Master of Arts in Liberal Studies

2022-23 Evening and Summer Graduate Courses

MALS photo

The following courses will be offered through the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program for the 2022-23 academic year. They have been approved by the graduate studies committee and await final approval from the Reed faculty. Most 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.)

See Reed's academic calendar for important dates.

Fall 2022

Liberal Studies 508

Post Bellum, Pre Harlem: Literature of Reconstruction
Born too late for the slave narrative and too early for the Harlem Renaissance—“Post-Bellum-Pre-Harlem,” as he puts it—Charles W. Chesnutt fell between two major African-American literary movements: the nineteenth-century slave narrative and twentieth-century modernism. However, Chesnutt’s life (1858-1932) spanned crucial moments in American history—the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise of Jim Crow, the Great Migration, and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. This course examines Chesnutt’s fiction as the core of the literature of Reconstruction and its aftermath, from the pernicious myths of the Plantation School to the protest fiction of the NAACP’s magazine, The Crisis. Methodologically, we will draw on recent work in African-American archival recovery, examining the cultural politics of publication and canonization and the history of the regions in which Chesnutt used as settings of his fiction: North Carolina and Ohio. Fictional genres will include sentimentalism, realism, regionalism, and naturalism; the slave narrative and the social problem novel; journalism, legal writing, and essays. In addition to selections from Chesnutt’s Complete Short Stories, and numerous archival materials such as trial transcripts, newspaper articles, periodical illustrations, and advertisements, readings may include: Charles Chesnutt, Journals; Albion Tourgee, A Fool’s Errand: A Novel of the South During Reconstruction; Pauline Hopkins, Peculiar Sam; Or, The Underground Railroad; Thomas Nelson Page, “Marse Chan;” Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases; W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk. Conference.

0.5 units
Sarah Wagner-McCoy, Associate Professor of English and Humanities
Wednesdays, 7:30–9:00 p.m.

History 511

Freedom, Movement, Borders: Slavery and American Political Space
This course will study the politics of freedom and slavery in the nineteenth century United States by focusing on a key legal and ideological problem: the right of human beings to travel freely through space, often understood in the nineteenth century as “the right of locomotion.”

American slavery was defined by the antithesis of free movement, insofar as it required the perpetual coercive control of enslaved people. Forced transportation of enslaved people—effectively, their forced locomotion—undergirded slavery’s genesis and reproduction, from the transatlantic African Slave Trade to the American domestic slave trade. To its antebellum opponents, the American trade came to be defined by the “coffle”—a chain of human beings linked together, forced to move themselves from one slaveholding region to another. Forcible movement was sustained by legal and political power: the territorial control of the United States over the trans-Appalachian west secured new land for slaveholders; and the power to retain a person as property, as chattel, from one jurisdiction to the next ensured slavery’s expansion. Within the borders of the nation and the slaveholding states, slaveholders coerced movement to reproduce the bodily heteronomy at the heart of slavery.

Counter-movements against such control invoked the free movement of persons, which became a fundamental principle and practice of the diverse antislavery movement: enslaved people routinely fled their masters rather than submit to coercion; in rare but extremely influential cases, they managed to escape the boundaries of slaveholding regimes altogether, thus provoking political crises over the legal foundation of enslavement and its territorial reach. These conflicts turned on questions about mobility and borders—whether or not human beings had natural rights to bodily autonomy that required protection; whether or not the coercive authority of masters, the foundation of slaveholder property rights, persisted across state and national boundaries; whether or not free African Americans were American citizens who had the right to travel freely through the political spaces of the United States.

This course will address these interconnected problems in the history of slavery through reading works in legal and political history, literary studies, and a number of primary sources, including the narratives of Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northrup, and Harriet Jacobs. Conference.

0.5 units
Paddy Riley, Visiting Associate Professor of History and Humanities
Wednesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.

Literature 501

Shakespeare’s Comedies
We will read four or five Shakespeare’s comedies, from the following groups: “Romantic comedies”: As You Like It and Twelfth Night; “Problem comedies”: The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure; and “Mixed genre plays”: Henry IV Part One (history/comedy) and The Winter’s Tale (tragi-comedy). Shakespearean comedy works to release constraints on festivity and freely chosen love, as its characters question and undermine authoritarian-imposed limits, solemn conventions, rigid logic, and officially-countenanced violence. But Shakespearean comedy also tests the limits of self-indulgence, often coming close to tragedy and even death before pulling back to a rebirth into social harmony, however questionable such resolutions may seem.

We will analyze gender relations in the comedies with respect to power (especially the function and significance of heroines’ cross-dressing); erotic desire and the role imagination plays in its fulfillment; the nature of identity, especially when characters are immersed in unfamiliar worlds; and the difficulty of establishing definitive moral norms. We will examine Elizabethan attitudes towards women and gender relations as they are expressed in both society and in theatrical practice, given boy heroines on the Elizabethan stage; and we will see how the politics of a female monarchy influenced depictions of women in Shakespeare’s comedies. We will also examine attitudes towards Jews and historic anti-Semitism in England in the 16th century. Finally, we will explore various theories of comedy and test their relevance to the plays; such readings may include essays by Bakhtin, Terry Eagleton, Harold Bloom, Northrop Frye, and Stephen Greenblatt. Conference.

Half course for one semester
Roger Porter, Emeritus Professor of English and Humanities
Tuesdays, 7:00–8:30 p.m.


Spring 2023

Liberal Studies 503

Introduction to Literary Theory
This course is a historical and analytical introduction to the major theoretical movements of the last 75 years in Russia, Eastern and Western Europe, and the United States. These include structuralism and semiotics; poststructuralism and deconstruction; psychoanalysis; Marxism; post-colonialism; critical race theory; feminist, gender, and transgender theory; cultural studies theory. On occasion, we will trace the philosophical origins and conceptual affiliations of these movements. More consistently, we will unpack their master tropes to reflect on their function in literary criticism while also experimenting with their use in our own reading practices.

0.5 units
Nathalia King, David Eddings Professor of English and Humanities
Wednesdays, 7:20–8:50 p.m.


Ancient Mediterranean Studies 502

Rome, City of Complaints
In this course we will look beyond la dolce vita to scour the dark underbelly of the eternal city. Each week we will read selections of ancient literary sources that complain about the city and its inhabitants, covering issues such as poverty, housing, social climbing, urban blight, disease, noise, violence, litigation, moral decline, privilege, and responsibility. From this unusual angle, we will study the literature, social history, art, architecture, and topography of the ancient city. We will also consider the rhetorical, political, and social aspects of complaint across time, looking at the multilayered history of Rome and comparisons from other cultures. Primary readings will include inscriptions and graffiti, Plautus, Catullus, Cicero, Livy, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Petronius, Juvenal, and Martial.

0.5 units
Sonia Sabnis, Associate Professor of Greek, Latin, and Ancient Mediterranean Studies and Humanities
Tuesdays, 7:00–8:30 p.m.

Literature 549

Memory & Modernity in the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean has been a site of cultural exchange across continents for several millennia, but it has often been marginalized from discussions of modernity based on Euro-American and trans-Atlantic models. What does it mean to be modern in the context of the Indian Ocean, a region crisscrossed by multiple empires, competing religions, and movements of migrants, merchants, slaves, pilgrims and soldiers?  How have individuals and communities in the Indian Ocean been framed by larger transnational processes like colonization, decolonization, slavery, trade, migration, and displacement? How do the non-Western sources of globalization and transnationalism in the Indian Ocean provide modes for thinking about alternative experiences of modernity? Using literature as the primary mode of thinking, this course will consider the ways in which the unique history of circulation of people, objects and ideas in the Indian Ocean shape ideas of modernity distinct from those developed in the West. This course will draw on readings from literary studies, history, anthropology, philosophy, and critical race studies, to form a contextually informed approach to the study of the literature from the region. The course aims to rethink major concepts associated with modernity such as nation, diaspora, cosmopolitanism, and globalization in relation to the categories of race, gender, ethnicity, caste and religion in the Indian ocean context.

Half course for one semester.

Kritish Rajbhandari, Assistant Professor of English and Humanities
Wednesdays, 5:40–7:10 p.m.


Summer 2023


Spanish 583

Representing Modernity in Mexican Cinema: From Los olvidados to Roma
This course provides an overview of contemporary Mexican cinema, from the Golden Age to the current day while it introduces students to the thematic and stylistic breadth of narrative fiction films from Mexico. Through film and short screenings, readings, discussion and writing assignments, we will examine a series of questions related to the content, form, and politics of films and how they address and respond to the idea of modernity and its discontents both in terms of cinema aesthetics and in the stories depicted onscreen. Subtopics covered will include relations between cinema and the state; questions of ideology and national identity; representations of class, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and social movements/resistance; concerns about historical representations and political memory. We will screen works by Luis Buñuel, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Arturo Ripstein, María Novaro, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Alonso Ruizpalacios, among others. Course includes a weekly film screening, or a combination of a film and some shorts, and exceptionally two films per week will be required. 

0.5 units
Online via Zoom
Iliana Alcántar, Visiting Associate Professor of Spanish
May 16 – June 27
Tuesdays, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.