Medical Humanities

Program Office: B-101 Heyman Center, East Campus; 212-854-4541;

Director: Prof. Lydia Liu, 407 Kent Hall; 212-854-5631;

Associate Director: Associate Prof. Anupama Rao, Barnard Hall 2nd Floor, Lefrak 226; 212-854-8547;

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Tommaso Manfredini, B-106 Heyman Center, East Campus;

Director of Medical Humanities Major: Assistant Prof. of Medicine Rishi Goyal; B-106 Heyman Center, East Campus;

Assistant Director: Sarah Monks, B-102 Heyman Center, East Campus; 212-854-8850;

Established at Columbia in 1998, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society (ICLS) promotes a global perspective in the study of literature and its social context. Committed to cross-disciplinary study of literary works, the Institute brings together the rich resources of Columbia in the various literatures of the world; in the social sciences; in art history, architecture, and media; and in the medical humanities.

The major programs at ICLS allow qualified students to study literature, culture, and society with reference to material from several national traditions, or in combination of literary study with comparative study in other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. Under the guidance of the director of undergraduate studies, students select courses offered by participating departments.

The program is designed for students whose interest and expertise in languages other than English permit them to work comparatively in several national or regional cultures. The course of study differs from that of traditional comparative literature programs, both in its cross-disciplinary nature and in its expanded geographic range, including not just European, but also Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American cultures.

The program includes course work in the social sciences, and several core courses are jointly taught by faculty from different disciplines. Students thus explore a variety of methodological and disciplinary approaches to cultural and literary artifacts in the broadest sense. The cross-disciplinary range of the program includes visual and media studies; law and the humanities; medicine and the humanities; and studies of space, cities, and architecture. As a major or concentration, this program can be said to flow naturally from Columbia’s Core Curriculum, which combines literature, art, philosophy, and social thought, and consistently attracts some of Columbia’s most ambitious and cosmopolitan students.

Students can choose to complete the major in Comparative Literature and Society (CLS) or the major in Medical Humanities (MedHum). Currently, the MedHum major is not available for the concentration.

Given the wide variety of geographic and disciplinary specializations possible within the majors and concentration, students construct their course sequence in close collaboration with the director of undergraduate studies. All students, however, share the experience of taking the course CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS in their sophomore year, as well as the required senior seminar in the fall of their last year in the program. The ICLS majors and concentration are designed for students interested in the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural study of texts, traditions, media, and discourses in an increasingly transnational world.

Students planning to apply for admission to the CLS major, the MedHum major, or the CLS concentration should organize their course of study in order to complete the following prerequisites by the end of the sophomore year:

  1. Preparation to undertake advanced work in one foreign language, to be demonstrated by completion of two introduction to literature courses, typically numbered 3333-3350.
  2. Completion of at least four terms of study of a second foreign language or two terms in each of two foreign languages.
  3. Enrollment in CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS in the spring semester of the sophomore year.

Information about admission requirements and application to the majors or concentration can be found at Students are advised to meet with the director of undergraduate studies before submitting the statement of purpose for the required application. Applications are due in early January of the sophomore year. 

Departmental Honors

To be eligible for departmental honors, students must have a minimum grade point average of 3.6 for courses in the major. Departmental honors will be conferred only on students who have submitted a superior senior thesis that clearly demonstrates originality and excellent scholarship. Note that the senior thesis is not required for the major. For information on the honors program, see

Executive Committee of ICLS
L. Maria Bo (English and Comparative Literature)
Bruno Bosteels (Latin American and Iberian Cultures)
Souleymane Bachir Diagne (French and Romance Philology)
Madeleine Dobie (French and Romance Philology)
Brent Hayes Edwards (English and Comparative Literature, Jazz)
Matthew Engelke (Religion)
Stathis Gourgouris (Classics, English and Comparative Literature)
Rishi Kumar Goyal (Emergency Medicine)
Bernard Harcourt (Columbia Law School)
Gil Hochberg (Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies and IRWGS)
Seth Kimmel (Latin American and Iberian Cultures) 
Lydia H. Liu (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
David B. Lurie (East Asian Languages and Cultures)
Anupama P Rao (History, Barnard)
Felicity Scott (Architecture)
Oliver Simons (Germanic Languages)
Joseph Slaughter (English and Comparative Literature)
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (University Professor of the Humanities)
Dennis Tenen (English and Comparative Literature)
Jesus R. Velasco (Latin American and Iberian Cultures)

Guidelines for all ICLS Majors and Concentrators

Requirements for the major and concentration in Comparative Literature and Society were updated in February 2019; please contact the director of undergraduate studies with any questions.  An application worksheet can be found on our website. Applications are due in early January of a student's sophomore year. At the time of application, students interested in the major (including the major in Medical Humanities) or concentration must have met these requirements:

  1. Foreign language 1: four semesters of language training (or equivalent) and two semesters of introductory literature courses, typically numbered 3330-3350;
  2. (CLS Majors only) Foreign language 2: four semesters of one language or two semesters of two languages;
  3. CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS, usually taken in the spring of the sophomore year;
  4. A focus statement, 1-2 pages in length. The focus is a period, theme, problem, movement, etc., that is explored from an interdisciplinary and/or a comparative perspective. Faculty understand that this statement is a work in progress, but that it serves as a useful guide to students' academic pursuits and course selection.

Major in Comparative Literature and Society

The major in Comparative Literature and Society consists of a minimum of 33 points or 11 courses, distributed as follows. Courses taken to fulfill the application requirements do not count toward the major. With the exception of courses taken to satisfy the global core requirement, double counting of courses to the CPLS major and another program or university requirement must be approved by the DUS.  Requirements for the major and concentration in Comparative Literature and Society were updated in February 2019; please contact the director of undergraduate studies with any questions.

  1. CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS, required for all majors and normally taken in the spring of the sophomore year (3 points)
  2. Advanced courses as follows (please note that one course may be used to fulfill two of the advanced course requirements):
    • Two courses with a CPLS designator. CLxx courses, i.e. courses cross-listed between ICLS and other departments, may also be counted toward this requirement (6-8 points)
    • Two seminars in a humanities or social science discipline other than literature (e.g. Architecture, Anthropology, Art History, Economics, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Political Science, Race & Ethnicity Studies, Sociology…). The two courses must be grounded in the same disciplinary approach but don’t have to be offered by the same department or program (6-8 points)
    • Two courses requiring readings in a language other than English. (The two courses don’t have to be in the same foreign language) (6-8 points)
    • Two courses focusing on a specific national or regional literature or culture, chosen from any discipline (The two courses should focus on the same nation/region) (6-8 points)
    • One elective course reflecting the student’s intellectual interests. The senior thesis may be counted toward this requirement. Additional foreign language study may also be counted with DUS approval (3-4 points)
  3. CPLS UN3991 Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society
  4. Senior thesis (optional).

Major in Medical Humanities

The major in Medical Humanities requires 33 points (11 courses). Note that language courses taken to fulfill the application requirements 1 above do not count toward the required points for the major. Students interested in the major are strongly encouraged to fulfill their science requirement with classes in human biology (e.g., Human SpeciesGenes and Development) or human psychology (e.g., Mind, Brain, and Behavior).

  1. CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS, required for all ICLS majors and normally taken in the spring of the sophomore year.
  2. Advanced courses as follows (please note that one course may be used to fulfill two of the advanced course requirements):                                     
  • 1 course with a CPLS or CL- course identifier: 3-4 points

          Students choose from among the wide range of courses sponsored by the Institute for        Comparative Literature and Society or cross-listed between ICLS and other departments. These offerings change every semester and are listed on the ICLS website.

  •  1 course with readings in a language other than English: 3-4 points

         Students may either take a course that is taught wholly or partially in a foreign language or a course taught in English for which they have received approval to do most of the reading in a foreign language.

  • 3 courses that form the disciplinary/methodological nexus of the student’s interests: 9-12 points

        Students will develop an individualized course of study at the nexus of health, society and the humanities in discussion with the DUS (Some example of prior constellations include but are not limited to:  Literature and Medicine; Narrative Medicine; Medical Anthropology; History of Medicine; Comparative Public Health; Disability studies; Neuroscience; Biopolitics; Bioethics).

  • 2 required core courses in Medical Humanities: 6 points
  • 2 courses in the biological or biochemical sciences: 6-8 points

         Students in the MedHum major should be versed in contemporary and classical debates and knowledge in the biological sciences.  Students may take any two biology or biochemistry classes that relate to fundamental concepts in human biology.

3. Senior Seminar:

CPLS UN3991 Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society 

     4. Senior thesis (optional).

Concentration in Comparative Literature and Society

The concentration in Comparative Literature and Society consists of a minimum of 27 points or 9 courses, distributed as follows. Please note that courses taken to fulfill the application requirements do not count toward the major. With the exception of courses taken to satisfy the global core requirement, any double counting of courses to the CPLS major and another program or university requirement must be approved by the DUS.  Requirements for the major and concentration in Comparative Literature and Society were updated in February 2019; please contact the director of undergraduate studies with any questions.

  1. CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS, normally taken in the spring of the sophomore year;
  2. Advanced courses as follows:
    • Two courses with a CPLS designator. CL-- courses, i.e. courses cross-listed between ICLS and other departments, may also be counted toward this requirement (6-8 points)
    • Two seminars in a humanities or social science discipline other than literature (e.g. Architecture, Anthropology, Art History, Economics, Gender & Sexuality Studies, History, Law, Linguistics, Music, Political Science, Race & Ethnicity Studies, Sociology…). The two courses must be grounded in the same disciplinary approach but don’t have to be offered by the same department or program (6-8 points)
    • Two courses requiring readings in a language other than English (the two courses don’t have to be in the same foreign language) (6-8 points)
    • One course focusing on a specific national or regional literature or culture, chosen from any discipline (3-8 points)
    • Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society (CPLS V3991)

The senior seminar is taken in fall semester of the senior year. Students  explore three areas of contemporary reflection in the field of comparative literature and society. Topics change yearly and are aligned with current ICLS research projects. Recent examples include: Bandung Humanism; Global Language Justice; A Safer Online Public Square

  • (Optional) Senior Thesis (CPLS 3995) (3 points)

Students sign up for thesis credits (CPLS 3995) in the spring semester of the senior year but should begin to prepare in the fall semester. They work with an adviser from the Columbia/Barnard faculty who oversees the project and assigns the final grade. The DUS of ICLS is the second reader for all projects. The thesis must be a minimum of 35 pages double-spaced and must include footnotes and a bibliography. Translations, creative work and multi-media projects can be submitted with the prior approval of the DUS. These must be accompanied by an introduction that situates the project intellectually. The thesis should be written in English unless a student receives permission from the DUS to write in another language. Note that the completed thesis is submitted before the end of the spring semester, usually by April 15. The thesis is considered as a 3-point course. It may be counted in lieu of a course taken to meet requirements 2, 3, 4, or 5.

Students should consult frequently with the DUS to ensure that their program of study develops in consonance with the intellectual project described in the focus statement that was presented as part of the admissions process. The faculty understands that this statement is itself a work in progress, but also that it serves as a useful guide to the student's academic pursuits and course selection.

Comparative Literature and Society concentration students should also consider the Barnard College course offerings in Comparative Literature. They are also strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the opportunity to study abroad.


CLYD UN3000 Do you read Jewish? From Yiddish, to Yinglish, to Yiddler, in the US. 3.00 points.

Historically, Yiddish literature and culture was produced and consumed by people who were usually bi-lingual or multi-lingual, living in societies with a different majority language. Today, when only a small number of people read Yiddish fluently, most Yiddish literature and culture is consumed as translations or adaptations. Our course then, investigates, Yiddish literature and culture from the 20th and 21st centuries as a particularly fruitful site for thinking through questions of translation and adaptation theory by looking at writers such as I. B. Singer, and products of popular culture such as the musical Fiddler on the Roof/Fidler afn dakh or the movie Yentl . Through these readings we will investigate questions such as: What translation strategies were necessary for the world of Yiddish-speaking Europe to enter the realm of American-Jewish culture?

Spring 2021: CLYD UN3000
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLYD 3000 001/11273 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Sandra Chiritescu 3.00 7/15

ITAL UN3665 "Against fiction?" Committed Narratives of the 21st Century. 3.00 points.

In the era of post-truth and fake news, has fiction become a luxury? How do cinema and literature adjust to what has been defined as the current “hunger for reality”? Can art reflect reality and promote social change? As phenomena of manipulation of information have changed the rhetorics of public discourse, narrative forms traditionally associated with fiction (novels, graphic novels or films) strive to appear objective, making use of documents, autobiographical accounts, testimonies and verifiable data, while non-fiction appropriates the techniques of storytelling. This interdisciplinary course will explore the cross contamination of fiction and non-fiction with a special focus on hybrid narratives that make their meaning at the border between the literary and the journalistic, the imaginative and the factual. Considering the intersections among fictional narratives and other forms of expression and knowledge production (i.e. journalism, oral history, anthropology or documentary), we will look at contemporary works that experiment with new communicative forms to recount real events and to address socio-political issues. The course is suitable for students who have interests in all the humanities and social sciences. The use of narrative and storytelling in a wide array of fields, from medicine to human rights advocacy, has made it fundamental to reflect on how ‘true’ stories are created and on how they circulate. (No previous knowledge required. Taught in English.)

Spring 2021: ITAL UN3665
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
ITAL 3665 001/10179 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Beatrice Mazzi 3.00 5/25

CPLS UN3900 INTRO TO ICLS. 3.00 points.

Introduction to concepts and methods of comparative literature in cross-disciplinary and global context. Topics may include: oral, print, and visual culture; epic, novel, and nation; literature of travel, exile, and diaspora; sex and gender transformation; the human/inhuman; writing trauma; urban imaginaries; world literature; medical humanities. Open only to students who have applied for and declared a major in Comparative Literature and Society or Medical Humanities

Spring 2021: CPLS UN3900
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 3900 001/10103 Th 10:10am - 12:00pm
Online Only
David Lurie 3.00 16/17


This year-long, three-credit course is mandatory for students who will be writing their Senior Thesis in Comparative Literature and Society or in Medical Humanities. Students who wish to be considered for Departmental honors are required to submit a Senior Thesis. The thesis is a rigorous research work of approximately 40 pages, and it will include citations and a bibliographical apparatus. It may be written in English or, with the permission of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in another language relevant to the students scholarly interests. Although modeled after an independent study, in which core elements of the structure, direction, and pace of the work are decided together by the student and their faculty thesis supervisor, students are nonetheless expected to complete certain major steps in the research and writing process according to the timeline outlined by the ICLS DUS

Spring 2021: CPLS UN3995
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 3995 001/10113  
Tommaso Manfredini 3.00 13/15
Fall 2021: CPLS UN3995
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 3995 001/13908  
Tommaso Manfredini 3.00 0/25

CPLS BC3997 Senior Seminar. 4 points.

Designed for students writing a senior thesis and doing advanced research on two central literary fields in the student's major. The course of study and reading material will be determined by the instructor(s) in consultation with students(s).

CLSL GU4009 Hegel: State, History, Freedom. 3.00 points.

This course is an advanced introduction to the reading of Hegel, via selections from his Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, The Phenomenology of Spirit, and The Philosophy of Right. The focus will be on Hegel’s philosophy of history, his understanding of modernity and its particular kind of freedom, and the way that he saw that freedom to be actualized in the modern state. Prerequisite: undergraduates ought to have finished the core curriculum and taken at least one other philosophy class; at least one of PHIL 2201, 2301, or 3251 is highly recommended

Spring 2021: CLSL GU4009
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLSL 4009 001/13338 M 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Adam Leeds 3.00 10/15


This course will compare and contrast the theories of the political, the state,freedom, democracy, sovereignty and law, in the works of the following key 20th and 21st century continental theorists: Arendt, Castoriadis, Foucault, Habermas, Kelsen, Lefort, Schmitt, and Weber. It will be taught in seminar format

Spring 2021: POLS GU4110
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
POLS 4110 001/10427 W 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Jean Cohen 4.00 20/25

CLPS GU4201 Post-Freud. 4 points.

This course examines psychoanalytic movements that are viewed either as post-Freudian in theory or as emerging after Freud's time. The course begins by considering the ways Freud's cultural and historical surround, as well as the wartime diaspora of the European psychoanalytic community, shaped Freudian and post-Freudian thought. It then focuses on significant schools and theories of psychoanalysis that were developed from the mid 20th century to the present. Through readings of key texts and selected case studies, it explores theorists' challenges to classical thought and technique, and their reconfigurations, modernizations, and total rejections of central Freudian ideas. The course concludes by looking at contemporary theorists' moves to integrate notions of culture, concepts of trauma, and findings from neuroscience and attachment research into the psychoanalytic frame.

Spring 2021: CLPS GU4201
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLPS 4201 001/10389 M 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Karen Seeley 4 4/15

CPLS GU4315 Multilingual Technologies and Language Diversity. 4 points.

Innovations in digital technologies have shown their potential to be at times breathtakingly beneficial, and at others divisive or troubling. With regard to digital technologies’ impact on the ecosystem of language diversity, evidence suggests that new technologies are one contributor to the decline and predicted extinction of 50-90% of the world's languages this century. Yet digital innovations supporting a growing number of languages also have the potential to bolster language diversity in ways unimaginable a few years ago. Will innovations in multilingual natural language processing bring about a renaissance of language diversity, as users no longer need to rely on English and other dominant languages? To address this question, this course will introduce a dual view on language diversity: 1) a typology of language vitality and endangerment and 2) a resource-centric typology (low-resource vs. high-resource) regarding the availability of data resources to develop computational models for language analysis. This course will address the challenge of scaling natural language processing technologies developed mostly for English to the rich diversity of human languages. The resource-centric typology will also contribute to the dialogue of what is “Data Science.” Much research has been dedicated to the “Big Data” scenario; however “Small Data” poses equally challenging problems, which this course will highlight. This course brings data and computational literacy about multilingual technologies to humanities students, while also exposing computer science and data science students to ethical, cultural, business, and policy issues within the context of multilingual technologies. 

Spring 2021: CPLS GU4315
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 4315 001/11952 F 10:10am - 12:00pm
Online Only
Smaranda Muresan, Isabelle Zaugg 4 2/15

CPLS GU4325 Abolition Medicine: Medical Racisms and Anti-Racisms. 3.00 points.

In 1935, WEB Dubois wrote about abolition democracy: an idea based not only on breaking down unjust systems, but on building up new, antiracist social structures. Scholar activists like Angela Davis, Ruth Gilmore and Mariame Kaba have long contended that the abolition of slavery was but one first step in ongoing abolitionist practices dismantling racialized systems of policing, surveillance and incarceration. The possibilities of prison and police abolition have recently come into the mainstream national consciousness during the 2020 resurgence of nationwide Black Lives Matters (BLM) protests. As we collectively imagine what nonpunitive and supportive community reinvestment in employment, education, childcare, mental health, and housing might look like, medicine must be a part of these conversations. Indeed, if racist violence is a public health emergency, and we are trying to bring forth a “public health approach to public safety” – what are medicine’s responsibilities to these social and institutional reinventions? Medicine has a long and fraught history of racial violence. It was, after all, medicine and pseudoscientific inquiry that helped establish what we know as the racial categorizations of today: ways of separating human beings based on things like skin color and hair texture that were used (and often continue to be used) to justify the enslavement, exclusion, or genocide of one group of people by another. Additionally, the history of the professionalization of U.S. medicine, through the formation of medical schools and professional organizations as well as and the certification of trained physicians, is a history of exclusion, with a solidification of the identity of “physician” around upper middle class white masculinity. Indeed, the 1910 Flexner Report, whose aim was to make consistent training across the country’s medical schools, was explicit in its racism. From practices of eugenic sterilization, to histories of experimentation upon bodies of color, medicine is unfortunately built upon racist, sexist and able-ist practices. This course is built on the premise that a socially just practice of medicine is a bioethical imperative. Such a practice cannot be achieved, however, without examining medicine’s histories of racism, as well as learning from and building upon histories of anti-racist health practice. The first half of the semester will be dedicated to learning about histories of medical racism: from eugenics and racist experimentation to public health xenophobic fear mongering. The second half of the semester will be dedicated to examining medical and grassroots anti-racist practices: from the free health clinics and hospital takeovers of the Black Panther and Young Lords Parties, to environmental activism in Flint and the Sioux Rock Reservation to antiracist AIDS and COVID activism

Spring 2021: CPLS GU4325
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 4325 001/11154 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
Online Only
Sayantani DasGupta 3.00 20/21

CLGR GU4420 Walter Benjamin. 3 points.

In recent years, Walter Benjamin has become one of the most quoted media theorists. His philosophy of technology is not as widely known as the concept of aura he developed in his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility. The contemporary relevance of his philosophy of technology lies in the fact that Benjamin establishes a connection between technology and different forms of habitation, and between the latter and the concept of habit (Gewohnheit), which is etymologically related to the concept of habitation (Wohnen). This enables a comparison of Benjamin’s approach with the philosophies of technology developed by Heidegger, Deleuze/Guattari, and Simondon, all of whom associate technology with the shaping of environments and the problem of poesis. In our seminar, we will reconstruct Benjamin’s media anthropology of technology through a close reading of his diaries and essays and compare it to philosophies of technology very much being discussed today.

Spring 2021: CLGR GU4420
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLGR 4420 001/10249 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Annie Pfeifer 3 21/25

CLPS GU4510 Jacques Lacan: An introduction to his work . 4 points.

acques Lacan (1901 – 1981) was without any doubt the most influential psychoanalyst since Sigmund Freud. A meticulous yet inventive reader of the founder of psychoanalysis, he opened himself up to a panoply of sciences, philosophies, and other discourses as well as to political events and social phenomena in order to attune psychoanalysis not only to its own internal exigencies but also to those that he considered to be the ones of his time.

We will read Lacan according to this double exigency: to formalize anew its own logic, methodology, and construction of objects, which proceed “sui generis” as Freud said; and to put them in friction with some of the phenomena and structural determinants of what seems to impose itself on us today: the erosion of discourse as social bond in a time of an ever increasing number of displaced people; a radical change of the status of speech and the “letter”—as well as literature—in the hyper-digitalized world; the renewed enigma of sex and bodily enjoyment in the context of a tele-techno-medical science becoming increasingly autonomous; the status of “nature” as that what might survive only in being destroyed. In short: What concepts are needed to think the “unconscious” today?

The course will proposed as an introduction to Lacan for which no previous acquaintance with his work is required. It will cover texts and seminars from all the periods of his work with a focus on the those from the 1970s.

Spring 2021: CLPS GU4510
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLPS 4510 001/10148 Th 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Aud Earl Hall
Marcus Coelen 4 21/30

CPLS GU4732 Matters of Life/Death. 3.00 points.

The imbricated crises of a global pandemic and the legacies of structural anti-Black racism necessitate reflection, at once political and philosophic. One might argue that they reframe twentieth century French traditions of thought as a sustained critical reflection on le vivant (life); the way society classifies and treats its dead, its “living dead” or excluded members; the political economy of death and life management; death sentences (both legal and literary.) In the twenty first century, Black feminist thought addresses the ecological catastrophe of the pandemic and the resultant unequal distribution of life and death, pressuring what is at stake under the philosopheme of the “human.” This seminar is structured as a conversation between representative thinkers from each “tradition.” Yet neither tradition has discrete borders; twenty first century thinkers inherit from their French predecessors even as they contest and bring to light fraught presuppositions. We might also say, with Jacques Derrida, that the twentieth century French thinkers -Bergson, Canguilhem, Deleuze, Foucault- inherit from the future- from Hortense Spillers, Alexander Weheliye, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Octavia Butler, Fred Moten. How might this urgent reframing and conversation enable a critical resistance?

Spring 2021: CPLS GU4732
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 4732 001/15099 W F 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Online Only
Diane Rubenstein 3.00 10/16

CPLS GU4800 Advanced Topics in Medical Humanities. 3.00 points.

Not offered during 2021-22 academic year.

It is impossible to study Medical/Health Humanities now without emphasizing the COVID-19 pandemic and the social disparities it casts into relief. This class studies how the arts can provide access to voices and perspectives on illness and health disparities that might be overlooked in news coverage, historical and sociological research on the current pandemic. This class begins by introducing the field of Medical/Health Humanities and the critical questions and tools it provides. We will use these perspectives to study narrative and visual representations in different media that address the intersections of social inequity, biomedical pandemic, and aesthetic forms. Our study of representations will be divided into four parts. 1.The last great global pandemic. Representations of AIDS epidemic highlight the impact of social stigma on public health and medical care, as well as the use of art as an agent of activism and change. We will consider such works as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Charles Burns’s Black Hole, short stories, and the art produced within and in response to the ACT-UP movement. 2.Race and medical inequity. We study the racialization of genetic science, and its connection new forms of white supremacy and a history of racialized health disparities. Our readings include Rebecca Skloot’s Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the poetry of Maya Angelou and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, and the speculative fiction of N.K. Jemison. 3.Fictional representations of pandemic that illuminate real life disparities in health and access to medical care will set the stage for our study of the current pandemic. We will read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Colson Whitehead’s zombie novel, Zone One. 4.Literary representations of COVID, as represented by the short stories in The Decameron Project, as well as short film and visual arts. Seminar style classes will emphasize student interests and direction. They will be heavily discussion-based with a combination of full class and smaller breakout formats. Assignments include an in-class presentation and short paper on one week’s materials; a comparative narrative analysis, and an imaginative final project with a critical introduction

Spring 2021: CPLS GU4800
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 4800 002/16663 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
203 Mathematics Building
Rachel Adams 3.00 15/15


ENGL UN3648 Comics, Health, and Embodiment. 4 points.

Deformed, grotesque, super/transhuman and otherwise extraordinary bodies have always been a central feature of comics. However, the past ten years have seen a surge of graphic narratives that deal directly with experiences of health and illness, and that are recognized as having significant literary value. This course will focus on graphic narratives about healthcare, illness, and disability with particular attention to questions of embodied identities such as gender, sexuality, race, and age. Primary texts will include the work of Alison Bechdel, Roz Chast, CeCe Bell, David Small, Allie Brosch, and Ellen Fourney. We will study the vocabulary, conventions, and formal properties of graphic literature, asking how images and text work together to create narrative. We will consider whether graphic narrative might be especially well suited to representations of bodily difference; how illness/disability can disrupt conventional ideas about gender and sexuality; how experiences of the body as a source of pain, stigmatization, and shame intersect with the sexualized body; and how illness and disability queer conventional sexual arrangements, identities, and attachments. While studying the construction of character, narrative, framing, color, and relationship between visual and print material on the page, students will also produce their own graphic narratives.


Today, we have entered a dramatically transformed world where unexpected pivot events, globalized supply chain economics, and unraveling social formations are moving people and community into a fully online world. The field of Anthropology now faces the idea of “fieldwork” that is not located in a geographic space. Anthropologists have started conducting ethnography of online spaces such as digital gaming and hacker communities. This course examines moving image as a space where fieldwork can be done, by working with materials stored online, in archives, and shared on physical media. The practitioners in this field are outside the academy–filmmakers, installation artists, performers, online vloggers, social media influencers–who work with archives created by others. We will examine evolving forms of visual culture, in museums, streaming media, mobile devices, zoomcasting, etc., and practitioners who rework found footage to build new meanings. Anthropology has a tradition of parsing moving image, especially because pioneering ethnographic films cannot be screened today without contextualization. We will consider the concept of “edge of frame,” whereby materials captured by a journalist decades ago are chosen for new meanings by an artist in a radically different context. We will trace a history of human tendency toward media remix, in the context of rapid technology changes, new historical conjunctures, changing conceptions of social forms, and new forms of public gathering, as mediated by anthropology. We will read accounts from film studies, anthropology, and history, interspersed with viewing films, browsing documentations of art installations, and zoom sessions with practicing filmmakers and artists.


B. R. Ambedkar is arguably one of Columbia University’s most illustrious alumni, and a democratic thinker and constitutional lawyer who had enormous impact in shaping India, the world’s largest democracy. As is well known, Ambedkar came to Columbia University in July 1913 to start a doctoral program in Political Science. He graduated in 1915 with a Masters degree, and got his doctorate from Columbia in 1927 after having studied with some of the great figures of interwar American thought including Edwin Seligman, James Shotwell, Harvey Robinson, and John Dewey.

This course follows the model of the Columbia University and Slavery course and draws extensively on the relevant holdings and resources of Columbia’s RBML, [Rare Books and Manuscript Library] Burke Library (Union Theological Seminar), and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture among others to explore a set of relatively understudied links between Ambedkar, Columbia University, and the intellectual history of the interwar period. Themes include: the development of the disciplines at Columbia University and their relationship to new paradigms of social scientific study; the role of historical comparison between caste and race in producing new models of scholarship and political solidarity; links between figures such as Ambedkar, Lala Lajpat Rai, W. E. B. Du Bois and others who were shaped by the distinctive public and political culture of New York City, and more.

This is a hybrid course which aims to create a finding aid for B. R. Ambedkar that traverses RBML private papers. Students will engage in a number of activities towards that purpose. They will attend multiple instructional sessions at the RBML to train students in using archives; they will make public presentations on their topics, which will be archived in video form; and stuents will produce digital essays on a variety of themes and topics related to the course. Students will work collaboratively in small groups and undertake focused archival research. This seminar inaugurates an on-going, multiyear effort to grapple with globalizing the reach and relevance of B. R. Ambedkar and to share our findings with the Columbia community and beyond. Working independently, students will define and pursue individual research projects. Working together, the class will create digital visualizations of these projects.

SPAN UN3887 The End of Monuments. 3.00 points.

What is the ​end​ of a monument, and when does it happen? On October 12th, 1992, on the quincentennial anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Caribbean, the Organización Campesina Emiliano Zapata marched into the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas and knocked down the statue of Diego de Mazariegos. In subsequent reporting on the event, a participant named Mariano argued that the monument was a “symbol of the conquest, colonialism, exploitation, racism and plunder,” and that toppling the statue represented five centuries of popular, indigenous struggle against these forms of repression ( Criticism of these spectacular instances of popular resistance often seize on their inability to destabilize the structural edifice underlying the material symbol, as if the monument were only the tip of the iceberg. As recent movements across Latin America and the US have rearticulated critiques of monuments as place markers for ideologies of settler colonialism, capitalism, anti-blackness and patriarchal notions of power, however, they have also intersected with movements against land theft, resource and labor rights, reproductive justice, abolition, and self-determination. In the process, these popular debates have engendered new ways of thinking about social space and other forms of monumentalism that claim to be reparative, critical, functional, or ephemeral in their engagement with local history, existing or destroyed monuments, and the built environment. In this seminar, we will explore historical and contemporary issues around space, place, memory, and belonging, in order to understand what forms of cultural practice emerge through monumentalism. We will also examine how community actors, activists, writers, artists, and political figures engage with the spatial politics of memory, and actualize, complicate or attempt to dismantle legacies of settler colonialism, white nationalism and resource extraction. We will take as our point of departure an understanding of monuments and their meaning on the Columbia/Barnard campus, and in the City of New York more broadly. Then, we will consider a range of theorizations and interventions on monuments in Buenos Aires, Brazil, Chiapas, Ciudad Juárez, France, Ibadan, Lof Campo Maripe, Nassau, and beyond. Later, we will question the problem of aesthetics and the role of art discourse in determining the character or qualities of a monument. Finally, we will discuss possible relationships between archives, memorials, and monumentality. Our work in this course will involve paying close attention to the objectives and outcomes of monument projects and designing our own interventions to understand their stakes and implications. Not only will we understand the intentions o​ f different monument forms, but we will learn how to manipulate them to our own ends. Students will build substantive skills like community engagement, essay writing, editing, time management, research, publication design and distribution that are crucial to understanding (and working in) the cultural field. Moreover, students will practice diverse research methodologies including but not limited to close-reading, interview, community-based and archival research that they can leverage to produce scholarship accessible to our communities outside of the classroom

Fall 2021: SPAN UN3887
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
SPAN 3887 001/14007 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
Anayvelyse Allen-Mossman 3.00 0/15

CLME UN3928 Arabic Prison Writing. 3 points.

CC/GS/SEAS: Partial Fulfillment of Global Core Requirement

This course studies the genealogy of the prison in Arab culture as manifested in memoirs, narratives, and poems. These cut across a vast temporal and spatial swathe, covering selections from the Quran, Sufi narratives from al-Halllaj oeuvre, poetry by prisoners of war: classical, medieval, and modern. It   also studies modern narratives by women prisoners and political prisoners, and narratives that engage with these issues. Arabic prison writing is studied against other genealogies of this prism, especially in the West, to map out the birth of prison, its institutionalization, mechanism, and role. All readings for the course are in English translations.

Fall 2021: CLME UN3928
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CLME 3928 001/10620 Th 2:10pm - 4:00pm
207 Knox Hall
Muhsin Al-Musawi 3 28/25


This course will explore the social justice road to punitive abolition—to the abolition of capital punishment and the dominant punitive punishment paradigm in the United States. It will investigate how abolition of the death penalty might be achieved in this country, but also what it might mean to imagine abolition in the context of policing, of the prison, and also of punishment more broadly.

The United States incarcerates more of its own than any other country in the world and than any other civilization in history. With over 2,600 inmates on death row, 2.2 million people behind bars, another 5 million people on probation or parole, and over 70 million people in the FBI’s criminal record database, this country now operates a criminal justice system of unparalleled punitiveness. The burden of this system has fallen predominantly on poor communities of color. In fact, in some striking ways, this country’s criminal justice system and reliance on mass incarceration have replaced chattel slavery. As Bryan Stevenson explains, “Slavery didn’t end in 1865. It just evolved.”

This course will explore how the country can move from a punitive paradigm to a new paradigm that favors instead education and well-being. It will investigate: (1) how to chart a social justice path toward abolition of the death penalty; (2) how to reimagine the criminal justice system so that it is no longer based on a punitive paradigm; and (3) what it would mean to imagine abolition more broadly of policing and punishment.

CPLS UN3991 Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature and Society. 3 points.

Prerequisites: CPLS UN3900

The senior seminar is a capstone course required of all CLS/MLA majors. The seminar provides students the opportunity to discuss selected topics in comparative literature and society and medical humanities in a cross-disciplinary, multilingual, and global perspective. Students undertake individual research projects while participating in directed readings and critical dialogues about theory and research methodologies, which may culminate in the senior thesis. Students review work in progress and share results through weekly oral reports and written reports.

Spring 2021: CPLS UN3991
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 3991 001/10149 Th 2:10pm - 4:00pm
405 Kent Hall
Bruno Bosteels 3 12/15
Fall 2021: CPLS UN3991
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
CPLS 3991 001/10639 T 2:10pm - 4:00pm
Room TBA
Bruno Bosteels 3 16/25

CLIA GU4023 Travel Literature in and from the Mediterranean, 18th-19th centuries. 3 points.

This course will study various forms of travel writing within, from, and to the Mediterranean in the long nineteenth century. Throughout the semester, you will read a number of travel accounts to develop your understanding of these particular sources and reflect on the theoretical discussions and the themes framing them, namely orientalism, postcolonial studies, imaginative geographies, literature between fiction and reality, Romantic and autobiographical writing, gender, sexuality and the body, the rise of archeology, adventurism, mass migration and tourism. We will focus on Italian travel writers visiting the Ottoman Empire and the Americas (Cristina di Belgioioso, Gaetano Osculati, Edmondo de Amicis) and others visiting the Italian peninsula (Grand Tourists, Madame De Staël), and we will study the real or imaginary travels of French, British and American writers to the Eastern Mediterranean and to antique and holy lands (Jean-Jacques Barthélemy, Count Marcellus, Austen Henry Layard, Lord Byron, Mark Twain), as well as Arabic travel writers to the West (Rifāʻah Rāfiʻ al-Ṭahṭāwī).

CLEN GU4199 Literature and Oil. 3 points.

This course will investigate the connections between literary/cultural production and petroleum as the substance that makes possible the world as we know it, both as an energy source and a component in the manufacture of everything from food to plastic. Our current awareness of oil's scarcity and its myriad costs (whether environmental, political, or social) provides a lens to read for the presence (or absence) of oil in texts in a variety of genres and national traditions. As we begin to imagine a world "beyond petroleum," this course will confront the ways in which oil shapes both the world we know and how we know and imagine the world. Oil will feature in this course in questions of theme (texts "about" oil), of literary form (are there common formal conventions of an "oil novel"?), of interpretive method (how to read for oil), of transnational circulation (how does "foreign oil" link US citizens to other spaces?), and of the materiality (or "oiliness") of literary culture (how does the production and circulation of texts, whether print or digital, rely on oil?). 

CLPS GU4200 FREUD. 3.00 points.

Clinic, Culture, Cruelty: With these three terms one could indicate both the wide range of Freud’s work and the specific force it kept addressing without shying away from the theoretical and practical consequences that came with it. In Civilization and its Discontent Freud develops—in part openly, in part secretly—a peculiar, paradoxical and abyssal logic in order to formalize how culture (or civilization) is in a mortal battle with itself. Even more so, culture is this battle; and civilization is the result of a violence the sole aim and source of which is the destruction of civilization. The determining factors of this logic form the proper object of psychoanalysis which had developed out of clinical concerns; and what occurs here as “violence,” or “destruction,” as it does in several texts whose themes are cultural, historical, or sociological, is given multiple other names in all of Freud’s work or is linked to such names: the unconscious, the drive, libido, Eros, Thanatos, sexuality, narcissism, masochism, even hysteria, obsession and psychosis. All these terms mark instances of the same logic in which what we call the “sexual” and “language” are entangled with a “cruelty” that is neither the opposite of pleasure nor can be derived from any supposedly natural ground. In this seminar, we will trace this logic as well as its material in its reiterations, displacements, and reinventions from Freud’s clinical writings, through his constructions and theories of the “psyche,” to his analyses and speculations in civilization and history. Freud’s text will be read closely, with the attention to details that he himself performed as a virtue and a method. No previous acquaintance with Freud or psychoanalysis is required—only a mind as open as possible to the surprises over what they have to offer today


This course is being taught by two senior faculty members who are theorists and practitioners in disciplines as different as mathematics and literary criticism. The instructors believe that in today's world, the different ways in which theoretical mathematics and literary criticism mold the imaginations of students and scholars, should be brought together, so that the robust ethical imagination that is needed to combat the disintegration of our world can be produced. Except for the length of novels, the reading is no more than 100 pages a week. Our general approach is to keep alive the disciplinary differences between literary/philosophical (humanities) reading and mathematical writing. Some preliminary questions we have considered are: the survival skills of the logicist school over against the Foundational Crisis of the early 20th century; by way of Wittgenstein and others, we ask, Are mathematical objects real? Or are they linguistic conventions? We will consider the literary/philosophical use of mathematics, often by imaginative analogy; and the role of the digital imagination in the humanities: Can so-called creative work as well as mathematics be written by machines? Guest faculty from other departments will teach with us to help students and instructors understand various topics. We will close with how a novel animates “science” in prose, stepping out of the silo of disciplinary mathematics to the arena where mathematics is considered a code-name for science: Christine Brooke-Rose’s novel Subscript

CLRS GU4213 Cold War Reason: Cybernetics and the Systems Sciences. 3.00 points.

The Cold War epoch saw broad transformations in science, technology, and politics. At their nexus a new knowledge was proclaimed, cybernetics, a putative universal science of communication and control. It has disappeared so completely that most have forgotten that it ever existed. Its failure seems complete and final. Yet in another sense, cybernetics was so powerful and successful that the concepts, habits, and institutions born with it have become intrinsic parts of our world and how we make sense of it. Key cybernetic concepts of information, system, and feedback are now fundamental to our basic ways of understanding the mind, brain and computer, of grasping the economy and ecology, and finally of imagining the nature of human life itself. This course will trace the echoes of the cybernetic explosion from the wake of World War II to the onset of Silicon Valley euphoria

CLPS GU4251 Global Freud. 3 points.

Prerequisites: Prior study of Freudian theory and psychoanalysis.

While there is a general familiarity with the history of psychoanalysis’s spread from Vienna throughout Europe, and from the European centers of psychoanalysis to the US, less is known about its broader internationalization. This course explores the globalization of Freudian theory, and the varying ways it has been read and deployed by intellectuals, artists, and political activists--among others--in various parts of the world. Whether its central appeal was to pre-Revolution Russian intellectuals, who wished to assert their cosmopolitanism and kinship with Europe; to Mexican judges, who employed it to analyze criminal defendants; or to Egyptian experts in dreams, who added this tool to their analytic toolkit, psychoanalysis lent itself to novel, and often contrasting, interpretations and uses.

            In this class, we will examine how Freud’s universal model of the mind and theory of the subject were refashioned and repurposed to address specific social problems and to advance particular political projects, and how they were revised to conform to local concepts of emotion and the self. We will consider how a system of thought grounded in secularity and individualism was adapted for faith-based and communitarian societies. In addition, we will look into the ways Freudian notions of the unconscious intersected with existing philosophical traditions, and how other cornerstones of psychoanalytic thought were blended with local interpretive practices. Finally, we will address a number of issues that have arisen in the global transmission of psychoanalysis, including problems in the translation of Freudian theory from the original German, and the formation and ongoing conflicts of the International Psychoanalytic Association.

CLGM GU4300 Retranslation: Worlding C. P. Cavafy. 4 points.

Focusing on a canonical author is an immensely productive way to explore translation research and practice. The works of Sappho, Dante, Rilke, Césaire or Cavafy raise the question of reception in relation to many different critical approaches and illustrate many different strategies of translation and adaptation. The very issue of intertextuality that challenged the validity of author-centered courses after Roland Barthes’s proclamation of the death of the author reinstates it if we are willing to engage the oeuvre as an on-going interpretive project. By examining the poetry of the Greek Diaspora poet C. P. Cavafy in all its permutations (as criticism, translation, adaptation), the Cavafy case becomes an experimental ground for thinking about how a canonical author can open up our theories and practices of translation. For the final project students will choose a work by an author with a considerable body of critical work and translations and, following the example of Cavafy and his translators, come up with their own retranslations. Among the materials considered are commentary by E. M. Forster, C. M. Bowra, and Roman Jakobson, translations by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, James Merrill, Marguerite Yourcenar, and Daniel Mendelsohn, poems by W.H. Auden, Lawrence Durrell, and Joseph Brodsky, and visual art by David Hockney, and Duane Michals

CLFR GU4500 Pandemics in Francophone Literature and History. 3 points.

In this course we explore the history of epidemics and medical confinement in France and some of its colonies/former colonies, from the 1720 plague in Marseille to recent outbreaks of Ebola and COVID-19. We consider how disease, contagion, quarantine and confinement have been understood and represented, drawing on contemporary and later sources that include medical treatises, news media, personal accounts, fictional works, films and visual depictions such as paintings, illustrations and cartoons. Though we focus on disease and representation in the French and ‘francophone’ context, the course also has a comparative dimension: we turn to other historical contexts and texts associated with them when these connections are illuminating. The course is organized around a series of five case studies centering on different contagious diseases and their historical context. We will see that each of these pandemics raises its own moral, political, social and historiographical questions, though there are also connecting threads that traverse historical periods, including the linkage between epidemics and the othering of certain population groups; the intersection of colonialism, revolution and warfare with disease and the introduction of new medical protocols, and the gradual emergence of biopolitics as a framework for the relationship of individual to state. 

Discourses about contagious disease have always had a ‘literary’ dimension, making regular use of metaphor and allegory. This course explores the intersections of history and literature, considering not only these recurrent tropes but also how writers and, to a lesser extent, film-makers have explored the experiential, ethical and political aspects of illness and contagion. Without making general claims about the specificity of literature, we approach literary texts as sites that condense and catalyze philosophical and political reflection and debate. The course examines chapters in the history of disease and medicine but it also has a historiographical component as we consider how representations of epidemics have changed over time and to what extent the historical study of illness, medicine and public health helps us to think about the present.

CLEN GU4550 Narrative and Human Rights. 3 points.

(Lecture). We can't talk about human rights without talking about the forms in which we talk about human rights. This course will study the convergences of the thematics, philosophies, politics, practices, and formal properties of literature and human rights. In particular, it will examine how literary questions of narrative shape (and are shaped by) human rights concerns; how do the forms of stories enable and respond to forms of thought, forms of commitment, forms of being, forms of justice, and forms of violation? How does narrative help us to imagine an international order based on human dignity, rights, and equality? We will read classic literary texts and contemporary writing (both literary and non-literary) and view a number of films and other multimedia projects to think about the relationships between story forms and human rights problematics and practices. Likely literary authors: Roberto Bolaño, Miguel de Cervantes, Assia Djebar, Ariel Dorfman, Slavenka Drakulic, Nuruddin Farah, Janette Turner Hospital, Franz Kafka, Sahar Kalifeh, Sindiwe Magona, Maniza Naqvi, Michael Ondaatje, Alicia Partnoy, Ousmane Sembène, Mark Twain . . . . We will also read theoretical and historical pieces by authors such as Agamben, An-Na'im, Appiah, Arendt, Balibar, Bloch, Chakrabarty, Derrida, Douzinas, Habermas, Harlow, Ignatieff, Laclau and Mouffe, Levinas, Lyotard, Marx, Mutua, Nussbaum, Rorty, Said, Scarry, Soyinka, Spivak, Williams.

AHIS GU4646 Foucault and the Arts. 4 points.

Michel Foucault was a great historian and critic who helped change the ways research and criticism are done today – a new ‘archivist’. At the same time, he was a philosopher. His research and criticism formed part of an attempt to work out a new picture of what it is to think, and think critically, in relation to Knowledge, Power, and Processes of Subjectivization. What was this picture of thought? How did the arts, in particular the visual arts, figure in it? How might they in turn give a new image of Foucault’s kind of critical thinking for us today? In this course, we explore these questions, in the company of Deleuze, Agamben, Rancière and others thinkers and in relation to questions of media, document and archive in the current ‘regime of information’. The Seminar is open to students in all disciplines concerned with these issues.

MDES GU4718 Persian Poetry (In Translation). 4 points.

The purpose of this seminar is to introduce students to the long history and multiple genres of Persian poetry. The seminar will begin with the classical period and come down to the contemporary periods. The geographical span of the course extends from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent to Iran.

CPLS GU4810 Theories of the Subject. 4 points.

This seminar will revisit some major texts and concerns in the theoretical humanities that develop genealogical, psychoanalytical or political theories of the subject, roughly from Marx until today. The goal is to come to a critical understanding of the centrality of this notion of the subject as one of the founding concepts of modernity, as well as to draw out all the consequences of its crisis in radical humanistic (or even so-called posthumanist) thought today. Thinkers to be discussed further include Freud, Foucault, Badiou, Butler, Althusser, Rozitchner, Žižek and Zupančič.