New spring courses offer exciting opportunities for academic exploration| Nov 14, 2017
Over 150 new courses will be offered in the the spring, according to the course offerings released on Nov. 9.
According to the list provided by the Office of the Registrar, some of these new classes include REL 292: Hip Hop, Reggae and Religion, HIS 476/MED 476: The Vikings: History and Archaeology, and ENG 394/GSS 398: Ghosts, Zombies and Liminal Creatures in Film, Literature and Photography.
The following are profiles on some of the new spring courses across various disciplines.
NES 390/HIS 221: Medieval Cairo: A Survival Guide
Professor of Near Eastern Studies and History Marina Rustow will lead the new course “Medieval Cairo: A Survival Guide,” which has been designed to medieval Cairo. This exploration will occur on the “micro-level” in an attempt to answer simple questions about daily life in the “burgeoning metropolis” of early Cairo. In a statement to The Daily Princetonian, Rustow wrote that the course will investigate the routines of a medieval Cairene’s daily life, involving food, shelter, clothes, and mounts and ships.
Rustow wrote that she had two main inspirations for the course: a hairdresser in Baltimore and take-out food.
The particular hairdresser, Rustow explained, had achieved a Roman hairdo found on many sculptures. Through her experiments, the hairdresser soon figured out that the Latin word “ago,” used to describe the hairdo, should really be defined as a sewing needle rather than a hairpin, as most classicists had understood the word. The hairdresser, who did not have any kind of background in classics, wrote an article that Rustow came to read in the Journal of Roman History.
Rustow was inspired by the hairdresser’s experiments and discovery. She noted that it’s important to try to reproduce material processes rather than to look only at “static” texts and artifacts in order to understand life in historical societies.
As for take-out food, Rustow wrote that Cairo is known today for its food delivery — even shaving cream and aspirin can be delivered! Five years ago, Rustow started noticing that this wasn’t just an integral part of modern-day Cairo — this trend even existed in medieval Cairo.
“People in the 11th century owned their own reusable take-out containers, like metal bento boxes,” Rustow wrote. “I never would have expected that. It made me want to understand how people managed their daily lives in preindustrial conditions. What did they think of as luxury, and what did they think of as normal amenities that they would expect from any civilized place?”
The course will explore these topics through texts such as letters from the 11th to 15th centuries, legal contracts, archaeological materials, medieval chronicles, and modern studies.
“I thought, if I can get students to think their way into medieval Cairo, maybe they can also strip away their assumptions about modernity,” Rustow wrote. “We think modernity is the only possible way to live well. The idea is to defamiliarize the familiar and vice-versa.”
ENG 363: Virtual Victorians
Through the Collaborative Teaching Initiative, Associate Professor of English and Faculty Director of the Digital Humanities Meredith Martin and English graduate student Miranda Marraccini will be co-teaching “Virtual Victorians,” which combines the digital humanities with Victorian literature.
The pair wants to introduce students to 19th-century poetry while considering the role of technology in reading practices.
“What happens when you open up an archive online and you’re reading it?” Martin asked. “And how is that different than if you go to Rare Books and Special Collections and open up the book and read it? And what goes into the choices of what gets displayed on the page?”
Specifically, the class will focus on female authors. Martin explained that Marraccini observed in her research that male poets made up of the majority of online archives. According to Martin, this becomes problematic when scholars want to focus on female authors or, as Martin said, map “a network of the feminist press that works together.”
In the course, students will be taught tools of textual analysis, visualization, and network analysis. Through these techniques, Martin and Marraccini hope to show just how “embedded” female authors were in the literary culture of their time.
Martin and Marraccini are currently finalizing assignments for the course, but Martin said that the students will eventually be creating a dataset based on a poet’s work. Students will also focus on using a specific analytical tool in crafting their proposals.
“[We want students] to think really critically about the ways they trust information coming to them from the 19th century, how and why we think of the canon the way we do, and how and why certain kinds of digital tools might help us reimagine the stories that we tell ourselves about history,” Martin said.
ENV 303/EEB 303: Agriculture, Human Diets and the Environment
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Daniel Rubenstein will be teaching “Agriculture, Human Diets and the Environment.” According to Rubenstein, it’s a course grounded in science that will also explore the humanities, social sciences, and engineering sciences. However, it will mostly be centered on food.
“We’ll be doing a broad sweep from why we eat what we do in different places on the planet and here, now, today,” Rubenstein said. “We’ll start with why hunting and gathering goes to domesticated plants and animals. We’ll start to look at the transition from subsistence farming to big business, agriculture farming.”
Students will also be exploring questions of the ethical, medical, and environmental implications of food production, using texts, lectures, movies, and even interactions with food.
Rubenstein said that there will be a break for food in the middle of the class’s three-hour lectures. He explained that the break will not be the standard “milk and cookies” set-up but will instead tie in with the overall lecture.
During a lecture on hunting and gathering, for instance, students will be able to sample the nuts, tubers, and preserved meat that characterized this period in food history.
Chefs from Campus Dining will help prepare the food as well as talk about the food in relation to the lecture’s theme.
About halfway through the semester, students will be working in groups on a final project that Rubenstein hopes could engage Campus Dining and be performed in experiments during meal time at residential colleges.
The topics for these experiments would, in the first year of the class, come from academic literature. But Rubenstein also wants to use the land Princeton leases to farmers and help students think about implications of rededicating the land to organic farmers, no-till farmers, and hydroponic farmers. Rubenstein hopes to use the results of these experiments, as well as additional data from summer interns, the next time he teaches the course.
In the past few weeks, Rubenstein has been advertising his course by hosting flexitarian nights at the residential college dining halls.
Rubenstein said he hopes the course will allow students “to taste and explore the process by which the foods were preserved and what effort went into doing that today and ... imagine how that was done in the past.”