Charts & Graphs

Course Credits

A sampling of classes taught by notable figures.

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Instructor: Toni Morrison

Studies in American Africanism

Princeton University, 1989–95

The same year she arrived at Princeton, Morrison began offering this application-only seminar on the concept of Blackness in American literature. “The discussion is so focused,” a New York Times reporter wrote of the class in 1993, “that the students in Wednesday’s seminar talked about Moby Dick for two and a half hours and never even once mentioned the whale.”


Instructor: Carl Sagan

Critical Thinking in Science and Non-Science Contexts

Cornell University, 1986

“Think about love. Think about international relationships. In an age of nuclear weapons, clearly non-zero-sum thinking must be encouraged,” the astronomer wrote in his notes for a seminar session on zero-sum games. “Also, consider my scheme of having one dolphin teach a language to another dolphin with rewards for both every time something is successfully communicated.”


Instructor: David Foster Wallace

Literary Interpretation

Pomona College, 2005

The novelist’s seven-page syllabus ends with a list of reasons a student might “plausibly decide not to remain enrolled” in Wallace’s section of the course. “I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing,” one reads. “I am absolutely not kidding. If you won’t or can’t devote significant time and attention to your written work, I urge you to drop English 67-02 and save us both a lot of grief.”


Instructor: Immanuel Kant

Physical Geography

Königsberg, 1757–96

While attempting to secure a post at the local university, the Prussian philosopher began offering this course as a private tutor; by the time he retired, he had taught it forty-nine times. Lecture topics included the history of the oceans, the history of wind currents, and the “history of the great changes that the earth has suffered and is still suffering.”


Instructor: Vladimir Nabokov

Russian Literature in Translation

Wellesley College, 1946–47

In 1977 The New Yorker published a former student’s recollections of Nabokov’s two-semester survey class. “Mister Nabokov told us he had graded the Russian writers, and we must write down their grades in our notebooks and learn them by heart: Tolstoy was A-plus. Pushkin and Chekhov were A. Turgenev A-minus. Gogol was B-minus. And Dostoevsky was C-minus.”


Instructor: Hannah Arendt

On Revolutions

Northwestern University, 1961

Two years before publishing her similarly titled book, Arendt taught this seminar on “the sources of revolution; the problems of a new order of things and a new constitution; the revolutionary spirit.” She concluded the course’s final exam by asking students, “The American Revolution—was there any?”

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