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 include: Homer's Odyssey, Hesiod's Theogony, Plato's Symposium, Genesis, Exodus, Virgil's Aeneid, Augustine's Confessions, and Nietzsche'sGenealogy of Morals. Ms. Friedman (Classics), Mr. Miller (Philosophy).

Open to all classes.

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

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.

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

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

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).