Myth, Fantasy, and Meaning

From Ovid’s Metamorphoses to the Mahabharata, the Popol-Vuh to the Norse Eddas, myth gave people ways to understand the world, to develop cultural identity, to share values. But what is the role of myth in modern cultures? We now tend to use the word“myth”to mean a dangerous falsehood, yet we continue to use stories of the unreal to make sense of […]

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The Art of Theft

From William Shakespeare to Beyonce, much of what we consider original art depends on borrowed text, recycled images, and familiar melodies. But where do we draw the line between influence and plagiarism? In this course, we consider questions of creative ownership. Drawing from scholarship by ethicists, cultural critics, and legal scholars, will analyze case studies […]

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Plagues, Plots, and People

Diseases, colloquially, are caught, transmitted, and contracted in many different ways: miasmas, bugs, germs, and vectors–to name just a few. How does the language people use to describe illness indicate beliefs about illness? This class studies historical, scientific, and popular accounts of illness to explore this question and others. Students explore whether disease creates immunity […]

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Depicting the Divine

When a New York resident sued the Metropolitan Museum in 2015 for displaying allegedly ‘racist’ paintings of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, it was simply the latest iteration of an enduring philosophical debate. What does God look like? Is the divine representable? Is it morally dangerous to visualize divinity? With such high potential for error or […]

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Visual Identities

Drawing on museum collections in D.C., this course explores how visual images constructed, claimed, and sometimes contested identities across the geohistorical spectrum. Students consider how images convey identities tied to cultural conceptions about politics, religions, race, gender, disability, and sexuality and what such works teach us about visual strategies for conveying identity, past and present. […]

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No Such Thing as Pop/Classical

Classifications of high and low art in music have existed well before our listening lives began. Likewise, disagreements on those boundaries have always been part of the conversations among composers, performers and listeners. Now, more than ever, these lines continue to blur, and we find ourselves arguing genre classifications found from the concert hall to […]

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Electric! Music since Edison

From early amorphous blobs of computer generated sounds, to the pulsating beats of contemporary hip hop, we are experiencing electronic music in both conscious and unconscious ways. This course will explore the impact that electronics have had on music since its beginnings in the late 19th century. Special attention, using a variety of genres, will […]

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#BroadwaySoDiverse

Many scholars have regarded the 21st century to be the watershed era for inclusiveness on Broadway. This course examines a chronology of such representation on “The Great White Way,” including titles from current and/or Broadway seasons such as “Falsettos” and “Hamilton.” This course will offer students the opportunity to watch both live and archived performances […]

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Act Like a Man

This course examines the search for and performance of ideal models of American manhood on theatrical, political, and social stages. Through investigating gender theory and masculinity studies, reading and analyzing plays, viewing theatrical productions and films, unpacking political posturing, and scrutinizing human behavior, students explore, demystify, and question the ways in which public masculine figures […]

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