Course Materials: List by Social Science Materials

Index | List by Theme | List by Social Science Materials | List by Humanities Materials

Humanities Genre 1: Poetry
"London" by William Blake: Presents a vision of urban life in which all social classes are implicated in its suffering and its disease. Blake reveals the veiled connections that exist between man and woman, rich and poor, marriage and death, outer and inner life in the city. (Urban Art/ Crime, Danger, / Women and the City; Poetry)

"The Swan" by Charles Baudelaire: Tells the story of urban renewal, of Baron Haussman's transformation of Paris, through the objective correlative of a swan who escapes from his cage and wanders the streets of the city, far away from its natal pond. Longing for the old Paris, the displaced Parisians, like the swan, become exiles in their own city. (History and Urban Renewal; poem)

Voices and Visions, Langston Hughes and poetry by Langston Hughes (Video: Winstar Home Entertainment, 1999): The career of Langston Hughes paralleled the rise of the Harlem Renaissance. Through reading his poems ("Harlem" "Landlord, Landlord," etc.) and viewing this beautiful video, the students will glance at the formation of a community through art. It tracks the history of Harlem and the struggle of its poets to create an African-American identity. Hughes then moves beyond Harlem towards a Pan-African community outside the physical borders of cities and countries by expressing the words, the suffering, the rhythms and the music of his people. (Urban Art; poetry/ video)

Humanities Genre 2: Opera/Music
The Rake's Progress (1954) Stravinsky and Auden: A morality tale, part Faust story, part 18th century fairy-tale, part 20th century drama. It is loosely based on a series of William Hogarth's engravings also entitled The Rake's Progress (see William Hogarth's The Rake's Progress for more details). With stunning arias and humorous and poetic language, this neo-classical opera tells the story of the dissolution of a young man within an urban context. The pastoral setting is depicted in woodwinds, a standard trope in music, while the city has a variety of more menacing sounds, including and often featuring the brass section. (Nature and the city, Crime and Danger; opera/music)

Street Scene by Elmer Rice, Langston Hughes and Kurt Weill: One may regard the main character of the play/film/opera as the tenement house on the Lower East Side where people from different ethnic groups live together and banter on the steps outside on hot summer days. Although there is a palpable camaraderie and concern among those who share the tenement, the pressure caused by difficult living conditions, poverty, racism, sexism, and loneliness lead to the tragic destruction of a family. (Immigrant Experience, Women and the City, Crime and Danger; opera/music)

Humanities Genre 3: Short Stories
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" by Herman Melville and "The Overcoat" by Nikolay Gogol: Are both stories of loneliness, poverty, and inner walls that we construct, walls reinforced by the concrete spaces and the layout of the urban areas we inhabit. They are both stories of the copyist, a job that no longer exists, but one whose symbolic value continues in the corporate world of the modern city. These two heroes respond very differently to the alienation of labor, each staging his own original protest against the cruelty of the system and those who further its power. (Crime and Danger; short story; Put under "Bartleby the Scrivner by Herman Melville, and "The Overcoat," by Nikolay Gogol)

"The Cafeteria" by Isaac Bashevis Singer: Through a glance at the Eastern European Jewish community, Singer's "The Cafeteria" asks the question, "what happens to the past when immigrants begin life afresh in New York City?" In the story, the cafeteria becomes a liminal space between the old country and the new, the past and the present. The trials and traumas of life in Europe (the holocaust, in particular) does not die; its distant ghosts wander still on the streets of New York. (Immigrant Experience, Women and the City; short story)

Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin: The story of two estranged brothers in Harlem, illuminates issues of the ghetto, drugs, loneliness, and art. Through music, Sonny learns to express the terrible suffering he has experienced during his bout with heroine, and his older brother comes to understand that he must learn to listen and to feel. Sonny's music will set him free so he, in turn, can help to save his brother. (Urban Art,/ Crime and Danger; short story )

The Lesson by Toni Cade Bambara: Tells the story of a teacher who brings her Harlem pupils to F. A. O. Schwartz to witness first hand the injustice of their situation and the disparity of wealth in the city. The power and exuberance of this story lies in its point of view; told from the perspective of a young, defiant junior high schooler, Bambara captures the humor and horror that this child experiences in the course of her journey downtown. (Crime and Danger, / Women and the City; short story)

Humanities Genre 4: Novels/Memoirs
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (NY: Penguin, 1970): Excerpts from the second and third sections of the novel explore the relationship between landlord and tenant and between renter and owner. They also address the gaps that often exist between cultures within a city in the example of the European immigrant store owner who is incapable of understanding the poor little black girl who comes in for some Mary Janes as well as the culture that could create such a child as Pecola, who eats the Mary Janes in the hopes of becoming Mary Jane - blonde and blue-eyed, so that she can be loved. Theme: Immigrant, women. Humanities: Novel.

Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man: Highlight themes from almost any section of the course. In this quintessential African-American coming of age story, as in many city poems and novels, the "fall" from the idyllic countryside into the corruption of the city mirrors the main character's journey from na´ve innocence to disillusioned wisdom. We used a selection from the text that focused on tenants rights, and the way a single man used the disempowerment of an older couple as they are evicted from their home as a opportunity to mobilize his people towards active, collective change. (History and Urban Renewal/ Urban Art/ Crime and Danger/ Nature in the City; Novel)

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston: Tells the story of her immigrant family and tracks the struggles of growing up as a first generation Chinese-American in the city of Stockholm, California. In the course of this creative autobiography, she finds power in constructing a bi-cultural identity. The immigrant experience in the city looms particularly large in the last two chapters, but Chapter 1 may deepen the students' understanding of the significant relationship between the city and the imagination. (Immigrant Experience; Autobiography/novel)

Humanities Genre 5: Paintings/Engravings
The Rake's Progress by William Hogarth (, This series of 18th century engravings/ paintings by William Hogarth tells the story of the dissolution of a young man within an urban context. Hogarth's other engraving and painting series also tell cautionary tales about the city. The Harlot's Progress depicts the story of a Moll Flander's style woman, only with a moralistic tone lacking in Defoe's depiction. ( Out of Hogarth's Rake's Progress, W. H. Auden and Igor Stravinsky spun a neoclassical, English language opera in 1954 that clearly juxtaposes the pastoral and urban world both in the language and music. See Auden and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress under opera. (Nature and the city, Crime and Danger; painting/engravings)

Humanities Genre 6: Essay
"Olmsted's Trip" by Adam Gopnik (New Yorker, 3/21/00): A description of Olmsted's philosophy behind the design of Central Park - a "democratic playground" intended to counter the rigidity and divisiveness of European parks and embody the American ideal of equality - this essay helps students begin to understand that design reflects ideology. Theme: Nature. Humanities: Essay.

"Spring Rain" by John Updike (Assorted Prose, NY: Knopf, 1965): This compact essay explores the connection that city dwellers have to nature by describing a rain storm in midtown Manhattan. Updike draws parallels between the natural sounds of the city (e.g., the honking of taxi cabs) and the sounds of nature. Theme: Nature. Humanities: Essay.

"The Judgment of Birds" by Loren Eiseley (The Immense Journey, NY: Random House, 1957): Eisley's narrative connects three experiences with birds in three different settings: Manhattan, his rural home, and a desert. Through each experience he comes to understand the connection between humans and animals and the ways in which animals belong to our living spaces as much as we do. Theme: Nature. Humanities: Essay.

"Antaeus in Manhattan" by Lewis Thomas (The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher, NY: Viking, 1974): Thomas's essay uses an ant-colony-as-art-exhibit to draw a comparison between city dwellers and insects, considering parallels in group behavior and the need for social contact. As the ants, removed from their native habitat and constantly on display, begin to die, he ponders the cost of dislocation and being isolated from the natural world. Theme: Nature. Humanities: Essay.

"Eiffel Tower" by Roland Barthes (The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies, NY: Hill and Wang, 1979): Barthes' essay considers the symbiotic relationship between a landmark and its city, the city and its past, and the citizen and the city. Barthes admires the tower for the fact that it is both seen and a seer; that it is both meaningless (it has no purpose) and full of significance (it represents Paris to all of the world); and that it creates a link between the old Paris and the modern city. Theme: History, Art. Humanities: Essay.

"Here is New York" by E. B. White: White's classic essay allows the reader to feel palpably the verve and wonder of Manhattan. It demonstrates how one might organize the chaos of city life through the power of one's mind. It is as useful in the classroom for its limitations as for its extraordinary virtues; it is clearly the vision of a successful white man at a specific historical moment who has spent his time in the comfortable enclaves of Manhattan, rather than its depressed areas or outer boroughs. (Remembrance and Redevelopment/ History and Urban Renewal; essay)

"From the Poets in the Kitchen" by Paule Marshall: An essay on the formation of a Bajan writer in New York City. She talks about her early training as a writer in the kitchen where she listened to the natural poetry of the Bajan English and the women who use it as their only tool with which to struggle against the triple marginalization they experience as black, female, and foreign in an alien country. She explains how the space of the island has traveled with these women to the city, and she demonstrates the poetry, philosophy and power that their use of language contains. (Immigrant Experience; Women and the City; Essay)

Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol: Tracks the lives of children growing up in the South Bronx, at the time of publication, one of the poorest, most crime ridden and drug infested areas of New York. Kozol demonstrates the way in which governmental bodies have forgotten or deliberately hidden away these darker secrets of the city; and yet, in spite of the city's neglect and its impossible red tape, Kozol witnesses the remarkable resilience of these forgotten people. (Crime and Danger; Essay; Nonfiction)

Humanities Genre 7: Drama
The Indian Wants the Bronx by Israel Horovitz: In this one-act play, an Asian Indian lost in the city is harassed by two teenage trouble-makers. The Indian is trying to get to his son in the Bronx but cannot speak English, and the boys' mockery includes crude attempts to teach the Indian some English. The scene escalates to mild violence that leaves the Indian terrified, still lost, and completely alone at the end. Theme: Immigrant, Crime. Humanities: Drama.

Street Scene by Elmer Rice: One may regard the main character of the play/film/opera as the tenement house on the Lower East Side where people from different ethnic groups live together and banter on the steps outside on hot summer days. Although there is a palpable camaraderie and concern among those who share the tenement, the pressure caused by difficult living conditions, poverty, racism, sexism, and loneliness lead to the tragic destruction of a family. (Immigrant Experience, Women and the City, Crime and Danger; drama)