Course Archive

These MALS courses have been offered in the past and can give you a flavor of our curriculum.

Introduction to Graduate Liberal Studies (MALS601)

  • Instructors:  Paula Persoleo

A gateway experience for incoming MALS students. Students learn the conventions and expectations of graduate-level reading, writing, research, and critical analysis and explore the concept of interdisciplinarity. Topics include documentation of sources, formulation and development of independent research projects, research methods, use of online databases. The content will be interdisciplinary and/or intercultural, and the course methodology will include lecture, discussion, independent research, and varied forms of academic writing.

Sample syllabus: MALS601 Syllabus Fall 2020.pdf

Nature and Human Nature (MALS600)

  • Instructor: Heyward Brock

Addresses the development, status, and understanding of humanity within a larger context, e.g., how writers in various disciplines have defined humanity, nature, and the relationship between the two, or the interaction between humans.

Nature and Human Nature: Oil and Water: Elements of Global EcoFiction (MALS600)

In his provocative 2004 essay “Reflections on Water & Oil,” David Orr  declares that “Water makes life possible, while oil is toxic to most life. Water in its pure state is clear; oil is dark.” He even makes the extremely provocative claim that “Oil and water have had contrary effects on our minds”: water inspires and heals; oil deadens the imagination and made us “dumber.”  Is Orr on to something? Is he way off base? This course invites you to engage with these questions by thinking broadly and deeply about different ways of imagining and experiencing each of these substances. What might thinking with/through oil and water help us to see?  What might such thinking occlude? How might thinking in terms of oil and water enrich and enliven our ideas about environmentalism and sustainability?  Where are writers and artists leading us in terms of imagining or reconfiguring this relationship to make it more sustainable?  These are broad opening questions for a course that is very much interested in exploration and discovery.

Why “elements”?

  • Because the term connotes essentials, building blocks, basics, things out of which we build more complex things, like societies, and ways of life. Both oil and water are essential ingredients in our day-to-day experience.  In very real senses, our experience is built out of those materials. This course asks you to pay more attention to these ubiquitous, essential, mysterious, and often hidden elements that make up so much of our lives and worlds.
  • Also because, as the editors of the volume Elemental Ecocriticism note, the term “elements” evokes ancient conceptions of a vibrant, vividly animate non-human world with which humans are in dynamic relation.  Several of the texts we read this term lead us to conceive of oil, water, and their interactions in these terms. Such conceptions have consequences.  We will explore what those are.

Force, Conflict and Change–From Turning Points to Myths: How History Gets Presented  (MALS610)

Historians, confronting the confusion and strangeness of the past, try to make it more comprehensible by organizing their narratives around a significant event or personality.  Hence the fascination with “decisive battles”, “turning points” and “key figures”.  The shapers of popular culture–poets, painters novelists and, in our time, film makers and television producers–take this narrative convenience and spin myths around it.  The end result is that what happened and why becomes obscured and what is believed to have happened is often a literary or cinematic construct.

In this seminar, we will look at three case studies of this phenomenon. 

Draft syllabus: MALS610 draft syllabus summer 2019.pdf

Force, Conflict, and Change: Empires–Good Thing or Bad Thing? (MALS610)

The image of empire has been largely shaped not by historians but by Hollywood: marching Roman legionnaires or pith helmeted Britons ordering Asians or Africans about. (The image of empire might well include the American “winning of the West” but, for some reason, seldom does.)  But empire is a much more complex business than cinematic spectacle and worthy of very serious attention.  After all, much more of human history has been shaped by empires than by nation states and parliamentary democracies–both quite recent arrivals on the scene and by no means guaranteed to dominate the future.  Empires of various sorts are still with us–and also aspire to write that future. We will look comparatively at several long lived and influential empires and seek at least a tentative answer to the question posed by the course title.

The basic reading for the seminar will be Krishan Kumar’s “Visions of Empire” (Princeton, 2017).  A paper edition is available.  Further readings will grow out of the discussions in the seminar and the paper topic chosen.

Every student will be expected to do a paper of roughly 15 pp on a topic developed out of the reading and seminar discussions.  A one page proposal will be handed in at the end of the first month of the course.  Once approved, the full paper will be due at the last class meeting.  Details (footnote form, etc.) will be discussed in class.

Draft syllabus: MALS610 Syllabus Summer 2020.pdf

Force, Conflict and Change: World War II (MALS610)

  • Instructor: Dr. Steven Sidebotham

This seminar will provide an overview of the causes, course and outcome of World War II and the general impact it had on world history until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The seminar will use an extensive collection of oral interviews of World War II veterans (American, other Allied and Axis, both men and women from all theaters of the war) personally conducted by the instructor to illustrate the conflict.

Force, Conflict and Change: The Last Great War? (MALS610)

War, the institutions created to wage it, and the social classes that controlled those institutions have played a central role in history for as long as we have had an historical record.  In the late 18th century war morphed into something new and much more destructive as the French Revolution created the concept of the “Nation in Arms” and the Industrial Revolution armed that militant nation with weapons of steadily more destructive power.  This process culminated in 1939-45. 

The course will focus on this last spasm of industrialized destruction.  It destroyed European empires, created a global American one, led to deep and profound social and cultural changes and still, 75 years on, casts a long shadow over us.  The course will be as much about what the war changed and created as about how it was waged.  Looking back at it all in long retrospect tells us much about how our world came to be what it is.

The Arts in Context: Drama in Performance (MALS617)

This course proceeds from the premise that drama is designed to be performed, not just read.  To that end, we will focus on productions by UD’s Resident Ensemble Players, and several members of that group will be visiting our class.  Other visitors will include directors, designers, and reviewers.  In addition, we’ll look for opportunities to attend plays off campus, including optional trips to Wilmington and Philadelphia.  The course will also include a unit on film adaptation, and each student can choose one work by a major playwright (such as Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, or August Wilson) to see ways that a movie reworks a dramatic text.  “Drama in Performance” will not require acting talent (as the professor himself will illustrate), but each class meeting will include brief, unrehearsed readings from the plays being discussed.

Interpreting the Past: The Dream of Empire (MALS622)

There have always been empires.  Their number far exceeds the number of democracies of any sort that have ever existed.  Why is this so?  How are empires born?  How to they grow and flourish?  Why do they die?  Most important of all: what do they do to and for those they rule and what do they leave behind when they vanish?  All these questions will be explored through history and literature. This course will be based and reading and class discussion and a course essay will be required.

Interpreting the Past: Historicizing the Personal: Storytelling and Local/Familial Histories (MALS622)

The course focuses on primary-source resources to “tell stories” about people, places, or businesses.  For instance, a student could choose to research an individual, a family, a home, a neighborhood, or even a photograph. 

Interpreting the Past: The Rise of Modern Technology–Industrialization, Culture, and Ideology (MALS622)

“Modernity” is the outcome of revolutionary technological change – from the steam engine to the computer. How did this arise? What have been the effects? The past two centuries were littered with broken bodies and spirits as technology transformed war and reshaped society. A great divergence arose between the industrialized West and the rest. We have experienced rapid advances in living standards and life spans, increasing separation from the natural world, and release from grinding physical labor. Capitalism shaped the industrial revolution, while at the same time siring mass democracy, fascism, communism, imperialism, nationalism, globalism, environmental catastrophe, and the means to extinguish human life on the planet. Art, literature, and history give us tools to analyze the paradoxes of technological “progress.”

Sample syllabus: MALS622 Rise of Modern Technology syllabus 2018.pdf

Interpreting the Past: What Actually Happened in 1940–And Other Historical Legends (MALS622)

“When the legend becomes Fact, print the Legend.” This line, from John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” has come to characterize the way history reaches many people–perhaps the majority.  Popular accounts, memoirs, novels, films, TV series shape perceptions of “how it was” and those perceptions, in turn, shape responses to current issues.  We will look at one of the great examples of history into legend, with side trips into other such episodes (why did we win the Revolutionary War–really?). Among the books we will read are Robin Prior’s When Britain Saved the West and Piers Mackesy’s The War for America.

Writing in Liberal Studies: Memory Speaks—The Craft of Contemporary Memoir (MALS624)

To document, explore, commemorate, and ultimately to understand the relationship of ones’ life to history is noeasy undertaking, but this is the task of the memoirist. From the initial recollection of events to the quest to bestow upon these events inward and outward meaning, memoir is a public genre, and it requires the imagination of the storyteller, the knowledgeof the historian, and the discipline of the editor: a delicate interplay of skill and talent that, with practice, yields memorable literature. Creative, contemplative, and critical, Memory Speaks is a disciplined exploration of the theory and practice of written recollection, grounded in reading and discussion of influential memoirists’ work as well as workshop discussion of participant work.

Studies in Contemporary Culture: Composing Identities (MALS626)

Who we are and where we come from impacts all facets of our lives from our families to our professions to our social media presence. This course considers how culture and language shape our racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, and socioeconomic identities and how we represent them online. We will spend the semester considering how we “write” ourselves and our communities and how we are “written” by technologies and media around us. We will investigate the use of visual, audio, and cultural conventions within certain technological communities (Facebook, LinkedIn, Match) in creating individual and group identities. We will also discuss the importance of identification through association (with one another, with media, with brands, etc.) and how this necessitates critical awareness of the technologies we use.

Sample syllabus: MALS620 Composing Identity.pdf

Studies in Contemporary Culture: Punishment and Society (MALS626)

This course examines punishment as a social institution, understood through (1) social inequality and solidarity, (2) law and society and (3) culture and morality, including contemporary popular culture. We draw upon a rich theoretical toolkit which includes foundational readings in Western Sociology and penality, derived from Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Norbert Elias, Erving Goffman, Michel Foucault, and Pierre Bourdieu, as well as from critical, feminist and intersectional approaches. We use these conceptual resources to examine imprisonment as the preeminent form of punishment in modern society and to probe the social causes, functions, and consequences of the turn to hyperincarceration made by the United States and subsequently exported worldwide.  Students will compare and contrast how punishment works in Delaware with other contexts, tailored to their interests.

 Foundational questions include: what is the relationship between punishment and society?  What are its causes, consequences and future trends? What are the functions served by incarceration today?  What effects does incarceration have on penal workers, incarcerated people, their families, and on their communities?

NOTE: If you have an interest in the Graduate Community Engagement Scholars Certificate, this class will have an optional component that will fulfill a three-credit course requirment for the certificate. Please contact the MALS director for further information: or 302-831-4130.

Draft syllabus:  Punishment and Society

Studies in Contemporary Culture: Encountering ‘the Other’ in Tourism and Travel (MALS626)

International tourism is the fastest growing industry in the world, and has produced one of the largest population movements in the history of humanity.  In this course, we will discuss tourism and travel as cultural practices as well as globalization phenomena. We will pay particular attention to tourism as an encounter in search for authenticity and otherness. The course will examine topics such as tourism and modernity, sexual and romantic tourism, ecotourism and environmental tourism.

Studies in Contemporary Culture: American Nightmares (MALS626)

There is a tension in our culture between our aspirations idealized by the notion of the American Dream, and our fears that things are–or are on the verge of getting worse.  We might call these fears American Nightmares.  This seminar will explore some of these contemporary concerns about inequality, injustice, conspiracies, and the like.

There will be eleven substantive sessions, each with 3 readings. There will also be 2-3 book assignments for the semester. The topics that will be covered (not necessarily in this order) are:

  1. COVID as a policy problem 
  2. COVID as a window on conspiratorial thinking 
  3. Police shootings, etc. 
  4. The subscription economy
  5. Cancel and other problematic cultures 
  6. Polarization 
  7. Holidays and other problematic memories
  8. Fake news and other debates over authority The various demographic transitions 
  9. The American Dream and inequality 
  10. The big picture: where are we heading?

How to Read an Election (MALS629)

How do people really make important decisions, like how to vote in an election? Why are lies so often effective, even when they’re transparent? How is it possible for two apparently rational individuals to draw the opposite conclusions from the same evidence? How to Read an Election moves beyond partisan politics to delve into psychology, literature, and film for insights into these and other questions that inevitably arise during an election season. We’ll read recent best-sellers, such as Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (excerpts), in which he summarizes his Nobel-prize-winning research on how humans make and manipulate decisions; The Secret Life of Pronouns, in which psychologist James Pennebaker offers hints on how to read between the lines to understand what people are really saying; and Weaponized Lies, a primer of critical thinking by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. We’ll also discuss relevant literary works, such as Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and George Orwell’s 1984; and films like Dr. Strangelove and Wag the Dog. A course website will provide links to lectures and interviews by many of these authors. In addition to the reading, the course will involve two response papers, a personal essay, and a take-home final exam. 

Click here for a sample reading list: How to Read an Election reading list

Death and Dying (MALS635)

This course will consider a number of responses to the “problem” of death and dying. Our premise is that there is such a thing as a good death, that many traditions consider the good life as the one that ends in a good death, and thus the highest practice in life prepares one for a good death. We will not address the question of an afterlife per se, but rather we will focus on the meaning of death and the meaning of a life that ends in death. We will look at representatives of Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Western philosophical and psychological traditions, and religious viewpoints. Students are invited to form their own conclusions and seek their own coherence.

Click here for a draft syllabus: MALS 635 D and D syllabus 21S.pdf

Black Bodies on Display: Race in Museums (MALS645)

The complex and performative nature of museums vis-a-vis race, remembrance and reconciliation with a focus on Black American and African Diasporic history and culture. What role[s] do objects, history, and culture perform under such curatorial and museum mandates and visions? How do changing socio-political and cultural landscapes and challenges to representational politics shape museum practices? Considered here are black cultural institutions, their formation and foundation as well as exhibition histories of black visual art and culture. (Cross-listed with Africana Studies).

Environmental Ethics (MALS648)

Ethical problems associated with environmental protection, local, national, and international. Relations to social and political movements. Seminar format. Cross-listed with Philosophy and Urban Affairs & Public Policy.

Click here for a sample syllabus: MALS 648 Environmental Ethics Syllabus_draft.pdf

On Becoming Human (MALS660)

This course will deal with the biological and cultural evolution of humans and will focus on how we are similar to and different from our closest primate relatives.  We proceed from the understanding that being human both structurally and behaviorally is the outcome of processes that have occurred in nature.  We will deal with areas of important behavioral changes which have taken place over the last five million years of our evolution, specifically, the development of: tool use, hunting, food sharing, division of labor by sex, language, symbolic thought, art, our mode of childbirth, our mode of locomotion, and cooperative childcare.  In these areas, biology and culture have interacted with one another in an evolutionary process which made us become human beings.

Black in America: African American Writers (MALS667)

We will explore works by African American writers through fiction, non-fiction, film, drama, poetry, and song. Experience the works of Alice Dunbar Nelson*, James Weldon Johnson, Toni Morrison, Nafissa Thompson-Spires; Share in the creations of Lorraine Hansberry, Ava Duvernary, Misha Green, and Bryan Stevenson*; Connect with the artistry of Sonia Sanchez, Nikki Finney, Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills*, and Jericho Brown  as they all depict lived experiences and interpret social, political, and cultural realities.  Students will complete a written midterm and develop a final project that will help advance their writing goals. *Delawareans

Consistency and Change in U.S. Foreign Policy (MALS667)

This course will examine U.S. foreign policy, focusing on the period from WWII to the present.  It will reveal two essentially divergent paths in American foreign policy, the first arguing that commercial and security interests dominate (and should dominate) American foreign policy, the second proposing that furthering democratic and human rights institutions abroad helps to insure security at home while making the world more democratic and less likely to wage war.  Some political scientists believe that these divergent impulses can be traced to concepts of government first embraced and articulated by Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

The course will study specific policies that have emerged over the decades and thus will attempt to define some level of consistency in American foreign policy.  The class will also investigate significant changes in policies as demonstrated by particular presidential administrations, including of course the current one.

There will be one required textbook for the course and several recommended readings.  Students will prepare brief news summaries for each class meeting.  A research paper will be due at the end of the semester.  See the syllabus for details.

Sample syllabus: Foreign Policy Syllabus F2021 DRAFT.pdf

Imperial Sunset: The Decline and Fall of European Empires in the 20th Century (MALS667)

In 1914 Europeans–and their overseas offshoots–ruled the world.  In less than 50 years these empires had all vanished, often leaving wreckage and ongoing conflict behind.  This half century of dramatic transformation largely shaped our world.  How and why it all happened will be the focus of this course.

Beyond Sight: Rhetoric and Race in Contemporary Times (MALS667)

This course draws on approaches to rhetorical theory, critical race theory, visual culture, and new media technologies to explore relationships between words and images. Written discourse increasingly involves visual dimensions that are influenced (and sometime controlled) by writers, and this understanding is most concretely rendered in areas that depend on technology. In a real sense, technology has pushed us to see visual dimensions of meaning as falling under our influence as writers and scholars in the humanities. Visual rhetoric also places audience in the center of theories of the visual and the design process. We will be looking at images, magazine covers, pages and screens other people have designed, and figuring out why (or why not) they succeed in doing what they set out to do. Throughout the course, we will be working to answer questions like the following:

  • What happens if we approach visual rhetoric only as reception (or interpretation) and not as production?
  • How do we, as scholars, learn to see and come to understand ourselves as viewers?
  • How are racialized subjects produced through practices of looking?
  • How can writers, designers, and decision makers for businesses build responsible documents for specific and general audiences?

Outcomes for scholars in the course include:

  • Identifying issues for visual rhetoric in writing studies and other disciplines
  • Connecting theories of rhetoric, race, and visual culture
  • Writing and producing a visual story by applying visual rhetoric and race in the service of the classroom or another community

Two Cultures: Four Epochs (MALS667)

This course will focus on iSTEAM (Interdisciplinary Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). We will address the classic division between STEM and the arts and humanities and how we might build a “Third Culture.” We will couple four plays/movies with counterparts in science, technology, and society texts: Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo with his notion of revolutionary theater with Thomas S. Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions; Jerome Lawrence’s and Robert Edwin Lee’s Inherit the Wind with Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species as an abolitionist anti-slavery, anti-racism thesis; Anna Ziegler’s play Photograph 51 about Rosalind Franklin’s role in the discovery of the structure of DNA with Anne Fausto Sterling’s Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men on sexism in science;  and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race with Robert Moses and Charles Cobb’s Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights.

Who, or What, Drives History? (MALS667)

Historians have long argued about what powers historical change.  The dominant answer, until after World War II, was: great individuals (usually Great Men).  Then historians began to widen their view: demographic changes, climate change, new technologies, the rise of new social groups (or the rediscovery of neglected ones), new ideas–all these seemed of greater import than any individual, no matter how dazzling (or horrifying).  Focus on the individual became the province of biographers, with whom historians were often reluctant to claim kinship, or, worse yet, the playground of novelists, playwrights and film makers.  The argument goes on, and we will join it in this seminar.  We will look at a trio of great figures: Elizabeth I, Winston Churchill–and each student will fill out the trio with a person they choose to investigate.

Contemplation and Technological Change (MALS667)

  • Instructors: Sujata Bhatia, Linda O’Hara, Michael Mackenzie

How do innovations change the nature of humanity and life on earth?  How can individuals prepare themselves ethically to confront technological issues as diverse as virtual reality, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, solar energy, carbon sequestration, clean water, and nuclear terror?  How can contemplative practices lead to better technological policy decisions?  “Contemplation and Technological Change” will integrate mindfulness, psychology, behavioral science, philosophy, and engineering to empower students to solve grand challenges for innovation and society.  The course is co-taught by three faculty from three Colleges, bringing expertise in engineering, entrepreneurship, and mindfulness.  The intensive five-week format will foster an interdisciplinary learning community.

Vested Interests: Identity, Gender and Clothes in History (MALS667)

An examination of clothing and gender ambiguity throughout history.  The manipulation of identity and gender roles as portrayed in plays, novels, memoirs, movies and more will be used to examine the construction and changes in distinctions rooted in dress from antiquity to the present. Click here for a sample syllabus: MALS gender syllabus draft.pdf

Creating Shakespeare (MALS667)

Today you can buy Shakespeare finger puppets and Shakespearean insult mugs. You can read a choose-your-own-adventure Hamlet and watch Shakespeare’s plays reimagined in works like 10 Things I Hate about You and The Lion King. You can even see the Bard’s plays performed in a reconstructed Globe Theatre, complete with the only thatched roof in modern-day London. But how did Shakespeare become Shakespeare? How did this man transform from a working actor and playwright to the “be-all and the end-all” (to quote the man himself) of the English literary tradition? And what can Shakespeare-mania, or “Bardolatry,” teach us about the ways that we construct a literary canon? To answer these questions, we will study Shakespeare’s changing reputation over the centuries. Beginning with the late 17th century, when Samuel Pepys declared that Romeo and Juliet was the “worst [play] that ever I heard in my life,” we will study the ways that writers “improved” Shakespeare by adding more music, dancing, and (occasionally) flying witches. As we study these textual adaptations, we will also work to reconstruct their performance histories, allowing us to imagine what these plays would have been like to witness. We will move through the 18th century, which saw the publication of new editions of Shakespeare’s plays and first biographies, as well as memorable performances by celebrity actors like David Garrick. During this period, Arthur Murphy declared that Shakespeare had become a “kind of established religion in poetry.” Over the course of the semester, students will write papers and make oral presentations, analyzing texts and other material objects that memorialize the playwright. 

East/West: Moving Beyond Our Cultural Differences (MALS667)

The primary theme of this course is to use narratives that explore how cross-cultural study can help us move beyond binary distinctions to consider more nuanced scholarly analysis. So while we will begin with a comparison of Aristotle’s “excluded middle” to a Confucian conception of both/and and the inseparability of opposites (yin/yang), an aspiration of the course is to develop respect for multiple perspectives and the power of evidence-based reasoning in the presence of uncertain, ambiguous, incomplete, and conflicting information.  We will compare and contrast basic paradigms of Eastern and Western culture through studying philosophy, poetry, food, art, architecture, sex/gender, ecology, flower arrangements, binary versus multimodal logic, plagiarism/forgery/facsimile, beauty, time, and literature.

NOTE: If you have an interest in the Graduate Community Engagement Scholars Certificate, this class will have an optional component that will fulfill a three-credit course requirment for the certificate. Please contact the MALS director for further information: or 302-831-4130.

Draft syllabus: East/West: Moving Beyond Our Cultural Differences

Acceptance and Resistance to Innovation (ENTR610)

This course will discuss the factors that influence societal acceptance of innovations, and will specifically address the social aspects of innovation and technological evolution. In order for an innovation to have impact, and in order for an entrepreneur to be successful, the innovation must gain acceptance within the broader society. Why are novel technologies readily accepted in some communities, yet resisted in other communities? In the course, students will learn through case studies of historical technologies such as the printing press, electricity, and farm mechanization, as well as contemporary and emerging technologies such as genetically modified foods, solar energy, nuclear power, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and virtual reality. Some case studies will be inspired by, but not limited to, the Grand Challenges for Engineering as identified by the National Academy of Engineering. Students will thereby develop insights into society’s most pressing needs; gain exposure to technologies from a variety of technical disciplines; and appreciate the social dimensions of each technology.

In this course, students will recognize that novel technologies can create both winners and losers in society, and will formulate strategies for maximizing beneficial impact, inclusivity, and societal acceptance of innovations. Since the ultimate goal of technology is to improve the quality of life for all, we must be cognizant of not only the technical feasibility of our designs, but also the social impact on humanity, as well as the environmental impact on our shared planet. Students will discuss the moral, ethical, social and cultural dimensions of the engineering innovations, as well as the technical and economic feasibility of engineering designs. Diverse students with a variety of interests and backgrounds outside of engineering will benefit from this course, including (but not restricted to) sociology, economics, philosophy, science, history, business, education, and public policy. This course will serve both engineering and non-engineering students, by providing a framework for students to evaluate the societal impact of novel technologies, reason quantitatively, and formulate inclusive strategies for overcoming resistance to new innovations. 

Draft syllabus: ENTR Acceptance Resistance Innovation 2021.pdf.