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From decoding Disney to Spongebobology: New niche courses on offer

Registrarism takes a sideways glance at looked at some of the more unusual higher education courses on the market
This article is more than 3 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

It’s been a while since we’ve looked at some of the more unusual courses on the market which some might view as slightly bonkers but others, of a more kindly disposition, would view as rather niche.

Previous favourites have included:

Last year the selection from EAB included some cracking offers such as:

  • How to Stage a Revolution (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  • The Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft, and Religion (Moorpark College)
  • Sociology of Hip Hop: Jay-Z (Georgetown University)
  • Baseball as Philosophy: God, Beauty, and Morality (Harvard University)
  • Philosophy & Star Trek (at Georgetown University)

Since then, Huffpost has picked out a couple of excellent new offerings including:Demystifying the Hipster, Tufts University Experimental College

  • Tree Climbing (Cornell University)
  • The Art of Walking (Centre College)
  • Pet Apparel Fashion and Design (Fashion Institute of Technology)

And then there is a report of a course on bicycle and pedestrian transportation and its “history, societal implications, planning and design”. The College of the Ozarks has launched a new required course on Patriotic Education and Fitness to combat what the college president sees as “rising anti-American, anti-patriotic sentiments in American culture that have been bubbling for many years”.

Quite a number of institutions now offer courses on drones – Embry-Riddle, Indiana State University, Kansas State University, and the University of North Dakota are among those that offer bachelor’s degrees in unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS according to the Chronicle.

Also in the Chronicle there was an excellent piece on the importance of teaching institutional history. Cornell University’s course on the institution’s history and its role in the context of higher education in America, includes topics such as Cornell’s founders and founding, student life, diversity and inclusion, unrest and activism, and finances and administration.

But once again EAB come up trumps with some excellent new highly distinctive courses:

The Physics of Star Trek, Santa Clara University
Students learn to apply Newton’s and Einstein’s physics to the science depicted in the Star Trek television series and movies, and are encouraged to consider the “impact on society of interplanetary and intergalactic travel,” including mankind’s race to space.

Meddling in Middle Earth: Influences on J.R.R. Tolkien, University of New Mexico
Students learn about the real-world cultures that influenced J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth by analysing both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as well as the many notes and writings Tolkien left behind after his death.

Decoding Disney: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Animated Blockbuster, Bates College
In this short-term course, students use Disney movies as “cultural texts” with which to analyse 20th century cultural politics. Students explore issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and nationality, and compare the treatment of these issues in Disney to their treatment in contemporary pop culture.

Harry Potter and the Law, Cornell University
This one-credit faculty at-home seminar explores the ways in which the Harry Potter series illuminates students’ understanding of the law, legal institutions, and justice.

Spongebobology, Oberlin Experimental College
This media and literature one-credit course not only requires students to watch all 241 episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants, but also encourages them to consider the show’s merits as a scripted, animated comedy.

Tolkien as Translator: Language, Culture and Society in Middle Earth, Tulane University
This course analyses the role of language in The Lord of the Rings using concepts and perspectives from linguistic anthropology. Students learn Tolkien’s invented alphabets and languages, as well as the linguistic history that inspired them.

Finally, in an exceptional example of local newspaper reporting, Leeds Live notes that the University of Leeds is to offer a course on the works of Sir David of Bowie:

University lectures may well bring back memories of boring monologues from tutors wearing jackets with elbow patches – but students at the University of Leeds are being given the opportunity to study a fascinating module.

Dr Denis Flannery is leading a 10-week course focused solely on the works of David Bowie.

Students will be assessed on two essays – one consisting of 2,750 words and the other 1,700 words – and they will also critically analyse the 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth.

However, the best part will undoubtedly be the seminar when everyone ‘listens in complete silence to Hunky Dory, Diamond Dogs, Heathen and the original cast recording of Lazarus’. Bliss!

All excellent stuff. Are there other new niche courses we’ve missed?



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