First-Year Seminar: CIA Operations in the Global Cold War

First years! Some of our Hist & Lit tutors are also offering first-year seminars this year. Check out Beatrice Wayne’s seminar, “CIA Operations in the Global Cold War,” and apply here.

What inspired you to teach this class?

I was inspired to teach this class after reading Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. This gripping bookprovides a variety of perspectives from different narrators, all related to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in 1976. This is perhaps an unusual angle to come at the history of the CIA, but what impressed me so much about James’ novel is the way it managed to capture different facets of the CIA’s involvement in Jamaican politics in the mid-1970s. James is able to authentically give voice to a wide variety of perspectives and personalities who effected and were affected by covert action in the region. So often, both fictional representations and scholarly accounts of the CIA are told from a single perspective. This class takes a page from Marlon James and explores the realities of CIA actions across the globe from the point of view of many different peoples. I’m also passionate about educating students about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and am excited to work with students to familiarize them with the process of declassifying U.S. documents.

What is a source you’re excited to share with students?

I’m excited to share a blank page with my students (see below)! It’s the perfect way to encapsulate the intriguing but frustrating process of working to declassify government documents. Throughout the class, I share my own experience with this unique type of research. A few years ago, I worked to declassify documents on CIA intelligence gathering related to the Ethiopian student movement of the 1960s. In the midst of this process, I was excited one day to receive an e-mail with my newly declassified document attached, which, when I opened, looked like this:

It had been technically “declassified,” yet all the information remained redacted. Analyzing different forms of redacted and newly “scrubbed” documents will hopefully spur interesting conversations about the challenges involved with the long-term process of declassification. There are also some really interesting documents related specifically to Harvard’s long-term relationship with the CIA that it will be fun to explore with students, including beautifully designed posters from the 1969 Harvard student strike, where student activists protested the CIA’s influence on campus.

What’s something surprising students might not know about this topic?

The geographic breadth of the CIA’s covert actions across the globe. I think so often when we think of the CIA and the Cold War, we picture trench coat wearing spies skulking around dark streets in Moscow or East Berlin. Or we imagine tuxedo-clad secret agents driving luxury cars at break-neck speeds down the streets of Paris or Monaco. But this was a global Cold War, and the CIA engaged in a wide-array of intelligence gathering and covert actions outside of Europe. This class looks at the countries, political groups, activists, dissidents and mercenaries that the CIA used and worked with across the globe, from Kingston to East Sumatra to Kinshasa to Tehran.

What does your class help us understand about the present?

The question of the accountability and transparency of our government is, if anything, more relevant now than ever. How we access information about our own institutions’ intelligence gathering and covert actions both domestically and abroad is absolutely an on-going concern. The FOIA workshop and final assignment should be directly relevant to my students lives, and useful to my students’ engagement with present day politics. Students could decide to go on a FOIA-requesting binge after the class ends, looking to declassify documents around topics about which they are particularly passionate. Students will come out the class having the skills to engage with on-going debates about the declassification of documents, and the ability to irritate their friends by contextualizing every piece of pop culture about the CIA within historical perspective. The final week of the class specifically explores the ways in which foreign policy in the global Cold War has returned to shape present day domestic policy, which should help students situate and engage deeply with many present-day discussions of policing, surveillance and peoples’ right to protest, both at home and across the globe.

What advice do you have for a first-year student?

Experiment! Freshmen year is a great time to take a variety of different classes, try anything and everything that might be interesting to you. I think perhaps rather than focusing on the specific content of classes, look for classes that ask the kinds of questions you want to try to answer, and particularly the kinds of classes that provoke you to ask new kinds of questions.

If you had a CIA codename, what would it be?

I wouldn’t have a CIA codename. I’m Canadian, so it would be a CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) codename. But I definitely wouldn’t have that either, since I can’t imagine myself as an intelligence officer in any situation. Although I suppose that’s ALSO what a spy would say.

HL90 EG: Human Rights and Ethnic Studies

Looking for classes? We asked lecturers to tell us more about their fall HL90s. Mark Sanchez is teaching “Human Rights and Ethnic Studies” and talked to us about the importance of Ethnic Studies to understanding rights and justice, as well as the hardest class he took in college (hint: it’s not history or literature!).

What inspired you to come up with this class?

I am inspired to teach this course because of the disastrous human rights situation in the Philippines. As a student of Philippine studies and Ethnic studies, I have spent a lot of time in recent years thinking about the possibilities and limitations of human rights discourses. I want this class to be a space where we think together about rights and what can be done to create a more just world.

Are there any sources you’re especially excited about introducing students to?

I am particularly excited to teach A. Naomi Paik’s book Rightlessness. This has been a work that I’ve been thinking about and grappling with for the last few years. It has made me think a lot about rights and rightlessness and whether or not freedoms are necessarily accompanied by unfreedom. I cannot wait to discuss it with a group of students because I have often found that seminar discussions are really great spaces to try to make sense of things. 

I am also incredibly excited to potentially teach Alyx Ayn G. Arumpac’s recent documentary, Aswang (2019), which covers the effects of Duterte’s drug war on everyday people in the Philippines. 

Do you have any creative assignments planned?

In one of my assignments (inspired by my colleague, Beatrice Wayne) I would like to invite students to reflect on manifestos, political statements, platforms such as the Combahee River Collective Statement, I Wor Kuen’s 12 Point Program, and the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Program and work towards creating a statement/platform of their own. This assignment may be done individually or collaboratively, but I will also invite students to compose a reflection on the process and what connections/disconnects they experienced.

What do you want students to take away from the class?

I want this to be a space where students can develop an understanding of the history of human rights in the United States from the 1970s to today. My other hope (and it’s admittedly a bit of an idealistic one) is that we will work together to imagine ways to address the grave human rights injustices in our world today without replicating the power structures that undergird such violations. 

This sounds like a class we’d be excited to take! But when you were an undergraduate, what would you say the most challenging class you took was?

Definitely Intermediate Accounting 2. Debits/credits and financial statement analysis are a tricky tricky thing.

If you’re looking for a great alternative to intermediate accounting, you can check out the syllabus for “Human Rights and Ethnic Studies” on Canvas, drop by open office hours during shopping period (Monday, August 17 from 3-5) or email Mark.

HL90 DR: American Speeches

A returning favorite HL90 seminar! Drew Faust talks to us about what she learned from being the President of Harvard and how it impacted her class, “American Speeches.”

Tell us about your class!

American Speeches will explore speeches across the sweep of American history both as windows into their historical moment and as texts in and of themselves — in other words, as both history and literature. We will be asking how people across four centuries have sought to persuade others, so in many ways this is a course about an essential tool of leadership. 

What made you want to teach this class?

When I was contemplating my return to teaching after 11 years as university president, I thought about what I had learned in that role that might be shared in an undergraduate class.  I had spent a lot of time writing and delivering speeches, and I found that I often reflected on speeches I had encountered in my work as a historian and what had made them effective—or not.  I got excited thinking about how that might be captured in a course. I also knew that students in the College had expressed great interest in having more opportunities in the curriculum related to speaking—in addition to existing courses and requirements on writing, reasoning and calculating.  I imagined designing a course that reflected self-consciously on oral communication — not as a public speaking course but as a more general investigation of how speeches work.

You brought in guest speakers last year; any visitors planned for this year?

I am pleased that in the course of the semester our guests from last year will return to share their insights again: Mitch Landrieu, former New Orleans mayor, whose speech on Confederate monuments gained widespread national attention; Professor David Gergen of the Harvard Kennedy School, who served as a speechwriter for three presidents, and Diane Paulus, Tony Award winner and Artistic Director of Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre, who will help students develop and deliver their own speeches, the course’s final assignment.

What do you hope students will take away from this class?

I hope students will leave this course with a deeper understanding of the traditions of American oratory, with insight into how effective speaking works, and with new critical self-consciousness about the speeches they hear and the speeches they will almost certainly be delivering over the course of their lives.

For more information, see the syllabus on Canvas.

HL90 ER: Industrialization and Inequality

We’ve got more new HL90s to shop! Morgan Day Frank talks with us about “Industrialization and Inequality: From the Gilded Age to the Progressive Era,” some very weird delicacies from the Gilded Age, and a dentist we wouldn’t want to visit!

What inspired you to teach this class?

I love turn-of-the-twentieth-century American literature, that’s basically why I wanted to teach this class. I didn’t always love it, though. I used to be very dismissive of this period of literary history. To me, the great American authors were, like, Herman Melville and Frederick Douglass, who wrote earlier, during the antebellum period, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and William Faulkner, who wrote later in the twentieth century. I was convinced that, between the antebellum classics and the modernist classics, there was a cultural desert. Mark Twain was somebody they made you read in high school. Henry James and Edith Wharton were only interested in writing about the wealthy. In graduate school, I discovered that I had it all wrong. The turn of the twentieth century, far from being a cultural wasteland, was actually the most interesting and complicated period in American literary history. Here was a group of writers who witnessed the terrors of industrialization and were molded by this experience. In the words of one critic, Alfred Kazin, there is “a terrible estrangement in this writing, a nameless yearning for a world no one ever really possessed.”

The literature of the Gilded Age and the Progressive era is bizarre and despairing and gripping and often quite funny. I’m looking forward to reading this body of work with students and trying to understand its relationship to the historical conditions it emerged out of.

What can your class help us understand about our contemporary moment?

The Gilded Age was a truly appalling moment in American history. The decades after the Civil War were marked by dramatic wealth inequality, racial terrorism, nativism, environmental destruction, and the development of oppressive gender norms. On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, tuberculosis, typhoid, and dysentery ravaged immigrant populations living in the city’s tenements. At meatpacking plants in Chicago, the country’s sausage meat was mixed with dirt, sawdust, and spit, rats, rat feces, and rat poison. At Delmonico’s, a fancy New York restaurant, a common pre-dessert course consisted of Ortolan, a small songbird similar to the finch. Chefs fattened the bird, drowned it in Armagnac, roasted and flambéed it. Once the bird was cooked, diners ate it, innards and all.

Op-ed columnists and public intellectuals have described our terrifying contemporary moment as a second Gilded Age. In the seminar we will consider the connection between these two Gilded Ages and the role of culture in both. Can art fix the social problems we currently face? or is art part of the problem? How does literature challenge or naturalize racial inequality? gender inequality? class inequality? What makes one cultural object better than another? How is aesthetic value different from other forms of social value? These are the kinds of questions we’ll work through in class.

What are some of the texts you’re most excited about sharing with students?

There is a lot of stuff I’m excited to teach this semester. In the novel McTeague — one of my favorite novels of all time — the main character is a dentist who removes his patients’ teeth with his bare hands. With his bare hands! We’ll read Ida B. Wells’s coverage of lynchings in the South, probably the most important piece of investigative journalism ever produced. We’ll also read Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, one his late masterpieces. For all of its sophistication, this novel is really trashy and sordid — it’s about two people who try to con a dying heiress out of her money. And we’ll read an obscure novel written by an African American writer, Sutton Griggs, about a black secret society that plots to secede from the United States. A lot of good stuff!

To learn more, you can see the syllabus on Canvas, drop in during shopping period (Wednesday, August 19 from 3-5), or email Morgan.

HL90 EH: Asian American Genre Fictions

We asked lecturers to tell us more about their fall HL90s. Ellen Song shares more about the genesis and goals of her class, “Asian American Genre Fictions.”

What inspired you to teach this class?

I decided to teach Asian American Genre Fictions because there is clearly a demand for ethnic studies courses at Harvard, and I want to help fill this need. Given my training in American literature, and given my own understanding of certain social, raced, lived experiences, it made sense that I would teach a course on Asian American literature. At the same time, I want us to study Asian American literature not simply because for its ability to “represent” certain [Asian American] experiences, but because it encompasses a wide array of genres and styles. This course emphasizes the “genre fictions” part of the title as much as (or perhaps even more than) the “Asian American” part.

What can your class help us better understand about our contemporary moment?

It is extremely important that fictions written by raced authors be read as artistic objects – which are motivated by certain aesthetic goals – and not as sociological treatises about the supposed experiences of entire groups of people. I believe this is salient for us to remember today, more than ever before. With recent political events, especially BLM protests, there seems to be an energetic interest in the public in ways to be an antiracist ally – a quick scroll through your Instagram or Twitter feed will confirm this. I’ve seen many folks circulate “anti-racism reading lists” as a part of this effort. The issue, however, is that these reading lists often lump fiction by black authors (for example, Toni Morrison or Colson Whitehead) in with didactic anti-racism guidebooks. This is a problem, because novels and poetry and literary works are aesthetic objects, created by authors with an eye to language, style, rhythm, character development, and the like; if these works are being mined as pedagogical / anthropological / straightforward representational objects, we are not doing right by their authors.

Is there a book you’re especially excited to teach?

One of the last books we’ll read in our class is the 2019 National Book Award winner, Trust Exercise, by the author Susan Choi. This is an absolutely gripping novel, one which hasn’t been discussed in popular commentary in terms of its handling of race. I’ve recommended it to eight of my friends! I’m excited to tackle this book together with students.

Do you have options for creative assignments?

In my past HL90, I gave students the option to submit a creative project for the final assignment in lieu of a written paper. Students channeled their creative energy to produce all sorts of wonderful and thoughtful assignments. Many students chose to write short stories, but some students submitted other works: a painting (with a special video projected on top of this painting), map, manifesto, stills from a graphic novel-in-progress. In Asian American Genre Fictions, you’ll have the freedom to choose a creative project of your liking, as long as you accompany your project with an “artist’s statement” that includes secondary sources and an analytical explanation of your thought process. You might consider writing a short story in the style of one of the genres we will be reading together, whether noir, spy story, or fantasy!

What texts inspired you most as a student?

I wrote my senior thesis on the notion of “writer-protagonists who write obsessively about their own desire” in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera (translated by Edith Grossman).

To learn more, you can see the syllabus on Canvas, attend an info session during shopping week on Tuesday, August 18 or Thursday, August 20 from 12-1:15, or email Ellen with any questions.

HL90 DB: Museums in America

Get your shopping list ready! We asked our lecturers to tell us about their fall HL90s. Reed Gochberg takes us on a tour of her class, “Museums in America.”

Tell us about your class!

“Museums in America” will explore the history and development of museums in the United States. One of my main goals for this course is to think together about how the history of museums continues to inform ongoing debates today. How do museums decide what to collect, preserve, and display? What do we mean when we talk about “decolonizing museums”? What are some of the strategies museums use to engage and expand their audience? Our class will explore how these questions have resonated in American culture. We’ll examine museum installations and digital exhibits, as well as discussions in guidebooks, fiction, and film, and we will also have the chance to discuss these issues with curators from Harvard’s museums.

What does your class help us understand about the present?

There has been so much debate about the role of museums in American culture over the past six months, and it feels like an extremely pivotal moment to be considering these questions. In March, many museums had to close their doors to the public due to COVID-19; while some have started to reopen in the past few weeks, it has been—and likely will continue to be—a slow process. This has had huge financial impacts on many institutions, and it’s also meant that many museums have shifted their programming to develop virtual tours, online gallery talks, and other kinds of programs that people can access from their homes. At the same time, this summer has seen increased debate about museums and social justice. Following national protests about police violence and racial injustice, many museums issued statements that promised more inclusive programming. However, they’ve also sparked further debate about the state of the field and what future changes will be necessary.

My goal for our class is to better understand the longer histories of contemporary debates about the role and purpose of museums. I’m especially excited to have the opportunity for us to engage with these questions about inclusion, accessibility, and belonging. It’s a moment of challenge and self-reflection for many museums, and my hope is that we can think together about the future of these institutions as well as their past.

What’s something you’re excited to share with students?

William J. Wilson’s “Afric-American Picture Gallery” (1859) was serialized in the Anglo-African Magazine in 1859, and it describes a fictional museum dedicated to black history. Wilson had previously written on the need for more representations of black history, art, and literature, and this story imagines an alternative museum that will fill that gap. The author starts by describing individual paintings and objects, but as the story goes on, it gets stranger and stranger: in one later chapter, the narrator hops into one of the paintings; and visitors also start to show up to the gallery who have supposedly read the previous chapters that were published in earlier issues of the magazine.

I love how this story invites us to consider how black writers were reimagining museums in the mid-nineteenth century and challenging readers to reflect on what was being collected and valued at that time. We’ll also be reading it alongside Lonnie Bunch III’s descriptions of the process of building the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and I’m looking forward to discussing its contemporary implications for thinking about museums and collections today.

Are you planning any creative assignments?

I’m especially excited about a collaborative research and digital exhibit project that we’ll be working on as a class. We’re going to explore the history of collecting at Harvard by researching objects from across Harvard’s museum collections and bringing them together in a digital exhibit. We’ll consider how objects came to the university, who collected them, and how they were originally classified and displayed. Museum collections are often divided by fields such as art, anthropology, and natural history, but the people who collected them frequently had very wide-ranging interests, and the ways that objects were interpreted have shifted over time. We’ll be working on this project throughout the second half of the semester and collaborate as a class to decide how to organize the exhibit, draft labels and other text, and draw connections between the objects.

Museums always seem so serious—don’t touch anything and don’t talk too loudly! Do you have any favorite examples of the museum in the popular imagination?

As a kid, I read and reread E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I have always loved Claudia and Jamie’s adventures living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and their quest to find out the history of a mysterious sculpture. Maybe our own exhibit research will turn up similar discoveries? At the very least, we will have lots of opportunities to talk about other great moments of museums in pop culture this semester.

To learn more, you can check out the syllabus on Canvas, drop by an info session during shopping week on Monday, August 17 from 12-2:45, or email Reed with any questions.

HL90 EL: France and Its “Others”

Thinking about classes? We asked lecturers to tell us more about their fall HL90s. John Boonstra talks about his class, “France and Its ‘Others’: Race, Nation, and Identity in (Post)Imperial Society” French film, and his feelings about the best way to eat French fries.

What inspired you to teach this class?

I was trained as an historian of France and French colonialism, and my interests have increasingly gravitated around the Mediterranean region, specifically the encounters and exchanges between Europe (France especially), the Middle East, and North Africa. After teaching a seminar on “Gender and Empire in the Modern Mediterranean” last semester, this course was a way for me to approach twentieth-century French history—and the centrality of race and nation to this history—in a way that foregrounded imperial and colonial dynamics that have continued beyond the era of decolonization and into the very present.

What about the present does your class help us understand?

I was listening to a French radio broadcast this summer, featuring some supposed expert on American culture; discussing the Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing—which were occurring not only in the United States, but also in France and around the world—he confidently professed that racism and racialized police brutality were specifically American problems. When the mayor of Paris attempted to take the bare minimum step of banning police chokeholds last month, she was rebuffed by similar reasoning. Given the depth of France’s colonial history—not to mention its role in the slave trade—and the continuities of racial, ethnic, and religious inequalities in contemporary French society, in employment and educational structures, in migration patterns and politics, in popular culture and historical memory, this kind of statement is as striking for its myopia as for its hypocrisy. Perhaps even more interestingly, the insistence that race is an American phenomenon obscures how crucially racial knowledge and identity formation have shaped France’s own history and, more intriguingly still, its mythologized self-conception as the color-blind birthplace of liberty, equality, and fraternity.

What kind of texts are you excited to share with students?

In addition to classic theoretical texts—Sartre, de Beauvoir, Aimé Césaire and Albert Memmi, Frantz Fanon—on racial, gender, and colonial difference, we’ll be reading some really excellent and provocative recent novels and films. Michel de Houellebecq’s Submission—envisioning a France taken over from within by Muslim extremists—is what actually inspired the course, enacting as it does a deep-seated yet paradoxical right-wing fear of internal colonization. But we’ll also be using the perspective of the “outsider” to critique white-dominant French society and culture, such as through Fatou Diome’s The Belly of the Atlantic and Alain Mabanckou’s Blue White Red—the former about a Senegalese immigrant writer and feminist and her soccer-obsessed brother, and the latter the tale of a French-Congolese dandy, or sapeur (a member of the Society of Ambienceurs and Peoples of Elegance)—as well as classics of the 1980s like Azouz Begag’s Shantytown Kid and Mehdi Charef’s Tea in the Harem (we’ll be watching the film version). I’m also excited to watch popular contemporary films like The Class [Entre les murs], which won the 2008 Palme d’Or at Cannes, and Samba, which I actually first saw on a plane coming back to the U.S. from France, but which had me at various points laughing, crying, and cursing at the injustice of systems meant to maintain hierarchies of inequality and exclusion.

French fries or French toast?

I make a mean banana bread French toast. The French douse their frites with ketchup and mayonnaise. I would cringe, but I tend to dip my fries in whatever is closest at hand: hot sauce, hummus, beer, wine (kidding—sort of).

To learn more, you can see the syllabus on Canvas, drop by during shopping period (Monday and Wednesday, 12-1:15), or email John to set up an appointment!

HL99 EE: Fighting the Climate Crisis

Get your shopping lists ready! We asked our lecturers about their fall HL90s. Patrick Whitmarsh is ready to take on the climate crisis with students this fall!

Tell us about your class!

I was inspired to teach this course after participating in a team-taught seminar at Boston University called Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Global Challenges: Climate Change. That course spent a lot of time covering the actual science and political dynamics of climate change, but I wanted to focus more on the ways that narrative, rhetoric, and storytelling intersect with the science and politics. So I decided to teach a class about that! This course pays more attention to cultural artifacts including environmental writings, fictional texts, advertisements, music, and other materials that engage with climate change, both directly and indirectly. We’ll also read secondary materials on environmentalism and the oil industry.

Do you have a text you’re looking forward to sharing with students?

I’m excited for students to read an article that John Steinbeck wrote for Life in 1961 about something called Project Mohole.  The project wasn’t directly related to climate change, but is a vivid instance of what scholars today call the Anthropocene—a proposed period of geological time in which humanity’s presence on earth can be detected in the fossil layer.  If you’re interested, you can read about Project Mohole here.

What might students be surprised to know about the climate crisis?

Students might be interested to know that evidence suggests there are links between climate change and emergent diseases. Although there is no definitive link in the case of the novel coronavirus, it’s believed that previous epidemics have been at least partially caused by practices of deforestation and resource extraction, both of which drive animals from their indigenous habitats and lead to new interactions between species. So when we talk about fighting the climate crisis, we should remember that it’s not only about global warming and rising sea levels—it’s also about public health!

Are you planning any creative assignments?

One cool assignment that students will complete early in the semester is a carbon footprint calculation. This isn’t an involved assignment, but it is a revealing one! Students can also take into consideration whether recent changes in lifestyle or behavior, due to the pandemic, have contributed to their footprint; and we’ll talk about our results as a class and discuss what the options are for individual agency.

Your class is so timely; what can the history of climate activism tell us about today?

More than anything, this topic helps us understand that our current situation was NOT inevitable, but could have been otherwise. When we study the histories of the fossil fuel economy and environmentalism, we can see a tug-of-war between financial incentives and social/ethical responsibility. Our present situation was never certain or guaranteed, but is the result of long processes of capitalism, industrialization, and colonialism. And if our present moment could have been otherwise, then that means our future can be otherwise!

Anything else you want to share?

Any science fiction fans out there? Believe it or not, sf writers really do lead the way when it comes to writing about climate and the environment. We’ll check out a few short stories in this course…

To learn more, you can check out the syllabus on Canvas, watch a short introduction to the class, attend drop in office hours on Monday, August 17 and Wednesday, August 19 from 1:00-2:45, or email Patrick!

HL90 EC: A Cultural History of the Internet

Get your shopping lists ready! We asked our lecturers about their fall HL90s. Briana Smith tells us all about the internet, the Smashing Pumpkins, and more.

What inspired you to teach this class?

The idea for this class came out of my new research project on German cybercultures and the history of the German hacker organization the Chaos Computer Club. After reading Fred Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture about digital utopianism in the US, I was stoked to explore the cultural history of Germany’s computer worlds. I also wanted to better understand how Germans responded to the cybercultures emerging from the US in the 1970s. I decided to craft a course around the history of the internet in the United States, with the Fred Turner book as our guide, while also extending the course into the twenty-first century. I do also want to note that planning for this class was well underway before the pandemic hit, but I am quite excited about the pedagogical possibilities introduced by teaching a class about the internet on the internet!

What’s something you’re especially excited to share with students?

24 Hours in Cyberspace is a book (with CD-ROM!) published in 1997 documenting a website and online event from February 8, 1996, described as the “largest collaborative internet event ever.” The concept for the project involved “the world’s leading photojournalists” (including Second Lady Tipper Gore) taking photographs of people around the world using the internet or people whose lives were changed by their encounters with the internet. The photos were to be taken on February 8, 1996 and uploaded to the website ( in real time. The event captures the excitement of the moment so well: when cyberspace promised to transcend geographical distance and allow people to collaborate and connect across the world. The fact that this website was immediately turned into a book is also fascinating to me. It indicates how this was also a liminal moment, when enthusiasm for cyberspace coexisted with the impulse to create a physical copy of a website to sell as a coffee table book. 

Will you be doing any cool projects in class?

Modeled on the “History of the Present” approach, students will design a research project around a contemporary question or problem related to the internet that intrigues them. The goal is then to develop an argument on that contemporary topic drawing on historical research, including the use of primary sources. The final project will not look like your usual college research paper, instead it will take the form of an op-ed style essay and/or blog post that is sharp and persuasive, but built on thorough historical research and contextualization. This assignment also invites students to refine their ability to write in clear and concise, yet also compelling, prose, which is an incredibly valuable skill in a variety of writing contexts. 

Students will also have the option to make a video in lieu of the final written work. This version of the assignment will invite students to present their research via images and video, and consider how the visual element can enhance their argument. I have received a grant from the Elson Family Arts Initiative Fund to purchase a class subscription to the online video editing software WeVideo, and will be offering additional tech support for those interested in making videos.

What do you want students to take away from your class?

I did not use the internet until I was twelve years old. Thus, I have plenty of memories of life without the internet. I am anticipating students who take this class will have a variety of stories about their lives with or without the internet. I am really excited to hear these stories. During the first few weeks of class, we will devote time to sharing our personal histories with the internet and its changing role in our lives in order to consider how these individual experiences have shaped the ways we inhabit cyberspace and the place of technology in our everyday lives. 

This class will also offer more practical tools for students interested in the intersection of technology and the humanities. Through this course, students will be exposed to methodologies for studying and historically contextualizing digital cultures and online phenomena, while tackling more theoretical questions about the virtual vs. the actual world, the posthuman, and the politics of virtual space. Students will also leave this class with a better sense for the actual people who made the internet, the communities who made it their own, and how tech companies learned how to commodify our online lives. 

We’ve got to ask! What were your first experiences online?

My introduction to the World Wide Web involved a search engine called WebCrawler, whose logo featured a friendly spider riding a surfboard and holding a magnifying glass. My first goal online was to find lyrics to Smashing Pumpkins songs and later to create my own Geocities website devoted to sharing my love for the Smashing Pumpkins. Later, I frequented a chat room (screen name: Tristessa! Yes, that is the title of a Smashing Pumpkins song) where I found other “alternative” music fans to chat with. As a teenager in a town of 2,000 in northern Minnesota, this was a very exciting development. 

To learn more, you can check out the syllabus on Canvas, stop by shopping week (Thursday, 3-5:45), or email Bri at to set up an appointment!