An entire class devoted to The Big Lebowski? OK, cool!
Traditionally, there was English 101 or History of Western Civilization. Today, the most innovative courses offer studies in topics ranging from Mad Men to distractions. As these classes prove, the path to an undergraduate degree is as likely to include a dissertation on The Wire as one on Napoleon.
• “The Dude Abides” – University of Miami
This English course explores academic responses to the Coen brothers’ 1998 classic, The Big Lebowski. According to the course syllabus , “possible discussion and paper topics include but are not limited to: the soiling of rugs, proper methods of making a White Russian, the ethos of National Socialism, the first Gulf War, Pomeranians, and bowling.”
• “What if Harry Potter is Real?” – Appalachian State University
If you waited for your Hogwarts acceptance letter to arrive on your eleventh birthday, this is the course for you. This first-year seminar focuses on how “the historical imagination inform[s] literature and fantasy” and changes how we view history. According to the course description, the class scrutinizes “real and imagined historical events portrayed in the novels, the reactions of scholars in all the social sciences to the novels, and the world-wide frenzy inspired by them” to “examine issues of race, class, gender, time, place, the uses of space and movement, [and] the role of multiculturalism in history.”
• “Mad Men and Mad Women” – Middlebury College
Taking inspiration from AMC’s Emmy-winning show Mad Men, the course examines the constructions of idealized masculinity and femininity in 20th-century American culture. “Mad Men and Mad Women” focuses “specifically on the connections between post-war mass communication and formation of gender roles, consumption and cultural expectations.” Would-be Don Drapers of the collegiate world, take note.
• “Fiction Workshop” – Sarah Lawrence College
The small liberal-arts college has long been recognized for its writing program. But this year, students have the chance to write their very own mystery novel and publish it collectively as a class. Students take turns writing each chapter, and the book will be published this year. The professor for the course recently described the class as “a collegiate episodic experimental fiction — the first book of its kind that’s ever been done.”
• “Oh, Look, a Chicken!: Embracing Distraction as a Way of Knowing ” – Belmont University
This course embraces our collective distraction and sensory overload by encouraging students to focus using non-traditional techniques via personal research on the five senses. Perhaps nothing underscores the course’s intentions better than the way its syllabus was written: “We will pursue ways of knowing through embracing [little ants, carrying a morsel of food across the table] what it means to be a distracted [I could sure enjoy a peanut butter sandwich right now] learner as well as [OMG - I get to go to the beach this summer] developing an awareness [I need to trim my fingernails] of one’s senses. The instructor teaches in the school of music, [do I hear water dripping?] so there will be an element related to that woven [spiders are amazing] into the course. [oh, it's the fish tank behind me] Those registering for this section may even learn to juggle [I'll be right down, I just have to finish this...what was I working on?].”
• “The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur ” – University of Washington
Past courses exploring the rapper’s career have been offered at Harvard University and the University of California – Berkeley. However, this course is unique because it relates Tupac’s lyrics to literature. This advanced history class compares the rapper’s work to classic texts, including Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Machiavelli’s The Prince, to “situate Tupac’s thinking about race, culture, economics and national belonging within a larger historical framework,” and “critically engage the significance of religious and military allusions and metaphors throughout his work.”
• “Cow to Cone” – Penn State University
Despite winter temperatures averaging below freezing on campus, this food science course has remained a staple at Penn State, where dairy-manufacturing classes have been offered since 1892. However, it is not geared toward the mere ice cream lover.
“This course is not aimed at the casual hobbyist, but at people who are interested in the science and technology of industrial ice cream manufacture,” instructor Robert Roberts offered in a Penn State News story. “We gear it toward personnel involved in production and quality control, research and development, and general management.”
• “Philosophy & The Wire” – Georgetown University
If you would be content to spend an afternoon watching re-runs of all five seasons of HBO’s The Wire, this is the course for you. According to the course’s syllabus, “the focus of this class will be some of the many faces of responsibility staring up at us from beneath the surface. First, we will investigate what is required for the possibility of responsibility. Second, we’ll look at different aspects of responsibility in practice, including punishment and forgiveness as ways of holding an agent responsible, loyalty as a way of being responsible to others, and collective responsibility as a way of being responsible for more than what one accomplishes exclusively under her own power.” There is one caveat, however: “the series is emphatically TV-MA; it is violent (often graphically) and vulgar (often intensely and explicitly). Strong disinclination to experience this sort of unpleasantness should rule out enrollment.”
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