In this seminar students of all backgrounds are invited to participate in visiting some of the pioneers and innovators of Afrofuturist thought and literature and performance as well as becoming familiar with emerging technology like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR).
Module 1 — The Past Future ELDERS + ANCESTORS: In this module we will gain a critical analysis of the System of Racial Inequity and learn about pioneers and innovators of Afrofuturist thought, literature technology whose works seek to offer alternative imaginings of how the black body might exist in a future free from its current state of oppression. Looking closely at the plot line and themes of Octavia E. Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower, and Sun Ra’s Prophetika. Students will be introduced to the practical component of the seminar as the class crafts their own “New Frontier Manifesto”. This document will serve as a set of community agreements or guiding principles that will inform the performance that the students will ultimately present at the end of the semester.
Module 2 — The Present Future ARTIVIST ACTIVITIES: Students will be introduced to the works of performing artists working in the realm of live arts. These practitioners evoke Afrofuturist aesthetics in the creation of their on-stage personas. This module will pay particular attention to artists whose work lies at the intersection of art and social justice. Students will be introduced to the work of radical feminist, Shasta from Shasta Geaux Pop. From Athi Patra Ruga’s alter ego Future White Woman of Azania students will learn about performing queer black masculinity in post-apartheid South Africa. Students will learn about Brobot Johnson the title character in a sci-fi hip-hop transmedia piece.
Module 3 — The Future Future ANDROID AWAKENING: Students will learn about virtual reality film and meet with leaders in the field of digital content creation. Students will also meet Joe Brewster and Michèle Stevenson, an award-winning documentary filmmaking duo and leaders of Rada Film Group, a company committed to ‘…create[ing] compelling visual stories that provoke thought about the complex multicultural world we exist in.’ Joe and Michèle will discuss their latest project, The Untitled Racial Justice Project, a virtual reality experience which enables users to travel to the Jim Crow South. I will share the prototype of my own virtual reality project Atomu which places users at the center of a Kikuyu tribal myth.
In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” the Word of the Year. Initially growing out of new forms of technologically enabled communication, which includes new games such as chat roulette, and new forms of public exposure such as sexting, the selfie more importantly expresses a wish to determine how one appears to others. To control the reception of the self. This course explores the concept self in anthropology and psychoanalysis, and in many cultural traditions, from Buddhism in Asia to psychoanalysis in the West. We examine three questions: How is the self formed? Under what conditions can the self change? What is the self’s relationship to the phantasmatic and the digital? It will explore these questions through written and visual material: ethnography, psychoanalysis, literature, philosophy, and film. Our goal is to arrive at a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the self as an object of study, and of the ethical and social implications of this understanding.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words, etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty, represent the promise of America, a land of opportunity and hope for so many around the world. Immigrants have arrived on these shores, to struggle and settle, to flourish and prosper. Yet recent political events and their corollary activism have vociferously challenged this narrative. America, so the argument goes, is built on systemic oppression and its very founding is called into question. This challenge is broadly conceived as “social justice,” an umbrella term that includes a range of social movements from Black Lives Matter to gender identity activism. Our seminar critically examines the meaning of “justice” in social justice by assessing the core tenets of these movements alongside the ideas and values long undergirding American institutions, and against which these movements define themselves. The seminar encourages students to reflect on what it means to live in America in this particular cultural moment. Conservative, liberal, progressive, radical—are these ideas, identities, or what? Such questions are intertwined with deeper questions about our moral and social existence.
Our course material will draw on a variety of sources and intellectual traditions. We will start with Alexander de Tocqueville’s classic, Democracy in America. We will then consider the seminal texts in the debates shaping contemporary American society, especially in relation to race, religion, class, gender, and sexuality. Thinkers include Martin Luther King, Cornel West, Robert P. George, Christopher Lasch, Howard Zinn, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, and Malcolm X. The seminar will provide the broader context in which to understand these texts, and will give students wide experience in a range of disciplinary traditions and methodologies across the social sciences and the humanities.
Other sources to inspire our discussions will include J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, Mississippi Burning and The Godfather Part 1 & 2 (not 3!). We will have guest speakers who have grappled with the questions that students will now ponder as they begin their academic and professional journeys. Assignments will include several short papers and a longer final paper which will ask students to analyze and reflect on course material (readings, films and seminar discussions).
So which is it? Is America a country predicated on systemic oppression or a land of opportunity where anybody can make it? From constitutionalists to internationalists, natural law philosophers to critical race theorists, the goal of the seminar is to inform students on how to think about some of the most pressing issues of our times.
Happiness is something we all seek, both for ourselves and those we care about. Yet even as the lure of happiness guides us, we continue to contest its nature and meaning. From the Greek philosophers, to the Declaration of Independence, to the latest beguilements from Madison Avenue, different visions of happiness compete for our attention. What, then, does happiness consist in? How can the nature and pursuit of happiness illuminate what it means to be human, and vice-versa? In this seminar, we’ll wrestle with these questions, and those that arise from them, by engaging with central texts from the Catholic intellectual tradition and the perspectives, proposals, and puzzles they bring to bear on them. We’ll read these texts, spread across a wide range of genres and centuries, with care and critical attention; we’ll interpret and discuss the merits and implications of their proposals; where answers remain unclear or disagreements arise, we’ll make the best case we can for each option available. In this way, the course will not only introduce you to the Catholic intellectual tradition and equip you to reflect on the nature of the happy human life; it will also prepare you to extend that critical reflection to your own views and your studies more generally.
Our approach will begin with the fundamental ethical question, “How should I live?” and the difference that Catholic understandings make when posing this question and proposing answers to it. We’ll explore these themes across a variety of genres: from dialogue, spiritual autobiography, and polemic (Augustine), to disputed question (Thomas Aquinas), to epic poetry (Dante), fragment and aphorism (Pascal), treatise (Scheeben), and catechesis (de Lubac). Major questions will include: what role does ethical conduct have in human happiness? How can reason and emotion help or hinder us in the pursuit of happiness? How do grace, freedom, good, and evil interrelate in human action? What does it mean to claim the vision of God is the end of human life? How is human self-understanding shaped by nature, fall, and grace?
Our exploration will include a visit to the Princeton Art Museum to examine how these themes are depicted in the visual arts, as well as discussions with visiting scholars. When these discussions overlap with the principal concerns of non-Catholic or non-Christian intellectual traditions, we’ll examine the difference made by specifically Christian or Catholic concepts and understandings. Students will cultivate the abilities required to engage with some of the tradition’s classic sources, to familiarize themselves with the terms, questions, and methods it brings to bear on what it means to be human and seek happiness, and to participate in and extend the conversation by developing critical responses of their own.
Princeton students are naturally focused, if not actually fixated, on success—in the classroom, on the field and for their emerging careers. But success has a much less well-understood sibling, which is often a precursor and even prerequisite for that success, whether in business, science, athletics or the arts. Failure.
Although we usually and understandably treat failure as a regrettable event or even a taboo, it has the potential to become a strategic resource, invaluable in its ability to show us—sometimes painfully and often uncomfortably—what we don’t yet know, but need to, in order to succeed.
Failure’s like gravity—a subtle, pervasive but invaluable fact and force of life. The Wright Brothers used gravity to fly; the ancient Romans to deliver fresh water to 1.5 million residents; and Nobel prizewinners to make profound discoveries in their labs—not to mention entrepreneurs, artists, authors, architects and athletes who’ve used the lessons of failure to achieve impressive success. In short, as much as we might prefer to deny or defy it, failure will be a likely companion in much of what we do, and our attitudes and skill in dealing with it can shape our own trajectory of accomplishment.
This seminar will offer incoming freshmen a unique interdisciplinary window into this “other ‘f’ wor[l]d” of failure, with an opportunity to see firsthand how valuable it can be in pursuing their success. In addition to utilizing my own book on this topic (The Other ‘F’ Word: How Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs Put Failure To Work, John Wiley & Sons, 2015), we will explore additional readings from history, technology, behavioral economics, art, psychology and even philosophy to anchor our class [see sample readings list].
This seminar is not for the faint-hearted. We’ll explore some discomforting territory, but it should be a fascinating odyssey through unfamiliar and very familiar terrain. Curiosity, creativity, a spirit of open-minded inquiry and perhaps a dose of humility and humor will be the prerequisites for admission. (And although it would be especially apt in this case, this will not be a “pass/D/fail” seminar.)
A sculpture made of half-chewed lard. A film that stars dancing saucepans and whirling whisks. Music based on recordings of London’s quiet streets during lockdown. Poetry incorporating the last words of a man who died in police custody. A comedian who satirizes a politician by lip-syncing to audio recordings of his speeches.
We are familiar with artworks that imitate life through images, sounds and stories. Creative artists may also work more directly with everyday experience, presenting humble, commonplace materials as aesthetic objects and experiences. Artists in various disciplines have long smudged the boundary between art and life, as when Marcel Duchamp (in)famously placed a bicycle wheel on a pedestal in 1913. (It is now held by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) Forty years later, John Cage created an equally mischievous piano piece composed only of silence. In the 1960s, choreographer Yvonne Rainer explored "pedestrian movement," and Yoko Ono instructed performers to make art by eating a tuna sandwich, uttering a cough, or disrobing.
Earlier generations of experimental artists seemed to revel in mystification and countercultural status, but today we take for granted that everyday experience can be aesthetically invigorating. With ubiquitous digital media and technology, the arts become less distant from ordinary experience, and individual artistic disciplines get mixed up too. Such blurring of boundaries raises questions about aesthetics, authorship, expertise, spectatorship, commodification, and community. During the worldwide pandemic, vital questions have emerged about the purpose and meaning of the arts. Creative artists struggle to adapt to changing circumstances and seek new venues to share their work. Artists and audiences alike continue to reconsider what the arts might offer at a time of unprecedented disruption and uncertainty.
This seminar seeks enchantment in everyday experience, considering the allure and the danger of mixing up life and art. In addition to studying and writing about historical artworks, students will research current-day practice and will complete open-ended creative projects. Experience in any artistic discipline is welcome but is by no means required; more important is a spirit of curiosity and exploration. For our purposes, "art" refers not only to visual art but to a wide variety of creative undertakings that result in performances, objects, rituals, stunts, and other possibilities we will discover together.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The German Constitution (Basic Law) begins with: “Human dignity shall be inviolable.” The United States Declaration of Independence announces that “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
But all human beings do not enjoy equal rights to life, liberty, and pursuits of happiness, let alone equal dignity. More than 700 million people live on less than $1.90 a day (more precisely, on less than the basket of goods and services that US$1.90 would buy them were they living in the United States). A child born in Spain today can expect to live to 83 years; a child born in Sierra Leone or Nigeria has a life expectancy of less than 55 years. The likelihood of dying under the age of five is 20 times higher in sub-Saharan Africa than in Australia or New Zealand.
Some of the causes of global poverty might fall into the category of bad luck—some regions have poor soil and are more susceptible to natural disasters. But there is no doubt that official policies, as well as the actions of individuals, private firms, and others, contribute. Currently, over 95% of the world’s Covid vaccines are being administered in just ten countries. Tax havens that rich countries create and enforce cost governments more than $500 billion in revenues, resources that could otherwise be spent on health care, education, and anti-poverty programs. Climate change, largely the result of historical carbon emissions on the part of early industrializing countries, is projected to increase the number of people living in poverty by as many as 130 million by the year 2030. Rich countries spend $250 billion per year subsidizing their own farming industry, lowering prices for and impoverishing developing country farmers.
This course addresses responsibility for global poverty. The first section draws on the work of practically engaged moral and political philosophers to examine global poverty from the perspective of justice and ethics. The second section examines some of the policy choices that tilt the economic playing field in favor of rich countries and against poor countries. Finally, we examine the psychological factors that lead rich country citizens to disregard or underweight global poverty, and ask what we can do.
The course will consist of seminars, student presentations, lectures from the instructor, and a series of guest lectures from professionals, activists, and academics working to fight global poverty.
Mother Tongues aims to develop novel ways of thinking about languages as social institutions, ideological battlegrounds, instruments used by nation-states to homogenize populations, define citizenship, and create social hierarchies. In his seminal work on the origins of nationalism, Benedict Anderson argued that nations are imagined and narrated into being, and language is central to the national imagination. We discuss theories of the development of nationalism in relation to ‘national’ and other languages, the rise of the vernaculars, the link between language and nationhood, linguistic ideology and the one nation-one language premise. We then turn our attention to language dynamics in the 21st century, and to the issues of hybrid identities, multilingualism, deterritorialized languages, the myth of the mother tongue, linguistic allegiance and language shift. Finally, we explore the ways in which language shapes culture and identity, impacts schooling and citizenship in a transnational, interconnected world.
The seminar is designed for students who are interested in learning about language as social practice. No previous knowledge in the field of linguistics is required. Our aim is to raise critical awareness of the ways in which language creates and perpetuates power, and to deconstruct well-established notions such as linguistic authority, nativity and foreignness. Class readings and discussions are grounded in specific geographical and historical contexts and cases. In order to connect theoretical insights with local practices and personal narratives, students will be asked to look around them for evidence of language contact situations, in the urban landscape and the media, and in their own families and communities.
With the pressures and frenzied pace of contemporary American life, with pandemic tensions and uncertainties, it might sometimes feel as if there is little time to contemplate the question of what makes for a meaningful life. How does each individual find deeper meaning for him/herself? What is the purpose of my life? What is the relationship of the meaning of my life to some kind of larger purpose? How do our lives fit into the larger world around us? Throughout the ages, writers, thinkers, and religious figures; wise ordinary folks—the person next door, one's parents and grandparents—have grappled with these questions. The course explores, from a variety of perspectives, some of the responses to the "big questions" of life. The readings and films are taken from different cultures, different time periods, and different spheres of human endeavor and experience: for example, from Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamazov" to Kurosawa's "Ikiru" ("To Live"), from "The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi" to "Forrest Gump;" from Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" to A.A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh;" from Taoism to Tolstoy; from Martin Luther King to "Anna Karenina;" from Pablo Casals to "Casablanca;" from Martin Buber's "I and Thou" to Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus to Albert Schweitzer's "reverence for life." The goals of the seminar will be: (1) to investigate the thoughts that others have had and (2) to examine the students' own questions and responses to the issues raised.
Music is a central medium of identity formation. It can inspire and console the individual and forge bonds of group solidarity, but it can also be an instrument of manipulation and torture, a tool of degradation and social disintegration. This course explores the multifaceted roles music played before and during the Holocaust, as well as its capacity to commemorate and reflect upon a historic tragedy that refuses closure.
We begin with an overview of music in the first years of the Nazi regime, whether through propaganda, such as Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, or in the activities of the Nazi-sponsored Jewish Cultural League (Kulturbund), which highlighted the painful dichotomies of German-Jewish cultural assimilation. These were also the years of the first concentration camps, including Dachau and Buchenwald, in which political prisoners fought musical coercion with their own songs of spiritual resistance. Our focus then shifts to music during the Holocaust (1941-45) with particular attention to the rich cultural legacy of the duplicitous “model camp” Theresienstadt/Terezín and the nightmare of Auschwitz-Birkenau, in which music helped a select few to survive. Finally, the last third of the course is devoted to music as a vehicle of Holocaust remembrance, both through the preservation of works created or performed in the camps and ghettos and through newly composed scores for the concert hall or film by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Hanns Eisler, and Steve Reich. How can music negotiate between conjuring unimaginable horror and the urge to seek redemption? How has witness testimony shaped our understanding of the role of music? What are the strategies for using music to bear witness, educate, or provoke a confrontation with the ongoing horrors of genocide and racism today? As the last eyewitnesses die, these are some of the questions that future generations must keep asking.
In 1788, Alexander Hamilton wrote: “It is said to be necessary, that all classes of citizens should have some of their own numbers in the representative body, in order that their feelings and interests may be better understood and attended to.” More than two centuries later, minorities have attained full citizenship and seismic demographic changes have transformed American politics, yet we still debate Hamilton’s premise. How should our political institutions mirror the citizenry at large? What are the consequences of more minorities entering office? What are the impacts of representation on education policy? In this seminar, we explore the meaning and practice of political representation and how it connects Americans to government, citizenship, identity, community, and more specifically education. We begin with a close analysis of Hanna Pitkin’s work to evaluate the contested meaning of representation. After a brief overview of the shape and meaning of representation, we will review the political science literature on race and representation with a focus on education related policy matters. As much as possible, the course will be interactive and student-directed; each class will feature considerable time for discussion, and project topics will be chosen by students to match their interests. Over the course of the semester, students will submit daily reading responses covering the course material, facilitate 1-2 class discussions, and submit one four page essay as well as an original 8-10 page research proposal concerning a specific and relevant course related topic.
Would you like to see a Degas pastel, a tour de force of Chinese calligraphy, or a Kara Walker up close? Do you want to participate in discussions about the Museum’s planning for a new building, scheduled to open in 2024? Participants in this seminar will go behind the scenes of a major university art museum with a collection of more than 100,000 objects from ancient to contemporary art. Sessions will focus on close looking and discussions of museum best practices and the role of the museum in the 21st century with a special emphasis on collecting with opportunities to study masterpieces of Asian, Ancient American, European, and modern and contemporary art. Students will study in-depth Princeton University’s collecting practices and consider the politics of presentation through considerations of installations, exhibitions, and conservation. Course readings will introduce students to some of the most compelling practical, theoretical, and ethical issues confronting museums.
A team of curators, the conservator, the director, and other members of the professional staff of the Princeton University Art Museum will help lead some seminar sessions. Students are expected to discuss critically issues in acquisitions, conservation, education, and interpretation based on readings and outside projects. The course will meet in a classroom and at various sites on- and off-campus (transportation will be provided).
Art has shaped societal views on technology and even impacted research in the sciences since the age of Leonardo’s study of human anatomical structure. Alexander Fleming was a painter—though his medium was not paint, but curiously live bacteria. One of his living art pieces fortuitously grew Penicillium fungus leading to the discovery of one of the most efficient life-saving drugs in history. Intuition honed by an artistic eye was critical in this finding—the ability to look for the unfamiliar and extraordinary.
This course will explore the fruits of inspiration in scientific and artistic works that embody the crossover collaborative of bioengineering and art. We will also review a cross-disciplinary survey of significant occurrences of biological themes in art.
Students will familiarize themselves with emerging life science technologies that have the potential to change the face of therapeutics. The course will then consider the use of these tools to not only improve health care but also as an art medium examining the influence of life sciences applications on our culture. The course material will expose students to organisms manipulated in an imaginative context and consider how these artistic ventures may affect public perception of emerging biomedical technologies. The course material will touch on how imagery communicates to society and how art can support the interpretation of the ethics around biotechnology’s involvement in the evolution of living beings.
There will be a hands-on laboratory experience in the field of Bioengineering x Art wherein students will use bacterial culture as the medium to create a stimulating piece of generative art utilizing a range of biopolymeric materials (agar, cellulose, gelatin) and fabrication methods utilized in tissue engineered constructs.
Blending engineering and art can promote innovation by teaching thinkers and practitioners to use divergent approaches to both solve problems and create. Further, allowing art to articulate the progression of bioengineering will generate discourse on the possibilities and concerns posed by advancement in this field.
Imagined as existing at the margins of the domain of reality and patrolling its borders, monsters have something to tell and a lot to teach about the culture that engendered them. They are one way in which we determine what may be intellectually conceived and what may physically exist; they delimit what we deem to be normal, and organize our aesthetic behaviors and cultural reactions. This seminar investigates the ways in which selected texts from the Western literary and artistic canon represent monsters. It encourages students to reflect on how different cultures, in different historical moments, include excessive creatures, abnormal human beings, and aberrant behaviors in the domain of the monstrous in order to establish and test the limits of natural, domestic, and approved reality. In this seminar, students will read a wide array of ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary texts from European Literatures alongside with theoretical reflections on the anthropological and cultural uses of the monster in different times and places. In addition to verbal texts, the course will include analyses of material, visual, and filmic artifacts and will take advantage of the resources hosted by Firestone Library and the Princeton Art Museum. Biweekly screenings and discussions of classical and popular films will complement the class work of the seminar.
This seminar will take students on an astronomical tour of the universe. We will discuss not only what is out there but also how we have figured most of this out using just ground based observations and, more importantly, how we have determined how big and how far away these astronomical objects are.
The diameter of the observable universe is known to be about 46 billion light years. That’s really big. Not only is 46 billion a huge number but even one light year, the distance a beam of light travels in one year, is a very long distance. How far is it? In this seminar, we will investigate the size of things starting with familiar objects having sizes we can readily grasp and carefully working our way up to the largest most distant objects in the observable universe. We will describe how these sizes and distances were first measured by scientists/philosophers as our understanding of the universe we live in evolved and matured over the years. But, more than that, we will learn, and in some cases demonstrate, how many of these measurements can be done with fairly modest equipment in our modern age. For example, we will see (i) how one can measure the diameter of the Earth from a single picture of a sunset, (ii) how one can measure the distance to the Sun by analyzing pictures of nearby asteroids taken through a small telescope over the course of a few nights, and (iii) how one can measure the distance to nearby stars using a few pictures taken over the course a year or two again through a small telescope. Depending on weather and available resources, we hope to demonstrate with actual nighttime observations some of these fundamental measurements as part of the class.
There are two main goals of the seminar. The first is to provide a deep appreciation for the scale of things in the entire visible universe. The second is for students to learn that data collection involves a lot of randomness and extracting meaningful information requires ideas from the fields of statistics, probability, and optimization. By the end of the course the students will know the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
This freshman seminar concerns itself with the laws by which fictional female lives are told: narratives by which we anticipate as well as judge—vigilant observers that we are—what is going to happen to her next. Indeed, a fundamental claim of this course is that dramatic suspense often problematically takes momentum from gendered laws and cues: thus, when we see a lightly-clad woman, drenched in blood, stumbling from a highway stop we are conditioned to assume that she has been raped. But what happens when a female director like Claire Denis ‘disappoints’ our narrative expectation because the presumed female victim turns out in fact to have cannibalized a truck driver?
In this seminar, we will explore an expansive archive of imaginative works—novels, stories, films, tv series—that flip the victim-script while we slowly familiarize ourselves with seminal writings from feminist and narrative theory. Some fictional works will force us to recalibrate our nervous systems because nothing bad happens (not even when a girl is left alone at a party, like in Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock). Others present counter-histories to the usual combination of male violence and female sacrifice (e.g. Sally Potter’s Thriller); others again shift the focus from heterosexual romance to meaningful relations between females (e.g. Mary Gaitskill’s Two Girls, Fat and Thin). We will reflect on the genre of the rape revenge movie and its deconstruction in the finale of Michaela Coel’s I May Destroy You. Assuming that anxiety is not just a means of protecting us but also a way of being governed and put in check, in the last third of the semester, we will take inspiration from feminist discourses of queer joy (e.g. from the “San Junipero” episode of Black Mirror) and from black optimism (especially Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments). We will conclude by weighing how to strike the right balance between acknowledging misogyny (Kate Manne’s Down Girl) and resisting gynopessimism (Jodi Dean’s “Against Gynopessimism”).
FRS 135 Beth Stroud
Despite the increasing percentage of Americans that have enrolled in college over the past few decades, public trust in higher education has steadily decreased. Scandals like Operation Varsity Blues and the persistent racial and socioeconomic disparities in educational access have furthered the long-standing critique that selective colleges and universities are “ivory towers” disconnected from reality and social engagement. Yet, the foundational promise--and premise--of the liberal arts education at Princeton is that it helps students develop as scholars “in the service of humanity.” So how do we, as scholars, employ this education to engage in, and help address, the most pressing issues of our time? And how do we recognize, grapple with, and, indeed, interrogate the power and privilege that comes with this education?
In Ways of Knowing, we will analyze and engage with a variety of texts that stage inquiries into power, privilege, and knowledge. From Plato to Lin-Manuel Miranda and W.E.B. Dubois to Sonya Sotomayor, the course texts provide students with an introduction to critical epistemology. Through analyzing novels like Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, theory like Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto, and films like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, we examine how power and social identity intersect to shape the way that knowledge is produced, manipulated, disseminated, and consumed. The course thus provides a framework that allows us to see links between our scholarly education and pressing issues of inequity and injustice in the world. It will allow us to do so in a way that lets us reckon with structures of power rooted in racism, gender disparity, classism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and bias.
Each week, we will explore how different thinkers engage with a shared set of concepts that we will carry through the course, like privilege, language, and identity. Our course will address the ways in which knowledge in the academy is produced, why certain forms of knowledge have been invested with power, and who, historically, has had access to this power. Most importantly, we will hone our own scholarly ways of thinking, reading, and writing, becoming active producers of knowledge and making our own contributions to the world.
How do you—and how did the Egyptians—read hieroglyphs? If you have ever stood before brightly decorated sarcophagi from millennia-old pyramids, staring in respectful awe at row after row of amazing symbols without ever imagining that you, too, could read and write like an Egyptian, this interactive, hands-on seminar will get you started. In our exploration of ancient Egyptian society and its orthographic systems (especially hieroglyphic, but others as well) we will take both an internal and an external approach: on the one hand we will learn about the gods, mortals, pharaohs, and sphinxes about whom the Egyptians wrote; on the other we will think about the cognitive and artistic similarities and differences between the ways in which we and the Egyptians express ourselves in written form.
In October 1922, when Benito Mussolini completed his semi-legal seizure of power in Italy, the Fascist era began in triumph and was cheered by the crowds. It ended two decades later in the Piazzale Loreto at Milan, where the bodies of Mussolini and his mistress were strung up by the heels by the partisans as silent evidence that the Fascist regime was indeed over. Between those two historical moments, Mussolini, the ex-socialist, had dominated the spotlight of Europe.
Produced from the post-World War II period to the present, the Italian, French, German, and Polish films we will study in this seminar establish a theoretical framework for the analysis of Fascism, its political ideology, and its ethical dynamics. We shall consider such topics as the concept of fascist normality, the racial laws, the morality of social identities (women, homosexuals), the Resistance, and the aftermath of the Holocaust. An interdisciplinary approach will be combined with learning basic concepts of film style, technique, and criticism. Some of the films we will study are Bertolucci's The Conformist, De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Malle's Au revoir les enfants, Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum, Wertmüller's Seven Beauties, Holland's Europa Europa, Polanski’s The Pianist, Rossellini's Open City, and Benigni's Life is Beautiful.
Readings will focus primarily on historical essays, interviews with filmmakers, and critical reviews. Students are expected to view one film per week. Students will be required to write three 3-page papers based on the weekly readings and the films and a final paper (6-8 pages). All books will be available for purchase at the Labyrinth bookstore or can be consulted at Firestone Library. All other materials will be distributed by the instructor in class.
In this transformative time, when national politics seems frayed at best, local government meetings remain sites of direct democracy, effective leadership and creative action. Is Politics a Performance? looks at how we perform in these meetings, and who gets to play which roles. Drawing on the tools of sociology, philosophy, civics and theater, we will analyze meetings in Princeton and Trenton, as well as other US cities both in-person and online, as health guidelines permit. Through a layered, practical and fun approach to decision-making, citizenship and dramaturgy, this class is ideal for students considering work in public policy, education, social sciences and performing arts.
Guiding questions for this course include:
• How do we understand the rules – both explicit and implicit – by which our democracy functions (or doesn’t)?
• What does it mean to study citizenship?
• Why are local government meetings structured the way they are?
• How do we know who is qualified to lead?
• How can the tools of theater inform our understanding of the political process?
• As we transition out of quarantine, how might digital democratic processes allow more people to participate, and what are the challenges and limitations of this new form?
The course includes readings from Plato to contemporary philosophers, from influential sociologist Erving Goffman to modern-day theater artists and organizers. We will visit city council meetings in Trenton, Princeton and virtually in other cities; we’ll also have a chance to interview local elected officials, staffers and activists. As a final class project, we will pull together the most interesting and illustrative moments from the meetings we see into a short script and invite classmates and colleagues to perform it with us, in a virtual embodiment of democratic process. Our goal is that at the end of the course we have a sense of how to activate civic engagement through collaboration and participation.
Is Politics a Performance? is drawn from a participatory theatrical project called City Council Meeting, which was presented in five US cities, and a forthcoming book based on the project. In creating that work, we saw that young people who had a chance to try out different roles and texts within the familiar, uncomfortable and often boring structure of a local government meeting were able to empathize more easily with people very different from them. The course offers a chance to learn how to ignite the fire of citizenship in young people now.
Fantasy and science fiction are often considered escapist genres more concerned with imagining new worlds than contemplating our own. Why, then, are these worlds frequently governed by educational institutions similar to those we encounter in our everyday lives? From Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning to Morning Glory Academy, we find individuals negotiating institutions that seem to promise infinite possibilities. Yet students of these imagined academies are repeatedly forced to accept the limitations imposed upon them by institutional culture and politics.
This course explores fantastical works that showcase the very real issues that shape education, including race, class, gender, privilege, and disability. How might television shows such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina or fiction by writers like G. Willow Wilson and Ursula Le Guin inform the ways we imagine the educational policies and institutions we frequently take for granted? What might the experiences of characters like Hermione Granger, Kamala Khan, and the X-Men illuminate about our own experiences of school?
We begin with a journey to Hogwarts, where we’ll immerse ourselves in scholarship on both fantasy and education as we contemplate the popularity of scholastic fantasies. From there, we’ll think about the often arcane-seeming systems guiding school admissions, as we look at magical and science fiction aptitude exams alongside studies of standardized testing. Next, with the help of various muggles, mutants, and magicians, we’ll examine the curricula students study, the rules they’re forced to obey, and their feelings of belonging and inclusion. Alongside Buffy Summers, Quentin Coldwater, and others, we’ll investigate honor codes, hidden curricula, and other labyrinthine academic byways. Finally, we’ll consider the processes through which students learn, examining fantastic portrayals of lectures, interactive game playing, and experiential education in order to reflect on what is prioritized in learning and the ways it is rewarded.
Class assignments will reflect our concern with thinking about the different forms education might take, and students will experiment with delivering oral presentations, writing short papers, and pursuing independent research. For their final project, students will develop an educational guide, such as a lesson plan or digital archive, that draws on what they’ve noted about the unspoken norms of higher education and helps them prepare for further fantastic experiences moving forward at Princeton.
In this seminar we will study moments of change at seven crucial stages in the life cycle (childhood, adolescence, courtship and marriage, work, maturity and death) in order to discover the conflicts and contradictions, the emotional truth, and the possibilities that such moments hold for us. Our medium will be the short story. Great short stories show us convincingly how change comes about, each one unique and yet ultimately universal. How do moments of revelation occur? What are these changes each of us must discover in a unique way? What pushes us? What show us the way? Or does it result from within?
Each class will begin with a discussion of an illustrative short story, followed by a writing exercise inspired by it, and then discussed in small groups. We will gather again to share what has been written by those who wish to. Each student will be encouraged to produce and thus discover, the imaginative and regenerative potential residing in her/his imagination. The writing submitted will be both shared with the class and discussed in one on one sessions with the professor. In a final paper each student will put their pieces together to reflect the whole. Guest speakers will be invited, both psychiatrists and authors. Dr. William Tucker will talk about Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development. A collection of most of the short stories we will read is available in "How People Change: the Short Story as Case History," by William Tucker and all will be found on line.
Despite the slew of high-profile scandals exposed over the past two decades, examples of ethical transgressions in financial markets continue to abound. The global financial crisis arguably highlighted the extent to which we seem to have made little progress in stamping out unethical behavior in markets. The pandemic and collective indignation at racial injustice present a unique opportunity for the finance industry to re-assert its credentials as a force for good in society.
This seminar will explore ethics in the finance industry using a case-based method. Our approach will be grounded in an understanding of the role of a financial system in an economy and society. We will frame the discussion by reviewing the economic development and egalitarian arguments in favor of markets and considering their limits. We will discuss the applicability of Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics, and Virtue Ethics as moral approaches to finance. We will address the seminar’s topic from various angles, drawing on moral philosophy, financial theory and concepts of behavioral ethics, corporate governance, economic development, and public policy.
In addressing ethical issues, a few themes will be emphasized through-out the semester:
- A discussion of the underlying assumptions of finance theory, their impact on the practice of finance and on the practical role of morality in the industry, and the applicability of Kantian, Utilitarian, and Virtue Ethics philosophies to finance.
- An attempt to distinguish ethical issues that are systemic in nature from those that relate to individual decision-making and character.
- For the systemic issues, an overview of how the largest financial firms on Wall Street have evolved over the past several decades, creating new conflicts of interests, and the potential impact of that trend on inequality.
- A comparison of corporate governance across national financial markets, with particular emphasis on the US, China, and Japan.
- For the issues related to individual decision-making, case studies to illustrate various patterns observed in markets, from outright deceit, fraud, and manipulation to more nuanced mishandling of conflicts of interest. For the latter, we will pay particular attention to the concept of cognitive bias.
- A discussion of role models – finance professionals who pursue their self interest in a responsible manner, in ways that seek to benefit society rather than extract value from it.
- An exploration of the economic and social value of investments and which types of investments might create the most positive impact beyond financial returns.
This seminar is about thinking about the future of the planet and your own future. You will create four time capsules, to be opened at your graduation and at your 10th, 25th, and 50th reunions – that is, in 2025, 2035, 2050 and 2075. These capsules will contain the essay you write during the semester and will be preserved for you in the university’s Mudd Library.
Your essay will treat a single topic, which you will choose early in the semester and will become an expert about. Students’ topics have addressed technology (the electric car, energy from offshore wind, commercial shipping in the Arctic), human impacts on the biosphere (the fate of the hawksbill turtle, how well whales will survive), environmental impacts (sea level rise and coastal communities, typhoons in the Philippines, forest fires), Earth-system science (what we will know about clouds), and conceptual issues (what high schools teach about climate, values for the Anthropocene). You will describe a pair of plausible outcomes at each of the four time periods, both at the large scale and as they relate directly to you. Some of your analysis will be quantitative. You should enjoy numbers and have an appetite for arithmetic; no AP math is needed.
The topics will be grouped into clusters (three or four topics to a cluster), allowing you to confront common issues. You will give oral reports as your individual and group work progresses, including a final presentation to an invited public.
In the words of a past student: “We examined our topics from a broad range of angles: biological, social, political, technical, economic, and, perhaps most of all, personal. [The course] gave us an incredible chance to look at the world and our relationship to it in a way none of us had ever really done before. We are all sure that this experience will stay with us throughout the rest of our lives.”
Lectures introduce the Earth as a physical system affected by human activity; fossil, nuclear, and renewable energy; energy consumption and lifestyle, uses of the land; environmental justice and low-carbon policy. You read some published science papers. We host a few guests. It is fine for you to be completely new to the subject.
You are welcome to insert personal material in the capsules, such as letters from your family and letters to yourselves.
Pandemic Pedagogy is organized around the question of how school and society are being impacted upon in a time of psychological trauma and social disruption. The course takes a multi-disciplinary approach to address this multifaceted question, one that unfolds on multiple levels of analysis, ranging from the personal to the global. This approach is reflected in the several different components of the course.
The first component is Consultation Corner, a weekly debriefing held at the beginning of each class during which seminar members have the opportunity to compare notes with other members about their own experiences as scholars and members of the Princeton community during these extraordinary times.
The units we will explore make up the second component. First, we will look at Pandemic Perspectives—Memes and Tropes in Literature and History, a series of conversations that will provide us with richer and more meaningful perspectives on our recent experiences and shared historical moments. Next, we will consider Pandemic Epistemology and Decision Making. Our readings and discussions here will focus on aspects of human development, sense-making and the progress of scientific knowledge. Taken together, these discussions will enable us to better understand the cognitive, affective, and behavioral challenges in this time of crisis, choice, and change.
Using these foundations and perspectives as a shared scaffolding of experiences and understanding, we will then do a ‘deeper dive’ into a variety of different subjects and issues.
Included here will be Pandemic Teaching and Learning, Pandemic Politics and Civics, Pandemic Economics, and Pandemic Health Care. Finally, we will consider Post-Pandemic America: Lessons Learned and The Way Forward.
There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how's the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
Starting with groundbreaking studies in the 1960s and extending to current research across the social sciences, we have gradually come to appreciate the overwhelming yet neglected power of context. The context we inhabit—the water in which we swim—profoundly influences our lives, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our behaviors, often in ways that we underestimate and misunderstand. Beyond the obvious physical features of the context around us, from climate and geography to housing, transportation, nutrition, and safety (all of which affect people unequally in important ways), the human context includes other elements that are less apparent, such as:
- Societal narratives (i.e., the stories we tell about poverty, gender, meritocracy, etc.)
- Inequality, stereotypes, & discrimination
- Social norms & regulations
- Religion & the law
These have profound implications for our behaviors at work, at home, in school, at war, during genocides, growing up in neighborhoods, being a citizen, a boss, rich, poor, a minority, and so on. These veiled contextual elements seep in and become part of our individual experience. Among other things, they affect:
- Our tastes and preferences
- Attention, memory, and self-control
- Obedience, resistance, cooperation
- The perception of luck, success & failure
- Depression, satisfaction, well-being
Returning to the fish, consider the following (from Sandro Galea, Dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health): “Imagine you have a goldfish. You want it to live a long, healthy life. So, you feed it nutritious food. You buy it a tank with ample room for exercise. You put toys in the tank, so it has plenty of stimulation. When it is sick, you take it to the vet, who prescribes treatment... Then one day, you wake up and find your goldfish dead. Why did it die? You forgot to change its water.”
This course will explore the underappreciated power of context, with its insidious as well promising effects, and consider ways one might go about changing the water.
How green is Princeton’s campus? What is the total area of green space, and is all green space of equal quality? In nominally green areas, how diverse is the vegetation, how tall are the trees, how healthy are the leaves, and how permeable is the soil? Each student will be in charge of a square subregion of the campus where they will make a battery of measurements using a diversity of instruments. The ultimate group goal is to build a quantitative digital map of campus greenness. Individual student goals for final research papers can vary from tracking campus greenness through time (seasonally or over the past 90 years using available data sources), comparing Princeton’s campus to other universities (using satellite data where available), assessing the sustainability of Princeton’s expansion plans, or comparing this year’s observations with ongoing monitoring projects such as noise pollution or climate change.
This seminar is about natural science and technology, and the class has a laboratory component to it. You will need a bit of a technical mindset to follow the instructions to set up and use the various instruments you are supplied with for point measurements, repeat observations, and long-term automated data collection. As to the course itself, you must be prepared with an aptitude for, and a willingness to learn the quantitative aspects of scientific inquiry, as we will dive deeply into the numerical interpretation of your campus data using statistical data analysis techniques such as regression, cross-correlation, and time series and image analysis, using the MATLAB computer programming language, which we teach (from scratch) at a rapid pace. Throughout the seminar, you will complete a stepped sequence of writing assignments that teach you to communicate your scientific results, culminating in an original research paper and an oral presentation for an audience of peers, freshman seminar alumni, and invited guests from the University community.
In your application essay, please be sure to address your preparedness and excitement for both (1) setting up and monitoring the scientific instruments you will be issued, and (2) conducting frequent outdoor field work. Half of the class time will be spent in-person outdoors (rain or shine, hot or cold), and you will need to make frequent trips to your adopted campus area to make outdoor observations. Also, before writing your essay, please read student feedback about our previous seminars so you know what to expect in terms of expectations and work load, and our “tough but fair” grading policy.
In the early fifteenth century, a young peasant girl from a small village in France dresses first in men’s clothes, convinces an exiled Prince to give her armed troops to lead, helps turn the tide in France’s Hundred Years War against England, and then is burned at the stake as a heretic. Rehabilitated 20 years later (though only canonized as a Saint in 1920), in subsequent centuries, she becomes nothing less than a mass cultural icon, or perhaps more accurately, a cultural cipher. For her story has been retold continuously in varying ways, becoming a symbol of both nationalist patriotism and radical resistance to patriarchy, while her name and image was also being used to advertise countless consumer products from cosmetics to cigars. The seminar will survey the reception of “la pucelle” from the original transcripts of her heresy trial in 1431 to her invocation as a transgender hero in our own time. Reading, watching, and discussing works from a range of genres (poetry, chronicle, play, novel, biography, and film), we will examine how this extraordinary figure was deployed in order to explore specific social and cultural issues in the different contexts of each work. Course assignments will include a class presentation, two short papers, and a final paper. Of special interest during our discussions will be the cultural meaning applied to Joan’s cross-dressing. Students completing the course will gain insights into several fields of knowledge: medieval mysticism, medievalism, literary history, the culture industry, and the history of gender.
Over the course of the semester, we will examine how scholars can use archaeological methods to interpret the lives of the people we study, especially the people who are not mentioned in texts. How is archaeology related to history, and vice versa?
In the first part of the course, you will learn how to critically evaluate historical and archaeological sources, and apply different theoretical approaches to material evidence. We will then spend some time learning the practical skills necessary for archaeological research through a series of lab activities. We will explore cemetery statistics, analyze trash habits, study skeletal anatomy (with plastic replicas), and examine environmental samples. All of this will feature in a hands-on excavation of a “burial” from Roman Britain before fall break, which students will then analyze as a group throughout the rest of the semester. During the second half of the course, we will think about the different ways we can “tell” history using archaeology. Finally, we will consider the difficulties of gathering archaeological data responsibly, both in terms of research design and out of respect for living communities. As a final project, you will interpret, present, and “publish” the results of your excavation!
*This course involves substantial group work*
Decades after the official end of the Cold War, the escalating tensions between Russia and the West are at the forefront of current politics, forcing many to rethink the chronology of the Cold War and its end in 1991. The focus of attention has been on Russia or the West, but the territories in-between—formerly part of the Soviet Union and the communist block—have been affected most severely by this confrontation. The aim of this seminar is to introduce students to the history of the complicated relationships between different regions in Europe—Russia, West and Eastern or Central Europe—towards a better understanding of politics today. We will discuss the ways in which the growing juxtaposition between Russia and the West affected the regions in-between, Eastern and Central Europe, between the late eighteenth century and the present. We will start with the discussion of the construction of different regions in Europe during the Enlightenment focusing on the question on how Western Europe and Russia came to form two separate units in political and intellectual imagination in Europe, and how the territories in-between became categorized as Central Europe and/or Eastern Europe. We will proceed with the discussion of the patterns of relationships during the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, through WWI, WWII, into the Cold War and the collapse of communism. This seminar will pinnacle with discussion of post-communism and the relationships between West, East and Center in the twenty-first century. In this last section, we will address the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s and Russian-Ukrainian wars in the twenty-first century, western responses, and new escalations between the West and Russia today.
This seminar is designed for students with broad interests in European and Russian history as well as contemporary affairs. It does not require prior knowledge of Eastern Europe, Russia or historical analysis. We will address politics by analyzing individual lives and the ways in which people experienced many transitions across time. We will read their personal accounts—memoirs, diaries and letters—as well as novels and journalistic coverage of the events while learning to use these sources to explain history and politics. Several short movies will also help us understand the lives of people trapped between the East and the West.
This seminar will study the history and nature of myths—traditional as well as urban myths—particularly in regard to the way that myths, legends, and superstitions reflect the concerns and fears of all cultures. We will examine the ways in which each genre differs, and the means by which communities, seized with conviction for generations, disseminate and fortify them. The collective unconscious is often manifested in metaphor, particularly in literature and film, and the legitimate anxieties, fears (and guilt) that it reflects will be the subject of our study. We will discuss urban myths through history (witchcraft; alchemy and the philosopher’s stone; prophecies of the end of the world, conspiracies) as well as contemporary myths (post-truth beliefs), and the technological, religious and cultural shifts that cause them.
Students will read from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Uses of Enchantment, as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, White Noise, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and The Road. We will watch the films ‘Walkabout;’ ‘Moonlight;” ‘Let the Right One In;’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (Cocteau).
How can we understand the lives of early Christian women? In this course, we examine topics such as constructions of femininity and masculinity, debates on sex and abstinence, freedom and enslavement, and fashion and footwear. Texts we analyze include sections from the Bible, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the Acts of Thecla, the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas. We incorporate evidence from the material world (papyrus letters, archaeological remains, textiles, shoes) and also reflect on how ancient debates relate to contemporary issues on religion, gender, and class.
This studio class is about painting and practice. Painting has such a long and complicated history that is now transforming and including adjacent events, perspectives, and artists—that there is no real place to start. It has become professional and is an academic area of study. That said—anyone can use a paintbrush somehow and make a painting.
This class will be a lab where we study many things about painting the process and paint the material. This could include: experimenting with different types of paint, discussing what subject we paint, studying colors lying down next to one another, ideas about painting space, ideas about producing a lot of paintings on different types of surfaces and traditional canvas, letting go of your preconceived notions of what "good painting" might be, learning to make a stretcher, not naming the thing you are painting, stories of pigments and paint, and how to approach starting and finishing a painting. We also look at a lot of images of paintings, and celebrate the sociality of a studio class. The best part of the class is we are here together working and the room is filling up with many paintings. There will be an awareness of making paintings in your own time, and we will look at contemporary painting. You will achieve some understanding of your own relationship to painting as an artist.
We start with the basics. That said, the class is not meant to be conclusive, but you will leave from a more informed position about painting. This class is not a “how to” approach. You will not learn exactly “how to” render a figure, a horse, a building, etc. But we may paint them. It is important you know this. This class is part of the Visual Arts Program. We will make a lot of paintings.
Using an array of site-specific, creative research methods, students will explore their local environments (inside and out) searching for data and the patterns, stories, and observations that follow. They will catalog and document their findings in evolving multimedia archives, iterating on various modes of collection and communication. Some topics covered include: Personal and Local Data, Documentary & Observational Drawing, Sound & Sensory Visualization, Data Collection, Data Narratives, and Archival Research and Design. Written responses and in-class discussion of data-driven readings, films, and work by artists and designers, will provide context to these techniques.
Students will practice and investigate these approaches through the production of small creative projects. In-class exercises and demonstrations will introduce various analog and digital tools used in design, media production, and data visualization. The course will culminate in the production of a larger creative data visualization project. This larger project will be built on the foundation of one or more of the smaller projects, developed and iterated upon throughout the semester. Together, the class will exhibit their projects, collectively illuminating a set of uniquely local stories and patterns.
This class will be a hands-on investigation into performance and photography through making self-portraits. What does it mean to photograph yourself? Is it an act of self-exploration, narcissism, self-love, representational justice, theatre, performance? What are the possibilities and limitations of making art in this way? What can our own bodies teach us if we start to pay attention?
Through making self-portraits students will reflect on how it is to be in their particular body. Each class will have guided warm-ups which will foreground play, embodiment, and free-association out of which students will generate material for their photographic explorations. Journaling throughout the semester will encourage students to digest their first experiences at Princeton while also helping to spark ideas.
We will start by learning the basics of camera operation and from there will begin to consider how things like framing, angle of view, and distance influence meaning. Though students will learn about how to make images with intention, this is not a deeply technical class. We will be using video screenshots, phone cameras, or digital cameras and discussing how their differing qualities contribute to the mood and meaning of the final photograph. Pre-recorded technical lectures and/or assistance through The McGraw Center will be given to students with an interest in Photoshop, but this will not be covered in class.
Each class will have time devoted to looking closely at one or two artists' work. This will be a way for students to develop their visual literacy and vocabulary for discussing photographic works while also providing art historical context. These sessions and our readings will guide us in conversations about identity, performance, and photography. Students will receive feedback frequently throughout the semester through critiques. Collaboration will be encouraged.
Aerial acrobats, such as the artists of Cirque du Soleil, hold themselves aloft through an intricate tangle of their own limbs and supporting silks, intertwining themselves in beautiful patterns. At every twist and turn, these artists must be conscious of the structure that supports them. At no time can it be allowed to unravel, or the artist will fall, and at no time can it grow so tangled that the dancer becomes trapped. There must always be a balance between the limitations of the silk fabrics and the dancer’s own body. In this course, we will explore and develop tools with which to “mathematically” understand aerial acrobatics.
To capture the underlying intricate knots, whose methodical creation and destruction maintain the fluidity of an aerial performance, we will draw inspiration from the mathematical field called “knot theory” which classifies how curves can be arranged in space. Contrary to popular belief, mathematics is not simply a toolset for calculations. At its heart, mathematics is the study of patterns, identifying commonalities in hidden places, and finding structure where there was none. Its language and logical structure reveal hidden relationships or principles and augment physical intuition with analytic tools that allow us to replace trial-and-error approaches with powerful thought experiments. We will use knot theory to understand how to choreograph an aerial sequence for both stability and beauty.
We aim to develop consistent diagrammatic techniques to describe aerial postures and transitions, and develop mathematical language to justify why some postures described via these diagrams are physically “valid”. The course will be an open-ended exploration of how to build such a language. We will explore the intertwining (pun intended!) of aerial silks and topology, and integrate these disciplines to describe the elements of aerial silks with mathematical rigor.
No mathematical background is required for this course. Meetings will take place twice each week. In the first meeting, the instructor will introduce/clarify mathematical topics. Together, students brainstorm how this content applies to the aerial setting, view media featuring performances illustrating techniques, and discuss how choreography can be described mathematically. In the second meeting, theoretical concepts are put to work solving problems and dealing actively with the materials and maneuvers which arise in aerial silks.
Information technologies, such as computers, smart phones, and the Internet, pervade today’s world, and Princetonians and Princeton institutions have played major foundational roles in conceiving and creating these technologies. This seminar will trace these developments through the contributions of Princeton faculty, students and community members who made major contributions to them. These include pioneering figures such as Alan Turing, John Von Neuman, Claude Shannon, John Bardeen and Robert Kahn, among others, who were the progenitors of computer science and engineering, digital communications, semiconductor technology and the Internet, and other aspects of modern information technology, as well as Princeton institutions such as Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and RCA Laboratories, where many advances took place.
Each week we will consider an individual or individuals (or an institution), examining biographical information, connections with Princeton, and contributions to the development of information technology. The latter will involve an examination of the contributions themselves and assessments of the impact that they have had on subsequent developments.
The purpose of the seminar is thus twofold: first, to introduce some of the basics of information technologies, and, second, to emphasize the role that Princeton has had in their development. The material is intended to be accessible to students having general backgrounds.
Why do we love reading about love? Why are we so moved by lyric poems, love songs, and romantic novels? Why does love make us question who we are, sometimes go beyond ourselves, or take action in the name of truth and justice? What is the relationship between artistic creation, political action, and love?
In this course we will explore different philosophical concepts of love—eros (desire), agape (pure or divine love), philia (friendship), storge (familial love) and xenia (hospitality)—in their peculiar relationship to politics.
We will see how love represented and performed in literature and the arts intersects with activism as it attempts to spark social change. We will analyze how the work of poets, visual artists, photographers and filmmakers testifies to the roles of affect in resisting State order, as well as how these works, as labors of love, subvert the logic of twentieth-century authoritarian regimes, becoming essential tools for social, political and cultural revolution.
Using case studies drawn from literature, art, film and photography, the course will focus on key historical moments in Europe, North Africa, and the Americas, in which love as desire, friendship, compassion, solidarity and hospitality has resisted and triumphed over political violence: the Mexican Revolution, Fascism in Italy, the Spanish Civil War, the 1973 Chilean military coup, and the decolonization and independence movements in the 1950s and 1960s in the Maghreb.
Our readings will include a variety of genres and media, as well as historical and theoretical secondary sources, in order to explore different methodologies and practices of textual analysis and critical writing in the Humanities.
A young woman of color in Baltimore circa 1900 ponders problems of modern subjectivity and interpersonal communication in a text whose narrative form reinvents the novella before our eyes; a 1990s female performance artist reeling with grief reshapes her body in a pseudo-Gothic delirium; an ape narrates his life on and off the stage to an audience of early twentieth-century scientists; a university student in present-day Dublin practices collaborative spoken-word poetry while pursuing her complicated romantic life alongside the pleasures and demands of queer female friendship. Those are sketches of some of this seminar’s “portraits of the artist as...”
Protagonists of great literary works in the tradition of the Künstlerroman (artist’s novel) are typically young men—from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister (1795) to James Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus (1916) and beyond. Countless readers and writers have seen in those characters possible models for self-fashioning in art and life. This course focuses on literary works in which the aspiring artist is not a young man, and even sometimes not a human being. Reading and discussing texts that provide ample aesthetic pleasure while challenging our assumptions about individuality, creativity, and humanity at large, we will explore how ideas about art can matter to how we live.
Readings will include twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels, novellas, short stories, and memoirs that represent the artistic, quasi-artistic, or pseudo-artistic ambitions of their protagonists self-reflexively, in relation to the innovative literary forms of the texts themselves. We will read experiments in narrative form by the American modernist Gertrude Stein (1874-1946), short stories by Prague-born Jewish modernist Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and contemporary American writer George Saunders (b. 1958) that depict non-human animals as creatures with capacities for quasi-artistic creation, as well as short stories, novellas, novels, and memoirs by contemporary writers Don DeLillo (b. 1936), Fleur Jaeggy (b. 1940), Patti Smith (b. 1946), Ali Smith (b. 1962), Chloe Aridjis (b. 1971), Otessa Mosfegh (b. 1981), and Sally Rooney (b. 1991) that dispute received ideas about artistic originality and personal identity in multifarious ways while sustaining commitments to creative practices and engaged relations to literary traditions.
Some of these works will prompt questions about the ways gender, sexuality, race, and social class shape our ideas and fantasies about art and life. Others will ask us to consider how our ideas and fantasies about art and life shape our understandings and misunderstandings of ourselves and others. Through conversations and collaborations inside and outside of class, we will explore various approaches to thinking, talking, and writing about literature. Assignments and exercises will encourage experimentation and creativity while building skills in critical analysis that are foundational for a liberal arts education.
Future engineers, scientists, social scientists, humanists, and artists are all welcome!
For those who find reason unequal to the task of understanding human existence, religion has been the traditional place to go. In this course, we will examine a period in the Christian west when tragedy—usually, but not always, dramatic tragedy—took on the burden of exploring doubts about who and what we are, and about how we are supposed to behave. After two introductory classes in which we will consider what tragedy is and isn't with reference to the classical tradition, our texts will range from the Italian Renaissance to Goethe’s Faust. En route, we will consider tragedies by (amongst others) Marlowe, Shakespeare, Milton, Racine, and Dryden. We will also ponder whether—and if so, how—tragedy began to wane by the beginning of the nineteenth century, and whether tragedy has a place in our twenty-first-century age of confessional transparency, political activism, and hyper-realistic depictions of real and imagined violence.
The course will introduce you to modes and practices in literary studies (ancient, modern, and comparative), performance studies, and intellectual history (including but not limited to the histories of political, religious, and philosophical thought). Just as importantly, it will help you to explore the interconnectedness of the humanistic disciplines, and their power as a lens through which to view human affairs. Assessment will be based on class participation, a mid-term paper, and a final paper: There will be no exams. If the pandemic permits, we will also go to the theater. All texts not originally written in English will be read in translation.
Most Latin American countries have weathered political and social traumas—dictatorships, coups, mass violence, political disruptions, and severe economic disparities. (Sounds familiar?) Through all this instability and struggle, theater artists have reexamined and reimagined the use of theater to challenge and criticize structures, and to empower those who have been the most oppressed.
In this course, we will closely examine the ways different theatermakers from Latin America have chosen to tackle social/political theater from the ‘60s to the present. (We clearly cannot cover all of the countries or movements, but will note, among others, Peru’s Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, Argentina’s Workshop of Theatrical Investigations, Guillermo Calderón’s work in Chile, and others.) Our main focus will be on Augusto Boal’s seminal “Theater of the Oppressed”— analyzing and deconstructing what has traditionally been considered a well told story or play, identifying how that idea operates as a tool for an oppressor, and exploring other options that Boal proposes. We will investigate how Boal’s theories and practices have spread around the globe.
Each class will incorporate theories and practice including improvisations and games from the genre. (NO ACTING experience necessary! Almost preferred). Class will include readings, analysis, discussion, and watching interviews, events, and performances. The seminar will culminate in a project (script, happening, play, structure) that each student will create addressing a social/economic/political issue within a community of their choice.
*Please be aware that we are studying nations that are in great transition and flux. There will be material and history of violence, sexual violence, tactics of oppression and suppression, and other crimes against humanity. It is the goal of the class and the work to enable action and healing against such crimes. Please be aware that the material may be sensitive for some.*
FRS 189 Sufis, Slaves and Soldiers: Premodern Mobility in South and Central Asia HA
Ali G. Siddiqui (Gibran)
This seminar will introduce students to various forms of travel, migration and movement across the historically interconnected regions of pre-modern Central Asia, Iran and India. Students will discover a world where people, goods and ideas traveled, where spaces were shared and where fluid identities adapted to changing spatial contexts. Focusing on a different theme associated with pre-modern movement each week, the syllabus and its assortment of textual, visual, material, and scholarly sources will take the class on a semester-long journey with several stops across this Turkic, Persianate and Islamicate trans-regional space. Students will learn about these diverse historical experiences by journeying with Sogdian merchants and Turkic nomads, visiting Imperial harems across India and Iran, and listening to the accounts of slaves forcibly moved across the pre-modern world.
As this course curates textual, oral, visual and material expressions of space, movement, and belonging, it aims to develop among a basic sensitivity to the diversity of human experience. By the end of the course, students will be able to identify various kinds of movement and mobility in the pre- modern world while learning how to critically read texts, images and objects. In doing so they may unlearn some modern assumptions about the predmodern that often reduce processes of movement and exchange to products of globalization and modernity. Students will thus learn to appreciate how spaces were often shared by people with complex identities and see premodern Central Asia, Iran and India beyond the restrictions placed by modern borders and national identities. In addition to learning how to critically unpack and read textual and non-textual sources, students will benefit from working with ArcGIS Storymaps. Learning to use this powerful tool will not only give students a very marketable skill, but will also allow them to experiment with ways of imagining, visualizing, and presenting the stories of people from different periods and places.
As this is a freshman seminar curating Near Eastern Studies for an audience unfamiliar with the history of premodern Central and South Asia, there are no prerequisites. There are no foreign language requirements and training will be provided for all digital tools used in the classroom.
Few statements have made more of an impact on modern thought than Friedrich Nietzsche’s infamous “God is dead, and we have killed him.” This freshman seminar introduces students to Nietzsche’s almost paralyzing thought that the Western world has lost its compass, drifting aimlessly “through an infinite nothing” without the authority of a supreme being that would steer and oversee the lives of human beings on Earth. We will begin the course by reading thinkers such as Hobbes, Darwin, and Marx who influenced Nietzsche and modern atheism. We will then turn our attention to Nietzsche, doing close readings of texts like The Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Antichrist, and Beyond Good and Evil in order to better understand the idea that “God is dead” and its wide-reaching significance. Next, we will investigate the profound impact of the death of God for philosophers and writers in the 20th century, including Sigmund Freud, Georges Bataille, Martin Heidegger, Albert Camus, Sarah Kofman, and Jacques Derrida. Finally, we will consider the paradoxical influence of the “death of God” on prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as well as Christian theologians. With Nietzsche as our guide, we will ask to what extent contemporary atheism might be a mere inversion of religion – thereby remaining captive to what it claims to escape. Has science today merely taken the place once occupied by God?
Throughout the course, we will explore ways in which the “death of God” has found its way into popular culture by looking at films, songs, and other media that take up Nietzsche’s insight in some fashion. The central questions guiding the seminar over the course of the semester will be: If God is dead, what is to give purpose to human existence? What other structures of faith, morality, and truth become unstable or collapse along with the death of God? And what new possibilities for humans might emerge without God?
This course does not require any prior study of philosophy or familiarity with the work of Friedrich Nietzsche. The course does not espouse any particular point of view and instead promotes open-minded discussion, philosophical reflection, and intellectual rigor. Students will write two short papers during the first half of the course and a longer final paper at the end of the course. Class participation will amount to a significant proportion of the final grade.
Our beliefs and ideologies form an important part of our identity. They also create conflicts between families, political parties, and nations. Disagreements about morality, politics, and religion in particular can be vicious and seemingly impossible to resolve. The cognitive science of ideology provides a window to understanding (i) how to form beliefs in better and more reliable ways, (ii) why people hold the various beliefs that they do, and (iii) how to persuade others to change their mind. In this Freshman Seminar we will examine the nature of belief and ideology from a perspective that integrates contemporary work in philosophy, cognitive science, and political science.
We will start the seminar examining current controversies regarding what kinds of beliefs people ought to form and whether people are responsible for what they believe. Then we will read work in psychology investigating how people think, including when and in what ways people tend to be rational or biased. In the last half of the course we will turn our attention to three kinds of ideologies: Political ideology, Religious ideology, and Moral ideology. We will examine contemporary theories about how each of these three kinds of belief systems come about and persist. And finally, we will learn about when, and how, it is possible to persuade others to change their minds.
Each week we will read and discuss a journal article from philosophy or psychology. Students will complete three projects over the course of the semester. One project will involve conducting an interview with someone about one of their ideological beliefs. A second project will involve engaging in and writing about an ideological debate with someone who holds an opposing ideological belief. And the final project will be to propose an experiment investigating a topic in the cognitive science of belief.
In this studio course students use somatic practices, meditation, improvisation, performance, and creative and intellectual practices to delve into questions and experiences of stillness. Over the term, we will read widely within religious, philosophy, performance, and disability studies, and will examine concepts in social justice, visual art, and sound (and silence). We will explore movement within stillness, stillness within movement, stillness in performance and in performers' minds. We will look at stillness as protest and power. We will wonder when stillness might be an abdication of responsibility.
I developed Stillness after many years of teaching interdisciplinary courses within the Program in Dance. As I worked closely with Princeton students, it became clear that, for many, their growing edge is actually in exploring a gentler, deeper, and more still approach to learning and physicality rather than practicing pushing faster and further. I’ve found that Princeton students are hungry to have time to digest all they are learning and that they find value in developing tools to practice quieter approaches to work and their own lives. In the course we integrate an intellectual approach to the study of stillness with an embodied one, moving back and forth between learning about stillness across fields and then practicing it. We delve into fields across the arts, from dance and theater performance to visual art and music. We explore stillness across religions, philosophy, sciences, and social justice movements.
Students’ homework includes readings, viewings, and creative projects. They write reflective journal assignments twice a week, helping integrate the material. Along the way, they develop personal practices that last long past the end of the course. Previous students have remarked upon the value of the course in providing tools that help them dig deeper into their studies while also pausing and caring for themselves, and in ultimately helping them feel connected to their work, and lives, in a way that is sustainable.
New York City possesses a special place in the American imagination. It is the site of enormous aspirations, a place where immigrants come to make their fortune and artists come to make their reputation. It is also the place where the economic and social divisions of the United States emerge most clearly in the disparity between the rich and the poor. Thus, New York embodies both the best possibilities of the American Dream of transformation and the cruel realities of poverty, racism, and social injustice. This course will explore the wide variety of ways in which the fiction of New York City embraces the diversity, possibilities, and realities of American life.
Our exploration begins with the great modernist classic, The Great Gatsby, and the ways in which outsiders like Gatsby and the narrator, Nick Carraway, attempt to penetrate a social and economic world that operates by its own rules. We then move to a very different novel that was published in the same year as Gatsby, Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers, which details the struggles of a Jewish immigrant with both her family and the larger American culture. The juxtapositions provided by these two literary masterpieces—male and female, rich and poor, entrenched social positions and immigrant ambitions—set the stage for further explorations of the city as the site for social triumphs and tragedies in Will Eisner’s graphic novel, and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, one of the greatest historical novels in American literature. We move to Ann Petry’s The Street, perhaps the most powerful exploration of Harlem in American writing and one of the grimmest depictions of the corrosive effects of racism. History and science fiction combine to distinguish the imaginative time traveling of Jack Finney’s Time and Again. The city as a special place for adolescents comes under scrutiny in Salinger’s classic Catcher in the Rye. Our investigation takes another turn when we explore the situation of upper class women in several of Edith Wharton’s finest short stories. The possibilities of American life assume different meanings in Frank McCourt’s memoir of his journey to the United States from Ireland and into a career as a teacher in the New York school system, in the supernatural horror of Victor LaValle’s bold rewriting of H.P. Lovecraft, and Ha Jin’s portrayal of Chinese immigrants. These texts provide new ways of looking at race, class, sexuality, gender, and the process of growing up and growing older in an urban and sometimes urbane landscape. By the end of the class, students should discover some new and amazing books and, more importantly, discover new ways of reading American fiction and the culture it both depicts and critiques.
FRS 199 Diplomatic Encounters -- Or, So You Want To Be a Diplomat HA
Robert L. Hutchings
This seminar offers an introduction to the history, theory, and practice of international diplomacy, which we define broadly as a set of activities by which political leaders and other officials, both senior and junior, conceive of, develop, and implement foreign policy. The course draws on the instructor’s experience as former ambassador and current scholar to examine the changing but role of diplomacy in today’s digitally connected and increasingly polarized world. Our core texts will be Henry Kissinger’s World Order and two recent edited volumes by the instructor, one a series of case studies in successful diplomacy and the other a survey and comparison of the world’s ten largest diplomatic services.
We will begin with a survey of some of the classics: Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Callières, Clausewitz, and others. We will then explore the wonderful diplomatic memoirs of the 20th and 21st century by Nicolson, Kennan, Acheson, and Kissinger, as well as more recent ones by James Baker, Robert Gates, William Burns, Michael McFaul, and others. In these, we will focus selectively on key events and issues, such as the creation of the post-World War II international order, the U.S. opening to China, negotiation of NAFTA, successive efforts toward Middle East peace, the ending of the Cold War, negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba.
Toward the end of the semester, we will descend from high politics down to ground level, focusing on practical aspects of diplomacy on which students can draw if and as they aspire to careers in international relations. Topics include strategic planning, analysis and decision-making, cross-cultural communication, negotiating techniques, and the ethics of the use of force. Underlying all our explorations is the conviction that international diplomacy is a critical element of a workable system of relations among states and of a rules-based international order in which disputes are settled by means short of war. In this sense, diplomacy can be seen not just as a practical art but as an essentially ethical undertaking.