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Portraits Syllabus

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Writing Seminar 118a                                                                          Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Fall 2019                                                                                            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 3         Introducing the course and ourselves


Th September 5       Add a username and avatar/image to Serendip and explore our course page

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

                                Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Becoming Disabled” (5 pages)

                                Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Picturing People with Disabilities:
                                Classical Portraiture as Reconstructive Narrative” (pdf, 25 pages with images)

                                Bring to class: Identity Map


T September 10         Reading: Shearer West, Introduction, Portraiture (pdf, 10 pages with images)

                                  Viewing: Browse the National Portrait Gallery,

                                  especially the Outwin Boochever Portraiture Competition

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


Th September 12        Viewing: Riva Lehrer, Tedx talk,  Valuable Bodies (20 minutes)

                                   Self-Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer, Part II (11 minutes in all;
                                   you can watch all of it or just 2:45-4:55, about the self-portrait
                                   we looked at in our first class)

                                    Jordan Casteel Stays in the Moment (7 minutes)

                                    Look at the images in the exhibition catalog for the show of Riva's work at Haverford entitled
                                    Consent to be Seen.  Then browse her website and pay particular attention to the series
                                    Circle Stories and to her Self-Portraits.

                                     Also browse these sites and spend some time looking at the images and focusing on a few
                                     that you find especially engaging:

                                     Jordan Casteel

                                     These Self-Portraits Challenge the Mental Health Taboo, (on work co-create by Doma Dovgialo
                                     and collaborators) and Behind the I (1 minute)                                       

                                     Laura Swanson, especially her Anti-Self-Portraits

                                     Nina Berman's Purple Hearts

                                     Doug Auld, especially his State of Grace series 


T September 17            Writing: Close Reading of a Portrait II, due in class

                                    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) 

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

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


Th September 19         Reading: Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “The Politics of Staring:
                                    Visual Rhetorics of Disability in Popular Photography" (19 pages with images)

                                    Choose 2-3 portraits to write about in your first essay. 


T September 24           Writing: First Draft of Essay #1 due in class          

                                   In class: Informal presentation of a disability image


Th September 26         Prof. Jay Dolmage visits our class

                                    Reading: excerpts from Chapter 1 of Disabled Upon Arrival: "Ellis Island
                                    and the Inventions of Race and Disability"  

                                    4:30 in VCAM 001, Screening Room (optional but encouraged)
                                    Prof. Dolmage gives a talk entitled "Picturing Deportation: The Rhetorics
                                    and Technologies of Immigration Restriction from 1900-2019"                   

T October 1                 Tutorials meet this week
                                   Finish showing contemporary disability images              

 Th October 3              Reading: Georgina Kleege, "Introduction" (4 pages) 
                                   and “Mind's Eye" (28 pages)
                                   from Sight Unseen                                                           

T October 8                Reading: Georgina Kleege, "A Portrait of the Artist 
                                   by His Blind Daughter" (25 pages)
                                  Purchase Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World
                                 The book is available in the HC bookstore.
                                 Writing: Final draft of essay #1 due a week after your writing tutorial
                                 In addition to your final draft, please turn in four copies of your first draft
                                 with comments from me and your tutorialmates. 
Th October 10           Reading: John Hockenberry, “Fear of Bees” 

 T October 22            Reading: Nancy Mairs, Waist-High in the World, chapters 1-4 (84 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 24          Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young

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


T October 29           Writing: Close reading of a passage

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

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

                                Peter Singer, "Happy Nevertheless" (2 pages)

                                Chris Gabbard, " A Life Beyond Reason" (4 pages)


Th October 31         Train Go Sorry, chapters 1-4 (65 pages, quick read) 


T November 5          Turn in first draft of Essay #2
                                Remember to print 5 copies, including one for yourself
                                Tutorials Wednesday and Friday this week, Monday next week

                                Continue reading Train Go Sorry (chapters 5-9 for Thursday)

                               Viewing, in class: documentary film Deaf Jam   
                               MEET IN VCAM SCREENING ROOM ON LOWER LEVEL


Th November 7       Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 5-9 (80 pages in a week)
                               Rachel Kolb, "The Deaf Body in Public Space" (2 pages) 
                               Viewing: Amanda McDonough, "Finding Deaf Culture" (6 minutes) 


T November 12       Reading: Train Go Sorry, chapters 10-14 (82 pages, or whatever you can manage)

                               Rachel Kolb, "The Deaf Body in Public Space" (2 pages)
                               Rachel Kolb, "Help for the Signing-Impaired" (3 pages)

                               Viewing: Christine Sun Kim Ted Talk (15 minutes) 
                               Optional: Amanda McDonough, "Finding Deaf Culture(6 minutes) 

                               Learn to fingerspell your name and to introduce yourself in ASL
                               Learn another 2 or 3 signs, or a phrase or sentence 

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

Th November 14     Continue reading Train Go Sorry

                               Class meets in Lutnick 200 with librarian Margaret Schaus.

                              Optional: peruse some of these websites and/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: 

T November 19        Finish reading Train Go Sorry.

                                H-Dirksen Bauman, "Designing Deaf Babies
                                and the Question of Disability" (5 pagess)

                                Sara Novic, "A Clearer Message on Cochlear Implants" (3 pages) 

                                Erika Check Hayden, "Should You Edit Your Children's Genes?" (5 pages)                           

Th November 21      Reading: Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 1-59 (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 

                                 Nicola Griffith, Rewriting the Old Disability Script (2 pages)                              

T November 26         Reading: Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 60-137 (77 pages)  


THANKSGIVING BREAK                                                                                                               

T December 3          One-paragraph proposal due for third essay
                                Meet with me this week to discuss proposal

                                Reading: Good Kings, Bad Kings, 138-238 (100 pages)
                                Viewing: Cheryl Green, In My Home (6 minutes)
                                Optional: Harriet McBryde Johnson, "The Disability Gulag" (6 pages)
                                Optional:  Trump's New Wall to Keep Out the Disabled (2 pages)                                                                                                                                                                        

 Th December 5        Reading: Good Kings, Bad Kings, 239-294 (54 pages)

                                 Imagining Disability culture: Class presentations
                                 Show the 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."

                                 Work on self portrait, due in class Dec. 12.  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. 

T December 10         Writing: first draft of Essay #3
                                Tutorials meet Wednesday and Friday this week, Monday next week                                                                           

                                Continue disability culture presentations        

Th December 12       Last class: Evaluations! Snacks! Display of self-portraits!

                                 Bring your self-portrait to class.

Fri December 20        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. 20. I cannot give extensions beyond this deadline; only your dean can do so. 

2. Send me an email with a copy of your close readings, an image of or link to your self-portrait, and your three essays attached (if you have a separate copy of first draft and final draft, send me both).       

3. 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 of 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, and in tutorials. You can consider some of the questions below, but you do not need to answer all of them. 

How has your understanding of disability and/or deafness 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.