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Master of Liberal Arts Degree Details and Courses
The MLA program at Johns Hopkins offers you a flexible, interdisciplinary, and dynamic program of study – personalized to combine your interests in creative ways, whether you seek professional development, personal enrichment, or a combination of both.
This 30-credit Master of Liberal Arts degree is composed of 1 Customizable Core Course, 1 Culminating Experience, and 8 Elective Courses.
Core Course - Customizable
Select 1 of these 5 courses, and schedule it within your first 3 courses. Any additional courses you take from this category count as electives toward the degree.
This seminar will introduce students to current trends in interdisciplinary research in the liberal arts. It is recommended for any students who plan to complete a thesis as their Capstone Graduate Project. This course will lead students through the process of designing original scholarly research for the MLA Program: from developing a research question to identifying primary sources and defining current debates concerning their chosen topic. In each session, in addition to weekly discussions, students will be guided through a writing exercise or a new step in the research process. In this course, students will learn how to critically examine sources, define a theoretical framework, use standards of logical demonstration, and develop a comprehensive thesis project proposal. Starting in Summer 2022, AS.450.600 MLA Core: Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods will be a required prerequisite for AS.450.830 MLA Capstone: Graduate Project and for AS.450.850 MLA Capstone: Internship. Once the prerequisite requirement is in place, students must take Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods at least one semester prior to enrolling in either of those capstone courses. There will be no prerequisite required for students who enroll in AS.450.820 MLA Capstone: Portfolio.
This course introduces critical theory in the context of struggles for social justice. From Plato to Judith Jack Halberstam, we will trace the history of Critical Theory by analyzing perspectives from psychoanalysis, Marxism, the Frankfurt School, postcolonial theory, poststructuralism, deconstruction, feminism, critical race theory, and queer theory. We will pay particular attention to how critical theory has been intimately and contentiously linked with politics and social justice. Among the authors studied are: Plato, Aristotle, Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Ferdinand De Saussure, Walter Benjamin, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Monique Wittig, Helene Cixous, Eve Sedgwick, bell hooks, Paul Gilroy, Judith Jack Halberstam.
What is history? What makes history, as a field of scholarship and a way of knowing, different from any other discipline? This course will introduce students to a vibrant and evolving field of study, and to the tensions, diversity, debates and controversies that shape it. Themes explored will include an examination of the parameters of the field (such as the relationship between popular and academic history; the tension between description and interpretation; the evaluation of sources; the role of the historian as a public intellectual; the craft of historical writing; and digital history as a new field of study) as well as an analysis of the topics and approaches undertaken by contemporary historians (such as the reframing of dominant narratives; the emergence of dominated voices and of new thematic fields such as sexuality, globalism and popular culture; and ongoing critiques of previously established narratives and theoretical frameworks). Students will read historical scholarship in a wide variety of fields, as well as critical theory, popular literature and documentaries.
There are three questions that rest at the heart of this course: What is meant by the term “classic” when we refer to works of literature and poetry? Why is it worthwhile to read the classics? and What would you include in your personal library of the classics? We will turn to authors, poets, and philosophers for their wisdom and guidance on the topic, and we will read a number of works to help refine our understanding of what the classics mean to us. In doing so, we will engage in close readings of each text, find ways to bring them into dialogue with one another, contemplate the insights they give into the human experience, and explore their relevance in our everyday lives. Students will be asked to write analytical, creative, and reflective responses to these works and to consider the classics that are meaningful to them.
This course addresses the philosophical foundations, historical traditions, and contemporary debates associated with liberal arts education. It will explore the underlying theories and principles of liberal education and it will assist students in understanding the different epistemological principles and assumptions that are present within the disciplines that are associated with the liberal arts. Students will compare the interpretations of knowledge, truth, and validity that exist across quantitative, qualitative, and conceptual ways of knowing and conducting research. By the end of the course, students should have developed a greater understanding of the significance of their MLA degree as well as greater clarity concerning the epistemological foundations of their studies.
Core Course - Culminating Experience
Select 1 of these 3 courses, and schedule it during your final semester.
The Portfolio should be taken during a student’s final semester in the MLA Program. It is a capstone option that is designed to help students reflect on their learning in the MLA program and to identify the connections across their coursework. It consists of a series of newly-composed essays along with a sampling of assignments that serve as evidence of learning and intellectual growth. The goals of this capstone project are for students to articulate what the MLA program has meant to them, exhibit their mastery of the program-level learning outcomes, synthesize lessons learned across a range of different courses and topics, and evaluate how the MLA program has met their goals and expectations. The Portfolio can also have a practical application for students who need to meet professional development requirements, to help them explain how the MLA Program has prepared them for a change in professional direction, and for students who hope to leverage this degree into additional graduate study.
The Graduate Project should be taken during a student's final semester in the MLA Program. This course prepares students for advanced research in the Liberal Arts. Students will engage the resources, methods, and problems of graduate-level research, investigate the scholarly literature of topics in their area of interest, design a research or creative project and develop a plan for sustained research and professional participation in their field of study. Starting in Summer 2022, AS.450.600 MLA Core: Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods will be a required prerequisite for AS.450.830 MLA Capstone: Graduate Project and for AS.450.850 MLA Capstone: Internship. Once the prerequisite requirement is in place, students must take Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods at least one semester prior to enrolling in either of those capstone courses. There will be no prerequisite required for students who enroll in AS.450.820 MLA Capstone: Portfolio.
A third option in the MLA Capstone is the Internship; students who choose this option take one IC course, 8 electives, and register for a particular internship, which will culminate in a detailed research report, as the their tenth course. Please contact the program director for more information on internship options. Starting in Summer 2022, AS.450.600 MLA Core: Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods will be a required prerequisite for AS.450.830 MLA Capstone: Graduate Project and for AS.450.850 MLA Capstone: Internship. Once the prerequisite requirement is in place, students must take Interdisciplinary Graduate Research Methods at least one semester prior to enrolling in either of those capstone courses. There will be no prerequisite required for students who enroll in AS.450.820 MLA Capstone: Portfolio.
Choose 8 electives.
What is contemporary art, and what are the factors that shaped it? This course will attempt to answer those questions through a chronological and thematic investigation of some of the most influential artworks, movements, and theories of the past 60 years. Beginning with a close look at mid-century modernism, we will move into a consideration of Pop, Minimalism, conceptual art, land art, performance art, postmodernism, AIDS activism, and relational aesthetics. Along the way, we will also consider the relevance of feminist and phenomenological theory and of institutional critique and globalization; at the same time, we will explore ways in which art of our own time constitutes both an extension of, and reaction against, some of the historical ideas we encounter. Throughout, students will have a chance to read and discuss both primary and secondary texts, and a range of resources and assignments will offer a variety of analytical angles and interpretive possibilities.
In Film Noir (French for dark, or black film), the city often provides the backdrop for stories featuring the dark underbelly of society. Morally conflicted, cynical hardboiled investigators, corrupt officials, low- lives, mysterious, double-crossing dames and set in a landscape of trash strewn alleys, dimly lit bars, tenements, and other dark corners. There are no happy endings in Film Noir and the mood is one of paranoia, pessimism, desperation and existential angst. The course will employ an interdisciplinary understanding of the characters, themes, and gritty visual style and mood of the classic Film Noirs of the 1940s and 1950s. Roots of the Film Noir form come through a fusion of German Expressionism and the hard-boiled detective stories and crime novels of the 1920s-1940s upon which some of the greatest noir films were based. The course utilizes a “read and screen” approach beginning with a close textual reading of each story that is followed by a screening of the film through which we will analyze the distinctive visual style (light and shadow, tilted camera angles, mysterious silhouettes) which contributes to the mood and defines the Film Noir formula. Major auteurs of the form such as authors, directors, and actors will also be studied for what they bring to this formula. The course concludes with a look an example of Neo-Noir from the 1970s. Important note: students will need to find the films included in the course to screen on their own.
This seminar will explore the artistic experience of women in Renaissance Italy. A large body of recent scholarship has sought to “recover those women...who have been erased from history in modern literature, rendered invisible or obscured by history or scholarship, as well as those who were overshadowed by male relatives, political accident, or spatial location” (Katherine A. McIver, preface to Wives, Widows, Mistresses and Nuns in Early Modern Italy). Drawing upon a consideration of both current research and primary sources, this course will investigate the role women played as the makers, the commissioners, and the subjects of art in Italy during the period from ca. 1250-1600. Among other issues, we will examine the constraints that limited women’s contribution to the arts in this period when women’s participation in public life were quite circumscribed, as well as the various means they found to overcome them. We will investigate what types of women were able to become artists. We will learn what categories of women were most likely to commission art, and what kinds of art they generally commissioned. Lastly, we will examine portraits of women, to understand what these representations tell us about the view of women in Renaissance society. Students will develop their own critical positions on the issues through a close reading of both texts and works of art, participation in online discussions, and in several substantial writing assignments.
This course focuses on major developments in modern medicine from the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment to the late 20th century and considers those developments within their social, political, cultural, and economic contexts. The focus is on the growth of scientific/bio medicine. However, the parallel growth of lifestyle choices and holistic medicine is also important. Some of the themes of the course are: the development of the medical profession and institutions; changing concepts of insanity; the impact of industrialization and the linking of dirt with disease; drug discoveries and their consequences; the impact of eugenics theories; gender and medicine; war as a catalyst for medical innovation; growing government involvement in health care provision as well as socialized medicine and its relevance today.
This course examines the tumultuous history of the United States’ relationship with Central America, from William Walker’s filibustering in the 1850s to the recent wave of migration from the Northern Triangle. We will consider how US policymakers, organizations, and individuals have judged the isthmus in economic and national security terms and intervened accordingly, and we will examine how Central Americans have viewed the United States as a model of modernization, an interloper, and a site of refuge, as well as the ways in which they have shaped the North-South relationship despite the asymmetry of political, economic, and military power. Sources will include works of scholarship such as Confronting the American Dream and The Last Colonial Massacre, as well as texts from Central American authors, including the poetry of Roque Dalton, the personal testimony of Rigoberta Menchu, and the reporting of Óscar Martínez.
This course embraces the broad sweep of primarily British Victorian women's experiences. It analyzes the emergence of the Victorian stereotype of middle and upper class women and compares that stereotype to the reality of individual case studies. It also explores the variety of expectations and demands on working class women - focusing on geographical, industrial and rural factors and the resulting lives of women working and living across the British Isles. In addition, there is an emphasis on Victorian women as agents of change in the fields of literature, medicine, teaching and social work both at home and abroad, as well as in local and national politics.
Examines how the Supreme Court establishes and enforces the constitutional rules that govern law enforcement in the United States, including the 4th Amendment's provisions on searches and arrests, the 5th and 6th Amendment protections for individuals charged with a crime, and the 8th Amendment's requirement for bail and its ban on cruel and unusual punishments. We will also examine what it means to have a fair trial, the process of plea bargaining which resolves most criminal cases, and the continuing controversy over criminal sentencing. And we will continually be exploring the meaning and the reality of "justice."
This course explores the wide and weird world of self-published zines (pronounced ZEENS). Defined by Stephen Duncombe, zines are “noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves.” Zines—along with adjacent formats including alternative comics, fanfiction, and underground newspapers—have been staples of subculture for decades, tracing their history to 1930’s science fiction fandom, and encompassing topics from punk rock to critical race studies. By embracing a DIY (do-it-yourself) spirit and subverting traditional publishing, zine creators have amplified voices advocating for social justice by centering topics long considered subversive, forging communities along the fringes, and molding the mainstream. In addition to studying zines through the lens of history, art, critical theory, and cultural studies, students will design and create zines of their own and share them online in a digital format. Whether you’re new to the world of zines, an avid reader of them, or a longtime zinester, all are welcome and no prior experience with the format is required.
This course addresses the intersection of communication, culture, and identity through an examination of gender and the U.S. media system. The course will first introduce students to key approaches to studying gender and media, and will subsequently examine: 1) media representations of gender, sexuality, and intersectionality; 2) diversity in media industries and gendered labor markets; 3) gendered audiences and fan cultures; and 4) gender, power, and identity in a digital era of communication. We will explore these topics through literature from communication and media studies, cultural studies, feminist theory, internet/new media studies, and sociology.
This course examines theories and experiences of embodiment, sexuality, and bodily difference in contemporary American culture, focusing on understandings, experiences, misconceptions, and marginalizations.
Drawing on feminist-informed gender, fat, disability, and critical race studies, the course introduces phenomenological, poststructuralist, and new materialist perspectives on the body, and interrogates the implications of diverse embodiments for human subjectivity and social life.
Myths and misconceptions of differences that circulate throughout popular and professional cultures, and inform public policies and everyday practices are analyzed. Course readings and audio/visual texts emphasize the problematics of normalcy across the life span and among diverse populations, and reflect on issues of sexual experience, gender, body size, disability and difference, illness and disease, aging and racialized bodies, and sexual variance.
Our bodies and the scrutiny they are under in American culture inform so much of our lived experience. Drawing on a wide range of texts we will examine the scope of sexuality and embodiment in this critical moment.
This course begins with exploring histories, tensions, and intimacies between East and West through Edward W. Said’s landmark postcolonial text Orientalism, which analyzes dynamics of hegemony, power, knowledge, imagination, and representation in ways that challenge how we think and know about the world. This lens of inquiry will take a political turn by examining issues and conflicts that arise due to imperialism and dominant paradigms of culture, difference, otherness, nationalism, and religion. In the latter portion of the course, close readings of contemporary world literatures will unfold the shared intimate experiences between East and West through the study of transformative novels, memoirs, and short stories that create forms of agency in today’s world. This will bring us beyond the limiting binary of East and West and enable new ways to think intimately and humanistically about religion/secularity, gender, nation, identity, and belonging.
Theatre offers unique insight into the development of western civilization by depicting people in their relationships to themselves, to each other, and to society. Theatre history provides a distinctive lens through which to explore the social, economic, cultural, geographical and other forces shaping those relationships over the past 2500 years. Beginning with the inception of theatre in religious ritual up to the present postmodern era, Western Theatre History: The Dynamic Interplay of Social, Economic and Cultural Forces will explore the demographics of audiences, the reasons for attending the theatre, who presented theatre, where theatres were located, what theatre space looked like and why they looked that way in order to track the dynamics of western political and social history. Major works of dramatic literature will serve as the entry point into various periods and as reflections of the historical forces at work. The major periods to be studied are: Classical Greek and Rome, Medieval, Renaissance (Italy, England and Spain), 18th and early 19th centuries, the modern era and the postmodern present.
In what sorts of intellectual contexts was Italian Renaissance art produced and received? What, in other words, were the connections among Renaissance art, philosophy, theology, mathematics, rhetoric, and history? This seminar will investigate a number of answers to such questions through a consideration of primary evidence and recent scholarship. Among other things, we will consider Aristotle’s theory of magnificence as it was applied to Renaissance architecture, the development of perspectival systems, the notion of a Renaissance or golden age, and Vasari’s efforts to conceptualize art of the Renaissance in metaphorical terms. Several substantial writing assignments will allow students to develop critical positions of their own, and throughout the term there will be an emphasis upon close reading of both texts and artworks. (Available online)
Beginning with Thomas More’s seminal work Utopia (1516), this course will engage in an interdisciplinary discussion of the construction of utopian/dystopian-cacotopian worlds in science fiction, or more broadly speculative fiction, and the accompanying philosophical issues and concerns raised in these stories. We’ll draw on novels, history, philosophy, graphic novels, and film to grapple with the meaning and importance of utopian and dystopian thinking and writing across the 20th century. The authors react to and against major historical paradigm shifts caused by, for example, the Industrial Revolution, Modernity, War, the Cyber Revolution, and millennialism, along with the overarching “End of Days” stories. Some of the authors under consideration are H.G. Wells, Edward Bellamy, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Aldous Huxley, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Octavia Butler, Marge Piercy, and Neil Stephenson. Through these stories the authors project both possible futures and offer incisive commentary on contemporary realities.
This course explores constants and changes in leadership over time through a selection of readings that ranges from ancient philosophy to 20th-century fiction, including works by Confucius, Plato, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Machiavelli, Hannah Arendt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Anne Tyler, and others. Through directed reading and discussion, students gain valuable insights into how leaders can foster creative initiatives and responses to change. A historical perspective enables students to understand and appreciate the challenge of leadership in the 21st-century multicultural world. They can then develop a framework for interpreting and evaluating responses to that challenge. (Available online)
This course examines patterns of authority in religion and politics by exploring the connection between the sacred and the secular. The class will address questions concerning political power and religious influence in order to better understand the complex relationship between the two. Students will consider societies where religion and politics seem inextricable, societies that attempt to separate the two, and societies that attempt to eliminate religion from the equation. The class will recognize the ways in which nations develop their own civil religions. A variety of religious experiences and political ideologies will be considered. Special attention will be given to the role of religion and politics in social change.
In our digital age of hacking, on-line bots, and trolls stealing, faking, and confounding information across the Internet, it is often forgotten that “fake news” has, in fact, always been with us. The history of fakes, lies, and forgeries transcends human history and encompasses nearly every discipline within the liberal Arts, from literature, art, and philosophy, to history, religion, and archaeology. Human civilization has been filling gaps in the historical record and inventing alternative narratives for all sorts of reasons: political, commercial, evangelical, and personal. This course examines this dark undercurrent within human achievement across historical time, exploring specific examples of historical and literary forgeries that date from the biblical Flood to the future Apocalypse.
We will exploring the textual traditions of false archaeological discoveries and fabricated epigraphic fragments from classical antiquity, manufactured time capsules bearing pagan prophecies of the coming of Jesus, fake “illuminations” of Christopher Columbus and Joan of Arc, preposterous accounts of the world’s great “travel liars,” and even look at books from Shakespeare’s own library bearing his personal “annotations.” In the process, we will learn that history’s fakes and forgeries are also, in part, creative and imaginative enterprises that require considerable knowledge, creativity, and even inspiration, to pull them off effectively. At every stage this on-line course will draw upon the riches of JHU’s own Bibliotheca Fictiva, the world’s premier rare book and manuscript research collection dedicated to literary forgeries across the millennia.
This course focuses on three major areas: the reasons for the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party; the mechanics of the operation of a totalitarian regime as well as various aspects of life in Nazi Germany; and the Holocaust including the fates of Europe’s Jewish populations and other groups such as homosexuals targeted by the Nazi regime. These topics will necessitate the study of various sources – histories of this era, documents, memoirs, personal accounts, literature and films. The course looks at perpetrators, bystanders and victims in an attempt to grapple with one of the most written about and mystifying periods of the 20th century. The period still resonates today both in terms of its horror and its revelations about genocide, a new word coined in the late stages of WWII in an attempt to describe such unfathomable acts. By necessity, the study of these topics includes a consideration of political, social, economic and cultural history as well as ethics and the role of memory in shaping and commemorating events and traumas on this scale.
This is intended as a broad survey of Western political thought, particularly as it developed in the European historical context from the classical era to the 20th century. The thinkers we will discuss can be thought of as engaged in what Robert Hutchins called a "great conversation" across the centuries on the central questions of political philosophy. These questions include: What are the purposes of government? What is the best form of government? How are justice and liberty best realized in a political system? What are rights - and where do they come from? What is sovereignty and in whom does it reside? What principles make political authority legitimate? Is disobedience to political authority ever justified? In many ways these questions are perennial ones, as relevant in our own time as in the distant past. Moreover the divergent systems of thought developed to answer these questions continue to shape much of contemporary political life - e.g. democracy, constitutionalism, liberalism, socialism, and conservatism. Among the political philosophers who will be examined are Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, John Locke, Edmund Burke, Thomas Hobbes, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Hannah Arendt, and Leo Strauss. (Available online)
Approaching black politics as a vital source of theoretical innovation and critical analysis, this course introduces students to key themes, trends, and thinkers within the literatures of modern black political thought. Black political thought constitutes not only a practice of theorization and conceptualization undertaken by African-descended peoples in response to experiences of racial domination and exclusion; it can also be understood as a critical practice that produces scholarship and political writings that situate racism and race-making at the core of the projects associated with Western modernity, and thus as formations that have affected many societies and civilizations, not only black people. Focusing primarily on the latter sense of black political thought, this course explores a series of writings that interrogate the intertwined legacies of the emergence of modernity, the elaboration of racial hierarchy, and black emancipatory struggles. Highlighting the central role played by racial domination in the formation of Western modernity, these texts complicate and challenge the underlying epistemic frames and modes of classification through which the Western tradition has made sense of such foundational political experiences and concepts as freedom, justice, liberation, community, and equality. Reading works by W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, James Baldwin, Jamaica Kincaid, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King, Jr., Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Angela Y. Davis, and others, students will critically engage a diverse range of methods and literary approaches within the literatures of modern black political thought for apprehending the historical and political significance of racial hierarchy in the modern world. They will also learn key conceptual resources provided by these traditions to attain a more sophisticated understanding of contemporary racial politics and its intersections with the politics of class, gender, nationality, and sexuality.
The centenary of the conclusion of World War One is a fitting moment to re-examine the cataclysmic impact that war had on world affairs at both a micro and macro level. The war ended the “long nineteenth century” and ushered in an era of questioning and doubt for many who survived. It was the first manifestation of total war, made both necessary and possible because of industrialization and advances in transportation and weaponry. The resulting catastrophic loss of life among the military and civilians led to the assumption of new roles. This course looks at the different theaters of war; the social impact of the war on gender and class; the effect the war had on colonies in Africa and Asia; and the overall global political and economic ramifications of the war. There will be scope for students to pursue research on a specialized topic within this framework and within the following themes: World War One and literature, art, gender, medicine, propaganda, music, independence movements.
The bildungsroman, often referred to as the Novel of Adolescence or Coming of Age novel, is one of the world’s most fascinating literary forms because of its manifestations in the literatures of many cultures and countries. The development of the form closely parallels the development of nations, the emergence of philosophical, social, and literary movements which have defined the world from the Eighteenth Century onward. Many major writers of the Romantic, Modern, and Post-modern periods have experimented with the form in compelling works such as Portrait of the Artist as A Young Man, Mrs. Dalloway, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Native Son, Catcher in the Rye, and The Famished Road. The illusiveness of the form derives in part from its ubiquitous nature. The classical German bildungsroman differs significantly from its English, French, American, African American, Asian, and African counterparts. This course examines the bildungsroman in several of its manifestations: the rise of the form in Eighteenth Century Germany, its adoption among French and English writers, its adaptation in Joyce’s Ireland, its popularity among American and African American writers, and its unique presentation in Asian and African literatures. Students will read several major bildungsromans and discuss the constructs of the form as well as the ways it differs among countries and cultures, races and ethnicities, and between genders. Some attention will be paid to the social and societal contexts associated with the form, as well as the ways in which it has been shaped by prevailing philosophies. Students will be encouraged to participate in The Bildungsroman Project, a Digital Humanities project designed to catalog and explore the form (http://bildungsromanproject.com/). (Available online)
This course examines the family from various cross-cultural perspectives. Throughout the semester we will examine the family as a social institution through the lenses of race, gender, age, social class, and sexual orientation. First we will explore how the notion of family has changed over time in the United States. Next we will explore the social processes that take place within the context of the family such as dating, courtship, marriage, and parenting. We will also look at other issues that affect families such as immigration policy, work inside and outside the home, poverty, and domestic violence. (Available online)
From humankind's earliest artistic expressions on the walls of caves, animals have figured centrally in the human imagination. One can argue, in fact, that much of early art and literature does not differentiate fully between the human and the animal, that human self-awareness evolved, in part, through interactions with animals, and through the imaginative fusion of human and animal forms. This course will study the representation of animals and of human/animal hybrids in the ancient and medieval worlds, weaving together stories presented through visual art and literature. Our journey will take us through East and West, touching on texts including (but not limited to) the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Scriptures, the Vedas, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
This course focuses on narrative criticism of the Hebrew Bible, comparing it to similar methodologies (poetics, rhetorical criticism, etc.) and contrasting it with other forms of exegesis (historical criticism, deconstruction, etc.). Students will study key literary terms and discuss the elements that work together to form a story. The class will consider the narrator's voice in relation to the text and the reader, examining narrative omniscience, key type scenes, and themes in the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern (ANE) literature. This course attempts to discern narrative criticism’s place in the history of Biblical interpretation. Long overshadowed by historical criticism and increasingly seeking to find its place in the midst of a number of reader oriented approaches, narrative criticism can be a valuable partner to both. This class examines narrative criticism’s value as a tool for exegesis by studying its roots and the methodologies incorporated by narrative critics of the Hebrew Bible. (Available online)
The emerging world of the 21st century is globally interconnected: Al peoples are now neighbors. In this world, competing religious claims to unique truth pose a serious threat. Yet abandoning such claims can reduce religions to quaint cultural relics. How can religious believers maintain the vitality of their spiritual heritage while fully appreciating the faith/wisdom traditions of others? This course explores the insights of one man who has sought that balance of religious consciousness—philosopher Huston Smith—as he reflects on Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Rather than competing, he found, the world’s religious traditions can greatly enrich one another. (Available online)
This introductory course in the MLA program’s digital humanities concentration is designed to familiarize students with digital encoding tools, web platforms, assorted search engines and other methodologies directly relevant to a wide range of research agendas in the liberal arts. In the course of the semester, students will receive a comprehensive introduction to selected tools and methodologies, such as the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) and text mining software (e.g. Voyant and Collatex). Assigned text encoding projects will guide students in identifying appropriate textual markup strategies, resolving issues generated through digital research, and finally in selecting appropriate tools for edition making. The semester will conclude with group critiques of these assigned projects from the standpoint of both content and user experience. (Available online)
Since Plato, "Beauty" has proven to be a crucial topic in Western Philosophy. Philosophers have seen fit to address numerous questions surrounding the topic: what is beauty, what distinguishes and constitutes it, who can create it, who can discern and appreciate it? Is it subjective or objective? We will consider a variety of other critical questions via the prominent thinkers we will read in this class, such as: what is the point in creating art? Who or what is it for? What is its desired or intended impact on the audience? What are the germs of creativity, or what is the critical environment for its emergence? Is creativity and artistic inspiration an individual privilege, or can it be shared broadly in society, or in a community? What is the political role or place of the artist and his/her work? Philosophers read in this class may include Plato, of course, but also Aristotle, Augustin, Aquinas, Hume, Burke, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, among others. If time permits, we will also look at more recent philosophers writing on the topic--and why beauty might no longer be a concern for art and artists.
Our purpose in this course is not to provide an account of the mechanics of American government, but to examine the principles that underlie those mechanics, and the way in which those principles change over time. In other words, we are going to examine the political philosophy that serves as a basis for the American regime (or regimes, if one is so inclined). This means that in addition to questions of justice and right we will examine how the thinkers of the Founding era understood the human being, and the sort of governmental structures that are built on this understanding. We will also consider the revolution in American politics that occurs in the 20th century. The progressive movement of the 20th century builds on a different view of human nature and metaphysics (originating in, but ultimately transcending, Hegelian Idealism), and therefore finds itself in tension with the principles of the Founding. This tension is one of the animating forces of American political partisanship today, so an understanding of the development of American political theory will help us to better understand political disagreements in our own day. (Available online)
From the Roman Empire through today, ruling families have had a profound effect on the social, political, and cultural lives of their people. It was believed wealth, power, and nobility from birth formed the perfect formula to rule over the lower class. However, the rise of humanistic study, merchants, explorers, revolutions, and colonialism threatened and ultimately destabilized their wealth and power. As a result, the rise of the middle class, emerging political systems, and development of national identities gave way, arguably, to the dissolution of absolute power predominately in the Western world. We will consider the following ruling families: the Julio-Claudian, Ptolemaic, Ming, Hoehnstaufen, Habsburg, Medici, Aragon-Castille, Tutors, Capetian, Romonovs, and current House of Windsor.
What makes a “great book” great? In this course, which emphasizes deep reading and discussion of some of the influential writings that have shaped the intellectual and cultural heritage of our world, we will begin to try to answer that question. Along our journey, we will explore seminal texts including Homer’s Odyssey, The Song of Roland, Shakespeare’s Henry V, Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. In studying these great books and their historical contexts, we will employ elements of literary criticism, identify common and enduring narrative themes, and reflect on the inclusion of each of these texts as part of the Western Canon. Students will select one text on which to write an in-depth research paper (in consultation with the instructor).
Equal parts historical study, sociological investigation, and cultural analysis, W. E. B. Du Bois' classic work, The Souls of Black Folk, exemplifies the type of interdisciplinary and multidimensional approach employed by political and social theorists in their efforts to make sense of the fundamental conditions, contours, and characteristics of political life in modern societies. Paying particular attention to Du Bois’ account of race, the role political leadership, and the relationship between leaders and the masses, we will put Du Bois’ seminal work in conversation with a number of other prominent Afro-American voices, including Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King Jr., James Baldwin, Cornel West, Barack Obama, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor. By attending to Du Bois’ political engagements as well as literary representations of political leadership that have been influenced by him in one way or another, students will have the opportunity to explore the premises and implications of racial politics as well as some of the creative ways in which African Americans have sought to overcome racial domination. What are the appropriate roles and responsibilities of political leaders? What is the nature of their relationship to the community? What are the foundations of legitimate leadership and authority? What form should black politics take in order to overcome white supremacy? How should we understand the relationship between class, gender, race, and sexuality? (Available online)
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) was one of the most fascinating individuals in history. He is the creator of what are arguably the world’s two most famous paintings: the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. He was also a brilliant scientist and engineer; he made dozens of original anatomical discoveries (for example, he injected hot wax into an ox brain to demonstrate the shape of the ventricles), and he invented hundreds of devices (from ball bearings to a steam cannon). He was well-known as a musician, court entertainer, and even as a practical joker. Who was Leonardo? What do we know of his personal life, including his thoughts on religion, sexuality, or politics? What personal traits shaped his genius? This course explores his thousands of pages of manuscripts; his paintings and other artistic projects; his scientific projects (including anatomy, physiology, botany, and geology); and his civil and military engineering projects. (Available online)
This course will engage in a discussion of the current realities and challenges present within the United States’ PK-12 education system. We will examine a range of perspectives on what does (and doesn’t) work in our educational policies and practices. While this endeavor will entail a critical examination of the status quo, it also will invite students to recognize what is possible and inspiring in the work many courageous educators accomplish in the midst of challenging times. The course will address the following questions:
What are the aims and purposes of education?
What should be the content of the curriculum?
What are the implications of structural inequality in schools?
What are the roles and responsibilities of teachers and students?
What are the issues that impact 21st century schools?
Instead of seeking tidy answers to these course questions, you should approach this class as an invitation to enter into an ongoing discussion of:
The factors that characterize the relationship that exists between school and society;
The principles that underlie the decisions made by those who have the power or capacity to alter that relationship; and
The challenges faced by those who strive (and usually struggle) to resolve competing demands upon this relationship.
Please note: this course does not require a background in the field of education. Although practicing teachers are welcome to join this course, it has been developed for a wider audience.
This course provides a survey of Science Fiction Film from the early part of the 20th century, and the very beginnings of film, through 2002. We will look at influential filmmakers and will analyze the basic components of the genre through science fiction origins (A Trip to the Moon, Metropolis), “classics” (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers), cult/fan favorites (Star Wars, Blade Runner) and will conclude with a section focused on the 1990s and the dystopic imagination (The Matrix, Minority Report, 12 Monkeys, Gattaca, and Dark City among others.) The goal is to develop critical analytical skills in understanding the role of science fiction within culture. How is science fiction defined? What is the role of science fiction literature in the creation and development of the formula? What is the “science” that drives the science fiction? What does it mean to be human? What is the view of the future, of technology? How are cultural and social concerns expressed through formula? The films and filmmakers are placed within a larger historical, cultural, and social context as we explore film as an industry, as a technology, as a form of communication, and as an artifact of culture.
This course traces this history of England from the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries to the political unrest and economic crises of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Approaching medieval England through the broad lenses of myth-making, nation-building, and identity-creation, we will focus on some of the larger trends and developments that help explain the distinctive liberalism and individualism of English culture, e.g. the breakdown of feudalism, life in the medieval town and on the manor, the origins and evolution of the common law, and the rise of Parliament. Our exploration will take the shape of a multidisciplinary journey and will include in-depth analysis of art and literature as well as religious and political texts.
The music known as jazz has been celebrated and performed by peoples throughout the world. This course will examine the music itself as well as the role that race has played in the creation of jazz, the perception of its history, and the perceived authenticity of present-day jazz. We will examine the music from a historical perspective through the study of the music and lives of its creators and practitioners beginning with precursors in ragtime and minstrelsy and continuing into the modern era. Students will learn to make aesthetic judgments, identify various jazz styles, and discuss their relevance to their time and to the present.
This course explores primary sources of apocalyptic literature in the Bible, the ancient Near Eastern world, and various religions and cultures. In seeking to define the term “apocalypse,” the class will study the political, social, and economic forces that contribute to the formation of this rich genre of literature. Utilizing this knowledge, students will analyze manifestations of apocalyptic in movies, television shows, comic books, and other media.
This will be a course focused on two goals: clarifying the importance of foundational principles (in this case, the different teachings on physics we find in Aristotle and Hobbes), and clarifying the distinctions between the ancients and the moderns. We will be concerned with questions about nature, matter, motion, the soul, ethics, politics, philosophy, and human life – both as such, and in their complex interrelationships.
To address these questions, we will read the works of two extremely important thinkers – the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, and the 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Aristotle, writing at the dawn of what becomes the Western tradition of philosophy and science, investigates everything under the sun, writing foundational works in fields as diverse as rhetoric, psychology, biology, logic, physics, and metaphysics. If one understands Aristotle, one can understand much of what comes after. Thomas Hobbes writes after the modern “revolution” – a revolution accomplished in the thought of diverse thinkers, especially Machiavelli, Bacon, and Descartes. One crucial element of this revolution is the rejection of both Aristotle and Scholasticism (Christian Aristotelianism). In this course, we will engage in close readings of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, as well as parts of his Physics and his On the Soul, and Hobbes’s Leviathan. Reading these two thinkers in dialogue with one another will allow us to see how their fundamental disagreements about physics and causality give rise to subsequent differences in how they conceive humanity, psychology, ethics, and politics. In attending to these differences, we can more clearly identify the debts that we owe to both Aristotle and Hobbes for our understanding of ourselves and our civilization.
Today, the concerns of Deep Ecology’s movement that started in the so-called Ecological Revolution of the 1960s continue to be debated and addressed as “climate change” with a sense of immediate urgency. Deep Ecology asks deep questions and aims to bring about long-range goals in moving away from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism, calling for a major paradigm shift in perception, values, and lifestyles. Planetary and human survival is at stake due to climate change — this is humanity’s global ultimate concern. Scientists, environmental activists, and representatives of humanities agree that we need a new paradigm shift, that it is unsustainable to treat the living earth organism as an infinite resource of “energy.” Western environmental practices have been based on anthropocentric view of nature where humans occupy the top of the hierarchy in the chain of life. There is an urgent need for a new environmental ethic that will fundamentally reorient humans in their thinking and relating to the natural environment. The course examines cross-cultural perspectives of environmental ethics that are rooted in Western/scientific, Eastern, and Indigenous worldviews and religions. This semester’s readings include current debates concerning climate change, selections from Deep Ecology movement and indigenous perspectives.
Michael Jackson was a global superstar who reached crossover appeal in the late 20th century. More than a mainstream pop performer, Michael Jackson was musician, singer, dancer and visual artist who transformed his artistic heritage, deeply grounded in the African American tradition, to reach a broad audience, in the United States and globally. This course aims at reframing Michael Jackson’s cultural and social origins to reveal his anchor in the African American musical, philosophical and political traditions. This course will explore the African American historical context of the 1960s, Black vernacular practices, the Chitlin Circuit, the Great Migration, Black Minstrelsy, the intersection of Blackness, Sexuality and Gender in pop culture, Black Globalism, and 1980s Black Hyper-visibility. In this course, students will closely examine Michael Jackson’s music, videos, writing and performances, Jackson’s meta-narratives, in addition to theoretical texts on critical race theory, American History, gender studies, performance studies and African American Studies.
This is a special topics course that takes a thematic approach to exploring and discussing the intellectual commitments that rest at the core of the MLA degree. While the specific theme of the course will change with each offering, students in this course will engage in a study of the history of ideas, analyze complex topics from different disciplinary lenses, raise questions in response to social and ethical issues, and carry out original research. Students also will be given creative opportunities to share what they’ve learned and reflect on its significance. The on-site version of this seminar involves an intensive period of on-ground study in a location organized by the MLA program, usually ranging from 7-10 days. The on-site seminars may require some assignments to be completed prior to arriving at the designated location, with additional assigned work to be completed after the conclusion of the travel portion of the course. Students are responsible for travel to and from the location, accommodations, and meals, as well as any specified field trip fees.
This course examines the historical, cultural, and structural dimensions of race and ethnicity in the United States. We will examine key theories about the ways race and ethnicity are constructed and influence intergroup dynamics; engage in debates regarding definitions of race and ethnicity and forms of prejudice and discrimination; and review and analyze empirical evidence related to racial and ethnic disparities in economic status, educational attainment, health, employment, and the criminal justice system. The course will examine the racial and ethnic experiences of a range of individuals and communities, including intersections with gender and immigration status. We will begin by reviewing a series of key readings in racial and ethnic studies that establish central concepts, theories, and historical contexts. Using a variety of sources, this course will examine the racial diversity of America and the enduring implications of racial and ethnic pluralism. Throughout the course, students will work to expand their critical thinking and reflection skills, make meaningful connections between ideas and everyday experiences, and better understand how the personal experience of race and ethnicity interacts with larger social and historical forces. We will also discuss the ways people work to mitigate and overcome racial and ethnic disparities. (Available online).
After the fall of the Communist regimes 25 years ago, it was assumed in the West, and throughout much of the world, that the Capitalist economic system is the best possible economic system, indeed, the best by nature, and our destiny as a species. This was of course not always the preponderant view. For most of its history, Capitalism was not supreme, and its supremacy was not self-evident, but rather, it knew significant competition.
In recent years, important criticisms of Capitalism have emerged. It seems the Capitalist system may not be so ‘inevitable’ after all—there are many unhappy with the way it has been rolled out globally, and how it has progressed (or regressed) in the US and Europe. Some critics argue that we just have not been capitalist enough; the key to more widespread prosperity is to embrace capitalism more fully, and a purer version thereof. Some argue that the economic system is not engineered correctly, at the moment, to share its fruits. As a result, we are mired in ever worse inequality, which may prove to pose major political problems in the near future. And then some critics still argue—in light of the environmental damages due to market expansion, for example—that capitalism is incompatible with our furtherance as a species. In this course, we will visit a number of authors and theorists making such cases.
This course explores the history of black queer cultures in America. In continuous dialogues with mainstream black and LGBT cultures, black queer discourses have unceasingly redefined the boundaries of sexuality, class, color and gender through history. Starting from slavery, this course will explore black queer struggles, desires, imaginations and victories to understand present-day discourses on race and sexuality. Topics explored include: cross-gender behaviors in slavery, same-sex sexualities in slave narratives, homoerotic sadism and lynching, sexological categories and scientific racism, intimate friendships, Drag Balls, The Harlem Renaissance, rent parties, black-and-tan clubs, Jazz, black queer religious leaders, black queer DC, black nationalists and sexuality, Disco, House music, HIV/AIDS, trans identities and TV black queer characters.
Alienation, ambiguity, anxiety, absurdity, authenticity, belief, despair, dread, death, freedom, joy, and responsibility—all of these are concerns associated with existentialism and its pursuit of what it means to exist, to be a self, to be a being. This course is structured around a series of critical engagements with some of the most prominent and profound thinkers who contributed to the formation, development, and extension of existentialism; together we will trace trajectories of existentialist thought from early articulations in the 19th century (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky), through prominent European pronouncements in the wake of the First and Second World Wars (Jaspers, Sartre, De Beauvoir), to the works of Afro-diasporic writers (Fanon, Wright, Baldwin) who explore the complex relation between being and being black. Through these engagements we will approach existentialism not just as a series of abstract claims, questions, and concerns, but also as a critical method for interrogating issues related to the embodied, interpersonal, and historical dimensions of human life. What critical resources can we find in existentialism for illuminating questions of identity and difference and for making sense of contemporary struggles regarding race, gender, class, and sexuality?
The Cold War was anything but for much of the so-called Third World. Although the United States and Soviet Union did not come to blows, millions of lives were lost throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia as the superpower struggle fueled local and transnational conflicts over decolonization and modernization. This course will examine the Cold War’s effects across the globe and, conversely, the ways in which conflicts and actors in the global South shaped the outcome of the US-Soviet standoff and shaped the contemporary geopolitical landscape. Sources will include works of scholarship such as Conflicting Missions, Hanoi’s War, and The Last Colonial Massacre; primary works like Discourse on Colonialism and essays from Jawharlal Nehru, Fidel Castro, and Ché Guevara; and films such as The Battle of Chile and The Act of Killing.
Miles Davis is one of the most important and influential figures in modern music. His innovations as a bandleader, composer, and musician have made an enormous impact on our concept of jazz music as well as our perception of a jazz musician. Following his personal life leads to Picasso, Norman Mailer, Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Cecily Tyson, and many more. This course will examine his contributions to jazz in particular and his impact on society in general through his autobiography, biographies, and documentaries with special emphasis on his recorded works. We will also use the popular ‘six degrees of separation’ theory as a starting point in discussing the nature of innovation. (Available online)