New Courses

Fall Semester 2017

LAS-E244 The Nation and Its Discontents
Megan Finch
This course explores the relationship between narrative and national constructions in the literature and film produced by a variety of American authors during the 20th and 21st centuries. We will analyze texts from various authors in light of shifting paradigms in American thought, politics, and expressive culture. Our primary investigation is twofold: (1) to understand pervasive themes in U.S. literature, including the in/commensurability of American democracy and its continued exclusionism, (2) to become conversant with theories of nationalism, sexuality, gender, race and class. As we pursue our inquiry, we will examine the historical, political, economic, and ideological factors that have created and shaped the narratives of Americans of different “backgrounds.”

LAS-E348 Remaking the World: Anglo-American Modernism
Molly Hall
This course examines the way in which dominant movements within Anglo-American modernist literature between 1890 and 1960 reflect artists’ attempts to reimagine the world around them and humanity’s place within it, including such stylistic developments as imagism, cubism, naturalism, and surrealism. The transformation of traditional genres and styles which characterizes the period is famously encapsulated by poet Ezra Pound’s declaration that artists of all kinds must “Make It New.” Students can expect to read the poetry, stories, and novels of such authors as Joseph Conrad, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, David Jones, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Samuel Beckett –authors whose writings exemplify some of the most radical experimentations of the modernist period.

LAS-E371 Visualizing the Environment Through Comics and Graphic Literature
Tom Doran
In this course, we will discuss how comics and other forms of literary-visual art illuminate various environmental concepts. Environmental problems result not merely from political negligence or technological expansion. They also result from, and persist as, problems of representation. Beginning from this position, we will consider comics art as a unique medium for telling stories about how humans and other animals relate to their environments, focusing especially on the form’s capacity for representing time, space, word, and image in sequence. To further enrich our understanding of the cultural values and concepts that undergird the environmental decisions individuals, communities, and institutions make every day, we will examine how environmental problems intersect with issues of race, class, disability, gender, and sexuality. As astute environmental critics, we will dismantle the experience of reading comics, and the craft of making them, through a series of short essays and by making our own comics. In other words, we will come to understand comics art as a medium for both creative and critical invention. Though most of our course readings will be comics produced in the last 30 years, we will also look at comic strips, zines, art books, illuminated manuscripts, broadside ballads, and natural histories that cover a longer time span, dating back to the Middle Ages.


Wintersession 2018

LAS-E297 The Fiction of Colson Whitehead
Iain Bernhoft
In 2016, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad won the National Book Award and was selected for Oprah’s Book Club—a pair of honors that bespeaks the critical recognition and popular appeal of his work. Since his debut novel, The Intuitionist (1999), the hallmark of Whitehead’s fiction has been the way in which it bridges between “highbrow” and popular culture, from noir to advertising to zombies. In this course we will consider these collisions of literary form and generic fiction, and specifically how Whitehead uses them to confront deep-rooted narratives of progress, race, and enterprise in America. Readings will include several of Whitehead’s novels— The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, Zone One, and The Underground Railroad—and a sampling of his essays, articles, and tweets. Students will produce several short written exercises and one final mixed-media or multi-media project that they develop over the duration of the course.

LAEL-1002 #oscarssowhite: Intersectional Film and Overlooked Directors
Shannon Zellars-Strohl
When the nominations for the 2016 Oscars were released the public quickly noticed a problem: No Black Americans had been nominated in any major category. This quickly sparked an outraged social media campaign with minorities of many races, ethnicities, and genders denouncing the historicbias of the Oscars towards anyone who is not a white cis straight male. Users of Twitter and other social media platforms pointed out all the talented performers and directors ignored over the decades by with the hashtag “oscarssowhite.” In this course we will study American films from different genres all directed or produced by minority filmmakers. Furthermore we will ask how minority identities are intersectional by questioning the overlapping markers of race, religion, gender, and sexuality within the films. And, of course, we will ask whether a film need to be about identity politics at all simply because it is made by a minority or whether identity politics is always already part of any media production, no matter its creator. Through our discussions we will not only study and broaden the base of great American films, but also contribute to diversifying the production and distribution of minority media.

LAEL-1520 Portugal: Material Practices (Travel course w/ Architecture)
Nicole Merola/Laura Briggs
Although separated by the Atlantic Ocean, Providence and surrounding New England towns have deep ties toPortugal. An influx of immigrants from Portugal, who settled in New England in the late-18th century, links the two regions. Providence, East Providence, Central Falls, Fall River, and New Bedford, among other towns, continue to function as vital hubs for Portuguese Americans today. Students in the co-requisite liberal arts and studio courses that comprise “Portugal: Material Practices” will use the methodologies of architecture, design, and the environmental humanities to investigate how two different materials—wood and cork—function as nodes in intersecting biological, cultural, economic, geological, material, political, social, and theoretical networks that route through Portugal. Although stone and cork and the material explorations students will conduct in relation to these materials are specifically linked to the areas of Portugal we will visit, these
explorations are applicable to broader contexts, both local and global.

Students will spend the first three weeks of the course in Portugal, which offers a unique context in which to study making and adapting the natural and built environment towards sustainable models of design innovation. While abroad, students will study the roles natural resources play in the future of historic places; will investigate principles for the design of artifacts, systems, and/or building technologies that engage both local and global knowledge; and will use literature, theory, and other cultural texts to test, frame, and deepen their ideas. Locations will include the San Miguel, Lisbon, Porto, and the Alentejo region, with additional day trips. The last two weeks of the course will take place in Providence. Students will complete regular design, drawing, collecting, reading, and writing assignments throughout the entire course. Producing the final project for the course—a publication that will weave together architectural and environmental humanities approaches to a site from the travel component of the course—will be the focus of the last two weeks of the course.

Spring 2018

LAS-E282 Ecological Invention in Early America
Tom Doran
How can looking back to early America help us think and act in our present age of ecological crisis? In this course, we will explore the roots of American ideas about nature, environmentalism, and ecology in literature from the pre-colonial era through the mid-nineteenth century. We will study the wide-ranging ecological views of Euro-colonial (un)settlers of North America and their indigenous counterparts, both Native Americans and enslaved African transplants. In particular, we will examine how the confluence of these cultures influenced ideas about the conservation and exploitation of nature to varying degrees. To do so, we will ask how early- American environmental writers defined nature and what these definitions included and excluded. Were humans
part of nature or distinct from it, and which people counted as fully human? Was slavery a natural or unnatural state? Was America a place for farmer-settlers or backwoods hunters and traders? Was its vast wilderness a refuge for religious worship or the devil’s territory? To what degree did human dominion over the natural world and its resources extend? Were animals reasoning subjects, instinctual objects of scientific study, or merely animate natural resources? Along the way, we will also ask how nature writing developed as its own multimedia genre during the period, as well as how it influenced various other genres of imaginative literature.

LAS-E331 African Poetry
Jonathan Highfield
There is a rich tradition of poetry across the African continent. In this course we will look at some precolonial orature, then move to the major figures of the late colonial period, the early postcolonial period, and the antiapartheid struggle – Ama Ata Aidoo, Dennis Brutus, James Matthews, Christopher Okigbo, Leopold Senghor – before moving to look at some contemporary voices – Ingrid de Kok, Tanure Ojaide, Kwadwo Opoku- Agyemang, Ladan Osman, and Warshan Shire.

LAS-E522 Before and After ‘Man’: Objects, Animals, Sex and Race in Genres of the Post-Human
Megan Finch
This course explores the human as a temporally specific and, perhaps, obsolescing philosophical concept. Emerging most cogently in the European Enlightenment, humans materialize as the center of their own concerns, i.e. humanism, through a set of binary oppositions that include human/god, human/animal, human/savage, hu(man)/woman, human/machine, subject/object etc. Post-humanism, broadly conceived, seeks to mark, blur, upend, and/or abolish the distinction or relationship between the opposed terms of these binaries. This course begins by attempting to account for how the human/Man came to prominence during the economic, social and geopolitical conditions of the 17th and 18th century in order to understand the threads of thought that contemporary genres of Post-humanisms attempt to unravel: such as animal studies, object oriented ontology, AI studies, and feminist and black studies in the subject of “Man.” The course then turns to these various subgenres in order to think through post-humanism’s ethical, political, and social stakes in our contemporary moment.

LAS-E718 Seminar: Natural History: Local, Global, Analog, Digital
Tom Doran
As a seminar, this course has two primary goals: 1. To engage critically with natural history as a literary and visual art form and with its history as a scientific practice. 2. To collaborate on projects and experiments that employ digital and analog methods for analyzing, interpreting, archiving, curating, and creating visual and literary works of natural history. Throughout the semester, we will visit local and regional museums, labs, and field sites to facilitate these goals. Natural history is a crucial genre for understanding the origins of modern environmentalism, the history of science, discourses of race, and the nature of European imperialism. As an artistic and epistemological practice, natural history enjoyed the height of its popularity during the early modern and enlightenment periods, as European explorers, traders, and colonizers endeavored to classify, catalog, explain, and exploit the diverse flora and fauna of the Americas. In the process, they encountered (and often ignored or stole from) the complex folk biology of various Native American cultures. Especially in the Americas, natural historical knowledge production depended on the collaboration of various cultures within profoundly uneven power dynamics: European explorers and creolized American naturalists, political leaders and ordinary citizens, amateur collectors and professional theorists, men and women, slave owners and African slaves, and Euro-colonial traders and indigenous Americans. Furthermore, early naturalists were polymaths—scientists, philosophers, political leaders, artists, writers, collectors, and traders—before the stratification of the modern sciences into disciplines that took place during the nineteenth century. As science became a more professional and specialized endeavor, natural history evolved into various forms of amateur field science, environmental art, and nature writing. As such, our course materials will range from the late medieval period to the present.