LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin

The LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin study abroad program invites students enrolled at a university in the United States or Canada to spend a semester at Bard College Berlin. Students pursuing majors in the humanities and social sciences—for example, philosophy, art history, economics, literature, political science, history, or the practicing arts—who wish to deepen their engagement with the major questions and currents of Western thought in a rigorous, interdisciplinary fashion, in Berlin are encouraged to apply. 

Each student takes at least one of a set of anchoring courses that concerns itself with an aspect of Berlin's cultural, political, and institutional life. In addition to this course, students take advanced-level electives in literature and rhetoric, art and aesthetics, philosophy and ethics, or economics and political theory, which further their progress toward their major or minor. LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin students may also take a language course or take part in an internship, 12–15 hours per week, with a local institution or artist in combination with the credit-bearing course Berlin Institutions: Values in Practice. 

Optional internship

Students who choose to complete the internship enjoy the opportunity to contribute to the work of a cultural institution, social non-profit, or governmental agency in conjunction with a course designed to provide the theoretical framework and reflective examination of the role of these institutions within Berlin and international society. LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin students have interned, for example, for Gallerie Supportico Lopez, Triple Canopy (arts publication), MOD Institute for Urbanism, Kunstgut (graduate level art school), Will Rawls (choreographer), and Judith Raum (visual artist). Visit the Internship section for more information on where students have been placed for internships. 

Student testimonials 

Sylvie Estes (spring semester 2015; interned through the Presbitarian Church Organization that provides housing for refugees or migrant workers):

My internship was very eye-opening, because I didn't know much about the refugee crisis that happens here in Berlin. With news media and with the way people tend to view the world, the issue is over there, far away. The overall experience made me think a lot about human rights as something that has to start at home, where you are.    
Through my work I learned about communication, about organization, to be proactive and get involved into communities, and to look deeper into where you're living and think that there is more than what meets the eye. That is a life lesson that will never be complete, that will continue to evolve, and that hopefully I can share with other people.


Here is a selection of course offerings for Spring 2017 in philosophy, politics, sociology, history and literature. Please see the full course list for the complete range of courses accessible through enrolment in the "LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin" program.

AH302 The Idea of the Aesthetic

Module: Aesthetics and Art Theory

Instructor: Katalin Makkai

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Mon 13:30 - 15:00, Wed 13:30 - 15:00

“Aesthetics” and “aesthetic” are terms that are often taken for granted inside as well as outside academic discourse. We speak of aesthetic experiences and judgments and qualities, and we employ “aesthetics” to designate the study of such matters. Although their root is taken from the Greek, the now-familiar terms (in their now-familiar usages) are, however, comparatively new. They are commonly regarded as having been introduced into the philosophical lexicon in the eighteenth century—a few hundred years ago. This course studies some of the texts that were key to the discovery, or perhaps the invention, of the “aesthetic”. What work was the “aesthetic” meant to do? How did its evolution retain or reconfigure its original senses and purposes? Is the idea of the “aesthetic” problematic, ideological, or chimerical? Do we need an idea of the “aesthetic” to think about contemporary art? Do we need such an idea to think about nature and our relation to it? Authors may include Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, Kant, Schiller, Schopenhauer, Coleridge, Bell, Beardsley, Bullough, Stolnitz, Isenberg, Dickie, Greenberg, Carroll, Bernstein, Rancière.


AR312 Contemporary Narratives in New Media: Systems, Mechanisms, and the Instruments of Power

Module: Law and Society/Media, Practices, Techniques/Critical and Cultural Theory

Cross-listed with Art and Aesthetics, Literature and Rhetoric

Instructor: Heba Amin

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Wed 15:15 - 18:30

This course will examine the domain of critical social practice and the broad range of art and artists who scrutinize systems of power and data-gathering methods utilized by current industries and governments. Who has control over information? What role do artists play in maintaining sovereignty of information? How can they contribute to the protection of data and privacy? Students will explore works of art that utilize forms of hacking, intervention, cloning, surveillance, and parody to critique and challenge pre-existing systems, mechanisms, and instruments of power. They will addresses “new media” as a medium that critically questions the influences of contemporary technology, and explore ownership of identity within the context of contemporary technological constructs. This course will help students nurture their skills in social analysis and criticism through their art and design practice. Lectures and regular exercises will introduce students to conceptual works of art that relay new meanings through the manipulation and social re-engineering of techno-semiotic structures. Students may work with graphics, computer hardware, software, video, the body, and public space among other resources and tools.


EC311 Ethics and Economics

Module: Ethics and Economic Analysis

Instructor: Martin Binder

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Tue 13.30 - 15:00, Thu 13:30 - 15:00

This course aims at highlighting how economics and ethics intersect in various ways: Is it legitimate to dump our trash in lesser-developed countries because it is, economically speaking, “efficient”? Are high salaries for managers or movie stars justified? Should a company be allowed to bribe officials in foreign countries in order to do business there? Should we encourage markets for organs or blood if they are efficiently allocating “resources”? In this course, seminars deal with these aspects of the economy, where different value judgments may be in conflict. While it is often useful to analyze various aspects of human life in economic terms, there may be spheres where economic calculation might seriously distort our judgments of goodness and rightness and hence might be in need of correction by other forms of measurement. The course balances the positive aspects of economics (such as alleviation of poverty and development of nations) with its negative sides (such as corruption of values and neglect of fairness issues). It elaborates on the value judgments underlying economics (its often utilitarian or libertarian commitments), and the difference between market logic and market ideology. 


PL214 Marx Yesterday and Today

Modules: Social Theory/Movements and Thinkers

Instructor: Jan Völker

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Wed 17:00 - 20:15

The name “Marx” today tends to conjure up a familiar reference that is somehow at the same time obscure: either a resource for left-wing critique that we are often told is in need of rediscovery, or a monolith responsible for ideological oppression and stagnation. But what does “Marx” mean if we consider the variety of his works and the phases of his long career as a journalist, agitator, writer, philosopher, and political economist? It is well known that Marx is supposed to have put the Hegelian system “on its feet,” or introduced the reality of material life into a philosophy concerned with the mind and the spirit.  But what were the implications of this maneuver for the rest of Marx’s career, and for the relationships between “philosophy,” “history,” “politics” and “economics” that it articulates? The early Marx is sometimes considered a “humanist,” while the later is a scientist tracing the “laws” of capital or of historical development itself. Other interpreters regard the early Marx as the true philosopher, while still others would consider that “philosophy” can only be described as such when it does not engage with politics at all. In reading Marx’s work we will explore these distinctions and debates, as well as the uses to which Marx’s ideas and proposals can be put in understanding our contemporary world, even where we might reject orthodoxies that have been established in the reception of his theories. Above all, Marx’s writings challenge the very notion of “objective” forms of knowledge that claim to be detached from interests, and show how such interests may be recognized and traced in arguments, cultural practices, and social structures. This course will be an opportunity to become familiar with Marx’s major works and interpreters, and with the appropriations of his theories that have influenced political and cultural movements. Students able to do so are encouraged to complete readings in the original German, and to write their papers and assignments in German. 


PL318 The Thought of Martin Heidegger

Module: Movements and Thinkers/Philosophy and Society

Instructor: Tracy Colony

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Tue 17:00 - 18:30, Thu 17:00 - 18.30

This advanced course addresses the thought of Martin Heidegger, its distinctive phases, and its influence on and interpretation within philosophy today. We begin by examining Heidegger’s early radicalization of Husserlian phenomenology and his turn to ontology. We will then read sections of Heidegger’s seminal Being and Time (1927) and trace Heidegger’s transition toward the preoccupations of his later works. With an eye to articulating the development of Heidegger’s thought, we will engage in close readings of: The Origin of the Work of Art (1936), Letter on Humanism (1947) and The Question Concerning Technology (1954). We will conclude with selections from Heidegger’s later period. Against the background of this chronological introduction we will also read important secondary texts on Heidegger’s work and present crucial aspects of Heidegger’s reception in Germany and France. As part of this course we will also confront the important question of the relation of Heidegger to National Socialism in light of key texts from that period and the only recently available Ponderings or Black Notebooks (1931-1938). All texts and discussion will be in English, however, simultaneous readings of Heidegger in the original German will be encouraged and supported. 


PL213 Plurality: Philosophy and Politics from Kant to Arendt

Module/s: Social Theory/Movements and Thinkers

Instructor: Jeffrey Champlin

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Mon 13:30 - 15:00, Thu 13:30 - 15:00

 Western philosophy insists that by thinking alone we can better learn to live together. Yet the modern emphasis on the individual in this tradition leads to continued conflicts between private reflection as a means of overcoming common prejudices and the need to find meaning in a common world. In this course we will explore questions of justice, liberty, and authority in Enlightenment texts before turning to the early 20th century. In considering the post-war moment, we explore how Existentialist lines of thinking, with intense focus on individual experience, provide Hannah Arendt with surprising resources for conceptualizing humans as fundamentally plural beings who are both equal and distinct. Authors read in the class include Kant, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Sartre, and Arendt.


HI218 Practical Knowledge in Early Modern Europe

Module/s: Movements and Thinkers/Philosophy and Society/Historical Studies

Instructors: Maria Avxentevskaya and Sebastian Felten

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Fri 13:30 - 16:45

What do we consider “useful” knowledge? We might consider a variety of skills highly useful, like knowing how to cook or how to fix a bicycle, but we still encounter hierarchies in which “practical” skills are less prized than intellectual capacities. Writing the history of the early modern period was previously influenced by such a hierarchy between skill and intellect. However, new approaches have shown the continual and often surprisingly productive link between everyday know-how and theoretical insight. This course explores the interaction between these two realms, and across a variety of contexts, such as the (al)chemical laboratory, the meeting rooms of learned societies, or the furnaces of mines. Our investigation will focus on understanding these sites, the physical objects found and processes staged within them, and the distinctive bodies of knowledge – artisanal and humanist, empirical and bookish, popular and academic – that they establish and intermingle. We discover illuminating links between alchemical experiments and methodical ale brewing at country houses; between bureaucratic governmental paper-pushing and the evocation of new fauna in marine expeditions; between the legal protocols of a witch trial, and new rules of discourse about nature at the Royal Society in London. These interactions often transformed existing techniques of perception and knowledge-acquisition, and sometimes created new reserves and conceptions of knowledge about nature. The notion of expertise itself came as a result to be reevaluated, as did hierarchies determining unimportant or illegitimate sources or criteria of knowing. Our course will include the examination of primary source material, and visits to the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, and the library of the Max Planck Institute Berlin. 

This course fulfils the mathematics and science requirement for humanities students


HI282 Creation-research: New approaches to contemporary migration history in Germany

Module: Historical Studies

Instructor: Marion Detjen

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Fri 19:00 - 21:00, Sat 10:00 - 17:45, Sun 10:00 - 17:45 (three weekends during the semester)

This course is a continuation of the Fall seminar course In Search of a History: Migration in Germany from World War II to the Present, focusing on students' individual projects. These projects seek to give visual, verbal, spatial, musical and general aesthetic and sensory expression to previously collected knowledge of migration history and experience. The projects need not have the ambition of entering the realm or category of "art": we consider them "notations," recording our perceptions and thoughts in the modes of articulation that suit us best. First we will review the historical data, tools, and concepts of migration history that allow us to achieve an analytical distance and conceptualize as well as historicize our material. Subsequently, we will work on a collective visualization project. The major part of the course is dedicated to developing and completing the individual projects and findings solutions for exhibiting them. We will cooperate with a number of renowned artists who will add creative, formal, and practical input and advice to our historical and linguistic framework. The course will be taught as a block seminar on three weekends in February, March and April at "BOX Freiraum" in Boxhagener Straße, Neukölln, where we will also be able to exhibit the projects in May. The exhibition is part of an international conference on migration history planned for May 11 and 12. One panel has been reserved for us to present the projects and to reflect on the relations between migration, research, education and creativity that we will have uncovered through our work. Due to its special character the course will be restricted to participation by 15 students. Those interested are asked to apply with a project that should have a clear topic and already show some progress in research and in formulation. The project should have a transnational dimension, crossing at least one national border, and take into account migrant and/or post-migrant experiences. Also, the medium of the chosen "notation" (whether it be film, photography, music, drawing or painting etc.) has to be referenced in the application, so that we can arrange to involve artists competent in the practice cited. 


PS381 Crisis Governance in the European Union

Modules: Advanced Topics in Global Politics/Law and Society

Instructor: Adina Maricut

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Mon 9:00 - 10:30, Wed 11:00 - 12:30

In recent years, the European Union (EU) has been confronted with multiple crises. Since the turn of the century alone, the EU has experienced a legitimacy crisis following the rejection by French and Dutch voters of the proposal for a European constitution, an economic crisis revealing the inherently flawed design of the common currency, and a security crisis caused by terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Paris, and Brussels. Additionally, an exponential increase in numbers of people seeking to reach the EU from countries in a condition of political and economic collapse has created intense domestic and foreign policy pressure. According to numerous commentators, the performance of EU institutions and officials in response to this range of situations has been dire. Indeed, crisis management remains a difficult notion in a multi-level political system like the EU where local, national, and supranational interests are rarely aligned. This course explores crisis governance in the European Union as a regional organization around four themes: the political system (the legitimacy crisis), the economic system (the Euro crisis), the social system (the refugee crisis), and all of the above (security crises). The course is extensively based on discussions of case studies and simulations of intra- and inter-institutional EU decision-making, aiming to facilitate students’ understanding of EU governance dynamics in times of crisis.


LT318 Rhetoric

Module: Critical and Cultural Theory

Instructor: James Harker

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Tue 13:30 - 16:45

Rhetoric, it can be argued, was the most important subject of study in classical times. In the medieval period, rhetoric was understood as one of the seven “liberal arts.” But today, rhetoric appears to occupy a most marginal position, likely to be thought, at best, a compendium of secret techniques of persuasion, at worst, a catalogue of empty ornamentation. In the first half of this course, we will trace the rise and fall of classical rhetoric, looking at its theory and practice as well as its alliances with or estrangements from philosophy and literature. In the second half of the semester, we will explore the twentieth-century return to rhetoric in poststructuralist thinkers including Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, and Judith Butler. 


LT212 Reading into Writing: A Fiction Workshop

Module: Literary Analysis and Cultural Production

Instructor: Paul Festa

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Thu 13:30 - 16:45

Every writer learns the craft by reading. This course, open to students of any level, focuses on that process of self-expression through analysis, criticism, absorption and invention. Each week students will read and write; they will also assume the role of editor in critiquing each other’s work. Readings from masters of short and long fiction, and of criticism, will inform exercises in plot and closure; dialogue; character development, point of view and voice; figurative language, style and genre; action, atmosphere and description; the persistent alternative between showing and telling; and techniques of revision, excision and rewriting. Online or in-person classroom encounters with authors on the syllabus are planned. We’ll look at fiction and criticism by writers including Gustave Flaubert, Virginia Woolf, Anton Chekhov, Edward St. Aubyn, Alice Munro, Paul La Farge, Alexander Chee, James Baldwin, Jennifer Egan, James Wood, John Updike, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders and Francine Prose. 


GM360 Goldene Zwanziger/Roaring Twenties: Art and Culture in Weimar Berlin (In German)

Module: Literary Analysis and Cultural Production

Instructor: Ulrike Wagner

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Mon 9:00 - 10:30, Wed 10:45 - 12:15

The course centers on Berlin in its heyday as a major world city and meeting place of the cultural avant-garde. We will explore this vital period between World War I and the rise of Nazism through literature, art, theater, film, and music. These different media of cultural expression share a set of topics and objectives; and we will investigate them by bringing together Dada artist George Grosz’ caricatural paintings and Hannah Höch’s photomontage with Alfred Döblin’s use of montage in Berlin Alexanderplatz and Walter Benjamin’s critique thereof. We will also look at Fritz Lang’s exploration of the themes of mass production and industrialization in Metropolis, and discuss the political critique that Kurt Tucholsky and Käthe Kollwitz express in their works. While the course places a particular emphasis on vocabulary building and pronunciation throughout, emphasis will be on the development of speaking skills through an intensive engagement with music and theater productions from the era of the Weimar Republic such as Bertolt Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper and songs by the Comedian Harmonists. The course goal is to introduce students of German to this vibrant interwar period of German culture and to thereby learn how to read, discuss, and write about literary texts, works of art, plays and films in German. Students taking the class should have a C1 proficiency level.


TH320 Social Theatre for Intervention and Consciousness-Raising

Module: Literary Analysis and Cultural Production/Social Commitment and the Public Sphere

Cross-listed with Politics

Instructor: Pepetual Mforbe Chiangong

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Sat 13:30 - 16:45

The first part of this course, mainly theory-oriented, will focus on an overview of various forms of intervention theatre across the globe. At this level of discussing intervention theatre, theoretical references will be made to Paulo Freire’s concept of problem-posing education and to Augusto Boal’s “Poetics of the Oppressed”. The reading of excerpts from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed will serve as a foundation for critical reflection and preparation of the performer’s body for a participatory theatrical workshop. The topic of migration which today informs both public and political discourses will be the major subject requiring both critical reflection and theatrical improvisation. This brings us to the second part of the seminar which will be mainly practical and will introduce the students to a 5 days intensive intervention theatre workshop on migration. Discussions during the workshop will turn around migration and its connections to objectification, otherness, and subjectification. During the workshop, participants will also be expected to participate in discussions that highlight the role played by trans- and inter- and cross-culturality in regard to the topic of migration, and also how migration touches on other social issues. This discussions will enable us to decide, as a class, on the kind of intervention, “soft” or “hard”,  that will be necessary to raise the consciousness of course participants and of the wider public on the subject of migration. After critical reflections, course participants will be expected to create a play and do open performances during which the public will not only be brought to a heightened awareness of the problems of migration, but also encouraged to give their feedback about the play and the topic of migration. 


LT284 (Re-)Writing a Politics of Belonging: Race and Recognition in American Literature

Module: Literary Analysis and Cultural Production

Instructor: Kathy-Ann Tan

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Tue 17:00 - 18:30, Thu 17:00 - 18:30

At the present time, we often hear claims that the United States is riven by intractable divisions of race, class, and gender. The literature of the country has long reflected the conflicts and questions arising from such divisions, and has much to teach us about their historical foundations and development. Above all, literature succeeds in staging a process of recognition, empowerment, and critique. Proponents of the reform and protest movements of nineteenth- and twentieth-century America were aware that the “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” announced by the Declaration of Independence had not from the beginning been envisaged for all Americans, but for a white, propertied, male ruling class. In this seminar, we will read a selection of texts from contemporary American literature that propose a struggle with this uneasy foundation, manifesting kinds of social, psychological, and stylistic predicaments imposed by exclusion and persecution. Our central question will concern the ways in which authors reestablish a sense of belonging and collectivity through the act of writing. We will also look at the way in which contemporary literature connects with and revises a sense of tradition, and generates new traditions and affiliations. Above all, our goal will be to understand the fraught, creative dynamics of “belonging” in America, a country that, as Herman Melville once contended “contradicts all prior notions of human things.”


SE220 Social Justice and Urban Spaces

Module: Social Commitment and the Public Sphere

Instructor: Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits

Course Times: Wed 15:15 - 18:30

Urban spaces have often served as the backdrop for social justice movements and politicized organizing. Racial and ethnic tensions, gender and socioeconomic inequality, forced or voluntary migration etc. are undoubtedly issues that have been at the forefront of many emancipatory movements. However, these issues also play a significant role in how urban space(s) are structured and experienced, and utilised in the struggle for socio-political justice and transformation. In this course we will explore in depth the significance of social justice and politicized mobilization, and how these issues involved in both of these phenomena have taken shape within urban space(s) across the globe. Utilizing an interdisciplinary theoretical perspective (social justice theory, human geography, post-colonial and intersectional theory), we will analyse various historical as well as current contexts that show socio-politically informed social justice movements of marginalized groups in a variety of urban spaces. This course aims not only to discuss the purpose of and necessity for social justice and political activism, but also to assist students in the development of critical thinking of a contextualized understanding of a variety of urban-related social problems. The course entails lectures, in class discussions and presentations, off-campus visits to various Berlin based organisations, as well as guest lectures by local experts & scholars.


IS331 Berlin Internship Seminar: Working Cultures, Urban Cultures

Instructor: Agata Lisiak

Credits: 8 ECTS, 4 U.S. credits (in combination with an internship)

Course Times: Wed 9:00 - 10:30 (Group A), Wed 10:45 - 12:15 (Group B)

The Berlin Internship Seminar accompanies students’ undertaking of an internship or period of practical training, and addresses such issues as: the successful functioning of institutions, the role of guiding principles and values in determining the direction and structure of projects and initiatives, and the relationship between the various spheres of society (the EU, the state, the market, and the individual) in influencing the way institutions operate. Over the course of the seminar we will also talk about contemporary ways of living and working in Berlin and beyond: How is work organized temporally and spatially and how does it, in turn, affect the city and its residents? What distinguishes the spaces in which we live and work today? Which new forms of work have emerged in Berlin recently? Which of them seem to thrive? How do Berlin’s political, artistic, and citizen-activist organizations operate? What can we learn from these institutions? 


German Beginner A1, Beginner A2, Intermediate B1, German Intermediate B2, Advanced C1, and Advanced C2

Application info

The Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College is responsible for the administration of the LAB: Liberal Arts Berlin Study Abroad Program and assists North American students through the application, selection, and pre-departure processes. For more information and to apply, please visit:

Please direct your questions and expressions of interest to: