American University of Central Asia - AUCA - Courses Descriptions

Courses Descriptions



Introduction to Literature (LAH 100). Offered in the first year of the Literature and History concentration, Introduction to Literature is meant to provide students with an introduction to the practice of literary criticism and to what is involved in composing effective literary essays, teaching them how to write coherent analyses, effectively cite evidence, develop examples, etc. It will balance these elements of practice with detailed examinations of seminal works, using examples from different periods and contexts to expose students to the richness and diversity of literary reflection and analysis. Modeled on FYS and SYS, Introduction to Literature will involve intensive reading, critical thinking, and writing, with at least four staged writing assignments over the course of the semester to ground students in the practice of engaging literary representations of history.


Introduction to History (LAH 200). Offered in the second year of the concentration, Introduction to History will ground students in the discipline of history and in the variety of approaches to understanding the past. Learning how to assess and evaluate primary documents, students will also read widely from a diverse body of historical texts, examining cultural and intellectual histories, histories of gender, social history, colonial and post-colonial studies, and others. The course will intersperse its examination of documents and historical modes with complex literary reflections on history like those in The English Patient or The Incredible Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman, texts that will engage students in broader discussions about the human need to write down and record the past. Modeled on FYS and SYS, Introduction to Literature will involve intensive reading, critical thinking, and writing, with at least four scaffolded writing assignments to root students in the practices of historical research and contextual analysis.


Theories of History and Literature (LAH 201). Offered in the second year of the concentration, Theories of History and Literature is meant to walk students through some of the theoretical approaches and models specific to the disciplines of history and literature while also asking students to apply them to select literary works like Frankenstein or to historical documents from the Nazi occupation of the East. Theories of History and Literature also explores reflections on language and writing and their ability to make sense of human historical experience, with sessions examining scholars such as Hayden White, the eminent historian, and his understanding of history as an art that gives shape to the lived disorder of the past. Modeled on FYS and SYS, Theories of History and Literature will involve intensive reading, critical thinking, and writing, with at least four staged writing assignments over the course of the semester to provide students practice in applying theories to works of literary art and history.


Senior Seminar in Literature and History (LAH 400). Offered in the fourth year, the Senior Seminar will afford students in the concentration an opportunity to refine their senior theses, with each session devoted to workshopping a selection of student work circulated in advance. Meeting twice a week, the seminar will follow a format in which students listen to feedback on submitted work in the first session

and then engage in a broader conversation with their peers in the following class to clarify points of critique or to solicit opinion on particular issues. Modeled on FYS and SYS, the Senior Seminar will involve intensive reading, critical thinking, and writing, with at least four staged writing assignments over the course of the semester to help students refine their theses and to ensure they submit polished, substantial research.



Hybridity and Identity in Central Asia (LAH 300) will examine a series of intercultural encounters in the Central Asian past and present, with sessions exploring hybrid identities pieced together from Soviet, global, and indigenous heritages or examining moments in the past in which plural traditions fused to form “sprawling nomadic confederations of complex ethnic and linguistic antecedents.” Hybridity and Identity in Central Asia reflects the conviction of LAS that a liberal arts university in Central Asia should address the Central Asian liberal arts in its curricula. A Central Asian area course, it offers an introduction to the literature and art of the region in addition to its history, examining imaginative works like Abylkhan Qasteev’s iconic “Turksib” and its juxtaposition of Kazakh traditions and the machinery of Soviet modernity. Modeled on FYS and SYS, Hybridity and Identity in Central Asia will involve intensive reading, critical thinking, and writing, with at least four staged writing assignments meant to ground students in effective analytical prose and to familiarize them with the intercultural contexts of Central Asia.


Novels of the Russian Golden Age (RU/HUM/ART-201). This course will introduce students to the ideology of Russian writers and to their systems of values. Students will read, discuss and create the aesthetics of the intellectual Universe of Russian culture. This course is based on the writings of Russian novelists such as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev and Alexander Goncharov and includes  studying great novels such as “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, “The Idiot”, “The Brothers Karamazov”, “Fathers and Sons”, “Oblomov”, “A Common Story” etc.  Special attention will be paid to Western researchers of Russian literature and to texts like “A History of Russian Thought” (ed. by Offord, Cambridge University Press).

The Past in Present Memory, Culture & Politics (SYS/HUM/ART-249). How do different societies remember their past? How do you, as an individual, happen to know something about the past that you have never experienced? This course explores diverse ways in which different cultures construct, maintain, use, forget and erase their memories. We will explore culturally distinct sites and practices of memory through narratives, texts, memorials, symbols, rituals, and recently, internet and social media. We will examine the interrelations between the ways the past is represented and acted upon, and its culture and politics.  The central question the course addresses is how collective memory is a social phenomenon that enacts the past but is always embedded in present politics and culture.


Literature and Art from the Soviet Union (SYS/HUM/SS/ART-207). The course offers an overview of the most important literature and art produced in the Soviet Union from the 1917 Revolution until the country’s dissolution in 1991. It examines works of prose and poetry from modernism to the 1950s-1970s novel boom and early the postmodernism of perestroika, as well as concomitant movements in painting, film, and other fine arts. The required readings include the short poems and stories of Mayakovsky, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Babel, Shalamov, and others, and some short novels (Solzhenitsyn, Bulgakov, Zamiatin, Yerofeyev, Platonov, or others). The art forms examined include the avant-garde (Malevich, Kandinsky, Eisenstein, etc.), Central Asian socialist realism (Chuikov, Aytiev, Obraztsov, etc.), and a few examples of non-conformist art (Kabakov, Neizvestny, etc.). The course pays special attention to the changing and complex relationship between the artist and the state and the socio-political moment in which the particular work of art originated. On the last class, the instructor will give a guided tour of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Bishkek.


Literature and Art of Central Asia (AMS 241). This is a multidisciplinary writing intensive course that aims to explore Central Asia through the prism of Literature and the Fine Arts in order to reach a better understanding of the region, its traditions in art, and the pivotal periods of history which were particularly fruitful for the arts. The aim of this course is to discover the highlights of contemporary works of fiction, film, and literature from the Central Asian region. The questions that this course will touch upon are the following: What are the themes and images in Central Asian works of literature and art? What do we learn from them about the way of life of Central Asia? How are these themes and images interpreted in contemporary critique? How is Central Asia shown in the works of art by writers from other regions? How are the major developments and the social and political transformation in the region represented in fiction, film, and fine arts? In what way are the works of art and literature conditioned by prevailing political, social, and cultural constraints? How do they achieve the desired effect?


Moral Imagination through Literature (SYS/HUM/SS-256). The course aims to understand the multitude of values in our lives, the relations between them, and the meaning they espouse by examining great works of fiction. After a brief encounter with philosophical defenses of studying moral philosophy through literature, we shall embark on a close reading of one philosophical novel, which for this year is Fyodor M. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Students are expected to enrich and cultivate their moral imagination and sensibilities, unravel the intricacies of other people’s moral psychologies, recognize and ponder on rival reasons for action, challenge their complacent moral judgments, and ultimately be able to distinguish morality from moralization. It is expected that students become familiar with dominant metaethical and normative ethical views along the way.


Manas - Texts, Contexts, and Tradition (HUM/ ART-273). Since 1856, when Chokan Valikhanov transcribed the first known written story relating to the epic hero Manas, Kyrgyz epic oral poetry has been the subject of academic study. This course will examine the Manas Epos through its four major stages and notable texts: the mid-nineteenth century (Valikhanov’s transcription of Nazar Bolot uulu; the anonymous performances recorded by Radloff), the ‘Twilight Age’ from 1869-1917 (Maldıbay Borzu uulu, Kenje Kara, Tınıbek Japıy uulu), the Soviet era (Sagımbay Orozbakov and Sayakbai Karalaev), and the post-Independence period. The texts – written (manuscript and print) and recorded (sound and video) – will be used to explore questions of collection, collation, canonization, audience, intent, adaptation, and to consider cultural heritage concerns of change and continuation. 


Media, Memory and History (SOC/SS-442). This course analyses how the past is experienced, explained and recalled as a meaningful story in the present, and what role media – especially photography, film, television and forms of new media – has played in the production of historical narratives and cultural memory. It explores the complicated relationship between history and memory, and how these two practices appear to be at odds and differ from each other. This course also tries to find out how media interact with, broaden, and shape history and memory and why historical narratives are told and memories are preserved in certain ways and the manner in which they are represented through media. It aims at developing the use of critical thinking skills in the assessment of popular media representations of history and memory. Throughout this course, we will discover how media systems which capture, store and transmit memories have an impact on our self-awareness as individuals, as members of communities, and as participants in history. The primary theoretical framework will be interdisciplinary drawing on various perspectives and disciplinary issues that intersect history, memory and media studies.


Intercultural Encounters: Literatures at the Edge of Empire (IOE-615L). This course will focus on artistic efforts to come to terms with the consequences of colliding imperial and indigenous cultures. Treating works of art from Latin American, Caribbean, African, and Eurasian contexts, it will survey a series of iconic novels – Hearts of DarknessThe English patient, and others, exploring these works as artistic reflections on the mixing of disparate traditions and as meditations on the ways in which indigenous heritages warped the frames of reference of those who arrived to “civilize” native lands. Dealing with literature on imperial encounters, the course is also meant to reinforce the interpretative practices central to the study of comparative literature and to highlight the possibilities and difficulties inherent in treating complex, culturally plural texts. Intercultural Encounters encourages students to frame questions that multiply rather than restrict the interpretations that might be applied to a work of art and asks them to engage a variety of optics when situating literature in intercultural settings


Literature in Imperial and Soviet Central Asia (CA-610). This course will survey the development of literature in the region in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, examining Russian authors who made Central Asia their focus as well as indigenous authors who attempted to make sense of imperial and Soviet realities. A seminar in the literary art of Central Asia, it will focus on introducing students to the growing secondary literature on this subject as well as providing them an opportunity to read select portions of seminal literary texts in English translation, including Yuri Dombrovsky’s The Keeper of Antiquities. While focusing on existing scholarship, the course is also meant to expose students to the wide variety of literary prisms that might be applied to the artistic traditions of Central Asia in these periods and to help them imagine works of literary art as something other than passive reflections of their social and historical context.

Epic-Theory, Practice, History (IOE-603L). This course introduces to students the theory, practice, and history of the epic. Given the location of the teaching, the focus shall be the Kyrgyz language Epos Manas (though other examples will be used). Various versions, ranging from the earliest transcription to recent recordings, will be used to emphasize different aspects and qualities of the epos, and to stress the value of each example. These texts have been chosen because of their historical significance, and to provide a contrast with the version traditionally taught in schools.

Empire, Identity, Modernity: Ethnic Classifications in Imperial and Soviet Central Asia (CA/ANTH/PSY/SOC-516). This course will introduce students to ethnic categorizations in Central Asia in the imperial and Soviet eras and to the broad and diverse scholarship on this issue. The experiments in classification that unfolded in Central Asia formed the tail end of what Erik Mueggler might have termed “the long Linneaen enterprise in which European botanists and their collaborators cataloged the world’s flora and participated in the creation, consolidation, and conceptualization of colonial empires.” They followed from a long history of imperial and ethnographic engagement with Siberia and the Caucasus.  Examining this early history and then shifting focus to imperial and Soviet Central Asia, this course will explore how imperial experiments used classifications to facilitate colonial rule and the slow process by which the classification of birds and plants gave way to taxonomies of peoples and discrete ethnic categorizations. A course about classifications in these two contexts, it is also meant to make students think about what it means to assort human beings into rigid ethnic tables and asks them to reflect on the limits of such classificatory knowledge.

American University of Central Asia
7/6 Aaly Tokombaev Street
Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic 720060

Tel.: +996 (312) 915000 + Еxt.
Fax: +996 (312) 915 028
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