Course Description

How have cities been represented in literature and media? As we explore this overarching question, we’ll consider four more specific aspects of representations of the city:

  • What common images make up the vocabulary of representations of the city? What does that vocabulary reflect about the nature of cities and/or the way people think about cities?
  • Are there common, repeated narratives about cities? Where do these come from? How do they reflect the nature of cities and/or the way people think about cities? How are they influenced by the culture of the era and/or place? How do they reflect other social concerns?
  • Cities are complex, diverse, changing places, and so they are not easily represented. What strategies do writers and filmmakers use to construct representations of cities? How do they use and adapt familiar images and narratives?
  • How do we encounter representations of cities? How do the images, narratives, and strategies of urban representations influence the way we interact with these representations and/or the way we live in cities?

The goal of this course is to animate and complicate your understanding of these ideas and, ultimately, to enable you to critically and insightfully consider both what representations have to say about cities and how representations use narratives, characters, perspectives, and various types of images to shape the way we look at cities and urban life.

Through a significant analytical and creative multimedia project, you will both deepen and demonstrate your understanding of how urban representations work. The project, which you will develop over the course of the semester, has three parts:

  • An annotated digital scrapbook in which you will explore ideas about how cities and representations of the city work, try out methods for examining cities and their representations, collect and comment on examples of representations of a city of your choice, and plan your project
  • A podcast, video, online exhibit, interactive map, or other multimedia project that incorporates existing representations of your city, your analysis of those representations, and representations that you create
  • A short essay articulating the design principles and core concepts of your project

To do this project well, you need four things: ideas, examples, practice, and coaching.   Over the course of the semester, you’ll learn about, play with, and evaluate a range of ideas about cities and representations that you can then apply and/or adapt for use in your own project. You’ll read and view a variety of examples, and you’ll practice ways of analyzing and constructing representations. You’ll also receive significant feedback, from us, from your colleagues, and from outside experts in literary, cultural, and urban studies.

As this suggests, this course does not focus on the transmission of knowledge from our minds to yours. Instead, the goal is for you to develop a conceptual and methodological toolkit for thinking about cities and their representation. You can do that most effectively not by listening but by doing. Our job is to provide resources and opportunities for you to develop your ways of thinking and to serve as coaches and facilitators along the way. Your job is to read background materials and primary examples, to explore them through discussions, and to deepen your understanding through independent, exploratory work and critical discussions about your own and your colleagues’ projects.




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