The coolest courses in the coolest weather

New and improved January term classes offer exclusive opportunities

While most students leave Grounds after finals with neither the desire nor the emotional stability to return any time soon, those who choose to haul back early for the abbreviated January term reap the benefits of some of the most fascinating courses the University has to offer.

New on the curriculum this year are courses ranging from the University’s medieval manuscripts to puppetry. These January courses are not only narrowly focused, but jam-packed into two rapid weeks. Here are some of 2014’s most exciting offerings:

CLAS 3559: Medieval Manuscripts at U.Va.
A new course taught by Assoc. Classics Prof. Bradford Hays will serve as an introduction to manuscripts in the Special Collections Library.

“I wanted to be able to introduce students to real manuscripts in a small group setting,” Hays said. “I hope [the students] will come away with an understanding of manuscripts as physical objects, but also as cultural objects, like how these medieval artifacts survived and winded up in an American library.”

Unlike most courses, Hays’ seminar will not merely show students images of the manuscripts on screen.

“I think students will really enjoy the chance to work directly with actual medieval books: turn over the pages of a book of hours, leaf through a medieval bible, or identify a fragment of a lost manuscript,” Hays said.

GETR 2770: Berlin and the Geography of Memory

A newly revived study abroad course takes a small group of students to Germany’s capital, where German faculty member Mark Ilsemann said he plans to immerse students in the history of the city.

“Germany and Berlin have gone through so many historical periods that have left traces in the city,” Ilsemann said. “By interacting with these traces that the different political periods have left in Berlin, we are going to get a very good overview of what has happened in German history.”

In exploring architectural landmarks, memorials and cultural institutions like museums and theaters, the course aims to offer students an overview of German identity as it has developed throughout the years.

“Berlin is a city where you can walk down the street and basically pass through time,” Ilsemann said. “It’s a city in which you travel through time by traveling through the city, and that is how the course is structured.”

DRAM 4598: Art of Moving Creatures

Transformed from a semester-long course to a J-term one, this course, which focuses on design and construction methods used to animate puppets, is taught by Drama faculty member Steven Warner and Melissa Goldman from the Architecture School.

Warner said the course was inspired by the Stan Winston Arts Festival. “[The festival] gave students and instructors the opportunity to imagine and construct large scale creature puppets with the assistance of Hollywood special effects creators,” he said. “We look to further this work by provide a January term experience that will allow the students to focus on fabrication methods used to animate puppets in great detail.”

Condensing a semester’s worth of material into two weeks will mean the course is fast-paced and packed with workshops and seminars, Warner said.

“Being able to work with the students for much of the day will allow for better discussion and creativity than what can be offered during a regular hour-long class,” Warner said. “We’ll be able to open up our shops at Arts Grounds for the entire day and keep the students in a lab and class environment.”

And the rest:

Other new courses offered this year include MDST 3559: Politics of Video Games, taught by Media Studies Prof. Bruce Williams and RELG 3559: Conscious Social Change, taught by Gretchen Wallace and David Germano from the Religious Studies department.

Across a variety of departments, J-Term courses overall offer an intimate and intensive classroom experience that is generally not available outside of higher level seminars.

“In this kind of setting it is much easier to strike up less formal conversation about pertinent issues than it is in the classroom,” Ilsemann said. “There is much more time to focus on the individual interests of the students and not just on the instructors interests. It’s been proven to be an extremely rewarding experience.”

Published December 4, 2013 in Life

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