Courses Taught

“Six Pretty Good Poems.” First-year seminar (part of the “Six Pretty Good Ideas” pilot series).

The “Six Pretty Good Ideas” series offers cross-cultural first-year seminars that provide an introduction to humanistic thinking at the college level. The seminars in this series aim to be simultaneously accessible for students who have so far had little experience with the humanities and also challenging for students with more background. By considering texts from around the world, we ensure that no one in the room is an expert on all the texts: we are all, including the instructors, beginners with at least some of them, helping each other think through their problems and unpack their treasures.

Sample Syllabus


“Poetry and Ethics Amidst Imperial Collapse.” Under/graduate seminar.

How can we live well in periods of instability, when the founding ideas of our civilization come under threat? What does it mean to be ethical in a situation you cannot control? Can bewilderment be a virtue? What role might poetry play in living a good life?

We will explore these questions through the work of Du Fu (712–770), long considered China’s greatest poet. Born into the richest and most powerful empire the world had ever known, Du Fu witnessed the sudden collapse both of the Tang state and of the ideals that had oriented the lives of its elite. In his poetry, he grapples with the problem of how to live a good, ethical life—and what a good, ethical life looks like—when conventional ideas about ethics and politics break down.

Sample syllabus


“Tang Documents.” Graduate seminar (with Valerie Hansen).

This course provides an introduction to the different types of sources available for the study of Tang history and literature.

Sample syllabus


“Philosophy, Religion, and Literature in Medieval China.” Under/graduate seminar.

The disciplines of Philosophy, Religion, and Literature are the products of a particular, and relatively recent, history. Before they were invented, and in cultures wherein different sorts of categories developed, texts and traditions sometimes straddled their divides, exploring problems and possibilities that do not fit neatly into the disciplinary categories through which we think today. This class will consider one such premodern world: that of late-antique and early-medieval China. It is a world of thought and literature radically different from our own, one wherein many possibilities remained open that have since closed down.

Sample syllabus


“Chinese Poetry and Literary Theory, 6th through 9th Centuries.” Graduate seminar.

Though the late Southern Dynasties were often denigrated as decadent by Tang writers, the period provided both the poetic and the theoretical bases upon which these same Early- and High-Tang poets and theorists developed their own definitive styles and concerns. By reading a broad range of poetic genres—including yuefu, court poetry, exile poetry, and even a few fu—alongside what remains of contemporary literary theory and criticism, we will track the complicated struggle with the past that defined the literary scene throughout the first two centuries of the Tang, up to the more radical departures of the Mid-Tang era.

Sample syllabus


“The Chinese Tradition.” Undergraduate lecture.

This course introduces students to core texts from the Chinese tradition, through which we will trace the development of Chinese philosophy, literature, and art from around 1200 BCE to the end of the imperial system in the early 20th century. The intellectual work of the course is close analysis of primary sources, informed by historical knowledge.

Sample syllabus


“The Three Teachings in Medieval China.” Graduate seminar (with Eric Greene).

This course explores intersections between the so-called “Three Teachings”—Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism—in medieval China, focusing on the seventh through the ninth century. These religious and intellectual traditions were deeply intertwined throughout this period, and scholars aiming to understand its religious, intellectual, and literary history need to be able to read broadly across their boundaries in a way that few studies to date have done. The central claim of the course is that intellectuals, religious figures, and literati in medieval China tended to be considerably more aware of and engaged with contemporary developments across these “Three Teachings” than are contemporary scholars who study their works, and that contemporary scholarship would benefit considerably from a better understanding of the broad intellectual developments of the medieval period.

Sample syllabus


“The Chinese Poetic Canon.” Under/graduate seminar.

This course represents an introduction to the most famous works of the Classical Chinese poetic tradition. We will read these texts in the original, focusing on developing a familiarity with the Chinese poetic idiom and the philological skills necessary for reading Chinese poetry. Students will come away from the course with the ability to read Chinese poetry on their own and a basic knowledge of the verse tradition, its most canonical writers, and the contours of its development, from its beginnings through the Song dynasty. The course is appropriate for students beginning their study of Classical Chinese poetry and students whose major focus is elsewhere but would benefit from knowing the basic works of the Chinese literary tradition.

Sample syllabus


“Directed Studies: Literature.” First-year humanities sequence, seminar and lecture.

This class will introduce you to a select group of the literary and religious works that lie at the foundation of the Western tradition. Our goal is to learn to read deeply: to recognize our texts’ underlying concerns, unstated anxieties, motivating questions, and discomforting answers—many of which will be foreign to those of us who identify most closely with the Western tradition, and some of which will be startlingly close to those of us who feel most alienated from it. Reading well is a difficult discipline, one that you do not know you lack until you begin to acquire it. The texts we read in this course have remained vital through the centuries in large measure because they demand and train this sort of reading.

Sample syllabus