Modernities Seminars


Modernities seminars will seek to introduce students to the question: What is modernity? Nietzsche might say it begins with Socrates, while Weber might say it begins with rationalization. Is it is one phenomenon or many? When does modernity begin? Students should be exposed to an array of different ways of posing and understanding the question.

The course is a broad survey meant to build on the sort of material covered in foundational courses, with more thematic coherence, historical context, and theoretical self-consciousness.

  • In this course we will reflect on the relation between Galileo’s anti-Aristotelian physics and Hobbes’ system by reading key text that situate Hobbes in early modern currents of thought in science, religion and politics and in contemporary debates about the origins of modernity.  

    Spring 2023
    T 3:30-5:20pm
  • Debates about the meaning of freedom from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. Authors to be studied include Smith, Montesquieu, Constant, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx and Schmitt on questions of progress, representation, constitutionalism, democracy and individuality.

    Spring 2023
    Th 9:25am-11:15am
  • This course juxtaposes the thought of the medieval Torah scholar Maimonides (1138-1204) with postmodern philosophy. We explore the questions of the possibility of a stable subject, stable meaning, stable truth.

    Spring 2022
    W 9:25am-11:15am
  • HUMS 313. A seminar in the field of European intellectual history, based on primary sources. How philosophers, novelists, sociologists, and other thinkers developed and articulated a philosophy of dissent under communism. 

    Spring 2021
    M 1:30p-3:20p
  • HUMS 349This class explores the complexities of identity through  modern literature, philosophy and social theory, from psychoanalysis to critical race theory, romanticism to postmodernism, autobiography to autofiction. 

    Spring 2021
    T 3:30p-5:20p
  • HUMS 352: Survey of major ideas, writings, and cultural movements that have shaped American life and thought from 1880 to 1990. Assignments encompass works of fiction, philosophy, social and political thought, and film.  Part II of a year-long sequence. HURP

    Spring 2020
    TTH 11:30am-12:50pm
  • HUMS 288: What makes one thing better than another? How can we make judgments of value? What does it mean to “get it right” in the humanities as opposed to the sciences? This course will expose students to the theory and practice of valuing.

    Spring 2020
    W 3:30-5:20
  • Political writing of the mid-20th century with emphasis on ideologies, including communism, fascism and democracy. Emphasis on British, French, and American authors such as Orwell, Camus, Sartre, Greene, Duras, and Arendt. 

    Spring 2018
    T 9.25-11.15
  • British historical narratives in the 19th century, the crucible of modern historical consciousness. How a period of industrialization and democratization grounded itself in imagined pasts— recent, distant, domestic, foreign—in historical novels and works by historians.

    Fall 2023
    Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:35am to 12:50pm
  • Culture wars are all the rage these days. But why do we say that works of art are political? What does that even mean? And, if it is true, what part do works of art play in the dynamics of social contest?  In concert with the special exhibition “Art, Protest, and the Archives” at the Beinecke, this seminar explores those questions by placing major works of literature in conversation with influential works of political and cultural theory.

    Fall 2023
    M 1:30-3:20p
  • Transparency is the metaphor of our time. Whether in government or corporate governance, finance, technology, health, or the media–it is ubiquitous today, and there is hardly a current debate that does not call for more transparency. But what does this word actually stand for and what are the consequences for the life of individuals? 

    Fall 2023
    Wednesdays 9:25am-11:15am
  • Looking beyond art history’s traditional understanding of “medium” as referring to what a work of art is made from, this seminar explores the broader range of “media” that were central to early modern debates in science, religion, and the arts. 

    Fall 2022
  • A psychological study of love, marriage, and family through literature, visual arts, and music, from the ancient world to the mid-20th century. Works will be principally drawn from the Western tradition with some from Indian, Chinese, and Arabic traditions.

    Fall 2022
    TTh 1pm-2:15pm
  • Drawing on English-language literature, art, and history-writing since 1800, this class explores how the past can illuminate and complicate the ways we perceive the present. 

    Fall 2022
    MW 11:35am-12:50pm
  • This seminar examines three great poets and shapers of the American imagination–Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Wallace Stevens–with some attention to their inspirer Ralph Waldo Emerson and inheritor John Ashbery.

    Fall 2022
    T 3:30-5:20pm
  • HUMS 192. What happens when intellectuals enter into politics? Do they betray a higher spiritual calling, or merely practice what they preach?  We will use methods of intellectual history to measure the social power of ideas. 

    Fall 2020, Fall 2021
    T 9:25a-11:15a
  • HUMS 290: Brazilian and Japanese novels from the late nineteenth century to the present. Texts from major authors are read in pairs to explore commonalities and divergences.  HU  Tr

    Fall 2019
    M 1:30-3:20
  • An extended inquiry into the political implications of theorizing emotions and sensibilities in different ways. Broad engagement with key thinkers from a number of different traditions, including European philosophy, British literary criticism, and contemporary poetry.

    Fall 2017
    T 1.30-3.20