College Courses

College Courses deal with important questions about human nature and culture, and our relation to the natural world, to technology, and to our own work. 

In College Courses, students explore significant books, works of art, and other expressions of the human spirit, past and present, Western and non-Western. Because College Courses are interdisciplinary and integrative, they expose students to different instructors, disciplinary approaches, and major research techniques in order to illuminate a text, a human dilemma, or a major institution from many directions. Students thus enrich their comprehension of the topic, and enhance their ability to think from multiple perspectives. They also develop an awareness of the connections among bodies of knowledge by crossing the borders that separate disciplines, and by examining relations among diverse works and across cultures and centuries. 

Because of the foundational concerns of the College Courses, students gain a framework of knowledge and questions that can help orient and integrate their other studies at Vassar. Freshmen may find these courses especially valuable because they introduce a variety of disciplines and provide the broad historical and cultural perspectives for later, more specialized courses. Sophomores and juniors may wish to take a College Course involving their major field in order to discover how it relates to other disciplines. Seniors may find the courses useful as a way of integrating their coursework and reflecting on critical issues.


Course Offerings

See biology and chemistry.
 
101a. Civilization in Question
(1)
This course undertakes to question civilization in various ways. First, by looking at texts from ancient, medieval, and renaissance cultures, as well as texts and films from our own, it introduces students to major works of the Western tradition and asks how they bring under scrutiny their own tradition. In particular we examine how identity is constructed in these texts and how political and social roles limit and strengthen people’s sense of who they are. Second, because the course is team-taught by faculty from different disciplines, we explore the ways a text is interpreted and how different meanings are found in it because of the different perspectives brought to the class by its faculty. Finally, we reflect on the role questioning plays in the process of a liberal arts education and the different kinds of attitudes and intellectual outlooks we learn to bring to the study of any text, which impels us to consider the ways we allow the past to inform and question the present and the present to inform and question our understanding of the past. Readings for the course include: Homer’s Odyssey, Hesiod’s Theogony, Plato’s Symposium, Genesis, Exodus, Virgil’s Aeneid, Augustine’s Confessions, and Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Ms. Kitzinger (Classics), Mr. Miller (Philosophy).
       Open to all classes.
       Two 75-minute lecture periods and one 50-minute discussion section.
 
[380a. Plays of Logos]
(1)
Study of ancient Greek literature in the modern era has been organized along both “traditional” disciplinary divisions: literature, philosophy, art, history, and religion, and within categories of genre: drama, epic, history, philosophy, lyric poetry, etc. Yet these divisions do not represent the way the Greeks thought about their artistic productions and the role they play in the formation of culture. We examine how rethinking our own categories might open up for us different ways of talking about these texts: what finally is the difference between a play by Sophocles and a Platonic dialogue? Can clear lines be drawn between the poetry of Sappho and epigrammatic utterances of Heraclitus? Is there a need to define Hesiod’s hexameter poetry and Homer’s as responses to fundamentally different projects? We explore such questions through interdisciplinary readings, putting the resources of philosophical reconstruction and philological hearing into conflict and interplay. Possible topics for discussion are the Homeric simile, selfhood in Homer, the interplay of word and eros in Sappho’s poems, the thought of being in Parmenides,and the interiorization of tragic mimesis in Platonic dialogue, etc. Texts may include Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony; the poetic fragments of Parmenides, and Sappho; Plato’s Crito and Phaedo; Sophokles’ Antigone,Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. Ms. Kitzinger (Classics), Mr. Miller (Philosophy).
       Not offered in 2003/04.
 
[381b. The Decadent Imagination at the Fin de Siècle]
(1)
(Same as Music 381b) This seminar explores some of the relationships between literary aestheticism and music at the fin de siècle (1875-1914). Highlighting formal and thematic correspondences between the arts, the course takes stock of the cultural scene in which decadence flourished as one of the most alluring and disreputable of the high arts. Authors include Poe, Baudelaire, Swinburne, Pater, Wilde, Huysmans, Nietzsche, Gautier, D’Annunzio, and Mann. Composers include: Wagner, Debussy, Strauss, Schonberg, and Berg. Ms. Graham (English), Mr. Mann (Music).
       Not offered in 2003/04.
 
382b. Death
(1)
An interdisciplinary study of varied responses to death by modern Continental philosophers and American writers. A primary concern of the course is how philosophy and literature converge and diverge as distinctive ways of knowing. The course includes comparative studies of Kierkegaard and Flannery O’Connor, Heidegger and Stephen Crane, Merleau-Ponty and Wallace Stevens, Nietzsche and Hemingway. Mr. Bergon, Ms. Borradori.
       One 3-hour course.
       Prerequisites: Two 200-level courses in literature and/or philosophy.