Vol. 6, No. 1: Spring/Summer 2010

Themed Learning

The 2009 bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth found his revolutionary ideas about the origin of species and survival of the fittest as topical as they ever were during his lifetime. As part of IU’s celebration of the milestone, Darwin’s theories served as the impetus for the College of Arts and Sciences’ first themed semester (or Themester)—Evolution, Diversity, and Change—and suffused coursework and other learning experiences on the Bloomington campus and beyond. Themester 2009 included courses as diverse as Brains and Minds, Robots and Computers; the Biology of Food; the Search for Life in the Universe; and the Golden Age of Athens; as well as guest lectures, film series, debates, theatrical performances, and a conference on rock and roll.

Thanks to a collaboration between Bloomington’s Cardinal Stage Company and the IU Department of English, performances of Inherit the Wind—the 1955 play based on the celebrated 1925 Scopes trial over the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools—were augmented by audience “talkback” sessions, a workshop for Indiana high school teachers, and a student companion booklet written by English professor Ellen MacKay.

The conference Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music, sponsored by IU’s Archives of African American Music and Culture and organized by Professor of Folklore Portia Maultsby, brought musicians and scholars to campus to perform, and engage faculty and students in panel discussions and musical workshops in a rare assessment of the place of African Americans in rock music.

A student-created, student-let organization called ABE, aka the Abraham Lincoln Appreciation Society, led by political science major Aasiya Mirza, sponsors roundtable discussions inspired by the 16th president’s dedication to constructive debate. With a focus on the emerging area of children’s right to education and the evolution of political movements, ABE’s two debates for fall 2009 fit in well with the inaugural Themester’s themes of change and diversity.

Students in English professor Jennifer Fleissner’s American literature course, Evolutionary Fictions, explored the influence of Darwinian ideas on literature from turn of the 20th century America by Jack London, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Stephen Crane, and others. Contemporary science writing supplemented literary texts, as the class discovered the science behind naturalism, the literary movement that ascribed biological motivations to human behavior.

While the College of Arts and Sciences conceived and sponsored the Themester, the learning opportunities it provided extended well beyond the confines of the College. Courses were open to students outside the school, and events attracted audiences from the surrounding community as well as from campus. Venues ranged from the Collins Living Learning Center on campus to the John Waldron Arts Center in downtown Bloomington.

Themesters take place each fall. Themester 2010 focuses on Sustainability: Thriving on a Small Planet; Themester 2011 will address War and Peace.


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