History is fundamental to promoting the general goals of a liberal arts education. It sharpens critical thinking, reading, and writing, but I believe there are even more specific skills that it teaches well. These include training students to find and interpret primary sources; understand the contextual basis for choices and decisions; synthesize large amounts of information into a general but commanding narrative; and develop chronological reasoning. In these ways, students can explore their worlds with a clearer understanding of the hold of the past.

History, then, is an important perspective to add to almost any conversation, public or private. Almost all the courses I teach use the past to inspire students’ questions and quests rather than focus predominantly on disciplinary training. To this end, I increasingly work with partners and/or project-based learning. Three elements repeat throughout these course offerings: historical research (especially archival investigation), collaboration (with partners inside the university as well as outside of it), and public participation and presentation (whether a performance, website, or guide).

Arts and Social Engagement

A poem can change the world. Or just one person’s life. What explains the connection between an artwork and an individual, a wider public, a world? This course serves as an introduction to a pathway of courses that investigate this question by examining the variety of ways in which the arts make and meet people.

Read the syllabus here.

Art + City

Cities are hubs of artistic activity. People are drawn to cities because of their artistic offerings and they are the place where the majority of artists live and work. But how and why did this intertwining of art and cities come about? And what effects has it had on cities and on the arts? This course investigates the art of urban life (such as the development of bohemia); genres of art that arose in and of the city (photography, the Broadway musical, hip hop); spaces of the city that become identified as an arts enclave (SoHo, “museum mile”); and the municipal policy and politics that both support and confound the arts in cities (public art). We read first-hand and historical accounts of artists in the city and analyze artworks for their portrayals of the ties between urban life and artistic vision.

Read the syllabus here.

New York City: Past Present Future

New York City exists as a physical and imaginary place, both a dense concrete maze and a blowzy personality. This course examines the many contours of this phenomenon by looking at the city across time; we explore specific historical moments for the intertwining force of politics, economics, social struggles, and artistic and cultural flowering, and consider those dynamics in planning for the future.

Read the syllabus here.

U.S. History in 13 Acts

Most of us learn a straightforward narrative of the history of the United States that begins with the arrival of colonizers from Europe and ends with the current presidency, presented with a coherence that obscures the messiness and contradictions experienced by the historical actors. This cohesive story omits consideration of possibilities that could have led to very different outcomes and also the contested interpretations of what happened and what it means. This survey course offers an alternative approach to U.S. history by organizing the subject into 13 “acts” and investigating each in depth.

Read the syllabus here.

Who New? A History of The New School

In 1919, the New School for Social Research opened with courses in the social sciences, social work, and public affairs. The school was not quite a university: it did not offer formal degrees. The founders thought that people would come to the school for “no other purpose than to learn.” It sought to make education relevant to the issues of the day, to remain ever new. In this course we look at what ideas defined learning here, from psychology and the arts to politics and design.

Read the syllabus here.