Cogut Institute for the Humanities

The Cogut Institute fosters curricular innovation through its faculty and postdoctoral fellowships, the Collaborative Humanities Initiative, and the Humanities Initiative Scholars. The institute also hosts U.S. and international visiting faculty. Courses offered by the institute contribute to Brown University’s cross-disciplinary curricular designators.

“ This class is the most wonderful course I have taken at Brown in my time here. [...] I met wonderful people in this course, had great conversations, felt like I could always share something in class, and really enjoyed participating. I always looked forward to this course because every class meeting felt important and engaging. [...] I always felt like we were discussing topics that mattered and that together we were working towards big ideas that made a difference. ”

Student course evaluation for “Technologies of Memory”

Spring 2022 | HMAN 0700A, CLPS 0540 | Simulating Reality: The (Curious) History and Science of Immersive Experiences
Fulvio Domini, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences and Massimo Riva, Professor of Italian Studies
Can an experimental approach enhance our critical-historical understanding of immersive experiences? We will look at the history of 3D vision from an interdisciplinary perspective combining the science of perception and the cultural history of technology. Through a series of collaborative activities and team experiments, we will learn how popular, pre-digital optical devices (such as camerae obscurae, magic lanterns, panoramas, or stereoscopes) foreshadow contemporary VR, AR, or XR experiences designed for education and entertainment. Among the themes explored: virtual travel, social voyeurism and surveillance, utopian and dystopian imagination. (COEX)

Fall 2021 | HMAN 2401E | Retouch: The Imaginaries of Repair
Ariella Azoulay, Professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media and Aliyyah Abdur-Rahman, Associate Professor of American Studies and English
Retouch is a term often associated with repair — of a print, a photograph, a piece of cloth — while it also bespeaks the capacity to induce or to bring about what could have been unjustly left unattended, silenced, forgotten, or, on the contrary, what may have required covering, concealment, or removal (from sight). This collaborative seminar explores different gestures, modalities, and initiatives of repair and reparation, redress and restoration, return and redistribution, remedy and recuperation. Attending to the lasting structures of imperialism, racial capitalism, and gender violence, we seek ultimately to imagine and to theorize the retouch of shared worlds.

Fall 2021 | HMAN 2401F, COLT 2650B | Speed: Fast and Slow in Literature and Philosophy
Susan Bernstein, Professor of Comparative Literature and German Studies and Peter Szendy, David Herlihy University Professor of Comparative Literature
Our time is running out of time”: this is a feeling that lingers on since the advent of a modernity that allows for less and less lingering. It reaches its apex with the Anthropocene understood as the maximal contrast between the deep time of geology and the short temporality of human history. Our collaborative seminar will trace the genealogy of accelerationism to futurism and nihilism, while also approaching boredom as a philosophical question. It will offer readings (slow and fast) of classics of literature that stage the (fast or slow) passing of time (Goethe’s “Second Faust,” Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse). We will practice and experience speed as well as deferral by alternating slow and fast readings of the materials included in the seminar’s syllabus. Experimenting with the contrast between these two modes of reading will be part of the collaborative assignments for the semester. Each class will have three collaborative presentations, one slow (15’) and two fast (2’), on the readings for that day. The co-written final paper will be presented in various short versions (one sentence, one paragraph, one page) during the last class and then submitted in its fully developed form. We will also have discussion sessions organized by various time constraints.

Fall 2021 | HMAN 2401G, COLT 2830B | Frameworks of Antiquity: Disciplines, Discourses, Politics
Tamara Chin, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Studies and Adi Ophir, Visiting Professor of the Humanities and Middle East Studies
At least since decolonization, the study of antiquity has been a battleground for conflicting projects (imperial, colonial, national, indigenous, religious, feminist and queer, etc.). This seminar explores disciplinary formations that have supplied rival groups with cognitive maps, narratives of identity formation and transformation, and assets for real and symbolic capital. We will explore key disciplinary sites of debate — in archaeology, philology, philosophy, Scriptural and cClassical studies, and history — concerning the distribution of groups (of people, languages, races), the establishment of spatial and temporal boundaries, and the limits of what can be argued, shown, possessed, and claimed to be true.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 2401H | Global Histories of Psychiatry and Anti-Psychiatry Since 1945
Leon Hilton, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies and Jennifer Lambe, Associate Professor of History
This collaborative seminar examines the global course of psychiatry and anti-psychiatry following WWII and the emergence of new critical perspectives within and beyond the discipline. Readings center the coalescing mobilization against traditional asylum psychiatry and psychiatric technologies (shock therapies, lobotomy, psychopharmaceuticals), alternative and experimental practices that challenged psychiatric expertise (including consciousness raising groups, schizoanalysis, and the c/s/x movement), and aesthetic and cultural representations of these histories (in literature, film, visual art, and theatre). We will be especially attuned to the cross-fertilization between anti-psychiatry and other movements, including civil rights, feminism, gay liberation, disability rights, prison abolition, and anti-colonial struggles.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 2401L, ENGL 2900X | Postcolonial Theory
Leela Gandhi, John Hawkes Professor of Humanities and English
In this introduction to postcolonial theory we will consider key Western sources (Hegel, Marx, Lacan, Levi Strauss, Emmanuel Levinas),; anticolonial manifestos (Gandhi, Fanon, Césaire, Memmi), political and ethical practices (civil disobedience, armed struggle, friendship). In addition to canonical critics (Said, Bhabha, Spivak), the course will review new interests in the field (transnationalism, non-Western imperialisms, the environmental turn). Offered as a collaborative humanities seminar in Spring 2022, Postcolonial Theory will host and think with a series of guest scholars.

Spring 2022 | HMAN2401K, ENGL2901R | Technologies of Memory
Stuart Burrows, Associate Professor of English and Ravit Reichman, Associate Professor of English
From archives to monuments, photographs to films, sound recordings to selfies to Twitter feeds, modern life has reached a saturation point of object-driven memory. This course examines modes of capturing memory in the 20th and 21st centuries, and asks what replaces the medieval memory palace as an imaginary habitat for recollection.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 2401M | Decolonial Matters: Thinking from the South
Yannis Hamilakis, Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology and Professor of Modern Greek Studies and Vazira Zamindar, Associate Professor of History
This collaborative humanities seminar considers colonization as a material condition and focuses on decolonial practices from the “south” that engage the matter and materiality of things, objects, artifacts, and landscapes, from archaeological remains to museum objects, works of art, and contemporary material traces of migration and border crossing. We will interrogate the material and racial basis of the “south” and explore modes of thinking and practice (from indigenous perspectives to contemporary art) that can suture the relationship between objects and people. The seminar will also function as a workshop for student collaborations on decolonial experiments with material objects/sites.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 2500 | Project Development Workshop
Amanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and English and Shahzad Bashir, Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Humanities and History
In this capstone course, students completing the Doctoral Certificate in Collaborative Humanities pursue individual or collaborative projects, such as a dissertation chapter, an article on method/theory, or a stand-alone essay related to the larger field. The workshop provides a collaborative and supportive space in which students from different disciplines can share their work and receive and give feedback that will broaden and sharpen the framing of their projects. At the end of the semester, participants present in a Collaborative Public Workshop. Admission to the seminar requires a formal application process and the completion of two HMAN 2400 seminars.

Students were able to channel their own fields of research and experiences into a broader theoretical discussion.

Student course evaluation for “Decolonial Matters: Thinking from the South”

Fall 2021 | HMAN 1974S | The Costs of Climate Change
Daniel Hirschman, Assistant Professor of Sociology
This seminar examines debates over the costs — economic, environmental, and social — of climate change. We will explore how economists attempt to solve seemingly impossible problems of valuation like: how much should we value the well-being of current versus future generations? How much value does the ecosystem as a whole provide? We will then survey how these numbers (sometimes) enter into environmental regulatory debates. Finally, we will study how movements fighting for environmental justice adopt — or reject — the language of economics to make claims about the morality and economics of fossil fuel producers.

Fall 2021 | HMAN 1975F | Censorship and the Arts
Esther Whitfield, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Hispanic Studies
Who decides what we read and view? Censorship has a long history in authoritarian states and religious institutions, but where else has it taken shape, today and in the past? This course engages with a series of once “banned” literary and artistic works alongside creative and legal critiques of censorship. Addressing recent forms of censorship in the arts and the political sphere — exhibit closings, book burnings, redaction, classification — and the acts of protest, whistle-blowing, and document-dumping that aim to circumvent these, the course explores ideas of public interest, national defense, and decency that underpin decisions to restrict.

Fall 2021 | HMAN1975G / STS 1802A | Planning the Family: Gender, Reproduction, and the Politics of Choice
Jennifer Johnson, Associate Professor of History
This course explores 20th-century efforts to address population growth and family planning in a variety of global contexts, ranging from macro-level initiatives to individual practices. For some women, state leaders, and international experts, contraception meant sexual liberation, increased autonomy, and the reduction of economic hardship. But for others, the same biomedical technologies were associated with colonial control and efforts to reduce “undesirable” people. How is it possible for contraception to hold such expansive and contradictory meanings? In order to assess this central question, students will engage with critical theories of gender, race, class, nationalism, and decolonization. DIAP and WRIT

This course fundamentally and productively altered my previously held conceptions regarding reproductive policy. I now feel better equipped to engage with these issues in the future, both academically and professionally.

Student course evaluation for “Planning the Family: Gender, Reproduction, and the Politics of Choice”

Fall 2021 | HMAN 1971S | Introduction to iPhone/iPad Moviemaking Using 3-D and 360 VR Comparisons
Theodore Bogosian, Visiting Assistant Professor of the Practice of the Humanities
Mobile Devices are democratizing movie-making by lowering barriers to entry, enabling students to become full-fledged members of the film industry virtually overnight. This pioneering course provides the basic tools for students to create and distribute no- and low-budget live-action motion pictures with professional production values utilizing only their personal smartphones. Students will acquire the skills to plan, capture, and edit short motion pictures through hands-on instruction and experimentation with low-cost accessories, including selfie-sticks, lens adapters, directional microphones, and iPhone apps like Filmic Pro, Vizzywig, and iMovie. Limited to junior, senior, and graduate students.

Fall 2021 | COLT 1440U | The Listener (Literature, Theory, Film)
Peter Szendy, David Herlihy University Professor of Comparative Literature
Listening is not only the supposedly peaceful, welcoming activity that verges on mere receptive passivity. Listening or not listening also has to do with the exercise of power, and this is the reason why we have a responsibility as listeners. In order to explore what could be described as the politics of listening, we will follow multiple paths that will lead us from the strategies of listening in concert venues to the medical practice of auscultation and the generalization of surveillance techniques. Our seminar will interweave readings in literature or theory (Kafka, Nietzsche, Calvino, Foucault, Chekhov, Freud, Deleuze...) and screenings of selected filmic scenes. (WRIT)

Fall 2021 | MCM 1204J | A New Black Gaze
Tina Campt, Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Professor of Modern Culture and Media
What is a “black gaze”? The title of this course is a provocation that poses the question of whether we can identify the existence of a black gaze, while asserting the transformative potential such a gaze both promises and portends. Starting from a close examination of theories of the gaze, we will engage the relationship between contemporary black visuality and what constitutes a black gaze in the 21st century. Focusing on a select group of black contemporary artists, we will explore how their work challenges traditional notions of what constitutes the power/politics of the gaze.

Fall 2021 | PHIL 1240 | Kant’s Moral Philosophy
Paul Guyer, Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy
An introduction to the central themes of Kant’s moral philosophy, including autonomy, freedom, happiness, obligation, and virtue. Kant’s position in the history of moral philosophy will also be considered. Readings to include all of Kant’s major writings in this field, thus Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, Critique of Practical Reason, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, and Metaphysics of Morals, as well as several essays and lectures. Work will include two short papers and one term paper.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 1971S | Introduction to iPhone/iPad Moviemaking Using 3-D and 360 VR Comparisons
Theodore Bogosian, Visiting Assistant Professor of the Practice of the Humanities
Mobile Devices are democratizing movie-making by lowering barriers to entry, enabling students to become full-fledged members of the film industry virtually overnight. This pioneering course provides the basic tools for students to create and distribute no- and low-budget live-action motion pictures with professional production values utilizing only their personal smartphones. Students will acquire the skills to plan, capture, and edit short motion pictures through hands-on instruction and experimentation with low-cost accessories, including selfie-sticks, lens adapters, directional microphones, and iPhone apps like Filmic Pro, Vizzywig, and iMovie. Limited to junior, senior, and graduate students.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 0800A | Humanities in Context: Victimization and Voice
Morris Karp, Deans’ Faculty Fellow for the Cogut Institute for the Humanities
This seminar investigates the silent language of victims. How can marginalized groups make their voices heard? The notion of subalternity has become crucial for transdisciplinary debates in the humanities. It describes not only a predicament of social, political, and economical oppression, but also one that imposes silence. How to break this silence? The risk is that of producing a representation that enters the dominant discourse while perpetuating the subaltern’s exclusion. Following the notion of subalternity from Antonio Gramsci to postcolonial studies and beyond, this seminar explores the conundrum of subaltern’s representation, its theoretical implications, and several strategies to address it.

Spring 2022 | HMAN 1000B | The Cogut Institute for the Humanities Research Seminar
Amanda Anderson, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities and English
This seminar involves reading and discussing in-progress research by the annual fellows of the Cogut Institute for the Humanities, an interdisciplinary group of faculty, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates engaged in extended research on a major project or honors thesis. Students read a wide range of works-in-progress, prepare questions and participate in seminar discussions, intervene as first questioners for specific sessions assigned to them in advance, and present their own work twice during the year. Admission to the course requires that students have received the Cogut Institute Undergraduate Fellowship for the year in which they enroll.

Spring 2022 | COLT1814U | Politics of Reading
Peter Szendy, David Herlihy University Professor of Comparative Literature
What do we do when we read? And do we even do something, or, as Blanchot suggests, do we rather let be? While being true to Michel de Certeau’s plea for a “politics of reading” and an “autonomy of the reader,” we will question its binary logic (active vs. passive): 1) by looking closely at the (de)construction of a “sovereign reader” in Hobbes’ Leviathan; 2) by analyzing the reading imperative — “Read!” — as it is staged in Plato’s and, above all, in Sade’s erotics; 3) by taking seriously Walter Benjamin’s paradoxical intuition that one should “read what was never written.”

Spring 2022 | PHIL 0210 | Early Modern Philosophy
Paul Guyer, Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy
An introduction to central themes in Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Major topics include: reason, experience, and knowledge; substance and the nature of the world as it really is; induction, causation, and the origin of our ideas; skepticism, realism, and idealism. Connections are made with the scientific revolution of the 17th century. There will be discussion and advice on ways to approach philosophical reading, research, and writing. (REM, WRIT)

Spring 2022 | PHIL 0993 | Political Philosophy: Historical Issues
Paul Guyer, Jonathan Nelson Professor of Humanities and Philosophy
This course will study central issues in the modern history of political philosophy, including the nature of sovereignty, the proper limits and structure of government, the relation between state and religion, and relations among states. Authors will include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Moses Mendelssohn, Immanuel Kant, James Madison, and Wilhelm von Humboldt.

This course really highlighted for me the interdisciplinary aspect of subaltern and postcolonial studies.

Student course evaluation for “Humanities in Context: Victimization and Voice”

Fall 2021 | PHIL 1900, HMAN 1975J | Philosophy of Biology
David Frank, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Philosophy)
This course introduces philosophy of biology through engagement with historical and contemporary philosophical and scientific texts. We will ask epistemological questions about evolutionary biology, that seek a broader understanding of the status of biology as a science, and about fundamental concepts and categories of biological theory. We will ask whether and how biological knowledge (e.g. about health, “human nature,” or ecosystems) might be relevant to philosophical or ethical claims. Relatedly, we will ask questions about the roles of social values in biology. For example: How have concepts of “race” and racial difference been theorized in philosophy and biology, and how has scientific racism mischaracterized human diversity? Students will leave the course with an appreciation for the relevance and importance of philosophical debates both within and about the life sciences.

Fall 2021 | AFRI 0850 | Queerness in Caribbean Literature
Dadland Maye, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Africana Studies)
This course will examine 20th- century Caribbean literature as a genre, which poses challenges to colonialism and raises profound questions of sovereignty. It will examine how contemporary Caribbean literature contributes to the world of literature in general. (DIAP)

Fall 2021 | MCM1506X | Love Hurts: Romance, Media, Masochism
Veronica Fitzpatrick, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Modern Culture and Media)
The widespread popularity, profitability, and critical derision of mainstream romance media, from ABC’s prolific The Bachelor franchise to Fifty Shades of Grey, affirms masochism — the enjoyment of what is painful — as a key subject for film and media studies. This course will pair a range of film and television romance texts — from global art cinema to Hollywood rom-coms to reality TV — with conceptual frameworks at the intersections of pain, personhood, and performance. We’ll survey the critical lenses media studies offers for the contemplation of historically derided objects, including genre studies (melodrama, pornography), platform analyses (reality, soap), to critical theory (including queer and affect-based approaches), working collectively to historicize and defamiliarize contemporary mediations of amity, intimacy, and identity. (WRIT)

Fall 2021 | ENGL 0300L | The Global Middle Ages
Mariah Min, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities (English and Medieval Studies)
This course offers students an introduction to the medieval period as a time of active cultural exchange, racial imaginaries, and decentralized globality. We will explore what it means to think about history on a global scale, how to broaden our understanding of the Middle Ages without replicating Eurocentric perspectives, and how literary texts work to mediate history.

Fall 2021 | STS 1700R | Bodies at Work: Disability and Capitalism
Emily Lim Rogers, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Science, Technology, and Society and American Studies)
If disability has been defined as the inability to work, then an exploration of disability necessitates an exploration of capitalism. Workplaces literally injure and disable bodies, while changing arrangements of labor define and redefine what makes something a disability, requiring new tasks of bodies at work. This course traces the dynamic relationship between bodies and economies over the course of American history — from the birth of industrial management science in the 19th century, to the “essential worker” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nimbly moving back and forth between disability studies and labor history, we will develop the conceptual tools to understand capitalism through the lens of disability, while also generating new ways to think about disability via critical histories of capitalism. We will also look at how disabled people have pushed back, envisioning new ways of valuing bodies beyond productivity. (DIAP)  

Fall 2021 | HISP1331M | Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Hispanophone Caribbean Literature
Adrìan Emmanuel Hernandez-Acosta, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities (Hispanic Studies)
More than a spring break destination, a hurricane disaster zone, or abuela’s childhood home, the Hispanophone Caribbean has created a vibrant literary and more broadly artistic catalogue through which to think about questions of race, gender, and sexuality together. In this course, we focus on contemporary Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban queer and trans authors, characters, and themes. We discuss literary, poetic, and cinematic material within a series of historical contexts and theoretical frameworks. Understanding “tropical” in both a geographical (the Tropics) and rhetorical sense (a trope), we ask how Hispanophone Caribbean literature and art navigate a transnational space shaped in the afterlife of racial slavery and under duress of colonial structures. Readings are in English translation and discussions are conducted in English. A playlist featuring queer and trans Caribbean artists complements the course. (DIAP, WRIT)

Spring 2022 | MCM1205A | What We Talk About When We Talk About Horror
Veronica Fitzpatrick, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Modern Culture and Media)
The killer, their victims, the “terrible place,” the “final girl”: components like these, associated with 1970s American slasher films, tend to dominate popular accounts of the genre — but the cinema of fear and sensation is a dynamic mode of contemporary filmmaking, transnational in its origins and circulation, and thematically and formally eclectic. This course will study the horror genre through scholarly and critical debates, emphasizing the ways both experts and enthusiasts have theorized horror’s significance and social urgency, the unique properties of horror spectatorship, and the formal attributes of individual films. Each week will focus on a specific conceptual area, including monstrosity, the uncanny, Otherness, excess, allegory, haunting, and abjection. (WRIT)

Spring 2022 | AFRI 1600 | Caribbean Popular Culture: Reggae, Dancehall, and Calypso
Dadland Maye, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Africana Studies)
Whether interrogating the aesthetics and moralizing philosophies that compose reggae music, examining the manifestations of skin bleaching depicted in dancehall culture, or mapping the global routes calypso music occupies with an agenda to theorize Caribbean cultures — the course centers popular music as sites of politics, pleasure, clashes, and identity-making. (DIAP)

Spring 2022 | PHIL 1785 | Philosophy of the Environment
David Frank, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Philosophy)
Environmentalists have often faced criticism for wallowing in pessimistic, even apocalyptic, “doom and gloom.” This seminar in environmental philosophy will explore a variety of more-or-less optimistic, more-or-less “utopian,” possible human-environmental futures, exploring a variety of questions about political economy, environmental justice, and the conservation of non-human nature. We will draw on multiple philosophical and scholarly traditions, as well as science fiction and popular literature, to imagine this plurality of “ecotopias,” considering ideas like the Green New Deal, ecosocialism, degrowth, decolonization, reparations for environmental injustice, interspecies democracy, and rewilding. Along the way we will examine issues in environmental and political philosophy about the relationships between environmental degradation and dominant political-economic and social-cultural systems.

Spring 2022 | HISP 1331O | Mourning and Experimental Form: African Diaspora Religions in Hispanophone Caribbean Literature
Adrìan Emmanuel Hernandez-Acosta, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities (Hispanic Studies)
How does one “move on” with loss? How does one live in the wake of loss? And what does it mean to mourn when loss is irreducible to a specific person, cause, or moment in time? In this seminar, we explore these questions by discussing Hispanophone Caribbean novels, cinema, poetry, and music. We pay particular attention to how literary and other artistic media use African diaspora religious practices and how they work with/through/against racial, gendered, and sexual tropes to address questions of loss and mourning. In each thematic unit, students will read primary materials in an intercalated manner to encourage critical dialogue across readings Class discussions will be in Spanish. A playlist of Hispanophone Caribbean music on the theme of death and mourning complements the course. (DIAP)

Spring 2022 | ENGL 1361Q | Medieval Race
Mariah Min, Postdoctoral Fellow in International Humanities (English and Medieval Studies)
In this course, we will explore the historically specific contours of race in England and interrelated cultural regions during the High and Late Middle Ages, as well as learn and practice how to read Middle English. No previous knowledge of medieval literature or Middle English necessary. Not open to first-year students. (DIAP)

Spring 2022 | STS 1700S | Cripping Technoscience: Disability, Knowledge, (Re)Invention
Emily Lim Rogers, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow (Science, Technology, and Society and American Studies)
Just as disabled people have re-appropriated the term “crip” for their own political empowerment, so too has technoscience been both a means of oppression and transformation in disabled people’s lives. In this course, we will examine this tension. The social model of disability has long pointed out that inaccessible infrastructures and technologies literally “disable” bodies. Yet, disabled people are not just passive recipients; they also use technology for their own ends. In addition to our focus on technology, we will also look at knowledge and chronic illness: how science becomes both a tool for control and for activism. With the United States as our (general) focus, our exploration will intersect with themes such as race, sexuality, gender, and the nation-state. (DIAP, WRIT)