As part of the knowledge-sharing effort of the World Studies Interdisciplinary Project, below please find syllabi shared by WSIP seminar members. As we receive more syllabi, we may organize them by topic. In the meantime, syllabi appear alphabetically by author’s last name.
Clicking on a course title will direct you to a PDF version of that syllabus.
Art History 295: Women in South Asian Art (Jinah Kim, Department of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University)
This course explores manifold issues related to female representations in South Asia from the Mohenjodaro (2600-1900 B.C.E.) to the present. One of the main goals of the course is to understand the cultural and social significance of the prominence of goddesses and their cult in South Asia, especially in India. In this regard, we will examine mythologies and iconographies of different goddesses and the historical development of their cult, while exploring the relationship between the prominence of goddesses and women’s social status in pre-modern India. We will also scrutinize visual representations of female body in South Asia and critically reassess the Orientalizing perspective that emphasizes femininity of South Asian art. Sensuous sculptures of goddesses and courtesans from ancient South Asia are so visually provocative that they sometimes serve as a representative of South Asian art in the West. What is the significance of the sensuous representations of female body in relation to women’s status in ancient India? Are they public and private displays of male fantasy, rendering the female body as an object of desire? Or is it an acknowledgement of the female power unique to South Asian cultural traditions? How are we to understand seemingly contradicting views of the femininity in South Asian art? We will examine a few key examples of “erotica Indica,” including the prevalent use of erotic imagery from medieval temples for illustrating the Kama sutra in the West. The last two classes of the course will be devoted to analyzing the political use of female imagery, especially of powerful goddesses in colonial and post-independence India, based on our understanding of goddesses and female representations in pre-modern India. The readings for this course are interdisciplinary, and we will cover a wide range of materials from ancient clay toys, to medieval sculptures of goddesses, to miniature paintings, to an interpretive animated cartoon of the famous Hindu epic, Rāmāyana, and to award-winning contemporary films.
History 605: Readings in World History Since 1400 (John Higginson, History Department, UMass Amherst)
Our course begins with a glance at the world before the dramatic geographical shift of the lines of power and wealth from the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to the North Atlantic countries of Western Europe at the close of the fifteenth century. There was no single reason for the shift from the countries bordering the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea to those on the northern coast of the Atlantic Ocean. Nor did it happen all at once. But by the end of the eighteenth-century, from the vantage point of European observers like Adam Smith, it appeared to be permanent and indelible. Meanwhile Qin Lung, the Qing Emperor of China, thought it hardly worthy of notice. What made for such a disparity in perspectives? Much of our work this semester will be focused such questions. The course ends with an examination of the world since the global shift of lines of power and wealth from societies ringing the North Atlantic to those framed by the Asian North Pacific. The course will also focus on how the practical application of powerful forces such as fossil fuels, international networks of organized crime, nuclear power, micro processing and genetic engineering have affected this transition. At its conclusion, the course will pay particular attention to the challenge that North Pacific Asian economic performance and a global resurgence of Islam offer to continued western dominance of global affairs.
History 751: European/Muslim Encounters in the Pre-Modern World (Virginia H. Aksan, History Department, McMaster University)
This seminar explores the historical origins and evolution of East/West (Europe/Islam) relations, concentrating on a number of themes such as perceptions of religious difference (Christianity and Islam), the narratives of warfare (crusades and jihads), the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Orient and the “Turk” in European thought (17th-19th centuries), and the politics and representations of eastern and western empires & cultures until the present. This is largely a course on the history and circulation of ideas.
English 300: Pirates and Mutineers: Treasure, Slavery, Rebellion, and MP3s (Joselyn Almeida-Beveridge, English Department, UMass Amherst)
How have the representations of piracy and rebellion evolved alongside the laws that regulate global markets? In this course, we examine literary, historiographic, and cinematic representations of pirates and mutineers in light of the legal and economic ramifications of their activities. This interdisciplinary approach helps us understand why battles against piracy are waged with as much intensity now as in the late 1700s and throughout the 1800s. We look at the lives, deeds, and legal trials of legendary pirates as well as 20th and 21st century representations of piracy and mutiny like Mutiny in the Bounty (1935) and Stephen Spielberg’s Amistad (1997). The course ends with a brief exploration of the contemporary debate on cyberpiracy and intellectual property.
English 891: Romanticism and the New World: Transatlantic Reorientations (Joselyn Almeida-Beveridge, English Department, UMass Amherst)
French 622: Cultural Diversity in the French Middle Ages (Sahar Amer, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, UNC-Chapel Hill)
This course is an introduction to medieval French literature all the while focusing on French interactions with the Arab Islamicate world from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Because a discussion of interactions and hybridity requires first a solid grounding in each literary and cultural tradition, we will spend a great deal of time studying each tradition separately (with a much heavier emphasis on the French tradition because this is a French class after all). We will do two cross-cultural analyses at the end of the course so that you may gain an understanding of what it means to conduct cross-cultural research.
History 552: Cultures and Contexts: Empires and Political Imagination (Jane Burbank, History Department, New York University and Frederick Cooper, History Department, New York University)
Throughout history, few people lived for very long in a polity that consisted entirely or even mainly of people with whom they shared a language and culture. Any examination of the variety of human cultures must take account of the political structures within which people tried to make their way, sometimes seeking higher degrees of autonomy, sometimes accommodating to rulers’ authority, sometimes trying to extend their own power over others. Empires–polities which maintained and enhanced social and cultural distinction even as they incorporated different people–have been one of the most common and durable forms of political association. This course focuses on the comparative study of empires from ancient Rome and China to the present, and upon the variety of ways in which empires have inspired and constrained their subjects’ ideas of rights, belonging, and power. The study of empire expands our ideas of citizenship and challenges the notion that the nation-state is natural and necessary. Students in this course explore historians’ approaches to studying empires. We will investigate how empires were held together–and where they were weak–from perspectives that focus on political, cultural, and economic connections over long distances and long time periods.
History 3390: Empires, States, and Political Imagination (Jane Burbank, History Department, New York University and Frederick Cooper, History Department, New York University)
In much of social science as well as in popular conceptions, the nation-state is regarded as the central unit of historical activity. Yet even during most of the last two centuries, the idea of a “nation” was only one way of representing political affiliation. An analysis of empire–both in the present and the past–opens up possibilities for examining a wider range of social linkages, imaginations, and behaviors. This course focuses on the comparative study of empires from ancient Rome and China to the present, and upon the variety of ways in which empire-states have established and constrained claims to rights, belonging, and power. The study of empire expands our debates over rights, citizenship, economic regulation, and accountability without letting them fall into an assumed gap between the nation-state and the global.
Economics 763: History of Capitalist Development in Europe and the World Economy (Carol E. Heim, Economics Department, UMass Amherst)
This course examines the emergence and evolution of capitalist forms of economic organization, and their interaction with noncapitalist forms. It begins with the Atlantic economy and the African slave trade, and then covers nineteenth-century industrialization in Britain, France, Germany and Russia. The next readings, which include areas in both the center and periphery of the world economy, are organized by topic: trade and the international division of labor, international finance and foreign investment, imperialism, migration, and changing industrial leadership in the world economy. Special attention is paid to ways in which capitalist development has been uneven across space, time, and economic groups or classes.
Economics 703: Introduction to Economic History (Carol E. Heim, Economics Department, UMass Amherst)
This course introduces broad themes in economic history by exploring a small number of topics in depth. Topics include the transition from feudalism to capitalism; U.S. slavery, the emergence of wage labor, and the southern regional economy; the rise of the large-scale firm; and instability, depression, and structural change in the twentieth-century world economy. Particular emphasis is placed on the development of economic and political institutions.
History 4280: Race and the Renaissance: Africa, Europe, and the Representation of Power (Maghan Keita, History Department, Villanova University and Timothy McCall, History Department, Villanova University)
We increasingly recognize the trans-cultural and global roots and manifestations of Renaissance visual and literary culture. This interdisciplinary seminar critically examines concepts of Europe, Africa, and the Renaissance during the period associated with the emergence of modernity and increasing global contact. Through the study of primary and secondary texts and works of art in various media, we investigate Africa’s fundamental but often neglected importance for the constitution of European identity and for constructions of the idea of the Renaissance. We examine art objects and literary texts which thematize and visualize connections and collisions between Africa and Europe. This seminar explores key terms including race and Renaissance, and also the ways in which identity and difference were visually marked in art and culture.
History 391: Histories of Slavery in the Muslim World (Johan Mathew, History Department & Economics Department, UMass Amherst)
This course explores the concept and practice of slavery in the Muslim World from the time of the Prophet Mohammed up to the 20th century. We begin by examining how the Qur’an and Islamic jurisprudence altered pre-Islamic forms of slavery. The course proceeds chronologically, exploring the evolution of slavery through the early Islamic empires, the slave dynasties in Egypt and Delhi, the “gunpowder” empires of the Early Modern era, and the abolition of slavery in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the themes discussed are manumission, rebellion, notions of property and labor in Islam, the role of slaves as concubines, soldiers and rulers, and the slave trades in the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic, the Black Sea and the Sahara. The course engages with the incredible diversity in the Muslim World and will push to think about whether we can sustain a singular concept of Islamic slavery.
History 392: Pirates, Pilgrims and Poets: Globalization in Indian Ocean History (Johan Mathew, History Department & Economics Department, UMass Amherst)
Globalization is a phenomenon that seems to be occurring everywhere around us and yet seems to have no origin. Is the world really flat? Or have certain places, people and things become better connected than others? This course seeks to answer these questions by exploring when and why certain places became better connected, people became more mobile and things gained wider circulation. Since the Indus valley civilization started trading with the Mesopotamian civilization four millennia ago, the Indian Ocean has been an important space of economic and cultural exchange. Technological innovations were pioneered within the Indian Ocean littoral and others were imported from other parts of the world. We can then see where and how ideas, commodities and people became incorporated into the Indian Ocean world and those which were resisted.