Welcome to The Question, where you’ll get answers about life at Brown all year long! I’m Celina Stewart, and I’ll be bringing you insights (and photos!) into my fourth year at Brown and my answers to some of the questions I wish I’d asked before college.
This is a little bit of a trick question for pretty much any Brown student because we have so much ability to build our own schedules and therefore have very few classes we dislike (or if we do end up disliking a course, it is something we chose to take, not something that was part of a core requirement). As an International Relations concentrator, I noticed that I would always take a “fun” course or two in the History department – so many that, actually, I ended up with a double concentration! So, what has been my favorite course at Brown?
For me, a favorite course has a couple main components: it directly interests you, the course itself has an appropriate amount of work, and the professor rocks. Nothing ruins a course like a professor who assigns fantastic readings but then falls short in terms of lecture or discussion. My favorite courses usually include some type of discussion component, a direct reading of primary sources that actually interest me, and have the option to do something creative with the material.
While I’ve taken a couple courses that fulfill these requirements and have had an amazing experience with many professors in the History department (for Latin American studies, choose James Green or Daniel Rodriguez, for Medieval Europe, Amy Remensnyder, and for recent antiquity, go with a seminar-style course with Jonathan Conant) a couple classes stand out as clear favorites.
First was HIST1381: Europe in the High Middle Ages. This course had a little bit more work than I would normally love (especially when taking 4 other courses), but all of the primary sources were well informed, the lecture and emphasis on art history in addition to factual history, and Professor Remensnyder is an incredible lecturer. The best part of the course, however, was the final project, which essentially allowed me to develop my own way of synthesizing the primary source readings, lecture notes, and my personal interests. So, because my friends and I often play board games, I chose to make a board game based on the High Middle Ages. It ended with the Black Death, and you could play as a character from several different professions, socioeconomic classes, and locations. Overall, making the board game, playing cards, and rules was incredibly time consuming, but it ended up being a lot of fun.
My second favorite course was a seminar specifically on topics related to the Black Death, called HIST1979C: Plague, War, Famine, and Death. This course, as a seminar, functioned mainly as a discussion based on primary sources. However, I got to create an illuminated manuscript as my final project! It was a lot of fun trying to mimic the styles we’d learned in class and collecting the poetry to be included inside it.
Finally, I took a really interesting course, HIST1030: The Long Fall of the Roman Empire, which traced Europe’s development in late antiquity, ending in the Byzantine period. The course functioned as a standard History course, including lecture and a discussion section. However, for my final project, I decided to create a Byzantine cookbook and to sample several recipes with as many ingredients tracing back to late antiquity as possible. Tracking down some of the special herbs online was half the fun! I can also attest that when primary source chroniclers state that Macedonian pork is terrible and greasy, it is.
As you can tell, I love creative projects and the Middle Ages. If you’re not a history person, you may love the lab components of computer science or hard science courses. Maybe for you the best courses will be the ones with small professor: student ratios (I’m taking one class with just 3 people in it this semester), or classes where you can trace economic development over time and eventually turn your projects into a larger thesis-style project. Whatever you prefer, Brown will have a great course for you to take!
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