Read about courses highlighted by Wellesley Magazine in its “Syllabus” column.

Take a closer look at the readings, discussion topics, and sample assignments in the random selection of courses described below. See a full listing of courses and course descriptions in the Course Catalog and check out the fascinating and highly popular First-Year Seminars.

Courses to peruse
Images of the American City Intro Organismal Bio with Lab
The Nuclear Challenge The Politics of Urban Schools
Computers and the Internet The Asian American Experience
Toledo: Confluence of Medieval Cultures Intro to Asian Religions
Magical Realism: Russia and Beyond Field Botany with Lab


Images of the American City

Departments:English and Sociology
Instructors: Kate Brogan, associate professor of English, and Lee Cuba, professor of sociology
Enrollment: 23

Course Description: This course considers how literary representations and sociological studies of urban life variously respond to the astonishing growth of cities in the 20th century, helping to shape newly emergent and highly contested cultural meanings of the city. It explores the relationship between the individual and the urban environment, how life in cities is socially organized, patterns of immigration and tensions between ethnic groups, the creation of the slum and ghetto and efforts to gentrify them, how race and poverty are enacted in modern cities, and the rise of urban reportage, cognitive mapping, and the legibility of the cityscape.

Sample Assignments/Reading List: American Project: The Rise and Fall of a Modern Ghetto by Sudhir Venkatesh, Women and the City: Gender, Space, and Power in Boston, 1870-1940, by Sarah Deutsch, All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu, The Street, by Ann Petry

Field Study: Students observe social norms and repetitive public interaction in similar urban and non-urban public settings, such as ticket windows, supermarket-checkout areas, coffee shops or library desks. They spend at least 30 minutes observing factors such as the length of each interaction, eye contact and other nonverbal interactions, and the verbal content of interactions.

Final Project: An 18-20 page paper on a topic of a student's choosing, ranging from the history of an urban neighborhood, to a photographer, painter, or writer's image of a city, to urban poverty.

The Nuclear Challenge

Departments: Chemistry
Instructors: Nancy Harrison Kolodny '64, Cohen/Heller Professor of Chemistry, with guest lectures by Wellesley faculty and outside experts
Enrollment: 13

Course Description: Since the discovery of nuclear fission in the late 1930s, the potential of nuclear energy both for war and for peace has presented an ongoing challenge to humanity. Daily newspaper accounts of developments in Iran and North Korea and of the need for sources of energy other than fossil fuels highlight the importance of understanding the potential of the nucleus. This course examines the development of nuclear weapons and the treaties limiting them, as well as the ongoing danger of nuclear terrorism. It also examines peaceful uses of nuclear energy for the generation of electricity and for medical diagnosis and treatment, as well as the waste-disposal problems that result from these uses. This course is designed specially for first-year students.

Selected Readings: Megawatts and Megatons: The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons by Richard L. Garwin and Georges Charpak, Best of Intentions: America's Campaign Against Strategic Weapons Proliferation, by Henry Sokolski

Selected Lecture/Discussion Topics: The science of the nucleus, Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, the Manhattan Project, electricity generation and distribution in the US, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl

Sample Research Projects and Excursions: A dramatic reading of the play Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, a debate on Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, a trip to Seabrook Nuclear Power Station in New Hampshire

Computers and the Internet

Department: Computer Science
Instructor: Jennifer Stephan, assistant professor of computer science
Enrollment (summer school): 9

Course Description: The course explains the basics of how the internet works and how to build a web site. Topics include client0server architecture; structuring web pages with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript; the representation of colors, images, and sound on the computer; encryption; cookies; and CGI forms. It also discusses accessibility, copyright, intellectual property, and critical thinking in the context of the internet. Students are introduced to programming by building interactive web sites using JavaScript.

Sample Assignment: “Write your first JavaScript code, using variables and expression, and calculate how many bytes are needed to represent the pixels and the color table for a GIF image”; “Create a page that responds to user’s actions by handling JavaScript events, like mouseOver, mouseOut, and click.”

Term Projects: Students in the class, working in pairs, must design, implement, and post a web site for a client, such as a student organization, academic or administrative department, or an off-campus entity. The project, similar to the life cycle of a software product, comes in several phases: requirements, design, coding, testing, and presentation. (A real life cycle includes a specification phase and a planning phase, but this course combines those with the design phase.) Each of the five segments has it own due date.

Toledo: Confluence of Medieval Cultures

Department: Art History
Instructor: Lara Tohme, Knafel Assistant Professor in the Humanities
Enrollment: 17

Course Description: The European city of Toledo is arguably one of the most important cities in the medieval world. Between the fifth and 16th centuries, it was the capital of the Visigoths, the intellectual center of the Islamic Caliphate, and the capital of Christian Spain. This seminar examines the medieval heritage of Toledo by focusing on its Visigothic, Islamic, Mudejar, and Gothic architecture, and how this architecture has shaped the modern city.

Selected Readings: The Medieval Spains by Bernard Reilly, Architecture and Ideology in Early Medieval Spain by Jerrilynn Dodds, Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Menocal, and articles by such authors as D. Fairchild-Ruggles, O, Grabar, and J. Harris.

Selected Lecture/Discussion Topics: The historical background: Romans and Visigoths; the Reconquista and the problem of religious art and architecture; Mozarabic art and architecture; the legacy of Mudejar architecture; the medieval imprints on the modern city

Grade Based On: A research project that includes two oral presentations and a 15-20 page paper, class participation, and weekly email submissions to instructor of questions on course readings

Sample Research Projects: El Greco and Toledo; the medieval metalwork of Toledo; Islamic gardens in the Iberian peninsula; Hebrew manuscript painting in medieval Spain; the convents of Toledo; medieval Islamic science and scientific instruments; or modern-day marketing of medieval Toledo

Magical Realism: Russia and Beyond

Department: Comparative Literature
Instructor: Adam Weiner, associate professor of Russian

Course Description: In Julio Cortazar’s story “The Continuity of Parks,” a man sits in a green velvet armchair on a balcony, overlooking the gardens of his estate and reads a story about a second man who creeps through the gardens of an estate, breaks into the manor house, walks upstairs, passes through a bedroom, and steals out onto a balcony, where, pulling out a knife, he creeps up on green velvet armchair…. This course in comparative literature examines fiction whose basic reality would be familiar if not for the introduction of a magical element that undermines commonplace notions about what constitutes reality in the first place.

Selected Readings: The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, short stories by Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Cortazar, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami

Sample Graded Work: In-class identification quizzes that consist of 10 short passages; students are graded on their ability to identify the passage by author, work, speaker, and context. Two nine- to eleven-page papers.

Oral Presentation: Students make a 10-minute oral presentation on a nonrequired work of literature (such as Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie), a film (Being John Malkovich, for example), or a philosophical text (Descartes’ Meditations).

Introductory Organismal Biology with Laboratory (Tropical Island Biology)

Department: Biological Sciences
Instructor: Martina Koniger, assistant professor of biological sciences
Enrollment (summer): 10

Course Description: This course provides an introduction to the central questions concepts and methods of experimental analysis in selected areas of organismal biology, with a focus on tropical-island biology. Students learn about the importance of islands in speciation; the adaptations that allow species to thrive in these tropical environments; the biology of coral reefs, mangrove swamps, and dry forests, and the threats that these ecosystems face. This course consists of lectures and labs at Wellesley for the first two weeks of the summer-school session, followed by two weeks of lectures and labs at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman in the Cayman Islands.

Selected Readings: Biology by Neil A. Campbell, Jane B. Reece, et al.

Sample Excursions: At Wellesley: a trip to the New England Aquarium to learn about the diversity of tropical marine creatures. In Little Cayman: snorkeling trips to explore fringe reefs that surround the island; trips to explore the mangroves and the dry forest of the island and to visit a bird sanctuary.

Sample Projects: Investigation adaptations of plants to the dry and hot conditions on the island; surveying the fish populations in different reef environments; surveying coral species of an exposed Pleistocene reef and comparing it to the coral composition of a present-day reef.

The Politics of Urban Schools

Departments: Political Science and Education
Instructor: Wilbur Rich, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Political Science
Enrollment: 16

Course Description: This seminar examines recurrent issues in public-school management and governance. Critical questions include the changing demographics of inner-city schools and the evolving role of school boards, big-city mayors, urban superintendents, teachers’ unions, and school finance. The course covers alternatives to public schools (parochial, private, and charter schools), high-stakes testing, and district-state relations. The seminar also analyzes the increasing intervention of state and federal governments in local school administration and the role of the courts in curriculum controversies, student life, and security.

Selected Readings: Mayors in the Middle, edited by Jeff Henig and Wilbur Rich, Ten Thousand Democracies by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, No Child Left Behind and Public Schools by Scott Abernathy, Turnover at the Top by Bruce Buchanan, The Education Mayor by Kenneth Wong.

Selected Discussion Topics: Leadership: superintendents, CEOs, and school politics; teachers, workplace issues, and politics; public opinion, elections, and single-interest politics; the continuing crisis of race and class in America; school reform as political metaphor; school governance, plebiscitary propensities, and democracy.

Sample Assignment: Students are randomly assigned cities to research for class. Their in-class PowerPoint presentations, which form the anchor of class discussions, cover subjects ranging from teacher shortages to charter and magnet schools. They also write two 15- to 20-page research papers on urban schools, one of which may be a school near their home.

The Asian-American Experience

Department: American Studies
Instructor: Elena Creef, associate professor of women’s studies
Enrollment: 27

Course description: This course offers an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of Asian American studies. It begins with a critical look at the construction of “Asian-American” as a category of identity, then examines the repercussions of the “model minority” myth, the depiction of Asian-American women and men in popular culture, the legacy of Asian-American activism, the historical memory of Executive Order 9066 and the Asia-Pacific war(s), the politics of racial formation and violence in multiethnic Asian-American communities, and the representation of queer sexuality and identities, and concludes with the historical mapping of Asian-American geographies in communities such as Chinatown (in San Francisco and Boston).

Selected readings: Citizen 13660, by Miné Okubo, Passing It On–A Memoir, by Yuri Kochiyama, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, by Nayan Shah

Selected films: Chan Is Missing, Miss India Georgia, History and Memory, Three Straight White Men and Me (a film by Antonia Kao ‘94)

Field trip: A tour of Boston’s Chinatown with the Chinese Historical Society of New England

Sample paper topic: Miss India Georgia is a film that purports to analyze the “process of becoming American” and the processes of “Americanization.” It also gives us a unique window into the lives of South Asian women in the South. Give a personal critical response and reflection on the film. Discuss any of the following themes: the relationship of immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters, intergenerational conflict, negotiating beauty and gendered identity in spite of the “sea of whiteness” embodied by their surrounding communities.

Introduction to Asian Religions

Department: Religion
Instructor: T. James Kodera, professor of religion

Course Description: This course is an introduction to the major religions of West Asia, South Asia, and East Asia, with particular attention to the universal questions such as how to overcome the human predicament, how to perceive the ultimate reality, and what is the meaning of death and the end of the world. Materials are taken from a variety of Asian traditions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Shinto. Comparisons are made, when appropriate, to Hebrew and Christian traditions.

Selected readings: The Way of Lao Tzu, translated by Wingtsit Chan; The Sacred and the Profane, by Eliade Mircea; The Analects of Confucius, translated by Arthur Waley; The Dhammapada, translated by Juan Mascaro; Eastern Canons: Approaches to the Asian Classics, edited by William Theodore De Bary and Irene Bloom; Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryu Suzuki.

Selected class topics: What is the human condition? Why do humans seek “salvation”? What does religion have to do with morality? What is the meaning of myth and ritual?

Sample paper topic: Depict and analyze one of the devastations we have witnessed (for example, 9/11), the war against terror, the tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina) from the perspective of one or two f the Asians traditions we are studying. Focus on the ontological and/or the soteriological question. What, who, caused it? What led to their decision? Is there anything we are responsible for? How can we overcome the devastation? How can we help the assailants?

Field Botany with Laboratory

Department: Environmental Studies and Biological Sciences
Instructor: Alden Griffith, botany fellow in the Alexandra Botanic Gardens
Enrollment: 14

Course Description: Field botany is a combination of "What's that wildflower?" and "Why does it grow over there and not here?" This course merges aspects of plant systematics and identification (with an emphasis on learning the local flora and important plant families) and plant ecology (with an emphasis on ecological interactions and phenomena unique to plants). Laboratories are primarily taught in the field and greenhouses and include observational and experimental studies, as well as long-term research of forest patches on the Wellesley campus. Laboratories also include experimental design and data analysis. The goal of the course is not only to train students in field botany and plant ecology, but also to engage them in botany every time they step outside.

Selected Readings: The Ecology of Plants, by Jessica Gurevitch, Samuel Scheiner, and Gordon Fox; Botany in a Day: The Pattern Method of Plant Identification, by Thomas Elpel

Sample Assignments: Making 20 species "accounts" of the anatomy and morphology of plants representing 12 different families, and making plant pressings of 10 of those. Lap reports on pollination, forest communities on campus, and plant-plant interactions.

Sample Field Work: Work in Wellesley's botanic gardens and arboretum and the New England Wildflower Society's Garden in the Woods to identify and record plants; a study of the white pine trees on campus to estimate reproduction, survival, and growth rates for different size categories (seedlings, adults, etc.) and then incorporate that data into population models to see how ecologists study plant population dynamics.