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.

  • This course explores the Western conception of the human place in the natural world as it has shifted across four centuries. It features, alongside corollary readings, close study of three classic texts: Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632), Giambattista Vico’s New Science (1744), and Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859).

    Spring 2024
    M 3:30p-5:20p
  • Fear is a dominant political, cultural, social, and economic force today. However, its importance is often overlooked, especially in film and media studies. While recent work has looked at our positive affective relationships with media, including fandom and cinephilia, the fear of media has been largely ignored. Yet, media are deeply accomplice of social anxieties.

    Spring 2024
    TTh 9:00a-10:15a
  • The seminar looks closely at the most influential poem of the 20th century, T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” as a radical modernist experiment and as carrying on a kaleidoscopic dialogue with world literature, including the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, the Upanishads, the Holy Grail myth, and others.

    Spring 2023
    TTh 2:30-3:45pm
  • 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
  • For a long time, early film theory and criticism have been overlooked and underestimated. However, their recent rediscovery has highlighted their crucial role in framing film as a “modern” invention. While discussing what then was a recent invention, early film theory and criticism tackled some of the main characteristic of modern life: speed, excitation, contingency, openness, subjectivity, circulation, etc. 

    Fall 2024
    MW 9am-10:15am
  • Adaptations of literary texts are the bread and butter of visual narrative media like TV and film. Adaptations of certain authors and texts have given rise to entire sub-genres and cottage industries. We consider what adaptations of literary texts might help us understand better about the texts themselves, and about the needs and expectations of the audiences…

    Fall 2024
    MW 2:30pm-3:45pm
  • 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
  • This course offers a close reading of his two major treatises, the Prince and the Discourses on Livy as well as important sections from Livy’s history of Rome. We then consider influential nineteenth and twentieth century interpreters from Hegel to Gramsci to Leo Strauss.

    Fall 2021
  • 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