It’s only fitting that in the grips of Iowa’s frigid winter, I should delve into the Cold War.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been immersed in my j-term class, The Cold War Through Film. We’ve looked at various films that describe and characterize Cold War history and culture to gain a better understanding of the period, and its politics and ideology. And yes, what I’m saying is that we got to watch movies in class every day.
But honestly, the class, like all j-term courses at Drake, was a cool opportunity for me to step outside of my academic comfort zone and do something different, something interesting and challenging. I decided to take the class primarily because of my sketchy knowledge of Cold War history. I wanted to learn, and learn I did. We started with end of World War II and moved through history all the way to the late 80s, completing readings and lectures that described historical events and watching complementary films that portrayed history in unique ways. Some of the films I’d seen before (Platoon, Apocalypse Now, War Games,) and others I hadn’t (The Manchurian Candidate, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Red Dawn.) But each one was enlightening and helped us all think critically about the reality of the Cold War. And spoiler alert: The United States is not always the good guy.
The fact is, I’m leaving the class with a new appreciation of Cold War history and the ways in which economics, culture, and international relations are linked throughout American history. I’m a more critical consumer of the U.S. politics and political rhetoric. And in general, I’ve come to think carefully about the messages I’m given through culture and history. Isn’t that kind of what college is all about?
To learn more about j-term at Drake, check out the full list of on-campus and travel seminars here.
They were the most exciting days in all of elementary school: field trips. You’d bring the sack lunch and permission slip, hop aboard the bus, and journey to some exotic destination such as the local history museum. It was great times. But for many years, I had lost the joy of the field trip. Until college, that is.
This j-term, my British literature class focused on Jane Austen and issues of property and landscape. So, we went out and saw some properties and landscapes. Our first destination was The Salisbury House, located just a couple minutes from campus. It’s an incredible historical property built in the 1920s but made to look like a castle from the 1320s. The owners of the home even imported authentic medieval materials from all over Europe for use in their house. We toured the place as a class, focusing on issues of style, taste, and estate and landscape design. And you better believe we talked about some Edmund Burke.
Now for something completely different. The next place we travelled was The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. It was a longer trip this time, about 40 minutes outside Des Moines, but equally as cool. The whole idea of the refuge is to restore and protect the prairie that once dominated Iowa’s land. We got to learn about the restoration efforts, drive round the prairie, and even see some herds of bison and elk. It was a surreal experience of being so close to the city, and yet surrounded by thousands of acres of wildlife and prairie wilderness. But being at the refuge was also a pretty unique opportunity to discuss some of our class material with a real life setting. We talked about ownership, aesthetics, and the value of land, all within view of the land itself.
Looking back on my j-term experience, I was lucky to have an incredible professor who realized that learning takes place both in and out of the classroom. Because she recognized that what we were studying was not merely esoteric knowledge, we went out into the community to put our class in a greater societal and historical context. And although I had a lot of really great days learning over j-term, I think the ones learning outside the classroom were some of my favorites.
So, I’m back. Although second semester has not yet started, here I am in the old DSM awaiting class tomorrow. How, you ask? Do I have magical powers? Did I make a serious calendar mistake? None of the above! It’s J-term!
J-term, or January Term on formal occasions, is a three-week period before the start of the second semester in which you can take one class. It’s completely free and allows you to get a 3-credit class taken care of that you may not have time for during the semester. Most of the classes are pretty specialized, often on really fun topics, and allow you to focus in on an area of study without having to worry about other classes. This year, my class is about pre-1900 British Literature with a focus on Jane Austen and landscapes. It’s my favorite area of study with one of my favorite professors about one of my favorite authors. So, yeah, I’m pretty excited.
While I’m mentally traveling to the landscapes of Austen’s England, so many Drake students will be actually traveling. J-term provides an awesome opportunity for students who want to study abroad but maybe can’t find the time or don’t want to leave for a whole semester. You can pretty much travel the world over J-term at Drake. I have one friend who’s taking a PR class in Chile. Another is studying poverty in New York. And yet another is going to Ghana to work with children. Regardless of the location, j-term is a very cool experience (literally, it’s cold outside) to learn and travel and grow. I cannot wait to see what the next few weeks bring for me and my friends.