Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

2021-22 Evening and Summer Graduate Courses

MALS photo

The following courses are scheduled through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program for the 2021-22 academic year*. 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.

See Reed's academic calendar for important dates.

Fall 2021

ART 522

Early Modern Things
Things expose relations in and between societies that inform the past. As anthropologist Arjun Appadurai argues, “even though from a theoretical point of view human actors encode things with significance, from a methodological point of view it is the things-in-motion that illuminate their human and social context.” In this course, we will mobilize early modern things to explore what inanimate objects reveal about the animate world. We will study the social significance and cultural value of such things to look at and beyond their materiality. In particular, we will examine objects such as clothing from England, earthenware from the Italian peninsula, featherwork from the New World, and carpets from the Ottoman Empire to rethink how such things construct biography, impact memory, produce ambiguity, and dictate taste.

Half course for one semester.
Dana Katz, Joshua C. Taylor Professor of Art History & Humanities
Tuesdays, 6:10–7:30 p.m.
Delivery mode: in person


Genetics and Evolution: Confronting the Complexities of Inheritance
This course has three main goals: 1) To accurately acquaint students with the key conceptual tenets of genetics and evolution which are often profoundly misunderstood. For example, often-used phrases like “survival of the fittest”, “nature vs. nurture”, and the “genome as a blueprint” convey (and amplify) not just over-simplified, but erroneous and potentially damaging, depictions of how evolution and inheritance actually work. 2) In addition to discussing the realities of the major pillars of how genotypes are connected to phenotypes and how heredity typically operates, we will learn about the significant deviations from so-called ‘patterns of Mendelian inheritance,’ including phenomena such as epistasis, epigenetics, and horizontal transfer. That is, processes once thought to be exceedingly rare, inconsequential, or ‘exceptions to the rule’ are now known to be of ubiquitous importance, to the extent that the definition of what is “normal” or common in genetics has had to change. 3) Lastly, as we consider many topics, we will explore the associated ethical and societal issues, both in our readings and discussion. For example, issues related to data collection and access, genetic engineering and modification, and personalized healthcare and healthcare disparities. Over the course of the semester, students will obtain a working knowledge of many facets of genetics and evolution, visit the frontiers of this knowledge, and discuss the factors influencing our decisions about what to do with this knowledge in the future.

Half course for one semester.
Sarah Schaack, Associate Professor of Biology
Thursdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.
Delivery mode: in person


Chicago and the Urban Modern
The course explores Chicago as a pre-eminently "modern" site for the negotiation of cultural diversity and the (re-)conceptualization of community in the long twentieth century. Drawing on ethnographic, historical, architecture/urban planning, literary, and musical texts, the course examines how urban life conditions the production and reproduction of culture, and the relation of such processes to larger social structures and historical enactments of settler colonialism, industrialization, immigration, ethno-racial segregation, and global inequality. Chicago, in this sense, is not just a site for social/cultural history, but an active force in the development of the material conditions through which new forms of sociality come to be elaborated. Sustained attention will be devoted to the muckraking, social reformist, and ethnographic interventions of the Chicago School of urban ecology as it developed across several generations of journalistic and sociological critique. Throughout the course, analytical and methodological questions regarding the city as an object of artistic/literary reflection and social scientific study will be highlighted.

Half course for one semester.
Paul Silverstein, Professor of Anthropology
Wednesdays, 5:40—7:10 p.m.
Delivery mode: fully online

Spring 2022


Russian Auteur Cinema

Liberalizing reforms in the Soviet Union in the wake of Stalin’s death in 1953 brought about a rich period of cultural, literary, and artistic revival broadly referred to as the Thaw. Cinema was particularly affected by these changes, resulting in its ground breaking aesthetic and ideological transformation, equal in significance to the emergence of New Wave movements in European film in the 1960s. In this course we will watch and analyse bodies of work of the most interesting directors of the period: Andrei Tarkovsky, Aleksandr Askol’dov, Gleb Panfilov, Yurii German, Kira Muratova, Larisa Shepit’ko, and others. We will situate them in their various historical and cultural contexts, both Russian and Western, and study how they approached the legacies of the revolution and Civil War, World War II, and Stalinism. The auteur theory of cinema will frame our discussions of the directors.

Half course for one semester.
Marat Grinberg, Associate Professor of Russian and Humanities
Tuesdays, 7:10–8:30 p.m.


Sex in the Natural World
In this class we discuss everything from the evolution of sexual reproduction, the biological basis of sex determination mechanisms, the physiology of endocrine regulation of sexual phenotypes, and behavioral, physiological and morphological consequences of sexual reproduction in a wide variety of organisms, primarily non-human animals. The course will emphasize current knowledge and understanding while also covering the history of the discipline to address how past biases in research have impacted the field and society more broadly. While focused on the biology of non-human animals, this course is specifically intended to give a scientific backdrop for those interested in gender studies and social sciences. It is intended to promote openness to new ideas and differences. The course will take a rigorous scientific approach but does not require a scientific background.

Half course for one semester
Suzy Renn, Professor of Biology
Thursdays, 6:10—7:30 p.m.

Liberal Studies 502

Environmental Humanities and the World of Ancient Rome

Environmental crisis is nothing new, though we often frame it through the lens of the modern, industrial world. Anthropogenic changes to the natural world also occurred thousands of years ago, from military earthworks and imperial infrastructure development to seasonal agriculture, and the writings of poets, philosophers, and historians all reflect an awareness of the complex relationship between humanity and the larger world. This course uses the interdisciplinary lens of the environmental humanities to examine the Roman world, from Epicureanism’s and Stoicism’s attempts to unlock the workings of the cosmos to poetic and historical accounts of Roman siegeworks and the eruptions of Mt. Etna and Mt. Vesuvius. Drawing on a range of critical methodologies, we will investigate 1) how people of ancient Rome thought about the world around them and their place in it, and 2) how to apply critical theory to ancient primary sources. Roman texts will include philosophical treatises, epic and didactic poetry, historical narratives, and letters from authors such as Lucretius, Seneca, Cicero, Vergil, Caesar, Josephus, and Pliny the Younger.

Half course for one semester
Laura Zientek, Visiting Assistant Professor of Greek, Latin, and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Humanities
Wednesdays, 5:40—7:10 p.m. 

Summer 2022


Performance Studies: Performativity & Performance in Everyday Life
Performance Studies is an interdisciplinary field that examines “performance” in all of its multiple incarnations—including theatre, dance, visual art, everyday life, folklore, rituals and celebrations, and protests. Richard Schechner defines performance as “twice-behaved behavior” —that is, repeatable, embodied activities. This course serves as an investigation of the major themes and issues within the discourse of Performance Studies. We will look both at the roots of this interdisciplinary field and the directions it might be heading. Readings will include some of the seminal texts in the field, including the work of J.L. Austin, Judith Butler, E. Patrick Johnson, Petra Kuppers, Richard Schechner, Diana Taylor and others. We will examine how Performance Studies contributes to the study of theatre, as well as to an understanding of our increasingly mediated and globalized world. 

Half course for one semester.
Catherine Ming T’ien Duffly, Associate Professor of Theatre
Wednesdays, 6:00-9:00 p.m. June 15 – July 27