Professor Nicola Behrmann

This interdisciplinary course introduces students to the European avant-garde movements at the beginning of the 20th century. We will consider innovations in art, music, film, and literature, beginning with German Expressionism, followed by Italian Futurism, the international Dada movement, and French Surrealism. We will look at the various ways in which these movements discover the irrational, the pathological, the unconscious, the precarious and the abandoned as revolutionary and subversive gesture with the utopian potential of changing the world. We will explore what binds and what separates these movements from each other. And we will trace the influences on European avant-gardes.

No prerequisites. Readings and discussions will be in English with the option to read and research in other languages as well. Students should plan to spend 4-6 hours per week on the course. Fulfills AHo and AHp.


This course will be taught online and in asynchronous mode, wherein students work on mostly their own time but with scheduled due dates and with seven online discussion meeting in smaller teams. Each week includes a formal lecture by the instructor as well as reading assignments, and multi-media assignments. There will be one guest lecture—either by an established scholar in the field or an advanced graduate student who is working in the field of avant-garde studies. Students will actively contribute to a research platform that allows for an annotated “deep map” of early 20th-century artistic communities and lives of artists all over Europe while also tracing their ties to other regions of the world. They will present their final project, individual assignments, and deep maps at an online conference at the end of the semester. The aim is to create a group of independent learners who become experts in a particular movement, artist, or a specific vanguard practice (i.e. montage, chance, anti-art). Through reading, discussion, locating and exploring, and online presentation of essential prose texts, poems, manifestos, films, paintings, installation, music and songs, students will gain insight into various vanguard productions and their ongoing impact on art, literature, and sub-culture today. At the end of the semester, the they will have configured their very own individual approach and a unique canon of early 20th century radical modernisms.