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First-Year Writing Seminar: The History of Orientalism and the Politics of Its Legacy

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number FIRST-UG422
Section 001
Instructor Melissa Turoff
Days MW
Time 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Units 4
Level U


Open to Gallatin first-year students only.


Europe’s fascination with the, East, or “Orient,” has a complicated and often contradictory history. From the time of Alexander the Great to Marco Polo to Napoleon and Lawrence of Arabia, European scholars, linguists, writers, artists, and explorers have depicted the “Orient” as sometimes sophisticated, exotic, mysterious, barbaric, dangerous, or debauched. In doing so, they constructed both a disciplinary field called “Orientalism” as well as a powerful narrative of civilization that pitted “East” against “West.” Using a flexible historical approach, this seminar will explore intellectual and cultural encounters between Europe and the "Orient" from Antiquity to the present. Our main text and guide in this course will be Edward Said’s seminal 1978 book Orientalism. We will also read selections from the field broadly defined as “postcolonialism, which called for a more complex understanding of how gender, class, power, race, and nationalism shaped the construction and reproduction of knowledge. How do imperialism and knowledge production intersect? Can they be disentangled? Do Orientalist constructs still shape our own understandings of “East” and “West,” and our own production of knowledge, still to this day? In answering these questions, we will engage various texts, including primary sources, non-fiction, literature, and theory. Through these readings, class discussions, and weekly writing exercises leading to formal essays, we will explore and write about complex issues of identity, race, exile, multiculturalism, and religious fundamentalism. Readings may also include William Jones, J. S. Mill, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, Franz Fanon, Timothy Mitchell, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Gayatri Spivak and Nadia Abu El-Haj.


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Course Type

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