Future history and more: a look at some popular offerings for Spring 2006

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Each semester, the end of pre-registration marks the beginning of that period of waiting students love to hate and know as lottery time. An occasional new section is opened for a popular course; maybe times and professors even get moved around. But in the end such over-enrolled courses get skimmed down in size, and unlucky students find themselves on the prowl to fill the deficit in their course loads. Some of the lotteries this semester were particularly brutal, and the Gazette looked into these enormously popular courses.

No fewer than five political science courses had noticeably large enrollments. Of these courses, two are scheduled to be taught by Professor Jeffrey Murer, Modern Political Theory (POLS 12) and Comparative Politics (POLS 3). According to Prof. Murer, both are crowded each year. Majors are required by the department to take a theory course, which is often put off to the senior year, at which point they are given priority, leaving sophomores and juniors to fight for a few seats. Those who made it into Murer’s Modern Political Theory next spring have an exploration of “the concept of the modernist binary and how it contributes to the condition of alienation,” as the professor puts it, to look forward to, with readings including Descartes, Rousseau, Locke, and Marx.

As for Comparative Politics, “I like to think [many students register] because the content of the class is a great introduction to politics in general, useful whether or not one chooses to become a political science major,” said Prof. Murer in an email. This introductory course targets understanding through examinations of similar political cases, and delves into topics like the idea of what makes a state a state, how a state evolves, and different electoral systems.

Another perennial favorite is Social Psychology (PSYC 35), to be taught by Professor Andrew Ward. It is not required for a major, though it certainly can count towards one as a “core-area” course, so its popularity may lie entirely in its interesting content and applicability to any student’s life. Aggression, persuasion, group identity and more will be discussed, as students look at how society affects human behavior.

A course that has proven its staying power over thirty years is Professor Philip Weinstein’s Proust, Joyce, Faulkner (ENGL 72), featuring three authors who are “heroic figures of modern literature,” says Prof. Weinstein. Because those authors are also quite difficult to study, Weinstein suggests that the course is a popular way to appreciate their significance “with some guidance.”

On the other hand, the fairly young course, First-Year Seminar: The History of the Future (HIST 1Y), is making its sophomore run this spring under Professor Tim Burke. This course traces people’s ideas of and fascination with the future in recent centuries; likewise, its content fascinates students. In an email reply, Prof. Burke commented, “It’s definitely one of the most enjoyable (and yet, I think, one of the most important in its implications and uses) classes I teach.” In addition, those students who have landed a spot in one of two sections offered will get to enjoy some “great and interesting films.”

To those for whom lotteries meant disappointment, Registrar Martin Warner offers some hope and advice: “The best thing to do to get into a class is to let the profesor know you are interested and keep going to that class during the first week of add/drop. People do drop courses, and space might open, and because you’re there and smiling you’ll probably be let in.”

You heard him: go to class, and smile.

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