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.  

M. Kathy Rudy
LS 770-49
Summer 2018
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 pm
GLS Conference Room
Begins May 23 - Ends August 1
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*New Course*

The goal of this class is to survey different approaches to ethical thinking in relation to non-human animals and their dilemmas.  In the world named but not captured by the term “animal rights,” philosophical, ethical, and legal theories once sanctioned for use only in relation to humans are now being applied to animals with a varying array of outcomes and conclusions.  This course will examine different strategies of animal advocacy as they are manifested in Kantianism, contract based theories, utilitarianism, welfarism.  The animal advocacy movement is filled with activists, philosophers, political theorists, feminists, lawyers, and representatives of many different intellectual traditions who disagree about the status of animals, about whether or not we should eat them or wear them or hunt them or train them for entertainment or keep them in our homes.  We’ll investigate these conflicts throughout this class by looking at the narratives of particular kinds of animals.  While certain forms of public rhetoric may promote an idea that animal advocacy is a seamless, all-or-nothing, rights-based, vegan agenda, this class presumes there are many acceptable positions in relation to non-human animals.  While what happens to animals beyond the scope of our vision—at the factory farm, the slaughterhouse, the dog pound, the circus, or the research lab—may indeed be unethical, this class presumes that there are many different ways to formulate moral solutions.  Class discussion will focus on novels and memoirs to open our thinking on ethical frameworks for animals.


Pack of Two

Making Rounds with Oscar

Cat Wars

Eating Animals

Love at Goon Park


Attendance and participation 25%

3-5 page opinion piece about each book and the problems that surround the subject 50%

Expanding ONE paper to 10 pages for final paper 25%

About M. Kathy Rudy
Women's Studies
Frank Lentricchia
LS 770-93
Spring 2018
Wednesdays, 6:30 - 9:00 PM
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

The Italian films we’ll view and discuss may be films you’ve never seen or perhaps even heard of. Ready for adventure? Nevertheless, they are among the most powerful and influential films ever made. They cover a revolutionary period of “neo-realism” from the late 40s through the late 60s, beginning with documentary-like revelations of lower class struggles (De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves) which present lives determined and undermined by harsh economic conditions, to films which move to highly imaginative explorations of subjective interiors (Fellini’s 8 1/2) and cultural and psychological terrain inaccessible to strictly realist techniques.

Typically, talk and writing about film tends to proceed as if film and literary narratives are indistinguishable. Plot, story, character, and dialogue are the subjects of such so-called film commentary without reference to the fact that its unique, non-literary medium is what makes film what it is. Film, to put it bluntly, is not literary fiction. Consequently, in this course we will focus on how the actual visual image is crafted to shape and reveal the film-maker’s intention to tell stories that cannot be told by strictly literary means.  The film-makers we’ll study:  DeSica, Fellini, Antonioni, Visconti, Germi.

Several short essays required, along with faithful attendance.

About Frank Lentricchia

Frank Lentricchia, a novelist and literary critic, is the Katharine Everett Gilbert Professor Emeritus of Literature.  He received his Ph.D. from Duke in 1966 and has taught at UCLA, UC-Irvine and Rice University.  He has taught poetry, film, literature, and fiction courses.

R. Larry Todd
LS 770-95
Spring 2018
Wednesdays, 6:15 - 8:45 PM
Mary Duke Biddle 104
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*New Course*

The long arc of Western music has traced a rich history from the Middle Ages to the present marked by recurring cycles of tradition and innovation, consolidation, and renewal.  Discovering Music offers an introduction to this history by focusing on selected works for listening and discussion, ranging from an anonymous chant of the fifth century to a violin concerto by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina from our own century.  Beginning with a review of the basic elements of Western music (pitch, rhythm, texture, dynamics, and timbre), the course will proceed chronologically from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, and twentieth-century modernism and post-modernism, tracing how Western music evolved as it became increasingly complex and emancipated.  Along the way, we will consider many of the principal composers who, each in their own way, contributed to this history, why their music is significant, and how to listen to it.  Among these composers, to mention a few, are Hildegard of Bingen,  Machaut, Josquin, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, J. S. Bach, G. F. Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Fanny Hensel, Chopin, Wagner, Brahms, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Amy Beach, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bartók, Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Leonard Bernstein.

The principal text for the course is my Discovering Music, recently released from Oxford University Press, and available in print and e-book forms.  Discovering Music includes an online platform (OUP Dashboard) with streaming audio and interactive listening maps for the music under discussion, supplemental videos by members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Peabody Conservatory of Music, as well as several short vignette-like videos recorded at Duke on several related topics, and other supporting materials.  Assignments will include regular listening and discussion, and a term paper, to be presented in condensed form to the class at the end of the semester.  A primary goal of the course is to enhance how students relate intellectually and emotionally with music, whether from the canon of Western classical music or beyond.

About R. Larry Todd
Susan Thorne
LS 780-88
Spring 2018
Thursdays, 6:15 - 8:45 PM
GLS Conference Room
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The enduring power of Charles Dickens’ representation of urban crime was on regular display in the critical response to The Wire (HBO 2002-2007), which is regarded by many as still the “greatest television series of all time.” The series is a graphic representation of the horrendous violence generated by the war on drugs in Baltimore, Maryland, the “murder capital” of the United States.  It is difficult to imagine a world further removed from the Victorian nostalgia of the Dickens presented in Masterpiece Theatre much less Hollywood productions of Oliver Twist, the novel to which the series is most often compared.  Critics on both shores of the Atlantic have referred to The Wire as “Dickens for the 21st Century.”    “If Charles Dickens were alive today, he would watch The Wire, unless, that is, he was already writing for it.”  This course embraces the comparative invitation issued in such reviews.  It juxtaposes these two tales about crime as well as the very different cities in which each is set: early Victorian London and present day Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to these comparisons, we will also try to account for Dickens’ enduring relevance, the longevity of Dickensian ways of seeing crime, childhood, and the city.  Why—and how—does Dickens continue to matter? 


Informed participation in class discussions (30%)

Students are expected to view The Wire in its entirety (5 seasons, about 50 episodes) outside of class, while reading Dickens’s Oliver Twist, in addition to the interdisciplinary assortment of scholarly works and investigative journalism accessible via the class website.

Students will submit weekly paragraph to page reactions to each week’s reading assignments on discussion board forums (required but not graded)

Group project (30%)

Research paper (40%)

About Susan Thorne

Susan Thorne, Associate Professor of History, teaches courses on the social history of Britain and the British Empire, and on the history of European expansion more generally. She is currently working on Charles Dickens’ influence on Anglo American “ways of seeing” the children of the urban poor.  The Dickensian Affect:  Reckonings with Reform in Early Victorian Southwark (in progress) juxtaposes Dickens’s representation of criminal poverty and urban childhood in his most popular novel, Oliver Twist (1837-8) to archival accounts generated by the poor law’s reform during the 1830s and hungry ‘40s. 

LS 770-92
Fall 2017
Tuesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Perkins Rubenstein 150
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*New Course*

This course will examine how images have been intentionally composed, collected, and deployed to serve as catalysts for social and political change.  Using Duke’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library students will view, handle, and analyze examples of images and printed matter from the late 18th century to today, that have served to advocate for and document underrepresented communities, political causes, cultural movements, traditions, and personal experiences. We will also explore open source archives, as well as works by contemporary artists and documentarians who mediate publically available images and archival material.  Students will gain practical experience to effectively locate, retrieve, handle, document and analyze primary source materials to support their individual research interests. This knowledge will then be applied to produce original written interpretations in response to collection material and visual explorations of present day conditions.  Our emphasis will be on the construction and dissemination of images as democratic tools for activism.

Requirements & Evaluation

Course participants will write short weekly responses to assigned readings, contribute to and lead class discussions, write and present an original analysis of archival material, and compose a creative project that will serve to advocate for a cause of their choosing.  Course will require visits to the Rubenstein Library Reading Room for independent research outside of class. Reading Room hours are typically Monday – Thursday 9-8, Friday 9-5, Saturday 1-5 but are subject to change.  Class participation and assignments will be weighted equally when determining final grades; more than one unexcused absence will negatively impact your final grade.

Required Books (Subject to Change)

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit, Selections from A People’s Art History of the United States by Nicholas Lampert, Selections from Seeing Power: Art & Activism in the 21st Century by Nato Thompson + Short Essays distributed as PDF’s.

Amy Laura Hall
LS 780-92
Fall 2017
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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In his documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Chris Bell begins with the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s carnivalesque version of geopolitics, as Hulk Hogan battled The Iron Sheik during the 1984 season.  Bell tells a story about his two brothers on steroids, but the film is also about what makes a man manly in the U.S., and how athleticism and militarism have been intertwined to confuse, amuse and distract.  (Bell points out that Congress spent more hours during 2005 investigating and discussing steroid use in Major League Baseball than on the response to Hurricane Katrina or the Iraq War.)  In this class, we will consider myths of masculinity and war in the U.S., using film, history, historiography, and literature.  Readings will include War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (John Dower); Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (Susan Faludi); and Black Sexual Politics (Patricia Hill  Collins).  Films will include Modern Times, High Noon, The Fog of War (documentary) and Bigger, Stronger, Faster (documentary).  Assignments include participation in discussion and 2-3 page close-reading papers on the reading or film for that week.

About Amy Laura Hall
Divinity School

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.

Martin Miller
LS 780-34
Fall 2017
Wednesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
Carr 241
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The purpose of this course is to explore the historical roots of modern political violence. Contrary to popular belief, terrorism is not a recent phenomenon traceable to extremist factions or pathological individuals. It has, in fact, been an integral part of the policies of many governments and societies around the globe for centuries. Terrorist organizations can be found in ancient Israel, twelfth century Islam, and fourteenth century India. Theories of achieving a more just society through the tactical use of violence abound in Western Europe long before the French revolution among both authorities in power and insurgents who desire it. In the nineteenth century, however, modern terrorism emerged out of these earlier traditions and coalesced into the structure and ideology with which we are familiar today.

The course will proceed chronologically. We shall first read portions of the ancient and medieval discussions of "tyrannicide," and analyze the earliest insurgent groups dedicated to terrorism. The core of the course will focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the emphasis on trends in Western Europe, Russia and America. Distinctions will be made throughout between state terrorism and insurgent movements dedicated to the use of violence. The course will conclude with an analysis of the American terrorist organizations of the 1960s and of the subsequent rise of Islamic jihadi violence.

Readings will include both primary sources and historical analyses mainly in the period between the French Revolution and 9/11.  Students will also view a number of documentary films, including the secretly produced “Underground” (1974) in which members of the radical Weather Underground seek to examine and explain their terrorist acts.  There will be two papers, one at midterm and on at term’s end.

About Martin Miller

Martin Miller received his Ph.D. in Russian history at the University of Chicago and has taught at Stanford University and the New School for Social Research. He has been a member of the History Department at Duke for many years. Dr. Miller has conducted archival research in Russia and Western Europe, and has received numerous grants, among which are the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the National Council on Russian and Eastern European Studies, and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX).

Abdul Sattar Shakhly
LS 770-94
Spring 2018
Mondays, 6:15 - 8:45 PM
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

This course explores and examines the tradition of mysticism in literature of world, British, and American writers. The objective is to introduce students to numerous genres and literary works that manifest a deep religious attitude or experience as a way of life and cross-cultural phenomenon. The course will focus on selected works of Dante, Milton, Blake, Wordsworth, and American Transcendentalists and their predecessors in Muslim Spain, such as Ibn Arabi, Abu Al Ala’a Al Ma’arri, and Rumi among other Sufi poets.

Close readings of texts will reveal the recurrent theme: “the direct, intuitional experience of God through unifying love”.

About Abdul Sattar Shakhly
Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Thomas Robisheaux
LS 780-35
Summer 2016
Tuesdays, 6:00-9:00 PM
GLS Conference Room
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Have you ever wondered why magical knowledge is forbidden, and yet pervasive in our culture at different times? Have you paused to consider what claims religion can make about human affairs, the natural world or the supernatural? Have you ever asked why science commands such authority and even awe? Or have you wondered how religion has at times driven on scientific inquiry and, at other times, curiously dismissed robust scientific theories?

This seminar explores these questions by looking at the ways that three ways of understanding our world—magic, religion and science—have intersected in surprising and creative ways in our culture. The seminar explores selected episodes in our history when the boundaries between these ways of knowing unsettled understandings about nature, the divine and even the supernatural. Topics might include: Renaissance wonder and naturalism; the puzzle about Galileo and religion; witchcraft as a rational way of coping with the world; Romanticism and nature; the first “scientific” religion (Spiritualism); early psychology and its ties with the occult and the paranormal; the curious renaissance of occultism in our own day; the conflict between “creationism” and Darwinism; and religion as a product of evolution. A special unit will focus on the Laboratory for Parapsychology at Duke University (1930-65) and the efforts to make psychical research into a field of modern psychology..  Over and over we will encounter such paradoxes as the uses of science to detect the supernatural; the “magical” underpinnings of both religion and science; and living in a “disenchanted” modern society.

The course may not answer all of our questions, but the aim is to understand the long history behind our current ways of knowing, and how they are shaped by culture and society. Approaches to the topic will include anthropology, history and the history of science, psychology, religious studies, and literature.

Readings involve a variety of secondary and primary sources and may change depending upon availability. Books may include: Ian Barbour, Religion in an Age of Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues;; Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (1997); David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, ed., When Science and Christianity Meet (2003); Richard Dawkins, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (1998); Charles Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and the Making of Modern Science; Lawrence Wright, Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory (Vintage Books); Thomas Robisheaux, The Last Witch of Langenburg (New York, 2009); Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth Century America; Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust: A Tragedy, Part One (Yale University Press); and Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (HarperCollins); Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof After Death (New York, 2006).

Writing assignments will total about 25-30 pages, and will include a combination of short essays and a longer research paper.

About Thomas Robisheaux

Thomas Robisheaux, Fred W. Shaffer Professor of History, is an historian of early modern Europe. Dr. Robisheaux has particular interests in social and cultural history, German-speaking Central Europe, Renaissance culture, religious reform, popular religion and culture, and microhistory.

Trudi Abel
LS 780-96
Summer 2016
Wednesdays, 6:00-9:00
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*New Course*

Nearly 97 years ago and into the 1930s, Frank C. Brown, a Duke scholar, began recording North Carolina folk music and archiving it for posterity.  NC Jukebox will give students the chance to explore the cultural history of North Carolina and the South past through analog and digital archival material through the digitized recordings in the Frank Brown Collection at the Rubenstein Rare Book and Special Collections Library.

Through analyzing digitized historical materials—both texts and vintage audio--and researching in local collections, students will create new interpretations of North Carolina’s cultural history and present these to a wider public through new media. The course will integrate readings in folklore, history, and ethnomusicology. No prior technology experience is expected.

Course participants will submit weekly responses to the readings on our course blog, contribute to class discussions, develop an introductory assignment on a primary source (e.g. a song/singer from the Frank Brown Collection), a research project proposal, and create a final research project/paper with a new media component.  There will be an optional field trip to The Orchards at Altapass (


About Trudi Abel
Duke University Libraries

Trudi Abel is a cultural historian and Rubenstein Library archivist at Duke who created the Digital Durham (, a web repository for primary sources relating to Durham from the post-Civil War decades to the present. Currently, Dr. Abel co-directs the NC Jukebox Project with Victoria Szabo (AAHVS). Over the past decade, Dr. Abel has taught Consumer Culture in America and Digital Durham and the New South for the MALS Program. In the summer of 2016, she will offer NC Jukebox, a cross-disciplinary course in which students use new technologies and digitized audio recordings to create fresh interpretation of the history of North Carolina and its roots music.