Fall 2016 Course Offerings

SHUM 4601 Gender, Islamized Armenians, and the Collective Memory of the Armenian Genocide

(also NES 4601) 
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
E. Semerdjian
M: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m. 

How did the Armenian Genocide transform from an event that sparked massive international humanitarian intervention into one largely forgotten? Despite state denial, how has the memory of the Armenian Genocide come to dominate Kurdish and Turkish political debates over the last decade? What role have Islamized Armenians played in this debate and how have their narratives underscored gender as a central aspect of the Armenian Genocide? This course sets out to tackle these questions by first examining scholarship on the Armenian Genocide and Turkish state denial. The course addresses the specific experiences of trafficked women and children who were subjected to forced Islamization as an aspect of genocide. These practices of erasure will be examined within the context of the late Ottoman understanding of gender and slavery, and emerging Turkish nationalism which targeted Armenians for extermination through mass murder, enslavement, and forced assimilation. The course later shifts to examine the way that remembrances and memorials for the Armenian Genocide have been central to Turkish and Kurdish civil society activism over the last decade. The assassination of Hrant Dink in 2007 marked a major turning point in activism and identity politics among the descendants of Islamized Armenians. Assigned course materials include an interdisciplinary mix of scholarly readings, oral histories, novels, memoirs alongside print and visual media.

Elyse Semerdjian is Associate Professor of Islamic World/Middle Eastern History at Whitman College. She received her Ph.D. in History from Georgetown University. A specialist in the history of the Ottoman Empire and Syria, she authored “Off the Straight Path”: Illicit Sex, Law, and Community in Ottoman Aleppo (Syracuse University Press, 2008) as well as several articles on the topics of gender, social history, Muslim/non-Muslim relations, Armenian history, and law in the Ottoman Empire. Some recent publications include “Armenian Women, Legal Bargaining, and Gendered Politics of Conversion in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Aleppo,” Journal of Middle Eastern Women’s Studies, “Sexing the Hammam: Discourses on Gender and Sexuality in the Ottoman Bathhouse,” in Gender and Sexuality in Muslim Cultures, ed. Gul Ozyegin (London: Ashgate, 2015), and “Naked Anxiety: Bathhouses, Nudity, and Muslim/non-Muslim Relations in Eighteenth-Century Aleppo,” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 45:4(November 2013). She is currently writing a book entitled Remnants: Gender, Islamized Armenians, and Collective Memory of the Armenian Genocide.


SHUM 4602 Queer Origins

(also ENGL 4902, FGSS 4602, LGBT 4602)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
K. Ohi 
T: 2:30 – 4:25 p.m.

“For Man to tell how human Life began / Is hard; for who himself beginning knew?”: this is Adam, in Book 8 of Paradise Lost; as Wordsworth writes in the Prelude, “Not only general habits and desires, / But each most obvious and particular thought, / Not in a mystical and idle sense, / But in the words of reason deeply weigh’d, / Hath no beginning.” Poets and writers must nevertheless confront the origin; our finitude means our knowledge is fractured—and constituted—by the impurity of inception, and, from a certain angle, there is perhaps no question more central to literary creation.

Queer theory, meanwhile, has been reluctant to examine questions of origination, in part, no doubt, because origins are, by definition, outside history. Whereas much early gay liberation focused on etiological narratives, queer theory shares with the common sense of contemporary regimes of sexual tolerance a suspicion of such narratives: as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick noted, no matter what the specific narrative, it is difficult to protect any account of gay becoming from a fantasy that gay people might become straight. This course, however, will attempt to revisit the question of origin in relation to sexuality by linking it to the problem of literary creation.

In the course of the semester, we will read literary and theoretical texts concerned with aspects of literary origin or inception. This might include epic poetry (moments from The IliadThe Metamorphoses, and Paradise Lost), drama (Shakespeare’s Hamlet or The Tempest), and, among many other possible examples from lyric poetry, the specific case of Wallace Stevens. We might also look at the question of origin in the novel—at moments from Robinson Crusoe, for example, and at the opening paragraphs of a series of novels from the 18th to the 20th centuries. We might also read, as a signal if perhaps idiosyncratic instance, Henry James’s Prefaces to the New York Edition, which repeatedly offer, though in baffling terms, accounts of the “germs” of the novels they preface. As a way of organizing our sense of theoretical approaches to the question of linguistic origin and inception, we will explore the specific question of gesture by way of a series of writers: Rousseau, Artaud, Agamben, and Eudora Welty.

Alongside these texts, we will examine thematizations of sexual initiation and etiologies of desire: Freud’s case histories (Leonardo, the primal scene in the Wolf Man case, the short lesbian case histories) and moments from early sexology, for example, and Foucault’s account of the beginnings of sexual identity—not just the first volume of The History of Sexuality but also the late, and sometimes fragmentary, considerations of truth-telling and confession in various lectures and seminars. Scientific and quasi-scientific considerations of animal “sexuality” might provide a window into contemporary understandings of the origins of human sexual desire, and we might also look at depictions of queer childhood: Baldwin’s Go Tell it on the Mountain, Carson McCullers’ “Member of the Wedding,” Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, and Su Friedrich’s remarkable film Hide and Seek, for example.

Kevin Ohi is Professor of English at Boston College and the author of Innocence and Rapture: The Erotic Child in Pater, Wilde, James, and Nabokov (2005); Henry James and the Queerness of Style (2011); and Dead Letters Sent: Queer Literary Transmission (2016). A graduate of Williams College (BA) and Cornell University (PhD), he is the recipient of fellowships from the National Humanities Center and the Guggenheim Foundation. His research and teaching interests include: queer theory, aestheticism and decadence, Victorian literature, American literature, literary theory, and the history of the novel. He is currently working on three projects: on narrative perspective, abstraction, and embodied desire; on the concept of origin in literary creation; and on solitude.


SHUM 4603 SURFACE/FLESH/COLOUR/MAKE-UP: Skin in the Visual Arts, 1500-1850

(also VISST 4663)
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
G. Angel
M: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m 

The skin is our largest organ: it functions as a protective cover for the human body and determines its outer appearance. Any artist engaging with the naked parts of the body has thus to confront the representation of skin. Throughout the early modern period the imitation of skin – or flesh as it was described at the time – was considered one of the most challenging artistic tasks, and it was also the most overdetermined: Flesh was a paramount site of lifelikeness, a site where artists strove to make artificial bodies look as if they were alive. This seminar will explore the rich art theoretical discussion of flesh and flesh tones in Italian and French art theory, in relation to questions of imitation, colour, deception and the association of paint and make-up.

The course will also consider the broader cultural history of skin, the multiple functions and symbolic articulations of skin and flesh, and the ways in which images have engaged with these themes since the late Middle Ages: The iconography of flaying in art works and anatomical atlases; the function of skin as the organ of touch and the relations between touch and painterly touch; the associations of flesh and paint, skin and surface and issues of skin colour. The course will focus in particular on eighteenth and nineteenth-century France and among the works and artists considered are medical imagery of skin and its diseases, eighteenth-century pastel portraits, as well as paintings by Fragonard, David or Ingres.Drawing upon analytical resources from multiple disciplines, the course will consider art theoretical discussions around flesh tones; the significance of different ways to depict skin; technical aspects of the rendering of skin in painting and sculpture; the intersection of anatomy and depictions of the body surface; and relevant material from the history of medicine and anthropology. 

Gemma Angel is an interdisciplinary scholar specialising in the history and anthropology of the European tattoo, tattoo collecting and preservation, and medical museum collections of human remains. She completed her doctoral thesis at University College London (UCL) in collaboration with the Science Museum in 2013, on a collection of 300 preserved human tattooed skins of nineteenth-century European origin. 

Her research coheres around themes of memory, tactility and the affective force of human remains, particularly in relation to human skin and the European tattoo. Practices of marking, excising and preserving human skin in European medical-scientific contexts are at the core of her research, which deals with both the symbolic power of the flayed skin, its representation in the visual arts and popular culture, and its practical use in the fabrication of objects such as book covers, garments and display items.

Since completing her PhD, Gemma has been awarded a Wellcome Trust ISSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to study anatomical collections at the University of Leeds Humanities Research Institute (2015), and she is currently a Junior Research Fellow at UCL Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) (2015-16). Her current ethnographic research project Looking, Feeling, Knowing: The politics of seeing in medical collections of human remains after the Human Tissue Act explores the complex political entanglements of looking, affective response and medical knowledge within the medical museum. She also convenes the IAS seminar series Bodily Matters: Human Biomatter in Art, which explores the materiality, aesthetics and ethics of human biomaterial in contemporary art practice. 

Gemma's research interests encompass the medical humanities, anthropology, STS, museums and visual culture, as well as the methodological intersection of ethnography and historiography. Methodologically, she is interested in exploring the intersection of ethnography and historiography, particularly in relation to the production of new historical knowledge and the 'afterlives' of museum objects.


SHUM 4604 Original Skin: Reading Skin in Philosophy and Theology

(also RELST 4614) 
Fall. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students. 
K. MacKendrick
R: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

This seminar will focus on the question of skin as something legible, a source of sign or narrative, particularly in philosophical theology and in visual culture. Much of Western culture has valued unmarked, unreadable skin, skin that is or can pass as what is normative. Theologically, this absence of marking connects both to a sense of blank purity and to a sense of indifference to the body, an indifference shared by philosophy. 

We’ll begin by studying cosmetic erasure of marks of ethnicity and age, and contrasting procedures that have intentional commemorative or narrative functions, to give us a sense of what a sign or story on skin might look like. From philosopher Michel Serres’ The Five Senses, we will take up an interdisciplinary exploration that brings myth and visual arts together with phenomenology. We will then turn to Biblical instances of skin as stigma, beginning with readings of the mark of Cain, which feed into 19th and 20th century American racism, and the scars of Paul. Though both of these kinds of marks actually have positive value in their contexts, their stories are turned to quite different uses. We turn then to early modern instances of stigmata as breaks in the skin and expressions of Christian devotion, but also as modes of a particularly physical communication. (We make take a side tour into some popular religious tattoo imagery.) Finally, the idea that skin is inherently stigmatic, simply by virtue of being skin, emerges in the readings of Genesis 3 as the limitation of the human by skin, at the point of the fall from grace and banishment from Paradise. (Though these are not the most common readings, they are among the most intriguing.) After exploring the traditions of reading the relevant verses in this way, we will end the course with a look at ideas about the skin-surfaces of resurrected bodies. Some traditions emphasize the wholeness and impermeability of these bodies; others valorize their scars and marks of damage.

Karmen MacKendrick is a professor of philosophy at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. Her research is interdisciplinary, but centered on philosophical theology and issues of corporeality. Her work on Skin is part of a larger consideration of the complexity and mystery of materiality. She has recently written on the materiality of language (A Matter of Voice, Fordham, 2016 [forthcoming May]), the seductive attractions of theology (Divine Enticement, Fordham 2012), and the strange allure of Augustine of Hippo (Seducing Augustine, with Virginia Burus and Mark Jordan, Fordham 2010).


SHUM 6308 Cuba as Project: Urban, Political, and Environmental Transformations of the Island

Fall.  4 credits.  
Limited to fellowship recipients.  
T. McEnaney & T. DuFour 
T: 12:20 – 2:15 p.m.

This seminar explores the symbolic and political tensions and contradictions inherent in the motif of the island, in relation to both its contrast and conflation with the theme of the urban. Cuba stands, in this regard, as an exemplary site of the modern insular project. The seminar situates the island in its archipelagic context, as both a spatial and historical category, inquiring into continuities and ruptures that implicate Cuba in a wider horizon of appropriations of islands as both concrete geographies and symbolic territories. 

Positioned within the Caribbean archipelago, Cuba has long been a space of transition. The restored colonial neighborhood of La Habana Vieja or the UNESCO-honored city of Trinidad, the monumental edifices of the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana and the “Che” Guevara mausoleum in Santa Clara, the towering constructivism of the Russian embassy, and the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay stand as physical markers of Cuba’s tumultuous political, economic, and cultural history. Alongside these structures, the legacy of socialist industrial and agricultural development leaves traces of its environmental effects on the culture, and in the soil, the sea, and the atmosphere. How will these conditions shift now, when Cuba is again at a nascent moment of fundamental change? In order to grapple with the island’s current transformation, and its relationship to the Caribbean, the Americas, and the wider global horizon, this course situates Cuba at the intersections of literature, architecture, art, urban planning, cartography, anthropology, political philosophy, and political ecology. We will investigate urban agriculture, neo-baroque aesthetics, colonial restoration projects, “ruinology,” public housing, new media infrastructure, and state projects oriented toward the incorporation of rural and hinterland geographies. We will explore themes of the “insular” from its understanding in antiquity to its medieval substitution of the forest as the domain of the marvelous and the wild, its cartographic genesis, its emblematic significance as utopia, its ideological appropriation toward modern notions of community, and its continuity as an ecological horizon of ontological plurality. The seminar will examine how symbolic and material practices structure the social and environmental space that shape and are shaped by the activity of the natural world, the extensions of the communist state, and the experience of everyday life. 

Course Instructors: Tom McEnaney (Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature, College of Arts & Sciences) and Tao DuFour (Visiting Assistant Professor, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning