Sample Courses

FRENCH VISUAL CULTURE, 1789–1914 (lecture)

French society in the nineteenth century was steeped in spectacle. Bearing witness to the carefully orchestrated theatre of the guillotine in the wake of the Revolution, the invention of photography, and the rise of public entertainments, it was an era in which people sought to see and to be seen on a previously unmatched scale. The purpose of this course will be to investigate spaces of conflict, entertainment, violence, sex, and everything in between. Organized spatially and chronologically, students will explore a variety of sites (the illustrated press, the Paris Morgue, the brothel, the panorama, etc.), developing an intimate knowledge of the spectrum of visual cultures existing in France from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. This course is intended for majors and non-majors alike, and no prerequisites are required.

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THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH (seminar)

What is the American way of death, and is there only one? Jessica Mitford attempted to answer this question when, in 1963, she published her best-selling exposé of the modern funerary industry’s financial abuse of grieving families. In suggesting that the way of death in the United States was a capitalistic one, she also sparked widespread interest in historical and cultural studies of funerary practices in the United States. Scholarship on this subject peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, as historians began to push back against Mitford’s claim, asserting that money was only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

The purpose of this course is to examine the complex material culture of American deathways, from the Colonial Period to the present day. This seminar will consider the business of death as well as the symbolic value of human remains, the materials of commemoration, and death in popular American media and culture over time. Over the course of the semester, students will become familiar with the history and development of funerary customs in the United States, as well as the primary debates within this field of study. Additionally, students will learn how to conduct material analysis and to position objects within broader discussions of social, cultural, and historical phenomena.

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