Cultures and Contexts 2012-2013Note: Previously listed as World Cultures
Note: ** indicates an example syllabus
* indicates a preliminary syllabus
Spring 2013 schedule remains tentative.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 500 Cultures and Contexts: Topics—European Culture & World War I
Prof. Geroulanos (History) syllabus
European culture underwent radical transformation as a result of World War I. We begin with the different modernist aesthetics and new artistic movements just preceding the war, then turn to the war itself--trench warfare, the explosion of violence, the perception of the war as an apocalyptic event, the culture in the ‘home fronts’, and the transformation of medical and psychological culture. We conclude with postwar Europe--the Russian Revolution, the memory of the war, and the rising anguish over authority. Central concerns are conceptions of the body, the self, and society; medicine, psychiatry, and sexuality; violence, its fear and adulation; revolutionary culture; and democracy, socialism, and authority.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 500 Cultures and Contexts: Topics—Greco-Roman Egypt
Prof. Aravecchia (Institute for the Study of the Ancient World) syllabus
Egypt from its conquest by Alexander the Great (332 B.C.E.) to the advent of Arab rule (640 C.E.). Egypt has a long and deeply fascinating history, widely known especially with regard to the Pharaonic period. Also its later phases, characterized by different powers ruling over the country, including the Ptolemaic Greeks, the Romans, and then the Arabs, are of exceptional interest at multiple levels. We consider the multi-faceted political, socio-cultural, and religious history of Graeco-Roman Egypt. Topics include cultural resistance vs. assimilation, political and religious propaganda in literature and the arts, and changes in the built environment of Egypt in Late Antiquity.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 500 Cultures and Contexts: Topics—Civil War & its Afterlife in 20th Century Spain
Prof. Labanyi (Spanish and Portuguese) syllabus
The Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 has been called the last war fought for utopian ideals; it was also the first war to see mass bombing of civilian targets, and was internationalization as a fight between Fascism and Communism, thanks to support for the right-wing military uprising by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, and support for the left-wing Republican Government by the Soviet Union and international volunteers from across the globe. While World War II ended with the defeat of fascism, Spain’s Civil War ended with fascism’s triumph and the institution of a dictatorship, under General Franco, that lasted almost 40 years, during which the winners of the war were ritually remembered, while the losers suffered savage reprisals and could not be mentioned in public. After his death in 1975, feelings about the war were still so strong that the topic was avoided, to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy; but since the mid-1990s, the topic has surfaced in often acrimonious public debate and a proliferation of cultural representations, as Spain tries to come to terms with the wounds of a civil conflict only now starting to be addressed. We explore the political issues involved in the Spanish Civil War and its remembrance today, considering a wide range of materials, including letters from the front by U.S. volunteers held in the archive of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade here at NYU, Picasso’s Guernica, and historical and contemporary films, and raising issues about the politics of memory, trauma, post-memory, and national reconciliation.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 503 Cultures and Contexts: South Asia
Prof. Rajagopal (Media, Culture, and Communication)
The South Asian subcontinent is in many ways at the heart of contemporary globalization. Few regions contain a higher density of population experiencing faster rates of social change. South Asia is the site of massive social transformations, ranging from new modes of consumption and aspiration, to accelerated urbanization, rising social inequality, and violent inter- and intra-state conflict. A little analyzed, yet central catalyst for these transformations is represented by media industries, which have grown at a rate greater than that of the economy as a whole for several years now. The current centrality of media to social life as neither entirely new, nor unprecedented, and provides entry points--from print and visual culture, to cinema, television, internet (including social media such as Youtube), and cellphones--for understanding both media history and South Asia, the relationship between culture and technology, the South Asian diaspora, mediated religion, and a range of inter-related topics.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 505 Cultures and Contexts: Africa
Prof. Hull (History) syllabus
Focuses on several major African cultures that influenced each other’s development from the pre-colonial through the postcolonial eras. These multi-dimensional cultures are examined through a variety of films, primary and secondary sources, and museum artifacts, with emphasis on concepts of cultural identity and interchange, modernization, and cosmopolitanism. Africa is examined not only within the context of indigenous cultures but within the context of the world at large. In this vein, we weigh the contributions African cultures made to each other but also to the wider world.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 502 Cultures & Contexts: Islamic Societies
Prof. el-Leithy (Middle Eastern & Islamic Societies) syllabus
Major social, cultural, and political transformation of the Middle East from late antiquity through the mid-thirteenth century, considered in the context of the formation and evolution of Islamic culture and polity. Examines the emergence of key concepts, practices, and cultural motifs of the medieval Islamic tradition. Also examines the emergence of the idea/concept of the "Middle East", the history and background of European interest in the region, as well as the crucial role of cultural encounter and dialogue (e.g., through trade, colonization, polemics) in the formation and development of identity.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 512 Cultures & Contexts: China
Prof. Zhang (East Asian Studies) syllabus
An introduction to the main issues and foundational texts of imperial and modern China. Selected readings include excerpts from early Chinese classics such as Classic of Odes and the Analects to the vernacular novels of late imperial China. The classical canon is then coupled with central texts from modern China, from the initial reflections of the mandarin scholars on a rapidly changing world, to writings on revolution, the modern state, and the new culture of the enlightened individual by leading Chinese intellectuals in the 20th century. Rather than a display of cultural and literary edifices, our intellectual and critical interest is to rethink Chinese traditions, both imperial and modern, in terms of continuity as well as discontinuity.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 514 Cultures and Contexts: Ancient Israel
Prof. Smith (Hebrew & Judaic Studies) syllabus
The culture of the ancient Israelite societies of biblical times, covering the period from about 1200 b.c.e. to the conquests of Alexander the Great, in the fourth century b.c.e. Topics include the achievements of these societies in the areas of law and social organization, prophetic movements, Israelite religion, and ancient Hebrew literature. The Hebrew Bible preserves much of the creativity of the ancient Israelites, but archaeological excavations in Israel and neighboring lands, as well as the discovery of ancient writings in Hebrew and related languages, have added greatly to our knowledge of life as it was lived in biblical times. The civilizations of Egypt and Syria-Mesopotamia also shed light on Israelite culture. Of particular interest is the early development of Israelite monotheism, which, in time, emerged as ancient Judaism, the mother religion of Christianity and Islam.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 529 Cultures and Contexts: Contemporary Latino Cultures
Prof. Beltrán (Social & Cultural Analysis) syllabus
Explores the political, social, and cultural practices of Latinos in the United States using a historical and interdisciplinary approach. Draws on literature, history, politics, as well as social and political theory to address issues of participation, under-representation, and civic and economic empowerment. Topics include immigration, social movements, figures of resistance, identities, popular culture, and language. Of particular concern is the idea and representation of a pan-ethnic “Latino” identity encompassing all the diverse national groups, and the emergence of this concept in both the cultural and political life of these communities.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 533 Cultures and Contexts: Iran
Prof. Chelkowski (Middle Eastern & Islamic Societies) syllabus
For 2500 years, the culture and civilization of Iran, (known in the West prior to World War II as Persia), has survived innumerable attacks and vicissitudes, which swept away many other cultures, languages, and nations. The most striking aspect of this civilization is the continuity and unity it has maintained despite the diversity of its individual elements and the influence of that culture on the world. Topics include traditional myths and religions of ancient Iran, art, architecture, literature, political organization from the time of the empire of Cyrus the Great to the rule of the Ayatollahs, the rebirth of Iranian self-consciousness after World War II and the transformation of the country during the Islamic Revolution.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 536 Cultures and Contexts: Indigenous Australia
Prof. Myers (Anthropology) syllabus
The indigenous people of Australia have long been the subject of interest and imagination by outsiders for their cultural formulations of kinship, ritual, art, gender, and politics, and they have entered into representations as distinctively "Other"—whether in negative or positive formulations of the "Primitive." These representations—in feature films about them such as Walkabout and Rabbit Proof Fence, in New Age Literature, or museum exhibitions—are now also in dialogue with their own forms of cultural production. At the same time, Aboriginal people have struggled to reproduce themselves and their traditions in their own terms, asserting their right to forms of cultural autonomy and self-determination. We explore the historical and geographical range of Aboriginal Australian forms of social being through ethnographic texts, art, novels, autobiographies, film and other media, and consider the ways in which identity is being challenged and constructed.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 539 Cultures and Contexts: Asian/Pacific/American Cultures
Prof. Saranillio (Social and Cultural Analysis) syllabus
Examines significant historical and contemporary moments through an analysis of culture and power and how cultural productions--film, television dramas, novels, visual art, national monuments and memorials, among others--produce ideas, stories and silences in different historical moments about different Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that have contemporary resonance today. For instance, how is it that the bikini, which most people associate with suggestive beach wear, has its origins in the U.S. nuclear testing of the first hydrogen bomb on the Bikini Atoll that irradiated much of the Pacific? How do historical representations of Asian American men make the meteoric rise of basketball star Jeremy Lin so unexpected and anomalous? How do histories of U.S. wars in Asia coupled with anti-Asian immigrant legislation shape ideas about Asian Americans as “perpetual foreigners” even centuries after Asian migration to the United States? Using different methods of cultural inquiry such as visual and popular culture, sports and media studies, literary critique, political economy and legal studies, we examine the complex ways that ideas about race, gender, sexuality, and indigeneity produce unequal power relations in U.S. society.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 544 Cultures and Contexts: Spain
Prof. Abercrombie (Anthropology) syllabus
Spanish modernity, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic: Spain has not been a major world power in over 200 years, during which its competitors and successor empires (France, Britain, and the U.S.) branded it, via a conglomeration of ideas called the “Black Legend,” as a backwards and feudal bastion of superstition and intolerance, good only for anthropologists and tourists. A hotbed of state-building in antiquity, Spain emerged as a center of Renaissance learning under Arab and Berber rule. While the rest of Europe languished in feudalism, its seven centuries co-existence of Christians, Muslims, and Jews saw the rebirth of classical knowledge, the spread of literacy, the development of a human-centered cosmology, the emergence of narrative self-making and the novel, and Europe’s first primarily urban society, where philosophy, the sciences, architecture, and the arts flourished. After Christian princes defeated the last Islamic foothold in the Peninsula in 1492, Castilian language and culture was the backbone of Spain’s imperial expansion across the Atlantic and produced the first modern, disciplining state, the privileging of individualism, private property, and capitalism, and theses of popular sovereignty, the nation state, and theories of racial inequality. Outpaced in industrialization by the late 18th-century, still Spain (and the new nations of Spanish America) kept pace with liberal reforms that culminated in the clash of competing fascist-capitalist and democratic-socialist ideologies, leading to the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Cold War, and the re-birth of Spanish democracy in the post-Franco and European Union era, and Spain’s current avant-garde role in culture and the arts. Materials include history, ethnography, literature, and film.
FALL 2012 MAP-UA 545 Cultures & Contexts: Egypt of the Pharaohs
Prof. Roth (Hebrew and Judaic Studies) syllabus**
The development of ancient Egyptian civilization, the basic tenets of its religious beliefs, its social forms and organizations, the conventions and achievements of its literature, art, and architecture. Students learn how scholars have used the remains of this long-vanished culture to reconstruct it and how to employ these methods to analyze texts and artifacts themselves. Materials include a variety of primary sources (literature, architecture, religious writings, works of art, archaeological remains, and administrative documents), and critical evaluation of the interpretations and reconstructions in the secondary scholarship.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 502 Cultures & Contexts: Islamic Societies
Prof. Chelkowski (MEIS) syllabus
Examines the common base and regional variations of Islamic societies. An "Islamic society" is here understood as one that shares, either as operative present or as historical past, that common religious base called Islam. For Muslims, Islam is not simply a set of beliefs or observances but also includes a history; its study is thus by nature historical, topical, and regional. Here our particular focus is on the society of Shi'i Muslims. Shi'ism has been neglected in the last 200 years of the Western study of Islam, and only since the 1978–79 Islamic Revolution in Iran has it received attention in the West. Now, with American forces in Iraq, Shi'ism is suddenly one of the main topics of interest for the news media. The Shi'is of Iraq are the majority—some 60%—of the population, but historically they have been deprived of power in the government and of access to the political and economic life of the country.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 502 Cultures & Contexts: Islamic Societies
Prof. Rowson (Middle Eastern & Islamic Societies) syllabus
The Islamic world from about the year 600 to about 1300. Despite very large variations in culture across time and space, it is meaningful to speak of a single Islamic civilization during this period, and we ask why. Although the dominance of the religion of Islam, in one way or another, serves to define and unify the societies under examination, and religion will be a major topic of study, attention is also paid to philosophy and science, literature and music, and art and architecture. Reading are English translations of Arabic works written by the inhabitants of this world themselves. A chief objective is to help students appreciate just how different a culture different from their own--and especially one in the distant past--can be, and yet make perfect sense to its participants. By reading, analyzing, and discussing what those participants have to say about a myriad of topics, students gain insights into how cultures in general, including their own, work; and although the modern world is not included, study of the Islamic past will also enhance students’ understanding of Islam and Islamic cultures today.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 506 Cultures & Contexts: Chinese and Japanese Traditions
Prof. Roberts (East Asian Studies)
Essential aspects of Asian culture—Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Shintoism—studied through careful reading of major works of philosophy and literature. A roughly equal division between Chinese and Japanese works is meant to give a basic understanding of the broad similarities and the less obvious, but all-important, differences among the cultures of Confucian Asia. One reading is a Vietnamese adaptation of a Chinese legend. The last two readings, modern novellas from Japan and China, show the reaction of the traditional cultures to the Western invasions.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 509 Cultures & Contexts: The Caribbean
Prof. Khan (Anthropology) syllabus
Examines the impact of the Caribbean's long colonial history from the perspective of its diverse populations, through race, class, culture, gender, and sexuality. Known for its beauty, cultural vitality, and mix of peoples, cultures, and languages, the Caribbean is where today's global economy began, some 500 years ago. Its sugar economy and history of slave labor and colonialism made it the site of massive transplantations of peoples and cultures from Africa for more than four centuries and from Asia since the mid-19th century, and of a sizable influx of peoples from Europe all along. Readings examine the history of the region's differing forms of colonialism; the present postcolonial economic and political structures; anthropological material on family and community life, religious beliefs and practices, gender roles and ideologies; and ways in which national, community, and group identities are expressed today.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 510 Cultures & Contexts: Russia—between East and West
Prof. Kotsonis (History) syllabus
Focuses on distinctive historical and geographical dichotomies and issues in Russian culture. Emphasis is on primary documents, including literary works, travel notes, works of art, and political statements from all periods, chosen to establish the particular matrix of competing positions that make up the Russian national and cultural identity.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 516 Cultures & Contexts: India
Prof. Ganti (Anthropology) syllabus
Utilizing a variety of sources—novels, films, and academic scholarship—students are introduced to the history, culture, society, and politics of modern India. Home to one billion people, eight major religions, twenty official languages (with hundreds of dialects), histories spanning several millenia, and a tremendous variety of customs, traditions, and ways of life, India is almost iconic for its diversity. We examine the challenges posed by such diversity as well as how this diversity has been understood, represented, and managed, both historically and contemporarily.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 532 Cultures & Contexts: The African Diaspora
Prof. Gomez (History) syllabus
The dispersal of Africans to various parts of the world and over time, examining their experiences and those of their descendants. Regions of special interest include the Americas and the Islamic world, centering on questions of slavery and freedom while emphasizing the emergence of cultural forms and their relationship to both African and to non-African influences.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 534 Cultures & Contexts: The Black Atlantic
Prof. Morgan (Social and Cultural Analysis)
A range of intersecting questions concerning the African Diaspora and what it produces: What does the trans-Atlantic slave trade create in the early modern and modern world? How is our understanding of trade, culture, capitalism, justice, race, gender, and work shaped by the histories of dispersal that characterize the Atlantic World? What aspects of culture, politics, identity, and social formations are illuminated when we think critically about the African Diaspora and the forces that propel it?
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 537 Cultures & Contexts: Modern Israel
Prof. Zweig (Hebrew & Judaic Studies) syllabus
Modern Israel—Society and Culture: Despite its small size and population, Israel is a diverse, dynamic, and complex society. To understand its ethnic, religious, and political divisions, the different ethnic origins of the Jewish population over the last 150 years will be examined, and the growing role of the Arab population (approaching 20%) in Israeli society will be discussed. The special role of religion in the secular state, the development of Hebrew speaking culture, the political system, the settlement movement and the peace movement, gender issues, and the role of the army in everyday life are all addressed, concluding with a survey of the debate on whether Israel is a Jewish state or a state of all its citizens. Although the controversial issues that keep Israel in the headlines are touched on, the focus is the character of Israeli society and the impact on everyday life of living in the international limelight.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 544 Cultures & Contexts: Spain
Prof. Mendelson (Spanish and Portuguese) syllabus
What does Spanish culture look like? What are the different materials that Spanish artists and writers have chosen to articulate the often complex understandings they have of themselves, their nation(s), their relation to modernity (its opportunities and challenges), and the broader international community? We approach Spanish culture critically by learning about specific works and the contexts within which they exist, focusing on the mid-nineteenth century through the late-twentieth century, including fiction, poetry, film (fiction and documentary), painting, poster art, photography, performance, and architecture. Students actively engage in an informed analysis of cultural works from Spain in order to better understand and question the relation between cultural forms and questions of national identity, tradition, modernity, and authorship as they relate to the historical moment and location in which they are produced.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 545 Cultures & Contexts: Egypt of the Pharaohs
Prof. Roth (Hebrew and Judaic Studies) syllabus
Ancient Egypt during the New Kingdom period, 1550-1069 BCE. During this period of imperial conquest, the ancient Egyptian civilization, already more than sixteen centuries old, increasingly interacted with the peoples and civilizations beyond its borders. We examine the remains of this newly cosmopolitan pharaonic culture, including a variety of primary sources—texts (literature, popular stories, religious writings, letters, and administrative documents), as well as material culture (works of art, architecture, archaeological remains). Students learn how scholars analyze this material to reconstruct New Kingdom cultural life and use these methods themselves to gain insight into the Egyptians' religious beliefs, social forms and organizations, and conventions and achievements of their literature, art, and architecture, as well as to critically evaluate the interpretations and reconstructions in the secondary scholarship.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 546 Cultures & Contexts: Global Asia
Prof. Ludden (History) syllabus
Explores the expansive transformation of Asian cultures from ancient times to the present, focusing on networks of mobility, interaction, social order, and exchange that form the particularity of Asian cultures through entanglements with others. Beginning in the days of Alexander the Great and the formation of the Afro-Eurasian ecumene, follows tracts of Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu, and Muslim expansion; then turns to the age of early modern landed empires, Ottoman-Safavid-Mughal-Ming/Ching, and their interactions with seaborne European expansion. Studies truly global formations of culture in the flow of goods, ideas, and people among world regions, during the age of modern empires and nationalism, including the rise of the nation as a cultural norm, capitalism in Asia, and Japanese expansion around the Pacific rim. Concludes by considering cultural change attending globalization since the 1950s, focusing on entanglements of Asian cultures with the globalizing culture of the market, consumerism, and wage labor, and transnational labor migration as well as Asian cultural spaces in and around New York City, including our nearby Chinatown.
SPRING 2013 MAP-UA 552 Cultures & Contexts: Empires and Political Imagination
Prof. Burbank (History) & Prof. Cooper (History) syllabus
Comparative study of empires, from the Romans to the present, and the ways that empires have inspired and constrained their subjects' ideas of rights, belonging, and power. Throughout history, few people lived for very long in a state that consisted entirely or even mainly of people with whom they shared a language and culture. Empires--polities that maintained social and cultural distinction even as they incorporated different people--have been one of the most common and durable forms of political organization. An examination of the variety of human cultures must take account of how people lived in empires--sometimes seeking higher degrees of autonomy, sometimes accommodating to rulers' authority, sometimes trying to extend their own power over others. The study of empire expands our ideas of citizenship and challenges the notion that the nation-state is natural and necessary. We investigate how empires were held together--and where they were weak--from perspectives that focus on political and economic connections over long distances and long time periods. We also explore how scholars have approached the topic of empires, examining their methods and their interpretations. Readings include historical scholarship on the Roman, Chinese, Mongol, Spanish, Russian, French, British, and American empires, as well as primary sources produced by people living in these and other imperial polities.