College Courses

The college course program was established to ensure that students can have direct exposure in their years at Vassar to some important expressions of the human spirit in a context that is both multidisciplinary and integrative. The aim of a college course is to study important cultures, themes, or human activities in a manner that gives the student experience in interpreting evidence from the standpoint of different fields. The courses relate this material and these interpretations to other material and interpretations from other fields in order to unite the results of this study into a coherent overall framework. The interpretations are expected to be both appreciative and critical and the artifacts will come from different times, places, and cultures.

I. Introductory

101a. Civilization in Question (1)

(Same as Greek and Roman Studies 101) 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 the individual, community, justice and the divine are imagined in these texts. 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 tot he 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 vary from year to year, but have included GenesisExodus, and texts by Homer, Plato, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Walcott. Ms. Friedman (Greek and Roman Studies), Mr. Schreier (History).

Two 75-minute periods and one 50-minute discussion period.

II. Intermediate

214. Process, Prose, Pedagogy (1)

(Same as English 214) This course introduces the theoretical and practical underpinnings of writing and teaching writing. Students interrogate writing's place in the academy, discuss writing process from inception to revision, and share their own writing and writing practices. The course offers an occasion to reflect on and strengthen the students' own analytical and imaginative writing and heighten the ability to talk with others about theirs. Students are asked to offer sustained critical attention to issues of where knowledge resides and how it is shared, to interrogate the sources of students' and teachers' authority, to explore their own education as writers, to consider the possibilities of peer-to-peer and collaborative learning, and to give and receive constructive criticism. Texts may include Roland Barthes' The Death of the Author, Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Stephen King's On Writing, as well as handbooks on peer consulting.

Students who successfully complete this class are eligible to interview for employment as consultants in the Writing Center. Mr. Schultz (English; Director, Writing Center)

By special permission.

Prerequisite: Freshman Writing Seminar.

280a. The Biology of Domestication and Food Production (Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community) (1)

(Same as Biology 280) For at least nine tenths of their existence, humans fed themselves by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. Then, about eight to ten thousand years ago, our ancestors from at least seven different regions of the world independently transformed certain wild animals and plants into livestock and crops. These transitions from foraging to farming were the greatest events in our cultural history. From a biological perspective, domestication is an evolutionary process, a long-term selection experiment, that has affected both domesticates and ourselves. In this course, you learn the basic biology behind food production, starting with the original domestications of wild animals and plants and continuing through traditional breeding, hybrid crop production and mechanized agriculture to the transgenic crops and livestock of today. We also consider currently popular alternatives to agribusiness, such as organic farming, slow foods, seed saving, and heirloom breeds, from a biological perspective. Mr. Schlessman.

By special permission. Open only to students admitted to the Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community for 2012/13.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

284a. Corn by the Gallon, Milk by the Pound (Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community) (1)

(Same as Geography 284) In this course we examine two of the dominant conundrums and drivers in our food production system, corn and milk. Why are they produced where and how they are? What factors in physical and economic geography drive these production systems? What is their impact on soil quality, erosion, and biodiversity? What is their impact on our national debates around health, environment, and climate? We examine first some of the basic ideas of physical geography that shape agricultural production regions; we then examine some of the ways our focal products been shaped by food subsidy policy. Finally we consider recent transitions in these production systems and some of the debates about where they should go. On at least two weekend field trips we visit a Hudson Valley dairy producer and a conventional corn producer in central New York. Ms. Cunningham.

By special permission. Open only to students admitted to the Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community for 2012/13.

Two 75-minute periods.

286a. Food in its Cultural and Social Contexts (Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community) (1)

(Same as Anthropology 286) Food exists at the intersections of culture, power, and history. This course explores a variety of frameworks for understanding food choices and constraints. We consider industrialized systems of food production and their implications for social life, and how responses to these systems have shifted not only dietary patterns, but also social relations and ideas about what counts as “good” food. We also focus on how the ritualized or politicized consumption of particular foods can affirm connections between invisible worlds and peoples of the past on the one hand, and contemporary life, place, and status in the physical present, on the other. Topics and issues to be addressed include food justice and problems of unequal access; “sustainable” farming and “local” foods; food practices in the construction of identity; and the links between slavery, colonialism, and the emergence of the industrial food system. For this course, each student conducts weekly fieldwork off campus, and uses the ethnographic method to develop a food-related research project. Ms. Lowe-Swift.

By special permission. Open only to students admitted to the Multidisciplinary Learning/Living Community for 2012/13.

Two 75-minute periods.

287b. Terroir, Wine, and Multidisciplinary Lessons on How the French "Taste" the Earth (1/2)

(Same as College Course 287) The French word “terroir” is a culinary term used to map the flavors in a food or wine to its specific origin. In the context of food assessment, terroir currently translates roughly to “the taste of the origin” or, more loosely, as “a sense of place,” but it has existed for over 500 years without an English equivalent. The term remains mysterious to most of the rest of the world as well, where countries and cultures have been slow to create a corollary. Terroir, in fact, is much more than a tasting methodology: It is a reflection of French visions of nationhood- how the French perceive themselves- in addition to how they understand, physically organize, and work land. While teaching students to appreciate wine responsibly and understand its significance in social and political contexts, this course illustrates the French notion of terroir and demonstrates how the specifics of agricultural place influence taste and identity. Taught in English. Mr. Parker.

Prerequisite: Open to Juniors and Seniors only, ages 20-21. Enrollment by special permission.

Second Six-Week Course.

290. Field Work (1/2 or 1)

298. Independent Research (1/2 or 1)

III. Advanced

301. History, Memory, and Legacies of the Holocaust (1)

After WWII the Holocaust emerged as a universal evil that holds lessons beyond the boundaries of Western civilization. While scholars have been relying on different theoretical models to understand the Holocaust, reflection on this unprecedented genocide itself has shifted theoretical discussion in many disciplines. This course looks at the legacies of the Holocaust from a variety of different disciplines by discussing texts, films, and memorials with German students at the University of Potsdam. The exchange takes place at two different levels in the course of the semester: together with their German partners, students discuss readings and work on research projects in the MOO, our online learning environment at Vassar; and in a second phase, Vassar students travel to Berlin and German students to New York to complete on-site research for their projects. Ms. Höhn, Ms. von der Emde, Ms. Zeifman.

By special permission.

One 3-hour period.

Not offered in 2012/13.

302b. Adaptations (1)

(Same as English and Media Studies 302) If works of art continue each other, as Virginia Woolf suggested, then cultural history accumulates when generations of artists think and talk together across time. What happens when one of those artists radically changes the terms of the conversation by switching to another language, another genre, another mode or medium? What constitutes a faithful adaptation? In this course we briefly consider the biological model and then explore analogies across a wide range of media. We begin with Metamorphoses, Ovid's free adaptations of classical myths, and follow Medea and Orpheus through two thousand years of theater (from Euripides to Anouilh, Williams, and Durang); paintings (Greek vases and Pompeian walls to Dürer, Rubens, Poussin, Denis, and Klee); film and television (Pasolini, von Trier, Cocteau, Camus); dance (Graham, Balanchine, Noguchi, Bausch); music (Cavalli, Charpentier, Milhaud, Barber, Stravinsky, Birtwistle, Glass); narratives and graphic narratives (Woolf, Moraga, Pynchon, Gaiman); verse (Rilke, Auden, Milosz); and computer games (Mutants and Masterminds, Fate/stay night). We may also analyze narratives and graphic narratives by Clowes, Collins, Ishiguro, Groening, Joyce, Lahiri, Malcolm X, Mann, Millhauser, Nabokov, Pekar, Shakespeare, Spiegelman, Swift, Tanizaki, and Wilde; films by Bharadwaj, Berman/Pucini, Camus, Dangarembga, Ichikawa, Ivory, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Lee, Lyne, Mendes, Nair, Sembene, Visconti, and Zwigoff-, remixes by DJ Spooky and Danger Mouse; sampling; cover bands, tribute bands; Wikipedia, wikicomedy, wikiality; and of course Adaptation, Charlie and Donald Kaufman's screenplay for Spike Jonze's film, based very very loosely on Susan Orlean's Orchid Thief. Ms. Mark.

By special permission.

One 3-hour period.

384. Transnational Queer: Genders, Sexualities, Identities (1)

(Same as International Studies and Women's Studies 384) What does it mean to be Queer? This seminar examines, critiques, and interrogates queer identities and constructions in France and North America. In what ways do diverse cultures engage with discourses on gender and sexuality? Can or should our understanding of queerness change depending on cultural contexts? Through guest lectures and discussion seminars, the course examines a broad range of queer cultural production, from fiction to cinema and performance. Topics include such diverse issues as queer bodies, national citizenship, sexual politics, legal discourse, and aesthetic representation. All lectures, readings, and discussions are in English. Mr. Swamy.

By special permission.

Prerequisites: Freshman Writing Seminar and one 200-level course.

One 3-hour period.

Not offered in 2012/13.