NYU Steinhardt News

Undergraduate Honors Spotlight: Professor David Wills Examines Space and Place at NYU Tel Aviv

David Clinton Wills, Visiting Assistant Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, will teach a new Dean’s Global Honors Seminar in New York and Tel Aviv in fall 2016.  The seminar will combine a semester-long course In New York with a one week research-travel component at NYU Tel Aviv in January.  Students will engage in a comparative exploration of space and place as they relate to human connections, the body as a medium, and cultural practices.  Professor Wills will leverage experiential learning opportunities in both locations to examine themes of identity and difference, perception and embodiment, architecture and landscape, and social media.  We interviewed Professor Wills to learn more about this course and his interest in Israel.  

What inspired this course?
The inspiration of this course is the aim to craft broadening perspectives on the relationship between cultural existence and one’s habitation of space. What does it mean to be in a place, to have presence, and have presence be disclosed to you? This course asks how do people, through their practices and their being in the world, form relationships with the spaces and places that they inhabit; affecting those spaces and being affected by them as well.

Why study in Israel?
We must study in the entire world. Israel is a part of that world that particularly evidences narratives of history, religion, politics, culture, and how these multiples strands intersect and affect each other with ramifications for the world at large. Israel is unlike any place in the world and like every place in the world. Through studying in Israel, we’re studying the world. I am reminded of William Blake, who writes, “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold Infinity in the palm of your hand and Eternity in an hour.” And Israel does have a lot of sand!

What advice would you give a student considering study abroad?
Do it!  

Why is a global perspective important in the study of Media, Culture, and Communication?
It’s important to realize that experiencing the world in nearly its totality is something that is readily possible through the vast array of channels that are available to us. We’re able to be in almost every place on planet. Being able to develop a schema of the planet, or to think that the totalizing concept of the globe is something that one can have a cognizance of, is an amazing thing. A global perspective allows a nearly bird’s eye view of how we’re all interconnected and the study of Media, Culture, and Communication is about this interconnection and one’s place in it.

How has your time in Israel influenced your academic work?
My time in Israel has influenced my academic work quite significantly and it has been an extraordinary benefit to developing my current book project entitled Continuity in Life, as well as developing my classroom pedagogy. Being able to cultivate and develop my work on identity, with regards to vectors of race, nation, sex, and gender, from the experiences that I’ve had in Israel, has been extremely productive for my research and my teaching, as Israel is a complexly challenging site of these narratives.

What other courses are you teaching next year?
I’ll be teaching a course, Queer Identity and Popular Culture, as well as a course on Gender and Communication.

What was your favorite course as an undergraduate?
I greatly enjoyed all of the coursework of my undergraduate career and I think that my favorite course was Documentary Writing. In documenting, I was exposed to the need for sensitivity in attuning oneself to alterity, I learned the importance of striving towards the unveiling of truth and most of all, I heard the demand to encounter and represent with as little inflection of my own perception as possible. Although my bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in Philosophy taught me how to question, in documentary writing, I learned how to listen and how to write that sound.