At the top of the class
Students consider the most popular new classes of the spring Students consider the most popular new
Published: Monday, February 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 13, 2012 23:02
Spring semester 2012 has given us an array of new classes that had students hovering over their laptops at registration time in order to get a spot. Each of these courses is new to Brandeis, as are some of the professors. Many of the courses are one-time offerings. Some had a waiting list after the first day of registration and have stayed full since. Students were eager to sample from these innovative classes; the unique reading lists, discussion topics and class activities have kept them interested. From courses on Disney films to French feminist thinkers, we have compiled a list of the five most exciting new classes of spring 2012.
"The Art of Flirtation: Reading Romance from Pride and Prejudice to Harry Potter"
The first book of the semester is Pride and Prejudice, followed by Bridget Jones's Diary. The two might seem an unlikely pair, but they are analyzed and compared in "The Art of Flirtation: Reading Romance from Pride and Prejudice to Harry Potter" taught by Prof. Dawn Skorczewski (ENG).
"I wanted to pair books from different historical periods so students could think about the issues of flirtation in romance in, say, 1810 versus 1910, to see what they could discern about the differences in how romance was configured in those times," Skorczewski says.
Currently, the class, offered for the first time this semester, is comparing Dracula and Twilight. Other books on the reading list include Maurice and True Enough. "One of the things I hope we discover is how conservative Twilight is compared to Dracula, that Dracula opens up all these questions that Twilight sort of closes down," Skorczewski says.
It is the eclectic reading list and thoughtful discussions that have made this class an instant hit. Unsurprisingly, the course has attracted a majority of women, but the three men in the class are always active participants.
"The men who are in the class are really engaged and have really interesting contributions. We're spending a lot of time talking about gender so I'd like to challenge this idea that romance is only a woman's story, but, I think, traditionally, romance was something for the ladies," Teaching Assistant Kyley Caldwell says.
"I never paid attention to the intimacy of the relationships between characters before I was in a class with girls," says Terrell Gilkey '15. Whether or not more men decide to take a class on flirtation in literature, the class is sure to return within three years, according to Skorczewski.
"After Beauvoir: Gender, Culture and Politics in Postcolonial France"
The name Simone de Beauvoir is often synonymous with the word "feminism." The two terms are coupled in classrooms, books and literary discussions around the world. However, there is much more to the study of both the French existentialist philosopher and the term than are explored in simple discussions.
Prof. Beatrice de Gasquet's (ROM) class "After Beauvoir: Gender, Culture and Politics in Postcolonial France" addresses how feminism has been redefined since Beauvoir's famous book, Le Deuxième Sexe (The Second Sex), was published in 1949. The class is taught entirely in French, a formidable task for any student to take on. Hannah Caldwell '15 decided to tackle it. "Because my prior knowledge of the French Feminist Movement was severely limited, I appreciate the perspective the class has given me of the French woman's experience," she says.
De Gasquet taught at Paris-Sorbonne University established in the 12th century, for seven years before coming to Brandeis. There, most texts she read on feminism were in English. "I thought it was a nice thing to do the reverse story and teach French literature to Americans. Here you hear about French feminism and, in the more popular discourse, French women, so I try to demystify this and show a more complex picture," she says.
The textbook list for the course is largely nonfiction and many of the texts are ones that are used in French universities. Readings include excerpts from Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe and Une Jeune Fille Rangée and Christine Bard's Les Femmes Dans La Société Française au 20e Siècle.
"Both the literature component and the sociological component [are] obviously the main challenge[s] for me in the class, and at the same time can be very fruitful in terms of class content," de Gasquet says.
She will not be able to revise the course to teach again next year, however. She is teaching at the University as a part of a two-year fellowship, and next semester she will develop another course combining sociology and gender studies. This is the only semester the course is offered and students like Hannah Caldwell are thankful they seized the opportunity.
"Topics in Theater and Drama: Short-Form Comedy"
Prof. Jonathan Katz (THA) admits that he can't exactly "teach" improvisation comedy to students. However, he combines his experience as a professional comedian and working with Improv Boston, a non-profit sketch, stand-up and improvisational comedy theater, to give students "some of the stuff I've learned from being in the comedy business for 25 years," in his class "Topics in Theater and Drama: Short-Form Comedy" this semester.
"I have a captive audience once a week, which is great because I can't stop making jokes!" Katz says.
Katz is a comedian most famous for his Comedy Central show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, an animation about a psychotherapist who has sessions with famous comedians and actors.
The class meets once a week for two hours to study the art of short-form comedy. Short-form improvisational comedy is a collection of fast-moving sketch performances of funny scenes created on the spot.
He also has students perform in class. Each class meeting ends with group sketch presentations from students. "I'm trying to get students to create something that's funny, that's five minutes long and maybe they can share with a larger audience," he says.
"I'm a theater minor. I saw this was a sketch comedy class and that's all it took. I admit I did not know who Jonathan Katz was when I signed up for this course, but now I am very ashamed of that fact. He is an incredible comedian. … This is the best class I've had so far at Brandeis," Ben Cantor '13 says.
"The Films of Disney"
An English class on Disney movies? You've probably already heard the buzz around campus about this over-enrolled class by now. It's no wonder: The regular homework assignments for this course are to watch some of Disney's most quintessential children's films that most of us grew up with. The list includes Cinderella, The Jungle Book and The Lion King.
Prof. Caren Irr (ENG) created the class. "Most of the films I watch at home … with my daughter, and I just started thinking about how people learn to watch films," she says. The class takes a deeper look into Disney's animated films and focuses on their cultural influence.
"I thought [the class] would be childish, but we're doing a really adult view of Disney films and their deeper messages," says Dylan Schlesinger '15. Irr believes that Disney films have something that is universal, a quality within all of their productions which she calls "Disneyfication," or "lifting you up by your bootstraps" stories.
The class studies the original stories on which the movies are based. Some stories, such as those from the Grimm's Fairy Tales are surprisingly gruesome. According to Irr, Disney has spun these tales into happy-ending stories, a formula for the studio's films.
The class examines the deeper contextual meanings and cultural interpretations that can be applied to the films and literature and reads about the influence that Disney, the country's largest media conglomerate, has had both on American cultures and cultures around the world.
"Our generation relates to Disney the most. It was really a big part of my childhood and even now I still like it," Schlesinger says.
"Media and Violence: An Anthropological Approach"
Each year, the University gives a prestigious award stipend called the University Prize Instructorship to a graduate student, allowing them to teach an undergraduate class in their field of research. Graduate student Ieva Jusionyte (ANTH) received one of this year's awards.
Students in "Media and Violence: An Anthropological Approach" are studying the media perspectives of the current Occupy movement. "The media usually takes sides depending on political views and social class. Either the police are bringing violence on demonstrators, or police are being law enforcement over lazy demonstrators," says Jusionyte.
Originally from Lithuania, Jusionyte worked as a journalist before moving to Argentina to run a controversial television program on current issues, and then to the United States to continue to study the contexts and influences of violence in the media.
Her goal for the students in the class is to learn to challenge their perceptions of media. "I want the students to critically engage with the media and start discussing viewpoints that are not always comfortable with them," she says.
In order to do this, Jusionyte has students create and update blogs. They write entries about their personal interactions with media violence.
"One student went to an exhibition of the Disobedience Archive at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on the history of protests," she says. Jusionyte also examines relevant global issues currently being covered in the media.
"There are a lot of good case studies, says Gilda Di Carli '13. "In class, we talked about propaganda videos and how the U.S. Army and Marines glorify war and the life of a soldier. They portray it as very heroic and noble. We analyze things that we encounter on a daily basis but never think about."
Jusyionte is graduating from Brandeis in May with a Ph.D. in Anthropology, but "would definitely want to teach this class again if the opportunity arises," she says.