Is HIST 395 one of the 10 oddest courses in America?

At Williams College, students can learn more about those in the cement shoe industry by enrolling in “Comparative History of Organized Crime,” which compares the work of goodfellas from the United States, Italy, Japan, and Russia.

No (and not just because we are an Eiko Maruko Siniawer fan). This seems like an excellent class, perfectly suitable for Williams. (Have any of our readers taken it?)

There is a stereotype that older non-liberal academics (like me) should be constantly bemoaning the rise of non-traditional classes. Why aren’t students reading Plato?

My concerns are different.

Format: discussion/lecture. Evaluation will be based on class participation, response papers, one research paper (15 pages), and a self-scheduled final exam.

I do not care what students study at Williams as long as 1) The have a reasonable set of courses to choose from and 2) Whatever courses they do choose are taught rigorously and well. As long as 2) is true of HIST 395, I have no grounds for complaint — although I have never liked response papers.

But I would like to see a class like this be even more intellectually serious than it already is. One (cheap) way of accomplishing this goal is to require that the 15 page papers (and Siniawer’s comments on them) be placed on a public web page. (The grades could still be secret.) Making this happen for many classes at Williams is the single best (free) thing that could be done to increase the level of intellectual engagement at the College.

More windmills to tilt at in 2006.

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