Is the Course Catalog looking fatter than usual? The Crimson has done your work for you: Your guide to the 11 coolest classes offered this semester.
Tomayto, Tomahto, Potayto, PahtatoValley girls, Lucky Charms leprechauns and the Notorious B.I.G are just a few of the subjects offered up for consideration in Linguistics 80: "Dialects of English," a departmental course for those with a flair for language but with a fear of linguistics technicalities.
"It's designed to be an enjoyable introduction to one type of linguistic research," says Bert R. Vaux, assistant professor of linguistics, a course for students looking for "something interesting rather than something technical and obscure."
Instead of letting students get bogged down in technicalities, Linguistics 80 approaches language with a heavy emphasis on listening--both to native speakers who come to nearly every course meeting to demonstrate different dialects and to language variance in the pop culture Vaux frequently references in his course.
Pop culture is a useful reference, Vaux notes, because shows like "The Simpsons" and "South Park" tend to feature more language play and language variance that can be analyzed in class.
"I try to record a lot of TV and weed through it to see which language variances I can use," Vaux says.
Bill and Ted, the movie Clueless, and Tom Cruise's performance in Far and Away--which required a stereotypical Irish accent--are all points on the course syllabus, and clips of popular cartoon shows are regular features in lecture.
"Most academics assume that classical music of 19th century writers are in some absolute way superior to contemporary pop culture, like 'The Simpsons' or 'South Park,' which is just not true," Vaux says. "Both are products of their time's pop cultures."
Just as Vaux uses pop culture to bring to life dialects that may seem unbelievable or dry on paper, he also emphasizes that the native speakers who demonstrate their dialects in lecture on a regular basis are integral to the course. Dialects covered in the course include regional American, Australian, British, Indian, and Calypso.
The course will also deal with myths about language and dialects, class and gender influences on language, and language formation.
"This course will show students that most of what they believe about language is wrong," Vaux says.
--Eugenia V. Levenson
Though at first sight the course appears light-hearted, Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth R. Wisse says she hopes to seriously investigate the moral dimension of humor and the Jewish contribution to it in a small, discussion-oriented setting.
"Yiddish literature is associated in many people's minds with humor," Wisse says. "Humor is a very fundamental part of [Yiddish] literature. The humorous element is almost an unavoidable subject... It's just there."
Wisse says the course will begin by looking at theoretical works on humor, followed closely by selections from Philip Roth, Isaac Bashevis Singer and other Jewish writers. The course will conclude by looking at Kafka.
She hopes to keep the class small, but Wisse says that she is not trying to appeal to any specific types of people. "I'm always surprised by who shows up," she says.
Though Wisse says students are free to consult their own sources, Jerry Seinfeld will not be included in the required readings.
--David M. DeBartolo
Prague: "A State of Mind"
His new course, Slavic 131: "Imagining Prague: The City in Literature, Art, and Film," examines the imaginary representation of Prague by Czech, French, German, and Russian writers, artists, and filmmakers from the early nineteenth century to the present.
Thomas' course traces Prague through its early nationalist, realist, modernist, surrealist, existential, and postmodern stages. It is a place of exile, a city personified as female, he says.
In the early 1990s, after the fall of communism, Prague was a location of American fascination as well, particularly to Jewish Americans, who saw something of their own past in the city. Thomas labels the city as a "state of mind."
Thomas stresses that this interdisciplinary course is conducted entirely in English, although a third hour will be offered for those who wish to consider the texts in their original language.
The readings are varied, drawing from Apollinaire, Peter Dementz, Sylvie
Germain, Bohumil Hrabal, Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera, Jan Neruda, Gustav Meyrink, Rainer Maria Rilke, and others.
Some of the selections are even Thomas' own translations, such as poems by Vitezslav Nezval and Ingeborg Bachmann. A set of short films compliments this list.
Thomas' interest in the subject stems from personal experience. "It's a city I've known for many years. I lived there as a student," he says. What intrigued him was the way a city could be like a person undergoing a character shift.
--Melissa R. Brewster
"I'm a better teacher when dealing with smaller classes," Kloppenberg says. "I'm hoping that the requirements for the class will be such that it will limit numbers."
"Democracy in America," a brand new course offered this semester will consist of two hour-and-a-half lectures and one section a week. According to Kloppenberg, however, lectures will be a little different.
Kloppenberg expects to lecture for an hour, and then set aside a half-hour for discussion, a method that he thinks will be most successful in a smaller setting.
The new class will attempt to look at democracy in a different light. The common understanding is that democracy exists in political institutions alone, Kloppenberg says.
But the professor's new "experiment" hopes to show that democracy rests not just on political foundations, but also on cultural and social ones.
Students should expect a relatively large amount of reading in the class, upwards of 250 to 300 pages a week.
"If I told you the readings were fun, that would be false advertising," Kloppenberg says.
The class will begin with Sir Thomas More's Utopia. Other readings will be similar to those encountered in social studies or political theory classes, Kloppenberg says.
"The course will be a lot of work. As such courses go, some will be more fun than others. Given the amount of reading, some will find this more demanding than other core courses," he says.
The ideal class size is about 50 students. That, added with the potentially engaging half-hour question-and-answer portion of lecture, makes this course promising for those who can keep up.
--Adam M. Lalley
Black Hat and Broomsticks
The class will explore witchcraft, primarily in Europe and America from cross-cultural, historical, and literary points of view.
The pre-spring break segment of the course will cover the development of witchcraft in western Europe up to and including the Salem witchcraze of 1692, while the second half will concentrate on post-Enlightenment issues, notably contemporary neo-paganism and reactions against it.
Mitchell began teaching students about witchcraft a decade ago. He co-taught an Eliot House seminar on the Salem witchcraze with former Eliot House Master Alan E. Heimert '49.
Witchcraft integrates elements of his own training and interests such as anthropology, popular culture, folklore, literature, and history, Mitchell says in an e-mail.
Mitchell, however, maintains that "probably more than any other course I teach, it's one where I always feel by the end of the term as though I have learned at least as much as the students have. And witchcraft is also an area where, despite the tremendous amount of work that has been done in recent years, there is still so much yet to be done."
Mitchell's own research focuses on witchcraft in the Scandinavian world, especially in the later Middle Ages, but his research has also encompassed other areas and periods.
--Melissa R. Brewster
Since then, the way humans think about the brain has changed over time due to cultural changes and new scientific knowledge. The nature of this change in modern America is the topic of a new class taught this semester by Visiting Assistant Professor Joseph Dumit.
The class, History of Science 179v: "Love, Lies & Neurotransmitters American Style," deals with the brain as a "cultural object."
"The starting question of the course is that most of us talk about our brain as if we know what mean," Dumit says. "Yet the ways we talk about our brain have a series of historical assumptions behind them."
Trained as an anthropologist, Dumit says the purpose of the course is to investigate how we think about our brains and what sorts of assumptions are built into contemporary brain science. He says no special scientific knowledge is necessary for the course.
Although this is the first time that Dumit has taught this course at Harvard, he taught it previously at MIT. Christopher M. Kirchhoff '01, who is also a Crimson editor, took the MIT course in the fall of 1999.
"Because Dumit focuses on topics important to all of us, like the use of anti-depressant and psychopharmacologic drugs, class discussions are always relevant," Kirchhoff says.
According to Dumit, the class will be lecture and discussion-based. He says there will be a series of projects in lieu of papers or exams. There will be no final exam but rather a web-based project.
"If you have any interest in how neuroscience is changing, how we think about health or normality or seeing how culture and science interact, this class is for you," Kirchhoff says.
-- Jonathan H. Esensten
Nuts, Sluts and Perverts
"It's a fascinating subject--there's more than meets the eye to any sort of wrong-doing," Zimny says. "You have to really get behind the scenes to understand the factors involved."
Sociology 139: "Deviance and Social Control," popularly called the study of "nuts, sluts and perverts" by many sociologists, studies deviant behavior and social responses to deviance.
Topics covered in the course will include murders, suicides, alcoholism and perversity.
Students will start the course by examining the theoretical arguments surrounding deviance before moving on to case studies. While the course is lecture-based, Zimny says guest speakers and "some surprises" have a good chance of popping up during the semester. Zimny adds that the lectures will be particularly interesting because of their specificity.
"When you're talking about [deviance] at this level, you really have to get down and dirty," he says.
--Juliet J. Chung
Built From The Ground Up
Sullivan is offering Religion 1009: "Building a World Religious Museum," a class intended to develop concepts, designs and content for a religious museum.
"The idea is to create an ideal conceptual model," says Alison J.
Edwards, from Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions, who helped develop the course.
According to Edwards, religion plays an increasing role in museum exhibits. The course will deal with all aspects of religious museums, from the design of exhibits and buildings to the specialized care of religious artifacts to battles over cultural property rights.
The course is being offered in collaboration with the School of Design, the School of Education, and the Divinity School in the hope of drawing students from different fields.
"It's intended as an interdisciplinary course," Edwards says.
One of the most interesting aspects of the course will be a conference of museum directors next week exploring how religious issues have shaped current museum policy and how museums present religious content.
Museum directors from around the world will attend, including directors from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., the Louvre in Paris, as well as museums in Japan and New Zealand.
"Two weeks into the course, students will hear from museum directors from around the world," Edwards says. "It's an utterly unique opportunity."
Cabot Director of the Harvard University Art Museums James B. Cuno says the conference offers a chance to learn a great deal towards understanding and improving museums.
"It is rare that museum directors gather to talk about the meanings of works of art and how we might recover or enhance those meanings through exhibition design and installation," Cuno says.
In addition to a colloquium series of scholars and museum professionals, museum directors and curators will give lectures occasionally throughout the spring and will help review project proposals made by students. Some of the proposals for exhibits crafted in the course may become actual exhibits in Harvard's museum system.
--Imtiyaz H. Delawala
Winning the War for Independance
"Many students think independent film began with Quentin Tarrantino, who we're not even dealing with in the course," Jenkins says.
"The course stretches back to the era of silent film and takes a systematic look at the variety of forms by which American film makers have challenged mainstream cinema," Jenkins says, who specializes particularly in "films by people who have interests in other arts."
Jenkins' course focuses on the artistic and protest underground cinema movements of the '50's and '60's and continues right up to modern Indy film leaders like Spike Lee.
Because many students do not actually have a very good background in "Indy" films, Jenkins says, this course actually requires a much heavier reading and film-screening load than many students expect.
Despite the demanding workload, the course requires only a take-home midterm and an in-class final.
Jenkins taught a smaller version of this course at Harvard last summer, after coming to Harvard from the University of Minnesota where he taught for 11 years.
After earning his doctorate in Film Studies from Northwestern, he began teaching as well as working as a curator and programmer for various archives and media arts centers.
--Benjamin D. Grizzle
The Sound of Music
Taught by physics professors John Huth and Eric J. Heller, Science A-49:
"The Physics of Music and Sound" will seek to explain the "production, transmission and perception of sound and music," blending physics concepts with the more understandable world of music.
The course will explore the concepts such as vibration, resonance and wave motion, and how those areas form the principles of music and sound.
"The idea is to develop the concepts physicists use that explain all aspects of music and sound, from how instruments work to differences in tone intervals to the physics of human hearing," Huth says. "When you know the hard physics behind it, it really expands your realm of appreciation of music."
The offering is a welcome choice to less scientifically inclined students hoping to fulfill their Science A core requirement.
"We had talked about doing this course for years, as it contains much intuitive and applicable physics, yet deals with a subject of interest to many students," Heller says.
According to Alex Barnett, the head teaching fellow for the course, class sections will include "hands-on investigations" and group projects designed to put physics applications into practice to explore sound.
For example, Barnett says one section will take students outside to measure the speed of sound using the reflection of sound waves off of buildings.
And almost all lectures will include demonstrations with musical instruments. All of the teaching fellows are musicians, from a jazz pianist to a classical violinist to a member of a local rock band.
According to Heller, Professor Huth is "very good on the banjo."
"Finding physicists who are also musicians was a very high priority for this course," Huth says of the TFs.
--Imtiyaz H. Delawala
Students operate sextants outside of their dormitories, navigate their way back to Boston from a boat, decipher nautical almanacs, and learn to find their position from any point in the world.
As they use the historical scientific instruments, students also study the learning process. The class is offered jointly with the Graduate School of Education (GSE) and teaches the value of hands-on learning, providing students with several models to understand the universe, including an inflatable planetarium, plastic spheres, and a sun dance.
"It is one thing to be told that the earth revolves in such a way as to make the stars apparently revolve around Polaris from East to West over the course of a night," Kraig G. Salvesen '01 writes in an e-mail. "It is another thing to camp out with friends on the roof of the Smithsonian Center playing the guitar and actually watch it happen."
Philip M. Sadler, Wright lecturer on navigation in the astronomy department and assistant professor of education at GSE, has taught the course for about ten years. He estimates that two thirds of the 15 to 35 students the course usually draws are undergraduates, and the remaining third come from various graduate schools.
"Most people think of astronomy as something interesting to think about but that doesn't have real world applications, but navigation is a huge real world application of astronomy," he says.
His students from the past ten years have told him that the course has the greatest feeling of community because all of the activities are done in small groups.
"When the course description says lecturing is kept to a minimum, what it really means is that there are perhaps two or three lectures the entire semester," says former Astronomy 2 student Rebecca J. Levi '01.
Sadler agrees. "We go out on a boat and they have to find their way back to Boston, so they'd better know how to work together!"
--Erica R. Michelstein