Offbeat Classes Useful In Practice

Students Learn Navigation, Skepticism, Perspectives on Misogyny

Not many courses at Harvard emphasize the practical over the theoretical, but many professors promise that students will come away with surprisingly useful skills from their seemingly obscure offerings in the comming semester.

Although at times you may feel lost in Astronomy 2, "Celestial Navigation," Lecturer on Astronomy Philip M. Sadler vows that if you take his course you will forever after be able to navigate your way when it really counts.

"The goal of the course is for people to find where they are anywhere in the world with only a sextant and a stopwatch, within a mile," Sadler says.

Although that goal may seem fairly ambitious, the course has undoubtedly had ample time to fine-tune any shortcomings it may have. Sadler says he has traced the course back at least 100 years in the University archives, and he suspects it might even be twice that old. Henry David Thoreau took "Celestial Navigation" while he was at Harvard, Sadler says.

Won't Get Fooled Again

How gullible are you? Are you tired of people pulling the wool over your eyes?

Peabody Professor of American Archaeology and Ethnology Stephen Williams, who teaches Anthropology 139, "Fantastic Archaeology: Where the Truth Lies," promises to make his students more skeptical. Williams says he will teach students how to tell a hoax from genuine findings during their studies of Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Williams says the lessons of his course have many important applications in a world where people often want to believe the fantastic findings of pseudo-scientists. There has been a long history of bogus findings in archaeology, Williams says, adding that he wants to expose the impostors for their true shallowness and focus students on the real thing.

"People all over the world have scary monsters in the woods," Williams says. "We are continually assaulted by things in the media that we have to critically evaluate."

"The reason I got interested in it is because I'm rather serious about veracity," he says.

Close Encounters of the Anthro Kind

To apply directly the skills you learn in Assistant Professor of Anthropology Mary Steedly's new course, "Colonial Encounters," you may have to venture to a far away place like North Sumatra, Indonesia, where she did much of the fieldwork for her doctoral dissertation (see profile of Professor Steedly on page B-10).

Even if you're more domestically inclined, however, you can still benefit from Steedly's offering, which she says will explore no less a topic than "the great dilemma of anthropology."

The aim of "Colonial Encounters," Steedly says, is to examine how anthropologists have come to "think in ways that haven't been shaped by colonial relations of domination and authority," she says.

"From its very beginnings, anthropology has been significantly imbedded in the colonial encounter," she adds.

Old Classics, New Approach

Besides offering a chance to read many classic works of French literature, Assistant Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Abby Zanger says her new course French 134, "Misogyny and Its Discontents in Early Modern France," will provide students with a whole new perspective with which to examine them.

In the course which is taught entirely in French, students will examine literature which portrays women as objects of hate. Students will then scrutinize women's response to these writings, Zanger says.

The course is already showing signs of being a big hit: Zanger says many students have called her to express interest. Still, even if you don't read French, don't despair. If interest continues to be high, Zanger says she may try to teach the course in English next year.

Big Plans

It's not exactly Western Civ, but the scope of Historical Studies A-72, "The Development of the Modern State," is no less broad.

The course, one of this spring's new additions to the Core Curriculum, will attempt to detail the change of Western political institutions from the end of the Middle Ages to the rise of the welfare state, a period of about 800 years.

"Obviously it's rather ambitious," says Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France Stanley H. Hoffman, who will tri-teach the course with Professor of Government Peter A. Hall and Assistant Professor of Government Thomas C. Ertman.

Hoffman says the professors will make an attempt to narrow down the course's rather enormous scope by concentrating on Britain, France and Germany.