Themes of Inquiry

To give you a sense of the fascinating subjects and materials you can study in the arts & humanities, we have organized a selection of courses around critical themes. The themese and courses listed here are but a fraction of the curricular pathways on offer in the Arts & Humanities, but can help spark your own thinking about how the courses you choose form a narrative of interconnected and interdisciplinary study in the liberal arts.

Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard University



Want to study the humanities but don’t know where to begin? These foundational courses will introduce you to essential works, concepts, problems, or methods. Most feature one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences that college offers: the close analysis of extraordinary works of art, literature, philosophy, or music.

  • Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 58: Modern Art and Modernity (Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Maria Gough, and Benjamin Buchloh) FALL
    The course examines the defining moments in the development of modern European and American art from the eighteenth- through to the twentieth-century. Anchored by a significant date, each lecture focuses on the relationship between a major artistic event and the social, political, cultural, and technological conditions of its emergence. A wide range of media, from painting, sculpture, and print-making to photography, photomontage, video, installation, and performance art, will be considered. Situating the key aesthetic transformations that defined art's modernity in a broader historical context, the course explores the fundamental role of advanced forms of artistic practice in the formation of modern culture and society.

  • English 188GF: Global Fictions (Kelly Rich) FALL
    This course serves as an introduction to the global novel in English, as well as a survey of approaches to transnational literature. It considers issues of migration, colonialism, cosmopolitanism and globalization, religion and fundamentalism, environmental concerns, the global and divided city, racial and sexual politics, and international kinship. Authors include Teju Cole, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Junot Díaz, Mohsin Hamid, Jamaica Kincaid, David Mitchell, Michael Ondaatje, Ruth Ozeki, Arundhati Roy, and Ken Saro-Wiwa.

  • Humanities 10A: A Humanities Colloquium: From Homer to García Márquez (Louis Menand, Stephen Greenblatt, Jill Lepore, Davíd Carrasco, Melissa McCormick, Jonathan Walton) FALL 
    2,500 years of essential works, taught by six professors. Humanities 10a includes works by Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Sappho, Murasaki, Bernal Díaz, Shakespeare, Douglass, Du Bois, Woolf and García Márquez, as well as the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist Papers. One 75-minute lecture plus a 75-minute discussion seminar led by the professors every week. Students also receive instruction in critical writing one hour a week, in writing labs and individual conferences. Students also have opportunities to visit cultural venues and attend musical and theatrical events in Cambridge or Boston.  

  • Humanities 12: Essential Works in World Literature (Martin Puchner and David Damrosch) FALL
    With readings from Gilgamesh and The Odyssey to Salman Rushdie and Orhan Pamuk, this course explores how great writers refract their world and how their works are transformed when they intervene in our global cultural landscape today.

  • Linguistics 106: Knowledge of Meaning (Masoud Jafarali Jasbi, ordinarily taught by Gennaro Chierchia) SPRING
    An introductory course on semantic interpretation in natural language. What does it mean to "know the meaning" of an utterance? This course provides the tools to characterize and study the meanings of sentences. Topics covered include the relation between form and meaning, ambiguity, reference, context dependency, and the role of logic vs. pragmatics in communication.

  • Music 1: 1000 Years of Listening (Emily Dolan) SPRING
    This course aims to introduce you to a variety of music, and a range of ways of thinking, talking and writing about music. The majority of music dealt with will be drawn from the so-called "Classical" repertory, from the medieval period to the present day, including Monteverdi, Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Schoenberg. Class will explore the technical workings of music and together we will build a vocabulary for analyzing music and articulating a response to it; we will explore music as a cultural phenomenon. By the end of class, students will be equipped to embark on a lifetime of informed listening.

  • Philosophy 3: The True and the Good (Bernhard Nickel) FALL
    How you live your life is not just a matter of taste. The basic outlook of value and perspective that each of us adopts as we make decisions large and small are more than mere opinion. They are commitments that are open to deeper understanding and critique. This course introduces you to the practice of such critique and prepares you for its demands. It introduces you to the practice of philosophy. Issues include the nature of knowledge, of the mind and self, and of right and wrong. We'll also consider race and gender in relation to these philosophical topics. We will pursue these issues by considering both traditional philosophical writers, such as Plato, Descartes, Locke, Kant, and Mill, as well as contemporary writers.

All the World's A Stage

All the World's A Stage

Or so somebody who wrote plays once said. Nowadays, the performative dimensions of social and political life seem more conspicuous than ever. Understanding theater and performance fosters a better understanding of the multiple worlds that humans inhabit and of the potentials of art to reshape them. Enter student, stage left!


  • Comparative Literature 133: Shakespeare and the Globe (Marc Shell) FALL
    This course examines literary, theatrical, and cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare's plays in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Students learn how artists, including Shakespeare, have used creative production of the past to understand and address concrete issues and problems of the present, including political scandal and persecution, imperial domination, and racial and ethnic biases and oppression. We also explore the continued vitality worldwide of theater and the arts, as well as their constant transformations throughout time and space.

  • English 192: Political Theatre and the Structure of Drama (Elaine Scarry) SPRING
    The estranged, didactic, intellectual theatre of Brecht, and the ritualistic, emergency theatre of Artaud serve as reference points for a range of American, English, and Continental plays. The unique part played by "consent" in theatrical experience. Emphasis on the structural features of drama: establishing or violating the boundary between audience and stage; merging or separating actor and character; expanding or destroying language. Readings include Brecht, O'Neill, Artaud, Genet, Pirandello, and such earlier authors as Euripides and Shelley.

  • German 65: German Drama and Theater (Lisa Parkes) FALL (taught in German)
    Close reading, analysis, and full production of a play in German. The first part provides an introduction to a small selection of dramas, dramatic theory, the vocabulary of theater, as well as intensive pronunciation practice. The second part focuses on the rehearsal and production of a German play. Students participate on stage and collaborate on different aspects of the production, including costumes, set, sound, and program. Two performances take place at the end of term.

  • Slavic 141: Performing Arts and Cultural Performances in Russia (Medieval to Contemporary) (Julie Buckler) FALL
    Surveys and samples Russian drama, opera, ballet, film, musicals, and performance art in medieval, imperial, Soviet, and contemporary post-Soviet culture. What is distinctive about the Russian tradition in performing arts? How has this tradition renewed itself with the changing times? How have these works been interpreted and performed outside of Russia? Includes works by Gogol, Pushkin, Musorgsky, Chekhov, Blok, Stravinsky, Mayakovsky, Eisenstein, Kharms, Alexandrov, Shostakovich, Bogaev, Krymov, Stoppard.  For context, we also examine cultural performance in Russian life, as it figures in religious ritual and folk tradition, monarchy and court, commemorative practices, political life and protest art, identity formation, and the everyday.

  • Theater, Dance & Media 148: Motion for Performers (Jill Johnson) FALL
    For actors, choreographers, dancers, directors, and writers, this course aims to build a skillset in the physicality of roles for stage, screen, and installations. The course considers how and in what ways a performer can capture and inhabit a character, develop embodied stakes, cultivate dexterity and nuance in a role – through and with the body. From the pedestrian to highly stylized or improvised movement, students will conduct in-depth research and physical practice in a studio lab environment, focusing on motion expression and physicalizing a role. The course will include a rigorous study in body awareness, task-based improvisation, staging/choreographic exercises, and cultivate communication skills for effective feedback and direction.

  • Visual & Environmental Studies 138D/Theater, Dance & Media 138D: Directors Directing (David Levine and Karthik Pandian) FALL
    This video and theater production course engages students in the directing of performance and the performance of directing. This dynamic will be introduced to students through the presentation and analysis of moving image and performance work that thematizes direction itself. Students will then engage in an active practice of studio work and research, culminating in individual and collaborative projects in video and performance.

Art and Social Engagement

Art and Social Engagement

Artists and art have agency. They can act on the world in ways that hold it accountable, momentarily upend its order, or call to transform its principles. If you think art is just something that might look good over your couch, then these courses are an antidote to what ails you. If you already believe in the agency of art, then these courses will inspire you.


  • Culture & Belief 42: Communism and the Politics of Culture: Czechoslovakia from World War II to the Velvet Revolution (Jonathan Bolton) FALL
    What was Communism, and how did it shape the intellectual life of East Central Europe after World War II? How do artists and writers counter the ideological pressures of the state? This course examines how the intense political pressures of invasion, occupation, and revolution shape a country's cultural life and are shaped by it in turn. We look at Czechoslovakia's literature, drama, film, and music from the 1948 Communist takeover, through the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion of 1968, to the 1989 Velvet Revolution, a hallmark of the peaceful overthrow of Communism in Europe. We consider works by Milan Kundera, Bohumil Hrabal, Vaclav Havel; films of the Czech New Wave (Milos Forman, Vera Chytilova, Jiri Menzel); clandestine publishing and underground art; and theories of political dissent under authoritarian regimes.

  • Freshman Seminar 62M: Can Art Inspire Social Justice? (Sarah Lewis) SPRING
    How do images—photographs, films, and videos—create narratives that shape our definition of national belonging? Social media has changed how we ingest images. Protests, social injustice, and collective moments of triumph are all played out in photos and videos in real time unlike anything we thought possible just a few decades ago. What skills of visual literacy and critical consciousness are required to understand of the opportunities and challenges that technology is presenting to civic life? The seminar will explore the connection between images and justice in America, focusing on case studies that deal with historic and contemporary topics from emancipation, indigenous conflict, desegregation, Japanese internment, borderland conflicts, the long Civil Rights movement, and more. It will wrestle with the question of how the foundational right to representation in a democracy, the right to be recognized justly, is indelibly tied to the work of images in the public realm. What constitutes a figurative emblem of protest? What does effective resistance look like in art and in the digital realm?

  • History of Art & Architecture 161G: Francisco de Goya: Art as Testimony, the Artist as Witness (Felipe Pereda) FALL
    This course is about two things. First it’s an introductory course to the art of Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) at the time of the Enlightenment and early Romanticism.  It will look into his formation in the institutions of the Old Regime (Travel to Rome, member of the Royal Academy, Court Artist) and explore how Goya challenged this artistic culture, exploring new ideas for the meaning of art, of its public and of the role of the artist in society.  Second, the course will discuss Goya’s work (from his early “caricatures,” the Caprichos, to the Disasters of the War) in relation to modern debates about testimony, witnessing and trauma.  The class will take place, half in the seminar-room, half at the museum’s study-room looking at prints and drawings from his own work and other contemporary masters.

  • Music 24: Social Engagement through Music (Carol Oja, Kay Shelemay, and Michael Uy) SPRING
    Histories, Economies, Communities. This course will mount a semester-long, team-based project to identify and offer professional support to Boston metropolitan-area musicians from communities of color who have recently migrated to the United States. At the same time, we will fuse direct engagement with musical communities with an intellectual framework for understanding their historical circumstances, economic and political realities, and community needs. Our work will focus on a core group of performers drawn from recipients of the Mass Cultural Council’s 2018 Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program.

  • Music 178R: Applied Music Activism (Esperanza Spalding) SPRING
    This course will identify music that has been key to successful social movements; explore the specific methods used by those musicians to deliver their message effectively; and empower students to utilize their learning, designing and presenting their own musical campaign to further a cause of their choosing. Investigating the historical context of the composers cited, we will draw from the musical techniques that allowed them to successfully apply their passion to the causes they empowered. Through these case studies, students will be challenged to actually measure the effectiveness and scope of musical activism. We will learn how to utilize modern commercial marketing techniques to evaluate the effectiveness both of songs that have created a known effect on more recent social campaigns, and our own efforts to direct this learning to the causes dear to us. As we progress through the semester, students will (through live performance and/or social media) create, share, and analyze their own examples of musical activism.

  • Theater, Dance & Media 181K: Choreographies of Resistance (Sharon Kivenko) SPRING
    In this “movement seminar” we will explore dance-inflected movement exercises drawn from contact improvisation, modern dance, Africanist folkloric dances, meditative flow, and play in order to generate insights from the body into the kinds of socio-political resistances - subtle and radical - that choreography can enact. We enter into the course first by developing orientations around "choreography," "resistance," "protest," and "power."  We will then adjust our sights to consider: What and how performing bodies signify? Can a collection of performing bodies make change in and on their social and political milieux? Can choreography theorize corporeal, individual and social identities? Does choreography construct and can it de-construct ethnicity, gender, class and sexuality? How have performing bodies been trained? And has that training had an impact on performers and their social surounds beyond the choreographies they enact?

Everyday Life

Everyday Life

Even at Harvard, most of us spend most of our time in the everyday world of pizza boxes, sneakers, crushes, lost keys, and broken umbrellas. What does it all mean? How different was daily life a millennium or two ago? How can our everyday lives become something more? These courses may help you find meaning in the mundane.


  • Ancient Near East 103: Ancient Lives (Gojko Barjamovic) FALL
    What are the essential elements of human society? Have our fundamental conditions developed, and how? Can we use themes from ancient history to think about contemporary society and culture? These questions are in focus in this course on 'Ancient Lives', which explores the earliest human civilizations in the region commonly known as Mesopotamia (c. 3000-300 bce) in what is now Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. Few elements in the way we live and organize ourselves today are to be taken for granted. There is, and has always been, a wealth of ways in which humans live. But biologically we are the same as our ancestors of 5000 years ago, at the dawn of history. Any likeness or difference between 'us and them' is therefore likely to be a product of history and culture. 'Ancient Lives' builds upon this realization to inspire a critical way of thinking about society in the broadest possible scope. Areas explored during the course are selected for their relevance across the range of contemporary life - they include freedom, music, public health, food, jurisprudence, trade, the visual arts, science, sexuality, religion and political power.

  • Folklore & Mythology 172: Quilts and Quiltmaking (Felicity Lufkin) SPRING
    Are quilts the great American (folk) art? From intricately stitched whole-cloth quilts, to the improvisational patchworks of Gee's Bend; from the graphic simplicity of Amish quilts to the cozy pastels of depression-era quilts; from the Aids Quilt to art quilts; quilts have taken on extraordinary significance in American culture. This class surveys the evolution of quilt-making as a social practice, considering the role of quilts in articulations of gender, ethnic, class and religious identities, and their positions within discourses of domesticity, technology, consumerism, and cultural hierarchy.

  • Freshman Seminar 31M: In Pursuit of the Ordinary: Genre Painting in Boston-Area Museums (Joseph Koerner) FALL
    This course focuses chiefly on “genre” pictures: that is, depictions, mostly painted on canvas or panel, of everyday life.   Examining closely key examples in different Boston-area collections, as well as at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (excursion scheduled below), we investigate the changing nature and context of this type of image from its rise as a specialty product in early modern Europe through its complex development in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, to its rejection in Modernist art practice. Renewed fascination with the ‘ordinary’ in contemporary art and in recent museology (that is, museum history, theory and practice) features in this course, as well.  Today’s icons of the everyday (for example, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain of 1917, Andy Warhol’s Brillo Box of 1964 boxes) obey a modern imperative that artists represent everyday life in suitably banal ways.   Eschewing figural anecdote, artists dismantle art’s traditional claims of occupying some special “higher” sphere; they confront viewers with estrangements of the things of the world we unthinkingly inhabit. 

  • Freshman Seminar 71D: Zen and the Art of Living: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary (James Robson) FALL
    This seminar explores the rich history, philosophy and practices of Zen Buddhism as it developed in China, Korea, and Japan. We will first consider the emergence of the Zen tradition out of the Buddhist tradition and then explore the full range of its most distinctive features (Zen monastic meditation), cultural practices (painting, calligraphy, and poetry), and radical—even iconoclastic—innovations (such as the use of kōans, which are seemingly nonsensical sayings that defy rationality). We will also critically evaluate some less well-known facets of the Zen tradition, such as gender issues, the veneration of mummified masters, and the question of how Zen was implicated in modern nationalistic movements in Japan during World War II. During the mid-20th century, Zen became a global phenomenon as Zen masters began to move around the world and introduce the practice of Zen meditation to those in search of religious alternatives to Western organized religions, rationalism, and materialism. Zen attracted the attention of writers, musicians, artists, and athletes. 

  • Medieval Studies 111: Sex, Love, and Marriage in the Middle Ages (Sean Gilsdorf) FALL
    This class explores the relationships of passion, love, and obligation that bound men and women over the course of nearly two millennia, from Rome in the first century B.C.E. to sixteenth-century Italy. In particular, it focuses on how those relationships were organized legally and institutionally, on the social roles created by such relationships, and on the connection (or lack thereof) between marriage, love, and sexual passion. Although marriage in the West long was viewed as an exclusively heterosexual estate, the course also considers how homosocial and homosexual desires have affected it throughout history.

  • Philosophy 20: Happiness (Susanna Rinard) SPRING
    Should we pursue happiness, and if so, what is the best way to do it? This course will critically assess the answers to these questions given by thinkers from a wide variety of different places, cultures, and times, including Stoicism, Epicureanism, Buddhism, Daoism, and contemporary philosophy, psychology, and economics.

Finding Voices

Finding Voices

For many people throughout history, getting heard has been a struggle. More and more faculty members at Harvard in the Arts & Humanities are listening to those neglected voices, and hearing many a brilliant account of experience or circumstance. These courses will enrich your understanding of the world.


  • Comparative Literature 179/Jewish Studies 179: Ghostwriters and Ventriloquists: Postwar Jewish American Culture (Saul Zaritt) FALL
    This course takes ideas of the "ghostwriter" and the "ventriloquist" as a lens through which to read postwar Jewish American culture. In the wake of the Holocaust, Jewish American writers and cultural producers began to feel a responsibility to a lost civilization that seemed to haunt their every creative act. Even as they achieved worldwide fame, these artists felt both burdened and inspired by old world ghosts. Often the very success of a given work was attributed to the ways in which it reanimated and revoiced ghosts in order to alternately dazzle and comfort audiences. This course asks: How do strategies of ghostwriting and ventriloquy compensate for trauma and loss? In what ways do such reenactments modify an original text? Through analysis of postwar texts and films in English and Yiddish (in translation), this course studies how specters of the past function both as arbiters of cultural value and as reminders of the discontinuities and traumas of the Jewish American present. 

  • Culture & Belief 19: Understanding Islam and Contemporary Muslim Societies (Ali Asani) SPRING
    The course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts of Islam and the role that religious ideas and institutions play in Muslim communities around the world. Its main concern is to develop an understanding of the manner in which diverse notions of religious and political authority have influenced Muslim societies politically, socially and culturally. Through specific case studies of countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, the course considers the role played by ideologies such as jihad, colonialism, nationalism, secularism, and globalization in shaping the ways in which Muslims interpret and practice their faith today. The course briefly considers the contemporary situation of Muslim minorities in Europe and the United States. 

  • English 181A: Introduction to Asian American Literature: What Is Asian American Literature? (Ju Yon Kim) FALL
    Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian-American Writers (1974) was one of the earliest attempts to collect writings that were, to quote the editors, “exclusively Asian-American.” Yet as their lengthy—and controversial—explanation of the selection process makes clear, Asian American literature defies neat categorization. This course is both a survey of Asian American literature and an introduction to ongoing debates about what constitutes Asian American literature. We will study a variety of literary genres and ask how formal and stylistic conventions, as well as shifting sociohistorical circumstances, have shaped conceptions of Asian American literature.

  • Freshman Seminar 32R: Autobiography and Black Freedom Struggles (Tommie Shelby) FALL
    This seminar introduces the main traditions of African American political thought and the history of the black fight for justice through the genre of autobiography. Students will read some classic autobiographies by African Americans (for example, those by Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and Malcolm X), along with some lesser-known works (for instance, autobiographies by Ida B. Wells, Shirley Chisholm, and Amiri Baraka). They will discover how an influential set of black individuals, both men and women, came to political consciousness and participated in the collective struggle for justice in America. Students will reflect on these figures’ personal struggles to find meaning and solace under unjust conditions and to forge dignified modes of resistance. The seminar provides an opportunity to see how these personalities interpreted key events and periods in U.S. history—slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, and the post-industrial urban crisis—as social actors who participated and lived through them.

  • History & Literature 90L: Stories of Slavery and Freedom (Timothy McCarthy) FALL
    In the last generation, scholars have revolutionized our understanding of slavery and freedom in the modern Atlantic world. This sea-change has been the result of a major methodological shift: to view this history through the eyes of slaves rather than the eyes of masters. This course will examine the history of the "black Atlantic" through a diverse range of cultural texts--poetry, pamphlets, court cases, petitions, autobiographies, novels, speeches, and sermons--produced by slaves, free blacks, and abolitionists from the Age of Revolution to emancipation.

  • Music 176: Music and Disability (Andrew Clark) SPRING
    In the last generation, scholars have revolutionized our understanding of slavery and freedom in the modern Atlantic world. This sea-change has been the result of a major methodological shift: to view this history through the eyes of slaves rather than the eyes of masters. This course will examine the history of the "black Atlantic" through a diverse range of cultural texts--poetry, pamphlets, court cases, petitions, autobiographies, novels, speeches, and sermons--produced by slaves, free blacks, and abolitionists from the Age of Revolution to emancipation.

Gender and Sexuality

Gender and Sexuality

The construct of gender and sexuality in society has been under scrutiny recently. In the year of #MeToo, courses that examine feminism, sexual identities, and gender norms are more important than ever. These courses in the Division of Arts & Humanities will help you explore the role of gender and sexuality in literature, art, religion, music, and other areas of human activity, expanding the context for a dynamic issue of your time.

  • Ethnicity, Migration, Rights 131/Women, Gender, and Sexuality 1283: Loves Labors Found: Uncovering Histories of Emotional Labor (Caroline Light) FALL
    How do love, care, and desire influence the value of work, and why is emotional labor – which is vital to child or elder care, domestic labor, nursing, teaching, and sex work – often considered to be something other than work? How and why do the racial and gender identities of workers affect the economic, social, and emotional value of their labor? How do political and social arrangements of labor help produce and reinforce racial categories while solidifying the boundaries separating masculinity and femininity? Through a mix of primary and secondary sources, this seminar explores histories of emotional labor and the power structures that give meaning to often taken-for-granted categories of work. These sometimes hidden histories are key to untangling the gender, sexual, and racial implications of the “intimate industries” that populate today’s transnational labor economies.

  • Ethical Reasoning 37: Adam & Eve (Stephen Greenblatt and Joseph Koerner) FALL
    What is the power of a story? For several thousand years Adam and Eve were the protagonists in the central origin myth of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim worlds. That myth was the arena for ethical reasoning about transgression and innocence, sexuality, gender roles, labor, suffering, and death. Jointly taught by History of Art and Architecture and English, our course focuses on this enigmatic story and its spectacular elaborations in theology, philosophy, literature and art. Above all, looking closely at some of the greatest achievements of European art and literature--from Dürer, Michelangelo and Rembrandt to Milton's Paradise Lost--we will compare the possibilities of the verbal and visual arts in portraying human being.

  • History & Literature 90DM: America’s Queer Canon (Paul Edwards) SPRING
    This course examines a range of texts from American authors, poets, musicians, and film directors that engage with queer and subversive themes and desires, various sexual identities, and other relations outside of the heterosexual nuclear family. Central to the course's investigation are the intersections between queer theory, feminism, and critical race theory.  The regulation of gender and sexual behavior—and transgression of sex/gender norms—have been central to American society from its beginnings.​ Weaving these analyses with our primary sources, this course focuses on the second half of the nineteenth century into the twenty-first.  With help from social and cultural historians, we’ll pay close attention to how changing discourses shape the meaning of queerness in America, and how queer writers and artists have changed America.

  • Japanese Literature 162: Girl Culture, Media, and Japan (Tomiko Yoda) SPRING
    The course examines the ways in which girlhood and girl culture have figured in the construction of gender, nation, and popular medias in modern to contemporary Japan. We will study visual and textual mediums, including novels, magazines, films, manga, and animation, paying attention to principal transformations that have marked the history of modern girl culture in Japan. No prior knowledge of Japanese language or history is expected.

  • Music 195R: Music of Women Creators (Anne Shreffler) SPRING
    In spite of significant gains in gender equality over the last half century, women creators remain dramatically underrepresented in the music world, in all genres of music and in all categories of musical production: as composers, improvisors, producers, conductors, and even as performers. This new course focuses on the contributions of female and non-binary musicians who have composed, improvised, or collaboratively created music in the 20th and 21st centuries. We will listen closely to their music, asking questions such as: what were the historical, institutional, cultural and educational factors that supported or hindered their work? How do they define their gender identities, gender roles, and sexual orientation, and to what extent do they relate these to their work? How does these identities function intersectionally with others, such as racial, class, national, and transnational identities? How has their work been received? What structures have historically enabled inclusion or fostered exclusion into the musical canon?

  • Religion 1447: From Saint to Witch: Female Spirituality in the European Middle Ages (Racha Kirakosian) SPRING
    This course deals with the forms of spirituality that were associated with women in the Middle Ages. Considering the history of spirituality as “the study of how basic religious attitudes and values are conditioned by the society within which they occur” (Caroline W. Bynum), the course takes male-dominated debates of female spirituality and sanctity into account. It deals in particular with mysticism but also looks at other forms of religious life. This course also covers theological questions such as the gender of the soul. Primary sources (with translations) include texts by Meister Eckhart, Mechthild von Magdeburg, Bridget of Sweden, and Jean Gerson as well as sculptures, relics, and other objects.  Theoretical readings comprise works on gender and body studies.

Innovation, Rebellion, and Transformation

Innovation, Rebellion, and Transformation

Today, you could be excused for thinking that innovation was something that only occurred in engineering. But it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee: innovation, rebellion, and transformation in art and culture have rocked the world time and again. Understanding the history of the new will keep you from getting old.


  • Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 42: Revolutionary Utopias and Literary Transformations (James Simpson) SPRING
    Is revolution or reform the best way to transform society? What noun do the following adjectives qualify: English, American, French, Russian, Chinese Cultural, Cambodian, Iranian? Answer: “Revolution.” Liberal cultural tends to praise some of these revolutions and recoil in horror from the others. In America, “revolutionary” is a positive adjective while victims of the Soviet gulags are less enthusiastic about the term. Countries whose revolutions have been successful and durable regard the term “utopia” as more positively than the victims of utopian thinking. What do you make of this dissonance? This course explores the relation between utopian Enlightenment and literary cultures in Western history.  For each moment of rapid change, from Plato to the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century and beyond, we will focus on two texts: one which promotes the enlightened and revolutionary utopian social blueprint; and one that offers an alternative model of transformation, or even a dystopian account of the utopian model. 

  • Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 62: California in the 60s (Kate van Orden) FALL
    This course examines American youth culture in the 1960s through the lens of music in California. Both "popular" and "art" music will be considered, including early minimalism, songs from L.A. and the Laurel Canyon crowd, and San Francisco psychedelia. In addition to understanding musical forms, performance styles, and the effects of technology (radio, recording, electric instruments), the class will delve into the politics of race, gender, counter-cultures, and the draft. Art-making will be facilitated as part of course work (activist theater, song-writing, etc.).

  • English 141: When Novels Were New (Deidre Lynch) SPRING
    The novel’s emergence as a new literary form and the remarkable record of narrative experimentation that emergence involved, as seen in works by Behn, Defoe, Haywood, Richardson, Fielding, Hogarth, Sterne, and Austen. Questions about genre and about the nature of fictionality will be central for us, and so we will investigate what was novel about novels by pondering how novels differ from epics or histories or the news in newspapers.  But we will also use our reading to investigate what the modern novel’s emergence can tell us about modernity itself--about love, sex, and marriage, consumer capitalism, empire, and urban life.

  • History of Art & Architecture 17V: Introduction to Modern Architectures (Patricio del Real) FALL
    This undergraduate survey course traces developments in architecture from the late nineteenth-century to the twentieth and beyond. We will focus on the consolidation of modernism as a global phenomenon in the 20th Century, engaging projects and architects who had a direct hand in its shaping and those who opposed it. We will look at key works of architecture and urban planning as laboratories of modernity fraught with tensions between tradition and innovation, form and function, art and technology, creative genius and teamwork, nationalism and internationalism. As modern architecture developed throughout the world, architects, planners and designers refashioned the built environment to serve the needs of growing populations, emerging nations, political ideologies, international markets and industrial modernization. The course will present how architects aimed to fulfill the promises of industrial modernity and need to be 'modern.' We will focus on case studies in the Americas and the Europes that launched global debates and international actors. 

  • Music 23: A Social History of Rock ‘n Roll (Katy Leonard) FALL
    This course will examine the social and historical context of rock ‘n’ roll, including the ways in which the genre intersects with business, politics, gender, age, class, race, and technology. We will survey rock ‘n’ roll’s early 20th century roots, the rock ‘n’ roll explosion of the 1950s, surf-rock, folk-rock, blues-rock, the British Invasion, and psychedelic rock through the early 1970s. As we discuss the evolution of “rock ‘n’ roll” of the 1950s to “rock” of the 1960s and 70s, we will consider the role of songs, albums, and artists, as well as producers, promoters, fans, and detractors.

  • Religion 1017: The Shock of the New (Michael Jackson) FALL
    This course will explore the impact of new worldviews, traumatic experiences, and radical technological innovations on both human lives and liefworlds.  It will cover some of the epistemological, ethical, social and existential quandaries that constitute what Robert Hughes calls 'the shock of the new', as well as the religious and ritual strategies whereby people struggle to avert, accommodate, cope with and comprehend massive changes to their lives. Interpretive perspectives will be drawn from psychology, philosophy, ethnography, ethology and biomedicine, while specific empirical cases will cover new media of communications and information processing, new genetic technologies, medical crises (disabilities, organ transplantation, trauma and epidemic disease), as well as culture contact and culture shock. 

The Power of Stories

The Power of Stories

Who doesn’t love stories? Every society shares the stories that have helped to shape it. They form the ties that bind a community together. When read closely, they can also betray its secrets. So, pull up a chair.


  • Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 64: Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales (Nicholas Watson) SPRING
    What makes stories so pleasurable and so enraging?  How do we understand the strong emotions they evoke, and how do we learn to resist their power?  Answering back to a world of fake news and divisive political narratives, this course revisits Chaucer's Canterbury Tales the deepest, most caustic, and most entertaining  analysis of the problematic status of stories ever written.

  • Celtic 121: The Art of Storytelling in Medieval Ireland (Joseph Nagy) FALL
    An exploration of what we know about storytelling and storytellers in Ireland of the Middle Ages.  Also to be considered are: notions of narrative genres; the hero as storyteller, the storyteller as hero; the interface among native Irish, Classical, and biblical notions and repertoires of story; the "visuals" of story; stories as linked together in cycles, or as "prequels" and "sequels."  Readings will be in English/translation.  No previous knowledge of Irish or Celtic tradition required.  

  • Comparative Literature 121: From the 1001 Nights to the Arabian Nights: Adaptation, Transformation, Translation (Sandra Naddaff) FALL
    Examines how the1001 Nights, popularly known in the West as the Arabian Nights, is transformed and adapted for different media and genres. Focuses on a variety of films, (e.g., The Thief of Baghdad, Chu Chin Chow, Aladdin), illustrations/images (e.g., Doré, Chagall, Matisse), musical and balletic renditions (e.g., Rimsky-Korsakov, Fokine), translations (e.g., Galland, Lane, Burton, Haddawy), and re-tellings of stories (e.g., Poe, Barth, Mahfouz, Sebbar, Zimmerman). Also considers the role of the 1001 Nights in contemporary popular culture.

  • East Asian Film & Media 151: Documenting China on Film (Jie Li) FALL
    What defines a film as “documentary”? How do documentary films inform, persuade, provoke, or move us?  Of whom, by whom, and for whom are documentaries made?  Can documentary also be “propaganda” or “art”?  What rhetorical devices and aesthetic strategies do documentaries use to construct visions of reality and proclaim them as authentic, credible and authoritative?  What might documentary films—as opposed to written text—teach us about modern Chinese history and contemporary society?  Above all, how would you go about making a documentary film, in China or elsewhere?

  • English 110FF: Medieval Fanfiction (Anna Wilson) SPRING
    Fanfiction is a surprisingly powerful tool for examining medieval literature. It sheds light on the dynamics of rereading and reception that characterize medieval texts, which in turn deepen our own understanding of creative originality. In this class we will read some twentieth- and twenty-first century fanfiction with medievalist themes alongside medieval literary texts that rewrite, reimagine, or let their authors star in pre-existing stories. This medieval ‘fanfiction’ will include Arthurian romances, ‘sequels’ to the Aeneid and the Canterbury Tales, and Christian spiritual texts in which devout men and women imagined themselves as ‘Mary Sues’ in scenes from the Gospels.

  • Freshman Seminar 61M: Silk Road Stories (Mark Elliott) FALL
    “The Silk Road”—the words conjure up images of camel caravans crossing vast deserts or traversing lofty mountains with their precious cargoes of textiles and porcelain. From ancient Chinese emissaries and intrepid Buddhist pilgrims to plucky Venetians, swashbuckling Swedes, and adventurous Americans, the Silk Road has produced countless storytellers with enchanting accounts of “East meets West.” What do we really know about the Silk Road, though? What if it turns out that much of what we believe about the Silk Road turns out to be a myth? This seminar invites you to embark on your own Silk Road journey, exploring the material and historical reality behind the fabled Eurasian trade routes and the ways in which different Silk Road narratives serve today both as political capital and artistic inspiration. In the process, we will come to understand the peculiar biology of Bombyx mori, get hands-on experience in the Harvard museum collections, and study attitudes toward cultural patrimony.

The Sacred

The Sacred

Are the stakes of college not high enough for you? Want to up the ante? Start with some of humanity’s most fundamental questions in courses that interrogate our beliefs, practices of worship, and the nature of religion. Call us when you’ve seen the light.

  • Culture & Belief 31: Saints, Heretics, and Atheists: An Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (Jeffrey McDonough) SPRING
    Does God exist? What is the nature of evil and where does it come from? Are humans free? Responsible? Immortal? Does it matter? This course will explore foundational questions in the philosophy of religion through the study of classic works by Plato, Augustine, Al-Ghazali, Aquinas, Pascal, Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche and James. Students will have the opportunity to reexamine their own views and assumptions about religion in the company of some of the greatest thinkers of the past.

  • Culture & Belief 35: Classical Mythology (Brigitte Libby) SPRING
    Incest and parricide, cannibalism and self-blinding: classical mythology has fascinated artists, writers, and thinkers throughout western civilization, and this course will serve as an introduction to this strange and brilliant world. We will move from the very first works of Greek literature through to the classic Greek tragedies and the Roman tales in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Along the way, we will confront the question of what "mythology" is and how it works, and we will discuss how these traditional stories changed over time to fit different cultural circumstances. We will also consider ancient rationalizations of myth, the relationship of myth and politics, and the reception of classical myth in the modern world.

  • East Asian Studies 140: Major Religious Texts of East Asia (Ryuichi Abe) SPRING
    This course aims at enabling students to read and analyze in depth major religious texts of East Asia, representing diverse traditions and genres. The course encourages students to take up their reading of texts not only as ways to acquire knowledge on Asian religious traditions, but as practice, labor, and play in which their ordinary way of understanding/experiencing the world and themselves will be challenged, reaffirmed, and renewed.

  • Freshman Seminar 43D: Christianity and Slavery in America, 1619-1865: A Student-Curated Library Exhibit (Catherine Brekus) FALL
    Most people today assume that Christianity and slavery are incompatible. For most of Christian history, however, the opposite was true. Christians not only owned slaves, but they also argued that slavery was sanctioned by the Bible. This seminar will explore the relationship between Christianity and slavery in America from 1619, when the first slaves arrived in Virginia, to the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. We will ask several questions. What was the role of Christianity in sanctioning slavery? How did white Christians become convinced that slavery was sinful? Why did many slaves convert to Christianity, the religion of their oppressors? How did enslaved Christians make sense of their suffering? The main work of the seminar will involve curating an exhibit on Christianity and slavery in America at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

  • Islamic Civilizations 145A: Introduction to Islamic Philosophy and Theology: The Classical and Medieval Period (Khaled El-Rouayheb) FALL
    Islamic Civilizations 145A is an introduction to some of the key problems and figures in medieval Islamic theology and philosophy. The main topics covered will be:   The rise of theological controversies in early Islam and the crystallization of theological factions; the rise of an Arabic tradition of Neo-Platonized Aristotelianism with such figures as Farabi (d. 950) and Avicenna (d.1037); the confrontation between the theological and Aristotelian traditions in such works as The Incoherence of the Philosophers by the theologian al-Ghazali (d.1111) and the response by Averroes (d.1198); the powerful influence of philosophy on later Islamic theology; the anti-Aristotelian, Platonist philosophy of “Illumination” of Suhrawardi (d.1191), and the mystical monism of Ibn Arabi (d.1240) and his followers.

  • Music 195R: Topics in Music from 1900-Present: The Gospel Imagination (Braxton Shelley) FALL
    The class will explore African American gospel performance, focusing on the tradition’s braiding together of music, movement, and belief. When these three expressive dimensions are engaged together, what emerges is “the gospel imagination,” the complex of words and music, sound and belief that sustains many expressions of African American Christian worship. How might this integrated notion of gospel performance inform an analytical paradigm? Relatedly, how might this approach inspire performance? This course brings together material and approaches from the fields of musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology, homiletics, and theology to pursue these questions. Through a combination of weekly reading, listening and writing assignments students will immerse themselves in this way of patterning sound as an expression of belief. Alongside these assignments, students will undertake composition in the gospel style, culminating in a masterclass with a nationally-renowned gospel artist.

Structure, Space, Scale

Structure, Space, Scale

We live in a built world. Who decided to build things this way? How might we build the world differently? How do the built things around us affect our experience and our lives? These courses tackle issues of design, program, and scale in constructions ranging from a single work of sculpture to a sprawling metropolis.


  • Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding 40: Monuments of Islamic Architecture (Gülru Necipoğlu- Kafadar and David Roxburgh) FALL
    An introduction to ten iconic monuments of the Islamic world from the beginning of Islam to the early modern period. This course introduces various types of building - mosques, palaces, multifunctional complexes - and city types and the factors that shaped them, artistic, patronal, socio-political, religio-cultural, and economic. Each case study is divided into two lectures. The first presents the monument of city by "walking" through it. The second is devoted to themes elicited from the example, developed in light of comparative monuments, sites, and/or written sources, and to problems of patronage, production, audience and meaning as they pertain to architectural history.

  • History of Art & Architecture 18J: Introduction to Japanese Architecture (Yukio Lippit) FALL
    A survey of the diverse architectural traditions of the Japanese archipelago from the prehistoric era through the twentieth century. Various building types-including the Shinto shrine, Buddhist temple, castle, teahouse, palace and farmhouse-will be studied through representative surviving examples. Issues to be explored include the basic principles of timber-frame engineering, the artisanal culture of master carpenters, and the mixed legacy of the functionalist interpretation of Japanese architecture.

  • Portuguese 136: Writing and Urban Life (Bruno Carvalho) FALL (taught in Portuguese)
    In this seminar we will explore literary representations of urban experience, and how the evolution of cities has been shaped by writing. Topics include the impact of technology on cities as lived and imagined spaces; interfaces between literacy, orality, and visual cultures; intersections between fiction, poetry, and social history; porous boundaries between built and natural environments; relationships between modernity, writing, and urban planning. Focus will be placed on major cities of the Portuguese-speaking  world and authors like Machado de Assis, Fernando Pessoa, Patrícia Galvão, and Clarice Lispector.

  • South Asian Studies 131: South Asia: A Global History (Sunil Amrith) SPRING
    This course provides a global perspective on modern South Asia, from the early twentieth century to the present day. It examines how South Asia has shaped the world, and how the world has shaped South Asia. Topics covered will include: the Indian freedom movement in global perspective; the migration and settlement of South Asian communities overseas; conflict and cooperation between South Asia’s states— India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka—and relations between South Asia, China and the United States. We will also examine the centrality of South Asia to the successes and failures of schemes of international health and development, and to global environmental politics in the twenty first century.

  • Theater, Dance & Media 159A: Fictional Architecture: Design Studio for Performance (Mimi Lien) FALL
    This studio-based course explores the narrative and dramatic potential of three-dimensional space – the intersection of architecture and performance.  We will examine how the character and content of a designed space informs the experience of the viewer and becomes a container/counterpart for performance, or is itself a performance.  How can the design and experience of space transgress traditional narrative models?  Students will be introduced to examples of dramatic narrative and anti-narrative in space by examining the work of architects, artists, and theorists such as Diller & Scofidio, Lebbeus Woods, John Hejduk, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Gaston Bachelard, as well as works of theater and dance created by designer-directors and choreographers such as Romeo Castellucci, Sasha Waltz, and Philippe Quesne.  Throughout the semester, students will generate a series of design projects inspired by works of fiction, visual art, and performance.

  • Visual & Environmental Studies 35R: Building Thought: Sculpture Course (Annette Lemieux) FALL
    Using a variety of materials and methods, students will build and create artworks that reflect their ideas, with an emphasis and understanding of the language of images, materials, forms, actions, and presentation. Through images, videos, and informal discussions, students will be introduced to the concerns of conceptual artists of the 20th Century to the present.