Beyond 101: Quirky Classes Enliven Fall Course Offerings
Published: Friday, August 31, 2012
Updated: Friday, August 31, 2012 02:08
For those who find their weekdays weighed down by economics textbooks and bland lectures in the ICC basement, Georgetown’s fall course catalog includes more than a few classes that will spice up any schedule.
A NEW VIEW OF HISTORY
Multiple history offerings this term approach old material in novel ways.
Taught by April Yoder, the class “Sports in the Americas” explores how sports influence race relations, political movements and modernization in Latin America.
Yoder’s inspiration for the class arose from her dissertation, which she is writing on the intersection between baseball and politics in the Dominican Republic during the Cold War.
Her original thesis topic stemmed from her belief that the history of sports in Latin America mirrors the region’s history.
“I knew that I was interested in popular culture and politics, and looking at popular culture is a way to understand the political history of a place,” she said.
Yoder said she hopes the class’s unique premise will persuade students to take a history class.
“Focusing on sports is a good way to get people who are not otherwise interested in history into history class … [and] make a history class something someone with a business major will actually enjoy,” Yoder said.
The class’s angle attracted student athletes and sports fanatics this semester.
“I’ve played sports almost my whole life, and I’m also doing research about Latin America, so [that’s] two really cool things I’m interested in combined in one class,” Katie Farias (COL ’13) said.
“History of Rock” may sound like the perfect class for music junkies and concert-goers, but according to assistant professor Benjamin Harbert and Lauinger Library’s Head of Research and Instruction Will Wheeler, rock history is more complicated than simply listening to a couple Beatles songs.
Harbert, who began teaching the course three years ago, said that the class has existed for several years under different instructors. While Harbert taught the class last year, Wheeler took over this semester.
Wheeler said he hopes to use his experience with ethnomusicology and jazz elements to bolster the course material. His main goal is to improve students’ knowledge of how rock and roll shaped cultural, social and political events in the 20th century.
In the past, Harbert’s syllabus featured an array of artists including Led Zeppelin, The Supremes and Sleater-Kinney, and this year, Eric Johnson of The Shins and Fruit Bats and Ian MacKaye of Fugazi and Minor Threat will both appear as guest lecturers.
Harbert characterized the class as a cultural studies and history course that enables students to examine the role of music in society.
“I say this to students right at the beginning: I don’t care if you like this music,” he said. “I want you to understand this music and how this music allows you to understand other issues.”
Students praised the course’s multidisciplinary and eye-opening nature.
“I cannot suggest taking this class more,” Sonia Kikeri (SFS ’13) said. “I liked that it was a different way of learning [that] incorporates different materials. It was an awesome way to get a new perspective.”
In the same vein of melding academics with popular culture, for the past decade, professor Linda Wetzel has taught “Philosophy and ‘Star Trek,’” which employs elements from the famed television show to spark philosophical discussions.
A self-proclaimed fan but adamantly not a “Trekkie,” Wetzel said she first became interested in “Star Trek” as a child.
“Sometimes I would see an episode and say, ‘That’s the mind-body issue!’” she said.
The class has no tests, and grades are determined primarily by papers so that students have the opportunity to articulate and defend their positions, according to Wetzel.
While Wetzel said students have criticized the class for being weird or easy, she emphasized that the course is intended to engage rigorous philosophical inquiry in addition to being fun and informational.
Students read works by Aristotle, Isaac Newton and David Hume and discuss topics ranging from metaphysics to issues of free will.
“[I want to give my students] a way of looking at things and asking questions and … evaluating answers to these deep questions [so] they can apply to their life, the burning questions everyone has to decide,” she said. “These are all questions which are philosophical, and I hope to give [my students] the means to tackle those questions and anything else they come across.”
OCCUPY THE STAGE
While Wetzel’s class concentrates on a fictional world, the theater department’s new class, “Real Things Onstage: War & Witness,” directs students’ focus in the opposite direction to real-world current events.