New and notable winter Special Topics courses

Unique ‘_991” classes in the Arts and Humanities you may not know about

No matter your degree, each program at Mt. A has a set group of courses we must take. At the very least, there are courses everyone knows about even if they are not mandatory. As someone currently living through the theatre/English boogaloo, most of my peers have taken Intro to Literary Analysis and DRAM 1701, or know stories of that time the professor taught basic sword fighting for Acting Styles. There is a certain pleasure in knowing a stranger has also read Jane Eyre even if the rest of your lives are completely different. But in each discipline, there is a thriving collection of lesser-known courses that change every year: there and then gone. 

In my experience, special topics courses are some of the most interesting and engaging classes. They present an opportunity to dig deeper into the subject at hand, beyond the surface level of any degree. The 2023 Winter term is no exception: there are a host of interesting ‘_991’ courses to be found. And while this semester’s deadline for switching classes is over, we can still live vicariously through those studying more interesting things than us. So here are a few of the new and notable winter special topics courses that might pique your interest!

In an alternate universe, I was a studious religion major and this first-year course would be right up my alley: RELG 1991: Cults and New Religious Movements. Taught by Dr. Dani Dempsey, this course will help define the student’s definitions of the word ‘cult’. We all know the red KOOL-AID joke, but how many of us actually understand a religious movement’s criteria to be defined as a cult? As the syllabus reads, this course will “use religious studies tools to understand the role that dominant religious and cultural ideas influence how we perceive non-dominant religions; developing media literacy and developing analytical, and research skills necessary to understand the complexities of new religious movements.”

At the second-year level, there are many special-topics courses for the varied and knowledge-hungry learner, including ARTS 2991: Arts and Athletics. Dr. Janine Rogers has an extensive resume of courses taught at Mt. A, and this semester she will add this special topics course to her list. The course “explores the intersections of the arts and athletics, considering how the two realms contribute to personal identity, community development, and ethical engagement. Discussion topics will include physicality and intellectual life, ethical and aesthetic issues, and political and social contexts at the intersection of the arts and athletics,” according to the Mt. A website. This year, students will have the opportunity to explore the relationship between arts and gridiron football., figure skating, boxing, running, and more. 

Another interesting course—though I might be biased—is the university’s Drama Crake Fellow special topic DRAM 2991 course Physical Theatre – Mask. Paul Griffin specializes in physical theatre, and students in this class have the opportunity to engage in the process of building a character from a ‘neutral’ default with masks—yes, real masks. A few weeks in, and the class has already created 3D copies of their faces with mould-making techniques onto which layers have been added and hardened, in a process similar to paper maché. 

We can also find INDG 2991B: Beadwork: Culture and History on the course list this semester. The course aims, as written on the syllabus, “to bring insight to the concept of beadwork as it is a continued living art to Indigenous peoples. […] The goals are to bring an overall understanding of Indigenous beadwork techniques, traditions, culture, values, and concepts.” Focusing on beadwork of Mi’kmaq peoples across the country, the course will blend historical lectures and learnings with hands-on projects and experiences. Taught by Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade, this course promises to be interesting and engaging!

A final class I would like to highlight, jumping to the fourth-year level, is ARTH 4991A: Transgender Representation. I might be just a devout video-essay-viewer and storyteller hopeful, but I know that how people are represented in art is critical to one’s perceived place in society. How we fit into the larger context of our communities is partly defined by the content we consume. Seeing this course listed gave me great joy for the students enrolled who might benefit from exploring the subject. In short, representation matters. Uninformed or even actively harmful representation of people’s lived identities and experiences can do great damage; but, according to Mt. A’s website, this course also emphasizes “the joy of positive representation in art for the trans community.”

There are many more courses in a similar vein, as well as in the other disciplines (biology, looking at you). To see the full list, head over to the Mt. A website! And if you have some space next year, why not give a special topics course a try? You never know what you’ll learn. 

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