Spring 2021 Course Offerings

SHUM 3750 Humanities Scholars Research Methods

Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Durba Ghosh
Meeting time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:00-2:15pm
Hybrid In-Person/Online

This course is a seminar studying the practice, theory, and methodology of humanities research, critical analysis, and communication through writing and oral presentation.  The goal of the seminar is to teach and refine research methods (library research, note taking, organizing material, bibliographies, citation methods, proposals, outlines, etc.) as well as to guide students through the initial stages of a research project of your own design.

We will be studying the work and impact of humanists, who we define very broadly as scholars of literature, history, theory, art, visual studies, film, anthropology, gender and sexuality studies, who are posing big questions about the human condition. By reading and analyzing the scholarship of humanists – critiquing them, engaging their ideas, and perhaps even being inspired by them – we will try to imagine how we might craft our own method and voice as we pose big questions for the humanities.  I hope that you see this course as a journey that helps you to consider how you might do a research project.

This course is open to all students interested in writing a longer research paper, whether for a semester or academic year. The course is required for all students wishing become a Humanities Scholar but open to anyone interested in a major of minor in the humanities.  You do not need to apply to the program in order to sign up for this course, and taking this course does not represent a commitment to write a thesis.  If you are considering the Humanities Scholars Program and are also hoping to go abroad for your junior year, then we encourage you to take this course as a sophomore. 


SHUM 4655/6655 Constructing Antiquity

(also CLASS 6855)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Nicole Giannella
Meeting time: Thursdays, 11:20am-1:15pm

Scholars of slavery have typically considered five historical contexts to be “slave societies.” Two of those are the principal societies of what is called “classical antiquity”: democratic Athens (c. 500-300 BCE) and imperial Rome (c. 200 BCE – 500 CE). (The other three were in the New World: Brazil, the Caribbean, and the American South). In a slave society, slavery permeates every aspect of life, economy, and culture. Because of the prevalence of enslaved people, the slave-owning class of Athens and Rome considered slaves “good to think with” but these ideations were rarely close to the truth. This course is concerned with the contrast between the representation of enslaved people in different genres and media and the reality of how enslaved people were exploited to construct the society that underpinned this cultural imagination.

Each week will we examine representation and reality in a different aspect of ancient society. Topics will include physical labor and physique; skilled labor including enslaved agricultural foremen, accountants, and business managers; literary and artistic production such as book- making, editorial work, and painting; sex work; enslaved actors and gladiators; enslaved people fighting in the army; and the role of enslaved people in the production of citizens. We will read a wide assortment of sources (in translation) including philosophy, court-room speeches, comedy, and jurisprudential interpretation. The class will conclude by considering the tensions in light of the slave’s classification in the Roman period as a human being (homo), but at once also legally regarded as a thing (res) and a person (persona).

Nicole Giannella is an assistant professor of Classics at Cornell. Her research focuses on understandings of slavery, freedom, and ownership in Roman law and society. Her interest is in examining strains of thought across different genres of texts such as juristic writings, historiography, and medical works in order to inform specific questions about intentionality and the mind and broader inquiries into the nature of slavery and freedom. While at the Society she will be working on her book, The Mind of the Slave: The Limits of Ownership in Roman Law and Society. Beyond her book project, she is interested in investigating legal concepts in Latin literature and the development of trust in long-distance and extra-legal relationships.


SHUM 4656/6656 Religion, Emotion, Imagination

(also RELST 4656/6656, CLASS 6856)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Georgia Frank
Meeting time: Thursdays, 12:25-2:20pm
Online only.

We tend to think of emotions as private, unlearned, and biological. Though in much of antiquity, the emotions were primarily seen as public, performative, and cognitive. The cultivation and control of emotions were key concerns in ancient education, moral formation, gender roles, and ritual life in Mediterranean antiquity. This seminar focuses on Greco-Roman and Christian efforts to describe, direct, mix, and control the emotions in late antique moral philosophy and religious instruction. An important dimension of emotional discourse in antiquity was the deployment of imaginative practices, such as visualization, empathic listening, and invented speech. Following an introduction to ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish writings on the emotions, we shall turn our attention to ancient Christian efforts to foster, adapt, and redescribe emotions.

Georgia Frank is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Religion at Colgate University. Her research interests focus on sacred stories, the senses, and materiality in the first six hundred years of Christianity. She first became fascinated by Mediterranean religions through archaeological fieldwork and study in Italy, Turkey, Greece, and Egypt. Her books include The Memory of the Eyes: Pilgrims to Living Saints in Christian Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 2000) and The Garb of Being: Embodiment and Other Pursuits of Holiness in Late Ancient Christianity, co-edited with Andrew S. Jacobs, and Susan R. Holman (Fordham University Press, 2020.) She has also published several articles on the intersection of the emotions and the imagination in lay (non-monastic) Christian rituals and song. While at Cornell, she will pursue a project titled "Making and Doing Emotions in Late Ancient Christianity," a book-length project on how lay Christians learned to reenact and fabricate specific emotions at home and in other ritual spaces in the centuries following the new religion's legalization in the eastern Mediterranean.


SHUM 4657/6657 Making Equality

(also CLASS 6857, PHIL 4909/6909, GOVT 4846/6846)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Jill Frank.
Meeting time: Mondays, 2:40-4:35pm
Online only.

Through legal, political theoretical, historical, philosophical, and poetic texts, and in institutional settings marked by injustice, scarce resources, and asymmetries of wealth and power, this seminar explores the interrelations among three meanings of equality that initially appeared in the ancient world: equality of voice or participation, isegoria; equality before the law, isonomia; and equality of power, isokratia. These modalities of equality structure the three modules of this seminar: the first explores citizenship, education, and voice; the second explores representation, voting, and standing before the law; the third explores reciprocity, reparations, and political power. Each module considers recent US Supreme Court cases or legislation in relation to influential texts of political thought by, among others, Aristotle, Alexis de Tocqueville, Elizabeth Anderson, Danielle Allen, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Claudia Rankine, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, all of whom, in different ways, give content and force to the fabricated nature of equality. 

Jill Frank is Professor of Government and member of the graduate field in Classics at Cornell University, formerly founder and director of the Classics in Contemporary Perspectives Initiative at the University of South Carolina (2008-2013). Frank explores ancient historical, philosophical, and dramatic texts in their context and as resources for contemporary political theory and practice. She is the author of A Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work of Politics (Chicago 2005) and Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s Republic (Chicago 2018). Engaging contemporary political philosophy, US Supreme Court cases on the "colorblind" constitution, and the distinction in ancient thought between arithmetic and geometric equality, Frank is at work on a new book titled The Beauty of Equality.

SHUM 4658/6658 Fabricating Race

(also AMST 4658/6658, ASRC 4658/6658, FGSS 4658, VISST 4658/6658)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Kimberly Lamm.
Meeting time: Thursdays, 2:40-4:35pm
Online only.

“Fabricating Race: Art, Clothing, Resistance,” examines a tradition in which African American artists and writers make clothing a primary theme of their work. Clothing is often referred to as a “second skin,” and aesthetic representations of clothing open the possibility of reimagining the visual economy of race—the belief that race can be located in the body’s visible features and characteristics. Bringing together the research methods of visual culture, material culture, and literary studies, and moving among photographic, painted, and literary portrayals by and of African Americans, we will explore fashion and clothing as aesthetic practices of everyday life that defy racism’s flattening and objectifying effects and covertly affirm the value of African Americans’ lives. The course will pay particular attention to artwork that explores the multiple valences of “fabrication”—working with materials, making and fictionalizing—to reveal and reconfigure the psychic consequences of living under the gaze of white dominance.

Kimberly Kay Lamm is Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies at Duke University. Her scholarship brings together the study of literature, visual culture, and the feminist engagement with psychoanalysis to study femininity as an aesthetic practice that challenges its devaluation. She is currently working on “Fabricating Truths: Sartorial Self-Fashioning and the Legacies of Enslavement,” which focuses on African American women writers from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth who suggest that fashionable clothing has been a language that attests to the psychic impact of slavery’s violence. Kimberly currently serves as a Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre at the University of Johannesburg.

SHUM 4659/6659 Fabrication of Biblical Israel

(also RELST 4659/6659, JWST 4659/6659, NES 4659/6659)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Lauren Monroe.
Meeting time: Mondays, 11:20am-1:15pm
Online only.

The scribes who produced the Hebrew Bible were compilers and collectors of disparate, contradictory stories about the past. They displayed the objects in their collection in an order that imparted coherence; they smoothed transitions by adding text, commentary and context, creating a metanarrative that established an Israelite past in which geographic and geneaological boundaries were static and defensible. This practice of fabrication is hardly a thing of the past; it is the stuff of high school history books, political campaigns, nationalist and resistance movements.  In these cases, as with the Bible, metanarratives or “talking points” reach their audience in a polished form ready to be consumed as fact; but there is a moment before their fixity when the underlying concepts are still fluid, when words and symbols are matters of negotiation.        

This course examines at once the fixity of biblical representations of the past, and the fluidity it belies. Using the tools of biblical criticism (philological, archaeological, literary historical) and methods drawn from the disciplines of History, Anthropology, and Literary Criticism, we will examine four biblical narrative traditions that, in different ways, were essential in the process of fabricating biblical Israel: The Joseph story; the exodus from Egypt; the Israelite conquest of Canaan; and the Song of Deborah, a text widely regarded as the oldest in the Hebrew Bible. As histories these texts were produced to control audiences’ perceptions of the past, but they also are witnesses to a creative process that unfolded when the past was still malleable, the terms less rigid. We will focus on the modes and materials of textual production and on how modern historians engage biblical narrative in fabricating their own narrative histories of ancient Israel. We will also consider how ancient and modern historical writing on ancient Israel has been put into the service of contemporary political discourse on boundaries and borders in Israel-Palestine. 

Lauren Monroe received her PhD in Bible and Ancient Near East from the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University.  Her teaching interests include Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew at all levels, Syro-Palestinian Archaeology, and Ancient Israelite Religious and Social History. She is particularly interested in the way what it meant to be “Israelite” changed over time, and how such changes are manifest in the stratigraphy of the biblical text and the archaeological tel. She has brought Cornell students with her to excavate at an array of archaeological sites in Israel, including Tel Zayit, Tel Rehov, and Abel Beth Maacah. In her book, Josiah's Reform and the Dynamics of Defilement: Israelite Rites of Violence and the Making of a Biblical Text (Oxford University Press, 2011) she explored the 7th century BCE religious reforms of the Judean King Josiah, whose rites of violence are a formative moment in the Bible’s representation of the emergence of monotheism.  She is currently working on two monographs: Joseph the Hebrew and the Genesis of Ancient Israel (OUP) and Becoming Israel: Political Identity and the Song of Deborah (under review, OUP)  Both of these projects engage the question of how changes in ancient Israel’s political identity are reflected and refracted in the processes of textual composition.  Also, on the horizon is a large-scale research project entitled Tidings from Sheba, which addresses how South Arabian Sabaean inscriptions from Yemen illuminate ancient Israelite society, politics and religion.

SHUM 4660/6660 Medieval Technologies of the Self

(also COML 4626, ENGL 4909, STS 4699/6699)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Adin Lears.
Meeting time: Tuesdays, 11:20am-1:15pm
Online only.

Recent years have seen a proliferation of ways we can use technology in order to learn about and improve the self. We can watch a Ted-Talk about power-poses, learn about our cosmic compatibility with others and what our moon sign says about how we see ourselves using astrology apps, or use a fitbit to track our daily activity. Historically, and into the present day, two main narratives around technology have emerged. In the first, a narrative of progress, technology is a tool for connection that can link us to one another and aid in scientific discovery. In the second, a narrative of loss, technology is a force of alienation and disenfranchisement through which humans lose touch with their essential humanity. This course explores how both of these narratives presented themselves in the Middle Ages as well as how medieval thinkers oriented themselves toward technologies—books, images, language, and more—in order to develop a sense of themselves in ethical relation to the world around them. Our focus will be on late medieval English authors, including the visionary accounts of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, the fictional dream vision of the Pearl-Poet, as well as the spiritually seeking and keenly satirical social satire of William Langland and Geoffrey Chaucer, in addition to shorter works and excerpts by, for, and about medieval artisans and laborers. Throughout the course we will seek to track how medieval conceptions of self in relation to animals, objects, environment, and other others might augment and/or put pressure on 20th and 21st-century feminist thinkers working broadly in the domain of the posthuman (Donna Haraway, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, and more), who seek to define and interrogate conceptions of identity, self, consciousness, and the human.

Adin Lears is a scholar of literary and medieval studies whose work examines the roles of sensation, affect, embodiment, and language in medieval theories of knowledge and their cultural and social contexts, especially those related to gender and sexuality. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she teaches courses in English and medieval studies, and contributes to the interdisciplinary PhD program in Media, Art, and Text. Adin’s work on Old and Middle English literature has appeared in a variety of journals and edited volumes, including Studies in the Age of Chaucer and Viator, among others. Her first book, World of Echo: Noise and Knowing in Late Medieval England (Cornell University Press, 2020) shows how medieval thinkers conceived of the experience and expression of lay understanding in terms of noise, amplifying the history of cultural and social hierarchies around aesthetic experience and giving voice to alternate ways of knowing. Her most recent work situates the repetitive devotional techniques of fourteenth and fifteenth-century English mystics in relation to medieval conceptions of “mechanical” knowledge and explores how they offer ways of thinking through more ethical social and environmental ecologies.


SHUM 3620 Dissent and Protest in U.S. History

(also AMST 3621, ASRC 3626)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Susannah Deily-Swearingen.
Meeting time: Tuesdays/Thursdays 9:40-10:55am
Online only.

In the Introduction to his 2015 book Dissent: The History of an American Idea, Temple University History Professor Ralph Young writes, "There has not been a time in American history when dissenters have not spoken out against the powerful and entrenched interests. At the same time… dissenters against the dissenters fought ever harder to maintain, or restore, a social order they feared would vanish if dissenters had their way.” But what is dissent, and what is its relationship to American Democratic principles?  This course will examine the various forms of dissent and counter dissent in U.S. history from the Colonial phase to the present. 

This a seminar course, and active student participation and discussion is a requirement. Organized by a thematic structure, each week the course will consider a different group from the earliest to the most contemporary protests of Indigenous People, Abolitionists and anti-slavery tactics, Women’s and Environmental movements, etc. Our explorations will consider a variety of primary sources, including Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Washington University Special Collections’ Documenting Ferguson, to Indigenous People’s letters from the occupation of Alcatraz, and the foundational documents of the KKK and speeches of Alabama Governor George Wallace. We will consider dissent literature, such as John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, or Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s Yellow Wallpaper. Additionally, will look at the music of protest from Billie Holiday to Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, as well as examples from visual artists. These sources will be supplemented with film and aural materials as well as secondary scholarship from Lawrence Levine, Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom, to Robert Gioielli,  Environmental Activism and the Urban Crisis, and Mary Pardo “Mexican American Women Grassroots Community Activists: ‘Mothers of East Los Angeles,’” and many others. Part of the Rural Humanities initiative's focus on Rural Black Lives.

Susannah Deily-Swearingen earned her Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire in 2019. She is a member of the inaugural class of the American Council of Learned Societies Emerging Voices Fellows and will be supporting the Rural Humanities’ Rural Black Lives Initiative for the 2020-2021 school year. She has been teaching at the collegiate level for 14 years including courses at Brown University, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Granite State College, and the Boston Architectural College.  Susan’s forthcoming monograph, Rebel Rebels: Race, Resistance, and Remembrance in the “Free State of Winston,”  is being published by the University Press of Kentucky as a part of their New Directions in Southern History series. Her current research focuses on the entangled history of the Cherokee Removal in the Southeast and the generations of mixed, Scots-Irish/ Cherokee descendants who became a neutral movement in parts of Alabama and Tennessee during the Civil War. The project further fractures the idea of the ideologically monolithic South and challenges basic assumptions about whiteness, inclusion, heritage, and allegiance. In addition to her academic scholarship, Susan has also written more than twenty editorials as a Huffington Post contributor.

SHUM 4800/6800 Rural Humanities Seminar

(also ASRC)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to 15 students.
Gerard Aching.
Meeting time: Mondays 11:20am-1:15pm
Online only.
Interested students must submit an application.

This seminar focuses on rural black lives from historical and contemporary perspectives. Its historical content examines slavery, abolitionism, and the Underground Railroad in Central New York. Students will have the opportunity to explore the important abolitionist collection of books, manuscripts, and objects at Cornell’s Kroch Library and work on one of several communications or anthropological projects with the St. James AME Zion Church in Ithaca, a documented Underground Railroad station. The seminar’s contemporary content focuses on the circumstances, livelihoods, and challenges of black farmers in our region. Community health conditions permitting, site visits to Underground Railroad stations, the Harriet Tubman residence in Auburn, NY, and regional farms are being planned. This seminar provides rich content for engaging in the public humanities as both a disciplinary inquiry and a set of practices. It is intended to train graduate students and advanced undergraduates in the various methods and practices of public humanities and community-engaged work, to think collectively with and beyond disciplinary interests, and to share research on rural black lives with their communities and a broader national public.

Gerard Aching specializes in 19th- and 20th-century Caribbean literatures and intellectual histories, theories of modernism and modernity in Latin America, and 19th-century colonial literatures in the Caribbean, with a specific focus on relations between slavery and philosophy. He is the author of The Politics of Spanish American Modernismo: By Exquisite Design (Cambridge, 1997) and Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean (Minnesota, 2002). His most recent book is Freedom From Liberation: Slavery, Sentiment, and Literature in Cuba (Indiana, 2015). Aching's current research projects include just war theory, sovereignty, and the invention of the "Indian"; and witnessing and empathy in abolitionist philanthropic humanitarianism. His courses and teaching interests include subjectivity in slave narratives; Caribbean literatures (especially poetry) in English, Spanish, and French; black racial formations in Colombia; sugar and the modern transatlantic world; modernista and avant-garde Latin American poetry; and sociogeny.

Professor Aching has been the recipient of a Howard Foundation Fellowship (1999) and a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2003) and is a Faculty Fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell University.

Learn more about the Rural Humanities Initiative here.

SHUM 6819 Black and Indigenous Metropolitan Ecologies

(also ARCH 4408/6408, AMST 6809, ASRC 6819, FGSS 6819, SHUM 6819)
Spring. 4 credits.
Limited to fellowship recipients. Apply here.
Tao Leigh Goffe.
Tuesdays, 11:20-1:45.
Online only.

Across the hemisphere from the port cities of New York to New Orleans to Kingston, Jamaica, to Havana, Cuba to Toronto, how is the entangled dispossession of Native sovereignty and African enslavement reflected in the land and architecture? In this seminar, we will examine the many design structures of racial enclosure in urban spaces as an extension of the plantation. Troubling the urban - rural binary, our discussions will be framed by the dark blueprints of race and space— place and decolonization — and the larger questions of racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and climate crisis in the wake of the ecological violence of the plantation. Consider Wall Street as a metonym for US wealth accumulation and regulation, but also consider the dark underside of it as the site of the historic auction block where enslaved people were traded in early New York City and the African Burial Ground located in Lower Manhattan. With special attention to the architecture of marked and unmarked burial, we will consider the landscape of hemispheric mourning and cemeteries. The echo of Native infrastructure and burial is also present in Downtown Manhattan. Broadway is a metonym for American theatre and commerce, but it is also the dark underside of the erasure of the Native infrastructure of the Wickquasgeck Trail and Lenape and Munsee people carved out of the forest. Towards a framework for global indigeneity, we will examine the spatial politics of settlement with special attention to the fluidity of port cities environments, representations, and ecologies. Click here for more information on the Mellon Urbanism Seminar & application instructions.

Course Instructor: Tao Leigh Goffe, assistant professor of Africana studies and feminist, gender, and sexuality studies