T E A C H i N G
I have developed a number of unique classes. For descriptions of some of the courses I have taught or am prepared to teach, click on the titles below. If you are interested in seeing the syllabi, please contact me. Courses can be tailored to different student levels.
Bhakti Songs of South Asia
The bhakti movement—in which the devotee develops an intimate personal relationship with God—was the catalyst for an immense variety of mostly vernacular language literature in South Asia. This class will focus specifically on bhakti songs, that is, short poetic compositions of spiritual import intended to be sung. Focusing our attention on several important poets and groups of poets, we will consider: their social backgrounds and devotional attitudes; their choice of language and compositional techniques; issues surrounding authorship and transmission; and how their works have been and continue to be performed. We will also consider the theological function of music and literature in the bhakti faiths.
This course will provide students with an overview of major literary, musical, and religious developments in South Asia from the mid-first millennium to the present. They will learn about broad issues such as the relation between cosmopolitan and vernacular languages, textuality and cultural transmission in premodern periods, the role of gender in devotional and literary activity, and the relation between religion and literature.
Histories of Musical Mobility
Music moves: it circulates among members of a community, it passes between communities, it is transmitted through time. As it moves it often changes in response to new circumstances. This class explores the mechanisms through which musical ideas, technologies, people, and texts move, as well as the social and cultural effects of such mobility. Though this mobility has been characteristic of the music of many places and times, it is particularly visible (or hearable) in genres formed in the 19th century and after. Modern popular music, for example, has been especially mobile, and this class will focus on developments that led to the creation and spread of many popular musics. These include 19th-century imperialist expansion, the birth of sound-recording technology, and the spread of global capitalism. Related topics to be explored include colonialism, cultural hybridity, globalization, and transnationalism.
After surveying the major issues of the course, five case studies will be presented to bring these issues to life. The first part of the class will look at the history and circulation of the European-style guitar, an instrument with possible roots in the Middle East. During the period of European expansion this portable instrument quickly spread throughout the world and continues to remain a prominent sign of musical globalization. The class will then consider the birth of the record industry, an industry that was, almost from the beginning, globalized. From this we can trace the 20th-century circulation of a particular musical genre, the Cuban son, throughout the world. This genre, itself a product of European expansion and the transatlantic slave trade, was disseminated through international touring and record promotion and would influence the development of popular music in the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The fourth section of the class will explore further effects of modern human and sonic mobility through the prism of interactions between Westerners and central African Pygmies and their music. Topics to be addressed include the involvement of differential power relations in the technological de- and re-contextualization of sounds. The final section of the class will expand on this latter theme through an exploration of controversial techniques of mobilizing sound such as sampling, bootlegging, and piracy.
This class considers the concept of "mobility" on multiple levels: the mobility of people, cultural artifacts, sounds, and ideas; and the social, cultural, and political causes and consequences of mobility. Students will critically engage with these issues through class assignments and discussions; and they will complete a project analyzing how an individual musical sound, performer, text, or instrument is implicated in transregional or global flows.
Introduction to American Romanticism: Emerson to Ellison
American Romanticism was principally a response to European Romanticism. However, because of the unique conditions on the American continent, Romanticism there acquired special characteristics. This course introduces American Romanticism by focusing on the life and works of key literary figures, while also considering its relation to European Romanticism. Major units focus on individual writers. The first part of each unit introduces the biography and historical/cultural context of a particular writer. The second part the unit focuses on one text that illustrates a particular theme in relation to Romanticism.
Although American Romanticism is usually described as a movement of the middle decades of the 19th century, this course takes a broader view and considers some strands of Modernism as developments of Romanticism. Thus the course ends with a reading of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) as an important expression of Romanticism in African-American culture. Students will gain familiarity with American styles of writing and thinking as well as with American history of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They will also enrich their understanding of the historical phenomenon of Romanticism. Students will have opportunities to practice analyzing literature and to express themselves in speech and writing.
Introduction to British Romanticism
The early 19th century witnessed a severe cultural crisis. For a small group of people, the traditional modes of creating value in the world had begun to fail. Their efforts to find new modes of value—new ways to give “meaning” to existence—we have come to call “Romanticism.” This course introduces students to selected major writers and themes of British Romanticism. Major units focus on individual writers. The first part of each unit introduces the biography and historical/cultural context of a particular writer. The second part the unit focuses on one text that illustrates a particular theme in relation to Romanticism: ruins, nature, alienation, childhood, exoticism, etc. Students will gain familiarity with British poetry and prose styles as well as 19th-century European history, and they will have opportunities to practice analyzing literature and to express themselves in speech and writing.
Introduction to Ethnomusicology
This course examines the formation of the discipline of ethnomusicology through a survey of its histories, theories, and methodologies. Each week we explore an important trend or issue in ethnomusicology. Weekly readings will introduce students to major figures, theories, and methods in ethnomusicology from the 19th century to the present.
Introduction to Traditional Music
This course introduces students to various kinds of traditional music in Asia—i.e., musics that primarily developed in non-industrial societies. We begin by considering the usefulness of the category “traditional music” and by thinking about the origins of music generally in the pre-industrial past. We then survey a variety of musics from Central, South, Southeast, and East Asia in their cultural context. Students will learn how to listen to traditional music thoughtfully and to be mindful of a culture’s own values.
Introduction to Word and Music Studies: Case Studies from the UK and the US
This class investigates the relationship between literature and music with a focus on English and American authors and Western composers. Students will be introduced to the field of Word and Music Studies and read contributions by writers like Steven Paul Scher and Lawrence Kramer. The class will consider four important cultural developments: the Renaissance, Romanticism, Modernism, and African American culture. Students will learn about the historical context of these developments, the prominent literary and musical genres, and the social status of writers and musicians as well as their professional relationships. They will also engage with relevant literary and musical examples.
Knowing about Music: Case Studies from Central and South Asia
How do we come to know about music? How do we define it, experience it, understand it? How do we learn about it? This course will explore such questions from the perspectives of ethnomusicology, anthropology, and cultural history, while focusing on the regions of Central and South Asia. The purpose of the course is to not only learn about music in these areas but to learn about how we can know about it at all. Therefore, the focus will be on reading ethnographies/histories and on interpreting the perspectives and methods of various scholars who research music in these regions. We will begin by considering theoretical perspectives on fieldwork and on anthropological and historical interpretation. We will then undertake close readings of two ethnographies: Theodore Levin’s The Hundred Thousand Fools of God: Musical Travels in Central Asia (and Queens, New York) (1999) and Shemeem Burney Abbas’s The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices of Pakistan and India (2002). In engaging with these works we will seek to analyze how the authors portray themselves and their subjects, present evidence, and explain cultural phenomena. At the same time we will endeavor to remain aware of our own acts of interpreting these books. Background information will be provided in lectures through reviews of general scholarship on the region. In the latter part of the course the class will conduct its own collaborative research project focused on Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. We will consider the historical context of the work and the history of its circulation and interpretation; and we will explore its expression in various music, dance, theater, and visual art traditions.
Musics of Africa, the Middle East, and India
This course examines music in and as culture in particular regions of Africa, the Middle East, and India. The focus will be on exploring how musical forms and styles have arisen historically through intercultural interactions and how music has been used for spiritual and political expression. Lectures will present the historical development and circulation of specific musical genres in the three different regions. Students will learn how to listen to music thoughtfully and to be mindful of a music culture's own values when evaluating music critically through guided listening sessions. This course also includes an introduction to ethnomusicological theory and methods.
Musics of the World
This course examines music in and as culture from a global perspective. The focus will be on exploring how musical forms and styles have arisen through intercultural interactions and how music has been used in different political systems. Lectures will present comparative views of five musical cultures from different parts of the globe, with special attention to traditional and modern/popular song forms. Students will learn how to listen to music thoughtfully and to be mindful of a music culture's own values when evaluating music critically through guided listening sessions.
The Order of the Universe in the Ancient World
This course focuses on key texts from ancient Eurasia (plus Egypt). These texts include epics, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Iliad, hymns such as those of the Veda and the Zoroastrian gathas, and philosophical-theological texts like the Daodejing, the Buddhist Sutta Pitaka, and the Hebrew Bible. By carefully reading translations of these texts, we will seek to discover how ancient people understood themselves and their world. Questions we will consider include: How did ancient peoples structure their universes? How did they conceive of their relationships with the divine or supernatural? Where did human beings fit in to the world? What was the significance of life, of death? We will apply a comparativist approach to the texts, paying attention to both recurrent themes and distinctions in worldviews.
Religion, Language, and Art in Ancient Asia
This class explores religions that began to emerge in Asia during the Bronze through Axial Ages (c. 3000–500 BCE). The main geographical focus will be India and China, with a brief detour to Iran. Religious-philosophical systems we will investigate include Vedic Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Zoroastrianism, as well as the generally unnamed systems of spiritual practice in the ancient Indus Valley and Shang/Zhou era China. We will also consider the origins of religion, language, and art generally and the difficult problem of how to define these concepts. In thinking about ancient religion, we will consider how humans have seen themselves in relation to the divine, supernatural, or spiritual and how ideas and practices relating to these changed over time. We will especially focus on the role that language and art have played in relating to the divine by studying hymns, myths, doctrine, ritual objects and formulas, temple architecture, iconography, and other artifacts. We will consider such questions as: What is sacred language? What is the relationship between human and divine language? What is sacred art? How does religion channel artistic interests? How do language and art regulate religious experience?
Research Paper Writing in the Humanities
This class teaches students the fundamentals of writing research papers in humanities disciplines. Students will read and analyze a variety of published research papers from disciplines such as English, film studies, musicology, cultural studies, and dance. In the process of learning the basics of humanistic research and academic writing, students will complete an individual research project on a humanities-based topic.
Romanticism: Its Origin, Development, and Legacy
The early 19th century witnessed a severe cultural crisis. For a small group of people, the traditional modes of creating value in the world had begun to fail. Their efforts to find new modes of value—new ways to give “meaning” to existence—we have come to call “Romanticism.” This is far from a merely 19th-century phenomenon, however, and we continue to struggle with the consequences of Romanticism today. Indeed, 20th/21st-century modernism and postmodernism can be seen as further developments of this tradition. Through studying important works of Romantic literature, painting, and music, this course will allow students to discern the birth of Romanticism out of the incoherencies of Western culture, the various strategies employed by Romantic artists, and the consequences of Romanticism for our contemporary world. Although this course offers a loose, overarching framework for understanding Romanticism, students will be encouraged to find their own ways of ordering the materials.