The Non-Ivy League Geek Dream Courses!

Where did you go to school?  Harvard?

No, because it’s expensive!  It costs more than $60,000 a year.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 0.4 percent of American undergraduates go to Ivy League schools.  Seventy-three percent are educated at state universities and public colleges.

But New York publications continue to–excuse this nasty phrase–suck Ivy League d—.   In a recent article at the Literary Hub,  Emily Temple felt nostalgic for her school days,  so selected 10  courses  from university syllabi she’d like to take “from her couch.”  I raised an eyebrow when I noticed that seven of the 10 are offered by Ivy League schools, because isn’t Literary Hub supposed to be hipper than that?

Here are the Lit Hub stats.

  • Princeton:  3 courses.
  • Harvard:  1 course
  • Stanford:  1 course
  • Cornell:  1 course
  • Northwestern (the only Midwestern school, an elite private university):  1 course
  • Williams College (junior Ivy League):  1 course
  • Berkeley (a very cool state university, but very elite):  1 course
  • University of Florida (a state university, perhaps chosen to balance the others?):  1 course

And, to remind you-all that there are affordable schools between the east and west coasts,  I have selected three fascinating courses offered by the University of Iowa and University of Illinois.


University of Iowa, Comparative Literature:  The Tale of Genji

Close reading of Murasaki Shikibu’s classic Tale of Genji; students come to know the characters by exploring the social and cultural context of the tale and discover the art, literature, and film that the Tale of Genji has inspired while tracking its reception through the history of Japan and across the globe. Taught in English.

(Some of you remember I read Tale of Genji the summer of 2016.  I’d love to do it right:  all the notes in the world can’t make up for not having a professor.)

University of Iowa, Comparative Literature:  Wonder Woman Unleashed: A Hero for Our Times

Development of the woman warrior archetype in mythology (Athena/Minerva and Artemis/Diana), literature (Camilla from The Aeneid by Virgil), and history (Artemisia and Joan of Arc); focus on the development of Amazon narratives in Metamorphoses by Ovid, The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizzan, and On Famous Women by Boccaccio; students read Wonder Woman Chronicles and one or two critical studies on the subject, which may include The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.

University of Illinois, English: Literature of Fantasy, From Mordor to Gormenghast: Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings  and Peake’s Gormenghast

If J. R. R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955, rev. 1966) established the dominant paradigm for the genre of secondary-world fantasy fiction, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy(1946-1959) established a rival paradigm that, while less influential, has been all the more important for defining an alternative to hobbitry—so much so that Peake has sometimes been described as “the anti-Tolkien.” Among contemporary fantasy writers who have preferred Peake’s vision, China Miéville has gone so far as to say that “The nicest thing anyone ever said about [his novel] was that it read like a fantasy book written in an alternate world where the Gormenghast trilogy rather than Lord of the Rings  was the most influential work in the genre.” …

There are so many great courses and creative professors out there!

8 thoughts on “The Non-Ivy League Geek Dream Courses!

  1. I read Titus Groan back in 2001 and am currently reading Gormenghast. I’m not sure why I waited so long, maybe because I loved Titus Groan so much and was worried that the other two books in the trilogy wouldn’t sustain my love. But, so far, I’m lost in Gormenghast. I’ve never read The Ring books, but hope to one day.


    • Oh, Joan, I love the Gormenghast books! In fact I feel like getting mine out, too. It’s been a while since I read Lord of the Rings, but I still have my original paperbacks, purchased at Woolworth’s back in the day.


  2. Another little repeated secret is that an enormous percentage of US people begin at community colleges, and then switch over. Growing numbers of US people do not live on campuses — I’m not sure they were ever in a majority of the population. But the norm or ideal of going to Ivy Leagues makes them the discussed one, as that’s the pretense. In a way it’s pernicious, reinforcing snobbery only a few elites can partake in, giving them access to the good jobs through connections most don’t have.

    Consider the price too: it may be it’s a great course, but how often does it meet? 14 times, so it lasts say 4 months. For that you may be asked to pay $30,000. That’s nuts. And I now know that even more secretly many people negotiate the sum they are asked to pay and (as if you were dealing with a car salesman), if you savvy you can get some of these schools suddenly to drop the rare by 50%. I was told that’s because registration is going down.

    A lifetime of debt and what jobs are you going to get for this at what pay?

    Serious questions. It’s good you did this research and brought the topic up.


    • Yes, college life is certainly changing, and horrifyingly state tuition here is going to increase 40% in the next five years. (That’s what happens when you put “businessmen” in charge.) The government/businesmen administrators have lost sight of the purpose of state education: to educate!

      But to put the Ivy League dream into the minds of people who can never go there must be viewed as what it is: a fairy tale. Many of my own profs were educated at these schools, and taught at state universities because obviously there are not enough jobs back east for all the Ivy grads! Brilliant people attend these schools, but also “legacy” students, whose parents or grandparents attended, or whose parent gave gifts of money to schools.

      In The Gilmore Girls, a quirky show about a mother and daughter, the intelligent Rory’s real problems begin at Yale, when she falls in with a “bad boy” so rich he takes nothing seriously. Meanwhile, Lorelai, Rory’s mother, struggles to work and finish community college.

      When TV mirrors the dream but also saucily questions it…


    • There are some great universities in the Midwest! (Actually much better than some of the private ones.) I love Titus Groan, and think it’s a good idea to have pop lit courses. Am sure there’s a lot in Peake I missed.

      Liked by 1 person

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