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Gravitating

October 23, 2009

Even though my two majors are Latin American Studies and English, every time the next semester's courses were available I always scrolled to the listings for the Politics department. The classes I took in Politics were so damned good and interesting, with quirky, brilliant professors and active, well-informed classmates, that I kept coming back for more. I realized this semester that if I take one more Politics course next semester (and I will) I'll have minored in Politics without ever meaning to.

My wise adviser tells his students not to try to minor in anything, as it makes little-to-no difference on a transcript, but if they happen to have enough credits in a department for a minor, great!

Here are the courses I stumbled into:

The Israel-Palestine Conflict

Even though some days were dry (learning dates and endless wars) and some days were tense (heated debate between Jewish and Muslim students), the class was overall important for my understanding of the situation in the Middle East. We had only about 14 students, which made for good, intimate discussions that the prof, Ben Schiff, steered really well.

The First Amendment

Maybe the best class I've taken at Oberlin, or at least in the top three. Our only text was the actual Supreme Court decisions from various landmark cases (religion to free speech to the press to protesting) and we argued them out as a class. Harry Hirsch is a genius who debates you to the ground, assigns creative assignments that make you really defend your ideas, and busts out his dry humor when the moment is right. Everyone should take this class.

Mass Politics in a Media Age

I took this class at the perfect time--right in the heart of the Obama campaign--so much of our material came straight from that day's media. We analyzed how voters, politicians, and the media all worked to manipulate and control one another, looked at campaign ads going back to "I Like Ike," and critiqued candidate websites (some were laughably bad while Obama's was gorgeous, of course). Michael Parkin, besides being Canadian and always having a good laugh at us silly Americans and our silly politics, is a scholar on the forefront of media politics and a great professor.

European Political Theory: Plato to Machiavelli

It's great to have a professor who is so genuinely and adorably excited about the material. I'm now half-way through the semester with Harlan Wilson and it's difficult, but great. There's a lot of reading (and 60 pages of Cicero does not fly by like 60 pages of fun fiction) and the paper topics are broad and intimidating, but I love the lectures and the material. I just wrote a paper connecting Plato and Aristotle's theories on citizenship to modern debates about illegal immigration. I can't wait until we get to Machiavelli.

Next semester so many tempting Politics courses are offered that I don't know how I'll ever choose. Do I want to take Marxian Analysis of Politics and Society? U.S. Foreign Policy Making? A seminar on Globalization? I've learned from experience that a great professor can make anything interesting, and conversely, a bad professor can ruin the most interesting topic. Thus, I'll ask around among my Politics major friends about my options.

Over Fall Break, I hung out with my friend who graduated last year from Oberlin, and he said, "I could go through Oberlin four times and still not take everything I want to take." Truer words were never spoken.

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