In the weeks ahead, Macalester students will finalize their fall schedules, completing a jigsaw puzzle of morning and afternoon courses, weekly lab sessions, and the occasional night class. With all of the academic interests that students bring to Macalester, the trick is often narrowing down a long list of possibilities. We looked at this fall’s class schedule—and the following courses are just a few that caught our eye:

History and Evolution of the Earth

Faculty: Ray Rogers (Geology)

This geology first-year course takes a long view of history—a really long view. In 16 weeks, the class provides an overview of the past 4.5 billion years: the birth of the Earth, the making of mountains, the history of climate change, and many cataclysmic events that punctuate the planet’s history. Course requirements include an overnight fossil-collecting field trip.

The American Novel

Faculty: James Dawes (English)

This syllabus includes some of the most popular novels ever written in the United States. “They will be heart-wrenchingly beautiful, tear-jerkingly sad, gut-bustingly funny, and seriously weird,” writes Dawes in the course description. “We will discuss love, death, the meaning of life, beauty, cruelty, freaks, war, and comedy.”

Data Computing and Fundamentals: Data Science for Social Good

Faculty: Alicia Johnson and Shilad Sen (Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science)

Curious about wrangling complex sets of data and applying what you learn to broad societal questions? This first-year course partners with Twin Cities public transportation system MetroTransit to identify critical questions facing the organization, conduct in-depth analysis, and produce maps and other data visualizations. (And no experience in data science, statistics, or programming is necessary to dive in.)

Vampires: From Monsters to Superheroes

Faculty: Britt Abel (German and Russian Studies)

A few years ago you ran into vampires anytime you walked into a bookstore or turned on the TV. Did you know the popularity of vampires has waxed and waned for over a hundred years? This class will cover classic tales of vampires as monsters (Dracula, Nosferatu, Carmilla, etc.) as well as those of  more recent generations (Buffy and Angel, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Let the Right One In).

Music, Empathy, Alienation

Faculty: Mark Mazullo (Music)

We expect a great deal from music, but what does it actually provide? Does music improve lives, connect individuals, foster peace and social justice? Does it divide, alienate, fuel aggression? This class examines connections between music and two powerful critical categories: empathy and alienation. Students will discuss the music of a variety of traditions, from piano sonatas by Beethoven and symphonies by Mahler to recordings by Radiohead and Kendrick Lamar.

Nano Science

Faculty: James Heyman (Physics and Astronomy)

Ready to think about science on a different level—a much smaller one? A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter. Nanoscience draws together physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, and electrical engineering. This class introduces science at the nanometer scale, the fabrication of nano-scale systems and some of their technological applications.

Theatre and Performance in the Twin Cities

Faculty: Megan Reilly (Theatre & Dance)

The Twin Cities has a thriving arts scene—in fact, only New York City has more theater seats per capita. This class introduces first-year students to that community through attending performances both on campus and at professional theaters. The class will learn how to critically attend, discuss, and write about performance events and texts, practicing the vocabulary of scholarship in theater and performance studies.

Creatures and Curiosities

Faculty: Sarah Boyer (Biology)

In this class, students will learn all about some unfamiliar, mysterious, beautiful, grotesque, and overlooked animals all around us: the invertebrates. That group includes such creatures as sponges, jellyfish, insects, and corals. Through lectures and a weekly lab, students will explore animal evolution and focus on the biology of these creatures. They’ll also discuss the cultural role of animals as curiosities—as specimens in cabinets and museums or the subjects of phobias and urban legends.

Frenemies: Caliphate and Byzantine Empire in Late Antiquity

Faculty: Wessam El Meligi and J. Andrew Overman (Classics)

This course follows the interaction, commerce, and conflict between the Islamic Caliphate and Christian Byzantium from the origins of Islam in the seventh century to 1453 and the collapse of the Byzantine Empire. These two empires were bound together by shared space, common interests, and episodic distrust: they were frenemies. This class studies and critically analyzes Byzantine and Islamic histories from this period.

Outdoor Environmental Education in Theory, Policy and Practice

Faculty: Jerald Dosch (Biology) and Ruthanne Kurth-Schai (Educational Studies)

This class takes learning outside. Students will explore approaches to outdoor environmental education for students across the K–12 continuum, with a focus on the opportunity to promote social justice and environmental sustainability in a globalized world. The college’s Katharine Ordway Natural History Study Area (the Ordway Field Station) will provide an outdoor classroom, both for the Mac students and for educational experiences they create for elementary school children.

Technology and the Environment in the Pre-Modern World

Faculty: Basit Hammad Qureshi (History)

Technological adaptation doesn’t just mean the latest smartphone update. Every human society has faced environmental challenges including volcanic activity, viral pandemics, flooding rivers, and invasive fauna. How did societies in the pre-modern world develop technologies to confront those challenges? Crosslisted with environmental studies, this course explores how human technologies changed local environments in both intended and unintended ways—and through that analysis, students will better understand the emergence of the modern world.

A Trek Through the Amazon Basin

Faculty: Stephanie Farmer (Linguistics)

From a Neill Hall classroom, this class goes deep into the Amazon regions of Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru to study Tukanoan, a family of languages spoken there. It’s a linguistic treasure hunt: together, students will scour all available wordlists, dictionaries, and grammars of extinct and living Tukanoan languages in an attempt to piece together the history of this language family. They’ll engage in original research while learning about language contact, language change, and the diverse and fascinating Amazonian linguistic area.

Cities of the 21st Century: The Political Economy of Urban Sustainability

Faculty: Daniel Trudeau (Geography)

Mac is located in Minnesota’s capital city, but this urban studies capstone seminar requires students to focus on the suburbs—the dominant mode of metropolitan living in contemporary America. They’ll consider the history of suburbanization as well as the demographic changes and struggle for community in today’s suburbs. Crosslisted with environmental studies, this seminar will complicate the conventional narrative of suburbs as sprawling, inauthentic, and homogeneous places.

The Rise of Right Wing Populism

Faculty: Khaldoun Samman (Sociology)

What contributed to Donald Trump’s rise? This class will examine last year’s election as part of a larger pattern of backlash against the existing political, economic, and social order—and Trump’s rise as the most visible example of surging right wing populism. Course readings and discussions will tackle populism’s history and social forces, as well as popular explanations for Trump’s rise, including arguments about the idea of “white rage,” the rebellion of the white working class, and the emasculation of men.

August 10 2017

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