FYW Curriculum and Courses
First-Year Writing: Critical Conversations courses invite students into the vibrant scholarly life of the college. Working in small, discussion-based seminar classes over the course of one semester, we read challenging literary texts and critical scholarship, helping students to develop fundamental skills in analysis and academic writing that allow them to take their place in vitally important scholarly conversations. Students choose one of three rubrics – Legacy of the Mediterranean, Women and Culture, or The Americas – each of which explores and questions a particular literary tradition.
A “critical conversation” is a conversation about ideas. It is sophisticated and thoughtful rather than one-sided and simplistic; it’s not about finding one right answer but rather about closely analyzing all of the evidence at hand and discovering something meaningful. By communicating what you discover clearly and cogently, you add to the broader scholarly conversation. When engaged in a critical conversation with other scholars, you consider their ideas in ways that help you develop your own thinking, rather than merely agreeing or disagreeing with what others have to say. The critical reading, discussion, and academic writing skills we focus on in First-Year Writing provide a foundation that crosses disciplinary boundaries and will help you in all of your courses.
Please note: First-Year Writing Workshop is only offered in the Fall.
First-Year Writing Workshop (ENGL BC1204) is a four-credit course designed for students who feel they would benefit from extra preparation for the critical reading and writing that you will do at Barnard. FYW and FYW Workshop are equally rigorous -- both courses have the same critical reading and writing goals, both courses follow one of the three course rubrics, and both courses satisfy your First-Year Writing requirement. FYW Workshop, however, meets 3 days per week instead of 2; it is worth 4 credits instead of 3; and the class sizes are smaller.
Students who are interested in one of the limited number of spaces in FYW Workshop should inform the First-Year Class Dean by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), but please be aware that placement cannot be guaranteed. You will receive an email (in your Barnard inbox) in early July letting you know if you have secured a spot.
*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.
Legacy of the Mediterranean: The Present Past: Race, Gender and Ethnicity
In this class we will study the relationship between a selection of major texts from the ancient and medieval Mediterranean world and modern texts that reimagine and re-contextualize them. We’ll seek to understand how the modern writers use different historical and geographical contexts to give the language of the ancient and medieval texts alternate meanings, particularly as it pertains to notions of race, gender and ethnicity. The course reading list will include excerpts from Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, Sappho’s lyrics, Virgil’s Aeneid and lyric poems from Arab Andalusia, which will inform our analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks The Anniad , Derek Wolcott's Omeros and Amitav Ghosh's In an Antique Land.
Legacy of the Mediterranean: Border Crossings
When a poet takes his place on the tripod of the Muse, he cannot control his thoughts [and] is obliged to contradict himself... But for the legislator, this is impossible: he must not let his laws say two different things on the same subject. -- Plato, The Laws
For Plato, literature is dangerous because it is ambivalent, or even self-contradictory. Where a virtuous society must set up boundaries – between right and wrong, or between inside and outside – literature tends to blur distinctions and connect ideas that should be kept apart. This writing course tests these ideas through a set of readings in “classical” Western literature. Does literature work as Plato believes it does, to subvert social norms and create ambiguity? Can literature also enforce boundaries and set up barriers?
We will begin our investigation of these questions with a close look at figurative language – one of the primary devices poetry uses to connect ideas – in two archaic Greek poets, Homer and Sappho. We’ll then consider how classical Athenian tragedy represents cultural and gender difference: if theater is at its heart a kind of game with identity, what really happens when we dress up as other people? In our final unit, we’ll examine how two much later writers, Virgil and Dante, both model themselves on their Greek predecessors and fashion new roles for themselves as modern, political poets. Throughout the course, our literary readings will be accompanied by philosophical texts that will help us focus our thinking.
Readings may include: literature from Ghosh, Sappho, Homer, Euripides, Virgil, Dante; philosophy and criticism from Longinus, Barthes, Butler, Douglas, Bourdieu. Books for the course may be acquired via a semester-long loan via the Barnard FLIP library; purchasing the books will cost less than $30.
Legacy of the Mediterranean: Queer/Migrant
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.” -James Baldwin
This course focuses on modern and contemporary works about queer and/or migrant experiences in the Mediterranean. We will take the Mediterranean and its diasporas as a geopolitical site in which queer and migrant subjects negotiate their identities vis-à-vis dominant discourses of gender, sexuality, nationality and citizenship. We will investigate notions of home, belonging and identity for queer, immigrant, migrant and refugee subjects and pay particular attention to how these identities intersect in fiction, nonfiction, artistic and theoretical works by a wide range of authors. How are immigrant, migrant and refugee bodies racialized and queered by dominant discourses, for instance? How do queer subjects negotiate belonging when they travel across cultural, geographical, national, linguistic and religious borders? How do experiences of queerness and migration inform one another in these authors’ works?
Readings may include works by James Baldwin, Virginia Woolf, C.P. Cavafy, Masha Gessen, Dina Nayeri, Kazim Ali, Warsan Shire, Edward Said and Judith Butler.
Legacy of the Mediterranean: The Body as Boundary
In this section of Legacy of the Mediterranean, we'll examine the legacy of the body as a boundary that defines and separates categories like self and other, sanctioned and forbidden, and past and present. What happens when a body challenges that separation by crossing boundaries and collapsing those categories? What is threatened, what made possible? Readings are subject to change but will likely include Ovid, Mary Shelley, Nella Larsen, Virginia Woolf, bell hooks, Judith Butler, and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen.
Legacy of the Mediterranean: Metamorphosis
The theme guiding our discussions in this section will be bodies, and how they change to assume new shapes. The concept of metamorphosis raises a series of questions: what is a body? How is the body connected to the self? Indeed, what is the ‘self’ and where are its edges? If your outer form changes, what remains? What does it mean to have thoughts and emotions trapped inside a changeable body? Over the course of the semester we will explore these questions as we discuss bodily ambiguities; analyze bodies as they change in form and nature; and examine the dissolving boundaries between humans and plants and animals. We will study transformations of the body in literature, in art, and in film. Some of these transformations will be comic, others will be tragic, and most will be both or somewhere in-between.
Readings will include poems, short stories, and excerpts from works by Ovid, Jhumpa Lahiri, Nalo Hopkinson, Marcia Douglas, Angela Carter, Kōbō Abe, Rosario Ferré, Luisa Valenzuela, and Helena María Viramontes, as well as theoretical frameworks for thinking about bodies in flux from Rosi Braidotti, Caroline Walker Bynum, and others.
*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.
Americas: Crossing Borders
This course cuts across the borders between North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, in a search for the ways in which literature illuminates different aspects of American identity. We see the Americas as active historical and aesthetic agents, acting and interacting with each other. We might even say that modernity, in the sense of freedom from tradition, first developed in the Americas; as a result, the literatures of the Americas are characterized by diversity and innovation from their beginning. We will look at the roots of Modernism in North and South America at the end of the 19th century, and the development of modernism, post-modernism and post-colonialism in the 20th and early 21st centuries through the study of key novels, short stories, and poetry from North and South America and the Caribbean, including works by Martí, DuBois, Hughes, Eliot, Neruda, Césaire, Borges, García Márquez, Junot Diaz, Jamaica Kincaid, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Valeria Luiselli. By looking at these works in their historical, political and aesthetic contexts, we can grapple with the multiple formations of American identities.
The Americas: Mythologies, Histories, and Identities on the Edge
The goal of this course is to foster critical writing and conversations around specific readings chosen from the vast repertoire of literature produced in the Americas and the Caribbean. The term “Americas” will be interrogated, and the intersections of race and gender, as well as the effects of colonization and postcolonialism, will inform our analyses. Our examination will include writing that decenters nation-based imaginaries, identities, and histories and considers literary accounts of transnational migration and globalization.
The readings will include, but not be limited to, the following:
- Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost (Betasamosake Simpson is a Mississaugua Nishnaabeg writer, scholar, and activist.)
- Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (Long considered one of the finest novels of Latin American literature.)
- Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (Kincaid’s essay critiques the legacy of colonization and the effects of globalization on a Caribbean nation.)
- Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World (Mexican author Herrera’s work is a mythic account of a young girl’s border crossing from Mexico to the United States.)
- Selections from the works of U.S. poets Audre Lorde, Cathy Park Hong, and Claudia Rankine.
The Americas: Contact Zones
This course will approach the idea of America in a broad sense, both geographically and temporally, with attention to how each text constructs, deconstructs, and/or reconstructs ideas of America. We will assess the ways in which an author’s identity and context shape their representation of encounters with their cultural “others.” We will practice relying on the insights that close reading of these texts give us, rather than making unfounded assumptions about these identities and contexts.
We’ll explore thematic oppositions—coloniality and indigeneity; darkness and lightness; freedom and bondage; belonging and alienation; assimilation and cultural preservation; subservience and resistance--while observing how these concepts influence one another and thus resist binaries. We’ll read literature by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Phillis Wheatley, Herman Melville, José Martí, and Nella Larsen; and critical texts by W.E.B. Du Bois, Franz Fanon, Toni Morrison, and others.
Our reading list will not be comprehensive or fully representative of “The Americas”--this is not a literature survey course, but a writing course with some thematic threads across its readings.
In this class, we will read, discuss, and write about texts that describe physical and psychological violence, including sexual and racial violence. We will discuss the relevance of texts and research we encounter to contemporary controversies. Working through discomfort is often essential to deep intellectual engagement with texts and peers, especially as we come across new concepts, contexts, and perspectives. We will talk about how to work through and reflect on this discomfort in class discussions. If you have concerns about your engagement with the readings at any point, please come talk to me during student hours.
*NOTE: All readings listed in the course descriptions below are subject to change.
Women and Culture: What is a Woman?
In this section of FYW, we will analyze and interrogate the representation of “woman” as seen in a set of significant literary texts of various genres, epochs, and continents. We will begin by exploring the constructed, scapegoated Eve canonized in Milton’s Paradise Lost; subsequent readings will demonstrate how women writers attempted to resist and redefine this “self” inherited from Milton. Finally, we will look at contemporary texts that further re-construct and complicate received notions about gender, race, femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. In addition to Paradise Lost, literary texts may include excerpts from the Mayan Popul Vuh; Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina; Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person”; Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”; excerpts from Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior; selected poems of Emily Dickinson; tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses; selected stories of Luisa Valenzuela; and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts. Theoretical texts may include writings by Simone de Beauvoir, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Sara Ahmed; Judith Butler; Audre Lorde; bell hooks. We may also connect our readings to current issues/problems in 21st century culture. (Readings subject to minor changes.)
Women and Culture: Bodies and Desires
In this section of Women & Culture, we’ll examine a series of questions centered on bodies and desires. How is the body both constructed and policed through narratives of gender, race, class, and sexuality? How are bodies and desire mediated through and represented in language? We’ll consider how bodies become not just sites of objectification or of power but also of pleasure. We’ll think about the politics of respectability, in questioning who can be a subject, rather than object, of desire. In our analyses, we’ll work to challenge fixed or binary understandings of gender and power by asking how these writers engage and challenge the various ways in which the category of “women” is constructed within culture.
Texts are subject to change, but may include Ovid’s “Tereus, Procne, and Philomela,” Eliza Haywood’s “Fantomina,” selected poems by Sor Juana Inès de la Cruz, Nella Larsen’s Passing, short stories by Luisa Valenzuela and Carmen Maria Machado, and theory texts by Audre Lorde and bell hooks..
Women and Culture: Seeing, Surveilling, and Performing
In this Women and Culture section, we will read texts that raise questions about how gender, race, class and sexuality are performed under the surveillance of culture. We will discuss not only how performance helps to create and stabilize categories that include and exclude, but also how performance can disrupt and destabilize these categories. Literary texts will include Passing by Nella Larsen, Fantomina by Eliza Haywood, poems by Ovid, and the film Paris is Burning. Secondary texts will include Sara Ahmed, Talia Bettcher, Judith Butler, Mary Ann Doane, W.E.B Dubois, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Jack Halberstam, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Laura Mulvey, and James C. Scott.
Art, Sex, and American Culture
Simply put, America is obsessed with sex, and the arts have proven a fertile medium. Sex is the ultimate forbidden public topic, and yet from the Puritans’ first sermons, sex has always being publicly staged across multiple forums: dramatic, literary, religious, political, legal and social stages. In this First-Year Writing course, we will explore how issues of sex and sexuality have insinuated themselves into the formation of American identity looking at texts from the 17th century until today, with a particular emphasis on the arts, politics and sex. Texts we will examine include Puritan sermons, Nathanial Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Adrienne Kennedy’s Ohio State Murders, Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide . . . , political cartoons, literature from Margaret Sanger’s birth control movement, and theoretical works by Michel Foucault, Laura Mulvey and others.
Women & Culture: Reading the Body
In this course, we’ll think of the human body as a text we can “read” — one that represents, responds to, and negotiates the world(s) it inhabits. Tracing literary depictions of the body from ancient Rome, the Harlem Renaissance, witnesses to los desaparecidos (“the disappeared”) in Latin America, and recent feminist sci-fi and speculative fiction, we will ask: What do these writers tell us about and through the body, particularly about histories of colonialism, knowledge, resistance, and identity formation? How do the literary and scholarly texts we read both define and reimagine the body? What ways of thinking do these texts resist and inspire? Through our readings and class discussions, we will unpack how literature about the body both scripts and resists inscription, produces culture and yet is borne from it.
Readings are subject to change, but will likely include literature by Ovid, Octavia Butler, Isabel Allende, and Nella Larsen, as well as select texts from feminist, queer, postcolonial, and critical race studies. All required texts will be available in the library and for purchase at Book Culture (not to exceed $30).
Note: Many of the readings for this class depict different forms of sexual and identity-based violence. I believe these texts are important for understanding the relationships between power, identity formation, and the body. We'll spend some time as a class at the beginning of the semester talking about how we can work through the discomfort this material can prompt.
Women & Culture: Women & Comedy
“What a language it is, the laughter of women,
high-flying and subversive.
Long before law and scripture
we heard the laughter, we understood freedom.”
“I’m not funny, what I am is brave.” - Lucille Ball
This course focuses on the intersection between comedy and gender, race, class and sexuality.
We will explore laughter as a subversive act and how the identity of a “funny woman” can be both dangerous and liberating. As Margo Jefferson writes, “Given the history of social restriction and sexual regulation, how many women have been in a position to -- or been willing to -- take these risks?”We will explore how the tools of comedy can be used to make mischief, to transgress the bounds of genre and form and to contest popular ideas about difference and power. How can humor be illuminating? How can humor be feminist? How can humor be intersectional? How can humor help us tell the hard truths? Can we laugh at oppression without laughing it off?
Readings may include selections from Constance Rourke’s American Humor, Laurie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital, Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy, Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider, Bonnie Chau’s All Roads Lead to Blood and Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds.
THIS COURSE IS ONLY OFFERED IN THE FALL SEMESTER. PLEASE CHECK BACK LATER FOR FALL 2020 OFFERINGS.
First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar are foundational elements in a student's academic experience, giving students academic skills Barnard considers necessary for future success at the college. For this reason, as with courses students take to fulfill a major or minor requirement, understanding how a student has mastered these skills requires a more specific and nuanced assessment than a simple Pass/Fail. Therefore, students may not take either First-Year Seminar or First-Year Writing courses Pass/Fail.