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Portraits Syllabus

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Writing Seminar 118, Fall 2021                                              Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Monday/Thursday 2:30-4 PM                                      

Hall 106                                                                                                                                                                                


COURSE DESCRIPTION                      

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, 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.



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

Writing 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 three to 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 version of your essay will be due about a week after your tutorial group meets. 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’s important 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, please take notes and formulate questions related to the images. I will also ask you to post comments, questions, and responses to others’ posts on our course page on the web platform 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.



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 unpredictable challenges we may encounter individually or collectively. 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. 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 welcome one-on-one conversations with you during office hours. I have found that “by appointment” office hours work better for me and my students 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 the principles of universal design. Let’s try to create a more inclusive and accessible world! 

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 any and 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, the Dean’s Office, and Counseling and Psychological Services. Another document, which I’ll email to you and which is also available on Serendip, contains more detailed information about these and other resources.



Haverford College is committed to fostering a safe and inclusive living and learning environment where all can feel secure and free from harassment. All forms of sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, domestic violence, and dating violence are violations of Haverford’s policies, whether they occur on or off campus. Haverford faculty are committed to helping to create a safe learning environment for all students and for the College community as a whole. If you have experienced any form of gender or sex-based discrimination, harassment, or violence, know that help and support are available. Staff members are trained to support students in navigating campus life, accessing health and counseling services, providing academic and housing accommodations, and more.
The College strongly encourages all students to report any incidents of sexual misconduct. Please be aware that all Haverford employees (other than those designated as confidential resources such as counselors, clergy, and healthcare providers) are required to report information about such discrimination and harassment to the Bi-College Title IX Coordinator:

Information about the College’s Sexual Misconduct policy, reporting options, and a list of campus and local resources can be found on the College’s website:





T August 31                

Introducing the course and ourselves

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


Th September 2

Add a username and avatar/image to Serendip

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

James Robinson, I Have A Visual Disability, and I Want You to Look Me in the Eye (12 min)

Browse Riva Lehrer’s portraits and self-portraits on her website


Sun September 5

Informal writing due by 8 PM



T September 7

Shearer West, Introduction, Portraiture (PDF, 10 pages)

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


Th September 9         

Riva Lehrer, Tedx talk, “Valuable Bodies” (20 minutes)

Riva Lehrer, The Virus Has Stolen Your Face from Me (3 pages)

Choose 3-4 portraits or self-portraits on Riva Lehrer’s website to observe closely

View The Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today video (4 minutes)

Browse the portraits by the Outwin Winners and Finalists

Choose 3-4 portraits to observe closely


Sun September 12     

Close reading of a portrait due by 8 PM



T September 14         

Closely observe 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)

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’s Anti-Self-Portraits

Doug Auld’s State of Grace series

These Self-Portraits Challenge the Mental Health Taboo, (on work co-

created by Doma Dovgialo and collaborators) and Behind the I

Nina Berman’s Purple Hearts


Th September 16       

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

View: Stella Young, “I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much” (9 minutes)

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


Sun September 19      First Draft of Essay #1 due by 10 PM


WEEK FOUR               

T September 21         

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 discuss your response/analysis briefly with the class.


Th September 23

Continued sharing of images and clips       


WEEK FIVE                                              

T September 28

Georgina Kleege, “Introduction” and “A Portrait of the Artist by His Blind Daughter” (PDFs, 27 pages in all) from Sight Unseen  

Haben Girma, “Guide Dogs Don’t Lead Blind People. We Wander as One,” (PDF, 3 pages)

Optional: Georgina Kleege, “The Mind’s Eye” (PDF, 27 pages)


Th September 30

Harriet McBryde Johnson, Preface and Chapters 1 and 10 from Too Late to Die Young (35 pages in all; the PDF includes chapter 9, which you don’t need to read yet, but we will read it for next week)        

Sun October 3            

Revised draft of essay #1 due by 10 PM


WEEK SIX          

T October 5

Harriet McBryde Johnson, “Unspeakable Conversations,” chapter 9 of Too Late to Die Young, PDF (27 pages)                

Peter Singer, excerpt from Practical Ethics, entitled “Life and Death Decisions for Disabled Infants” (7 dense pages) and “Happy Nevertheless” (2 pages)  Content warning: severe ableism

Chris Gabbard, “A Life Beyond Reason” (4 pages)    


Th October 7    

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

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

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

Close Reading of a passage due by 10 PM





T October 19              

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


Th October 21      

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

Post on Serendip a question or idea you'd like us to address in the next three weeks as we dive into learning about deafness, ASL, and Deaf culture. 


Sun October 24

First draft of essay #2 due by 10 PM


WEEK EIGHT                          

T October 26              

Tutorials this week

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

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 28            

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

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

Riva Lehrer, I'm Done with the Costumes That Hide the Monster Beneath                   


WEEK NINE                                                              

T November 2         

Train Go Sorry, chapters 10-12 (50 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. 


W November 3

12:30-1:30 Lunch with Jess Libow in Smith Room in DC          

4:15  Jess Libow ’16 Young Alumni Talk: "Mobilized: Ability, Feminism, and Physical Education in the Nineteenth-Century United States"
Lutnick 200


Th November 4

Post on Serendip a response to Jess Libow's talk: a question or idea it provoked for you. 

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


Sun November 7

Revised essay #2 submitted by 10 PM


WEEK TEN                                    

T November 9

Meet in VCAM Screening Room to view documentary film Deaf Jam, also streamable via Kanopy

Finish reading Train Go Sorry, chapters 16-18 (48 pages) this week                             


Th November 11        

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

H-Dirksen Bauman, “Designing Deaf Babies and the Question of Disability” (pdf, 5 pages)

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



T November 16         

Nicola Griffith, Rewriting the Old Disability Script (2 pages, text version attached).

Griffith, audio version

Can you think of fictional stories or films that meet the "Fries test"?

Susan Nussbaum, Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 1-99 (it's a quick read!) If you don't have a hard copy, both an e-book and an audio book are available via Tripod. In those versions, read through the chapter in Jimmie Kendrick's voice that begins with "Yessenia has a picture taped to her shelf" and ends with "So I guess that's how it's gonna be." 

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 18         

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 100-197

Post on Serendip a response to a passage or idea you'd like to discuss in class.


Sun Nov. 21

Paragraph-long proposal for Project #3 due by 10 PM



T November 23          

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 198-298

Cheryl Green, In My Home (6 minutes)

Optional: Harriet McBryde Johnson, "The Disability Gulag" (12 pages)

McBryde Johnson, audio version 





Sun November 28

Extended deadline: paragraph-long proposal for Project #3 due by 10 PM


T November 30

Excerpts from Riva Lehrer’s memoir Golem Girl (PDF)


W December 1, 5-6:30 PM, Reading and Conversation with Riva Lehrer via Zoom         


Th December 2

Individual meetings with Kristin

Work on your self-portrait:
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.          

Sun December 5        

First draft of essay #3 due at 10 PM



T December 7            

Tutorials this week

Documentary film Crip Camp, streamable on Netflix (1 hour, 48 min)                                      

Work on your self-portrait


Th December 9          

Last class: gallery of self-portraits

Course evaluations




F December 17  

Course Portfolio, including revised draft of essay #3, 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. 17. 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.