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Boroughs & Barrios Moving in and through New York and Los Angeles

Who comes to the American city, and why?

How do visitors, residents, and migrants negotiate and move through “The Big Apple” and “The City of Angels,” reimagining urban life in the process?

In this online course, we will trace the crises of im/mobility that mark the histories of New York City and Los Angeles by exploring their representations in writing, music, maps, photography, and film.

"We came to live in this sky-scraped city / to live / to survive"

—From Willie Perdomo's poem "Nuyorican School of Poetry"

“[F]or several decades, the complex of freeways was, to many observers, the singular architectural and engineering monument of the city’s contemporary public image. What the towering skyline is to Manhattan, the tangle of freeways is to Los Angeles.”

—From Raúl Homero Villa's Barrio-Logos: Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture

"Each neighborhood of the city appeared to be made of a different substance, each seemed to have a different air pressure, a different psychic weight: the bright lights and shuttered shops, the housing projects and luxury hotels, the fire escapes and city parks."

—From Teju Cole's novel Open City

"Manzanar Murakami sensed the time of day through his feet, through the vibration rumbling through the cement and steel, and by the intervals of vehicles passing beneath him. At that moment, cars swooped at steady intervals, trucks trundled but trundled quickly. Traffic was thick but moving."

—From Karen Tei Yamashita's novel Tropic of Orange

This course is taught by Professor Karina Palau. In addition to working with programs that support undergraduate research, Professor Palau teaches at UC Berkeley through the Department of Comparative Literature and the Fall Program for Freshmen. Ideas for the Boroughs & Barrios course started taking root when Professor Palau moved from Los Angeles to Harlem, a Manhattan neighborhood that was transforming before her eyes. She writes:

"The Manhattan neighborhood that surrounded me was caught up in a swirl of change. Entire buildings—some holding hundreds of apartments plus a small business or two—were being bought out by the nearby university ... Entire blocks were being re-categorized and re-named ... I quickly learned that—at least in certain circles—I shouldn’t mention that I was living in Harlem. I associated it with the Harlem Renaissance, the jazz age, and an exciting explosion of twentieth-century creativity, but the shifts in the language people were using to designate my adopted neighborhood suggested that its story was being actively re-made. For some reason that I couldn’t quite grasp, the neighborhood’s historical affiliation with Harlem needed to be shed in order to make way for a new identity to emerge.

My walks through Manhattan made me realize that my block wasn’t unique: the whole island seemed to be in a state of constant upheaval."

Learn more about this course...

What's it like to take an online course?

You will not be attending class in person, but you will engage multi-media content, participate in online activities, and interact with your instructors and classmates weekly via discussion boards.
Each week expect to watch recorded lectures and listen to podcasts created by Professor Palau while also experiencing both cities through additional multi-media materials including films, recordings of live events, short fiction and essays, photography, newspaper clippings, interactive maps, and more.
As with any Comparative Literature course, you will also have regular reading assignments that include four novels to be purchased and additional chapters, stories, poems, and articles, which will be provided via the course website. A full list of all readings is available in the syllabus.
To help guide your understanding of the course materials, there is a weekly reading quiz that highlights the most important concepts and information.
You will regularly interact with your classmates through weekly discussions and close reading assignments via the course website.
Professor Palau and your GSI will also hold weekly office hours via Zoom, the university’s video conferencing software, and respond to any course-related questions via an open Q&A discussion. The GSIs and instructor are also available via email and to schedule appointments outside of the designated office hours.
This particular course has two major assignments, an analytical essay and creative project. Both assignments will be completed independently and submitted via bCourses.

Though the course is fully online, you are required to take the Final Exam in person at the UC Berkeley campus or off-site with an approved proctor on the scheduled day and time. Be sure to review the Final Exam information on the Berkeley Summer Sessions website before enrolling.

Want to take this course?

Enroll in Comparative Literature W60AC on the Berkeley Summer Sessions website.

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