Emily Balch Seminars 2019
Sense and Nonsense
Instructor: Jen Callaghan
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells….” said children’s author Dr. Seuss. “It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.” In this seminar, we will think deeply about the playful illogic of silliness, absurdity, poppycock, and gibberish in order to tease out their whys, hows, and what-fors. What is nonsense? Is it possible to make sense of nonsense? What purposes might nonsense serve? To help us critically examine nonsense, we’ll also consider some ways in which humans try to make sense of the world and what role our senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) play in our understanding of it. Our inquiry will draw upon texts from literature, philosophy, visual art, film, and science. Topics may include the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey; InspiroBot and Twitter bots; the avant-garde art movement Dadaism; the Sokal hoax; and cryptography. Through frequent short writing assignments that lead to longer analytical and argumentative essays, students will learn strategies for generating and organizing ideas, drafting, and revising.
Lost in Translation
Instructor: Betty Litsinger
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
What is lost and gained in the process of crossing linguistic boundaries? How do authors and their translators negotiate meaning? How does translation contribute to the creation of cosmopolitan societies? What are the social dangers and political consequences of bad translation? Are there some ideas that cannot be translated? Language choices can expose or conceal truths, emotions, intentions. They can elevate or devalue ideas. From the simple miscommunications of everyday life to the complexity of literary translation, we will explore the changes that occur as individuals carry information and artistic expression across borders of time, language, and culture. In addition to various essays, poems, jokes, and stories, we will read Translation as Transhumance, a memoir by French translator Mireille Gansel who wrestles with the challenges of translating German after the Holocaust and Vietnamese after the War, and Chinglish, the Broadway play by David Henry Hwang whose works have been widely acclaimed by the general public but sometimes criticized by fellow Asian-Americans. Students will engage in peer-informed revision, improving their thinking through writing and discussion and improving their writing by rethinking.
Performance and Self
Sec. 003 Instructor: Gail Hemmeter
Sec. 004 Instructor: Linda Caruso Havilland
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
When we use the word “self,” what do we mean? Are we coherent, authentic, natural selves, or is what we call “self” a role we’ve taken on and can easily discard or change at will? What does it mean to perform ourselves--in life, on stage, in film, in dance, in texts? Do we perform a social or cultural role in a script that has already been written for us? Or do we create ourselves through desire, passion and will? In this seminar, we will use a variety of texts to examine the ways we perform ourselves in daily life. We will look at the ways artists and writers construct performances that convey these social and political aspects of identity. Our texts come from a variety of sources: philosophy, psychology, theater, fiction, poetry, and film. They may include examinations of the self by Freud and Emerson and expressions of gender performance in the poems of Tony Hoagland; in a play by Susan Glaspell; in European paintings; and in films such as Hedwig and the Angry Inch. We’ll consider performances of ethnicity in Henry David Hwang’s M. Butterfly and in the writings of Gloria Anzaldua; and we’ll analyze dramas of class in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation. Our final project will provide an opportunity to create a short performance around course themes. Discussion will be less about right or wrong answers, more about exploring ideas in all their complexity. Because writing is also a performance, we will pay attention to how we present ourselves on paper. Students will write frequently, participate in occasional projects and peer review groups, and have opportunities to revise their work.
Reading and Writing Difference
Instructor: Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
In nearly every part of our daily lives—in the books we read, the movies we watch, the music we listen to and the way we present ourselves to the world—we analyze and create cues about identity and difference. We are constantly engaging ideas about gender, race, class, sexuality, and the connections between them. But how are these ideas about identity difference circulated and critiqued in contemporary culture? How do writers and artists use their work to contest popular ideas about these and other forms of difference? And how can we participate in those conversations in our own written work? In this course, we will explore important literary works including Audre Lorde’s “biomythography,” Zami, Justin Torres’s novel, We The Animals, Natalie Diaz’s poetry collection When My Brother Was an Aztec and others, as well as films such as films like Barry Jenkins's Moonlight and Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians, and musical texts that reflect a range of contemporary genres. We will read these from an intersectional perspective, taking them up alongside foundational theories from feminist studies, critical race studies, queer studies, (dis)ability studies, and other related discourses. Through engaged in-class discussion, close literary analysis, short critical writing assignments, and short creative exercises, we will consider how race, gender, sexuality, body shape and size, (dis)ability and other forms of difference are taken up in contemporary culture, and how we can engage these conversations in our own writing
The Art of Exile
Instructor: Tim Harte
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m
In this seminar we will explore an exciting, diverse range of films, paintings, and fictional prose works devoted to the issue of exile and the plight of immigrants since the beginning of the twentieth century. In prose fiction, writers like Vladimir Nabokov, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jumpa Lahiri, and W.G. Sebald offer moving fictional exposés on the struggles and insights of émigrés, just as the filmmakers Fritz Lang, Andrei Tarkovsky, Werner Herzog, Chantal Akerman, and Fatih Akin, among others, have explored on the big screen the struggles of displaced individuals and their yearning for home. Similarly, painters—such as Vasily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, and Marc Rothko—departed from their native countries only to establish themselves as leaders of new artistic schools in their adopted homes. We will analyze the work of these and other artists in this course, exploring the influence of intellectual migration on artistic trends and practices across the globe. There is plenty to read, watch, and discuss, as a variety of short writing assignments will allow for further reflection on a trend that shaped so much of twentieth and twenty-first century culture around the world.
Media Literacy: The New Yorker, The New York Times and Beyond
Instructor: Dan Torday
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
We live in a moment in which journalism—magazines, newspapers and online magazines—is as important, and as scattered, as it has ever been. In this course we'll take a close look at the magazine and newspaper that have, more than any, defined the endeavor in this country for the past hundred years, The New Yorker and The New York Times. How do massively diverse group of writers including Zadie Smith, Atul Gawande, Karen Russell and George Saunders approach the pages of these magazines and newspapers? How did Truman Capote go from reading a small piece in the Times about a murder in Kansas to writing the iconic "nonfiction novel" In Cold Blood? And how can staying informed by and about these and similar sources help combat the dizzying influence of social media and the myriad sources we face every day? In this course, in addition to a close focus on our own writing, we'll read and question the way we receive all the information that crosses our desks and phones every day.
The Art and Logic of The Selfie: A Critical Examination
Instructor: Airea Dee Mathews
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
The study of the selfie is not new, especially to sociologists and cultural critics. According to Dr. Trischa Goodnow, there are three fundamental categories of selfie: “adventure, popularity, and attractiveness.” This course examines the selfie as a manifestation of impulses already present in our culture and seeks to address the types of cultural impulses the selfie concretizes—both historically and in contemporaneity. We will interrogate whether the selfie is a practice in conformity or a pathway toward complexity. The writing assignments and readings will address larger philosophical and poetic questions about character versus identity, social context and conditioning, 19th-century “ugly laws,” plastic surgery and body dysmorphia, racial profiling, drag, passing and more!
Peace, Love and Understanding
Instructor: Michelle Mancini
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
In a world of injustice and exploitation, how does change occur? What is the role of protest, art, humor, science, money, violence? How do communities imagine and achieve better futures? This course will examine efforts to imagine new ways of resolving economic and political conflict ("peace"), building families and friendships ("love"), and simply seeing and gaining a knowledge of each other and the world ("understanding"). Such efforts sometimes give rise to inspiration and hope and sometimes elicit tears. They can also be funny. The materials we will read, view, and experience will include the inspirational, the heartbreaking, and the comic. Throughout the course, we will make use of the "critical, probing, thoughtful approach" common to all the Balch seminars. We also consider what it might mean to bring instead a supportive, embracing, and heartful approach to these topics. Our readings will include celebrations of protest, love stories, and speculative fiction. We'll look at building community within prisons, schools, hospitals, refugee camps, and even spaceships. Students will write reflective and argumentative essays and will also have the opportunity at points in the semester to engage in collaborative, creative, contemplative, or activist practice. Authors and creators will include Aristophanes, James Baldwin, Octavia Butler, Mohsin Hamid, N.K. Jemisin, Arundhati Roy, and Ursula Le Guin.
Disability and Difference
Instructor: Clare Mullaney
MW 1:10-2:30 p.m.
Disability occasions the question, "What happened to you"? This course explores how and why authors, filmmakers, and performance artists have turned to disability—whether for the sake of distinguishing a minor character, furthering plot, or evoking sentiment. How might these representations of physical and cognitive difference reinforce but also challenge stereotypical or stigmatized images of disability? And what would it meant to reframe disability as an identity rather than an impairment? Readings for this course may include Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals, and Carson McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, as well as selected examples from pop culture. We may also discuss following films: The Awakenings, The Shape of Water, and Away from Her. In addition to teaching students how to engage closely and critically with primary sources, the course will teach students how to write new scholarship for the growing field of disability studies.
City Green: From Grand Parks to Guerilla Gardening
Instructor: Liv Raddatz
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Green space is an essential part of cities and exists in many forms, including planned parks, trails, community gardens, urban forests, rooftop gardens, pop-up and pocket parks, and even cemeteries. These spaces can be public, private or communal, formal or informal, lasting or ephemeral, and play an important role for urban sustainability, biodiversity, public health, social cohesion, food security, and environmental justice. In this course, we will critically explore the evolution of urban green space over time and place. A focus will be on how green spaces function as social spaces and how they relate to equity and inclusion of different social groups in urban life. Through close reading of classic and contemporary texts from a variety of disciplines and genres, analysis of visual materials (e.g. maps and film), and observations of nearby green spaces, we will engage with both theory and practice of urban greening. Contributions by influential practitioners, theorists, and scholars, such as Frederick Law Olmsted (1870), Frank Lloyd Wright (1935), Galen Cranz (1982), and Timothy Beatley (2011), as well as writers Alice Walker (In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, 1972), Ernest Callenbach (Ecotopia, 1975), and self-proclaimed gangster gardener Ron Finley will feature prominently in our exploration. This class will be largely discussion-based and involve several shorter writing assignments with opportunities to practice key steps in the writing process and revise drafts based on instructor and peer feedback.
Moving Away, Moving In: The Bags We Carry
Instructor: Madhavi Kale
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Travel and Tourism, Migration and Mobility, Expulsion and Escape, Pilgrimage and Exile: All of these terms have been used through time to describe people’s movements across space. Each, however, clearly carries specific and distinctive baggage. This semester, we will use an array of materials (including first-hand narratives and chronicles, novels, films, historical monographs and ethnographies) and tactics (including writing assignments and class discussions) to explore different experiences, understandings and representations of some of the institutions (home, family, State, nation), and analytical categories (gender, race, class, religion, sexuality) that make up and shape that “baggage.”
Instructor: Alessandro Giammei
TTh 11: 25-12:45 p.m.
Some of the greatest works of fiction are only a few pages long. Through those tiny windows, you can see an entire existence or just witness a fleeting, apparently insignificant moment. Some stories feel like entire novels, others are akin to poetry; some follow traditions and rules that are as old as storytelling, others shock us with their unexpected form. In this seminar, we will try to understand what makes short fiction great. We will focus on a new anthology of Italian short stories curated and in part translated by a master of the genre. We will also talk about collections of stories that are organized like catalogues, like alphabets, like arguments. We will reflect on how stories interact with each other in a book, and on how translation can enrich or jeopardize the power of fiction. We will look at the micro-cosmos of one or two stories each week, learning how to analyze, describe, and deconstruct mini-masterpieces from a strange culture.
Instructor: Jennifer Walters
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Walking may connote solitude, independence, freedom, exploration, or resistance. Ancient philosophers and spiritual teachers walked as they talked with their students. In the Middle Ages, people were sometimes sent on a long pilgrimage in order to restore trust with a community or to find moral clarity. Scientific studies today show that walking affects cognition and emotion. We will use a variety of sources: literature, history, science, memoir, journalism, and our own observations to consider the relationship of walking to one experience of consciousness, time, place, relationships, and identity. We will consider what makes a place “walkable” and for whom. We will travel in groups and in solitude around campus, in Philadelphia, and in our imaginations to help our thinking about chosen, wished for, and involuntary travels on foot. Our texts will include work by Rebecca Solnit, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf and Thich Nhat Han. We will also read poetry, scientific studies, and accounts of daring escapes, long marches, and adventure. We will engage in discussion, fieldwork, journaling, weekly writing, and revising. In addition to regular consultations with the instructor, there will be one mandatory Saturday field trip and several film viewings outside of regular class time.
Instructor: Eleanor Stanford
Section 015: TTH 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Section 016: TTh 12:55-2:15 p.m.
Childhood has been variously conceived as a time of innocence, a stage of innate wisdom, and a feral sort of state. How do we define childhood as a social category? What do these definitions say about the culture and historical moment from which they arise? In this course, we will consider depictions and ideas of childhood across cultures and time periods; literary representations of childhood in fiction and poetry; and scientific findings about brain development. Texts may include The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and Alison Gopnick's The Philosophical Baby. Other possible topics include legal ramifications (Pennsylvania’s ruling that minors cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole, for example, or the argument for lowering the voting age); helicopter parenting, free range parenting, and the relatively recent use of “parent” as a verb in general; and how technology is changing our ideas about childhood.
Arguing with Song
Instructor: Michael Tratner
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
This course will focus on how some popular songs persuade us to act and think in certain ways and on how we might “argue back.” Most popular songs are poetic, just describing moments of love. But quite a few have a different form and a different purpose, overtly present arguments: critiquing consumerism (Kanye West, “All Falls Down”); breaking gender roles (Dar Williams, “When I was a Boy”); presenting solutions to social problems (John Lennon, “Imagine”); criticizing the global political order (Fela Kuti, “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense”); resisting sexism (Queen Latifah, U.N.I.T.Y.); turning political speeches into songs (Will.I.Am and others, “Yes We Can”). We will examine how such songs are structured as arguments, and we will write songs and essays using those structures. To generalize from songs to other arts, we will consider how arguments appear in images, videos, architecture and even landscaping. To understand the power of the arts to persuade, we will read some theories of how the arts tap into the unconscious and prescribe identities for us to inhabit. Finally, we will consider what it means to live in a media-saturated society: to be yourself, do you need to find ways to answer all the arguments washing over you every day?
What It Means To Be Educated: Ancient Division
Instructor: Alice Donohue
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
What do we mean by an “educated person”? How does a person become “educated”? This course invites consideration of our modern ideas about both the knowledge and the processes constituting that intellectual ideal by examining the ancient Greek and Roman practices that shaped modern Western education. Examination of primary textual and archaeological evidence from classical antiquity (eighth century B.C. through second century A.D.) will allow us to observe the often surprising content, methods, and technologies of ancient learning and to weigh them against our own experiences and expectations. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with ancient modes of learning as well as to comment in discussion and in essays on the implications of both ancient and modern practices for the role of the educated person in society.
Forms of Celebrity
Instructor: Sara Bryant
Sec. 019 TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Sec. 020 TTh 2:25-3:45 p.m.
We are sick of celebrities: We know that popular fame can be a pervasive nuisance or a harmful distortion of cultural values. Yet we also can’t get enough of celebrities, who continue to attract attention, sell products, and champion the social good. This seminar explores how different media—print, photography, film, television, and the Internet—have given rise to changing forms of celebrity. We will investigate both the underlying bases of celebrity and the varied cultural, artistic, and economic functions that this kind of fame performs. Our overarching focus will be how celebrities and celebrity-hood shape the public sphere and our collective discourse. Texts and topics of inquiry might include: late-Victorian celebrity Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray; glamour and star-making in the golden age of Hollywood; rhetorics of privacy and visibility during the Cold War; cultures of fandom; Lauren Berlant’s take on “Diva Citizenship”; celebrity politicians; and fame in the era of Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. We will develop conceptual questions and arguments through close readings, engaged discussions, short essays, the revision process, and classroom presentations.
Forget It? A History of the Lost and Found
Instructor: Michael Burri
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Have you ever forgotten your phone somewhere, an important appointment, your mother’s birthday? Or wondered if, as in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it just might help to erase the memory of another person? This course asks students to reflect upon the concept of forgetting. For many of the ancients, of course, forgetting was not a defect, but the default human condition. Plato contended that true knowledge preexisted individuals in the shape of the soul: all knowledge was remembering. Descartes, too, believed, that some things were so inherently human that they must be seen as remembered, not learned. Later, modernist thinkers challenged this essentialism. Freud tried to answer why we forget, or repress, certain incidents, and saw in a reversal of forgetting the cure for what ails us. Meanwhile, Nietzsche saw forgetting as a characteristic of the strong; only the weak tried to remember. Today, we live in a troubled age, where “collective memory” is a call to action, and saying “I don’t remember” is a legal strategy not a philosophical claim. But given recent theories of “inherited trauma,” have we actually just found our way back to Plato? Would it be better, to speak with the recent critic David Rieff, in “praise of forgetting”? And what, anyway, are the prospects for never forgetting? Through films, critical readings, and class discussion, our seminar is devoted to considering these questions.
Poverty, Affluence and American Culture
Instructor: Matt Ruben
Section 022: TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Section 023: TTh 2:25-3:45 p.m.
Whether dramatized by images of the Great Depression and post-Katrina New Orleans, or by the number of Americans lacking health insurance or facing foreclosure, poverty is one of the most persistent problems and controversial issues in the United States. Along with its obvious economic dimensions, poverty has a wide variety of political and cultural meanings. Through a selective, critical examination of scholarly works, journalism, novels, and movies, this Balch Seminar will explore the related themes of poverty, wealth, and the American Dream in the U.S., from the 1860s to the present. Using work from authors and directors as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Malcolm X, Barbara Ehrenreich, Sandra Cisneros, and Richard Wright, the course will look at how poverty, poor people, and class mobility have been discussed and represented in the United States, and it will provide an opportunity to explore how class and economic advancement impact how we see the meaning of America. As an Emily Balch Seminar, this course involves critical reading, in-class discussion and cogent, idea-driven academic essay writing with one-on-one writing conferences outside of class. Course materials are drawn from a variety of genres and fields, and are meant to promote rich, open-ended interpretation, writing, and discussion.
The Bible on Stage and Screen
Instructor: Mariah Min
Section 024: The 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Section 025: TTh 12:55-2:15
The history of English drama as we know it begins in the Middle Ages, when members of city guilds performed elaborate re-enactments of biblical stories. Although most modern theatergoing experiences no longer involve returning three days in a row (!) in order to watch a play from beginning to end, playwrights do still continue to draw from this cultural well for their material. In this course, we will explore plays, movies, and musicals that deal with biblical and Bible-inspired content. From the last drinking song of Noah’s Wife and her friends in the medieval play of Noah’s Flood to the entrance of Judas over a restless guitar riff in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, works such as Oscar Wilde’s Salome, George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan, and Tyler Perry’s The Passion are memorable testaments to the imaginative potential of biblical narrative. They ask important questions about the relationship between religion, drama, and society. How does each text understand and interpret biblical accounts? What does religion come to stand for in differing historical climates: a tool of political oppression, resistance to oppression, or both at once? How has religious drama incited fear, anxiety, and controversy as well as devotion—and how do we respond to it now? No previous knowledge of the Bible or the subject of religious drama is necessary. Students will produce short pieces of written work throughout the semester, with frequent opportunities for revisions, peer workshops, and one-on-one conferences.
Women in Science
Instructor: Jessica Linker
Section 026: TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Section 027: TTh 12:55-2:15 p.m.
This seminar will explore the experiences of women practicing science in the eighteenth century through the twenty-first. In what moments were women included in scientific networks, had their labor acknowledged, or were granted scientific authority? We will think about the various social and cultural reasons that allowed individuals or women more broadly to be labeled scientists or scientific practitioners, as well as how criteria for including women has changed over time. Readings may include excerpts from Jane Colden’s c. botanic manuscript (c. 1750s), accounts of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania (1850), which admitted African-American women, Matilda Joslyn Gage’s Woman as Inventor (1883), and selections from Hidden Figures (2016). We also may look at examples of women’s scientific artwork and illustration, as well as collections of natural objects and equipment. This class will engage in thoughtful discussion, writing, and revision.
Power, Privilege, and Oppression: Words in the World Around Us
Instructor: Chanelle Wilson-Poe
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m
This semester, you are invited to engage with your new community to explore a broad theme: Power, Privilege, and Oppression. Our human existence should compel us to be mindful of our global community and take action on social justice issues, in our own communities, and to consider our actions in relation to the wellbeing of our world. As this seminar will explore, every kind of writing is always-already situated, historically and culturally, and has a specific purpose and its own particular means of achieving that purpose. This semester, we will focus mainly on analyzing arguments and composing argumentative papers that support claims with evidence. Throughout the course, we will be asking each other, and numerous other thinkers, questions about what we read, why we write, how we communicate, and the impact of our compositions. You will be asked to analyze arguments, explore tensions and overlaps between different power structures, and examine and articulate your own developing positions. Texts may include: theories of power; Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, bell hooks Aint I a Woman? and Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” We will bring our own experiences and perspectives to this discussion, allowing us to learn about, respect, and understand social justice. We will speak, write, create, and revise individually and collaboratively across written, verbal, and visual languages. We will understand what’s at stake in writing, and recognize the true power that words hold in our world.
Narratives of Transgression: Adultery, Cheating, and Plagiarism
Instructor: Gabriel Sessions
TTh 11:25-12:45 p.m.
Adultery—defined perhaps most broadly as the improper mixture of two elements which do not belong together—is one of the oldest taboos that govern human behavior. Adultery prohibitions stand at the origin of nearly all ethical systems, whether in legislative codes, religions, or philosophy; adultery is also a favorite topic of literary texts. This course will puzzle out why we write so many stories about disobedience: is a story, versus a trial or a sermon, say, uniquely able to forgive or condemn someone for violating certain boundaries and breaking certain rules? Traditionally, adultery means romantic or sexual infidelity, but it also might refer to other types of rule-breaking centered on combining things that "don't belong together": mixed relationships across racial and class boundaries, closeted sexualities, forgery, perjury, and plagiarism, the adultery of different forms of writing or intellectual property. Our class' broader goal in looking at the way people write and direct films about transgression will be to examine how narrative is shaped by the legal, religious, and political atmosphere in which it is created, circulates, and reaches its audience. Our texts will range from Antigone to The Great Gatsby to Game of Thrones to Call Me By Your Name. Our emphasis will be on close reading as a critical practice—learned and honed through repetition—as we discover how literary and aesthetic forms “make sense" how they create, refract, and reproduce the world. By the end of the course, you will have learned how to read deeply and thoughtfully, how to edit and revise efficiently, and how to engage each other’s critical writing with a high level of attention, curiosity, and animated inquiry in peer editing and review.