WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- The landscape of class offerings at a liberal arts and sciences college is anything but ordinary or narrow in scope. The terrain of class titles stretches far and wide, transcending hill and dale, rolling past peaks, prairies and plateaus.
At first glance, some class titles might seem a bit intimidating. In some cases, only those students with specific, somewhat advanced interests might take a second look.
Of course, there is another end to the spectrum of class offerings at Whitman and other liberal arts colleges. That end of the rainbow is colored with classes that sound far more intriguing than imposing.
One suspects there might be a waiting list for "The History and Sociology of Rock 'n' Roll," taught by Whitman professors David Schmitz (history) and Keith Farrington (sociology). The course starts with a look at the historical origins of rock 'n' roll and considers the development of America's Cold War culture in the wake of World War II. It continues through the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and into the fragmentation of American society of in recent decades.
As noted by its course description, the class focuses on the distinctive historical events and trends that have shaped and been associated with rock 'n' roll, and it subjects those events and trends to "theoretical analysis from a variety of sociological perspectives."
And while some of that analysis no doubt requires a good bit of careful thought, who among us wouldn't jump to take a class that includes "out-of-class listening assignments"?
For those who like to read, especially in relation to the far reaching world of crime and punishment, Whitman offers an English class simply titled "Law and Literature." Taught by English professor Michael McClintick and local attorney Michael de Grasse, the class explores the relationships between legal and literary texts with respect to their creation, use and interpretation. Included are readings of fiction, judicial opinions and theoretical material concerned with the problems presented by law in literature and law as literature. Names on the fiction reading list range from Melville and Dickens to Kafka, Faulkner and Scott Turow.
Class options are not limited to listening to music or reading popular books. A class titled "Psychology and Film," taught by psychology professor Steve Rubin, has students watching both contemporary and past films -- then reading analyses and writing papers on psychological theories suggested or implied by the films. The final group project is a presentation, with film snippets, that demonstrates how Hollywood uses psychology.
Another class offered by the psychology department, one loaded with real-life implications, is the "Psychology of Aging," taught by assistant professor Matthew Prull. Class topics include models of successful aging, age-related changes in cognitive and intellectual functioning, social changes in late life, and the consequences of age-related degenerative diseases. The class includes a service learning component that offers opportunities for students to interact with elderly people. With any luck, says the class description, students will be motivated to examine their preconceptions about older people and the aging process.
For history buffs and those concerned with gender issues, two classes might hold special appeal. There's "Women as Composers," taught by music professor Susan Pickett, one of the nation's foremost authorities on the forgotten works of female classical composers from the medieval era to the 20th century. Another offering is "Ancient Women and Power," taught by visiting instructor Kyra Nourse, a course that takes an in-depth look at the women who ruled in the ancient Mediterranean world. Turning the spotlight to such individuals as Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Parysatis of Persia, the class looks at the nature and extent of their authority, as well as the means by which they became powerful players in political arenas dominated by men.
Other classes available include a number of offerings focused on issues of the day. The relevance is obvious for "Introduction to Islam" and "Islam's Intellectual Encounter with the West," two classes taught by assistant professor of religion Robert Morrison.
On the political home front, "Capital Punishment," a class on the ongoing controversies surrounding the death penalty in America, is taught by politics professor Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, who also serves as president of the Washington State Civil Liberties Union, and recently published a book titled, "From Noose to Needle: Capital Punishment and the Late Liberal State."
And Robert Withycombe, professor rhetoric and film studies, teaches a class titled "Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment," a topic one suspects will never lose its relevance.
Finally, here's a class for anyone who's a bit tired or bored with the today's daily grind: "Everyday Life in the Middles Ages." To be taught the spring semester by assistant professor of history Andrea Winkler, the class examines daily life from the ninth through the 14th centuries. Topics range widely, touching such points as chivalry and warfare, beliefs and heresies, deviance and protests, and gender and power issues.
While medieval life was tough in many ways, her class will not paint an entirely dreary picture, Winkler cautions. "There were aspects of life in medieval times that can make us envious."