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Portraits Syllabus

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Writing Seminar 118, Fall 2020                                                            Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Monday/Thursday 2:30-4                                                         

Office hours: by appointment                             



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.



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

Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings

Essays and videos by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Eli Clare, Riva Lehrer, Alice Wong, Stella Young, Georgina Kleege, Haben Girma, Alice Sheppard, Harriet McBryde Johnson, Peter Singer, Christine Sun Kim,  H-Dirksen Bauman, 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.


Alice Wong, editor, Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century

Harriet McBryde Johnson, Too Late to Die Young: Nearly True Tales from a Life

We will read excerpts from both books, and I will make the excerpts available as PDFs. If you prefer to buy the books, they will be available in the Haverford Bookstore.



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

The assignments for this course include informal writing, 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. Please turn in your draft on time; four people (including me!) are eager to read it and discuss it with you in tutorial. Remember that it's a first draft and you will have ample opportunity to revise and strengthen it. A revised verion of your essay will be due about a week after your tutorial. Other course assignments include informal oral presentations and a self-portraiture project. Writing assignments will typically be due on Sunday evenings.

Portraits of Disability and Difference is a discussion-based seminar, and it is crucial that you prepare for and contribute to class discussion and online conversations. 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 also ask you to post comments, questions, and responses to others' posts here on Serendip.

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.



This will be a semester unlike any I’ve experienced. I got a taste of remote teaching last spring, but this is the first time I’ve taught a course that is fully remote. I’m confident that we will establish a supportive and lively learning community online. Early in the semester, we will collectively draw up some course guidelines. I am committed to creating a classroom community that is inclusive, equitable, and conducive to learning for all students, as well as sensitive to the unique and unpredictable challenges we will encounter this term. If you are unable to attend class or complete an assignment by the due date, I ask that whenever possible you let me know ahead of time and work with me to determine when you will complete the work. There will be no grade penalty for late work. If it is not possible for you to request extra time beforehand, I ask that you maintain communication with me so that we can work together to determine a good course of action. I ask those of you who need more than a one-week extension to talk with both your Dean and me to arrive at a practical and workable plan for completing the work.



I welcome one-on-one conversations with you during office hours. I have found that “by appointment” office hours work better for me than a two-hour time weekly time slot during which you may or may not be free. Simply email me to make an appointment, and we will find a time that works for both of us.



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. I'll email you a document that contains more detailed information about these and other resources. 




Th September 10
Introducing the course and ourselves

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


Sun September 13     

Informal writing due by 8 PM



Mon September 14    

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

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Picturing People with Disabilities:
Classical Portraiture as Reconstructive Narrative” (pdf, 16 pages with images)


Th September 17       

View: Riva Lehrer, Tedx talk,  Valuable Bodies (20 minutes)

Browse Riva Lehrer's portraits and self-portraits on her website and pay particular attention
to the series Circle Stories and to her Self-Portraits.Choose 4-5 portraits to observe closely

View The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today (4 minutes)
Browse the portraits by the Outwin Winners and Finalists (please enlarge each image)
Choose 4-5 portraits to observe closely

Optional: Shearer West, Introduction, Portraiture (pdf, 10 pages with images)


Sun September 20     

Close reading of a portrait due by 8 PM



Mon September 21     

Closely observe these three portraits by Riva Lehrer: Lynn Manning, Eli Clare, Alice Sheppard
Then read these short pieces by their subjects:

Lynn Manning, "The Magic Wand" (pdf, 1 page)
and audio version read by Manning (1.5 minutes)
Alice Sheppard, "I Dance Because I Can" (3 pages)
Eli Clare, "The Mountain" from Exile and Pride (pdf, 14 pages)

Browse these portrait series and either spend some time with one series that engages you
or search for another series you find compelling.
Laura Swanson: Anti-Self-Portraits 
Doug Auld: State of Grace
Nina Berman: Purple Hearts
These Self-Portraits Challenge the Mental Health Taboo
(on work co-created by Doma Dovgialo and collaborators) and Behind the I (1 minute)
Robin Berenholz: Invisible Disability

How does viewing portraits in a series change the way we look at each image? 


Th September 24       

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

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


Sun September 27       

First draft of Essay #1 due by 11 PM



Mon September 28     

Tutorials meet this week

Choose an image or clip from contemporary culture--an ad, a social media post, a clip from a youtube channel or other video, clip from a TV show or film, etc.-- that includes a representation of disability, and think about the visual rhetoric it employs. How does it exemplify, expand, or resist the dominant visual rhetorics of disability that Rosemarie Garland-Thomson outlines?
Post it on Serendip (it may take a minute to figure out how to post images and clips) and be prepared to share your screen and discuss your response/analysis briefly with the class.                           

Th October 1

Georgina Kleege, "Introduction" (4 pages) and  "A Portrait of the Artist
 by His Blind Daughter" (25 pages) from Sight Unseen 

Haben Girma, "Guide Dogs Don't Lead Blind People. We Wander As One,"
(DV pages 101-103 or pdf, 3 pages)

Optional: Georgina Kleege, "The Mind''s Eye" (27 pages)   



Mon October 5 

Harriet McBryde Johnson, Preface and Chapters 1, "Too Late to Die Young,"
and 10, "Art Object" in Too Late to Die Young (35 pages in all)
The PDF includes chapter 9, which you do not need to read yet; we'll read it for Thursday's class.


Thurs October 8   

Harriet McBryde Johnson, chapter, 9, "Unspeakable Conversations," from Too Late to Die Young
(27 pages)  Also in DV, pages 1-27


Sun October 11 

Revised draft of essay #1 due by 10 PM



M October 12   

 Peter Singer, excerpt from Practical Ethics,  "Taking Life" (pdf, 7 dense pages)
 and "Happy Nevertheless" (2 pages)

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


Th October 15         

Alice Wong, "Am I Expendable During this Pandemic?" (2 pages)

Elliot Kukla, "My Life is More 'Disposable' During this Pandemic" (2 pages) 

Katie Savin and Laura Guidry-Grimes, "Confronting Disability Discrimination During the Pandemic" (5 pages)

Jen Deerinwater, “The Erasure of Indigenous People in Chronic Illness,” DV and pdf (5 pages)


Sun October 18 

Close reading of a passage due by 8 PM



M October 19   

Leah Hager Cohen, Train Go Sorry, chapters 1-3 (48 pages)


W October 21  

Optional: Attend live online, Teresa Blankmeyer Burke, “Parent Choices, Language Choice, and Deaf Flourishing,” Digital Presentation, 5 PM 


Th October 22

Train Go Sorry, chapters 4-6 (47 pages)


Sun October 25  

First draft of essay #2 due by 10 PM


WEEK EIGHT                                

M October 26           

Tutorials this week

View: Christine Sun Kim, The Enchanting Music of Sign Language (15 minutes)
and Closer Captions (8 minutes)

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

Learn to introduce yourself ("Hello, my name is __") and fingerspell your name in ASL

Here are some of the resources friends have recommended for learning ASL. Let us know if there are other resources you like! 

Th October 29           

Train Go Sorry, chapters 7-9 (49 pages)

Learn one ASL sign or phrase you'd like to teach to the rest of the class.                              

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. 


WEEK NINE                                                          

M November 2

Train Go Sorry, chapters 10-12 (50 pages)

View: How Architecture Changes for the Deaf (5 minutes)


T November 3   

VOTE and/or support others who are voting


Th November 5 

View:  Documentary Film Deaf Jam, streamable via Kanopy (70 minutes)
Organize a watch party, or two or three, if you wish!


Sun November 8  

Revised essay #2 submitted by 10 PM


WEEK TEN                                 

M November 9 

Train Go Sorry, chapters 13-15 (48 pages) 


Th November 12 

Train Go Sorry, chapters 16-18 (48 pages)

Sarah Novic, “A Clearer Message on Cochlear Implants” (3 pages)

H-Dirksen Bauman, “Designing Deaf Babies and the Question of Disability” (pdf, 5 pages)
OR Erika Check Hayden, "Should You Edit Your Children's Genes?" (5 pages) 


Sun November 15

Proposal for Essay #3 due by 8 PM



M November 16   

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

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. 


Th November 19 

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 60-138 (78 pages)





M November 30       

Good Kings, Bad Kings, 138-238 (100 pages)

Cheryl Green, In My Home (6 minutes)

Optional: Harriet McBryde Johnson, "The Disability Gulag" (6 pages) 


Th December 3 

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 238-298  (60 pages)


Sun December  6     

First draft of essay #3 due at 10 PM



M December 7 

Tutorials this week    

View: Documentary film Crip Camp, streamable on Netflix

Work on your self-portrait


Th December 10  

Last class: Virtual gallery of self-portraits!



F December 18    

Revised draft of essay #3 and couse 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 your revised essay #3 and your portfolio by 12 PM Friday, Dec. 18. I cannot give extensions beyond this deadline; only your dean can do so.

2. In your portfolio, collect all your writing and revisions for the semester and an image of your self-portrait.   

3. If you click "e-portfolio" you'll see that all your Serendip postings are already collected in one place. 

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 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 class, 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 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 email this to me or post it on Serendip if you'd like to share it. 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.