The graduate and undergraduate courses I have designed and delivered reflect my research interests and intellectual investments as well as my commitment to the humanities and my deep and abiding love for education and the liberal arts. In June 2023, I was honored to receive a Dean’s Distinguished Teaching Award from the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University.
COURSES (a representative selection)
“Between Gods and Beasts: The Struggle for Humanity” (freshman seminar)
Centuries ago, Plotinus famously wrote that humanity was “poised midway between gods and
beasts” (Enneads 3.2.8). Some individuals “grow like to the divine,” he asserted, and “others to the brute.” Since antiquity, many different societies, east and west, have understood education as a fundamental factor in determining whether individuals became fully realized as human beings or something less. Considered a civilizing force for individuals and societies, education aimed not only at the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also at the cultivation of goodness, the attainment of wisdom, and the achievement of happiness. In short, the goal of learning was to live well. What does it mean to live well? How does one cultivate one’s nature or become one’s best possible self? What kind of personal and intellectual development does this presuppose? Are there limits to the human capacity for self-development and change? In this course we will ponder such questions as we reflect critically on human nature and on historical and contemporary ideas regarding education, self-development, and living well.
“Michelangelo: Gateway to Early Modern Italy” (Art History, History, Italian; grad/undergrad)
Revered as one of the greatest artists in history, Michelangelo Buonarroti’s extraordinarily long and prodigious existence (1475–1564) spanned the Renaissance and the Reformation in Italy. The celebrity artist left behind not only sculptures, paintings, drawings, and architectural designs, but also an abundantly rich and heterogeneous collection of artifacts, including direct and indirect correspondence (approximately 1400 letters), an eclectic assortment of personal notes, documents and contracts, and 302 poems and 41 poetic fragments. This course will explore the life and production of Michelangelo in relation to those of his contemporaries. Using the biography of the artist as a thread, this interdisciplinary course will draw on a range of critical methodologies and approaches to investigate the civilization and culture of Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Course themes will follow key tensions that defined the period and that found expression in Michelangelo: physical-spiritual, classical- Christian, tradition-innovation, individual-collective.
“Great Minds of the Italian Renaissance and Their World” (Art History, History, Italian; undergrad)
What enabled Leonardo da Vinci to excel in over a dozen fields from painting to engineering and to anticipate flight four hundred years before the first aircraft took off? How did Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel Ceiling? What forces and insights led Machiavelli to write The Prince? An historical moment and a cultural era, the Italian Renaissance famously saw monumental achievements in literature, art, and architecture, influential developments in science and technology, and the flourishing of multi-talented individuals who contributed profoundly, expertly and simultaneously to very different fields. In this course on the great thinkers, writers, and achievers of the Italian Renaissance, we will study these “universal geniuses” and their world. Investigating the writings, thought, and lives of such figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Galileo Galilei, we will interrogate historical and contemporary ideas concerning genius, creativity, and the phenomenon of “Renaissance man” known as polymathy.
“Word and Image” (Art History, Complit, Italian; grad/undergrad)
What impact do images have on our reading of a text? How do words influence our understanding of images or our reading of pictures? What makes a visual interpretation of written words or a verbal rendering of an image successful? These questions will guide our investigation of the manifold connections between words and images in this course on intermediality and the relations and interrelations between writing and art from classical antiquity to the present. Readings and discussions will include such topics as the life and afterlife in word and image of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost; the writings and creative production of poet-artists Michelangelo Buonarroti, William Blake, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti; innovations in and correspondences between literature and art in the modern period, from symbolism in the nineteenth century through the flourishing of European avant-garde movements in the twentieth century.
“The Pen and The Sword: A Gendered History” (CompLit, FemGen, History, Italian; undergrad)
As weapons, the pen and the sword have been used to wound, punish, and condemn as well as to protect, liberate, and elevate. Historically entangled with ideals of heroism, nobility, and civility, the pen and the sword have been the privileged instruments of men. Yet, throughout history, women have picked up the pen and the sword in defense, despair, and outrage as well as with passion, vision, and inspiration. This course is dedicated to them, and to study of works on love, sex, and power that articulate female experience. In our readings and seminars, we will encounter real and fictive women in their own words and in narrations and depictions by others from classical antiquity to the present, with a special focus on the Renaissance and on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Touching on such topics as flattery and slander through the study of misogynistic, protofeminist, and feminist works in the early modern and modern periods in various European literary traditions, we will consider questions of truth and falsehood in fiction and in life. Course materials span a variety genres and media, from poetry, letters, dialogues, public lectures, treatises, short stories, and drama to painting, sculpture, music, and film – works regarded for their aesthetic, intellectual, religious, social, and political value and impact.