ALA 264 - Interdisciplinary Topics in ALA
Section: 001 Confronting Porgy and Bess
Term: WN 2018
Subject: Applied Liberal Arts (ALA)
Department: LSA UG: Curriculum Support
Requirements & Distribution:
Class Misc Info:
Meets 01/03/18 - 02/20/18. (Drop/Add deadline=01/16/18.).
May be repeated for a maximum of 9 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
Primary Instructor:

George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess is one of the most famous American “folk” operas of the 20th century and, in some quarters, one of the most notorious. Since its debut in 1935, it has been both praised for its contributions to the great American songbook (“Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) and reviled for its participation in acts of cultural appropriation and representational racism. The libretto, written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin, tells the story of Porgy, a disabled Black street-beggar in Charleston, South Carolina, and his attempts to recuse Bess from the clutches of Crown, her violent and possessive lover, and Sportin’ Life, her drug dealer.

This mini course centers key debates about how the text deals with race, gender and culture while investigating the history of the ongoing controversies that surround it from the 1930s to the present. While some argue that Porgy provides an ideal forum to discuss the intersections of race and culture, others insist that the opera is “too racist” and defamatory to be of value in a contemporary setting.

This course brings this long-simmering debate to life with a hands-on and “applied liberal arts” perspective on the decision to bring a painstakingly restored concert version of the opera to the University of Michigan campus in February 2018. It also considers the ways in which the University Musical Society (UMS), the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and others have sought to contextualize the performance with critical and interdisciplinary perspectives. We will be attending the performance on February 17th as a class.

Course materials include both scholarly and popular assessments of the 1935 production and subsequent revivals of the opera, particularly the 1976-1977 rendition and the Tony Award-winning 2012 Broadway version; film productions and sound recordings; as well as class visits and presentations from UM faculty and others involved in the February concert production.

Course Requirements:

All seminar participants are required to work on a short final project for the course that provides a critical examination of how the various iterations of Porgy & Bess have engaged with, questioned, and/or reproduced cultural tropes associated with race and blackness, gender, region, class and what it means to be “American.” Some of these projects may be incorporated into the February symposium. Final grades will be based on the level of class participation and engagement as well as on the quality of the final project. All students are also expected to attend the related symposium and/or at least one of the other scholarly activities that will be offered before, during and after the performance.

ALA 264 - Interdisciplinary Topics in ALA
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
F 1:00PM - 3:00PM
002 (LEC)
MW 4:00PM - 5:30PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.
Syllabi are available to current LSA students. IMPORTANT: These syllabi are provided to give students a general idea about the courses, as offered by LSA departments and programs in prior academic terms. The syllabi do not necessarily reflect the assignments, sequence of course materials, and/or course expectations that the faculty and departments/programs have for these same courses in the current and/or future terms.

Click the button below to view historical syllabi for ALA 264 (UM login required)

View Historical Syllabi
The CourseProfile (ART) system, supported by the U-M Provost’s 3rd Century Initiative through a grant to the Office of Academic Innovation, provides additional information about: course enrollments; academic terms and instructors; student academic profiles (school/college, majors), and previous, concurrent, and subsequent course enrollments.

CourseProfile (ART)