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Visual Culture (VC) Graduate Courses (2021-22)

VC/H 102. Looking East/Looking West. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. From teapots to pastries, photographs to palanquins, objects and images mediated encounters between people and helped define the "Orient" and the "Occident". This class looks at the visual and material culture produced by and consumed during encounters between European and Asian travelers, diplomats, artists, writers, and tourists since the eighteenth century. Instructor: Clark.
VC 104. French Cinema. 9 units (3-0-6): . A critical survey of major directors, genres, and movements in French cinema. Particular attention is devoted to the development of film theory and criticism in France and their relation to film production. The course may also focus on problems of transposition from literature to cinema. The course includes screenings of films by Melies, Dulac, Clair, Renoir, Carne, Pagnol, Cocteau, Bresson, Tati, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Lelouch, Malle, Pialat, Rohmer, and Varda. Students are expected to write three 5-page critical papers. Conducted in French. Students who write papers in English may enroll in this class as VC 104, which satisfies the advanced humanities requirement. Instructor: Orcel.
En/VC 108. Volcanoes. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. Long before torrents of lava cascaded down Los Angeles streets in the 1997 film Volcano, volcanic disaster narratives erupted across 19th-century British pages, stages, and screens. This class will examine the enduring fascination with volcanoes in literary and visual culture and the socio-political tensions that disaster narratives expose. Students will analyze Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Tambora's infamous 1815 eruption, James Pain's 1880s pyrotechnic adaptation of Vesuvius's 79AD eruption, and paintings of global sunsets after Krakatoa's 1883 eruption. Additional literary and visual texts may include works by: Felicia Hemans, Isabella Bird, M.P. Shiel, Charles Dickens, Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and J. M. W. Turner. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Sullivan.
L/VC 109. Introduction to French Cinema from Its Beginning to the Present. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This course will introduce students to the artistic style and the social, historical, and political content of French films, starting with Melies and the Lumiere brothers and working through surrealism and impressionism, 1930s poetic realism, the Occupation, the New Wave, the Cinema du look, and the contemporary cinema. The class will teach students to look at film as a medium with its own techniques and formal principles. Conducted in English. Instructor: Orcel.
En/VC 110. Sinners, Saints, and Sexuality in Premodern Literature. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This class explores the history of sexuality and gender across the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Exploring both literary texts and visual representation, it considers how previous eras and cultures understood embodiment, sexuality, and gender and asks how we, as modern readers and viewers, approach these questions across the distance of centuries. We will read across a wide range of literature, including theology, philosophy, fiction, romance, and spiritual biography, and examine manuscript illustrations and other early visual media. Questions we will take up include the following: how did writers and artists construct the "naturalness" or "unnaturalness" of particular bodies and bodily acts? How did individuals understand the relationship between their own bodies and those of others? In what ways did writing and art authorize, scrutinize, or otherwise parse the boundaries of the licit and illicit? Finally, how have modern critics framed these questions? How do we approach and make use of earlier theories of sex and gender? Instructor: Jahner.
En/VC 117. Picturing the Universe. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. Whether you are a physicist, photographer, or bibliophile, grab a warm jacket. The night sky beckons. In addition to observing and photographing our own starry skies, we will study 19th-century literary, artistic, and scientific responses to new understandings of the universe as dynamic, decentered, and limitless. In Victorian England, picturing the universe in literature and recording celestial light in photographs defied the physiological limitations of human observation and fueled larger debates about objective evidence and subjective documentation. Authors studied may include: Anna Laetitia Aikin, Keats, Byron, Tennyson, Hardy, Agnes Clerke, E. E. Barnard, Tracy Smith, and Dava Sobel. Instructor: Sullivan.
VC 120. Landscape, Representation and Society. 6 units (2-2-2): third term. This course examines historical and contemporary representations of the natural world in art and science through a social lens. We will draw upon theory and practices from art, science, geography and landscape studies to critically analyze how artists, explorers, speculators, scientists, military strategists, and local inhabitants use environmental imagery for diverse purposes with sometimes conflicting interests. The course includes projects, lectures, readings, discussions and a 2-day field trip. Students will learn to think critically while developing creative, culturally complex approaches to observing, recording and representing the natural world. Students hoping to combine their course work with a research paper may sign up for a separate independent study and conduct research concurrently, with instructor approval. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Mushkin.
En/VC 129. Literature/Photography/Facticity. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. "It is the picture of life contrasted with the fact of life, the ideal contrasted with the real, which makes criticism possible," insists Frederick Douglass. This course will take an historical approach to the relationship between literature and photography by examining what Douglass refers to as the contrast between "picture" and "fact" from the advent of photography in the nineteenth century to our present moment. Together, we will think about how each medium creates images, invites different ways of reading or viewing, and makes forms of individual, collective, and political representation possible. We will also examine the ways in which photography and literature shape our understanding of temporality, truth, memory, and history. In addition to our experience of literary and photographic works, theoretical texts on photography will inform the ways of reading and ways of seeing we will develop in this course. Readings may include Boucicault, Douglass, Dunbar, Hartmann, Barthes, Lorde, and Rankine. Instructor: Hill.
VC 130. Surveillance. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This course examines surveillance, one of the defining features of twenty-first-century life, with wide-ranging implications (from intelligence gathering and biometrics to social media and contemporary art), and a key point of intersection between modern technology and visual culture. Though it applies more broadly, the concept of "surveillance," from the Latin vigilare ("to watch") and the French surveiller ("to watch over"), originated in practices of looking and observation that still define many of its most significant practices today. Building on these etymological roots, we will treat surveillance as, first and foremost, a visual practice and survey the longer history of surveillance (and counter-surveillance) techniques as well as the theories that have emerged to describe its social effects, moral and ethical stakes, and changing legal status. Instructor: Jacobson.
En/VC 135. Dickens's London. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. Charles Dickens and London have perhaps the most famous relationship of any writer and city in English. In this course, we will investigate both the London Dickens knew, and the portrait of the city that he painted, by reading one of Dickens's great mid-career novels alongside a selection of contemporary texts and images and secondary historical sources. We will think about the gap-or overlap- between history and fiction, the idea of the novelist as alternative historian, and the idea of the novel as historical document. Historical topics covered may include: the development of the Victorian police force; plague and public health; Victorian poverty; colonialism and imperialism; Dickens and his illustrators; Victorian exhibition and museum culture; and marriage and the cult of domesticity, among others. Students will practice both textual and visual analysis skills. In addition to written work, students should expect to be responsible for making a short research presentation at some point in the term. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Gilmore.
VC 150. Art Museum Futures. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. The late 1960s saw the beginning of a movement in which several generations of artists investigated and deconstructed the customs and institutions of art. Institutional critique, as it would come to be known, challenged the promises and putative neutrality of public art museums. Following several decades of criticism the question remains unanswered: can the public art museum become a democratic institution? This course explores the ongoing debates around race, ethnicity, objectivity, subjectivity and cultural authority in contemporary museology. We will begin with the Enlightenment origins of the European art museum and its deployment within the United States; we will consider the artistic interventions that exposed its biases and eurocentrism, as well as the emergence of culturally-specific arts institutions and contemporary efforts at decolonization. Relying on decolonial and ethnic studies scholars, we will develop a critical framework for understanding the historical pathways that led to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the upcoming Latino Smithsonian Museum. We will conclude with a deep dive into a radical museum model: Noah Purifoy's "Outdoor Desert Art Museum of Assemblage Sculpture". Instructor: Decemvirale.
L/VC 153. Refugees and Migrants' Visual and Textual Representations. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course focuses on the refugees and migrants' images in documentaries, narrative films, graphic novels, fictional texts, poetic works, and autobiographical narratives. It investigates how these representations participate in the development and strengthening of political discourse. Works by authors such as Hannah Arendt, Antje Ellermann, Achille Mbembe, Martin A. Schain, and Sasha Polakow-Suransky will provide some context to our analysis. Topics discussed in class include the historical and economic relationships of Europe with the refugees and migrants' countries of origin, the rise of anti-immigrant politics and its significance for the future of the European Union, but also its impact on social peace, in France in particular. This course is taught in English. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Orcel.
VC 159. Los Angeles As Artwork. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This survey introduces students to the history of Los Angeles' creative practices. Covering a broad range of environments and visual cultures, we will begin in the period before European colonization and conclude in contemporary Los Angeles. Reading the city as artwork will introduce students to an expanded field of creativity and analysis beyond the art object. To do so, we will consider enacted environments, expressive objects, urban landscapes, maps, monuments, murals and photographs. The class will give special attention to how colonialism continues to haunt and form the city, as well as explore the role creative practices have played in resisting the European colonization of space, time and being. We will cover topics including civil rights, hybridization, modernity, public space, and the outstanding role race has played in shaping the city. Students will learn to analyze evidence within its historical and cultural context, as well as write about how space and personal experience inform both artistic production and analysis. Instructor: Decemvirale.
En/VC 160 ab. Classical Hollywood Cinema. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. This course introduces students to Hollywood films and filmmaking during the classical period, from the coming of sound through the '50s. Students will develop the techniques and vocabulary appropriate to the distinct formal properties of film. Topics include the rise and collapse of the studio system, technical transformations (sound, color, deep focus), genre (the musical, the melodrama), cultural contexts (the Depression, World War II, the Cold War), audience responses, and the economic history of the film corporations. Terms may be taken independently. Part a covers the period 1927-1940. Part b covers 1941-1960. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Jurca.
En/VC 161. The New Hollywood. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. This course examines the post-classical era of Hollywood filmmaking with a focus on the late 1960s through the 1970s, a period of significant formal and thematic experimentation. We will study American culture and politics as well as film in this era, as we consider the relation between broader social transformations and the development of new narrative conventions and cinematic techniques. We will pay particular attention to the changing film industry and its influence on this body of work. Films covered may include Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and Jaws. Instructor: Jurca.
VC/H/HPS 163. Science on Screen. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Many of our ideas about who scientists are and what they do have been formed through media consumption - especially from the movies. This course examines how our ideas about science have been constructed at the movies and on television, and how science and cinema, their histories, philosophies, and visual cultures, are interconnected. Instructor: Shell.
VC/H/HPS 164. Fashion and Waste. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. Before the Industrial Revolution, new clothes were few and far between. By the early 1800s, new industrial recycling processes enabled wool rags to be reprocessed into new suits, and for the first time the working class gained access to 'Sunday finery.' Dressing better meant a chance at increased social mobility. Today we take for granted fast fashion and disposable clothing. This course examines the complex interrelationship among history, technology, and the ways in which we construct our own identities through clothing; visual, textile and other material culture sources will be front and center. Students will dig into their own closets, memories, and dreams. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Shell.
VC 169. The Arts of Dynastic China. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. A survey of the development of Chinese art in which the major achievements in architecture, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, and ceramics will be studied in their cultural contexts from prehistory through the Manchu domination of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Emphasis will be placed on the aesthetic appreciation of Chinese art as molded by the philosophies, religions, and history of China. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructor: Wolfgram.
VC 170. Special Topics in Visual Culture. 9 units (3-0-6): offered by announcement. An advanced humanities course on a special topic in visual culture. Topics may include art history, film, digital and print media, architecture, photography or cartography. It is usually taught by new or visiting faculty. The course may be re-taken for credit except as noted in the course announcement. Limited to 15 students. See registrar's announcement for details. Instructor: Staff.
VC 171. Arts of Buddhism. 9 units (3-0-6): third term. An examination of the impact of Buddhism on the arts and cultures of India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, and Japan from its earliest imagery in the 4th century B.C.E. India through various doctrinal transformations to the Zen revival of 18th-century Japan. Select monuments of Buddhist art, including architecture, painting, sculpture, and ritual objects, will serve as focal points for discussions on their aesthetic principles and for explorations into the religious, social, and cultural contexts that underlie their creation. Instructor: Wolfgram.
VC 172. Heritage and Its Discontents: Historic Conservation and the Battlegrounds of Memory. 9 units (3-0-6): first term. What makes an old building, artifact, or custom "historic"? Which historic things are worth preserving? This course explores the aesthetic, political, social, and environmental dimensions of heritage culture. Moving from local conservation efforts to comparative frameworks of national and global heritage, we will examine the management of built and natural environments as it pertains to questions of narrative, values, standards of beauty, and justice. From Caltech's own campus to the Watts Towers and the National Park Service, to UNESCO and the architectural legacies of the Atlantic slave trade, our class will grapple with the theories, practices, and debates of heritage conservation as they determine what gets preserved and which stories get told. Readings/viewings will be supplemented with field trips to heritage sites in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Instructors: Hori, Jurca.
VC 175. The Art of Science. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course examines the frequent and significant encounters between what chemist/novelist C.P. Snow famously dubbed the "two cultures"-the sciences and the humanities-with an emphasis on forms and practices of visual culture that blur the boundaries between science, technology, and art. What role, we will ask, have visual culture and visuality played in the construction of scientific knowledge? Taking a broad historical and geographical approach, we will explore topics including representations of science and technology in the arts and popular culture; the use of photography, illustration, and visualization in the sciences; histories of visuality and visual devices; and the everyday visual practices of scientific inquiry. Instructor: Jacobson.
H/HPS/VC 185. Angels and Monsters: Cosmology, Anthropology, and the Ends of the World. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course explores late medieval European understandings of the origins, structure, and workings of the cosmos in the realms of theology, physics, astronomy, astrology, magic, and medicine. Attention is given to the position of humans as cultural creatures at the intersection of nature and spirit; as well as to the place of Christian Europeans in relation to non-Christians and other categories of outsiders within and beyond Europe. We will examine the knowledge system that anticipated racializing theories in the West. Instructor: Wey-Gomez.
H/HPS/VC 186. From Plato to Pluto: Maps, Exploration and Culture from Antiquity to the Present. 9 units (3-0-6): second term. This course covers a broad range of topics in the history of maps and exploration from Antiquity to the present. These topics range from the earliest visualizations of earth and space in the Classical world to contemporary techniques in interplanetary navigation. By way of maps, students will explore various ways in which different cultures have conceptualized and navigated earth and space. While maps emulate the world as perceived by the human eye, they, in fact, comprise a set of observations and perceptions of the relationship between bodies in space and time. Thus, students will study maps, and the exploration they enable, as windows to the cultures that have produced them, not only as scientific and technical artifacts to measure and navigate our world. Not offered 2021-2022. Instructors: Ceva, Wey-Gomez.

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