Topic outline

  • History of Now

    Please Note - This is an Advanced/Plan Level class - You need permission of the instructor to participate in this class. If you did not come to the Intro class and are thinking of taking the class you need to email both of us - and and plan to talk to us in person before the first class.

    Since that day ten years ago we have lived in a subtly different country, and though we have grown accustomed to these changes and think little of them now, certain words still appear often enough on the news … to remind us that ours remains a strange America.

       Mark Danner, “After September 11: Our State of Exception,”   The New York Review

                                           of Books, October 13, 2011    


    Contemporary history begins when the problems that are actual in the world today first take visible shape.

      - Geoffrey Barraclough, An Introduction to Contemporary History (1964), p. 20


    The whole of the coming world is present and prefigured in that of the present.

    -      from Leibniz, quoted by Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia, p. 9


    Reading, writing, and … conversation.

        Perhaps more than in some courses, we expect and anticipate substantive contributions from all members of the class.   We are highly interested in how you see “the present,” including what you think we  (or the authors of assigned works) are missing.  We will highlight some issues and phenomena and what may be their sources before today, as historians are inclined to do.  We hope you will identify others, or   additional aspects of these.. If ever generational differences mattered, studying “now” would be the time.   We will see where this takes us and we may alter the course materials as we go along.  (We may change some readings along the way.)


        Your course assignment is to try to characterize the present time, “now.”


         Attendance, reading and viewing, and thoughtful contributions to discussion are taken for granted, and a significant part of course credit and grading.


        Writing should total at least 20 pages for the course, half devoted to written responses to the material for four weeks of the course.  In addition, for one class session, contribute a piece of material for the class to consider (online, or posted, in advance would be best) and offer a commentary in class.


        The other half of the writing may be either Plan writing or a research paper.   This writing is due by May 8 (the last day for coursework).

    • Thinking about Urbanism 2/4 to 2/18

    • Thinking about Mobilities 2/25 to 3/11

    • Thinking about Catastrophes 4/1 to 4/15

      • Thinking about Visuality 4/22 to 5/6

        This section will include discussions on images as the primary way we recall and make sense of history as well as discussions on the meaning of violence and its representation with a particular focus on torture. Please note, these images are disturbing and may have a triggering effect.

        If you do not wish to engage with this material, please let us know. 

      • Last Day for Papers/coursework to be submitted - May 8