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My Top 8 Classes

Zoë reviews her all-time favorite classes, freshman through junior year.

Zoë reviews her all-time favorite classes, freshman through junior year.

One of the most popular questions we tour guides get from prospective students is this:

“What’s been your favorite class at Carleton?”

I always struggle answering this question, because I’ve taken so many I’ve liked. It’s hard to come up with a single answer. This dilemma prompted me to reflect on all of my favorite classes, freshman through junior year! In this blog post, I’ll highlight some standouts in the order I took them.

Freshman Year

(1.) SOAN 140: Animals and Society, with Emily Bowman

This class began my journey with Sociology-Anthropology. As someone who loves animals and cares about animal welfare activism, the name of the course immediately piqued my interest. I ended up loving it so much that I kept taking SoAn classes and eventually decided I wanted to major in the department.

Emily, the professor, opened my mind to different perspectives and ideologies about how humans relate to non-human animals. My class was urged to consider a number of thought provoking questions. Why do some cultures keep certain animals as pets, wear others as clothing, and eat some as food? How did the domestication of animals come to be? What would have happened if most of the world’s domesticated mammals were not inherited by Eurasian people? What does the ritual of dog/cock fighting say about the humans who participate in them? How should we view the ramifications of anthropomorphism, and how do we conceive of the sociozoologic scale?

As an introductory sociology class, we were also familiarized with the theories of some foundational sociologists, like Claude Levi-Strauss and Karl Marx. We read the works of theorists with strong convictions about animal rights, such as Peter Singer and Hal Herzog. Not only did I learn a ton, but I also realized sociology was a discipline that I was passionate about. I could not be more grateful that this was the first college class I took, fall term of freshman year!

Our class took a field trip to the Minnesota Zoo! We all wrote up field notes and completed a mini-ethnography after our visit.

(2.) PHIL 305: Frederick Douglass: The Philosophies of a Slave, Citizen, and Diplomat, with Eddie O’Byrn

This was the first 300-level class I took at Carleton, and my first college philosophy class. I loved the philosophy class I took in high school, and wanted to sample some of the philosophy courses offered in college. Spring term of 2020 was the only term during the pandemic that I took from my home, in remote format since I was away from campus. 

Given the circumstances, Eddie taught the class asynchronously. My peers and I were tasked with writing a hefty research paper on a topic of our choosing, about a philosophical ideology of Frederick Douglass. Each student met with Eddie intermittently to discuss our progress and talk through our paper drafts. 

Over the 10-week term, I read some of his autobiographies and speeches, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, My Bondange and My Freedom, and ​​Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings. One feature of Douglass’s anti-slavery argument that I found particularly salient was his criticism of Christian slaveholders who used their religion to justify their practices. I dug into Kantian logic to analyze Douglass’s arguments, and finished a paper at the end of the term that I was really proud of.

I’m particularly fond of this freshman year paper. My writing improved even after a single year of college, and I learned so much from this class.

Sophomore Year

(3.) GEO 110: Introduction to Geology & Lab, with Cam Davidson

This class was certainly out of my comfort zone, and a completely new experience. As a humanities/social science person, I was nervous about how I would fulfill my Science with Lab graduation requirement. Luckily, it went way better than expected and I ended up enjoying the class.

One of my favorite aspects of this course was having a lab group that I loved. Made up of 3 people, I formed some awesome friendships throughout the trimester. We collaborated on labs, homework, and enjoyed each others’ company throughout it all. Our class happily explored the arboretum to test our aptitude at rock identification and measure the velocity of streams. We became familiar with rock types and formations and learned about environmental issues.

Despite my apprehension, I did much better in the class than I expected. Cam, the professor, was particularly encouraging and always willing to meet with me to discuss my progress. If there was one thing I took away from this course, it was to ask for help when you need it and be honest about your concerns! Cam knew how I felt about taking my first lab science class, and his mentorship definitely helped me through. 

This photo was captured of my geology class in the arb in 2020! We were learning how to do rock identification.

(4.) DIS Copenhagen: Travel Writing, with Tommy Heisz

While studying abroad in Denmark, I enrolled in a travel writing class. I had always kept travel journals during trips overseas, and continued the tradition during my study abroad experience. I wanted to learn how to expand on my journal entries and try my hand at some real travel writing!

Needless to say, I found the course engaging and informative. We read sample excerpts of travel writing, workshopped our ideas, and shared our own pieces for peer review. We were given field trip assignments and advised to solo sightsee in and around Copenhagen. This practice was at once liberating and challenging! I became well versed in Copenhagen’s transportation system, developed an appreciation for independent adventuring, and experimented with different writing styles. 

All of this inspired me start my own travel blog, nurturing my interests in writing and photography. I collaborated with DIS Copenhagen, the study abroad organization, to write and publish my blog posts. Additionally, I got to work with their Communications team to share my experiences with prospective study abroad students. Taking this class became an amazing way to locate a new passion, strengthen a skill set, and engage in some career development. It was easily one of the most enriching experiences I had while abroad.

One of the places I loved to visit and write about was Nørrebro, a vibrant multicultural neighborhood in Copenhagen.

(5.) ARTS 113: Field Drawing, with Dan Bruggeman

Field Drawing was another class that initially daunted me. Taking it was a decision I do not regret at all! It was a great creative outlet, permitting me to spend time outdoors in our arboretum and attempt to replicate the beautiful scenery through art. Using watercolor, pens, and charcoal, I learned how to produce illustrations of still lifes, birds, plants, and landscapes. My peers were extremely talented, and I loved coming to class to be awestruck by what they came up with.

I don’t consider myself a naturally skilled artist, so I was worried about how the class would go for me. Frankly, the idea of open critiques, where the class would hang up their artwork for everyone to inspect and judge freaked me out. However, there was no need to be nervous, because Dan, the professor, and all of my peers were supportive and kind. Criticism was always constructive, and encouragement was abundant. 

I genuinely improved my craft after just 10 weeks of instruction. And, even after the class had finished, I found myself seeing the world through a different lens. Looking at tree bark and gazing at the sky, I would consider what mix of watercolors I would use to depict these features of nature. Everyone should take a class like Field Drawing—it makes you think in a different way and forces you to take a break from your other academic classes. 

field drawing
Our midterm exam was to depict a tree, using any materials we wanted. Trying to capture the fine details of the bark in the trunk was incredibly challenging for me.

Junior Year

(6.) PHIL 260: Critical Philosophy of Race, with Eddie O’Byrn

I highly recommend this book!

After taking the Frederick Douglass class with Eddie, I knew I wanted to take another with him. Eddie quickly became one of my favorite professors at Carleton. This class, Critical Philosophy of Race, was the most enlightening course about race that I had ever taken. Eddie taught us how to think about race relations philosophically, but in a way that was still pertinent to navigating a world rife with everyday racism.

Throughout the course, we covered topics about white shame, white guilt, the colonial matrix of power, ontological expansiveness, and strategies to address our own internalized, oftentimes subconscious racist thoughts. One of my favorite readings was a book titled The Habits of Racism: A Phenomenology of Racism and Racialized Embodiment by Helen Ngo. It talks about how bodily orientations, movements, and gestures are influenced by deeply ingrained, racially-charged, pre-reflexive habits.

(7.) SOAN 331: Anthropological Thought & Theory, with Pamela Feldman-Savelsberg

AT&T was a required class within the SoAn major that taught me a lot and required me to work very hard. We did a survey of anthropologists, learning about their biographies and reading their works. Tracing the ideologies of early American anthropologies all the way to present day feminist, anti-colonial, and world anthropologies, we absorbed a substantial amount of material. My favorite scholars to read and write about were Zora Neale Hurston, Franz Boas, Bronislaw Malinowski, Ruth Benedict, Clifford Geertz, and Lila Abu-Lughod, a Carleton graduate!

An integral part of the class was completing our ARK (Abstract, Response, Keywords) Portfolios. For almost every reading assigned, we were tasked with writing an abstract, crafting an intellectual response, and documenting the most important keywords. This practice helped me absorb the material and think about it critically, preparing me for class discussion the next day. By the end of the term, it was satisfying to have about 50 pages of portfolio writing, pages and pages of synopses detailing works from the most foundational anthropologists.

We worked in groups to produce intellectual genealogies for different schools of anthropology over the decades.

Senior Year

(8.) ENTS 250: Food, Forests & Resilience, with Constanza Ocampo-Raeder and Dan Hernández

I am most looking forward to this Off-Campus Studies program during senior year! It’s a 2-week trip to Oaxaca, Mexico over our winter break, sandwiched between two seminar classes in the fall term and winter term. Many OCS trips are configured like this: a cohort of students learns about a topic for a term, goes on an off-campus trip over a break, and completes a capstone project the following term.

The class is interdisciplinary, co-taught by an anthropologist and a biologist. The students making up the class will bring to the table a variety of interests and areas of expertise. The course itself will center on comparison between socio-ecological food systems in Minnesota, and in Oaxaca, Mexico. Breaking down misconceptions about sustainability in the Global North versus the Global South is a main learning objective.

I applied for this program because I’m interested in how disparate cultures go about harvesting, preparing, and eating food. As a vegan, I also am eager to interrogate individual versus structural responsibility when it comes to environmental sustainability. Additionally, as a SoAn major, I am excited to engage in ethnographic field work, participant observation, and interviewing, putting my newly acquired sociological and anthropological research methods to use. Examining how food acts as a bonding agent and integral element of culture is of great interest to me.

Zoë (she/her) is a senior Sociology-Anthropology major from South Bend, Indiana who loves traveling and photography. Her sophomore year, she studied abroad in Denmark and started a personal travel blog. When she’s not giving tours and blogging for admissions, Zoë enjoys frequenting the coffee shops in downtown Northfield, luxuriating in long walks in the glorious Arb, playing the cello, participating in club soccer, doing research with her sociology professor, and scoping out delicious plant-based restaurants and recipes. Meet the other bloggers!