Walking in Nashville…For Class
In my opinion, a huge difference between high school and college is the greater opportunity for academic creativity that college courses offer, and just the sheer range of options available. The days of only having “English” as a course option are over; Now you have to choose from “The Bible in Literature,” “Representative British Writers” and “Poetry since World War II.”
As an opportunity to choose creative classes and enhance writing skills, every incoming student in the College of Arts and Science is required to take a first-year writing seminar. Before you start groaning, however, take a look at some of the ones offered this year.
Disney in America
Cryptography: the History and Mathematics of Codes and Codebreaking
Nationalism and Nation Building in Africa
Shakespeare and Music
Chemistry of Everyday Things
Stress, Health, and Behavior
Controversies in the Practice of Medicine
Hollywood Hanoi: Representations of the Vietnam War
And, my personal favorite, Walking in Nashville: Art, Landscape, and Urbanism
In this class taught by Jana Harper, an artist and one of the coolest people I have ever met, we talk about the art of walking (which is actually a legit thing, check out Solnit’s and Thoreou’s work for proof) and practice it ourselves. In addition to a lot of interesting readings, our homework consists of different walks to take — some where we just wander in a direction for an hour, observing our surroundings, and others where we have to go to specific places such as nearby parks.
We just finished submissions for the upcoming “People’s Guide to Nashville,” a guide modeled after similar ones made for Los Angeles and other cities. The project is headed by two Vanderbilt professors and one professor at Tennessee State, and focuses on “the opportunity to challenge dominant representations of place with counter-narratives that reflect the complexity of place-making.” Each student in the class chose one “place” in Nashville to research (the Toll Bridge, A Confederate Statue, etc) in a light that reflects the different roles that these places have played for various populations over time.
Now, we’re each studying artists who have shaped their whole careers around incorporating walking into their works (check out Kimsooja, Sophe Calle, Francis Alys and Christian Nold). It’s crazy for me to think that there are artists who make a living out of walking on landscapes and standing still in crowded cities, but I guess that’s the point — this class has taught me to break down my own preconceptions of what “art” is and appreciate the ingenuity of people who think very differently from me.
This class essentially highlights the themes of freshman year thus far — expanding the mind, deepening / diversifying experiences, and appreciating those who have different, more innovative, creative minds than I do!
Wherever you go to college, make sure to take classes that not only challenge you “academically” but also creatively (if that makes sense) — don’t just keep taking higher and higher levels of chem (although totally do that if orgo and physical chem is your pot of tea) but also try taking a pottery class or one that focuses on the Alexander Technique, and enjoy letting your mind get stretched and pulled in ways that go beyond solving problem sets.
As always, feel free to e-mail about classes, or anything else! firstname.lastname@example.org
Smiles upon smiles,