Current Courses
Jews and the Colonial Project Suzanne Schneider-Reich
Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St. in Chelsea

(Cosponsored by the American Sephardi Federation.)

This seminar offers both a historical and theoretical introduction to the history of Jews in the Middle East and North Africa, with particular attention to the relationship between Jewish identity and European colonialism. Here we encounter a very different historical experience that that of European Jews (who still often appear as the primary if not sole subjects of “Jewish history”) on account of numerous factors, ranging from the Ottoman Empire’s administrative style to Islamic views toward non-Muslims and the uneven experience of colonial subjectivity.

By merging historical studies with select literary, philosophic and biographical writings of Jews from these communities, this seminar will expose students to the major debates regarding the nature of Jewish identity, the proper orientation ofJewish culture, and the appropriate forms of Jewish political activism. The final weeks of the seminar will trace the legacy of this historical experience to contemporary “Mizrachi” politics in Israel. The reading list will include selections from the following texts:

Mark Cohen, Under Crescent and Cross and Jews Among Arabs
Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized and Jews and Arabs
Moshe Behar and Zvi Ben-Dor Benite (eds), Modern Middle Eastern Jewish Thought
Ella Shohat, “Taboo Memories, Diasporic Voices: Columbus, Palestine and Arab-Jews”
Sami Shalom Chetrit, “Revisiting Bialik: A Radical Mizrahi Reading of the Jewish National Poet”
Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, “The Zionist Return to the West and the Mizrachi Jewish Perspective”

Old Photos of Jews in The Middle East and North Africa in The Late 19th Century (1)

Held Mondays, 6:30pm-9:30pm, followed by informal drinks
Starts October 20, 2014
Lasts 4 extended sessions over 4 weeks
Costs $315
Madness and Emancipation: The Tales of Rabbi Nachman of Braslav Yitzhak Lewis
Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St. in Chelsea

This course will introduce students to one of the most creative figures of the Hasidic movement, and one of the key figures in the conceptualization of a Jewish literary modernity. Rabbi Nachman of Braslav (1772—1810) is widely recognized as a unique figure among Hasidic rabbis. His associative and speculative teachings, coupled with highly imaginative stories, set him apart from traditional modes of Hasidic expression. We will begin by outlining the historical and ideological context of Rabbi Nachman’s work and familiarizing ourselves with his major texts and themes, then turn to selections from his teachings and tales. Throughout the course, our readings will track the theme of emancipation in Rabbi Nachman’s work. We will read and discuss the multiple levels on which he understood the operations of the political project we call “emancipation”: as a project of rethinking the social limits of inclusion and exclusion; of losing the public markers and designations that are essential for communal (in Nachman’s case, Jewish) identity; of parsing the relation between public and private, and the disruptive role of secrecy in this relation; and of reshuffling social elements of visibility and invisibility. A contemporary of Kant and Mendelssohn, the Hatam Sofer and Joseph Perl, Rabbi Nachman’s short life spanned the American and French revolutions, the three divisions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the establishment of the Russian Pale of Settlement.  The insights Nachman offers into the prospects and perils of political emancipation raise timely questions about our present globalizing world and its political order.

(No prior knowledge of Hebrew or Braslav Hasidism is necessary and all readings will be in English.)


Held Mondays, 7-9pm, followed by informal drinks
Starts October 20, 2014
Lasts 6 sessions over 7 weeks (skipping the week of November 17)
Costs $315
Technologies of Feminism Stephanie Rosen

Feminism has always been interested in science and technology. Twitter feminists, transgender hormone therapy, and women in STEM are only more recent developments in the long entangled history of tech, science, and gender. And because feminism teaches that technology embodies societal values and that scientific knowledge is culturally situated, it is one of the best intellectual tools for disentangling that history. In this five-week course, we will revisit foundational texts in feminist science studies and contextualize current feminist issues. Hashtag activism and cyberfeminism, feminist coding language and feminized labor, and the eugenic past of reproductive medicine will be among our topics. Readings will include work by Donna Haraway, Maria Fernandez, Lisa Nakamura, Beatriz Preciado and more. Participants of all genders are welcome. No prior knowledge in feminist theory is required.

During the fall 2014 semester, courses similar to this one are taking place across North America in a feminist learning experiment called the Distributed Open Collaborative Course, organized by the international Feminist Technology Network (FemTechNet). As a node in this network, our class will open opportunities for collaboration in online feminist knowledge building—through organizing, content creation, Wikipedia editing, and other means. Together, we will discuss how these technologies might extend the knowledge created in our classroom to audiences and spaces beyond it.


Held TBD
Starts TBD
Lasts 5 sessions over 5 weeks
Costs $315
The Personal Documentary Cecilia Aldarondo
Hosted at the instructor's home in Bed-Stuy. Nearest trains: A/C at Utica, J at Gates.

Historically, documentary has been a genre known for championing disinterested objectivity in the pursuit of truth. Personal experience was considered a suspicious and illegitimate subject matter for documentary, relegating autobiographical filmmaking to the avant-garde or the home movie. However, since the 1980s personal documentary has emerged as a robust film mode with wide mainstream appeal, as evidenced by the success of such films as Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March and Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect. In this course, we will survey the terrain of personal documentary in all its complexity—its experimental roots, and its current mainstream appeal. We will ask a number of important questions: is personal filmmaking inherently narcissistic? What tools—such as voice-over, archival materials, and interviews—do filmmakers employ and why? What is the relationship between personal and collective memory? Why has the personal register been so central for feminist filmmaking? And perhaps the question every personal filmmaker has to answer—why should anyone care about my life? Drawing from readings in documentary studies as well as cultural theory, we will examine concepts such as the performance of identity, the archive, and collective memory, as well as related documentary modes such as the home movie, the video diary, and the essay film. From the wry self-deprecation of Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business, to the DIY confessionalism of Sadie Benning’s Pixelvision video diaries, to the genre-bending fantasy of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, we will develop a sophisticated understanding of a filmic tendency that has been around as long as the camera, but is rarely given the depth of study it merits.


 Screenings included.
Held Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm
Starts October 14
Lasts 4 extended sessions over 4 weeks
Costs $315
Seers, Sages, Philosophers: An Introduction to the Pre-Socratics Bruce King
Singularity & Co. Bookstore (18 Bridge St. in Dumbo)

Our inquiry will begin with a consideration of Pythagoras, the inventor (according to Plato) of the “philosophical way of life”; we will give particular attention to Pythagoras’ legendary role as a law-giver and as the founder of a (short-lived) philosophical community in South Italy in the second half of the sixth century BCE.  Following the violent break-up of the Pythagorean cities (about a generation after their founding), we will follow the itinerant tracks of those sages who were associated with Pythagoras and who also contested central aspects of his teaching:  Empedocles, Parmenides, Anaximander, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus.  Throughout our study, we will locate these thinkers within a context in which religious thought was not yet sharply distinguished from philosophical thought and in which mystical experience was not yet separable from the idea of the philosophical life; we will also give attention to comparative traditions of metempsychosis, shamanism, and theories of astral and cosmic immortality.  We will conclude with a consideration of the figure of Socrates, both as an heir to—and contestant of—his predecessors through a close reading of Plato’s Timaeus.


 Enroll today for a complimentary copy of Plato's "Timaeus"!
Held Thursdays, 7pm-9pm
Starts October 16
Lasts 6 sessions over 8 weeks; skipping the week of Nov. 6 and Thanksgiving week
Costs $315