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.  

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

GLS Advisory Committee Term: 2019-2022

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. 

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).

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.

Martin Eisner
LS 770-91
Summer 2017
Wednesdays, 6:00 - 9:00 pm - Begins Wed., June 7; Ends Wed., August 9
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A close reading of Dante’s whole poem (Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise) in its philosophical (Plato, Aristotle), theological (Augustine, Aquinas), historical (Papacy vs. Empire, Florentine factionalism), and literary (Virgil, Arthurian romance) contexts, as well as an exploration of its influence on later thinkers, artists, poets, and popular culture (Machiavelli, Botticelli, Borges, Eliot, Rodin, Dali, ‘Se7en’).  Each class will require a close reading of several canti of Dante’s poem, along with a supplementary reading.  These secondary readings consider the poem from a variety of perspectives:  as an historical document produced at a specific space and time; an aesthetic object which uses particular narrative strategies to produce meaning; and an ethical and political treatise that both problematizes and prioritizes a certain set of values.

Course Materials

Four books to buy:


            Inferno, Tr. Mandelbaum.  9780553213393

            Purgatorio, Tr. Durling.  9780195087451

            Paradiso, Tr. Kirkpatrick.  9780140448979

            Vita nuova, Tr. Mortimer.  9781847493583 (try

One recommended book:

            Virgil, The Essential Aeneid, Tr. Lombardo.  9780872207905 or Tr. Mandelbaum

N.B. All other readings on Sakai

Course Work

            Course participation and in-class Provocation (25%)

            Three Short Papers (50%)

            One Final Paper (25%)

About Martin Eisner
Romance Studies

Martin Eisner is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for both the Department of Romance Studies and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He specializes in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, as well as the history of the book and media.

Deborah T. Gold
LS 780-57
Summer 2017
Mondays, 6:00-9:00 pm - Begins WED., May 17; Ends Mon., July 24
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The purpose of this course is to better understand the processes of aging and dying from both social science and humanities perspectives.  Because both aging and dying are culturally bound, they have a profound influence on the expression of societies’ feelings.  We will take a multidisciplinary perspective, combining social and behavioral science information (using a biopsychosocial approach) and the way in which American society has manifested its anxiety over aging and death in its arts as well as sciences.

The course will include an overview of the biomedical aspects of aging and dying, the social and psychological impact of these components of life, as well as the clinical outcomes of aging and dying in an aging society.  In addition, film (and possibly literature and poetry) will serve as the lens through which we can see the impact of aging and dying on the arts.

Requirements include weekly response papers about the readings, a midterm and a final research paper.

About Deborah T. Gold
Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences; Sociology, Psychology & Neuroscience

Deborah T. Gold is Professor of Medical Sociology in the Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology & Neuroscience at Duke University Medical Center, where she is also a Senior Fellow of the Duke Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development. Professor Gold received her B.A. in English and Latin from the University of Illinois, her M.Ed. in Reading from National Louis University, and her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Her primary research interests are in the psychological and social consequences of chronic disease in the elderly.  She has done seminal research on osteoporosis and its impact on quality of life.  She has also studied the psychosocial impact of breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, syncope, head and neck cancer, Paget’s disease of bone, and dementia in older adults. Her current research examines compliance and persistence with medications for older adults with chronic illnesses.

Thomas Robisheaux
LS 780-91
Summer 2017
Thursdays, 6:00 - 9:00 pm - Begins Thurs., May 18; Ends Thurs., July 20
GLS Conference Room
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Republics and popular governments grow and flourish, but they also decline, weaken and perish.   The decline is often not obvious to the untrained eye.   All of the trappings of republican glory and values can continue, and yet, behind the public rhetoric, an entirely new form of autocratic rule may be taking form.   It happened in Rome.   It happened in Florence.   It has happened to modern democracies as well.    

This seminar explores one such crisis, brilliant and memorable because it gave birth, for the first time, to modern secular ideas, values and images about politics.  The place?  Florence, Italy.   The time?  The Renaissance ca. 1500-50, a time of crisis and turmoil for the Florentine Republic.  The witnesses?   Astute observers of politics: Niccolò Machiavelli, civil servant, writer, playwright and his friend, Francesco Guicciardini, diplomat, nobleman, and historian.   They were joined by artists: Michelangelo Buonarroti, Leonardo da Vinci, Leon Batista Alberti, Donatello, Cellini, Giambologna, among others.   The key powerbrokers?   The Medici family, bankers, rulers, patrons of the arts, and popes.   The issues?   How to save a republic and how to use art and literature to engage the crisis of the republic.  

The course begins with historical background about Florence at the time of the Renaissance, including the republican tradition in Florence, the rise of the Medici and the end of the republic in the early sixteenth century.   Then we read three great works of Machiavelli: The Prince, The Discourses, and his ribald comedy, The Mandragola.  Machiavelli may confront us with startling reflections on human nature, fortune, personal will, situational politics, morality and leadership, Christianity, and the prospects of keeping republican values in a time of corruption and raw power politics.    In the second part we study selected—and now famous—works of Renaissance art  intensely charged with political symbolism, such as Michelangelo’s David, Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes, Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa, or the Pitti Palace, the Medici dukes’ grand residence in Florence.  At the end we turn to Machiavelli’s contemporary and friend, the brilliant Francesco Guicciardini, for mature reflections on finding consolation, guidance, meaning and understanding when living in a time of disappointment, danger and changing values.   We will read parts of Guicciardini’s magisterial History of Italy and his private reflections on life, The Maxims and Reflections.  Requirements will include several short essays.  

The aim of the course is for students to develop an understanding of these Renaissance thinkers and artists through encounters with their works.   Along the way, we will confront the inevitable question: Do these Renaissance writers, artists and powerbrokers have something to teach us about the challenges facing our western republics today?

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.

Frank Lentricchia
LS 770-89
Spring 2017
Wednesdays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

In this course, we will not assume a singular essence of something called “poetry,” which can be found everywhere and nowhere in particular, and which can be revealed for its meanings and values by a single method of reading.  Instead, we’ll proceed on the assumption that different and discrete “poems” require different approaches of reading.  We’ll read a number of short poems from the late 19th through the 20th centuries.  Perhaps 50 in all, maybe 5 per week.  Because these poems are short, you might be tempted to conclude that the reading burden for this course is light.  That would be a mistake. Reading a poem well—intensively, closely and with an eye for detail—will require multiple readings of, and meditations upon, each poem.  Each week you should find time to read and re-read many times the 5 poems assigned—in effect, to live with them and  make them part of you to the point that they resound in your head as you go about your day.  That is how you should prepare for class.

REQUIREMENTS:  faithful and punctual attendance; several short essays of 2-3 pages in length.



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.

Amy Laura Hall
LS 780-98
Spring 2017
Mondays, 6:15-8:45 pm
GLS Conference Room
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*New Course*

Some contemporary writers in North America draw on a tradition of apocalypse -- or anticipation of "the end times" -- to draw readers into their stories.  Some of these same writers also seek to elicit a political commitment to change.  A key example is Margaret Atwood, who is the author of dystopian novels and also an activist for environmental justice.  Well before Atwood, Charlie Chaplin created his iconic film "Modern Times," which was both fantastical and radically political. We will consider this tradition. 

In a 2014 essay on "The Topics Dystopian Films Won't Touch," Imran Siddiquee noted: "While recent dystopias warn youth about over-reliance on computers, totalitarian rule, class warfare, pandemic panics and global warming, very few ask audiences to think deeply about sexism and racism."  In this class, we will consider the intersection of apocalyptic, gender, race, sex, and technology, in works that do and do not directly address racial and gender justice.  The course will include the artistry and politics of Charlie Chaplin, Gene Roddenberry, Prince Rogers Nelson, Octavia Butler, William Gibson, and Margaret Atwood.

Assignments will include weekly papers and regular participation.



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.

Robert Healy
LS 760-31
Spring 2017
Tuesdays, 6:15-9:00 pm
Location TBA
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*New Course*

How do we protect important species, ecosystems and cultural sites when local populations, often desperately poor, compete for the same resources?  Is our own role as tourists helpful or destructive? What is “ecotourism” and has it been successful in its goal of achieving multiple objectives? This course integrates several disciplines to study tourism motivation and tourism policy, design and management of protected areas, “gateway communities,” resource governance, sustainable agriculture and forestry, community development, and cultural production and handicrafts. It considers tourism both as a possible source of negative impacts on protected areas and as a potential source of local economic development.

The course will introduce learners to three important bodies of theory--management of natural resources, tourism, and local economic development. It will include literature representative of each field and case studies from both developed and developing countries, covering locations from the tropics to the polar regions. It will also bring in ideas from history, anthropology and literature. 

The course will be taught as a seminar.  Participants will be required to read one or two books and about two dozen articles. Course requirements:a two-page reading reaction, due each class session; class participation; Sakai discussion board; a 10-12-page research paper on a topic of their choosing; and class presentation of a paper proposal. The instructor has many potential topics to suggest.

About Robert Healy
Nicholas School of the Environment

Bob Healy is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Policy in the Nicholas School and of Public Policy Studies in the Terry Sanford School. Before coming to Duke in 1986, he was a researcher with The Urban Institute, Resources for the Future and The Conservation Foundation/World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. He has written ten books, mainly on issues of land use, environmental management and economic development. The latest are Knowledge and Environmental Policy (MIT 2011) and Environmental Policy in North America (Toronto 2013). Locally, he has long been involved with efforts to protect the New Hope Creek watershed. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Los Angeles.