College Courses

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

In a College Course, students explore significant books, works of art, and other expressions of the human spirit, past and present, Western and non-Western. Because a College Course is interdisciplinary and integrative, it exposes 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 Course, 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 SymposiumGenesis, Exodus, Virgil’s Aeneid, Augustine’s Confessions, and Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Ms. Friedman (Classics), Mr. Miller (Philosophy), Mr. Schreier (History).

Open to all classes.

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

[301a. 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 2007/08.

302b. Adaptations (1)

(Same as 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 (English, Media Studies).

By special permission.

One 3-hour period.

[372b. The Thousand and One Nights] (1)

(Same as Media Studies 372) “This story has everything a tale should have,” A. S. Byatt has written. “Sex, death, treachery, vengeance, magic, humor, warmth, wit, surprise, and a happy ending. Though it appears to be a story against women, it actually marks the creation of one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature.” That heroine is Scheherazade, who for a thousand and one nights told death-defying tales that led to tales that are still being told. This course investigates literary, political, cultural, and historical explanations for the tales’ undiminished imaginative power. In addition to Husain Haddawy’s 1990 English translation, which attempts to rid The Nights of Orientalist bias and frippery, we read elaboration, analysis, and homage by Shakespeare, Beckford, Coleridge, De Quincey, Dulac, Wordsworth, Poe, Proust, Said, Mahfouz, Rushdie, El-Amir, Barth, Borges, Calvino, Malti-Douglas, Gaiman, Byatt, and Millhauser. We listen to music by Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel and watch Fokine’s ballet, films by Méliès and Pasolini, and Hollywood animations that feature stars ranging from Mr. Magoo to Catherine Zeta Jones and Brad Pitt. We also play Scheherazade’s video game and poke around in cyberspace dedicated to her legendary feats. Ms. Mark (English).

Prerequisite: one 100-level course and one 200-level course in English.

One 3-hour period.

Not offered in 2007/08.

380b. Plays of Logos (1)

(Same as Philosophy 380 and Classics 380) Close readings of texts in Greek poetry, drama, and philosophy, with a special interest in whether exploring the differences between a classicist’s and a philosopher’s responses can open up meaning that precedes the very differentiation of these perspectives. Readings may include, among others, Homer and Hesiod, Sappho, Heraclitus and Parmenides, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Plato. Ms. Kitzinger, Mr. Miller.