Berkeley undergrad

I was just trying to remember who from my highschool went to UC Berkeley, and I am pretty sure it was just Joni and maybe Bryce from my graduating class. Weird to think about it, in a school of 30,000 undergrads, that only .01 percent would be people I knew from my California highschool (which had 2000 students).

I of course majored in Scandinavian Languages and Literature, which was one of the smallest departments on campus at that time. There were only 3 of us actually majoring in Scadinavian when I was an undergraduate, although there were I think 8 or 9 graduate students in the department. It has always been more of a graduate student department than an undergraduate department.

But it has also made a lot of strides to try to change that. Now a days, the department offers a lot of courses that are meant to attract undergraduates from throughout the Berkeley system. Some of the courses are cross listed in other departments, as a way to get students majoring in a different subject to come take some of "our" classes. One can of course use Scandinavian languages and literature to illustrate a huge range of topics, everything from history to cultural studies to political science to film, and Scandinavian literature obviously overlaps with Celtic, German, English, and other European literatures.

The course I am going to be teaching in the spring is one of the offerings my department came up with in the interim between when I graduated with my BA and when I returned for my PhD. It was a very clever move on my department's part to come up with and start offering this course. For many years, the English department had the "corner" on the market of teaching freshman how to read and write at university level. Then my department, along with some others, petitioned the dean of undergraduate studies, and said that our graduate students could also teach freshman how to read and write, but that we would use Scandinavian literature (instead of English literature) to do so. There is still a rule in place that at least one of the works has to be originally written in English, a vestige of the days when the Reading and Composition Course was the mainstay of the English department, its reason for being.

Since then, my department has found several other ways to attract undergraduates that are officially majoring in something else to nevertheless take lots of courses in our department. Sometimes they end up having weird combinations, like a major in Chemistry with a minor in Scandinavian Languages and Literature. That is because our professors found enough ways to cross-list our Scandinavian courses with other departments, enough ways to package our offerings to meet the humanities breadth requirements of the university.

The idea is that no one should graduate from UC Berkeley with a BA, no matter what one's intended field of work is, without also being able to understand and appreciate the nuances of art, literature, culture, modernity, politics, history, and the relationship between man and nature.

Scandinavia, in my opinion, presents very good ground for all of that.


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