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.

[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 may include: The Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Homer's Iliad, Aeschylus'Oresteia, Europides' Bacchae, Wolf's Cassandra, Calasso's Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Winterson's Sexing the Cherry, and essays by Campbell, Hillman, Jung, Neumann, and Nietzsche. Ms. Darlington (English), Mr. Shive (College Course).

Open to all classes.

Two 75-minute lecture periods and one 50-minute discussion section.

182a. The Mythic Imagination: Texts and Enactments (1)

Who needs myths? What are they? Why do human beings create them? Where do they come from and what functions do they serve? What keeps them alive within a cultural tradition? What happens to a culture when the old myths lose their power and die, and what becomes of the psychic energy that they once carried? To explore these questions we study a variety of myths, primarily from the classical world. We examine their archetypal patterns, considering as well how mythical motifs appear in our own lives and dreams and how mythical subjects can be consciously embodied and enacted. The class is experimental and includes personal writing, storytelling, creation of ritual, movement, and image-making. Readings include Homer's Odyssey, Aeschylus' Oresteia, Euripides' Bacchae, Robert Graves' Greek Myths. the homeric "Hymn to Demeter", "Eros and Psyche" from Apuleius' Metamorphoses, C.S. Lewis' Till we Have Faces, Jeanette Winterson'sSexing the Cherry. and selected poems and essays. Ms. Darlington and Mr. Greene.

Open to all classes.

Two 75-minute lecture periods

([201a. African Conceptions: The Shaping of Freedom] (1)

(Same as African Studies 201 and History 201) In Africa and the United States contemporary modes of thought about and the struggle for HUMAN RIGHTS reach back to Africa's "Golden Age" (before the European Renaissance and before the period of European Navigation). This course recreates a public memory that counteracts the caricature of the enslaved African who could never be a symbol of freedom. It examines how African and African American experiences reflect the struggle for a social contract that creates and protects the human rights of all members of the world community, with regard to economic guarantees of food, clothing, shelter, education and recreation. As creative intellectuals, we must be concerned with how the cultural system can allow for the most profound development of each individual's personal human dignity. Materials are drawn from African and African American history, literature and film. Authors may include Ibn Khaldun, Peter Abrahams, Margaret Walker, Lorraine Hansberry W.E.B. DuBois, Nelson Mandela and others. Ms. Berkley (Africana Studies), Mr. Rashid (History/Africana Studies).

Two 75-minute meetings weekly.

Taught in alternate years. Not offered in 2000/01.

281b. The Novel in History (1)

This course examines the European novel from the late seventeenth century to the eve of World War I. It does not offer a history of the novel but instead explores how the novel functions in history: it traces the fluid boundaries between literary texts and their historical contexts. By mapping out the political, social, cultural, and national histories of various English, Irish, French, Russian, and German novels, the course explores how these works reflected and influenced the evolution of modern European history itself. Over the semester we consider reading and writing practices (i.e., publication, reception, censorship, the novel's move from elite spaces into popular culture) in order to uncover the larger cultural meanings (i.e., "European-ness," citizenship, gender) embedded in these discursive practices. Readings may include: The Princess of Cleves, Oroonoko, Pamela, The Nun, The Sorrows of Young Werther, Le Père Goriot, Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, The Double, Heart of Darkness, and The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Students have the option of collaborating in a serialized web-novel. Ms. Choudhury (History), Ms. Zlotnick (English), and Ms. Hiner (French).

Two 50-minute lectures and one 50-minute discussion section per week.

330b. The Intellectual Roots of the Twentieth Century (1)

(Same as Science, Technology, and Society 330b)

380a Nietzsche and His Umbrella (1)

(Same as Philosophy 380) This seminar examines the impact of Nietzsche's work on contemporary thought. Debates over postmodernism often pivot around the place of Nietzschethis is especially true of philosophy, literary theory, and cultural studies. His thought provides many of the axioms of this discourse. This course examines the most important interpretations and appropriations of Nietzsche's work by thinkers such as Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze, de Man, and Kofman. Among these key texts are The Birth of Tragedy, "Truth and Lie in the Extra Moral Sense," "The Use and Disadvantages of History," the early essays on rhetoric, The Genealogy of Morals, selections from The Will Power, and Ecce Homo. We explore the conflicts and complementaries among these different interpretations and assess their importance. Mr.Chang (English), Mr. Murray (Philosophy).

[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 2000/01.