While flipping through the course catalog, students may notice many course offerings related to museums. But what they may not notice are the fact that the courses are part of this year’s LSA theme year.
The LSA 2009-2010 theme year, “Meaningful Objects: Museums in the Academy” focuses on the 12 various University museums and how they contribute to cultural, intellectual and social life around campus and greater southeastern Michigan. As part of the theme year, the University has launched an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in Museum Studies and is offering 29 museum-related courses throughout the year.
According to the LSA website, the overall goal of theme semesters is to “connect the great intellectual and cultural strengths of the University of Michigan to the issues defining our world today.”
Evans Young, assistant dean for LSA undergraduate education, wrote in an e-mail interview that the theme semesters were developed to promote dialogue and connection between those involved with the University and individuals in the community.
“The theme semesters are initiated by faculty in the College, who are excited by the opportunity to plan and present campus-wide activities that will engage students, colleagues, and the wider community in conversations on challenging issues,” he wrote.
Theme semesters first began in 1980 and became more regular in the 1990s when Professor Edie Goldenberg was the LSA dean. Today, current dean Terrence McDonald selects a new topic each year, if not each term.
The theme is chosen by the LSA dean from many proposals developed by LSA faculty in various departments and programs.
Theme semesters have included topics like food, Detroit, sexuality and comedy. Some of the most recent themes have been “The Universe: Yours to Discover,” “Energy Futures,” “China Now” and “The Theory and Practice of Citizenship.”
To further the involvement of students with theme semesters, LSA sponsors the Summer Reads program for incoming first-year students in Michigan Learning Communities.
Students in MLC have the option of reading a book that usually relates to the upcoming semester’s theme. This year, MLC students read “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder,” by Lawrence Weschler, a book about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles.
Additionally, to make the theme more prominent around campus, the University sponsors various events throughout the year. These include lecture series, film screenings, tours and exhibits all pertaining to the theme. Most of the events are free and open to the public.
LSA sophomore Marissa Salazar, said despite the course offerings and free events, she thinks the theme semester would be more popular if the University did more to make it widely known to students.
“I think it would be a good idea if it was more publicized,” she said. “But there might not be a point unless your major is toward that or you’re really interested in that. So it depends on what the theme is.”
LSA freshman Jina Kim, said that while not many students know about the theme, she still thinks having a theme semester is a good idea.
“No one knows (about the theme),” she said. “I don’t think any of my friends have taken (a museum class), but I think it’s a good idea to do a theme, it keeps the whole school centralized and focused.”
LSA freshman Alexandar Serafimovski, also said he wasn’t aware of the theme semester, but would be interested in taking theme-related classes if he “liked the theme and had the time.”