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Portraits Syllabus

Kristin's picture



Writing Seminar 118a                                                                          Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Fall 2017                                                                                             Stokes 118IA             

T-Th 2:30-4                                                                              

VCAM 102                                                                                             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.

Writing assignments for this course include informal writing, 1-2 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.

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.



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 5           Introducing the course and ourselves

Th September 7         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 12           Reading: Shearer West, Introduction, Portraiture (pdf)

                                   Viewing: National Portrait Gallery

                                   especially the Outwin Boochever Portraiture Competition

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

                                   In class: Informal class presentations of close readings


Th September 14          Viewing: Riva Lehrer, Tedx talk,  “Valuable Bodies” (20 minutes)

                                    Riva Lehrer: "Self-Portrait in Formaldehyde" (43 minutes, optional)

                                    Browse these sites and spend some significant time looking at the images:

                                    Riva Lehrer’s portraits and self-portraits:

                                    Laura Swanson’s Anti-Self-Portraits:

                                    Beverly McIver’s portraits of her sister Renee and others:


                                    Doug Auld’s State of Grace series:

                                    Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts:

                                    Robin Berenholz, Invisible Disability:


                                    Post on Serendip some thoughts or questions for class 


T September 19         Writing: Close Reading of a Portrait II, due in class

                                  Reading: Eli Clare, "The Mountain"

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


Th  September 21      Reading: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “The Politics of Staring:

                                 Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography”


T September 26         Writing: First Draft of Essay #1 due in class          

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


Th September 28       Reading:  Georgina Kleege,  “Introduction” (4 pages) and “The Mind’s Eye” (27 pages)

                                 from Sight Unseen (both on Serendip)


T October 3              Tutorials continue this week

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

                                 Viewing: Blind at the Museum

                                 Post on Serendip some thoughts and/or questions for class 


Th October 5            Class meets in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.

                                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 10              Post on Serendip your collaborative verbal description of work in Dear, 1968
                                   and read one another's descriptions 
                                  Reading: Harriet McBryde Johnson, "Preface,"
                                  and chapter 10, "Art Object," from Too Late to Die Young
                                  (Skip chapter 9, "Unspeakable Conversations,"
                                  even though it's part of the same pdf) 
Th October 12           Reading: John Hockenberry, “Fear of Bees” 
                                 Think about self-portraiture project 


 T October 24           "Why the Obamas' Portrait Choices Matter"

                                 Reading: Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young,

                                 Chapter 1, "Too Late to Die Young"

                                  Chapter 10, "Unspeakable Conversations" 

                                  Peter Singer, "Taking Life"

                                  Peter Singer, "Happy Nevertheless"

                                  Chris Gabbard, “A Life Beyond Reason”

 Optional: if you find a portrait or self-portrait that contains a mirror, post the image on Serendip.

Self-portraiture project, due by Thanksgiving break. 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 26          Discuss reading for Tuesday: Singer, McBryde Johnson, Gabbard.      


T October 31            Reading:  Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World, Chapters 1-6

                                Writing: Close Reading of a Passage


Th November 2         Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 1-6


T November 7           Writing: First Draft of Essay  #2

                                 MEET IN VCAM SCREENING ROOM ON LOWER LEVEL

                                 Viewing, in class: documentary film Deaf Jam      


Th November 9         Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 7-13

                                 Post on Serendip some thoughts or questions related to Deaf Jam 

                                 and/or Train Go Sorry      


T November 14         Reading: Finish Train Go Sorry

                                 Learn to fingerspell your first name in ASL or another sign language

                                 Research some very basic info about a sign language other than ASL

                                 For example: Where it is used? Is it "officially" recognized by a government?

                                 What other sign languages is it related to or derived from? Or did it develop

                                 spontaneously in a deaf community? About how many users does it have? 

                                 Rory Seymour '20 will join us to talk about learning ASL


Th November 16        NO CLASS & NO ASSIGNMENT             


T November 21          Writing: Final Draft of Essay #2 due before Thanksgiving

                                  Creating: Self-Portrait in any medium (due date flexible)                                  

                                  Reading: H-Dirksen Bauman, "Designing Deaf Babies

                                  and the Question of Disability" (pdf on Serendip)

                                  Rachel Kolb, "The Deaf Body in Public Space" (2 pages)                              

                                  Watch: Rachel Kolb, "Sensations of Sound: Music and Deafness" (6 minutes)

                                  Amanda McDonough, "Finding Deaf Culture" (6 minutes) 

                                  Post on Serendip a reflection on something related to Train Go Sorry,

                                  Deaf/hearing culture, or sign language that you want to discuss in class.

                                  If you find a cool video related to Deaf culture, post that too. 




T November 28         Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 1-99  


Th November 30        Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 100-197

                                 Writing: Proposal for Essay #3              


T December 5            Reading: Good Kings, Bad Kings, 198-298                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Th Dec 7                    Writing: first draft of Essay #3 (turn in by Sunday night)

                                  Post on Serendip an instance of disability arts and culture. This could

                                  be an artwork or a clip (less than 5 minutes) of a performance

                                  by an actor, dancer, comedian, or other performer.

                                  Be prepared to show this clip in class and  to give a brief, informal

                                   presentation (just 1-2 minutes!) discussing how and why

                                   this performance reflects disability culture, and more broadly ho

                                   we might  define "disability arts and culture" 


T December 12           Tutorials meet this week

                                   We'll create a display of self-portraits

                                   Continuation of disability culture clips


Th December 14          Last class: Evaluations! Cake!

F December 22            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. 22.

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, and 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.