From caves to castaways: CentreTerm courses on campus
January 5, 2012 By Laura Coleman Pritchard
Visiting professor Robert Murray’s class, Slavery, Memory and
the College, will discuss the complex history of American slavery
and abolition at the nation's colleges. “These discussions should
demonstrate the complexity of these issues, and how prevalent
slavery was in America during Centre's early years,” he says.
From cave ecology to castaways, CentreTerm — Centre College’s four week winter term — provides students a selection of creative courses from which to choose one course for intensive — and often hands-on — study.
In Shipwrecks and Castaways in Film and Literature, James V. Morrison, Stodghill Professor Classics, takes 16 first-year students on a journey to discover how individuals and groups are cast away, survive and are transformed on deserted — and inhabited — islands.
“Shipwreck in the Caribbean comes to be a metaphor for the experience of slaves and the descendants of slaves — but also the various shipwreck scenarios — both fictional and historical — are pretty fascinating,” Morrison says.
In Scandals and Blunders in Science, Jennifer Muzyka, professor of organic chemistry, says her 15-student class will discuss “what kinds of things happen when things go wrong in the pursuit of science.
“Sometimes these events are scandals due to fraud, like the Piltdown Man Hoax and the Korean stem cell controversy from a few years back,” she says. “Sometimes the events are blunders because of wishful thinking on the part of the scientists involved. I would classify the case of Pons and Fleischman with cold fusion as a blunder.”
Another first-year course, Sports Psychology with assistant professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience KatieAnn Skogsberg, will explore the psychological side of sports, including motivation, competitiveness, recovering from injuries and leadership skills. In her 14-student course, Skogsberg says she will also integrate hands-on activities, including mind-body interactions.
“I encourage students to explore how techniques, concepts and other information they learn from the course can be applied to their academic and personal lives,” she says. “Most are surprised to discover what they learn from the course can help them in many other areas.”
In visiting professor Robert Murray’s upper-level history course, Slavery, Memory and the College, Murray will discuss with students the complex history of the nation’s colleges and universities have with African slave trade, American slavery and abolition.
Murray says he designed the course because Centre’s own past with slavery and abolition is messy.
“For starters, the College’s location in the Border South makes it complicated. You have a student body largely coming from southern slave states combining with a free-state leaning faculty, creating friction,” he says.
Murray says this complexity is demonstrated in several ways, including the differences in opinions of the College’s most iconic figures in the 19th century. Conservative, anti-slavery advocates like John C. Young and Robert J. Breckinridge supported gradual abolition and colonization to Africa. But graduates like John C. Breckenridge — the elder Breckinridge’s nephew — ran for President in 1860 as the southern Democrat’s preferred candidate because of his commitment to protecting slavery in the territories.
The complex story, Murray says, is what will keep students interested in this course.
“These discussions should really demonstrate to students today the complexity of these issues, how divisive they were and also how prevalent slavery was in American society during the early years of Centre,” he says. “It should be uncomfortable to students. It’s not a savory topic, but this is something that colleges across the country have started to wrestle with — both north and south.”
But that’s not the only course that will push students out of their comfort zones. The Help: Domestic Service in American History/Culture, 1650-2010, inspired by the eponymous bestselling novel and blockbuster hit, will seek answers to questions about the history of this segment of the labor market and why this topic has received such attention.
Visiting Professor and Author Emily Bingham says besides the intersections of race, class and gender, another major theme will be the outsourcing and globalizing of the domestic labor economy in the 20th century.
“Much work once performed in middle class homes is now done in laundries and dry cleaners, restaurants, day care centers and nursing homes,” says Bingham. “Also, a new population of often undocumented laborers undertakes much of this work in and outside of the homes.
“There will be uncomfortable times for most of the class participants, I would guess,” she continues. “Certainly for me, who grew up in a time in the 1960s and 1970s when the codes and practices around domestic service were still very much in operation.”
Courses in the classics also offer a creative spin. In The Ides of March: A Crime Scene Investigation taught by Jane Wilson Joyce, Charles J. Luellen Professor of Classics, students read and become familiar with the context of “The Life of Julius Caesar,” by Plutarch. Then, Joyce says, they will delve deeper into details of the crime and the consequences, learn to make and wear a toga and conduct reenactments.
Joyce says she developed this course because of her fascination with the turmoil, power and iconic figures and poets — including Caesar, Mark Antony, Vergil and Horace — of the Late Roman Republic.
“Power and poetry,” she says. “What’s not to like?”
In the biology course, Into the Great Abyss: Cave Ecology, Matthew Klooster, assistant professor of biology, will take his fifteen-student class on multiple trips to Carter Caves and the Mammoth Cave area to study cave formation and cave biology.
“The topic was born from two sources: a passion I have for the wild, weird and wonderful organisms that occupy our planet and a hobby of venturing into cave systems in the pursuit of discovery,” Klooster says. “Also, caves are some of the most influential systems being used to better understand the impacts of global climate change and the traits we might find in organisms on other planets.”
And what better place to investigate these topics, Klooster asks, than Kentucky?
“Kentucky is rich in caves. It would be a shame not to make use of these tremendous resources as a way to grow in our knowledge of the natural world,” he says. “Our local, state and national parks represent some of the few remaining pristine elements of our natural world. It is of pivotal importance that thoughtful citizens visit these places and learn about the natural world and natural processes.”
To find out more these and other winter term courses, view the course offerings. Stay tuned for next week’s story about CentreTerm courses abroad.
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Centre College, founded in 1819 and chosen to host its second Vice Presidential Debate in 2012, is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges, at 42nd in the nation, and ranks 27th for best value among national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 34th among all the nation’s colleges and universities and has named Centre in the top five among all institutions of higher education in the South for three years in a row. Centre is also ranked #4 in the nation by U.S. News for its study abroad program. For more, click here.