From Alfred Doeblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and Daniel Loebel’s Hades, Argentina to James Baldwin’s Another Country and Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby, cities have been foundational to countless texts.
In Global Liberal Studies, however, cities are the texts. The school’s“City as Text” course—part of GLS’s junior-year learning sequence—is taught at nearly all of NYU’s global academic centers. Each location-specific syllabus is tailored to immerse students in their local urban study-away setting through interdisciplinary perspectives that include arts and media, politics, economics, and the social practices of everyday life.
In the Buenos Aires section of the course, for example, readings and lectures are supplemented by talks from government officials and local activists—as well as excursions to places such as the Argentine National Congress building, Plaza de Mayo (the city’s center square), and Buenos Aires’ La Boca neighborhood (shown here), an artists’ haven that was home to many 19th- and 20th-century European immigrants.
“Through the combination of critical excursions, theoretical readings, and conversations with local policymakers and activists, students have access to a sophisticated understanding of the rich complexity of the city,” says Buenos Aires course instructor Cecilia Palmeiro, an expert on Argentinian and Brazilian literature and gender issues.
The habit of deep critical engagement with a location is something she hopes students will take with them long after their study away experience is over.
“We produce a kind of knowledge that fosters reflection and analysis that exceeds the singularity of Buenos Aires and inspires their approach to other places,” she says.
This fall, the 11 students enrolled in the class considered several aspects of Buenos Aires’ past and present—immigration, environmental concerns, art and its role in political protest, and reproductive health.
“Bruno Rodriguez, a leader of Youth for Climate, a political organization in Argentina focused on socio environmental struggles, recently spoke to the class,” says Palmeiro, a researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research and the coordinator of the Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies and Policies at the National University of Tres de Febrero. “It was extremely interesting for students to listen to the voices of young Argentineans who are experts on such an urgent subject from a radical perspective of the Global South. Many students are now doing research on those ideas and also will intern in the organization.”
Another lesson, “Neoliberalism, Gentrification, and Housing Crisis in the City of Buenos Aires,” centered on an excursion hosted by Cecilia Alvis, an architect, urbanist, and feminist environmental activist who is a professor of architecture at the University of Buenos Aires.
“We visited the borders of the city and explored the contrasts between processes of gentrification and of marginalization in neighborhoods such as La Boca and Puerto Madero,” Palmeiro explains. “In order to obtain the critical tools necessary to make sense and produce academic knowledge out of this experience, students read Neoliberal Reform and Landscape Change in Buenos Aires, Argentina by David Keeling and the classic The Right to the City by David Harvey.”
In Global Liberal Studies, “City as Text” is paired with an “Experiential Learning” course that combines volunteer work or internships with a related independent research project aimed at capturing how the workplace culture relates to the city.
Students in Accra this fall have focused on how migration and religion have shaped the capital of Ghana, visiting local places of worship to help instill this understanding, while those in Paris have studied the social and environmental impacts of the 2024 Summer Olympics on the host city. In London, the “City as Text” course included a trip to the city’s Brixton district, where students learned about the area’s musical history and its shifting racial make-up. The Berlin course took students through the history and landmarks of the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich, and the Cold War.
“ ‘City as Text’ has played a significant role in the GLS curriculum since its inception,” explains Philip Kain, Liberal Studies’ director of Academic Engagement and Experiential Learning and a clinical professor. “Our aim was to create a course centered on active engagement at the study-away locations, with a global perspective as its foundation. Across all ‘City as Text’ courses, emphasis is placed on the importance of primary sources. Students in this course academically investigate their present geographic setting but also experience its profound intricacies on-site. The classroom work, alongside the field trips, is designed to facilitate the framing and contextualization of the study-away experience.”