Teaching about Orientalism in 2023: A History/Anthropology/Classics Syllabus

Teaching about Orientalism in 2023: A History/Anthropology/Classics Syllabus

by Katherine Blouin and Girish Daswani

Cover art: Detail from a textile on display in Singapore’s Peranakan Museum; picture by K.Blouin

For the third time since 2018, we are co-teaching a third year undergraduate course on Orientalism at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Back in 2018, we published a post in this blog entitled “Teaching the Intersection Between Classics, Anthropology, and Colonialism“. The post, in which we shared our syllabus and further reading suggestions, started with this reflection on the genesis of the triple-numbered (Anthropology, History and Classics) “Constructing the Other: Orientalism through Time and Space”. As the pandemic took off, we were in the midst of teaching our second iteration of the course. Once the term was over, we published our revamped syllabus, together with a conversation of our experience, here.

As 2022 was coming to a close, we once again revamped our syllabus, taking into account new available work, current news and unfolding histories, and the lessons learned the two first times around. We share it here, in the hope that it can be of use to all of you who are curious about the topic, be it from a teacher’s, learner’s or researcher’s perspective.

We wish to express our gratitude to all the inspiring people whose work and voices make up this syllabus. Your work is important. It matters to us, our students, and so many other folxs within and outside our classroom. And, crucially, it gives us hope; not in the loaded academic tags of some of the disciplines this course is listed under, but, more importantly, in the transformative and reparational power of decolonially-minded pedagogy and (hi)stories.

P.S.: We’ve added some cues in italic throughout the syllabus; they are between [ ].

Our syllabus cover page

Course description

The concept of Orientalism was developed by the literary scholar Edward Said who, in his seminal work Orientalism (1978), defined it as “the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient – dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism [is] a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient”. Starting from a careful reading of Said’s work and of the scholarly and popular responses it led to, this seminar will reflect on the many ways in which Orientalism has shaped the fields of Classical Studies, History and Anthropology.

Edward Said on Orientalism; video by Sut Jhally (1998)

Course objectives

At the end of the semester, each student should be able to:

  1. Define the concept of Orientalism
  2. Critically engage with Edward Said’s monograph Orientalism
  3. Summarize the role played by Orientalism and imperialism in the development of Classical Studies and Anthropology
  4. Identify the different types of historical and ethnographic evidence related to ancient and modern Orientalisms
  5. Explain the potential and limits of these evidence
  6. Understand the issues related to the ethnocentric nature of Orientalist ‘expertise’
  7. Analyze historical documents and contemporary ethnographic evidence in a critical and problem-solving oriented way.
  8. Position oneself in a critical way with regard to Orientalist historiography and ethnography
  9. Demonstrate good writing skills
  10. Demonstrate good oral expression skills


  • Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. New York: Vintage Books. referenced as Orientalism in the weekly reading list [this time, instead of asking students to binge-read the book over 2 weeks, we have decided to assign one section of it per week; we hope that this will allow a more organic integration of and critical approach to Said’s argument]
  • A selection of book chapters, articles, blog posts, videos and podcasts (see calendar for weekly details)

Grading scheme

  • Weekly responses                               35% (5X7%)
  • Outdoor Journal                                  20% (4X5%)
  • Exhibition critical review                   20%
  • Final project: “Othered”                     25%
“The Desi Woman as the Antitype: Building the White Man’s Ideal Self” by Raisa Masud (2020). Full work and more details here

Weekly calendar

Week 1                       Jan. 11                       Course Introduction

Readings: Orientalism Introduction

Week 2                       Jan. 18                       Edward Said’s Orientalism 101

Readings: Orientalism 1.I and II (‘Knowing the Oriental’ and ‘Imaginative Geography and its Representations)

Week 3                       Jan. 25                       The Age of Empires: Understanding ‘Us’ and the ‘Other’  


Week 4                       Feb. 1             Orientalism and White Settler Colonialism I                      OUTDOOR   

[it is crucial for us to anchor the course’s discussions in the settler colonial context in which we live and work; this is why we have decided to dedicate 2 weeks to this theme and to do so early in the course]


Week 5                       Feb. 8             Orientalism and White Settler Colonialism II


Week 6                       Feb. 15          The Politics of Heritage I: Archaeology, the Antiquities Trade and Museums OUTDOOR




Week 7                       Feb. 22           Reading week – no class

Week 8                       Mar. 1            The Politics of Heritage II: The Case of Ghana      Exhibition critical review due


Week 9                       Mar. 8            The Politics of Heritage III: The Case of Egypt                  OUTDOOR


Week 10         Mar. 15          Iran and the Politics of Gender (with special guest Samira Mohyeddin who also curated the readings)


Week 11         Mar. 22                      Singapore and the Politics of Race                          OUTDOOR


Week 12         Mar. 29                      Orientalism and Far Right Rhetorics



Week 13         Apr. 3             Wrapping Up                                                Final team presentations


  • Orientalism 3.IV (‘The Latest Phase’)


a. Weekly responses               35 %   (5X7%)

You are required to post five short critical reflections on the readings. Your response may take the form of questions, reflections, or responses to other students’ postings. The postings should be no longer than one page, single-spaced. You are strongly encouraged to read your classmates’ responses before class.  

b. Outdoor journal              20% (4X5%)

[This assignment was designed by Prof. Karina Vernon (English) and the descriptions are a slightly modified version of the one found in one of her syllabi.]

According to Ilarion Merculief (Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning) Indigenous knowledge is place-based knowledge:

“It springs from a deep and detailed experience of a place and manifests as a sense of belonging to, identification with, and awareness of everything that goes on in that place. In many Indigenous cultures, you need to know as much as possible about the land and waters on which you live; the plants and animals you depend on for your survival; and the people with whom you live your life. All significant learning comes from the place and is responsive to the place” (19).

“In this class, we will be leaving our zoom screen and going outside for 15-20 minutes four times during the term in order to learn more about where we are, and to consider what this particular place may teach us. The dates of our excursions are indicated by “Outside” on the schedule. Please dress for the weather.

The assignment is this:

Stop Talking

Put down your pens and electronic devices. Set down your books.

Go outside. Find a place to be by yourself.

For 15-20 minutes, let go of your thoughts and notice where you are.

Listen to the wind. Pay attention to the land you are standing on and all the living beings that share in this space.

Breathe intentionally from the common air.

Notice how you feel.

After we return from the outside, you will have an opportunity to free write about your experience that day – what you learned from being outside. We will briefly discuss in our class circles what we are learning”.

You can either hand in your four journals – polished and expanded from your in-class notes, gradually throughout the term, or submit them all together on the last week of class.

c. Exhibition critical review 20%

View from one of the rooms of Kent Monkman’s Being Legendary exhibit, ROM, Toronto (picture: K. Blouin)
“Othered in the Museum” by Dinah Samuel (2020). Full work and more details here

You shall prepare and submit a comparative review of their visit to the following two exhibitions on display at the ROM:

1. Kent Monkman’s ‘Being Legendary’, https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/exhibitions/kent-monkman-being-legendary

2. Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples art & culture, https://www.rom.on.ca/en/exhibitions-galleries/galleries/world-cultures/daphne-cockwell-gallery-dedicated-to-first-peoples-art-culture

The review should be 5-to-6 page-long (1.5 or 2 spaced, excluding cover page and bibliography). It should include a critical overview and comparison of the exhibitions from the perspective of the courses’ discussions on Orientalism and colonialism. Your paper should highlight the representations, aims, and limits of the two exhibitions, and refer to at least 3 of the class readings. Make sure to produce an entrance receipt and /or a picture of yourself at the exhibition. You are encouraged to ask yourself questions such as: What voices are featured in this exhibition? Who are the “experts” quoted or featured? What objects are displayed and themes discussed? What is the overall narrative thread of the exhibition? Are any stereotypes reproduced or challenged? How does the language of the caption participate in the reproduction/challenging of these tropes? What is not discussed? What information is provided about the provenance of the objects on display?

d. Final team project: Othered 25% [you can visit our 2020 virtual exhibit here]

“How the West Wants You to See the World” by Maria Bacchus (2020). Full work and more details here

This team assignment has 2 components:

  1. Artwork piece and presentation 10%
  2. Interpretive essay (5-6 pages double-spaced, exclusive of cover page and bibliography) 15%

1. Each team shall create a piece of artwork that relates to the theme “Othered”. The piece in question can be of any type (visual art, spoken word, song, music, dance, etc.), as long as its format allows it to be presented or performed to the group on the last day of class. You are encouraged to seek inspiration in the weekly readings and discussions, as well as in the other assignments for this course. You are also welcome to explore these themes in the light of your own experiences and relationship with the course’s topic.

2. As a complement to the artwork piece, each team is asked to write a 5-6 page interpretive essay (1.5 or 2 spaced, exclusive of cover page and bibliography). The essay must both situate your creation within a broader historical context and articulate how it tackles issues and conversations that pertain to the contemporary relevance of (destabilizing) Orientalist tropes. The bibliography must include at least 10 scholarly titles.

Detail from “My Own Experience of Being the ‘Orient'” by Fathima Ayesha Azad (2020). Full work and more details here


Katherine Blouin (@isisnaucratis) is Associate Professor of Roman History at the University of Toronto/UTSC as well as a co-founder and the lead editor of EO. You can also read her here and here.

Girish Daswani (@girishdaswani) is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto/UTSC. Apart from writing blogposts for EO, he is working to complete his book on activist, artistic and religious responses to political corruption in Ghana. He is also writing a comic book (with Bright Ackwerh), a documentary-film (with Mutombo da Poet) and, in order to sooth his restless spirit, songs. Girish is the founder of Africa Proactive and Human Stories.

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