our national narrative and identity.
In addition to readings, coursework will include regular short reading responses, two short critical papers (3-5 pages), a research paper and a class presentation.
Honors, section 341, TR 4:30–5:45 p.m.
We will focus on Western and Eastern works that helped define their societies, relying on an interdisciplinary approach that combines literary, historical and anthropological perspectives. We will begin with the ancient world: Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, and Chinese poetry, then move on to Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, T’ang poetry, Dante’s Inferno, Machiavelli’s Prince and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Can we make meaningful overall distinctions between early Eastern and Western masterpieces? Do these works both reflect their cultures and help construct them? Clearly we can interpret any text without any cultural or historical knowledge, but in what ways is such an interpretation valid?
Like other First Year Seminars, this one will devote some attention to writing both in assignments and in class. We will discuss and attempt to understand writing in disciplines, especially literary and cultural studies, as well as writing for a general educated audience.
Requirements: attendance and participation; two interpretive essays of 4 pages (a close reading and a close cultural reading); focused revision of specific aspects of those essays; an 8-10 page paper based on research in primary and secondary sources, prepared in stages; a brief oral presentation; and a take-home final.
Section 611, F 9:30 a.m.–12 noon
We will be surveying 2,000 years of literature from ancient Egypt, centering around two major interrelated questions: how much a traditional society can change, and in what ways, over the course of such a long time, and the relationship between an individual and the greater society within a hierarchical and highly structured society.
Our study will consist mostly of reading the texts—stories, poems, instructions, magical spells, and other types of texts—closely, with the historical and social contexts in mind. We will be introduced to some of the major ideas in literary criticism, as they are relevant to literature from so long ago, and also encounter the world of ancient Egypt through a class trip to the Brooklyn Museum and an optional second trip to the Metropolitan Museum, both of which have world-class Egyptian departments.
There will be three writing assignments as well as one oral presentation. The writing assignments include the following:
1) A close reading of one Middle Egyptian short story and one Late Egyptian short story, and a comparison between them
2) An essay on one Egyptian text that has biblical analogues, in conversation with the relevant biblical texts
3) A response paper to a modern work (book, painting, music, etc.) that is set in ancient Egypt or a discussion and comparison of the way Egyptian materials are presented in the Brooklyn Museum and the Metropolitan Museum, each of which includes a research component
Section 331, TR 3–4:15 p.m.
Throughout its history, two different facets of the Zionist project have either existed in tension with each other or complemented one another. On the one hand, Israel is, and seeks to be, a flourishing democratic state that makes manifest the modern Jewish right to national self-determination. On the other hand, Zionism has long claimed to represent the covenantal, religious longings of Jews over millenia. The goal of this course is to examine how these two facets of the Zionist project are reflected in the worldview and career of one of the most influential leaders of modern Israel: Menachem Begin. The course will first trace the roots of modern Zionism in general, and Revisionist Zionism in particular, by focusing on the writings of Theodore Herzl and Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. We will then focus on some of the seminal and controversial moments in Begin's life, beginning with those that occurred before his election as prime minister: the revolution against the British mandate; the tensions between Begin and Ben-Gurion and the Altalena incident; the debate over whether the nascent State of Israel should accept reparations from Germany; Knesset discussions over the role religion would play in defining the national culture of the state; and the unity cabinet during the Six Day War. The second part of the course will examine moments in Begin's administration that continue to impact Israel today: the peace treaty with Egypt, the strike against the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the Lebanon war.
Throughout the seminar, students will be asked to confront and discuss several important questions: What is the difference between a "state of the Jews" and a Jewish state"? Can one create a state that is simultaneously democratic while remaining profoundly Jewish? Is there a tension between the modern political notion of "social contract" and the biblical concept of berit on which Judaism was founded? How should a Jewish state balance religious or historical values with national security needs? How should a Jewish state balance its responsibilities to all its citizens with the bond that Jews all over the world share? What can the lives of Herzl, Jabotinsky and Begin teach us about political leadership in general, and Jewish leadership in particular?
At intervals throughout the course, students will be asked to compose three significant essays reflecting serious engagement with these questions via a careful reading and analysis of the syllabus sources. There reflections will be further assisted and enhanced by visits to class by prominent academics, historians, thinkers and national security experts.
FYSM 1026, section 261, MW 6:45–8 p.m.
FYSM 1026H—Honors, section 611, F 9:30 a.m.–12 noon
We take this as our fundamental premise: Great change in our world has nearly always started with a speech. Arguably, the existence of many social and political movements today and in history, whether feminism or abolitionism or marriage equality or the Tea Party, can be traced back to a series of speeches, or at times, a single speech.
What is it then about such a speech that empowers it so? What are the functions of language in such a speech? How do the language choices in such speeches reflect acute awareness of audience and discourse context? In what ways do the performance of such speeches contribute to their success? Why have these speeches stood the test of time?
In short: Why do such speeches change the world?
We will be watching, listening to, closely reading and critiquing a wide range of world-changing speeches in order to understand the stylistic and substantive features of these speeches that account for their impact. In order to do so, we will also conduct extensive research to unearth the relevant historical, autobiographical, social and political contexts in which these speeches were crafted and delivered, and thus understand the larger dialogues within which these speeches existed. Of course, we will not only respond to and conduct rhetorical analysis of such speeches, but will ultimately craft world-changing speeches of our own.
Although the speeches we will examine will include canonical texts like Socrates' Apology and historic greats like Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," we will also add variety (and at times comedy) with speeches from across the oceans like Mahatma Ghandi's "Quit India," memorable nonpolitical speeches like Steve Jobs' iPhone speech and remarkable commencement speeches like those from David Foster Wallace, Steve Jobs and Steven Colbert.
Requirements: active and consistent class participation; readings; class presentation; two rhetorical analyses (4 pages); one speech (5 pages); and one research paper (10 pages). The workload for the Honors section will include one additional essay and additional readings.
Sections 311 and 341, TR 1:30–2:45 p.m. and 4:30–5:45 p.m.
"What is remembered is what becomes reality. If we ‘forget’ Auschwitz, if we ‘forget’ My Lai, what then do we remember? And what is the purpose of our remembering? If we think of memory naively as a simple story, logged like a documentary in the archive of the mind, we miss its beauty, but also its function."—Patricia Hampl, "Memory and Imagination"
What is memory? In what ways is memory political? How do our memories—our very lives—become stories? These are some of the questions we will try to get at in this course as we examine various forms of life-writing including personal narrative essays, full-length memoirs (including graphic memoir), texts that tell other people's stories, film and radio segments. As we analyze these texts, we will note the ways that writing about the past is never simply a matter of transcribing our memories, but of wrestling with factual and emotional truths that lay buried in a place to which we can never actually return. And yet, since reading and writing memoir is a way of reading and writing about the world, inevitably in the story of anyone’s life, questions about class, race, religion, gender, sexuality and geographical location may arise. We will be on the lookout for these issues as we read and as we write our own personal narratives and grapple with what our lives mean within a social context.
We will consider such questions as: What does it mean to represent a life and why do it? When does the representation of a life become “art”? How have modern forms of technology—smartphones, StoryCorps, the Internet—specifically Facebook and Twitter and YouTube—affected the ways we publicly represent ourselves? What is at stake when we try to represent the lives of others? Or when others try to represent us?
We will look at texts from the following authors: David Sedaris, Joan Didion, Patricia Hampl, Vivian Gornick, Marjane Satrapi, David Mura, Anne Lamott, James McBride, Maxine Hong Kingston, Lauren Slater, Jamaica Kincaid, Victor Villanueva, Craig Thompson, J.E. Reich, Anna Devear Smith, Moises Kaufman and Sarah Polley
Course requirements: active class participation, two short essays, a longer researched essay and an oral presentation.
Section 261, MW 6:45–8 p.m.
This course will focus on the question of the different (indeed opposite) ways comedies by Shakespeare can be read and performed: Light (happy) or Dark (troubled or cynical). For a very long time, the Shakespearean plays that end in marriages were assumed to be happy plays that were designed to make their audiences feel good. Relatively early, All's Well That Ends Well and especially Measure for Measure were regarded by some as exceptions to the usual rule. In recent decades, however, more and more critics and directors have begun to interpret most of the romantic comedies as somewhat or more than somewhat dark. In this course, students will learn about the different ways Shakespeare's comedies have been interpreted, will develop their own interpretations and will thoughtfully consider the issues involved in choosing between the two very different interpretations—both in the study and in the theater.
The primary readings in the course will be six plays by Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well, and Measure for Measure.
Like all first-year seminars, this is a writing-intensive course. Students will be doing frequent informal writing in the form of a journal of reactions to the assigned primary and secondary readings. They will work on and complete a researched essay of at least 2,000 words as well as two briefer essays and an oral presentation. As part of their work on their research project, students will be consulting a variety of scholarly and critical essays and will be seeing at least three screen or stage productions of the play that is the focus of their research: Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer Night's Dream, or Twelfth Night.
This is a discussion course. Attendance and participation are essential.
Sections 211 and 241, MW 1:30–2:45 p.m. and MW 4:30–5:45 p.m.
We all know there’s more than one way to tell a story, but is there also more than one way to tell, or even imagine, the truth? In this course, we’ll consider a variety of nonfiction writings that shape, complicate and, at times, upend ideas of justice. In contrast to the clear delineation between “right” and “wrong” often argued in the courtroom and upheld by the prison system, we’ll explore the ways in which uncertainty and ambiguity can sometimes allow for a more honest exploration of crimes and their aftermath. We’ll be reading work by prisoners, lawyers, exonerated people and journalists committed to bringing difficult cases to light.
In this writing-intensive course, students will be responsible for weekly readings, regular informal writing reflections, three short (3–5 pages) formal papers, one longer research project, one oral presentation, and extensive revision. Texts will include Janet Malcolm’s Iphigenia in Forest Hills, Ted Conover’s New Jack, Joan Didion’s “Sentimental Journeys” and excerpts from George Jackson’s Soleded Brother, among others.
Honors, section 261, MW 6:45–8 p.m.
This course will examine the nature of the relationship between the United States and Latin America as well as the changes experienced in that relationship as transpire from the works of three Latin American writers who visited the city of New York at three different points in time (1845, 1880–1895 and 1929–30). The three writers were Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (Argentina), José Martí (Cuba) and Federico García Lorca (Spain). Particular attention will be given to these authors’ impressions of the city of New York, taking in consideration their own personal circumstances and cultural backgrounds, the political situation in their countries and the specific political and social circumstances in New York and the United States at the time of their respective visits. In addition, the course will peruse articles that appeared in New York magazines and newspapers depicting important events that were as well at the center of these authors’ writings. We will thus compare the various accounts as to their contents, vision, perspective and purpose.
During the course of the semester, the class will visit some points of interest in New York City that are tightly linked to the works of the authors in question and to important events that took place in New York City at the time of their visits. There will be weekly readings and weekly or biweekly writings on those readings or related subjects, an oral presentation and a midterm paper. At the end of the course, students will write a research paper on a topic that they will choose from the various questions raised by the readings and discussions held in class.
Honors, section 241, MW 4:30–5:45 p.m.
Science fiction makes vivid very different ways the world could have been (or, more radically, very different ways the world might be) and hence raises deeply puzzling questions about our concepts, our values and our place in the world. It is therefore an ideal genre for exploring perennial philosophical questions, including the following: whether we can really know what we take ourselves to know, what it takes to be a sentient being, whether we can possibly be free and what constitutes the ideal polity.
We will cover these and other philosophical questions through a combination of works of science fiction (texts and films) and works of philosophy. By the end of the course, you will be familiar with the questions that animate philosophers and the methods they often use to address them, including thought experiments, conceptual analysis and the rigorous formulation of arguments.
You will be required to submit questions on readings/films in advance of each lecture, write two essays (the first ~2,500 words, the second ~4,000 words), participate in a debate and take a final exam.
The Language Option
You can use up to three of our specially designed French and Spanish courses to satisfy Core requirements, starting with the second semester of Elementary. To gain the invaluable skill of proficiency in a foreign language, you need four semesters of college language study. So while the first semester of Elementary counts only as an elective, the payoff comes later: three requirements fulfilled, and the acquisition of a skill that will pay dividends throughout the rest of your life. And don’t forget, with their knowledge of Hebrew, YU students are in a privileged position to learn another language.
If you have any questions about the new YC Core curriculum, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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