Dangerous Readings

Fall 2018
Winter 2019
Freshman - Senior
Class Size: 46
16 Credits per quarter
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What does it mean to read? How does reading shape one’s identity, and how does identity shape how one reads, and what one finds in those books? In this program, we will examine the intertwined developments of poetry and history, and the implications of those histories for a theory of reading. What is the function of the poem, how is it heard or read, and how do metaphors and syntax shape the way a people or person might think and feel? What is the traditional role of the historian, and how do historians produce texts that authorize their own truth? How do historical and poetical works—and the various epistemological claims made in their name—interact in the contemporary moment? What is the role of translation in the dissemination of literary texts and shaping of the historical imagination?

In the past, reading was deadly serious business. In this program, we’ll explore the relationship between illuminated manuscripts, medieval devotion, and power; how the advent of printed reading rocked Europe and sparked 100 years of war in the 16th century; links between political cartoons, scandalous pamphlets, and the terror of the French Revolution; the ways in which readers in the Romantic age fashioned a notion of themselves and their visions of a good life through their readings; and how the advent of post-structuralism in the 20th century has exploded the way we think of reading today.

From Homer and Thucydides forward, there has been a competition between poetry and history over the right way to read and remember. Readings will include Thucydides' The Peloponnesian Wars, Homer's The Iliad , Sappho's Poems , Plato's Republic, and St. Augustine's Confessions. We will also consider sections of Dante's Divine Comedy, Montaigne's Essays, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker, as well as, crucially, Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. We’ll delve into the cultural history of reading through texts such as Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre and Dena Goodman's Marie Antoinette: Writings on the Body of a Queen. Contemporary writers and texts to be considered in light of the double imperatives of history and poetry include Marguerite Duras' The War , Alice Notley's The Descent of Alette , and Roberto Calasso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony.

Student activities will focus on reading, writing, and seminar participation.


Enrollment Conditions

New students accepted in winter.

Fall 2018 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 10068
So - Sr (16): 10309
Fr - Sr (12): 10523
Winter 2019 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16): 20024
So - Sr (16): 20195
Fr - Sr (12): 20233

Academic details

Fields of Study
Preparatory for studies and careers in

writing, history, and publishing.

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing


In Person or Remote
In Person (F)
In Person (W)
Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 C1105 - Lecture


Date Revision
2018-06-07 This program is now open to students of all class levels.
2018-02-28 This program now is for first-year students (freshmen) only.