Spring Semester Special Topics Courses: New Courses Feature Wide-Ranging Subjects Across all Departments

By Molly Igoe
Elm Staff Writer

Special topics courses being taught this spring at Washington College involve all departments and majors. Next semester offers courses that range from drama to English to math, all with a specific focus on a certain idea. The goal of these courses is for students to master critical evaluation and thinking in a particular area of interest.

One of these courses, which will be taught by Assistant Professor of English Elizabeth O’Connor is called “Postcolonial Literature: Works of Resistance.” This special topics course focuses on literature from all over the world pertaining to cultural, political, and economic clashes.

“This class is very near to my heart…it provides a window into viewpoints and expressions of resistance, capitulation, and the ongoing struggle both within and without the characters involved,” Dr. O’Connor said. The diverse texts being explored include those from Africa, the Caribbean, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. This class will be offered next semester through the English department.

Another course being offered is called “Lovers and Slaves, Kings and Knaves: Ancient Greek and Roman Drama,” which will be taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of English Dr. Phillip Walsh, and is cross-listed under English and drama. The course involves reading representative plays of the Greek and Roman tragedians and comedians, analyzing the sociopolitical context of these ancient dramas, and studying the reception of Greek and Roman dramas in the modern world.

Dr. Walsh said that the plays covered in the course “include Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Tyrannus,’ about a man who is his own worst enemy as he pursues truth and self-knowledge, Aristophanes’ ‘Clouds,’ a bitter satire that lampoons the Athenian philosopher, Socrates, and Seneca’s ‘Thyestes,’ which is a bloody and disturbing tragedy that emerges out of imperial Rome.”

“These are plays originally written and performed thousands of years ago, but they maintain a dynamic relevance to the modern world because they explore hard questions about the human condition: e.g., what is the relationship between mortal and divine? I believe that we can learn from the Greeks and Romans who were fearless in posing and then complicating these matters,” Walsh said.  This course will be offered next semester and can be found under the English department courses.

Another special topics course being offered in the English department is called “Contemporary Multiethnic American Literature,” taught by Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in English Dr. Crystal Kurzen.  This course includes reading works of Chicana/o, Dominican American, Native American, African American, Vietnamese American, and Indian (Bengali) American authors, while analyzing how the texts deal with race, sex, gender, and ethnicity.

“Since the course is writing-intensive, I expect students to engage in close reading and critical thinking, craft effective written and verbal arguments, and learn to revise their coursework. I also hope that students will gain an awareness of the discipline of literary study with a particular focus on texts that engage with constructions of race and ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, religion, and other social constructions,” Dr. Kurzen said.

A course that appeals to philosophical thinkers taught by Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Peter Weigel is called “Existentialism and Literature.” “Existentialism emphasizes human freedom and responsibility in shaping ourselves and purposes through our commitments. Its thinkers favor individualism and subjectivity… The movement flourished in the 1930s-’50s around Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in France,” Dr. Weigel said. “It is an introduction to philosophical ideas in literature. It often appeals to students who may not otherwise take a course in technical philosophy.”

There are also a few special topics courses in the drama department, including “Introduction to Theatrical Design,” taught by Assistant Professor of Drama Laura Eckelman. “This course offers a broad look at all aspects of theatrical design including scenery, properties, costume, lighting, sound, and projections. Students will learn to approach theatrical questions from a variety of angles,and will develop a basic understanding of all design elements and how they fit together,” she said.

The other course offered under drama is entitled “Devised Theatre: Performing Environment,” taught by Professor of Drama Dale Daigle, Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Martin Connaughton, and playwright Steve Spotswood.  Daigle said, “Devised theatre is a genre of contemporary drama that emphasizes collaboration throughout the creative process. The course will begin by looking for ways to break preconceptions and disarm received wisdom on the topic of the environment.”

Other special topics courses are offered  in departments ranging from anthropology to business to the sciences. Students have the opportunity to explore the waterfront culture of the Chester River in “Stories of the Chester River” taught by Lani Seikaly and Michael Buckley, learn what it takes to be a CEO in a class taught by Professor Harvey, or explore evolution with Professor Jennie Carr. With a broad range of courses, there are plenty of opportunities for students in all disciplines to focus on something new.

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