Arts and Humanities

Students complete any two sections of HONR 2053 and/or HONR 2054 between their second and fourth years. HONR 2053 courses offer a thematic, multidisciplinary, and cross-cultural analysis of the arts and artistic expression. HONR 2054 courses provide an in-depth exploration of important topics in the humanities and are grounded in specific disciplines.

Who Should Take These

Upperclassmen take any two Arts and Humanities courses over the course of the sophomore, junior, or senior years. They do not need to be taken in any particular order.


Literature & Culture of WWI

Professor Jennifer Green-Lewis
HONR 2053: MV - 3 credits
CRN: 34740
T 1:00-3:30 PM

Fulfills: CCAS: Humanities English literature course after the 19th century; ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities

Course description: This course examines the difficulty of representing violent and unimagined experience. We will ask: what becomes of poetry, painting, and music, when they seem inadequate to convey modern human experience? Our work will focus on how the culture of the First World War, and the years immediately following it, tried to give new shape to new knowledge. To understand what the concept of “new” might entail, we will begin by studying the sound and rhythms of poetic language that to a pre-war reader seemed appropriate for the representation of war, and that initially provided the primary interpretive reference for many young people entering the war.

Children’s Literature

Professor Supriya Goswami
HONR 2054: 10- 3 credits
CRN: 37443
R 12:45-3:15 PM

Fulfills: CCAS: English literature course between the 18th and 19th centuries or after the 19th century; ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities

Course description: The primary objective of this course is to become familiar with the kinds of literature available for children and young adults. We will focus on nineteenth- and early twentieth century classics central to the development of children’s literature as well as more contemporary works as a means to explore themes and narrative patterns that are particular to children’s texts. We will also explore the ways in which children’s literature may (or may not) have changed or adapted over time to reflect the diverse experiences of its audience. In addition, we will watch cinematic adaptations of popular children’s texts to facilitate a discussion on trends that are currently (re)shaping the focus and objectives of children’s literature. We will read representative works by Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, Maurice Sendak, Louis Sachar, and others.

African-American Art History

Professor Bibiana Obler
HONR 2054: 80- 3 credits
CRN: 37444
W 4:00-6:30 PM

Fulfills: ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities
Equivalents: AH 4158W

Course description: This seminar’s full title is “Problems in African-American Art History” because the category of black art in the United States is vexed. To paraphrase Stuart Hall, what is this “African-American” in “African-American art”? Why bracket “African-American” artists from other “American” artists—and from modern and contemporary artists across the globe? Artists have both embraced and rejected the category of “black art.” We will reach back to investigate the origins of this history and forward to its future—or demise. We will draw heavily on local resources including the Howard University Art Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and National Museum of African American History and Culture.


Nietzsche and Political Thought

Professor William Winstead
HONR 2054: 82- 3 credits
CRN: 34792
T 3:30-6:00 PM

Fulfills: ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities
Equivalents: PSC 2991

Course description: Nietzsche is a fierce critic of modern politics and a relentless advocate of the agonistic politics of the Greek city-state. He argues that modern politics is beset by decay, evident in the slackening of citizen vigor (or will-power) and the timidity of the age's most powerful political movements, above all liberalism and socialism. We will begin our course this semester with Nietzsche's antidote to modern politics, the vigorous politics of the ancient Greek polis, which serves as the normative model for all of his writings. By embracing the Greeks, and particularly the tragic Greeks, Nietzsche turns away from modern rationalism and the systematic political philosophy inaugurated by Plato in favor of an experiment in new modes of political thinking that are at once anti-modern and post-modern. After considering Nietzsche's image of antiquity, we will turn to his interpretation of modernity and its political forms, and examine his critique of the political ideals of the age (liberalism, equality, and rights). Throughout the semester, we will pay close attention to the relationships that Nietzsche draws between art and politics, culture and the state, justice and rights, and freedom and asceticism.

Buddhist Meditation Practices

Professor Eyal Aviv
HONR 2054: 83- 3 credits
CRN: 37660
TR 12:45-2:00 PM

Fulfills: ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities
Equivalents: REL 3990

Course description: In recent decades meditation had gone from an esoteric practice to a mainstream technique of self-­‐transformation. Bill Clinton, Sting, Katy Perry, Helen Mirren, Jerry Seinfeld and many more sing its praises (sometimes literally). But what is meditation and how does it work? Why would people subject themselves to a strict regiment of “doing nothing” in times where there is so much to do? In this course we will focus on Buddhist meditation. We will begin the course by discussing the meditation movement in the West and the recent boom in scientific studies of meditation. Meditation is often described as a value-­‐free exercise, one that is as secular as Tai-­‐chi or Yoga poses but what is lost when we secularize the practice? To answer this question, we will examine some of the critiques of modern meditation practice. We will then explore together different styles of Buddhist meditation, learn about the religious world from which they emerged and what purpose they serve in their traditional context and highlight the radical demand they put on us. Finally, for fun, we will also practice some of these methods in class.


Professor Joseph Trullinger
HONR 2054: 85 - 3 credits
CRN: 37662
R 3:30-6:00 PM

Fulfills: ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities
Equivalents: PHIL 4198

Course description: As students rose up throughout Paris in 1968, a utopian slogan appeared on walls: “Be realistic: demand the impossible!” This seminar on the philosophy of utopianism will go deep into the heart of what informs this paradoxical statement. What if our sense of what counts as realistic is itself unrealistic, that is to say, it ignores what is truly possible? The popular definition of politics as “the art of the possible” begins to edge on metaphysical dimensions when we engage in utopian thinking: what counts as real? What is the status of the ideal that transcends the real?  How can idealism be realized, and what does that say about us as “realizers” of the ideal? Whereas some courses treat all utopian visions as dystopian visions in disguise, this course is an experiment in taking utopianism seriously, and exploring the breadth of social possibilities that fit under this approach. From Plato’s famous Republic to Thomas More’s classic Utopia, from the rejection of utopianism by Freud and Marx to its rehabilitation by Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse of “the Frankfurt School,” from queer theory to liberation theology, this course will explore the way that utopia is a world in which many worlds fit.


Professor Mark Ralkowski
HONR 2054: MV- 3 credits
CRN: 37661
TR 4:10-5:25 PM

Fulfills: ESIA: Humanities; GWSB: Non-Business Elective/Unrestricted Elective; SEAS: Humanities
Equivalents: PHIL 3100

Course description: This course will focus on philosophical theories of humor, laughter, and comedic amusement. We will draw on ideas from antiquity and modernity, and discuss a broad range of authors—including Hobbes, Kant, Bergson, Beckett, Nietzsche, and Freud—in an effort to develop a philosophical appreciation of what we find funny. There are many different kinds of humor and the essence of humor has been described in various ways. But in the end, we will see how some of the most cherished humor helps us laugh at ourselves, by showing us that we are ridiculous and reminding us that we are not the people we would like to be. If Simon Critchley is right that jokes are like “small anthropological essays,” the point of this course is to learn something about ourselves and our culture by enjoying a lot of great humor, and hopefully laughing a lot along the way. You will also learn about the surprisingly interesting philosophy of humor that dates back to the Greeks and continues to make us think about issues in ethics, aesthetics, logic, existentialism, and more.