Legacy of Exploration: Relativism in Cross-Cultural Narratives
Legacy - HNRS 1120

Instructor(s): Renée Faubion

Course Description

One of the greatest problems facing travelers has been the challenge of accepting systems of values which are alien to their own. Confronted with people who dress differently than we do, who have different religious and moral philosophies, or even different diets than our own, we may—like many travelers before us—be inclined to respond with anxiety, distrust, or even violence. This fear of Others is an important element linking the explorer to the colonizer; the history of exploration is in large measure the history of efforts at cultural, or even literal, genocide.  In this course, we will try to develop a conversation between Western culture and some of the cultures it has marginalized to better understand the sources and consequences of such conflicts.  We will examine how disparate cultures regard one another, paying particular attention to those areas of real or perceived differences in values which provoke significant tension; in the process, we will also consider whether there is such a thing as a value that is objectively “true.”  Finally, because this is a first-year seminar, we will also devote time to developing skills in reading, locating and evaluating sources, developing effective arguments, and growing comfortable contributing to class discussion. 


William Shakespeare, Othello  

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl 

Titu Cusi Yupanqui, An Inca Account of the Conquest of Peru 

Françoise de Graffigny, Letters from a Peruvian Woman 

Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God 

Sarah Winnemucca, Life Among the Paiutes: Their Wrongs and Claims 

Film: Roko Belic, Genghis Blues 

Shorter selections from Montaigne and a few secondary scholarly sources 


Two brief analytic essays; a research project (broken down into a variety of assignments); presentation on an instance of cultural relativism; strong attendance and participation in seminar discussion

About the Instructor(s): Renée Faubion

Renée Faubion earned an M.A. in Slavic literature from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. in 

American and British literature from UNM. She has received four awards for excellence in 

teaching. Her primary interest is in gender studies, including how gender performance and 

expectations shape responses to cultural phenomena such as serial murder and gothic