26 February 2012

What would you do?

Williams College in the gorgeous Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts.
Back in April of 2009 before most of you had even heard of My Porch, I posted something that I still find fascinating. John and I had been on a road trip where we talked about how much fun it would be to spend a semester studying whatever we wanted to. A kind of academic fantasy camp. No real worries about grades or anything stressful, just the chance to learn about something you never had time for in school.

(I am aware that more than a few of you are still in the halls of the academy, so this may be less interesting to you...but you still may want to play along)

 
Q: If you could spend a semester studying anything you wanted, what kind of classes would you take?

Rules:

1. Assume everything else in your life is manageable (e.g, your
family isn't neglected, bills are paid, you don't have to work, etc.)

2. Choose classes that you would want to take just for the fun of taking them. That
is, stay away from stuff that would get you a promotion at work or help you to
finish a degree or something like that. This is your chance to explore anything
you want.

3. Extra points for being specific.

4. Double extra points for telling me where you would want to spend your semester.

Amherst College, also in Massachusetts.
A: If I had to narrow it down to one semester, this would be my course schedule:

This was my list in 2009.
  • Survey/History of British Lit
  • History of Victorian and Edwardian England
  • Infrastructure 101 (A more in-depth, much smarter version of all those Discovery channel shows about utilities and transportation and stuff like that.) This class includes a two week "field trip" to learn about European passenger rail infrastructure.
  • Photography
  • Choir
As to where, I am tempted to say Cornell because it is a nice campus in a beautiful setting and is
kind of isolated. Cozy and big at the same time. Or some other similar campus in the Northeast.

Those are all still interesting to me, but I have some other things that have me captivated at the moment.  My course list today would look something like this:
  • Survey of American History from 1850 to 1900 - not generally a period in history I am naturally drawn to, but it would dovetail really nicely with what I am researching at work these days--which is fascinating--and will be blogged about in the near future.
  • A research methods class. I have had one or two of these in past, but I could use a refresher as an adult who is actually paying attention.
  • I would still do the Infrastructure class I mention above.
  • Geometry - I was terrible at it in high school--I felt confused my whole sophomore year in Mr. Varty's class. And I generally disliked math, but for some reason this has been interesting to me lately. I am not sure it would fill a whole semester as an adult, so maybe I would throw in an Algebra refresher course as well.
  • Some kind of art class--like the kind we had in junior high which included everything from drawing to woodblock carving to pottery to painting.
  • Choir
  • And I still think I would do the survey of British Lit. Kind of tempted to narrow it down, but I think I would still like to take in the whole sweep of British Lit to put my reading into a broader context and framework.
As for place, I would still tend to say somewhere like Cornell. Not only is it beautiful, but I like how isolated it is relative to the the hustle and bustle of downstate New York. Even though it is set overlooking the town of Ithaca, the overall feeling is still one of a retreat. I also think I would want a larger school like Cornell, or at least one with a big research library that might be harder to find at a small school. And oddly, as much as I love places like Cambridge and Oxford, I see myself doing this at an American university.

I got to spend two lovely, interesting years here at Cornell. I could easily do another semester.
 
Now tell me, what would you do? Go ahead, click the comment button...

Maybe you would prefer Berkeley and its proximity to San Francisco.

22 comments:

  1. Obviously I am still studying (and studying my dream subject!) but, if I were to do a different discipline, I would love to go to art school. Probably just painting, actually, since although I find the history of art interesting in a vague way, I don't think I'd want to study it.

    So, basically I've just picked something I could probably do at an evening class anyway. Hmm... I think I just admire the lives of art students, who seem so effortlessly cool to me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh, forgot to say where. It would have to be Edinburgh - such a lovely city, with a wonderful atmosphere.

    It's just struck me that I've chosen fine art at Edinburgh - which is the course my Mum got accepted onto, but didn't then get the grades to attend.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Do we get to be in our twenties again? Because that would sort of be essential! :--)

    ReplyDelete
  4. What an easy game to play! I would of course be in the first two of your '09 classes as well as choir and art. Unlike you, and I'm guessing because I haven't travelled as much as you have, I would like to go to Oxford for these things. To be able to take side trips on the weekends to see the places I'm reading and studying about, to draw the castles, sing in the gothic churches and cathedrals of Europe. Oh yes, I would definitely go to Oxford and travel around from there. (sigh - one of my favorite "dream" subjects - thanks for letting us play. :) )

    ReplyDelete
  5. That would be great but not only for one semester : for at least three years!!!

    I would have two main interests, I think...

    1. As I usually teach french and french literature, I would like to study again latin and ancient greek to really understand why french words are often difficult to write.

    2. I would also select Art History and drawing, two passions I don't always have time for.

    Becoming quite realistic with the years passing by, I would choose to study in Mc Gill in Montreal, but, if it was possible, I would rather go to Florence.

    Have a nice week!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I don't really know how courses work here, nor am i absolutely sure how long a semester is. But since it seems I wouldn't be limited to one subject, I would go for:
    - a literature class (probably not British, maybe American but ideally a bit broader than that)
    - a history course (anything other than European history, which I remember enough of)
    - a geography course (not quite sure what this would cover but I hear that there's more to it than maps)
    - a course about ancient Greek art (studied it at school and loved it)
    - a physics course (to learn how the world works).

    I was thinking of saying I wanted to go to NYU but I suspect that with this programme I should go somewhere a bit less busy. I'd like to stay in the US (although Montral would have its atteactions). San Fran would be lovely though the weather sounds a bit too much like Britain...

    ReplyDelete
  7. I would split my time between:

    - a couple of classes in fairly esoteric art techniques, like Chinese silk painting...
    - astronomy and celestial navigation
    - cartography
    - creative writing
    - Key moments in world history

    If it's April-October, I'd study in Chicago. If it's October - April, I'd go for Buenos Aires, as long as the classes were taught in English.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great question, Thomas!

    A few years ago I visited a friend who was at college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts. The campus was so beautiful, I'd love to study there for a semester!

    Classes I would study:

    1. WWI literature - I never studied this during my degree and I wish I had
    2. American history from the Mayflower to 1900 - I still don't get it and really want to understand it!
    3. French language - I am devastated that I have forgotten so much from my school days
    4. History of Fashion - I got really interested in this when I worked at the V&A and would love to learn more

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh, this is fun! Like Jill, I'd want to be in my 20's again to do this and would stay as far away from the chemistry lab as possible this time. You would find me in your survey of British Lit class and probably the history class, too. I'd also love to take writing and photography clasess.

    The Williams campus is beautiful and I would definitely choose a small liberal arts college, but Maine would be my top choice... Bowdoin or Bates. While I'm at it, I'd choose the fall semester - nothing as beautiful as fall in New England.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I actually do this now and then through grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, but not entire semesters.

    I have a Masters degree in English literature and no real desire to spend more time studying books in class. Some summers, I get to take art classes. I'd love a semester of art classes at NYU or a university in Berlin. I think it would be great to be a student in Berlin.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Oooh, I'd do some sort of fine arts appreciation course. In particular I love ceramics of all types (I'm a very amateur potter) but also all those lovely things like snuff-boxes and inlaid tables and really superdooper high-end crafted items. You know, furniture with secret compartments etc. Japanese lacquer bits and pieces. Strange bits of silverware. Edith Sitwell's rings... Definitely I'd base myself in London, tho' it's a foul place to live so I'd really have to live somewhere very, very nice (maybe in a suite in the newly renovated Gilbert Scott hotel at St Pancras? I'd also need an afternoon tea allowance, obviously). In London I could drool over the V&A, the Gilbert Collection, pop over the Channel, etc. Maybe *touch* some things. Maybe this magical course without any homework could be at the Courtauld? Hmmmm....

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'd love to do Medieval Art in general if there is such a thing. Appreciation probably. As to where wouldn't have a clue because this is not my part of the world. Your photographs look absolutely gorgeous.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Luckily and happily I did this. I studied English and American Literature at Boston University, and was in college heaven. Really. I lived in a dorm only a year, and then Tom and I got an apartment. We didn't do any college stuff other than classes.
    If I could go to any college and study the same course again, it would be Oxford or Cambridge. I would love riding a bicycle.:<)

    ReplyDelete
  14. In the basement of the Arts and Social Sciences Library at Bristol University they house the Penguin archive: Allen Lane's collection of books signed by the authors, and boxes of correspondence with those authors. I don't think the idea of classes appeals any longer, but it would be wonderful to spend a semester there working on an individual research project. And Bristol seemed like a wonderfully vibrant city to live in.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Ohhhh dreamy. I see I'm not alone, but this is perhaps my favorite fantasy: to have the time and money and freedom to just be a student.

    I'm afraid I have more here than I could do in a semester, but definitely...
    an American literature survey course;
    a course on Hemingway;
    creative nonfiction writing;
    painting;
    and all the history (of everywhere!) that I could fit in. lots of courses there. starting with US foreign policy, please.

    Where? I would be happy to study in a number of different places. My first choices would probably be the southeastern US: Nashville, or Raleigh/Durham/Chappell Hill, or similar. Next, Dublin. And then, New England.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I work at a university and a benefit, we get to take free-free classes during work hours. For this reason, I have taken numerous things:

    Photography
    Contemporary Lit
    Golf
    Yoga

    The next class that I would like to take is a creative writing class.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Simon: The thing about art students is that they *look* effortlessly cool. I think most of the them work at it. (And would your Mum appreciate you telling tales out of school?

    Jill: I am not sure you are thinking about taking courses. I think you might be thinking of that other part of school.

    Susan: When I was in grad school at Cornell I was in the Chapel Choir. I loved it. The rep changed every week and was eclectic, plus we didn't really do concerts, just Sunday services. I hate being in a choir that cares about performing. I would be totally happy just practicing.

    Marie-Josee: Thanks for stopping by. I had one art history class as an undergraduate. I think I would like to try that again myself.

    Molly: I am not sure I could handle even a beginning physics course. A semester is about 5 months. The nice thing about Berkeley is that it is inland from San Francisco so the weather is warmer and dryer.

    Roz and Layla: Which one of you is taking these classes? I would join you in the creative writing class.

    Rachel: US History in a nutshell: Europeans invade the continent and kill lots of natives, the U.S. kicks out the Brits under George III, the north and the south fight a war primarily over the slave trade (1861 to 1865), WWI, WWII, and the rest you probably get. I just saved you taking that class.

    JoAnn: I think to truly enjoy it, we don't need our long lost youth, we need our hard won widsom.

    CB: I think Berlin would be fun as well. I love NYC, but I can't imagine ever wanting to study there.

    Skiourophile: You should see all the snuff boxes at the Wallace Collection in London. One of my favorite off the beaten path places in Marleybone, one of my favorite neighborhoods.

    Mystica: There would be so many great places to study medieval art. That would be fun.

    Nan: That sounds amazing what kind of program was that?

    Karyn: That would be cool to have lots of time to explore the Penguin archive.

    Julia: I would join you in the creative nonfiction writing.

    Ti: My first job out of college was at the U of Minnesota and I could take classes for free although they had to be after work hours. I think I took about five classes like that in the year that I worked there. I loved it. And I really loved having access to the research libraries. Of course we have the Library of Congress here, but none of that circulates.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I find it really funny that men always specify rules for fantasy 'what if...' questions like this. My husband always does that while I've automatically tossed all practicalities aside and am blissfully engaged in imagining all kinds of impossibilities.
    He'd also like the transport and maths stuff. (yawn. maybe he should come live with you).
    I'd be doing Art, music or acting at Cambridge or New York or studying to be an astronaut at NASA. And I'm no good at any of those things and I get motion sick in a car so that's how willing I am to ignore reality completely. Probably better stick to literature.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Course list:
    * A couple of sweeping literary introduction overviews (so long as they included a variety of non-canonical works)
    * Linguistics – perhaps a history of American dialect or similar. (Already familiar with History of the English language.)
    * Something on the social history of Victorian life in both England and US
    * Astronomy – I am interested in the stars, but cannot see the individual star shapes unless their lines drawn between them like dot-to-dot
    * A foreign language – perhaps a refresher course on French or an intro to Latin
    * A intro (not-for-engineers) course on sustainable energy
    * A photography course ( to include technical how-to as well as on-location shooting)

    I think that list should keep me busy for a semester or two. I wouldn’t want to work for a grade or anything, but just to attend the course to learn would be great! As for where I would study… Hmm. I wouldn’t mind somewhere very different from here, perhaps an East Coast Ivy League school or somewhere in Colorado? Or Oxford or Cambridge in UK?

    But – please! I am *begging* you. Don’t put me in a freshman dorm….

    ReplyDelete
  20. Course list:
    * A couple of sweeping literary introduction overviews (so long as they included a variety of non-canonical works)
    * Linguistics – perhaps a history of American dialect or similar. (Already familiar with History of the English language.)
    * Something on the social history of Victorian life in both England and US
    * Astronomy – I am interested in the stars, but cannot see the individual star shapes unless their lines drawn between them like dot-to-dot
    * A foreign language – perhaps a refresher course on French or an intro to Latin
    * A intro (not-for-engineers) course on sustainable energy
    * A photography course ( to include technical how-to as well as on-location shooting)

    I think that list should keep me busy for a semester or two. I wouldn’t want to work for a grade or anything, but just to attend the course to learn would be great! As for where I would study… Hmm. I wouldn’t mind somewhere very different from here, perhaps an East Coast Ivy League school or somewhere in Colorado? Or Oxford or Cambridge in UK?

    But – please! I am *begging* you. Don’t put me in a freshman dorm….

    ReplyDelete
  21. I love this! I would have such a terrible time limiting myself to one choice. So I would say that I would choose one East Coast school, Harvard and one West Coast school, UCLA. I would study History and don't even want to think about the courses because it would make me too sad that I can't really do this! Fun feature on your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  22. Overdue: If I don't put parameters my fantasies the seem too impossible. With a few rules one can imagine it actually coming true.

    Raving Reader: I would definitely take the social history course.

    Kathleen: One of the nice things about history is that one can get a lot of books unlike some other fields.

    ReplyDelete