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Shopping Around

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.

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."

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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

Brain Power

When the ancient Egyptians embalmed their dead, they ground up the brain with a metal hook and drained it through the nose. They reasoned that the heart was the seat of intelligence and the brain was a marginal organ.

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.

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