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Great Books

Great Books

The world is full of great books – literature and philosophy classics, holy texts that have shaped the world, and scientific texts that strive to describe it. Few classes have ample time to study the whole of a longer text, and many books are hard for students to tackle alone in their spare time. Fortunately, Warren Wilson has a solution: the Great Books course.

“It’s essentially a series of independent studies,” says Michael Matin, English professor and Great Books director. “What Great Books does is provide students an opportunity to expand.”

Interested students can go beyond the College’s regular courses through in-depth study of significant books in diverse disciplines. Students choose their texts from a lengthy list and work individually with faculty examiners.

Great Books is an eight-week term course for one or two credits, depending upon how many books a student chooses to read. A student can take the course twice, with different sets of books.

Matin says the phrase “Great Books” is widely associated with St. John’s College, where in-depth study of a number of classic and important books is the basis of the entire course structure. Now-retired faculty member Ron Wilson developed Warren Wilson’s Great Books course.

The course’s faculty examiners are volunteers who choose to take on the extra work. “It is above and beyond the call of duty for the faculty,” Matin says. “It gives faculty a chance to work with students on texts that may be outside their regular course offering.”

“A book for me, any book, is really dynamic stuff, even though it was written in certain historical circumstances,” says history/political science professor Dongping Han, an examiner for the course. He enjoys learning from students’ unique interpretations of texts, and says that students get more out of the one-on-one study than from a casual reading of the book.

The independent nature of the course requires students to plan. “You have to structure it for yourself; it’s so self-motivated,” says Beth Robinson ’10, who has taken the course twice. She enjoyed the chance to explore Russian literature, a focus not currently offered in a regular course.

“I was able to have great discussions about pieces I wouldn’t normally have read, with professors I wouldn’t normally have had class with,” Robinson says. “There really are some works on the Great Books text offerings you might never get to read in classes and never read on your own.”

By Lizzie Greene ‘10