Cross-disciplinary course modules (a selection): 


ANTH313: Producing and Performing Anthropology  
Host:George Bajalia, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Artists: Jessica Kahkoska (playwright/dramaturg) , Luis Luna (podcaster), Yto Barrada (visual artist)

This course examines the various modes through which anthropology can and has been performed and produced. Partially exploring the historical relationship between film, museum curation, and ethnography, while also looking toward how anthropology has verged into other media such as the audiovisual and digital, this class pairs reading ethnographies with practical projects, which can take performance, written, audiovisual, or even web forms.  Drawing from theoretical positions in the discipline as well as performance and artistic production, the course includes in-class/virtual visits from figures in this field across the U.S., Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, aimed at fostering opportunities for more long-term mentorship and collaborations.
      For this module, Professor Bajalia piloted an in-depth artist engagement, inviting three guests to visit class multiple times each to discuss their work and research, and to mentor students on final projects in their field of expertise. Student work is archived on a course website here.


THEA115: America in Prison  
Host: Ron Jenkins, Professor of Theater
Artists: BL Shirelle, Naomi Wilson (formerly incarcerated musicians and activists)

Students in THEA115 learn how to apply their skills as writers, performers, or musicians to community service and activism as they learn about the United States' criminal justice system and its position at the heart of systemic racism in America.
       In this module, Professor Jenkins continued collaboration with formerly incarcerated artists and activists BL Shirelle and Naomi Wilson.  Jenkins has collaborated multiple times with formerly incarcerated rapper and activist BL Shirelle, whose work is informed by her experience as an African-American gay woman who was entangled in the criminal justice system for many years. A poet and performer, BL Shirelle is also co-founder and deputy director of Jim Crowe Records, a company that produces music written and performed by incarcerated artists. Students and guest artists co-presented a culminating program at Exodus Transitional Community in Harlem; view online here.  (In 2020-21, the final clas project in Jenkins' THEA114 was a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Attica Prison Uprising; that webinar is archived here.)  



AFAM307: Black Middletown Lives: The Future of Middletown’s African American Past
Host: Jesse Nasta, Visiting Assistant Professor of African American Studies
Guest: Maria Christina Oliveras, Assistant Professor of Theater

Black Middletown Lives is a joint African American Studies/Service Learning course focused on the Beman Triangle; now a part of Wesleyan’s campus, this nationally significant, Black abolitionist neighborhood formed in the 1820s and became a hub of the Underground Railroad, of antislavery lectures and petition campaigns, and of free Black property ownership and community formation. In previous semesters, Black Middletown Lives students have analyzed, written about, digitized, and presented on primary sources from Beman Triangles’ residents, including antislavery speeches and letters, 19th-century concert programs from the 198-year-old Cross Street AME Zion Church, and petitions for the right to vote. They have built a website and presented research papers on their archival discoveries.
     With the aim of incorporating artistic practices into the teaching and presentation of this material and allowing students to interpret, embody, recreate, and perform these texts in expanded ways, Nasta co-taught a module with Assistant Professor of Theater Maria-Christina Oliveras. A public performance by the students featured their individual projects, created from materials from the Middlesex County Historical Society and Wesleyan’s Special Collections & Archives and from interviews, with participation from Jumoke McDuffie-Thurmond '19; Andre Warmsley, a descendant of Beman Triangler residents; and cellist David Blasher. The webinar is archived here


ENVS201: Sophomore Seminar in Environmental Studies
Host: Helen Poulos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Guest: Jill Sigman, choreographer, ThinkDance

ENVS 201 introduces students to critical methods for conducting research on environmental issues, employing methods and paradigms of inquiry from multiple lenses including arts, humanities, and the social and natural sciences. It is a primer for performing research in the ENVS major, exploring environmental theory and management at various levels of organization, from ecosystems to human communities and countries.
     Professor Poulos regularly embeds somatic practices into this course; for this module, choreographer Jill Sigman (ThinkDance) visited twice virtually. A first visit introduced students to the concept of somatics and the importance of mindfulness and embodiment exercise for grounding and connecting to the environment. To support and extend this work, students practiced weekly physical embodiment exercises offered in Sigman’s book Ten Huts by Wesleyan University Press, and Andrea Olsen’s Body and Earth. In a second visit, Sigman engaged students in an environmental justice case study about New York City’s Renewable Rikers Project, which addresses the fate of Riker’s Island after the prison is closed. She also conducted a “performance laboratory” that melded movement, discussion, and free writing.   


FREN228: Fight like the French: Debates, Quarrels and Polemics in French Culture
Host: Tina Montenegro, Visiting Assistant Professor of French
Guest: Tor-Fin Malum Fitje, video artist and writer

FREN228 focused on techniques of debate and on important quarrels and polemics in French literary and cultural history, from the 15th century’s “Quarrel of the Rose” to 21st century conflicts such as #metoo, #BalanceTonPorc, and attacks on diversity and minority studies in French universities. The course reconceptualized agonistic debates and arguments as positive and necessary, going against a historical Anglo-Saxon prejudice; shows the importance of debate in French history; and trained students to identify and create arguments and to use techniques of debate.
      Over a three-session module, "Create a Truth," visiting Norwegian video artist and writer Tor-Finn Malum Fitje discussed rhetorical fallacies and shared a creative work that explores the relativism and loss of value in today's changed public sphere. Fitje’s series Ad Nauseam focuses on false truths arrived at through a rhetorical fallacy; in his imagined world, doubt has disappeared, and all issues are debated ad nauseam with equal weight.  Fitje discussed his creative process and work, and supported students in a final project: a 1-2 minute video presenting opposing arguments of a rhetorical fallacy. Over the course of the module, students considered fallacies and false arguments; how “false truths” are created; how art engages with political questions and critique; and how they might engage with contemporary questions creatively.    


SOC292: Death and Dying at the End of the World
Host: Ben Haber, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology
Guest: Yanira Castro, theater artist  

The digital realm has given people unprecedented access to global media focused on death and dying, from far-flung calamities to gofundme pages for the cancer treatments of friends and family. In an age of data-enabled prediction and preemption, death is capricious and untimely, remaining stubbornly resistant to scientific and philosophical certainty. Meanwhile, circulating discourses of ecological and political catastrophe have proliferated thoughts of genocide, extinction, and planetary death. This course looks at contemporary encounters with death and dying at a variety of scales, from the search for death's meaning/a meaningful death, to understanding death as a public feeling and inspiration for political imagination.
       Theater artist Yanira Castro conducted a module engaging students in Last Audience, a recent work that pivots to virtual by delivering performance instructions directly into the hands of audiences through a printed score. Last Audience addresses themes of blessing, mercy, requiem, and judgement in the context of the 2020 election and racial reckoning in the U.S., deeply considering ideas of surveillance, agency, and community. Students worked with the manual both in class and independently, and engaged with Castro to discuss the work’s themes and her creative process during two virtual sessions.


HIST329: Race Discourse in the Americas  
Host: Demetrius Eudell, Dean of Social Sciences, Professor of History
Guest: Courtney Long, PhD, Acting Assistant Curator, Yale Center for British Art

 This course examined the belief system of race as it intersects with historical and contemporary social and political concerns, including gender, sexuality, mass incarceration, animal studies, environmental sustainability, technology/artificial intelligence, and visual studies. The module, “Race and the American Spectacle” examined the persistence of the spectacle in images that convey anti-Black racial violence, from lynching postcards to videos of Rodney King. These visual representations of Black subjugation have accompanied (and therefore helped to secure) the reproduction, in Toni Morrison’s terms, of the “wholly racialized” social order of the United States. On the other hand, in the wake of the George Floyd uprisings, they have at times been used as evidence in securing justice and perhaps to assist with undoing systemic racial hierarchy.
     This module examined this complex and disturbing history, explored this contradiction, and sought to understand the way representations of Blacks as the Conceptual Negative Other imagine and affect a normative conception of what it means to be fully human, such that these acts of terror can be depicted and therefore logically carried out. Images considered with Dr. Long over two module sessions included Dana Schutz’s Open Casket (2016, depicting Emmett Till), Henry Taylor’s THE TIMES THAY AINT A CHANGING, FAST ENOUGH (2017, depicting Philando Castile), Titus Kaphar’s recent cover of Time Magazine (depicting George Floyd in the Madonna-and-child Christian iconographic tradition), and Shaun Leonardo’s charcoal drawings of police killings.


HIST318: The Politics of Death: The Living, the Dead, and the State  
Host: Victoria Smolkin, Associate Professor of History
Guest: Vlad Smolkin, visual artist

Part of Smolkin’s 20-21 Fellowship in the COE Think Tank on Habitability, this course explored the intersections between the living, the dead, and the state, focusing on the ways that death and the dead body raise particular questions and problems for different kinds of political regimes. For this module, Smolkin collaborated with her brother, visual artist Vlad Smolkin, with whose art her work has been in conversation for several years. The module explored pathways of human relationship to the cosmos, focusing on the mystical/philosophical origins of the Soviet space program. Smolkin writes, “What makes the question of cosmic conquest and habitability interesting to me is the inherently earthly and human form it tends to take, containing in itself both our most audacious hopes about our emancipatory potential and our deepest fears about our limits and frailty.”
     Vlad Smolkin’s artistic practice finds connections and collaborations between art and spirituality, religion, and the unknown. In a virtual presentation and conversation with students, he discussed historical artworks, as well as his own “Mars Works,” which take on a visual language similar to that of pulp science-fiction books from the 1950s, exploring ideas about how Jewish beliefs and rituals could translate to life in space and on other planets. Vlad also mentored students’ final creative projects, on the imagination and construction of a monument or memorial; these were published as an exhibition website, viewable here


RELI239: Modern Shamanism: Ecstasy and Ancestors in the New Age
MUSC297: Music of Central Asia
Hosts: Saida Daukeyeva, Assistant Professor of Music and Justine Quijada, Associate Professor of Religion
Guest: Raushan Orazbaeva, musician

A dialogue between religious studies and ethnomusicology, the module “Music and Shamanism in Post-Soviet Central Asia” was shared with two courses:  Music of Central Asia (MUSC 297/REES 297) and Modern Shamanism: Ecstasy and Ancestors in the New Age (RELI 239/REES 282). It illuminated the importance of music, sound, and musical instruments in Central Asian shamanism and the impact of Soviet culture politics and post-Soviet globalization on the religious and musical aspects of ritual practice. Professors Daukeyeva and Quijada lectured in each other’s courses, and arranged a virtual visit with Kazakh artist Raushan Orazbaeva, an acclaimed performer on the two-stringed bowed lute, qobyz (or qyl-qobyz). 
     Regarded as a sacred instrument among the Turkic- Muslim Kazakhs, the qobyz was originally used by shamans and epic bards to communicate with ancestor-spirits. During the Soviet era in Kazakhstan, this practice was suppressed, and the qobyz was transformed from a ritualized shamanic medium to a national cultural symbol used in secular social contexts. The post-Soviet cultural revival led to a rediscovery of the qobyz tradition rooted in shamanic spirituality. Since then, it has been reinterpreted in forms intended for global audiences and inspired by current religious and spiritual quests. Raushan Orazbaeva is the leading contemporary exponent of the qobyz, and has shaped the course of its neo- traditional revival. Orazbaeva's virtual performance for the classes may be seen here

Democracy and Social Movements in East Asia (CEAS205)
Host: Joan Cho, Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies 
Guest: Ellen Gerdes ’05, choreographer/dancer

This course assesses the state of civil society in both authoritarian and democratic societies in East Asia by surveying contemporary social movements in People’s Republic of China (China), Republic of China (Taiwan), Japan, and South Korea. The course has three major themes: problematizing Western concepts and theories of civil society and social movements in an East Asian context; problematizing the democratic nature of civil society and social movements in the authoritarian context; and exploring the effects of globalization and advancement in technology on social movements in the region.  
     In a two-class module, movement artist Ellen Gerdes ’05 offered students a perspective on the choreographic (spatial/physical) aspects of social movements; a direct connection to group formation, dynamics, and decision making; and an opportunity to critically engage with theories and empirical realities of social movements.  The first class focused on three aspects of social movements: shared intentions, gesture, and endurance. A second class addressed recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong through Ellen’s research on ‘i-Dance Festival: Improvising ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and explored movement practices related to themes of collaboration, egalitarianism, and intimacy found in the Hong Kong protests. 



ENVS 197: Introduction to Environmental Studies
Host: Helen Poulos, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Guests: Allison Orr and Gretchen Lamotte of Forklift Danceworks

This interdisciplinary course studied human interaction with the environment and the resulting implications for quality of life, examining the technical and social causes of environmental degradation at local and global scales and the potential for developing policies and philosophies that support a sustainable society. Over the course of the semester, Forklift Danceworks choreographers guided a subset of students in shadowing employees of Wesleyan University’s Physical Plant, learning about tasks that range from plumbing to carpentry to HVAC work. As a final project, students and Physical Plant employees co-created a live performance event in Exley Science Center.


CSS 340: Junior History Tutorial: The Nuclear Bombings of Japan in Historical Perspective
Host: William Johnston, John E. Andrus Professor of History
Guest: Eiko Otake, Visiting Artist-in-Residence

Johnston and Otake have collaborated for more than a decade in researching and teaching on the history and lived experience of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For this Junior History Tutorial, Otake made two visits. The first was a class session that examined literary responses to the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and integrated a discussion of the readings with a movement workshop. A second, virtual visit followed, to continue discussion related to the course material and to ideas of death and dying in the context of the current pandemic.

DANC 205: Afro-Brazilian Dance: Dances of the Orixas
Host: Joya Powell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Dance
Guest: Elizabeth McAlister, Professor of Religion

This course explored the historical and embodied practices of the Orixás, the primary pantheon of deities of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé. It centered embodied practice through an Africanist aesthetic, focusing on polyrhythm, the correlation of dance and the natural world, polycentrism, theatricality, and oral tradition; and used videos and lectures to illuminate Brazilian history as it pertains to the creation and evolution of Candomblé and its dances as resistance to slavery and racism. Also in spring 2020, McAlister taught RELI 268: Black Religions in the Americas, focusing on the African-based religious systems that cultivated traditional ways to survive slavery, white supremacy, and state violence: Vodou in Haiti, Regla de Ocha (Santeria) and Palo Mayombe in Cuba, Obeah in Jamaica, and aspects of black religions in the U.S. This module involved multiple cross-class visits and a collective session, offering students in McAlister’s course an opportunity to embody the traditional movements they discussed; and Powell’s students a more global understanding of their embodied practices.

CS 92/BIOL 161: Science Materials for the Malagasy Classroom (Crosslistings: ENVS 261 & IDEA 261)
Host: Joyce Powzyck, Associate Professor of the Practice, Biology
Guest: Eric Losh, Illustrator and Graphic Designer

This hands-on course brought together Wesleyan undergraduates from a variety of disciplines (including studio arts, French, environmental studies, Science in Society, and biology) to design and produce science education materials for Malagasy fifth graders. Madagascar is a developing country hard-hit by climate change, and classroom materials are needed to assist Malagasy teachers in instructing their students on changes occurring within their island landscapes. With support, instruction, and artwork contributed by visiting illustrator Eric Losh, students in this course designed a logo, bookmarks, games, posters, and a comic book that address topics from lemur speciation to tropic levels, plate tectonics, and water conservation. Students conducted research into these topics, distilled salient features, and used that information to conceive, design, critique, and then produce materials in Wesleyan’s Makerspace. To ensure age-appropriate relevancy and cultural sensitivity, all prototypes were reviewed and rated by fifth graders in a Middletown elementary school and also by Malagasy undergraduates at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar.