Egypt was antiquity's antiquity. Put another way, we are closer in time to Cleopatra VII, the last of the pharaohs, than she was to the building of the Great Pyramid. Against the backdrop of this vast time scale, we will examine the stories of eight of Egypt's greatest rulers—including two extraordinary ancient women—beginning with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt in the Early Dynastic Period and ending with the irresistible ambitions of Cambyses II of Persia, Alexander the Great, and Caesar Augustus, each of whom added Egypt to his world empire. Along this 3,000-year journey we will learn about art and architecture, mythology and religion, decisive battles, palace intrigues, burial practices, literary masterpieces, the science of modern Egyptology, and the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone. We will consider the impact and meaning of Egyptian civilization to later observers, from the Hebrew Bible and Plato to Shakespeare and Freud.
“Now shalt thou feel the force of Turkish arms Which lately made all Europe quake for fear.” So spoke the Emperor Bajazeth in Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan poem, "Tamburlaine" (1587), an observation accepted by most Europeans. The Ottoman Army was the largest in Europe, its Navy ruled the shipping lanes of the Eastern Mediterranean, and its capital Istanbul was five times the size of Paris. At its height the Empire extended from the Middle East and North Africa to Greece, the Balkans, and Central Europe to the very gates of Vienna. In the words of a 17th century historian, the Ottomans accept “no other limits than the uttermost bounds of the earth,” and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V ranked the Ottoman Turks as a far greater threat to Christianity than Martin Luther. If the Ottomans and its emperors were dangerous threats, they were equally the object of admiration and fantasy, and Europeans found themselves eager to establish trading and diplomatic relations with them. Travelers and merchants were inevitably drawn toward Ottoman lands by their fascination with the Orient and the lure of profits: new goods such as pottery, carpets, silks, fashion, and art as well as new words such as candy, sugar, turquoise, tulips, and Shakespeare’s Othello. This course will examine the Ottoman Empire and its influence from its origin in the 13th century through its destruction on the battlefields of the First World War, an event that gave birth to much of the unstable Middle East
In this class, we will explore the texts of the New Testament from the perspective of modern academic scholarship, with an emphasis on their historical and social context. Doing so will require us to become familiar with both the rich diversity within Second Temple Judaism and the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire. This six-week course will focus primarily on ancient Jewish understandings of the Messiah, the historical Jesus, the Gospel tradition, Paul the Apostle, and the formation of the New Testament canon. We will read the relevant ancient texts together in translation and explore themes of conflict and diversity within emerging Christianity as it developed from an apocalyptic Jewish sect to a separate religion composed of non-Jewish followers. Come explore these fascinating and foundational texts of earliest Christianity. While it is to be expected that everyone will enter with varying assumptions and expectations about the Bible in general, it should be noted that we will adopt a historical approach to the texts of the New Testament—examining them in their original historical, cultural, and social contexts. (Please note, that we will not be reading these texts from confessional or devotional points of view.)
This course examines systems of forced exile in modern history, how they worked and why states devised them. Forcing someone to leave home for political reasons is an ancient practice. However, over the last several hundred years political authorities have become more effective than ever at exiling large numbers of people. We will focus on six cases in the last two hundred years: Britain, Tsarist Russia, France, the United States, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. New ideologies such as nationalism, racism, and the idea of progress, together with new technologies such as photography, modern transportation, and race science, came to be powerful tools used by states for social control. Lectures will include eyewitness accounts, photography, art, and film produced by exiles and the people who forced them from their homes.
Beginning in the late 19th and into the early 20th century, Japan took its place in international affairs in a remarkable way and very short time period. Unfortunately for the people of Japan, and for the countries bordering on the Pacific Ocean, this rapid expansion took a disastrous turn in the 1930’s, leading to war and destruction. This episode of history tends to dominate the vision that we in the West have of Japan since many of our fathers or grandfathers fought in WWII. But there is much more to be said about Japan and its art, culture, and historical significance in the wider world. During an eight-week series of lectures, we will explore these other dimensions, beginning in prehistory. Though the Japanese people adopted much of their early culture from the Far East Mainland, they adopted it to suit a different aesthetic. The transition from separate clans to imperial control dominated the first millennium. A thousand years ago, the royal court and attendant nobility formulated much of the tradition that carries through to the present. The adoption of Buddhism played a significant role in allowing the artistic tradition to flourish during this time period as well. Then, beginning at the end of the 12th century, the rule of military took tradition, art, and culture off into new directions. Only in the 19th century did the shoguns abandon their control, leading to a rapid modernization and embrace of new technologies, new forms of art, and international recognition. After WWII, Japan again performed an economic about-face, creating for itself a new position in world affairs. We will explore and discuss all of this with the goal of generating an appreciation for Japan’s art and culture and an understanding of its history.