Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

2020-21 Evening and Summer Graduate Courses

MALS photo

The following courses will be offered through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program for the 2020-21 academic year. They have been approved by the graduate studies committee and await final approval from the Reed faculty. All MALS courses must enroll a minimum of five students to be offered. Most enroll between five and ten students and all are capped at 15 students. The MALS thesis, MALS 670, is a one-unit, one-semester course, and may be written any term. (Courses and times are subject to change.)

Fall 2020


Global Health: Critical Perspectives
Global health,” asserted a recent letter to the Lancet, “will never be the same after COVID-19—it cannot be. The pandemic has given the lie to the notion that expertise is concentrated in, or at least best channeled by, legacy powers and historically rich states.” This course proceeds from the assertion that global health, rather than the distribution of health services across the world, is an intersection of social, biological, and geopolitical relationships that the COVID-19 pandemic both reflects and may radically transform. Over the semester we will assess contemporary global health from an interdisciplinary perspective. Our first investigations will be historical, identifying the main actors, institutions, practices, and forms of knowledge that have defined global health over the course of late 19th and 20th centuries. Turning to anthropological perspectives, we will examine the social, political, and economic factors that shape patterns of suffering and disease across societies as well as the efforts taken to ameliorate them, placing present-day developments in historical perspective. We will consider the unexpected consequences of global health programs for patients and professionals alike, and we will examine the limits of global health with regard to phenomena such as non-communicable diseases and ecological concerns that fall outside global health’s enduring focus on infectious disease. Throughout the course we will keep COVID-19 squarely in our sights as the moment toward which our investigations are unfolding with the help of short readings from contemporary public health and health policy journals. Key topics include: the management of epidemic diseases; tensions between clinical research and access to treatment; the rise of transnational humanitarianism; and the intersection of zoonotic diseases and climate change. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Betsey Brada, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Tuesdays, 6:00–7:30 p.m.


British Romanticism and Its Contexts
The period 1789-1832 was one of dramatic political, social, and industrial upheaval in Europe. In response British writers and artists produced some of the most powerful representations in English literary history of hopes for liberty and progress, and of pure transcendent joy, as well as some of its sharpest attacks on oppression and convention. This class will discuss works by major authors that deal with the impact of the French Revolution and British reaction in the 1790s, and that represent the agitation for political reform in the first decades of the 19th century. We also will investigate the philosophical and aesthetic contexts of these Romantic era writers, aiming to construct an effective working definition of the term "Romanticism" that comes to grips both with the diversity of this group of writers and with the extensive critical debate and re-evaluation of their work over the last century. Authors will include Blake, Wollstonecraft, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robinson, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Keats. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Maureen Harkin, Professor of English and Humanities
Wednesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.


Revolution and Reform in Chinese Agriculture
China’s incredible economic transformation and growth trajectory started simply, by most accounts, with a few carefully chosen modifications to the incentive structure faced by farmers, who at the time made up the majority of the country’s population and labor force. One important piece, the contract responsibility system, handed back to farm households the rights to manage their land, labor, and other production resources. This step away from collective farming is credited with unleashing productivity forces well beyond initial expectations and paving the way for a continuing series of market oriented reforms, first in the rural and later in the urban sector. What is less well known, however, is that China also experienced a short-lived farm production boost in an earlier era, shortly after formation of the People’s Republic of China. In contrast to the decentralization moves in the 1980s, the 1950s was characterized by gradual introduction of collective resource ownership and management, ultimately leading to commune-style farming. Why would both collectivization and then the subsequent decollectivization stimulate production increases? And why was the second of these episodes more sustained? This course will seek to understand how and why China transformed itself twice, in opposite directions, exploring the impetuses behind these changes, their impacts, and their legacies. Relying primarily on concepts and tools from the economics discipline, we will supplement our analysis with a variety of sources and viewpoints, including work drawn from sociology, political science, and anthropology. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Denise Hare, Dr. Lester B. Lave Professor of Economics
Wednesdays, 7:30–9:00 p.m.


Spring 2021


Modern Western Political Thought
This course provides an introduction to key theorists, themes and questions of modern western political thought, and more broadly, to what it means to think politically—about the nature of our collective lives, about the rights and obligations of rule, about the limits of political power, about the virtues and vices that define the practices of citizenship and leadership, and about the forms of violence, domination, and exclusion that have often underwritten political communities of all kinds. This is a course that offers no definitive answers. While some texts legitimate forms of hierarchy between the governed and those who rule, others democratize the work of ruling, suggesting that citizens should be able to rule and be ruled in turn. For some authors, government represents one of the highest forms of shared human endeavor— an essentially consensual practice of freedom and agency. For others, government represents at best a necessary evil— a form of constraint that hinders individual liberty but avoids the worst excesses of human tendencies toward violence, greed, and selfishness. Still other texts cast such profound doubt upon the structuring relations of power in their societies that they provide paths to revolutionary political change.

In this course, we examine questions that engaged thinkers of the modern tradition of western political thought, questions about what it means to be human, to live, and live well, together. In particular, we will examine: modern accounts of “rule” that enable the common good, citizenly virtues, and social harmony; popular sovereignty and consent as a source of political legitimacy; and finally, the nature of political freedom. Throughout the course, we will pay special attention to ideas about democracy, its forms, its strengths and its weaknesses. Is democracy a desirable political form? Why or why not? What political form might we embrace other than democracy? Also, we consider whose voices are diminished, excluded, and silenced in the tradition of western political thinking, as well as how these traditions and concepts can be contested, reconstructed, and reimagined from the margins. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Tamara Metz, Associate Professor of Political Science & Humanities
Tuesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.

ART 525

Approaches to Media Studies
This class is an introduction to the relatively new discipline of Media Studies, as well as an introduction to the much longer history of media and technology themselves. We will study various schools of Media Studies (media archaeology, Marxist media studies, feminist and queer media studies, platform studies, format studies) while also studying distinct technological periods (from the industrial to the cybernetic). We will think together about what constitutes a technology, how human capacity and the very idea of the human has long been in tense dialogue with the technological, how particular media technologies define historical periods, and how to weigh optimistic and pessimistic (utopian and critical) responses to new media technologies. Students should leave the course with an agile understanding of a medium, how to study and historicize media technologies, and with a set of resources for continuing to think about how media technologies interface with people’s social, cultural, and political lives. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Kris Cohen, Associate Professor of Art History & Humanities
Wednesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.


Law & Justice in Europe & its Empires, 1200-1800
From the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, men and women across Europe and its colonies flocked to courts of law in growing numbers as plaintiffs, defendants or witnesses. Why did people from all social ranks increasingly turn to legal tribunals and the law-centered justice they offered in lieu of other well-established methods of punishing law breakers and resolving disputes? Was the “rule of law” imposed by social elites and political authorities, or did it emerge from premodern individuals’ use of law and the courts to manage credit, defend reputations, air marital grievances, remedy injuries, and generally maintain order in their families and communities? What do the “uses of the law,” in other words, reveal about the contested and negotiated nature of social relations and political authority in medieval and early modern Europe and its colonies? Conference.

Half course for one semester
Michael Breen, Professor of History and Humanities
Wednesdays, 7:30–9 p.m.

Summer 2021


HUM 520

Digital Humanities
Digital Humanities combines the methods of the traditional Humanities with the tools provided by computing. These tools provide innovative ways to analyze, present, and share data. In this class students will look at the theory behind how digital media can create a dynamic, multimedia environment for interdisciplinary scholarship, and will learn how to use and assess specific digital tools. We will cover methods and best practices for how to do textual analysis, visual storytelling, digital maps, data visualizations, archives, websites, video abstracts, and digital portfolios. Writing assignments will embrace the impact of digital forms and genres on writing, and cover grant applications and proposal writing. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Laura Leibman, Professor of English & Humanities
TBA: meets weekly, 6-9 p.m. for 7 weeks, starting in June