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Emily Balch Seminars Course Descriptions Fall 2024

Sec. 001 Sense and Nonsense
Instructor: Jen Callaghan (Writing Program)
MW 1:10-2:30 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 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 beyond entertainment can nonsense serve? To help us critically examine nonsense, we’ll consider 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 on texts from literature, philosophy, visual art, film, and science. Topics will include the literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll and Edward Gorey; InspiroBot and Buddhist koans; the avant-garde art movement Dada; political satire; and indigenous logics. 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.

Sec. 002 Animals, Ethics, and Others
Instructor: Alex Alston (Literatures in English)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

What does it mean to treat animals or the environment “ethically”? How are notions of what is or is not “ethical” constructed and agreed upon? What do histories of settler colonialism, racial slavery, and other forms of difference-based oppression have to do with the ecological crises of our day? This course introduces students to a handful of key texts exploring questions around animal sentience, the consumption of nonhuman life forms, and the interconnectedness of different kinds of life through an ecofeminist lens. Bringing together non-fiction essays, philosophy, film, and a touch of the natural sciences, the course will emphasize the conceptual as well as the rhetorical structures of the readings while prodding students to examine their assumptions about “Others” (human and nonhuman) and what an ethical relationship or responsibility to Others entails. Essays to be read will include Cynthia Belmont’s “Pleasures of the Hunt / We Must Be Creatures: Toward an Ecofeminist Hunting Ethic,” Val Plumwood’s “Being Prey,” and David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster.”

Students will be introduced to and practice strategies for generating, drafting, and revising longer essays as they produce a rhetorical analysis, a critical review, and a research-based response essay over the course of the semester. Peer review and one-on-one conferences will support the student in developing writing skills and gaining a firm grasp of the writing process at the university level.

Sec. 003 Between “Ancestry” and Paper Files: The Science and Literature of Archives
Instructor: Juan Suárez Ontaneda (Spanish)
TTh 10:10-11:30 a.m.

What did your 2023 Spotify “Wrapped” look like? What did this musical archive from your listening practices tell you about yourself? If you made a scrapbook of 2023, what would it look like? How would your scrapbook compare to the scrapbook created by Dorothy Asher, a Bryn Mawr alumnus in 1931? This class will consider the limitations and possibilities of personal, institutional, and community-based archives. We will examine how archives, archivists, and archiving have been represented in film, literature, popular culture, and music, and we will engage with archival methods to better understand the process of cataloging and preservation, from using microfilm to born-digital projects. Throughout the semester, students will produce a series of short-form and long-form essays, guided by the principle that the way you archive information will determine how you write. Students will also make a scrapbook, and we will create a digital exhibit of our collective work. Our inquiry will lead us to question who gets to write themselves into archives by reading short stories by Alice Walker, Zora Neal Hurston’s temporarily lost (into her archive!) book, playing board games, watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, and looking deeply into the business of genealogical tracing through companies like “Ancestry.”

Sec. 004 How to Do Nothing: Resistance, Ecology, and Politics
Instructor: Joel Schlosser (Political Science)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m. 

“Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing,” writes Jenny Odell in How To Do Nothing. Everything vies for our attention: important news, exciting updates from friends, cat videos, advertisements. How could we possibly do nothing when there’s always something? This course investigates how and why doing nothing might be the most important thing to do at a time when it feels like there’s so much to do. If we really want to do something in our lives and in the world, we might need to begin by doing nothing, resisting or refusing the immediate demands on our attention and energy to refocus and concentrate ourselves toward more meaningful action in common with human and non-human others. We will experiment with different forms of writing that avoid just doing something and instead cultivate attention and intention. In dialogue with Odell’s book, this writing will investigate resistance and refusal with writers including Melville, Thoreau, and M.L. King; attention and ecology with Robin Wall Kimmerer and Masanobu Fukuoka; and political imagination with Rebecca Solnit and Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Sec. 005 Writing the Nation
Instructor: George Perez (Literatures in English)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

In some ways, the nation is the defining ideological apparatus of our lives. But what is the nation? How do we know where a nation begins and where it ends? Who is included in the nation? Who is excluded? What are the supports and structures of the nation? The meaning of the nation is the central, animating question of the course. It serves as our guide through various readings, including political philosophy, poetry, the novel, and the news. This course is an opportunity to think through the strategies various writers—from scientists to playwrights—use to invoke, address, contest, and claim the nation. This seminar also encourages students to think about how they respond to these claims and their histories. Through a mix of formal writing and creative responses, students will interrogate conflicting understandings of the nation while carving out space for their own theories of the nation. Authors and filmmakers might include Edward Said, Gloria Anzaldúa, Jordan Peele, Zadie Smith, Francis Bacon, Virginia Woolf, and Salman Rushdie.

Sec. 006 Health Histories
Instructor: Kelly O’Donnell (History)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

You're home sick from school, watching The Price is Right and slurping chicken soup. Or you're at the nursing home, visiting your ailing grandparent. Or maybe you're on the night shift at a community hospital, checking vital signs and hoping the patient down the hall makes it through the night. It's also possible that you're young and healthy and have never used words like "premium" or "copay" in casual conversation.

Scenes of sickness and health are playing out in our lives and around us every day. In this seminar, we will investigate experiences of health care in American life. Blending historical and contemporary contexts, this interdisciplinary course will draw from the history of medicine, medical sociology, and narrative medicine. We will consider both patient and provider experiences of health and illness. Major themes will include the framing of disease and diagnosis, the doctor-patient relationship, disability rights, the role of technology in shaping health care, and the politics of health. Core texts will draw from histories of disease and health care practice, physician and patient memoirs, graphic novels, news articles, and popular media. Students will complete a series of writing assignments that will include peer review and revision components, with an emphasis on building analytical and argumentation skills.

Sec. 007 Like Tears in Rain: Blade Runner and Its Afterlives
Instructor: Matthew Feliz (Visual Studies)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the film Blade Runner was released in 1982 to mixed reviews. Its dark and brooding vision of a dystopian future and noir-inflected narrative drew a stark contrast with science fiction blockbusters of the era like Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T. Despite its initial modest success at the box office, the film has become one of the masterpieces of science fiction cinema, inspiring a wide range of films, television shows, anime, graphic novels, video games, and music, as well as a lengthy bibliography of critical and scholarly texts.

This seminar will track the ways that subsequent generations of filmmakers, artists, writers, and scholars have continued to draw inspiration from the film’s cinematic meditation on a range of issues including ecology, biotechnology, surveillance, race, gender, and identity. Beginning with the original release, we will wend our way through the significantly altered 1992 Director’s Cut, the 2007 Final Cut, and the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049. Along the way we will explore graphic and literary texts and other media inspired by the film. Through our engagement with these works as well as critical reviews and scholarly articles, we will examine the ways that this singular classic continues to resonate, provoking viewers with its unique vision of a future that is now part of our past.

Informed by an art historical and film studies approach, this seminar will introduce students to strategies for thinking and writing about film and visual media that can be applied to other disciplines. Throughout the semester we will complete a series of writing assignments, peer-review exercises, and conferences with the instructor designed to help students generate, draft, and revise their essays.

Sec. 008 Schooled
Instructor: Amanda Cox (Sociology)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

What does it mean to be educated? “I never let my schooling interfere with my education,” Mark Twain famously quipped. Decades later, Albert Einstein wrote, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” If education isn’t schooling, what is it? Is it a body of knowledge to be mastered, a process that unfolds, or something else? If it’s a body of knowledge, what do you need to know? If it’s a process, how does it happen? If it’s something else, what is it? And who gets to decide? In this course, we will explore these and other questions as we think deeply about the relationship between education and schooling. We will draw on a diverse array of sources to inform our thinking and writing—from poetry and spoken-word performance to films, speeches, autobiographical pieces, and your own observations. Our texts may include Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Letter to My Son,” excerpts from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, films such as Dead Poets Society, documentaries such as College Behind Bars, and podcasts such as This American Life. We will engage in discussion and writing, not with the goal of getting to the “right” answer, but with the goal of sharpening our thinking, organizing and supporting our ideas, and improving our writing. Students will complete regular short writing assignments, engage in cycles of revision and peer review, and meet regularly with the instructor to discuss their writing.

Sec. 009 Making Memory Matter
Instructor: Lisa Saltzman (History of Art)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

Think of a fossil. Then think of a photograph. Each contains a trace of the past. Yet only one is an intentional object. Not nature, but culture. If photographs make particularly vivid the ways that works of culture can capture the past, summon history in visual form, they are by no means the only such vessels of memory. All works of culture, be they art or artifact, come to us from a moment in time. But only some make remembrance their explicit subject. This seminar will explore those cultural objects that make memory matter, from the contested monuments and memorials that define and defile public space in the present to the paintings and photographs, video projections and installations that negotiate traumatic historical events that demand yet often defy representation. Together, we will spend the semester reading about, looking at and discussing such cultural objects as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial and An-My Lê’s Small Wars; William Kentridge’s Monument and Krzysztof Wodiczko’s Hiroshima; Shimon Attie’s The Writing on the Wall and Anselm Kiefer’s Sulamith; Kara Walker’s A Subtlety and Mark Bradford’s Tulsa; Doris Salcedo’s Unland: The Orphan’s Tunic and Oscar Muñoz’s Project for a Memorial. And you will learn to craft different forms and components of an essay: an Op-Ed piece, a classic art historical formal analysis, and an annotated bibliography. These exercises in argumentation, descriptive analysis and bibliographic research will be cumulative and will be put together at semester’s end to produce a final polished and persuasive essay.

Sec. 010 Tales of Love and Mischief in Italy and France
Instructor: Giulio Genovese (Italian)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

One of the most famous works of Italian – and world – literature, the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio gained immediate popularity from its first circulation, circa 1360 CE. Unsurprisingly, readers were instantly amused by this collection of short stories about love, sex, betrayal, gender roles, and societal rules. The Decameron immediately was circulated in other countries and read in all of Europe and beyond. Two centuries later, a French noblewoman by the name of Marguerite de Navarre decided to offer her own version of Boccaccio’s masterpiece and wrote her own Decameron – titled Heptameron. What were the consequences of this literary move? How were stories written by a male Italian Medieval author conceptualized by a Renaissance French noblewoman? In this course, we will read a selection of short stories from the Decameron and Heptameron in translation, and we will consider their literary characteristics, as well as the gender role dynamics, transnational and cultural shifts, and political implications. We will also have the chance to examine materials related to these masterpieces’ recent reception (contemporary re-writings, film adaptations) that will help foster our understanding of such a peculiar literary duo.

Sec. 011 Creative Cities
Instructor: Colin McLaughlin-Alcock (Anthropology)
TTh 11:40 – 1:00 pm

The “Creative City” is a strategy of urban planning in which civic leaders invest in the arts to achieve wider goals of urban development and governance. Since their introduction in the late 1990s and early 2000s, creative city strategies such as murals, museum districts, public concerts, and graffiti art festivals have been adopted by municipal governments around the world. From the perspective of urban planners, art improves cities: it can raise the tax base, help with municipal branding, attract tourists, reduce crime, and spur innovation. Yet for critics, creative city planning is marked by divestment from public services and growing inequalities of race and class. In this course, we will study the strategy of creative city urban planning and its implementation by municipal governments around the world. We will learn to analyze how art impacts urban life and engage with both proponents and critiques of arts-led urban planning. Through a combination of short writing assignments, engaged discussion, and the development of longer critical and analytical essays, students will build skills in academic writing and argumentation.

Sec. 012 Family Secrets
Instructor: Kate Thomas (Literatures in English)
MW 1:10-2:30 p.m.

Why does every family have a secret? It might be as sweet as a recipe for walnut cake or as cruel as a stolen birthright. It might be as tiny as a buried doll or as heavy as a murder. It might—like Thomas Jefferson’s secret—unmask both a family and a nation. But whatever it is, however important or horrible or humorous, every single family has one. From slavery to sexuality, from crime families to royal families, we will look at the power of family secrets, and ask what “family” means when it is founded on that which must remain unspeakable. We will cover topics such as the concept of family values, slavery, illegitimacy, sexuality, and inheritance. We will approach writing as a way to communicate and persuade, done best when you engage your creativity and curiosity. Texts will range from Shakespeare to The Sopranos. You don’t have to come to class with answers—only questions, an interest in what makes families tick, and a nose for a good secret!

Sec. 013 Observing the Earth
Instructor: Selby Hearth (Geology)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

In one of his final essays, Barry Lopez asks us: “In this trembling moment, ...with fires roaring across the vineyards of California, and forests being felled to ensure more space for development, with student loans from profiteers breaking the backs of the young, and with Niagaras of water falling into the oceans from every sector of Greenland, in this moment, is it still possible to face the gathering darkness, and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?” 

In this class, we’ll ask what it means to “embrace fearlessly the burning world.” We’ll read texts by authors who have paid deep and unflinching attention to nature, like Jamaica Kincaid, Annie Dillard, Camille Dungy, Barry Lopez, and David Abram. We’ll read authors who have attempted to understand the experiences and perspectives of non-humans with whom we share our world, like Elisabeth Tova Bailey, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Richard Powers. And we’ll treat Bryn Mawr’s campus as a text, experimenting with practices of observation and attention, and asking ourselves what hope and strength is available by investing deeply in this place we are in.

Sec. 014 Tastemakers
Instructor: Mary Alcaro (Literatures in English)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

Who moves the needle on culture? Who decides what separates popular culture from highbrow art? Who creates trends and moves culture forward—and who gets credit for making those shifts? In this seminar, we will explore film, literature, music, fashion, language, current events, and other cultural trends with an eye toward class consciousness and identity politics. We will engage with criticism from queer studies, feminist theory, and Marxist philosophies to consider topics such as: how young women’s slang shapes mainstream language; how the co-opting of Black musicians' work led to the popularization of rock and roll; why some popular movies will never be considered classic film; and how Shakespearean theater was transformed from popular to highbrow entertainment. Informal weekly journaling, short in-class presentations, and reflection papers based on close reading of multimedia sources will form the basis for longer writing assignments.

Sec. 015 Erotics, Gender, and Violence in Greek and Roman Myth
Instructor: Carman Romano (Classics)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

Greek and Roman myths are very much NSFW. These compositions are saturated with sexual content and are notorious for their seemingly flippant treatment of sexual violence, particularly that deployed against women. What does it indicate about Greeks and Romans that stories about their gods and heroes lean so heavily on such themes? How can myths help us inquire into the nature of gender, sexuality, or desire? And what is a myth, anyway? In this course, you will read Greek and Roman myths in translation, and encounter scholarship and theory on the same. During discussion in class and through writing assignments, you’ll work with these readings and your peers to think through representations of sex, gender (variance), desire, and violence, and the fraught intersections between these concepts. Prepare to read, among other texts, Sapphic lyric, Senecan tragedy, Hesiodic epic, and Platonic dialogue.

Sec. 016 Plagues, Pathogens, and People: How Pandemics Have Transformed Our Lives
Instructor: Arnav Bhattacharya (Health Studies)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

Having collectively lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that pandemics can be testing and transformative times for society. Pandemics are unique moments in history as fault lines in society which are otherwise overlooked become starkly visible. In this course, we will examine pandemics and epidemics that have proven to be transformative in the past and in contemporary times, ranging from the Justinian plague of the 6th century CE to the COVID-19 pandemic. The course will be global in nature, examining how pathogens and people have traveled across the world having varying impacts on different societies. We will employ an interdisciplinary lens that includes public health approaches, literary narratives, travel accounts, historical material, and ethnographic perspectives. We will be asking questions regarding disease, health, and well-being from the points of view of healers, patients, physicians, and caregivers, and we will move beyond conventional thinking on pandemics and pay attention to the burgeoning but often ignored issues of mental health and disabilities. Through our inquiries, we will come to understand how the management of pandemics has allowed nation-states to devise novel methods of managing populations and obtaining data about our individual and collective selves. While pathogens are crucial agents in the outbreak of pandemics, this course will show how it is human actions as well as societal factors that ultimately determine the outcome of pandemics.

Assignments for this course will range from short written responses to a more substantial final project due at the end of the semester. The course aims to empower students to be able to acquire the essential skills of critical reading, innovative thinking, and the ability to develop original arguments.

Sec. 017 Censorship in Germany, China, and the U.S.: Historical Contexts, Local Practices, and Global Resonances
Instructor: Qinna Shen (German)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

This seminar examines the historical practices and sociopolitical conditions of censorship in Germany, China, and the United States. As a ban of discourses and publications, censorship is a means of fortifying political power, religious orthodoxy, and/or social hierarchies. Yet it also creates unique conditions for modes of textual and creative resistance such as satire, irony, allegory, and parody—genres which invite scrupulous readers to see the “invisible ink” on the page. The course will explore not only who or what is censored, but why, how, and importantly where censorship happens. From authoritarian regimes to democracies, a comparative framework will uncover the intricacies of censorship and artistic and literary responses to it. Course texts may include fiction by authors Heinrich Heine, Bertolt Brecht, Yu Hua, Fang Fang, and Geling Yan, and films such as Different from the Others (dir. Richard Oswald, 1919), All Quiet on the Western Front (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1930), The Rabbit Is Me (dir. Kurt Maetzig, 1965), To Live (dir. Zhang Yimou, 1994), and The Gate of Heavenly Peace (dir. Carma Hinton, 1995). All texts and films will be available in translation or with English subtitles.

Sec. 018 Athena Transformed
Instructor: Nava Streiter (History of Art)
TTh 11:40– 1:00 p.m.

Stern and beautiful, the grey-eyed goddess Athena has always marched to the beat of her own drum. To the ancient Greeks, she was the patron of war and wisdom, a protector of wily heroes and just cities. She was also a divine craftswoman and a perpetual virgin, born fully-grown and well-armed from the head of her father, Zeus. Over the centuries, Athena has become an emblem of freedom, order, the arts, and, crucially, Bryn Mawr College. An archetype of female power, who transcends conformist gender norms, she is at once popular and transgressive, peaceful and militant, indomitable and elusive. This class will explore Athena’s enduring grasp on the world’s imagination, from Homer to the present. How have different authors and artists imagined the cleverest and (perhaps) most powerful woman in the classical pantheon? How do they navigate her complexity and her contradictions? What anxieties about justice and gender do her stories provoke, and what desires do they spark? How do translations and transformations of myth reflect and change the cultures that produce them? We will consider stories, poems, novels, sculptures, paintings, and films ranging from Homer and the Parthenon marbles, to medieval songs, early modern paintings, and contemporary novels and television shows, of course tracing Bryn Mawr College’s own cultic connection to the ancient goddess of war and wisdom.

Sec. 019 Tragedy and Rebellion
Instructor: Brian Kilgour (Russian)
TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.

When you think of the word “tragedy,” what comes to mind? Do you think of dusty tomes in the library, antiquated poetry, and, perhaps, some overly expressive stage acting? Does it make you think of the historical events of the last century, decades of war, pandemic, and ecological disaster? Or does “tragedy” call to mind personal loss and sadness? Many of us have adopted the term “tragedy” to describe historical and personal events. However, tragedy is unique as a classic genre in that, from its earliest description by Aristotle, it is defined by a mysterious term that connects the action on stage to the experience of the viewer: catharsis. The idea that tragedy incites pity and fear in its audience and then cleanses those feelings has been debated for millennia.

In this class, we will discuss tragedy and catharsis politically: does tragedy inspire us to change the world around us, or does it insist upon the futility of individual action? Is tragedy unique to the ancient world, or can we find tragedy in the art and politics of today? In this class, we will discuss plays, essays, short stories, and movies to discover how definitions of tragedy have evolved since the term’s appearance in Ancient Greece and how we can connect it to our world today. Our readings will focus on tragedies of rebellion and isolation, including Antigone, Boris Godunov, and The Seagull, films by directors such as Sofia Coppola and the Coen brothers, and short excerpts of essays that will help guide our discussions on art and political activism. Over the course of the semester, students will develop their writing through essays on course readings, peer editing, and one-on-one conferences.

Sec. 020/021 Can You Believe It?
Instructor: Augie Faller (Philosophy and Data Science)
Sec. 020 TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.
Sec. 021 TTh 2:40-4:00 p.m.

You can't believe everything you read or hear. But what can you believe? For example, what justifies our everyday beliefs, like the belief that the sun will come up tomorrow? Also, why do we call some beliefs “scientific,” but not other kinds?  To answer these questions, we will tackle classic puzzles concerning belief and evidence. We will discuss the problems of induction and confirmation, how to distinguish science from pseudoscience, and the effects of implicit biases. Readings will include works by Karl Popper, Elizabeth Anderson, and Helen Longino, among others. Students will complete writing assignments in stages, developing the skills required for clear, concise, and compelling prose.

Sec. 022/023 Fantastic Fiction and the Environment
Instructor: Willow DiPasquale (Writing Program)
Sec. 022 TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.
Sec. 023 TTh 1:10-2:30 p.m.

Despite dragons, spaceships, and alien encounters, fantasy and science fiction stories are “a means of understanding,” claims author Ursula K. Le Guin, and “a mirror of the real.” How, then, do we reconcile the imaginary landscapes presented in these stories with our actual and pressing environmental crises? What value does fantasy have, if not as simply “escapist” or “untrue” stories? In this seminar, we will explore current environmental concerns through the dual lens of news media coverage of environmental issues and genre fiction, specifically science fiction and fantasy literature and film. We will investigate how the alternate views of the environment presented in works of fantasy encourage us to rethink our assumptions regarding the human-made problems affecting our environment today. We will also use these works to examine our personal relationship towards the environment and consider what duty we have, if any, to help preserve and protect the world around us. Can fantastic stories spur real world action? We attempt to answer this question by applying several different eco-critical themes—deep ecology, feminist ecology, ecological utopias/dystopias, environmental racism—and reading excerpts from news media, eco-critical scholars, and fantastic fiction (The Lord of the Rings and works by Ursula K. Le Guin, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Ray Bradbury, among others). We will also watch films, including Soylent Green and Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke. Students will complete a series of analytical writing assignments, reflections on course readings, and student-led discussions.

Sec. 024/025 Imagined Histories
Instructor: Jess Shollenberger (Literatures in English)

Sec. 024 TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.
Sec. 025 TTh 2:40-4:00 p.m.

In this seminar, we will explore how writers create alternative histories by imagining what might have been. Imagined histories are a way for writers to add to and contest official stories about the past, and they have been a crucial resource for Black, queer, trans, and feminist histories. Our course texts are drawn from these fields. We will read works that trouble the line between the “fictional” and the “historical,” the imagined and the real, to tell the stories of marginalized figures and communities. Examples include Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Juliet Jacques’ Variations, Selby Wynn Schwartz’s After Sappho, and Jenn Shapland’s My Autobiography of Carson McCullers. Through frequent short writing assignments, students will learn and practice strategies for generating, drafting, and revising longer essays. We will approach the writing process as a creative and collaborative one, informed by class discussion, peer-review, and one-on-one conferences.

Sec. 026/027 Poverty, Affluence, and American Culture
Instructor: Matt Ruben (Cities)
Sec. 026  TTh 11:40 – 1:00 pm
Sec. 027  TTh 1:10 – 2:30 pm

Poverty and economic inequality are among the most persistent and controversial problems in the United States. They have a wide range of political and cultural meanings in addition to their economic aspects. This Emily Balch Seminar will explore poverty, wealth, and the American Dream from the 1700s to the present, through a critical examination of scholarly works, journalism, novels, movies, and electronic texts and videos. We will look at how poverty, poor people, and class mobility have been discussed and represented, and how these representations have shaped the meaning and perception of America. As an ESEM, this course involves critical reading, in-class discussion, and cogent, idea-driven academic essay writing with one-on-one meetings outside of class. Students will write and revise papers in which they actively engage the course texts to join the ongoing public conversation about this topic.

Sec. 028/029 Human and Post-Human
Instructor: Stephanie Harper (Writing Program)
Sec. 028 TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m.
Sec. 029 TTh 1:10-2:30 p.m.

What is it to be human? Beginning with Ursula Le Guin’s premise that science fiction is not predictive, but descriptive, that science fiction teaches us about ourselves rather than about the future, this seminar will explore the moral complexity of varied lived experience and trouble our conceptions of what it is to be human. Reading excerpts from Margaret Lucas Cavendish’s 17th century “Blazing World” and short fictional works, including Ursula Le Guin’s “Nine Lives,” Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation,” Octavia Butler’s “Blood Child,” and Nalo Hopkinson’s “Message in a Bottle,” we will test the boundaries of what distinguishes humans from animals, clones, aliens, or artificial intelligence. In our discussions, we will explore how fictional representations of other forms of conscious life, natural or artificial, reflect and/or critique the society they were written in. As the answer to “what is it to be human?” is so crucial to our social structure, our readings will not be limited to fiction and will also include a few select excerpts from critical theorists that can be used as lenses for the writing developed over the course of the semester. Writing will begin with informal responses to the literature, films, and works of art we examine closely in our discussions. As writing is a recursive journey, the informal responses will be developed over the course of the semester into a smaller number of polished essays.

Sec. 030 Afrofuturism
Instructor: Dee Mathews (Creative Writing)

TTh 11:40-1:00 p.m. 

In this class, we will explore Afrofuturism and Black Surrealism as dynamic cultural and artistic movements that explore the intersection of African diasporic identity with speculative, fantastical, and surreal themes. Through a combination of diverse creative and scholarly texts, we will better understand how Afrofuturism blends elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and Afrocentricity to reimagine the past, present, and future of the Global Black experience.


Register for Emily Balch Seminars

Class of 2028 registration is open from June 17 to July 5.

Contact Us

Emily Balch Seminar Program

Gail Hemmeter, Director
English House
101 North Merion Avenue
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania 19010-2899
Phone: (610) 526-5306