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Fall 2013

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 2014

Moral Drama, Melodrama: The Origins of Popular Culture

Instructors: Sarah Maza (History), Susan Phillips (English), and Julia Stern (English)

On the screen, on the stage, in the sports arena, heroes and villains enjoy almost instant recognition, whether because of their costumes, their exaggerated gestures and facial expressions, or the tell-tale musical phrases that accompany them.  And while those visual and aural cues are far from the halos and white steeds or twirled mustaches and black hats of the past, they are immediately identifiable nonetheless.  Popular culture defines and is defined by moral polarities, as good and evil repeatedly battle one another in all manner of popular entertainment.  But what are the origins of these exaggerated representations of good and evil?  And what do they convey about a society’s attitudes toward justice, patriotism, gender difference, racial inequity, class conflict, and political dissent?

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