Captivity, Rape, and Concubinage, 1492-1800: sensationalizing your curriculum!


"Death of Jane McRae," John Vanderlyn, 1804

Via Inside Higher Ed, the Boston Globe says that faculty at local colleges and universities are sexing up their course titles.  So, at Boston College, “German Literature of the High Middle Ages” becomes “Knights, Castles, and Dragons,” Middlebury College’s Economics Department now offers “Economics of Sin,” and at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst one can enroll in “The Light Fantastic: Wonders of Biology Under the Microscope.”  Why the outburst of creativity this year?

“The dean’s office monitors enrollment, and humanities tend to suffer,’’ said Nicolas de Warren, philosophy professor at Wellesley College who is coteaching The Stars and the Sages: Philosophy and the Cosmos. “With such a rich offering of courses, there’s a kind of competition, and titles that speak immediately to students can make a difference.’’

Those of us who teach at large, allegedly “public” universities probably don’t have a problem with getting the butts in the seats this year–my classes remain mysteriously full of apparently attentive students, for some reason, although I’m doing everything in my power to drive them away.  But, let’s have some fun, shall we?  In the comments below, list a class you have taught or have taken as a student, and come up with a more enticing name for it.  Pretty much all of my classes can be called “Sex and Violence in Early America,” or “Captivity, Rape and Concubinage,” which are indeed interesting–and incredibly depressing–topics.  (Still, my students wouldn’t believe how my field has changed in the past 20 years, since the cultural studies revolution.   They would probably roll over and die if they had to read the same cliometrically-driven charts-and-graphs filled articles on the hard-core social and economic history of colonial America that I had to read in college in the 1980s!)

Although summer is unofficially over now, and we have to put away our white shoes and purses, give it your best shot!  Rename your course here!

0 thoughts on “Captivity, Rape, and Concubinage, 1492-1800: sensationalizing your curriculum!

  1. I’ve always wanted to teach an early American history course and title it: “Sex, Pirates, and the Coming of the Civil War.” A little something for everybody! I’m not sure what that course would actually look like, though.


  2. Thermal Environmental Engineering: “Air Conditioning Makes Life Worth Living”

    Design & Manufacturing I: “Robot Attack!”

    Advanced Mechanical Design: “Don’t Kill Your Customer”

    Differential Equations: “How To Quantify Engineering” or “You Will Need This Forever” (actually, that’s a very hard one to make sexy)

    Management for Engineers: “Being a Manager Is Boring” (well, that’s all I got out of it)


  3. I changed “Tudor and Stuart Drama” (which seemed to mean exactly nothing to any of my students; “Renaissance Drama” would have been only slightly better) to “Love, Death, and Drama.” Got the butts in seats.

    I’m still trying to come up with a sexy or even moderately engaging title for my Milton class. “Blind Zeal”?


  4. If my recent visit to a “Borders Express” is any indication, then we must somehow work vampires (preferably very sexy ones) into the course titles.

    But I love your remark about classes “mysteriously full of apparently attentive students.” Mine appear to be exactly the same way. I think they’re just so darned grateful to *have* a course this year — not to mention to have gotten into our “impacted” third-tier state uni in the first place.


  5. Hey, Flavia: For Milton, how about “The Old Man and the See?” (Get it? There’s two puns in there, about vision and the Pope.) Failing that, how about “The Scarlet Whore of Babylon?”

    Notorious–I’m very encouraged by my students so far. I don’t know if it’s that their parents have threatened to withdraw support if they don’t pull at least Bs, or if they’re feeling the heat of a more competitive future job market in which their GPAs might matter more than they had thought. But, I’m liking this apparent deline in apathy I’m seeing, so far anyway.


  6. Pretty much everything I’ve taught the last few years could be called Electric Shocks I, II or III.

    The professor Erica and I had for Differential Equations actually said the class could be called The Language of Science (and that at least half of the other courses we would take could be called Applied Differential Equations).


  7. I’m also noticing at least a *tiny* uptick in alert faces and an equivalently modest decline in faces hitting the hardwood of the desks so far. Then again, I’m staying away from our workhorse service/servile course, driven by the bayonet of curricular coercion and delivered by meatgrinder that I’ve always thought of as “Enlightenment Cliche Enemas for Political Prisoners.” There’s a lot of semester left, however.


  8. ADM: I’d recommend “Orgies, Assassinations, and Karma, Baby”

    Buzz: I double-dog dare you to submit “Electric Shocks I, II, and III” as a course name change to your college curriculum committee!

    And Indyanna–I TRIPLE dog-dare you to go with your suggested name change! (Don’t leave out the enema!)


  9. Thanks to Showtime’s “The Tudors,” history and lit classes with “Tudor” in the title no longer need to mention sex, heresy, burnings, and beheadings!


  10. Susan–heh. Why not cram them all together in “Sex, violence, and Get Out of Jail.” (Or would that be “Gaol?”)

    GayProf–I want to co-teach that class with you! (If only!)

    Poe–how about “The Tudors: Nasty as They Wanna Be?”


  11. Oh, if we’re going to get crude how about for gender and sexualities in africa: White boy fantasies in the jungle. Then maybe I’d get male students in the class (or course, would I want them?!)


  12. Most of what I teach could be “Medieval Sex and Romance.” (Chaucer; Arthurian Literature; Middle English Literature.) A couple of years ago, I taught a course on Malory: “Rape, Rebellion, Horse Thievery, and the Late-Medieval Author.”

    IMHO, this is way too easy for med/Ren people.


  13. Anon2: great point. I don’t really want to think about the kind of person who would get a prurient kick out of your course (or mine, for that matter.)

    Dame Eleanor–you’re right that there are some easy hooks for Med/Ren people. But 20th C historians get to show movies in their classes! And they can always throw in a “Capone” or a “Stalin” or a “Hitler” or a “James Dean” into their course titles, too. (Do the kids these days even know who James Dean was? He had a weird culty revival in the 1980s, when I was in college, but it’s been years since I’ve seen one of those posters or any James Deaniania.)

    I’m kind of surprised that no one has chimed in with a “you’re not taking human tragedy and exploitation seriously with course titles like that!” Which is something I actually thought briefly when I was making up my new course titles. I don’t really think the mass enslavement and rape/other exploitations of black and brown women in the wake of Columbus–which is the majority of women’s history in the Americas, up to 1900 or so, is terribly funny or amusing. It’s pretty overwhelming, actually.


  14. Interesting that so many of these catchy titles itemize three things. For instance: I used to teach a class called “Cannibals, Savages, and Headhunters.” There were always a few students who seemed to feel it was a bait-and-switch: they expected something (they considered) fun, and instead they got The Tempest and Robinson Crusoe…


  15. I volunteered to teach History of Law and Society next semester on the understanding that my main theme would be on the legal use of torture in Europe up to the 17th century witch hunts. Can’t decide what to call it, though. “When Cheney Ruled the Earth,” maybe?


  16. Hey,

    Thanks for the false publicity… I’m teaching a class with a lot of graphs and charts and so far no one has died nor rolled, finance and hard core economics can be quite fun, it’s like everything so know how to do it and other don’t.

    Nice blog



  17. I’m still so peeved that our Council on English Language Programming refused to pass my proposed seminar title of “Sex, self and society in pre-industrial Europe” and demanded something more innocuous. I think we finally went with “Public and private life in pre-industrial Europe” to get past their puritanical sensibilities.


  18. Janice–“Sex, self, and society” was controversial? That sounds like a book or course title right out of the Cambridge group, as authored by Peter Laslett or somebody like that. It’s pretty outrageous that that title was beyond the pale for them!

    Me, I would have gone with “Public Lives and Private Parts in pre-Industrial Europe.”


  19. At my new Uni, we have the perfectly awful “Republicanism, Democracy, and Expansion” course. I’m thinking of renaming it “Booze, Greed, and Myth.”


  20. Z–great point. The “This, that, and the other thing” kind of course description is lazy. Noun and adjective (or, I presume en Anglais, adjective and noun) is much more difficult.

    I can’t even think how to describe my courses with ONE noun and ONE adjective. “Sexual servitude?”


  21. Well, my paw always said you canna decline a TRIPLE dog-dare, so I’ll have to see if and how this thing can be sort of feathered in with some of my other local outrages. I should say, though, the actual course title I had in mind for our weary workhorse was “Western Civ Cliche Enemas for Political Prisoners.” Might as well leave the Enlightenment alone.

    On economy in course nomenclature: when I was a senior, way back wev, I eased back on the history major stuff with a last semester of all art classes, including a popular combo with my art major friends of Beginning Ceramics and also Photography. This parlay was popularly known among the freaks as “Pots and Shots.” All nouns, no adjectives, change from a dollar bill.

    Contract THAT, somebody…


  22. Pingback: Is this going to be a discussion? : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  23. Anyone like to pitch in with course suggestions for: Critical Thinking course on the Enlightenment
    (I thought of “I’ll Think About It And You’ll Listen”)

    Isaiah Berlin and Liberty

    Women of the 18th Century Salon (I thought Wonder Women)

    Are There Limits to the Other? The Ethics of Cultural Relativism (I know Ican’t use Clifford Geertz’ “The Drunken Indian” but how inappropriately catchy)

    Had lots of fun reading your comments, everyone, though I can imagine it would be better in the evening after wine.

    Many thanks,


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