Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Portraits Syllabus

Kristin's picture



Writing Seminar 118a                                                                          Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Fall 2018                                                                                            Stokes 118IA             

T-Th 2:30-4                                                                              

Stokes 301                                                                                          610-220-3670



Rosemarie Garland-Thomson writes: “staring is an interrogative gesture that asks what’s going on and demands the story. The eyes hang on, working to recognize what seems illegible, order what seems unruly, know what seems strange.” In this seminar we will explore visual and literary portraits and self-portraits of bodies marked by difference, bodies that often elicit stares. We will ask: What kinds of stories are told about these bodies? How do memoirs and self-portraits by people with disabilities draw on and challenge traditions of life writing and portraiture? How does this work enlarge cultural and aesthetic views of embodiment, disability, and difference? How do portraits of disability engage differences of gender, race, and class? Through close readings of essays, memoirs, paintings, and photographs, students will hone their descriptive and interpretive skills and develop their ability to craft clear and persuasive arguments.



Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled

Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World

Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings

Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young (optional purchase)

Essays by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Georgina Kleege, John Hockenberry, Harriet McBryde Johnson, Peter Singer, H-Dirksen Bauman, Michael Bérubé, and others. Many of the readings for the course will be in the form of articles, websites, and images that I will make available as we proceed.



Attend every class and tutorial session and let me know ahead of time if for any reason you need to miss class or tutorial.

The assignments for this course include informal writing, 2-3 page close readings, and three formal essays, each one submitted as a first draft and revision. After the first draft of each longer essay is due, we will meet in writing tutorials, groups of four students who read and comment on one another’s essays. Preparation for tutorial is an important part of the course; you will learn by reading one another’s drafts as well as by listening to your fellow students comment on yours. You must turn in your essay on time; four people are depending on you to do so. Other assignments include informal oral presentations and a self-portraiture project.

Portraits of Disability is a discussion-based seminar, and it is crucial that you prepare for and contribute to class discussion. As you read, please mark passages that you find interesting, important, maddening, or confusing; take notes; and formulate questions and ideas that you would like to discuss in class. As you view images, take notes and formulate questions related to the images. I will sometimes ask you to post ideas and questions on Serendip before class meets.

The course will be graded holistically based on your full semester’s work, including your first drafts and revised essays and your contributions as a speaker, listener, and respondent in class discussion and tutorials and on Serendip. All of your written work will be gathered in an e-portfolio submitted at the end of the course.



I invite you to talk with me early in the semester about how you learn best and how we can make our classroom and class projects as accessible and generative for you and others as possible. As a class, we will try to enact some principles of universal design. Let’s try to create a more inclusive and accessible world!

If you think you may need accommodations because of a disability, please contact Sherrie Borowsky, Coordinator of Accommodations, Office of Access and Disability Services, at If you have alreadybeen approved to receive academic accommodationsand would like to request accommodations in this course because of a disability, please meet with me at the beginning of the semesterwith your verification letter.

College statement: Haverford College is committed to providing equal access to students with a disability.  If you have (or think you have) a learning difference or disability – including mental health, medical, or physical impairment, please contact the Office of Access and Disability Services (ADS) at The ADS Coordinator will confidentially discuss the process to establish reasonable accommodations.  

Students who have already been approved to receive academic accommodations and want to use their accommodations in this course should share their verification letter with me and also make arrangements to meet with me as soon as possible to discuss their specific accommodations.  Please note that accommodations are not retroactive and require advance notice to implement.

 It is a state law in Pennsylvania that individuals must be given advance notice if they are to be recorded.  Therefore, any student who has a disability-related need to audio record this class must first be approved for this accommodation from the Coordinator of Access and Disability Services and then must speak with me.  Other class members will need to be aware that this class may be recorded 


I encourage you to use all of the campus resources available to support your development as a writer, speaker, learner, and human, including the Writing Center, the Office of Academic Resources, the Office of Access and Disability Services, and Counseling and Psychological Services.



T September 4          Introducing the course and ourselves

Th September 6        Reading: Andrew Solomon, pages 1-6 from Far From the Tree (pdf)

                                  Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Becoming Disabled

                                  Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Picturing People with

                                  Disabilities: Classical Portraiture as Reconstructive Narrative” (pdf)

                                  Bring to class: Identity Map


T September 11          Reading: Shearer West, Introduction, Portraiture (pdf)

                                   "There's Less to Portraits than Meets the Eye, and More"

                                   Viewing: Browse the National Portrait Gallery,

                                    especially the Outwin Boochever Portraiture Competition

                                   Writing: Close Reading of a Portrait I, due in class


Th September 13          Viewing: Riva Lehrer, Tedx talk,  “Valuable Bodies” (20 minutes)

Look at the images in the exhibition catalog for the show of Riva's work at Haverford entitledConsent to be Seen. Then browse her website and pay particular attention to the series Circle Stories and to her Self-Portraits.  (If you didn't get a catalog, I have put some in the mailbox outside my office, Stokes 118 IA, where you can pick one up). 

Also browse these sites and spend some time looking at the images and choosing one or two that you find especially engaging:

Laura Swanson, especially her Anti-Self-Portraits

Beverly McIver, Portrait of an Artist, interview and short video (2 minutes!)

Beverly McIver’s portraits of herself and others

Nina Berman's Purple Hearts

Doma Dovgialo, These Self-Portraits Challenge Mental Health Taboo, and  Behind the I    

Doug Auld, especially his State of Grace series 


T September 18        Writing: Close Reading of a Portrait II, due in class

                                 Reading: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “The Politics of Staring:
                                 Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography"                                  

Th September 20       Reading: Eli Clare, two excerpts from Exile and Pride: "The Mountain" (14 pages)
                                  and "Freak Show" (pages 85-103, 18 pages, not the whole chapter in the pdf)
                                  Both excerpts are in the Reading File on Serendip  

                                  Viewing: Stella Young, "I'm Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much" (9 minutes)

                                  Optional: Aimee Mullins, "My 12 Pairs of Legs" (10 minutes)

                                  Start developing a topic for your first essay. 


T September 25        Writing: First Draft of Essay #1 due in class          

                                 In class: Informal presentation of a disability image from popular culture


Th September 27      Reading:  Georgina Kleege,  “Introduction” (4 pages) and “The Mind’s Eye” (27 pages)

                                 from Sight Unseen (both on Serendip)


T October 2              Tutorials continue this week

                                 Reading: Georgina Kleege, “A Portrait of the Artist by his Blind Daughter” (25 pages)

                                 Viewing: Blind at the Museum
                                (please read description of exhibition even though images are no longer posted)

                                 Post on Serendip some thoughts and/or questions for class 


Th October 4           Class meets in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, near the Coop in the Campus Center.
                               We will view the current exhibition and write collaborative verbal descriptions of some of the work. 

                                Check out some examples of verbal/audio description on the websites of museums and other organizations. You needn't approach them as exact models of how to "do" verbal description, but                                    rather as examples of some possible approaches. If you have a favorite museum, or if there's a museum in your hometown, check their website to see whether they have audio descriptions and                                  to find out more generally what they say about accessibility. 
                               National Portrait Gallery
                               Museum of Modern Art
                               Art Beyond Sight
                                 Then read the first section of the article "Audio Description as a Pedagogical Tool" by Georgina Kleege and Scott Wallin. You can skip the "Sample Exercises" section if you wish. We'll be doing                                      something similar to the second exercise they describe. 
T October 9              Post on Serendip your collaborative verbal description
                                and read one another's descriptions 
                                 Reading: Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World, chapters 1-4
                                 (book is available in HC bookstore)
Th October 11           Reading: John Hockenberry, “Fear of Bees” 

 T October 23            Reading: Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young

                                 Preface and chapters 1, 9, and 10  (62 pages)

                                 Start imagining a self-portraiture project, There are very few constraints: the assignment is simply to create a self-representation,           
                                 in any medium, that reflects how you see or imagine yourself *right now.* It can also reflect past or future selves, but should focus on the present. 


Th October 25          Reading: Mairs, chapters 5-6 (36 pages)                        

                                Peter Singer, excerpt from Practical Ethics,  "Taking Life" (7 pages)

                                Peter Singer, "Happy Nevertheless"

                                Chris Gabbard, " A Life Beyond Reason"


T October 30            Reading: Erika Check Hayden, "Should You Edit Your Children's Genes?"

                                Train Go Sorry, chapters 1-4 (65 pages, quick read)

                                Writing: Close Reading of a Passage


Th November 1        Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 5-8 (64 pages, quick read)

                                Learn to fingerspell your name in ASL

                                A good resource for learning some basic ASL is Lifeprint's ASL University

                                Post on Serendip some thoughts or questions related to
                                Train Go Sorry, Deaf culture, or ASL. 


T November 6          VOTE!

                                Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 9-14 (100 pages)

                                Post on Serendip thoughts or questions related to
                                Train Go Sorry, Deaf culture, or sign languages. 

                                Peruse some of these websites or Youtube channels related to ASL: 
                                Matt Maxey (who interprets for Chance the Rapper, among others) Google him.
                                Rogan Shannon
                                Rikki Poynter
                                Cheyenna Clearbrook

                                If you search for ASL on youtube you will find gazillions of videos and channels. Here are some of the websites and youtube channels Fiona recommends for learning ASL: 

                              Viewing, in class: documentary film Deaf Jam    

                               Turn in first draft of Essay  #2  (tutorials next week)
                               Remember to print 5 copies, including one for yourself

                               Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 15-18 (64 pages)


T November 13        Tutorials meet this week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

                                Post on Serendip questions you'd like to discuss related to
                                Deaf Jam or to the reading/viewing for today. 

                                Reading: H-Dirksen Bauman, "Designing Deaf Babies
                                     and the Question of Disability"  (on Serendip)
                                Rachel Kolb, "The Deaf Body in Public Space" (2 pages) 
Viewing: Amanda McDonough, "Finding Deaf Culture" (6 minutes) 
                                Christine Sun Kim Ted Talk (15 minutes)                                                

Th November 15       Reading: Bauman and Murray, "Deaf Studies in the 21st Century:
                               'Deaf-Gain' and the Future of Human Diversity"                                   

T November 20         Writing: Final Draft of Essay #2 due before Thanksgiving break

                                 In Nick Walker's blog, Neurocosmopolitanism:
                                 "Neuro-what?"  (1 page)
                                 "Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions (about 4 pages)

                                  Amythest Schaber, "What is Stimming?" (10 minutes)
                                  Browse other videos in the Ask An Autistic series

                                  Melanie Yergeau, "I Stim, Therefore I Am" (3 minutes)

                                  S#!IT Ignorant People Say to Autistics (3 minutes)

                                 Creating: Begin thinking about making a self-portrait in any medium (due on Dec. 13)                                  




T November 27        Nicola Griffith, Rewriting the Old Disability Script (2 pages)
                                NYTimes, Nov. 14, 2018

                                Optional for those wanting to know more about cochlear implants:
                                Sara Novic, A Clearer Message on Cochlear Implants (2 pages)
                                NYTimes, Nov. 21, 2018       

                                Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 1-99 (it's a quick read)
                                Content Warning: physical and sexual abuse and rape, accidental death, overmedication
                                The novel also contains a lot of love, resilience, and crip humor  

Th November 29       Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 100-197

                                 Writing: Proposal for Essay #3
                                 Can be turned in by Sunday evening 12/2              

T December 4           Reading: Good Kings, Bad Kings, 198-298
                                Trump's New Wall to Keep Out the Disabled
                                      NYTimes, Nov. 29, 2018 (2 pages)
                                Viewing: Cheryl Green, In My Home (6 minutes)
                                Optional: Harriet McBryde Johnson, "The Disability Gulag" (6 pages                                                                                                                                                                                            

Th Dec 6                   Writing: first draft of Essay #3 (can also be turned in by email over the weekend)

                                 Work on self portrait, due in class Dec. 13.  There are very few constraints:
                                 the assignment is simply to create a self-representation, in any medium,
                                 that reflects how you see or imagine yourself *right now.*
                                 It can also reflect past or future selves, but should focus on the present.
                                 Write a few sentences or a brief paragraph explaining the choices you made and 
                                 the process of creating your self-portrait. 

                                Viewing, in class: Documentary film Deej
                                Meet in VCAM Screening Room

                                 Optional: Showing of the film Unrest, about ME/chronic fatigue syndrome
                                 4-5:30 PM in VCAM screening room                                     

T December 11         Tutorials meet this week

                                 Imagining Disability Culture: Informal class presentations
                                 Post on Serendip (and then show in class) an example of
                                 disability culture as represented in an image, an object, a poem or
                                 short prose piece, a clip (less than 5 minutes) of a performance
                                 by an actor, dancer, or other performer, or anything else that
                                 you think exemplifies disability culture. Be prepared to talk for
                                 3-5 minutes about how and why you think your thing reflects disability
                                 culture, and we'll try to collectively come up with a working definition
                                 of "disability arts and culture."                                                  

Th December 13        Last class: Evaluations! Cake! Display of self-portraits!

                                 Bring your self-portrait to class.
                                 The assignment is simply to create a self-representation, in any medium,
                                 that reflects how you see or imagine yourself *right now.* 
                                 It can also reflect past or future selves, but should focus on the present.
                                 Write a few sentences or a brief paragraph explaining the choices you made and 
                                 the process of creating your self-portrait. 

Fri December 21        Writing: Final Draft of Essay #3 and Course Portfolio due by noon


Portfolio Instructions 

Below are instructions for submitting your final essay, your portfolio, and your course reflection. This process invites you to look back on the work you've done over the semester and reflect on what you’ve learned.

1. Please submit a hard copy of your final essay, with all copies of your first draft (with comments) attached, as usual. You can put these in the mailbox outside my office by 12 PM Friday, Dec. 21.

2. Send me an email with each of your written course assignments attached: three close readings and three essays (if you have a separate copy of first draft and final draft, send me both).       

3. Log onto our course homepage. Under “Quick Links” on the left side of the page, you will see “My E-Portfolio.” Clicking on that will call up all of your Serendip postings and comments. This is part of your portfolio, too.

4. Review your portfolio and reflect on your learning this semester (not just what appears in concrete form in your portfolio). Then, please write an informal essay (about 2 pages) reflecting on this learning, on where you were at the beginning of the semester and where you are now. Do you see any particular questions or themes that occupied you throughout the semester? Think about your writing and your other contributions inside and outside the classroom, in tutorials, and on Serendip. You can consider some of the questions below, but you do not need to answer all of them. 

How has your understanding of disability been expanded or challenged? In what contexts did learning happen for you, and how did you contribute to others’ learning? How did you develop as a reader, a writer, a speaker, or a listener, and how do you hope to develop further? What will you take from this course into your future coursework and into your future as a human?

You can hand this in with your final essay or post it on Serendip. If you post on Serendip, tag your piece by checking the box “Self-Evaluation and Reflection." I look forward to spending some time with your portfolios and your reflections. If you have any questions whatsoever about the process, please feel free to email me.




noha el toukhy's picture

I really liked the author's argumenet about what drawing really symbolizes in peoples' lives. She said that drawing is a reflection of what we know, not what we can see, which I completely agree with. 

Noha ElToukhy's picture

When learning how to communicate my name through using ASL, I discovered that the there is no verb "to be" in ASL. I thought I was supposed to spell the word "Is" but I learned that this is not a part of the ASL language, which is interesting. Just like how you cannot translate certain phrases from English to German for example, one cannot just translate words into ASL.

Noha ElToukhy's picture

This video was very interesting because it proved how understanding and accepting the Deaf culture was when it came to accepting this girl as the "new girl". Its interesting how the girl was the one who had to enter this community and learn how to fit in, when one usually assumes that a deaf person would be the one who would have to struggle with fitting in the community.

Noha ElToukhy's picture

I'd like to discuss the role that the deaf girl played in the life of the Muslim girl, because I think that it is obvious that the Muslim girl had a great impact on the deaf girls life, but it is also very interesting to observe the effect that the deaf girl had on the Muslim girl, who was struggling to make friends at Columbia.