You know you’ve asked that question yourself as you’ve seen news stories or perused academic course catalogs. And we’ve all lamented the evils of grade inflation while singing the praises of the good old days when we were in school and had to work for our degrees.
(And had to walk to school barefoot through the snow, by the way, but never mind.)
You might even be tempted to ask such a question when flipping through UIndy’s Spring Term course offerings. But don’t be fooled. Like their more traditional cousins, these classes are both challenging and hands-on—and they’re packed into a mere three weeks.
And because of the professors’ creativity and the unusual topics involved, many alumni recall their Spring Term courses as among the most
meaningful and rewarding of their college careers.
The Civil War in Film
“This is not a history course on the Civil War,” Dr. James Fuller tells students on the first day of this class, which marries film studies and a critical event in American history.
Instead of the history of the war itself, the course is a study of how people saw and understood the conflict from 1915 (when the legendary film Birth of a Nation was released) to the present through films.
“Civil War movies tell us as much or more about the times in which they were made as they do about the actual Civil War,” Fuller explains.
Students view such films as Glory and Gone with the Wind and conduct readings and research. They then analyze how views of the war evolve through themes of civil rights, the role of women in society, and even love stories.
“Film is a powerful and important medium and more historians need to address not only the subjects covered in movies, but the ways in which
film both shapes and reflects our culture and society,” Fuller says. “The movies we watch tell us much about ourselves and the way we see the world.”
An Applied History of Games & Toys
Taught by UIndy’s director of experiential studies, Samantha Meigs, this course is not just fun and games (though those are included). While the course does focus on toys and games from the ancient world to modern day, students will study them in the larger context of the society in which they were created and played.
“The class was created based on the philosophy that to understand humans, you have to look at how humans play,” explains Miegs. “Games are representative of culture—they tell us something about society.”
Assigned readings for each class cover historical information about the time period and games played, as well as the philosophical underpinnings of play.
To wrap up the course, students must conduct research from primary sources and create a comprehensive portfolio detailing a particular toy or game
and its historical and social contexts. The students must create a workable version of the game, too.
“I’ve found that a lot of students are interested in board games and card games and just the competition, but there’s also a lot of history slipped in,” Meigs says. “So many students are put off by history, so you have to get them into something first, then get them thinking about the history.”
B a r b a r i a n H o r d e s & P o p C u lt ur e
What can the treatment of barbarian hordes during the Middle Ages teach us about modernday immigration? A lot, according to James Williams, a first-year history professor who will teach this new course.
The class will look at the way we perceive barbarian hordes through pop culture (think Gladiator, Conan the Barbarian, and Capital One commercials), how that image was created by the “civilized” world at the time, and how to interpret that image in the modern-day context of immigration.
In addition to watching films, students will read literature detailing how the barbarian hordes viewed themselves, in contrast to how the classical
civilizations portrayed them, and analyze their findings in a series of papers.
“We’ll take these understandings and smack them right into the middle of modern concerns over problems of immigration, because immigration was the underlying fundamental problem for the clash between classical civilization and barbarian hordes,” Williams explains.
Williams is excited to combine his love of the time period with current events.
“As a historian, I have a particular love for the early Middle Ages. As a teacher, it is imperative to connect historical events to issues of the present to make them relevant and accessible to students.”
—Valerie Miller Wahlstrom ’07