Liberal Studies Seminars

Each year, Duke GLS offers a wide array of Liberal Studies (LS) Seminars developed exclusively for its students, including the GLS core course.  Students in the program also can take graduate courses (500-level and higher) from across campus.  For further details about course grades and requirements, see the RegistrationDegree Requirements or Academic Policies pages.  

Chris Sims
Fall 2024
Wednesdays, 3:05-5:35 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

Watch a course preview video.  

Students will be introduced to strategies for conducting documentary fieldwork and archival research with a variety of tools and mediums, including photography, film/video, audio, narrative writing, and poetry. A major focus will be on identifying and analyzing the ethical and aesthetic considerations related to representing and exhibiting the lives and stories of others, and/or ourselves.

We will plumb the depths and range of documentary expression with assigned materials that include thought pieces (reflections written by practitioners on process, context, dilemmas, and/or mistakes), reviews/critiques, as well as actual documentaries. All assigned materials—readings and links to podcasts and videos—will be made available online for students.

We will begin our exploration by considering why documentary stories are important, what makes a compelling story, and how various media forms are employed by documentary artists. Subsequently, our discussions will address questions fundamental to any documentary form concerning issues such as point of view, representation, reciprocity, truth, editing, and ethics. Hands- on activities, interspersed throughout the semester, will allow students to engage with documentary forms and questions.

Students will propose, research, and carry-out a creative documentary project for the course, which will be work-shopped during class sessions. Possible outcomes could include a podcast, photo series, video piece, drawings, or narrative non-fiction essay.

Equipment is not provided, but students will be advised about a range of readily-available tools (smart phones and apps) and low or no-cost approaches that could be used. No previous experience or technical skills required; project formats are flexible.

The following are major pedagogical goals for the course:

•             Identify and address the complexities involved in representing others.


•             Contextualize documentary work historically and comparatively.

•             Understand the present-day call from BIPOC documentarians for accountability and culture shift in the documentary field

•             Learn about documentary studies at Duke University.

•             Engage with a variety of genres of documentary work.

•             Identify biases within—as well as voices and themes traditionally missing from—the documentary field.

•             Synthesize knowledge from readings, screenings, and speakers.

•             Reflect on how documentary practices inform and inspire social change.

•             Imagine new uses and forms of documentary work based on an understanding of the evolution of documentary forms.

•             Understand major ethical dilemmas involved in doing and exhibiting documentary work.

Note: the Fall 2024 course offering will include a special module — connected to the observance of Duke’s Centennial — on creating oral history interviews and related material with Duke-connected veterans of US military engagements abroad from 2001 to the present day.

About Chris Sims
Sanford School of Public Policy / Center for Documentary Studies
Amanda Starling Gould
LS 780-01
Fall 2024
Mondays, 2-4:30 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive/Hybrid in Person and Online
Show Details

Through conversation, practice, and engagement with technical tools and critical thinkers, we’ll investigate how AI tools are creating knowledge, producing relations, redefining the human, auto-generating evidence and artifacts, and building (and ruining?) worlds. We’ll look at how AI-augmented digital tools and techniques are situated within systems of oppression (racism, sexism, ableism), and how they might be designed toward liberation. We’ll interrogate how intelligently augmented tools are governing our actions and interactions - asking ourselves at what point we’ll wonder, Am I AI? - and how AI might be rewriting the past and automatically generating the future.

About Amanda Starling Gould
Graduate Liberal Studies

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2022-2025

Amanda Starling Gould, PhD, is a technology scholar with a particular interest in the environmental effects of digital technologies and questions the ways technologies of connection can cause disconnect, bias, and harm. She thinks, for example, about how our technologies design us, and about how the unequal distribution of power and access are designed into the system. In her current appointment with Duke’s Graduate Liberal Studies program, she seeks to enable students to interrogate these issues and pursue critical interdisciplinary research projects of their own.

She teaches undergraduate, graduate, and adult learners on topics related to critical digital studies, public and digital humanities, designing equitable futures, and for many years taught a class called Learning to Fail for the Innovation & Entrepreneurship department at Duke.

LS 770-01
Fall 2024
Thursdays, 3:05-5:35 pm
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

Instructor: Louis (Dean) Bruno, Academic Dean, Trinity College, History

While traditional North American history is often focused on the creation and maintenance of nation-states, the history of borderlands and borders allows scholars to analyze the various ways that people crossed, shaped, and openly defied boundaries (imaged or otherwise) in pursuit of their own individual and group objectives. This course examines key moments and claims of belonging/community from the height of the Mound Builders to the more modern era.

Major themes will include encounters, exchanges, conflicts, and agency within the broader context of power dynamics and differentials. This course will investigate how competition and control for land, natural resources, and trade goods transformed the physical places and cultural spaces of these regions and the people who called them home.

LS 780-02
Fall 2024
Wednesdays, 6-8:30 PM
Show Details

Instructor: Pikuei Tu, Visiting Associate Professor, The John Hope Franklin Institute for Interdisciplinary & International Studies

This seminar explores how out of the box thinking and ideas have brought creativity to problem solving and changed the way people live, interact, and contribute to the society. The class draws inspiration from different types of trailblazers and disruptors in a variety of fields and disciplines--from politics and policy to business, environment, and social movement. We examine the relevant factors and courage that have helped innovators and disruptors bring their ideas to life as well as the work executed to overcome obstacles they have encountered along the way. The course aims to provide students the learning opportunities to identify, analyze, and develop paradigm-shifting ideas that would make meaningful impacts for the society and our lives.

Dr. Pikuei Tu is a faculty member at the Interdisciplinary & International Studies and Markets & Management Studies. Her teaching and research center around management strategy, organizational leadership, innovation, health policy, and global health. Professor Tu has extensive experience in designing custom programs and working directly with international dignitaries, and health and human services leaders domestically and globally. She develops and leads cross-sector projects and advises research institutes, foundations, public agencies, and NGOs. Professor Tu holds a doctorate in educational leadership with a concentration on organizational behavior from UNC-Chapel Hill, a master’s degree in international development policy and a graduate certificate in Latin American studies from Duke University, and an MBA from Santa Clara University. She enjoys brisk walking, traveling, and learning languages.

LS 770-01
Spring 2024
Wednesdays, 6-9 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

INSTRUCTOR: Michelle Dove

The lyric is a message in a bottle that, as Edward Hirsch says, “speaks out of a solitude to a solitude.” You write and, across space and time, someone else reads what you have written. In this way, a lyric poem or essay is also a two-way mirror that invites participation from the reader to create meaning from the language on the page.  

In this writing course, you will read lyric poetry and essays to internalize the inherent musicality and playfulness of language and find the language that shocks us awake. You will learn some poetic inclinations that can help us ask the questions, “Is it a poem?” and “What makes it a good poem?” Doing so will empower you to form your own poetic truths that are, what Kenneth Koch calls, “sense of a new kind.” With musicality and poetic inclinations as our base, you’ll then write lyric poems and essays in ways that what you’re saying is inseparable from how it’s said. You’ll learn how to embrace poetic lying and how to harness fear as a catalyst. Poetry is not explanation, nor is it information. We’ll also explore how the negative capability of poetry can empower us to hone our poetic truths outside of philosophical certainty and investigate what poet Solmaz Sharif calls the “political and aesthetic objectives” of erasure.

Eileen Myles, Kate Greenstreet, Anne Boyer, Lyn Hejinian, Frank O’Hara, Kate Durbin, Sawako Nakayusa, Cathy Park Hong, Nuar Alsadir, Morgan Parker, Sarah Manguso, Michelle Chan Brown and Tommy Pico are some of the authors we will likely read.

MICHELLE DOVE is a multi-genre writer and musician. Since joining the staff of the Duke English Department in 2016, she has taught fiction, nonfiction and poetry writing at Duke and, more recently, at Night School Bar in Durham. She is the author of Radio Cacophony, a linked collection of short prose, and a co-owner and operator of SPINSTER, a radical feminist record label founded in 2018 that has released albums featured in The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post, and Rolling Stone. Since 2016, she has also served as an Associate Series Editor for the Wigleaf Top 50.

Charles D Thompson
LS 780-01
Spring 2024
Tuesdays, 3:30-6:00 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

An exercise in exploring one’s life story in the context of human movement through time and space led by a veteran anthropologist and documentary fieldworker.  We will delve into our own cultural geographies through mapping, interviewing, reading, and writing – memoir, creative nonfiction, poetry and even visual storytelling. Our goal will be to detail where we come from and where we’re headed, not just physically, but also in our vocation, avocation, and life in general.

We will acknowledge differences of origin and future possibilities based on power dynamics.  We will place our personal travel and arrival (international, domestic, philosophical, and spiritual) in the context of privilege and constraints; open borders and closed; free choice and barriers, all the while endeavoring to take stock of where we are personally in a globalized world. 

Participants can expect to end up with a narrative about themselves, having engaged in looking and listening with every encounter of persons and places new and old along the way. This GLS program is filled with adventurers.  Everyone has a story of movement from somewhere.  A major feature of the course will be to acknowledge those stories of fellow travelers and to join in a collective journey onward to somewhere, hopefully enriching and having been enriched by those around us.

About Charles D Thompson
Cultural Anthropology

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2022-2025

Charles D. Thompson, Jr. is Professor of the Practice of Cultural Anthropology and Documentary Studies at Duke University, and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. He holds a Ph.D. in religion and culture from UNC-Chapel Hill, with concentrations in cultural studies and Latin American studies. He also holds an M.S. degree in Agricultural Education from NC A&T State University. A former farmer, Thompson remains concerned about issues affecting laborers within our food system. He has written about farmworkers, and he is an advisory board member of Student Action with Farmworkers, the Duke Campus Farm, and other Duke food and agriculture initiatives. 

Thompson is author or editor of seven books, including Going Over Home: A Search for Rural Justice in an Unsettled Land, Border Odyssey: Traveling the US/Mexico Divide (2015), Spirits of Just Men: Mountaineers, Liquor Bosses, and Lawmen in the Moonshine Capital of the World, and, with Melinda Wiggins, The Human Cost of Food: Farmworker Lives, Labor, and Advocacy. He is also the producer/director of seven documentary films, including Rock Castle Home,  Homeplace Under Fire, Border Crossing 101, Faces of Time, Brother Towns/ Pueblos Hermanos (2010), We Shall Not Be Moved (2008), and The Guestworker (2007). His current work includes a project hosted by Kenan Institute for Ethics entitled, “America’s Hallowed Ground.”

LS 760-02
Fall 2023
Thursdays, 6-9 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

is seminar considers the complicated and entangled relationships between humans and the environment in the American South.  From the period of early Native American habitation to the present time, we will investigate how humans have imagined, interacted with, and transformed the landscapes we inhabit.  And, in turn, how the environment has influenced various groups of people who have made claims of belonging to these particular physical places and cultural spaces.

Through a broad range of primary sources and readings, this course considers the connections between history, public policy, and politics.  Main topics will include agricultural production, industrialization, militarization, resource extraction, infrastructure development, conservation, preservation, social movements, and climate adaptation.

We will engage with the following key questions: What is environmental history?  Why does environmental history matter in American history?  Are humans a part of nature, or do we live apart from nature?  What stories do we tell about our relationship with nature, and which narratives remain unvoiced?

Amy Laura Hall
LS 780-04
Fall 2023
Mondays, 6-9 PM
GLS House, 2114 Campus Drive
Show Details

In this seminar, students will read sections from Amy Laura Hall’s current manuscript project on masculinity and mainstream evangelicalism in the U.S. They will compose weekly close readings on relevant primary materials, from Hollywood movies to sermons to architectural plans to parachurch websites. The course will be reading intensive and require a significant amount of research. Please note that enrollment is limited to 10 students.

About Amy Laura Hall
Divinity School

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2021-24

Amy Laura Hall is the author of four books: Kierkegaard and the Treachery of Love, Conceiving Parenthood: The Protestant Spirit of Biotechnological Reproduction, Writing Home with Love: Politics for Neighbors and Naysayers, and Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. She has also written numerous scholarly articles in theological and biomedical ethics. Her new essay on Kierkegaard and love will appear in the T&T Clark Companion to the Theology of Kierkegaard (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019). Her book Laughing at the Devil was chosen for the 2019 Virginia Festival of the Book and as a focus lecture for the Chautauqua Institution in June, 2019. She continues work on a longer research project on masculinity and gender anxiety in mainstream, white evangelicalism.

Professor Hall has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center, the Bioethics Task Force of the United Methodist Church, and as consultant on bioethics to the World Council of Churches. She has served on the steering committee of the Genome Ethics, Law, and Policy Center and as a faculty member for the Focus Program of the Institute on Genome Sciences and Policy. She served as a faculty adviser with the Duke Center for Civic Engagement and as a faculty advisor for the NCCU-Duke Program in African, African American & Diaspora Studies. She currently teaches with and serves on the faculty advisory board for Graduate Liberal Studies and serves as a core faculty member of the Focus Program in Global Health. Hall serves as an elder in the Rio Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

LS 780-01
Summer 2024
Wednesdays, 6-8:30 PM
GLS House Room 0101
Show Details

Instructor: Dr. Lauren M Sanford

This course will teach students how to safely examine, handle, and understand objects from hands-on experiences. Students will gain the skills necessary to approach art from a practical perspective and valuable real-world art experiences. We will employ resources at surrounding museums, galleries, auction houses, artist studios, art conservation studios, and frame shops to enhance approachability and broaden conversations about art. In addition to classroom learning, we will visit these galleries, auction houses, etc when possible.


Readings throughout the semester will relate to the week’s topic and activity. For example, one class will teach students how to identify prints, and the professor will bring in real prints for examination under magnification. A reading from Bamber Gascoigne’s How to Identify Prints will explain what to look for in preparation for class.

Other topics and readings include: 

  • The art market and auctions (Simon de Pury, The Auctioneer: Adventures in the Art Trade)
  • Museum theory and practice (Stephen E. Weil, Making Museums Matter)
  • How to read and understand an artist’s catalogue raisonné. We will use artist Salvador Dalí’s catalogue compiled by Albert Field as an example (Albert Field, The Official Catalogue of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dalí) 
  • History of exhibitions and installation, specifically the establishment of the Royal Academy in England (David Solkin, Art on the Line)


Throughout the semester: Short assignments include writing a museum object label for an artwork of choice, either as part of an exhibition or permanent collection installation. Another short assignment will be writing a catalogue entry for an object offered through an auction house.

Final project:

Students’ final project will be a more comprehensive version of the shorter assignments. Students will curate their own digital museum exhibition OR build a digital auction. They can chose from unlimited objects found online and/ or found in person.

LS 760-01
Summer 2024
Tuesdays, 5-7:30 PM
GLS House Room 010
Show Details

Instructor: Saskia Cornes

How might we effectively ground the enormity of climate crisis in the places that we live and the people that we are? How might we start to relate to place and to the non-human world differently in the context of climate change? This environmental humanities seminar posits that we might start with understanding the cultural legacies of local landscapes, and by learning to read landscapes themselves. We will read works of literature and criticism with a focus on the American South. We will also spend some time at the Duke Campus Farm, where the Farm’s soils, plants, and landscapes will be our archives and storytellers, and embodied practice will become one way of making meaning from these “texts.” No prior farm experience is required or expected, but participants must be comfortable being and learning outside.