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Hamilton, pirates and Roman horror stories: 10 new courses at U of T Mississauga this fall

Lin-Manuel Miranda is Alexander Hamilton and Phillipa Soo is Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton, the filmed version of the original Broadway production (photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

There’s literally something for everyone in this year’s crop of new University of Toronto courses.

At U of T Mississauga, for example, students will be able study everything from the horror stories of ancient Rome to chilling tales of present-day pirates and music and literature lessons that reference Public Enemy and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

There is even an opportunity to learn the language of ancient Greece – the first time in four decades the introductory course has been taught on the campus.

Here are 10 of the more unique and unusual additions to this year’s U of T Mississauga timetable:

Anthropology of illegal activities

From Italian mafia to pirates on the Indian Ocean, the new anthropology course Racketeers, Smugglers and Pirates: Anthropology of Illegality (ANT216H5) explores illegal activities around the globe. Taught by Assistant Professor Firat Bozcali, this second-year undergraduate course explores anthropological approaches to the study of illegal activities, drawing on case studies of mafia organizations, piracy on the Indian Ocean, human trafficking and contraband smuggling operations in South America, Africa and the Middle East. 

“Students should take this course if they want to learn more about how states create and actively participate in illegal economies or how certain activities come to be considered illegal yet socially legitimate,” Bozcali says.

Histories of here and now

Two new courses from the department of historical studies reflect on the past to make sense of the current pandemic, and to better understand the university’s place in local history.

A History of the Present (HIS2135F), taught by Christopher Petrakos, assistant professor, teaching stream, looks to past pandemics to better understand our current times. The second-year course covers some of the more dramatic and consequential pandemics in history, including the Black Death, the Spanish Influenza outbreak and, of course, COVID-19.

“This course puts pandemic disease at the centre of history and historical change,” Petrakos says. “Any student interested in making sense of our chaotic and bewildering present should take this course.”

In the introductory first-year course, A History of Here (HIS104H5), Assistant Professor Brian Gettler explores the deep and fascinating history of Mississauga and the GTA, U of T Mississauga and U of T more generally.

“This course introduces students to the historian’s craft, to institutions and people who preserve material and immaterial traces of the past,” Gettler says. “This moment when we are all feeling a certain disconnect from the world around us affords a remarkable opportunity to reflect on place and space, especially those in which we would be finding ourselves if it weren’t for COVID.”

Using psychology to understand economic patterns

What causes bubbles in the stock markets? Why don’t wages fall during a recession? In Macroeconomics and Psychology (ECO352H5S), Assistant Professor Nathanael Vellekoop applies insights from psychology to help third-year students better understand macroeconomic questions concerning central banking, unemployment, inflation and savings. 

“Psychology can have a large impact on economic behaviour, including our collective consumption patterns, and even result in swings in the stock markets and housing markets,” Vellekoop says.

“This is a different way of looking at macroeconomics.”

From Bertold Brecht to Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Joni Mitchell, Public Enemy and Bertold Brecht may not appear to have much in common, but Music and Literature (ENG261H5), a new course taught by English and drama studies lecturer Brent Wood, draws a line through their work to show how melody, rhythm and texture interact with language, story and performance. Through weekly podcast-style lectures and remote discussions, Wood will take students on a genre-spanning tour of how African-American and Anglo-American musical storytelling have been used by performers to effect social change.

“Music appeals to one part of the human brain, while language appeals to another,” says Wood. “Developing an understanding of the ways these modes of expression and communication have come together in song and performance in North America is a crucial step towards understanding cultural history and the dynamics shaping our contemporary moment, as well as our own personal responses to these arts.”

Revealing the mysteries of the genome

Genetic information shapes almost all aspects of life. But how is this information organized and inherited? How does it influence individuals and how does it help us understand disease? Epigeneticist Katharina Braeutigam, an assistant professor of biology teaches Molecular and Structural Genomics (BIO417H5 ), a new fourth-year biology course that reveals how the genome is packaged, expressed, replicated and repaired.

“This course explores a question central to all biology: How is genome information used to make living organisms? We will cover really modern aspects of biology in a form that is accessible and exciting for students,” Braeutigam says.

It’s all Greek to me?

For scholars seeking a solid grounding in classics, the department of historical studies has launched several new courses focusing on ancient Greek and Roman history. Assistant Professor Mareile Haase teaches The Trojan War: Archeology and Myth and Religion in Graeco-Roman Egypt (CLA404H5). The fourth-year course pulls at the twined threads of archeology and myth about the fabled war and touches on the present-day conflict between archeologists and ancient historians interpreting the evidence.

“Many consider Homer’s epics on the Trojan War and its aftermath to be the beginning of the Western literary tradition,” says Haase. “But the Trojan War also had an enormous influence on more popular imaginings and still resonates in contemporary society, from contemporary writers such as U of T alumna Margaret Atwood to the movie Troy starring Brad Pitt as Achilles.”

For those who like a little gore with their history, Horror and the Grotesque in Ancient Rome (CLA395H5S) delves into gruesome topics like cannibalism, the supernatural and the monstrous feminine body to reveal to third-year students what frightened, shocked and repulsed ancient Romans.

The course is taught by Assistant Professor Rebecca Moorman, who is also teaching Introductory Ancient Greek (GRK211H5S) – the first time in over 40 years that the subject has been offered on the U of T Mississauga campus. The intensive introductory course is aimed at beginners and provides a solid base for intermediate Greek courses.

“A lot can be lost in translation, especially when the original text was composed thousands of years ago,” Moorman says. “Studying ancient Greek gives students access to the original words of Homer, Plato, or Sophocles and allows us to keep this knowledge alive. Ancient Greek can also help to teach modern grammar and English terminology and, for those who like puzzles, its complex system of noun cases and verb forms offers many delightful – if at first frustrating – riddles to solve.”

Getting up close with medieval history

Microhistory focuses on a small part of the past, as if the historian is holding a microscope rather than a telescope to examine earlier societies. In her fourth-year historical studies course Microhistories of Medieval and Early Modern Europe (HIS420H5F), medieval scholar Mairi Cowan turns the lens onto events of the Middle Ages, including the tale of a Welsh rebel who was hanged in 1307 and pronounced dead, but then turned out to be alive.

“Students will focus on small things to answer big questions, acknowledge the limits of what historical sources can convey and see that the details of everyday lives were as rich centuries ago as they are now,” says Cowan, an associate professor, teaching stream.