Detail from Edmund Charles Tarbell, Girl Reading, 1909, oil on canvas, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Gift of the Frank Family

Detail from Edmund Charles Tarbell, Girl Reading, 1909, oil on canvas, Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University, Gift of the Frank Family

The following courses, from a wide range of departments, have been approved for credit toward the Visual Studies dual-title Ph.D.

FALL 2018

VSTUD 502 “Visual Studies in Digitality”

Professor: Grant Whytoff
Time: Mondays 2:30 – 5:30 

The luddites, the philosophers, even the tech evangelists all seem to be in agreement that living in a digitally networked world has changed something about the way we understand ourselves as both individuals and members of a public. In a moment when digital media are complicating some of our foundational assumptions about everything from democratic consensus to the nature of privacy, the elementary work of technical description has taken on new significance. So too has the value of research in the humanities for putting these developments into necessary perspective.

This seminar will introduce a range of frameworks from across the humanities useful for thinking through the history, ethics, and aesthetics of digital media. Units on emerging approaches to contemporary digital infrastructures (questions of the public, selfhood, privacy, algorithms and inequality) will be paired with an overview of the most influential paradigms in media studies to guide us through these more contemporary issues. Concepts from our readings will be operationalized with weekly exercises that will include an introduction to digital methods in the humanities as well as tactics for (among other things) protecting against government surveillance. Students will leave with the basic computational literacy necessary for informed scholarship that both critiques and utilizes digital media.


Fall 2018

Art Education 597.001 “Including Difference”
Professor: Karen Kiefer-Boyd
Wednesdays 6:00-9:00 PM

Students will learn and develop teaching strategies that deconstruct disabling, systemic, social constructions and explore how people are using comics, films, and other popular media to discuss/expose issues of trauma, (dis)ease, and (dis)ability. Themes include decentering the normal, disability, feminist disability studies, universal learning design, inclusive museums and enabling structures, affect and embodied sense-abilities, intersectionality, subjectivity, politics, assistive technologies, (re)presentation, visual culture, response-abilities, archives, and performative research.

Art History 597.001 “Colonial Urbanism in South Asia”
Professor: Madhuri Desai
Wednesdays 2:30-5:30 PM

As a historical episode and as a world-wide practice, colonialism has shaped much of the modern world. Urban forms and spatial configurations in cities across the world have been shaped wholly or tangentially, by this legacy. Cities in several former colonies were created to fulfill colonial aims or to be symbols of modern, post-colonial, national identities. Similarly, architectural and urban practices and expressions in former imperial centers such as London were as much the result of an imperial imagination as they were of migrations engendered by colonialism. The seminar explores this relationship through a focus on the experience of British imperialism and colonialism in South Asia between the late-eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries. How was imperial power channeled through architecture and urban space? What was the experience of colonial modernity for South Asians and how were its political, economic and social manifestations mediated through the built environment? We will explore urban spaces and architecture created within the intertwined relationship of colonialism and modernity.

Early sessions will be devoted to an overview of pre-colonial and early colonial urbanism in South Asia. Subsequent sessions will include focused readings and discussions of four urban case studies – Calcutta, Bombay, Delhi and Lahore, as well as an introduction to the histories and theories of anti-colonialism, nationalism and postcolonial perspectives. Later in the semester, sessions will be concerned with comparative case studies of French and Italian colonialism in North Africa, as well as instances of postcolonial urbanism in South and Southeast Asia. The concluding session will include a discussion of post-imperial London. The larger aim of this seminar is to develop analytical abilities for the critical study of modern urban environments in general and colonial urban environments in particular. Weekly readings are assigned and grades will be based on class participation, reading responses, and a final research paper and presentation.

CMLIT 570 “Global Surrealisms”
Professor: Jonathan Eburne
Thursdays 2:30-5:30 PM

This course addresses the poetics, politics, and visual culture of surrealist movements and their repercussions around the world. Founded in Paris soon after the First World War, the surrealist movement strove—according to the group’s earliest manifestos—to “change life” and “transform the world,” claims adopted from Arthur Rimbaud and Karl Marx, respectively. From the early 1920s through the contemporary era, the surrealist movement grew from a local group of French and German poets and artists into a truly international movement, gaining adherents in Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, Martinique, the United States, Egypt, Senegal, Japan, Argentina, Chile, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Spain, and England. Beyond formal incarnations of “surrealism” as a discrete, organized collective movement, the anticolonial politics and non-national forms of surrealist artistic and political experimentation have been variously taken up, debated, contested, or otherwise adapted by artists, writers, organizers, and activists on every continent. Combining an interest in Freudian psychoanalysis and indigenous cultures (in which some members of the group trafficked as collectors and, occasionally, dealers) with a commitment to radical leftist politics, the surrealists approached many of the great issues of the twentieth century with an intensity that could be as comical and as playful as it was deadly serious. Games, group activities, and public scandals were as much a part of the movement’s repertoire as any so-called major works of literature or art. In addition to providing an introduction to the study of global surrealism, this course will study the movement’s adaptations and transformations as a case study in cultural transmission.

Students in the course will be encouraged to draw from primary sources in surrealist (or anti- or para-surrealist) essays, poems, art objects, and political tracts, as well as from secondary readings in cultural and artistic criticism, in pursuing new research on global incarnations of surrealism: North Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, etc. This course will coincide with the inaugural conference of the ISSS: The International Society for the Study of Surrealism, which will take place at Bucknell University from November 1-4, 2018, and which students in the course will be encouraged to attend.

English 557 “Authors and Artists”
Professor: Christopher Reed
Thursdays 6:00-9:00 PM

“Ut pictura poesis” This statement, originally articulated by the ancient Roman poet Horace, has been quoted and debated ever since. Links between art and literature have exerted a formative influence on the development of modern fiction and poetry as authors and artists in various avant-garde groupings collaborated and competed to generate modes of artistic expression appropriate to modernity.  This course examines those interactions. Our objectives are to bring together for comparative examination
— Formal or generic relationships between texts and images at particular historical moments; under this rubric we will consider issues such as ekphrasis
— Creative collaboration and cross-pollination between writers and artists, which have been crucially important in the history of literature and poetry; examples include Pre-Raphaelite poetry and painting, Virginia Woolf and Post-Impressionism, Gertrude Stein and Cubism
— Conceptions of creativity as these have been expressed by writers using the figure of the artist; texts in this category range from Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, through Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, to Paul Auster’s appropriation from the performance artist Sophie Calle

This course explores the ways knowledge of literature and skills in critical reading can be rewardingly brought to bear on the visual arts, and considers how visual art can illuminate the workings of literature both for individual readers and in the classroom. This course is open to graduate students in any discipline. Please contact the professor if you have any questions about enrolling.

German 540 The Holocaust in Visual Culture and Theory
Professor: Sabine Doran

Mondays 6:00-9:00 PM

This seminar studies representations of the Holocaust in art, museums, literature, and film. We will examine theoretical questions involved in any attempt to capture what appears to be beyond our comprehension in terms of moral outrage and the sheer scale, inhumanity, and bureaucratic efficiency of the violence perpetrated by the Nazis. We will focus on the ways in which “trauma” has become a key analytical concept in these debates. We will discuss literary works, such as Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, films such as Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog, The Pianist, The Tin Drum, The PhotographerA Film Unfinished, as well as photographs, poems, installations, and other artifacts. We will also confront questions of memorialization, national guilt, survivor’s guilt, stigmatization, and the ethics of historical representation, in theoretical readings by Theodor Adorno, Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Cathy Caruth, Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Hayden White and others.


VSTUD 501 “Visual Culture Theory and History”
Professor: Sabine Doran
Mondays 6:00-9:00PM

“Visual Culture Theory and History” provides a broad exploration of theories describing the aesthetic, psychological, and social significance of visual images, as well as the media processes inherent in creating visual experiences. The course will define Visual Studies as an academic field within the humanities. Topics will generally include the image in classical rhetoric, media theories about images, visuality and post-colonial theory, semiotic analysis of images, the cinematic image, gender and visuality, consumer culture’s use of images, spectatorship and social identity, television history, images and the construction of space, the relationship between word and image in books, experimental manipulation of visual images in art, images in performance both theatrical and social, the history of photography, and technologies of image production. The class discussions will elucidate the interdisciplinary effects of image production, reception, and circulation in modern media environments.

Spring 2018

Art History 515 “Haunted American Art”
Professor: Adam Thomas
Wednesdays 2:30-5:30 PM

This graduate seminar delves into the art and visual culture of ghostliness in the United States. All manner of paranormal phenomena and occult beliefs are fair game. Whether trading in blatant gothic tropes (haunted houses,
doppelgängers, graveyards) or treading the borderline between phantoms and hallucinations, many artists have reckoned with questions of ghostliness and representation. We will attempt to untangle some of the different aesthetic categories associated with this elusive and expansive topic through selected episodes in the history of American art. From the sublime horror of a Thomas Cole landscape in the nineteenth century to the eerie silence of an Edward Hopper interior in the twentieth, paintings will be the jumping-off point for investigation of a range of media. Spirit photography, proto-cinematic technologies, illustrations, and literary texts, for example, are all fodder for scrutiny. This course engages a variety of critical approaches throughout the semester as we consider the importance of haunting to ideas about race and repression, the disenchantment of modernity, the so-called “spectral turn” in cultural theory, and haunting as a methodological disposition in the writing of (art) history itself.

Art History 597 “Plastics”
Professor: Sarah Rich

This class will investigate the historical importance of plastic in visual and material culture. While the term “plastic” originated in English at the start of the 17th century, denoting the additive technique of sculpture through modeling (as opposed to subtractive techniques of carving), the word quickly morphed into an adjective describing substances generally hospitable to transformation. In its latter function, plasticity would become paradigmatic of Modernity itself, effectively capturing the era’s ethos of instability. With the advent of synthetic and petroleum products, material plastic became a chief ingredient in everything from radios to nylon stockings, and in the process became an emblem of technology’s triumph. As decades progressed as its environmental impact became more clear, however, plastic reversed its connotation and increasingly became emblematic of technology’s destructive power.

As we explore the subject, we will look at specific uses of plastic in art (plastic paints, styrofoam, celluloid, plastic tubing, inflatables, nylons…), at properties often associated with plastic (oozing, melting, hardening, softening, bending, molding…), and at artistic movements that explicitly expressed interest in “plasticity” (from early and mid 20th century movements such as De Stijl and Abstract Expressionism to Andy Warhol’s traveling psychedelic party known as “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable”). We will also explore vitally important tributary themes such as the spread of consumerism, the democratization of design, youth culture, the petroleum industry, credit cards, plastic surgery, the mutability of identity, artificiality, toxicity, and sustainability.This course will benefit from many important objects, events and speakers that will be available through the Palmer Museum’s forthcoming exhibition of plastic in contemporary art (opening in February 2018).


ENGL 549 “Shakespeare” 
Professor: Claire Bourne 
Thursdays 8:00-11:00 a.m. 

“If the play is a book, it’s not a play.” Stephen Orgel’s famous adage exemplifies the once and future tension between page- and stage-based critical approaches to the drama of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. In this seminar, we will examine the critical genealogies of this tension, some of which were instrumental in the foundation of English as a discipline. We will put these histories in conversation with the range of contemporary—early modern—documents that testify to the multi-modal status of plays—manuscript, print, performance, &c. Through a series of case studies drawn from the Shakespearean canon (and one or two from outside of it), we will study the range of material processes by which early modern plays were “published” on both stage and page during and after Shakespeare’s career. Our focus will be the documents used to facilitate performance; evidence of the varied relationships between playhouse and print-house in early modern England; and strategies used by playwrights, printers, and publishers—and, later, editors, typographers, and book designers—to remediate performance texts into matter fit for reading.

This seminar will familiarize students with foundational and current scholarship in bibliography, book history, performance studies, and theater history. Together, we will engage with a variety of methods for studying performance and books via textual archives (including Penn State Libraries’ Special Collections and a number of key digital repositories), and ask how these methods have shaped media history, editorial theory, pedagogy, and our sense of “the literary.” The methods we practice in this course are portable—applicable to earlier and later materials—and therefore useful to students who do not work on drama or the early modern period. Students working on earlier or later periods are therefore encouraged to enroll.


ENGL 583.001 “Aesthetics and Materiality” 
Professor: Claire Colebrook 
Thursdays 2:30-5:30 p.m.  

In the wake of various new materialisms and new aestheticisms this course offers a genealogy of contemporary theories of art, matter and affect. Beginning with Adorn’s Aesthetic Theory a series of readings will explore the following questions: does the very concept of the aesthetic already presuppose a normative and racially/sexually specified subject? What is the relation between aesthetics and politics? Is the question of that relation itself problematic? Does it make sense to talk about feminist, queer, indigenous, black, queer or disability aesthetics, or is ‘the aesthetic’ a transcendental category that allows for a more profound questioning of such political identities?

Theodor Adorno, from Aesthetic Theory 
Paul de Man, ‘Kant’s Materiality’
Deleuze and Guattari, from What is Philosophy? 
Deleuze and Guattari from A Thousand Plateaus 
Bernard Stiegler, ‘Kant, Art, and Time.’
Bernard Stiegler ‘The Quarrel of the Amateurs’
Rita Felski, from Beyond Feminist Aesthetics 
Fred Moten, from In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition 
Eric Michaels, Bad Aboriginal Art 
Tobin Siebers from Disability Aesthetics 


SPAN 597 “A Poetry of Things: Material Culture in Habsburg Spain”
Professor: Mary Barnard

With the rise of Spain in the sixteenth century as a trans-European and global power, social, political, and aesthetic ideals were aligned with the court, empire and modernity. This course will focus on how major poets of Habsburg Spain used artifacts as material sites of discourse to explore connections to antiquity, cultural memory, political and social events, space, self-representation, and status. Artifacts studied range from large decorative objects, like tapestries, paintings, and frescoes, to trinkets and accessories gathered in “cabinet of curiosities.” The course will examine diverse topics such as: the city as text, specifically how a “pilgrim”  and learned humanist from Spain reads Rome’s ruins and museum artifacts, a dynamic palimpsest of objects that are carriers of ancient culture and history; how objects like tapestries and paintings are used to explore questions of patronage, social networking, and gift-giving as well as to both celebrate and critique the politics and ideology of empire; how  mirrors and portrait miniatures are used for examining questions of introspection and self-reflexivity of an incipient modern subject; and how inscriptions on tombs and urns explore the interplay between orality and writing, voice and memory. Since the topic is part of a larger European phenomenon, the course will include Spain’s cross-cultural relations with Italy, a major source of objects, ranging from archaeological discoveries in Rome to paintings and printed books. The course also will consider the role of early modern collectionism in textual and artistic production.

This course will be taught in Spanish. Students are encouraged to give oral presentations in Spanish, but may write their papers in Spanish or in English.


Fall 2017

Art Education 597 “Transdisciplinary Creativity: Eco-Social Justice and Art Education”
Professor: Karen Keifer-Boyd
Wednesdays 6:00-9:00 pm

This course engages with eco-art collectives and movements that are building response-abilities to take on the world’s urgent environmental problems through transdisciplinary creativity. Topics will include: feminist new materialism, environmental ethics in the anthropocene, speculative design and additivism, diffractive methodologies, affect methodologies, visual mapping, data visualization, dark matter witnessing, speculative standpoints, science-based art, place-based art education, and STEAM curricula.


Art History 597 “Seminar in Primitivism”
Professor: William Dewey
Mondays 2:30-5:30 pm

The history and development of European and American twentieth-century art have been influenced in a number of ways by the “discovery” of “Primitive art” and the often associated, notions of “Primitivism.” The terms “Primitivism” and “Primitive art” have now become problematic and are rarely used because of such issues as colonialism, racism, and the continued economic disparities between the so-called “Developed” and “Third” Worlds. The terminology, however, was frequently used throughout the twentieth century and so is retained for our purposes to trace the historic development and use of these terms, rather than implying that the art referred to was either crude or unsophisticated. This seminar examines how fascinations with all things “Primitive” have shaped Western art, revealing more about the Western Imagination than the “Other”. While the idea of Primitivism has a relatively longer history, pertaining to theories of ways for regenerating and revitalizing Western culture, we will primarily be looking at the way it has been conceived of as contributing to the practice and theory of making and writing about art in the twentieth century. In this seminar we will look at some of the art and writings of both artists and theoreticians as they encountered these “Primitive” art forms for the first time at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds, and developed theories of “Primitivism,” especially from the 1940s through the 80s. Significant attention will be paid to the 1984 “Primitivism” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, and the extensive, critical backlash it generated. We will read The Death of Authentic Primitive Art and Other Tales of Progress and Paris Primitive, which recounts the creation in 2006 of a monumental museum dedicated to “Primitive Art” in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower: the Musee du Quai Branly. We will also read the new catalogue of the 2016 exhibition dada Africa: Dialogue with the Other.


FREN 597.1 “The Era of the Great ‘Francophone’ War, 1914-2017”
Professor: Jennifer Boittin
Wednesdays 5:30-:00PM

This course takes a sociocultural approach to the centenary of the Great War in three parts: the war itself, the interwar years and contemporary reverberations of the war. With a focus upon the field of visual studies via objects such as film, photography, Guillaume Apollinaire’s calligrams and graphic novels, we use the prisms of race, gender and class to pursue a multidimensional approach of the war and its memory in France, Belgium, West Africa and the Caribbean among other spaces. This course will be taught in French.


FREN 597.3 “France in Ruins: Wounded Spaces from 1945 to the Present”
Professor: Vincent Gélinas-Lemaire
Mondays 6:00-9:00PM

Ruins have been at the center of the French imagination since the sixteenth century, representing in turn the decay of the pagan world, its architectural genius, the height of the sublime, and a cradle for earthly pleasures or for the inquisitive mind. The two World Wars, with their landscapes of broken metropolises and scorched earth, changed the literary reading of this spatial motif in radical ways. Nonetheless, it persisted, taking dominant albeit unique shapes in the literature we will study this semester, which will include Jean Genet, Julien Gracq, Georges Perec, Patrick Modiano, François Bon and Élisabeth Filhol.

This seminar will adopt a poetic approach to the texts, while remaining open to the theoretical perspectives that the students will bring forward through class discussions, an oral presentation and a variety of written assignments. The seminar will also include a substantial component dedicated to the visual history of ruins in European architecture, painting, photography, and film.

While discussions and readings will be in French, students who are not enrolled in French and Francophone Studies are strongly encouraged to enroll and may write their essays in English.


GER 597 Media and Romanticism
Professor Daniel Purdy

This course will examine the juxtaposition between the deterministic claims of contemporary German media theory and the poetic inwardness of Romantic writing. The course readings will commence with the early poetry of Goethe and Wordsworth, in order to consider how these authors struggle with the media technology of their own era as they seek to establish an autonomous poetic voice. The class will examine canonical Romantic literature to consider whether subjectivity is largely determined by cultural techniques and media technology? The course will also consider how late Romantics used media technologies in their own construction of poetic experience. How did communications media around 1800 address the Romantic desire for immediate sensations? Central to our discussions will be the concept of the “Romantic image.” Why did Romantics place such great importance on visual images as their ideal form of aesthetic perception? What is the relationship between the image and tone in Romantic writing about Beethoven’s music? To enhance our reflections, we will read recent media theories by Friedrich Kittler, Jochen Hörisch, Bernhard Siegert, Wolfgang Ernst, and Willem Flusser in relation to some of the most important literary works of German Romanticism (broadly defined): J.W. Goethe, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and Bettina von Arnim, among others.

This course will be offered in English.


CMLIT/SPAN 597.004Race, Performance, and Possession in the Americas
Professor: Sarah Townsend
Thursdays 6:00-9:00pm

This course will take a hemispheric approach to examining the connections between race, performance, and “possession”— both in the sense of property ownership to spirit possession. We will explore the complexities of this term and ask what it can tell us about the equally complex notions of “race” and “performance” by studying theater, performance art, films, literature, historical documents, music, etc. from throughout the Americas. Possible topics include: the exhibition of racially   marked bodies and “scenes of subjection”; examples of racial impersonation such as blackface performance; slaves as objects of conspicuous consumption and the racialization of conspicuous consumption in the present; Haitian vodou, and links between zombies and whiteness in recent popular culture; avant-garde engagements with ritual practices of trance; struggles over copyright and cultural appropriation; and the politics of archives and museum collections.

This course will be taught in English, with all materials available in the original (English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French) and in English translation.


SPAN 597, “Spanish Cinema Studies: Current Methods and Theoretical Approaches.” 
Professor: Matthew Marr

This course will focus on current theoretical trends in Spanish film studies.  Moving beyond a set of traditional methodologies rooted in film history, genre studies, notions of a “national” cinema, auteurism, and/or formalism, much recent work in the field has embraced the insights of scholarship from areas ranging from sound studies to geocriticism, from ecocriticism to disability studies, from the politics of social activism to televisual and media studies.  While foregrounding critical readings which have broadened the field in this regard, this course will also emphasize—as a secondary concern—the fundamentals of reading film.  It will offer an overview of cinematic practices vis-à-vis performance, cinematography, sound, direction, editing, and production, namely with the goal of enhancing students’ ability (as seasoned literary critics) to move beyond the application of interpretive tools bound to the realm of narrative.

This course will be conducted primarily in English, though a few critical essays and all films will be in Spanish (most will have subtitles in English or Spanish).  Students may write papers in Spanish or English, but are encouraged (though not obligated) to develop their skills in both languages by writing in their weaker language for at least one assignment.


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