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SCAND 152 A: Latvian Literary and Cultural History

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm
RAI 109
Photo of Solvita Poseiko
Solvita Burr

Syllabus Description:


Winter Quarter 2019

Meeting Times: MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm

Location: RAI 109

Instructor: Solvita Pošeiko

Office: Raitt Hall 305 W

Office Hours: W 12:00-13.00 and by appointment


Latvia is a country in northeastern Europe with ancient and diverse cultural heritage. Due geographical location and historical events Latvians have always lived in close connections with other nations, their language, religion, and culture and have interacted with them. Therefore, Latvians’ self-identification (individual and national) and relationships between individuals, social and ethnic groups, and nations are significant issues of Latvian culture awareness.

 Did you know that Latvians

  • stay up all night and jump over bonfires during the Latvian Midsummer (Jāņi or St. John’s Day), and there are more than 2,300 folk songs about this night?
  • gained their independence from the Soviet Union by joining hands and singing across the entire country in 1991?
  • invented blue jeans (Jacob William Davis), spy cameras (Walter Zapp) and holograms (Juris Upatnieks)?


The Course: Overview


The purpose of this course is to introduce you to Latvian culture through two parallel or contrasting conceptual pairs: person/society and syncretism/heterogeneity. The first pair has to do with identity and relationships; the second with relationships and interactions.

Design of the course

This course has been designed to provide you with themes related to Latvian-ness using a variety of texts (e.g., novels, fairy tales, poems, postcards, advertisements, maps, paintings, films, and songs). These colorfully represent certain periods in time, show a significant change in Latvians’ worldviews, cultural and literary traditions, and daily life, as well as reflect complications of internal relations.

Methodological pathway of the course

We will practice deep reading to uncover multiple layers of the texts in terms of literary studies and social semiotics. In other words, we will meaningfully read not only linguistic texts, but also multimodal texts (created by various modes, e.g., scripts, creation materials, pictures, ornaments, colors, music) – to uncover links to Latvian community and culture. We will focus on three periods of time: 1) intelligent self-confidence, national romanticism and the New Latvians movement in the late 19th century, 2) individual identity crisis, propaganda and social realism in Soviet Latvia, 3) hybrid identities, globalization and post-modern literary experiments in contemporary Latvia.

 More specifically you will learn:

  • how to read and analyze texts with more than one mode (languages, images, sounds, and symbols) or texts without words at all (e.g., photos, paintings, costumes, meals, city artifacts) in the specific spatiotemporal and socio-cultural context
  • about development of cultural history in Latvia
  • how to identify, analyze and interpret cultural-marked characters, symbols, ideas and scenes in Latvian texts
  • how to discuss Latvian identity issues (thoughts, feelings and beliefs in relation to each other with their behavior and habits) in different time-spaces
  • how to reflect about yourself as a text reader and interpreter


The Course Objectives

  • Read various folklore, literature, art, music, film, architecture and landscape texts – explore a “treasure trove” of Latvian culture;
  • Improve multimodal, socio-cultural and critical literacy – ability to read, argue, interpret and use (e.g., transform, modify, perform) various texts considering cultural-historical context;
  • Present independent research on Latvian cultural history.


The Course Structure

Classes: short lectures and presentations followed by practical tasks and discussions will be a major component of this class. Lectures and students’ activities will consist of the presentations on topics and themes relating to the assigned reading and curriculum. Lectures will occasionally be supplemented by films, music and videos and guest lecturers in areas of particular expertise. 

Lecture Schedule: follow the “Assignments” on the course Canvas for links to online readings and course update.

The Course Evaluation

All assignments are graded on a point system basis. To pass the course, you need to pass all six graded components.

Graded items

% of Final Grade

Points each


Class discussions




Reflections and comments (10 weeks)




Two reports




Creative work




Two short take-home exams




Final exam (take-home essay/project)








* The detail “Grading Key” will be given in the first class of the course.

To receive grade for the course, you are expected to fulfill the following:

  1. Class discussions:
  • Each class will consist of various practical activities and tasks. You should be prepared to discuss and analyze the reading/watching assignment and to give your comments on it.
  1. Reading Assessments (to be prepared prior to class):
  • Selected works of literature, folklore, film, art, and music, available online or as class handouts
  • Longer Reading Assignments:

Latvian Insitute (2001). History of Latvia. A brief Survey. (50 pages)

Rainis (1905). Fire and Night. Drama. (78 pages)

Soboļeva, Liene (ed., 2018). Aleksandra Čaka dzeja. Poetry by Aleksandrs Čaks. Uzburt mīlestību. The Enchanment of Love. [1928] (50 pages)

Joņevs, Jānis (2018). Doom 94. Novel. (247 pages)

  1. Watching Assessments:

Drama, documentary Baltic Tribes. The Last Pagans of Europe (2018) by Raitis Ābele and Lauris Ābele.

Drama Vai viegli būt jaunam. Is it easy to be young? (1986) by Juris Podnieks and/or Četri balti krekli. Four White Shirts (1969) by Rolands Kalniņš.

Animation Akmeņi manās kabatās. Rockets on my pockets (2014) by Signe Baumane.

 NOTE: You should have at least 45 min of home reading/tasks before each class.

  1. Writing Assignments:
  • Weekly online reflections with critical remarks about the classes, discussed texts, themes, and tasks in class (You will have to publish the reflections and comments on other reflections on Canvas. The length of each reflection should be at least 300 words. It may consist of creative works: literary texts, visual or multimodal texts, e.g., audio records, short videos, memes etc.)
  • Two reports (1 page, 3-5 minutes) about Latvian culture; these may expand and deepen discussions of class assignments, or they may explore the world beyond this class syllabus (Sign-up will be requested in the beginning of course)
  • Creative work (informative, literary or artistic text) to show understanding of the directions and features of Latvian literature, art or music in chosen time period
  • Two take-home essays about the required assignment works (The minimum length of each essay should be at least 800 words, about 3 pages)
  • Final exam**

** Final essay can be an art project, media project, animation, even a performance, but make sure you discuss it with me beforehand, also be ready to present it in the class and please add 1 page of the description of the idea behind and connection with Latvian Culture course. (Only at projects will be presented and only they should have 1-page explanation.)

Catalog Description: 
Survey of Latvian literary and cultural history from the nineteenth century to the present. Authors include Pumpurs, Rainis, Aspazija, Blaumanis, Nesaule, Bels, and Zalite.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
December 6, 2020 - 7:03pm