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First-Year Writing Seminar: Gimme Shelter: Dwelling and Telling in the City

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number FIRST-UG402
Section 001
Instructor Nicole Zeftel
Days MW
Time 4:55 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


Advice manuals popular in the mid-nineteenth-century illustrate a long held anxiety about the urban landscape. The assumption was that the city was rife with “confidence men” and “painted women” who sought not only to swindle newcomers but also to recruit them into their nefarious fold. The city was thus imagined as a mercurial landscape of shifting forms and deceptive appearances unfit for wholesome living. This course explores the history and changing shape of ideas about dwelling in the American city. From the mid-nineteenth century guidebooks to the design section of New York Magazine, from Walt Whitman’s poetry to hashtags—we will examine how Americans have made themselves physically and imaginatively at home in the city. Writers we will consider include Herman Melville, Joan Didion, Marshall Berman, Rebecca Solnit and Paul Auster. We will look at the design work of Frederick Law Olmstead and Robert Moses, and consider the relationship of urban design to social structures. Music from the Harlem Renaissance as well as the films of Charlie Kaufman will help us think about the ways different mediums capture, reflect and shape the urban experience and what kinds of obstacles—psychological, social and class-based—the city poses for the activity of dwelling. Students will contribute to a course blog, write three papers and collaborate to make creative digital maps of New York City.


All Syllabi

Course Type

First-Year Program: Writing Seminars (FIRST-UG)