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2020-2021 Course Descriptions

HUM 260-0

(Check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Economics and the Humanities: Understanding Choice in the Past, Present, & Future

WINTER 2021 - Co-listed with Slavic Languages and Literatures 260

This course offers a cross-disciplinary approach to the concept of alternatives and choices. At any given moment, how many alternatives are possible? Is there really such a thing as chance or choice? On what basis do we choose? How does our understanding of the past affect the future? Can we predict the future? With Professor Schapiro, President of Northwestern and a labor economist, and Professor Morson, a specialist in literature, you will examine approaches to these questions and learn how to evaluate assumptions, evidence, moral questions, and possibilities across disciplines.

HUM 310: Global Humanities Lab

(Check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

WINTER 2021 

The Global Humanities Lab comprises investigation of an international humanities topic through experiential learning and offsite research. The course runs for a full quarter and includes an international field study component.

NOTE: Due to COVID-19, Kaplan's Global Humanities Lab will be on hiatus for Winter 2021. Read about past Global Humanities Labs—which have included travel to Istanbul, Vienna, Madrid, and Mexico City— here:


HUM 325-6

(Fulfills Distro 6 for Literature and Fine Arts; check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Information Overload! Text Technologies from the Printing Press to the Smartphone

SPRING 2021 - Co-listed with ENGLISH 385

This course explores the anxiety, exhaustion, and unease brought on by information technologies. We will trace emotional responses to technological change, from the shock of the printing press to the malaise of the present "information economy." How did new text technologies reshape language and society? Who is permitted access to certain kinds of information and why?  We will take a hands-on approach to these questions by pairing literature that addresses the anxieties of technology, like the scifi linguistics of Arrival and the postapocalyptic Shakespeare of Station Eleven, with book history and digital humanities techniques designed to manage information. Students will learn how books are made, how search algorithms work, and how to analyze text with code.

The Cinema of Always-On Computing

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with ENGLISH 385

In the 21st century, visual culture moved from the big screen to the small screen. The rise of smartphones, social media, and ubiquitous wireless networks ushered in a new way of life lived on the basis of constant connectivity. This apparent transformation in the media landscape has not only witnessed the emergence of new devices (the iPhone) and aesthetics (#oddlysatisfying), it has also shifted the role of older visual forms. This course considers the place of cinema in the age of always-on computing, and cinema’s role in documenting, representing, and expressing the technological tumult of the historical present. It analyzes the ways new technologies have affected the thematic preoccupations of filmmakers and also formal innovations and experimentations reflective of the experience of always-on computing. The course will proceed by pairing one or two movies per week with readings drawn from critical theory and cinema and digital media studies. These combinations will aim to open up discussion of the films themselves as well as broader topics such as networked personalization, Big Data, fake news, self-care, gamification, gender, and much else. Movies to be studied may include The Matrix, The Social Network, Her, Personal Shopper, Unfriended: Dark Web, Citizenfour, Eighth Grade, Summer Wars, Spider-Man: Far From Home, My Best Thing, and supercuts by Jennifer Proctor.

HUM 370-3

(Fulfills Distro 3 for Social and Behavioral Science; check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Traveling While Muslim: Islam, Mobility, and Security After 9/11

WINTER 2021 - Co-listed with Anthropology 390 and Middle East and North African Studies (MENA) 301

Particularly after the 9/11 attacks and during the war on terror that has ensued shortly thereafter, Muslims on the move—ranging from international students, pilgrims as well as scientists and artists—have continued to face increasingly scrutiny and surveillance in both global travel economies and national immigration regimes. These regimes gained even more important under the rule of authoritarian leaders in power across the globe from the US to India. What often unites Modi’s India and Trump’s United States is Islamophobia—albeit in different guises—as racialization of Islam and Muslims continues to punctuate our current era. What are the stakes of traveling while Muslim in that post 9/11 era of racing Islam? How do we come to understand such mobility? What assumptions underpin the attendant construction of Islam in such understandings, as various state and non-state actors enlist themselves to manage the movements of Muslims, specifically and exceptionally? In probing these questions, amongst others, in this seminar we aim to examine the interlocked relationship between Islam, mobility, and security. We have three aims in front of us: (1) becoming well-versed in studies of Islam and Islamophobia in the US and across the globe, (2) gaining a better understanding of Islam as a center tenet in a deeply uneven and racialized regime of ‘global’ mobility, and lastly, (3) critically analyzing global and local designs of security that underpin and manage those differential regimes of mobility.

Fire and Blood: Political Ecologies of the Environment, Energy, and Life


What kinds of tools would help us understand urgent global issues we are facing today, ranging from global pandemics and climate emergency, wildfires in California and Australia, hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Louisiana, occupational diseases in South Dakota and Toronto, or urban infrastructure crises in Mumbai and Senegal? Over the past three decades, political ecology has emerged as a powerful interdisciplinary tool for understanding and critiquing global ecological change. Political ecology seeks to unravel the political forces at work in environmental processes on a global scale. It is a powerful strategy for reinserting politics into apolitical or “greenwashed” discussions of ecology and the environment and unsettling common-sense understandings of “the environment” or “nature” as separate from the social and the cultural. It is also an essential tool to understand how disparate-seeming places, events, and living entities in the world are intimately linked to each other in often uneven ways. In this course, we will critically approach topics such as resource extraction, conservation, carbon management, natural disasters, sanitation politics, and human-animal-plant relations. In doing so, we will explore the gendered and racialized ways and the ongoing histories of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism through which environmental and energy politics operate in our societies today.

Becoming Planetary: Earth, Power, Imagination


“Planet Earth” has a political and social history. The Copernican turn and geological notions of deep time, for example, radically shifted understandings of the Earth, time, and humans’ relationship to them. Whole Earth images first generated by the Apollo Space missions in the late 1960s and 1970s have been the characteristic form of planetary imagination during the late twentieth century. Earthrise and The Blue Marble images enabled humans to imagine the planet as an interconnected whole on the backdrop of the Cold War and environmental disasters. They have been crucial to the emergence of a “global consciousness” and became famous icons of the global environmental movement, depicting the planet as the common home of humans as one species. The power of these images has not decreased, yet other forms of representation and imagination have emerged as well. The development of Google Earth or advanced climate modeling systems, for example, mark a different notion of Earth, characterized by dynamic, heterogeneous, and open systems. This course examines such shifting notions of the Earth by tracing how practices and discourses of geopolitics, political theory, cartography, population studies, climate modeling, deep ocean sensing, outer space exploration and mining, and science fiction literature, have come to sense, know, represent, and imagine the planet since the 18th century. In doing so, this course also surveys shifting socio-political currents, from the intersection of the military-industrial complex and technoscience to how climate crisis, Anthropocene debates, and Earth Systems analysis reflect further shifts in the ways the planet is understood today. Tracing these shifts in planetary representation and imagination is also crucial to understanding how core concepts such as “humanity” and “species” and made and unmade. Understanding the deeply mediated processes behind planetary depictions is not only central to making sense of contemporary politics and policies that propose to shape the future, but also to imagining alternative worlds and futures beyond our grim ecological predicament.

HUM 370-4

(Fulfills Distro 4 for Historical Studies; check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Monsters, Art, and Civilization

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with ART HISTORY 319

Griffins, sphinxes, demons, and other fabulous creatures appear frequently in the art of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Eastern Mediterranean world. They stand at the intersection of the normal and abnormal, the natural and unnatural. Why did these images become so widespread, and what cultural functions did they serve? Can we connect their invention and dissemination with key moments in human history and cross-cultural interaction? What was the role of material representations of the supernatural in preventing and healing disease and other human misfortune? This course explores the supernatural subject in ancient art with new perspectives drawn from art history, history, anthropology, and archaeology. We will examine a wide range of objects and representations (including sculptures, figurines, seals, amulets, and other media) along with ancient texts that help us understand their meaning and function.

Migrations in the Mediterranean

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with HISTORY 393

This course will examine the contemporary European “migration crisis” in the Mediterranean through multiple lenses. We will contextualize current developments with reference to historical Mediterranean migrations as well as critically analyzing novels, films, and other media that engage with migration in the Mediterranean today. What is the appropriate response to mass death in the Mediterranean? How have migrants narrated their experiences? How does migration across the Mediterranean, and the political responses to it, help to define Europe, Africa, and the Middle East today?

Constructing Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean World

WINTER 2021 - Co-listed with Art History 319, Classics 310, and Anthropology 390

How did individuals define themselves in the ancient Mediterranean world, and how did they express their affiliation with multiple and diverse ethnic, religious, linguistic, and other collective social identities? How did groups portray perceived differences between themselves and others? What do we know of the construction of gender identities, race, age, and class distinctions? What dynamic roles did dress, hairstyle, body decoration or ornament, and personal possessions play in establishing and expressing individual and collective identities? This course explores evidence for self- and group-fashioning in Greece, Rome, and their neighbors in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia. We examine a wide range of textual and material sources, including works of art, archaeological contexts such as burials and religious institutions, biographies, autobiographies, and legal documents, including dowries. We also consider culturally significant modes of self-representation and commemoration, such as portraits and funerary monuments, along with the collecting and transfer of objects that represented accumulated social entanglements, such as heirlooms.

History with Things

SPRING 2021 - Co-listed with HISTORY 395

Description to come!

Development of American Indian Law and Policy

SPRING 2021 - Co-listed with HISTORY 300

In this course, we will conceptualize Native peoples as nations, not merely racial/ethnic minorities. Students will learn about the unique legal landscape in Indian Country by charting the historical development of tribal governments and the ever-changing body of U.S. law and policy that regulates Indian affairs. We begin by studying Indigenous legal traditions, the European doctrine of discovery, and diplomatic relations between Native nations and European empires. We then shift our focus to treaty-making, the constitutional foundations of federal Indian law, 19th century U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and the growth of the federal bureaucracy in Indian Country. The course devotes considerable attention to the expansion of tribal governmental authority during the 20th century, the contemporary relationship between Indian tribes and the federal/state governments, and the role of federal Indian law as both a tool of U.S. colonial domination and a mechanism for protecting the interests of Indigenous communities 

HUM 370-6

(Fulfills Distro 6 for Literature and Fine Arts; check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Russian Fairy Tale Opera

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with MUSICOLOGY 330

 In this class we immerse in the world of Russian fairy tales, learning folk and literary tales and their musical counterparts. The core of the course is an operatic repertoire including operas Prince Fevey by Catherine the Great, Ruslan and Ludmila by Glinka; Sadko and Golden Cockerel by Rimsky-Korsakov; and Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky, as well as works by other composers. The primary sources will include Russian operas and ballets as well as Russian folk narrative and literary fairy tales and their formulaic construction. Students will also read theoretical and analytical sources. In addition, the course will involve current critical theory, including concepts related to the portrayal of women, the interplay of nationalism and gender, and the dichotomy of East/West in the construction of Russian whether Western, Euroasian, or Asian self-imagery.

Rhythm in Art and Philosophy

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with ITALIAN 360

Whether you are breathing, dancing, or thinking, your activity is marked by a certain rhythm. Rhythm stands at the cusp between body and mind, movement and memory, experience of the self and interaction with others. This course will attend to diverse and at times contradictory notions of rhythm as they have emerged in modern and contemporary Western art and philosophy. After a brief and yet crucial return to ancient Greek philosophy (Plato and the Pre-Socratics), we will focus on Soviet avant-garde cinema (Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov), Italian Neorealism (Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini), Jean-Luc Godard’s recent films, and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s philosophy. We will devote particular attention to the role that rhythm has played in shaping our understanding of the relation between aesthetic experience and political life: What is the relation between rhythm and power? How do different ideas of rhythm in artistic practice relate to different ideas of society and order? In addition to the aforementioned bodies of work, we will consider contributions from the fields of psychoanalysis, critical race theory, and feminist/queer theory.

The Crime Centered Documentary

WINTER 2021 - Co-listed with Legal Studies 376 and Radio/Television/Film 377

In this course, we will view non-fiction and hybrid films that revolve around crime, criminal justice, and criminal court cases. Our emphasis will be on cases that are either mired in controversy and/or emblematic of wider social concerns. Readings will accompany viewings and experts will weigh in with legal, philosophical, or scientific perspectives: What is accurately depicted? What is omitted? What is misrepresented? Concurrently, we will investigate the films aesthetically: How is the film structured and why? What choices are being made by the filmmaker in terms of camera, sound, and editing and how do these choices affect viewers? Throughout the course, we will consider the ethics of depicting real people and traumatic events. We will also look at specific films in regard to their legal or societal impact. Assignments will include a series of short response papers and a substantial final project, which can take the form of either (up to the student) a final 12-15 page paper or an 8-12 minute film or podcast. The final should center upon a legal topic. Ideas include, but are not limited to: A comparison of two films depicting the same criminal case, a polished/edited interview with a person somehow connected to a crime, an investigation of a local court or legal advocacy center. Registration Requirement: For RTVF students, RTVF 190. Please note: Students may use their cell phones and their computers for final media projects. However, technical skills such as lighting, camera, sound, and editing will not be taught in this class. Group projects (two people max) will be allowed. Students creating media projects must strictly adhere to RTVF COVID safety guidelines.

HUM 395-0

(Check section numbers for each class in CAESAR per quarter)

Introduction to Digital Humanities

FALL 2020 - Co-listed with ENGLISH 481

This graduate seminar will introduce the digital humanities (DH) as a community of practice, a growing interdisciplinary field, and a set of approaches to research and teaching. Students in this course will explore a wide range of arguments and techniques, spanning such topics as critical code studies, technology in the classroom, digital editions, text and network analysis, machine learning, and data visualization. We will mix seminar discussion with hands-on activities designed to invite students to participate in DH's expanding community and to interrogate the methods, aims, and boundaries of digital scholarship in the twenty-first century.

Writing Ancestry

SPRING 2021 - Co-listed with ENGLISH 309

This course will examine ancestry as a vector of meaning that has both ancient roots and current relevance. We will frame the course with essays by thinkers including Marianne Hirsch (“The Generations of Postmemory”); Alondra Nelson (The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations and Reconciliation After the Genome); Daniel Foor (Ancestral Medicine: Rituals for Personal and Family Healing); adrienne maree brown (Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds); and Resmaa Menakem (My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Path to Mending our Hearts and Bodies). We will then read works of literature that cross genres and explore the author’s ancestry with both research and imagination. These texts include "No Name Woman" by Maxine Hong Kingston, "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, "The Pink Institution" by Selah Saterstrom, and poems by Seamus Heaney, Joy Harjo, and Tarfia Faizullah. Most of the course will be spent in the dual symbiosis of close reading and creative writing. Students will be guided in how to write into the known and unknown chapters of their ancestry. They will develop a practice of imaginative, meditative writing. They will also learn to do focused research to connect their ancestral stories with historical and cultural contexts. Students will write creatively in response to their readings, and will end the course with a suite of poems, essays, or short stories that combine the personal with the historical, the self with the ancestors. (People unsure of their ancestry are certainly welcome in this course, and ancestry may be fluidly, openly defined.) 

Storytelling of Place

SPRING 2021 - Co-listed with RADIO/TV/FILM 379

Storytellers have been inspired by location, landscape, and "communities of place" for generations to situate and explore narratives, from the earliest poetic and fictional works to current visual and interactive digital media forms. This class will explore storytelling across a range of methodologies that firmly situate narrative making within place and community, with a special emphasis on visual storytelling. Additionally, students will explore and situate their own crafted stories within the north Chicago community of Rogers Park, the most diverse neighborhood in Chicago. In the process, we will explore particular ethical and political concerns for media makers when collaborating, researching and working within actual existent communities. Class projects can take any storytelling form and will culminate in a group show staged for the Rogers Park community (either in-person or virtually given current pandemic conditions) for general audience reception and feedback. Alternately, students may also write final essays exploring a particular aspect of storytelling of place. Please note: You will have needed to take RTVF 190 if you are an RTVF major and plan to use RTVF CAGE equipment.

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