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Fall 2012

Global Orients

Instructors: Hannah Feldman (Art History), Rebecca Johnson (English), and Jessica Winegar (Anthropology)

As Edward Said famously theorized, the Orient was "almost a European invention," and our class is dedicated to exploring its invention and reinvention in art, literature, film, and media as tied to particular moments in the changing geopolitical relationship of the Middle East with the West—including its eighteenth-century apparition as an imperial competitor, its nineteenth and twentieth-century existence as a colonial holding, and its post-WWII emergence as a region of strategic importance to the United States, and of geopolitical importance to the global oil market. We will end with recent political events: the terrorist attack of 2001, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the "global war on terror," and the continuing popular uprisings that make up the "Arab Spring." The course will explore how throughout this history various forms of cultural production have recast the relationship between the Orient and the Occident, and thus shed new light on geopolitical events. Our study begins with the modern emergence and transformation of the idea of the Orient in European and American imaginations, from its roots in 18th century novels and contemporaneous orientalist histories and paintings, through 19th century ethnographic studies and stage productions, universal expositions, and 20th and 21st century film, television, and contemporary art. At the same time, we will look at art, literature, film, and cultural productions produced by people living in or from the Middle East, and explore the ways that they countered or engaged with these representations through travel narratives and diplomatic correspondence, novels, films, art, graphic novels, television serials, and street art.

Winter 2013

Language and the Human Imagination: On the Nature and Origins of Language

Instructors: Sanford Goldberg (Philosophy), Susan J. Hespos (Psychology), Franziska Lys (German)

In this course a literary scholar, a philosopher and a linguist come together to examine a series of profound questions about the centrality of language to human culture and history. What is a language, and are there languages other than verbal ones? What happens if one grows up without language? How do deaf people communicate and do they use the same language? Does language shape our thoughts and emotions and does it determine our perception of reality? Is language unique to humans or do animals use language as well? Can machines speak? How do we learn our first tongue? How does the brain cope with multiple languages? Is translation an art or a science? How did language start and how did it evolve over time? Is language an innate faculty that is genetically encoded or a cultural system that is learned through social interactions? Do all languages have the same grammar? Where does grammar come from? And finally, we will discuss issues with regard to the languages in the World. How many languages are there in the world? Are new languages being created? What happens if a language dies out? Where did English come from? Is there a single language of the United States?