From Ancient Egypt to Rock & Roll: A Sampling of Fall Courses

In addition to the academic core, and course of studies prescribed for each major, many students round out their course schedules with electives from various academic departments. Each semester, we take a look at some of the more unique courses being offered, and speak with faculty about their goals in teaching these courses. This fall, we highlight four offerings in classics, history, music and physics.

History faculty Hugh Dubrulle and Matt MasurHI 112: History’s Mysteries (History Department)

Understanding historical events is like trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle. Historians collect evidence to discover how, why, and when things happened for a particular event in the past.  Co-taught by Professor Hugh Dubrulle and Professor Matt Masur (pictured above), this course will teach students to think like historians as they read about actual historical mysteries from different eras in history.

“Of special interest to us is a specific branch of history—microhistory,” explains Professor Dubrulle. “For a number of reasons, the types of stories microhistorians study tend to revolve around trials and crimes—and that means that microhistorians often deal in mysteries.”

The research component of the course involves a mystery that took place locally in Goffstown. Students will study the famous trial and execution of Daniel Davis Farmer who murdered Anna Ayer in 1821. As 10,000 people attended Farmer’s execution, much can be learned about the history and culture of Northern New England at the time.

Professor Dubrulle has high hopes for the success of this research project. “After having taught the course a number of times, Professor Masur and I hope to use this research as the basis for an article or maybe even a book,” he said.

PS 137: The Nature and Origin of Time (Physics Department)

No one really knows what the concept of time is – so how can there be a class dedicated to learning about time? Professor Ian Durham aims to help his students understand one of the most complex elements in science through lectures, lab experiments, and his own textbook written specifically for this class.

Using a physics and mathematical approach, students in the class will learn about the nature of time and how it is measured. Some of the topics covered in lectures include clock synchronization, speed of light, the gravitational and cosmological effects on time, time travel, and more.

Professor Durham also hopes that students benefit from his “discovery-based learning” techniques as they explore elements of physics and time through their lab experiments about momentum and energy, irreversibility, radioactivity, and more.

CL 276: The Archaeology of Egypt (Classics Department)

This course will provide students with a profound knowledge of ancient Egyptian culture through the examination of their artifacts, monuments, and lifestyles. Through the study of Pharos, pyramids, and more, the culture of ancient Egyptian civilization is revealed. Lectures will connect these elements to the political, religious, and economic customs of the time.

Professor Matthew Gonzales will introduce his students to the idea of artistic literacy to interpret and dissect a piece of artwork as if it were a text written in a book. “The course focuses on the artistic and architectural accomplishment of ancient Egypt”, he said.

Students will also analyze an artifact on display at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and write a research paper to further understand how works of art demonstrate culture. The assignment is also a way for students to recognize the ancient influences on modern artwork.

Professor Gonzales hopes the research project will give students the opportunity to apply their artistic literacy on contemporary artwork as well. “In addition, the course introduces students to key anthropological and archaeological conceptual tools that they can use to continue their own analysis of human cultural development in other contexts.”

MU 246: History of Rock and Roll (Fine Arts Department)

Music plays a very important role in society. Not only is it entertaining to listen to, but it is also culturally and historically informative. Professor Sean Parr will teach his students about musical language and form and its hidden social and political messages.

Introduced in the twentieth century, the sound of rock and roll music was influenced by other genres such as jazz, country, and the blues. Other elements like lyrics and melodies were, and still are, influenced by social issues, including nationalism, race, class, gender, and more. Students will act as musicians and historians and learn how to pick up these cues when listening to music.

The course covers many musical styles, from R&B and Pop, to Metal and Rap, and more. Professor Parr would like his students to consider the act of listening music as an experience. “The specific goals of the course are to awaken and encourage an appreciation of the complexities of the history of popular music, to help students learn to respond intelligently to a variety of musical idioms, and to engage students in the issues of various debates about the character and purposes of music in its cultural context,” he says.