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Portraits Syllabus

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Writing Seminar 118, Fall 2023                                              Prof. Kristin Lindgren

Tuesday/Thursday 2:30-4 PM                                      

Union 114                                                                                          office hours by appointment                                                                                                                                                 

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

You can pick up a copy in the bookstore, borrow one from the library, or order an audio version

Essays and videos by James Robinson, 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 and viewings 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.



ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Bing are still new and quickly evolving. I hope to learn along with you how they might be useful for some writing tasks, including brainstorming and proofreading. Please don’t turn in an essay entirely produced by gen AI, an essay that would likely be coherent and grammatically correct but also shallow and sometimes factually wrong. You are, however, welcome to experiment with AI and share what you learn with the class. If you used AI for any part of the writing process, I’d like you to explain briefly in a note at the end of your essay how you used it, in part so I can learn more about what it does well or not so well.



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 creating a learning environment that meets the needs of its diverse student body and 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 Director will confidentially discuss the process to establish reasonable accommodations.  It is never too late to request accommodations – our bodies and circumstances are continuously changing.

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

If, at any point in the semester, a disability or personal circumstances affect your learning in this course, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I want to be sure you are aware of the full range of resources and options available to you.

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 GRASE Center, the Dean’s Office, and Counseling and Psychological Services. Another document, which I’ll email to you, contains more detailed information about these and other resources. 

College statement: If you are experiencing challenges or questions related to emotional health, finances, physical health, relationships, learning strategies or differences, or other potential stressors, I hope you will consider reaching out to the many resources available on campus. These resources include CAPS (free and unlimited counseling is available), the Office of Academic Resources, Health Services, Professional Health Advocate, Religious and Spiritual Life, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the GRASE Center, and the Dean’s Office. Additional information can be found at



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 September 5

Introducing the course and ourselves

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


Th September 7         

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 video)

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

Choose 3-4 of these images to observe closely


Sun September 10       

Informal writing due by 10 PM


WEEK TWO          

T September 12           

Portraits Deconstructed (4 minute video)

Riva Lehrer, excerpt from Golem Girl (6 pages)

Shearer West, Introduction to Portraiture (7 pages)

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


Th September 14         

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

The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today (30 second video)

The Outwin 2022: Jurors and Artists Compilation (17 minute video)           

Browse the portraits by the 2022 Outwin Winners and Finalists

Optional: Browse the portraits by the 2019 Outwin Winners and Finalists 


Sun September 17   

Close reading of a portrait due by 10 PM



T September 19         

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

Kristina Varaksina, The Essence of Beauty

 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 21       

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 24     

First Draft of Essay #1 due by 10 PM


WEEK FOUR               

T September 26         

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 image and discuss your response/analysis briefly with the class.


Th 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)


WEEK FIVE                                               

T October 3

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 Thursday’s class)


Th October 5      

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


Sun October 8           

Revised draft of essay #1 due by 10 PM


WEEK SIX          

T October 10                

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 12

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)





T October 24           

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


Th October 26          

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

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

Here are some resources students and friends have recommended for learning ASL. Let us know if there are other resources you like. 


Signing Savvy



Sun October 29         

First draft of essay #2 due by 10 PM


WEEK EIGHT                          

T October 31              

Tutorials this week

Train Go Sorry chapters 7-8 (33 pages)

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

Learn a sign or signed phrase or sentence that you'd like to teach to the class.


Th November 2            

Train Go Sorry, chapters 9-10 (34 pages)

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) 


WEEK NINE                                                              

T November 7  VOTE!

Meet in VCAM screening room to view documentary film Deaf Jam, also streamable via Kanopy

Train Go Sorry chapters 11-13 (45 pages)      


Th November 9

Train Go Sorry  chapters 14-16 (45 pages)                 


Sun November 12        

Revised essay #2 submitted by 10 PM


WEEK TEN                                   

T November 14

View film Sound of Metal (2 hours) via Amazon Prime Video
Organize a couple of watch parties with others if you can
Pay particular attention to the sound design and the use of sound, sign, and silence
Content warning: mention of suicide, evidence of self-harm (cutting), addiction

Post a comment/question on Serendip responding to a scene or an aspect of the film
that you'd like to discuss in class.           


Th November 16        

Train Go Sorry, chapters 17-18 (33 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 21        

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.

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.

Start thinking about what you'd like to focus on in your third essay. The next step will be writing a proposal for your essay. 





T November 28         

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 60-133

Th November 30          

Good Kings, Bad Kings, pages 134-205

4:30 PM: Talk by Jaipreet Virdi, author of Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History. Union 114



Sun December 3    

Proposal for Essay #3 due by 10 PM

T December 5

Read to page 238: Good Kings, Bad Kings

Cheryl Green, In My Home (6 minute video) and/or

Cheryl Green, In My Home with Audio Description (6 minute video)

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


Th December 7

Finish reading Good Kings, Bad Kings         



Sun December 10       

First draft of essay #3 due at 10 PM

T December 12

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

Tutorials meet this week                                      

Work on your self-portrait


Th December 14          

Last class: Pop-up gallery of self-portraits

Bring to class your self-portrait and a printed-out reflection, about a paragraph long, on some of the choices you made when constructing it. 



F December 22           

Course Portfolio, including revised draft of essay #3 and course reflection, 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. 22. I cannot give extensions beyond this deadline; only your dean can do so. Please do talk to your dean if illness or other life stuff makes it difficult to complete your work by this deadline. 

2. Your portfolio consists of all your writing and revisions for the semester, an image of your self-portrait, your Serendip posts, and your course reflection.   

3. If you click "e-portfolio" you'll see that all your Serendip postings are already collected in one place. I can easily see them here and you don't need to send them separately. 

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?  Look back over the syllabus on Serendip if you wish. 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 viewer, 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.

Please send me an email with all of these things (essays, image of self-portrait, course reflection) attached. I look forward to spending some time with your portfolios. If you have any questions whatsoever about the process, please feel free to email me.