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A packed lecture hall for a Computer and Information Science course. Credit: Joy Lee

Ahead of course registration for the fall 2023 semester, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to students and professors about five unique course offerings in the humanities. The following courses are currently being taught in the spring 2023 semester.

1. COMM 2920: "WARNING! Graphic Content — Political Cartoons, Comix, and the Uncensored Artistic Mind"

"WARNING! Graphic Content" explores the world of political cartoons and uncensored art. Dwayne Booth, known for his pseudonym Mr. Fish and a cartoonist and freelance writer, has taught the class for the past nine years. 

The course involves conversations about the opinions of the students on political cartoons and their impact.

"[Political cartoons] demand justification and proof for how people think and feel about politics,” Booth said.

Students said that Booth's expertise as a published cartoonist brought a unique perspective to the course.

"I always describe [Mr. Fish] as a cartoonist by day and a professor by night," College senior Tommy Christaldi, who took Booth's other class "Sick and Satired," said. "The lectures that he gives are very inspired by his own work, and they're very driven by the issues that matter to him.” 

After spending time looking at art that he said captures the vulnerability of the human experience, Booth asks his class to share something in the form of a final project that is meaningful to their life. 

“To have that opportunity for a grade to stand up in front of the class and just tell a story was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Christaldi said.  

College sophomore Jacqueline Davis said the class allowed her to develop her own voice rather than writing for specific requirements, adding that the class helped her realize her dream of becoming a producer. 

Davis said that the course taught her to “take away bigger meanings and not take everything at face value," while also giving her the opportunity to "take the time to feel comfortable with [her] own thoughts."

2. COMM 3650: "Media, the Apocalypse, and the Undead"

Murali Balaji — who is teaching this course for the second time — said the course looks at the broader context of apocalyptic movies beyond their entertainment value, including the way they provide a sense of escapism.

“We tend to look at everything from a standpoint of how everything we have in front of us right now is going to be here tomorrow and the day after," Balaji said. "And until we truly understand loss, we're not able to appreciate just how fragile life is — both fragile and beautiful.” 

The course discusses content like "The Walking Dead," "Train to Busan," and "The Last of Us," which Balaji says provides commentary on the political and social climate within the framework of an apocalypse.

College junior Paola Camacho and College senior Ethan Kaufman both said that the class and its readings allowed them to understand the motivation for certain cinematic decisions.

"A zombie can represent the ‘other’ and reflect on racism or xenophobia or the way certain groups within different countries, not just the United States, have been made to be a type of zombie or another," Camacho said.

Students said they appreciated how Balaji said he hopes to build both his students’ cultural awareness and critical thinking skills.

"Professor Balaji is excellent at removing his preconceived notions while still being an active part of the conversation," Kaufman said.

3. COML/ENGL/CIMS 0021: "Anime as Global Form" 

Ph.D. student Ann Ho taught "Anime as Global Form" for the first time in spring 2023. The specific focus of the class is to explore the ways anime is a global medium.

“The production of anime from the very beginning has been implicated in World War media, and its production and outsourcing to other countries has been a parcel of anime for a really long time,” Ho said.

College senior and former DP staffer Evie Artis said anime has always been a big part of her life. By taking the class as well as serving as the executive board member of Anime@Penn, she said she found a community of people who share her passion. 

"I think hearing how something that was once seen as obscure, and something to make fun of people for, is now something you can study at an Ivy League university and hearing all these stories that people have around it and how it's improved their lives or just gives them enjoyment makes the class special,” Artis said.

4. ENGL 3411: "Writing about the Arts and Popular Culture"

Anthony DeCurtis taught a class on the Beatles called "Writing about the Arts and Popular Culture," in which he said he encourages students to discover their own creativity and passions as inspired by music. 

Over the course of his career as a multipublished author, contributing editor at Rolling Stone, and writer for many other publications, DeCurtis developed a close relationship with the Beatles, interviewing its members on several occasions throughout their careers. 

Students said his personal anecdotes and experiences give them a unique look into the musicians. 

“His class is revealing uncovered history that most people don't know,” Engineering junior Yihan Xie said.

DeCurtis’ class has actively inspired his students to take really unique approaches to connecting to the music. Students enthusiastically respond in a multitude of different ways, including learning how to play a sitar and performing for the class, writing a rap song that captures the message of a specific song and connects to a student’s life, creating podcasts, and many more. 

“You never know what you're gonna get when somebody just tries to do something that they haven't done before,” DeCurtis said. “There are these kinds of moments of possibility in these classes that are exciting and go beyond what you might get from a good class on popular music.” 

Xie, who also founded Penn’s Beatles club called Beatles’ Pen his freshman year, said his favorite Beatles song "Yesterday" inspired him to write his own rendition called “Tomorrow” for the class.  

College sophomore Griffin Weil similarly said he finds the class to be a creative space due to the unique structure of the class. 

“The open discussion format of the class encourages you to ask questions about things that are on your mind and there's no real set syllabus," Weil said. "The direction of the class is dictated by the students and what they're curious about." what they want to learn about and what they want to explore about the Beatles.” 

5. RELS 0080: "Religion and Sports"

Religious studies professor Megan Robb started teaching "Religion and Sports" six years ago with the goal to explore the central question: "Can sports function as a religion?"

Having competed as a cross country runner and rower in college and graduate school, Robb said she designed the course to bring her academic and personal interests together.

The class contains a mixture of many lectures, breakout sessions, debates, and questions where students first look at the difficulties in defining religion, then attempt to define sports, and ultimately learn a series of theoretical tools that scholars use to define the meaning of sports. 

A concept that they recently started to learn is Émile Durkheim’s concept of collective effervescence, which is defined as the energy and harmony people feel when engaged in a shared purpose. After providing examples, Robb assigns students to do their own ethnography of a basketball event to see if any moments of collective effervescence occur.  

Wharton sophomore Adrián Montemayor Alanis said that the class perfectly captures his passion for athletics and religion. As a sprint football player, he said he can directly apply the dimensions of religion that he is discussing in class to his practices and sport community.  

“The class has definitely allowed me to combine both of the important aspects in my life together," he said. "It makes me live both of those aspects more fully.”

College senior Weston Matthews echoed this sentiment, adding that the class reframed his preconceived notions of religion.

"You might not even agree that American football is a religion, but you might be able to understand the ways in which it has religious elements — it binds people together to foster a sense of unity and a sense of self-belonging in the same way that religions are often implemented in society,” Matthews said.

For their final assignment, Robb encourages students to choose a sports culture and then write an autoethnography reflecting on which of the theoretical tools best explains their findings.  

“I'm really excited to help students who have never really thought that sporting life could overlap with their academic lives, and to think about those two really important parts of themselves as existing in synergy, instead of necessarily in competition,” Robb said.