Alice L Pedersen
Examines the study of cultural forms, artifacts, and practices. May include art, art history, literature, theater, music history, ethnomusicology, dance, and/or religion. Topics and approaches may vary with instructor.
Fiction and rights: two novel ideas? What is the relationship between "human rights" and literature?
Both the novel and our modern conception of rights emerged in Europe during the period of the enlightenment. Scholars have argued that the two events are irrevocably linked – not only do novels "not work" without a central human figure, but also human rights "won’t work" without the ideals and narrative structure of the novel.
In this class, we’ll examine this reciprocal and vexed relationship between the political, legal realm of rights and the aesthetic, seemingly personal realm of literature. We’ll ask, "who" is this human figure (both in rights and in books)? How this figure is racialized, gendered, and/or classed? What are these "self-evident" rights, and how did they become so evident (if not legislated)? We’ll also examine novels to see how narrative structure – the actual telling of the story – impacts how we know, what we know, about the human.
For the first half of the quarter, we will examine the literature of the European enlightenment, in order to examine how theories of the human and non-human were developed, articulated, and protested. In the second half of the quarter, we'll turn towards the American scene, and trace these same questions into the present moment.
Primary texts include works by Olaudah Equiano, Mary Wollstonecraft, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Shelley, Herman Melville, Jacob Riis, and David Eggers. Additional theoretical texts include work by Uday Mehta, Michel Foucault, Lynn Hunt, James Dawes, and Randall Williams.
Class will be run as a seminar, and students are expected to contribute in large and small group discussion every day. There will be one mid-term paper and a final exam, in addition to weekly shorter writing assignments and reading quizzes.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Most class periods will be a mixture of informal lecture, large group discussion, and small group work.
Class assignments and grading
Daily informal writing assignments and reading quizzes; a 5-7 page academic, analytic paper based on the course texts; a final exam.