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 Symposium, Genesis, 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.

Not offered in 2009/10.

110b. Process, Prose, and Pedagogy(1)

(Same as English 110) 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. Ms. Rumbarger (English; Director, Writing Center)

By special permission.

Prerequisite: Freshman Writing Seminar.

282b. Understaing Haiti 1:Past Present Future.(.5)

This course provides a multidisciplinary overview of Haiti's history and culture. The course demonstrates how integrally the past is linked to the present, and how seemingly disparate factors belonging to different domains of study intertwined to create Haiti's present situation. As Haiti begins its recovery, this course seeks to provide Vassar students from all disciplines a background to Haiti that will be of service to them as they begin to understand the country's complex situation and potentially "respond," contemplating how they might personally contribute to Haiti. Whether students find themselves on the ground in Haiti as a part of the recovery effort in the near future, elect to pursue a deeper understanding of Haiti in future studies, or simply wish to grasp the situation, this course provides the primary tools necessary to begin asking informed questions and pursuing meaningful answers. Departments/programs represented: Africana Studies, Economics, Environmental, Studies, French and Francophone Studies, Geography and Earth Science, History, Latin American and Latino/a Studies, Political Science. 
Second six-week course. 
One 2-hour period. 
Permission of instructor required.

[ 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 2009/10.

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.

[ 362b. The Thousand and One Nights ](1)

(Same as Media Studies 362 and English 362) "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).

One 3-hour period.

Not offered in 2009/10.

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

(Same as International Studies 384a and Women's Studies 384a) 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