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Professor Questlove Is In: 7 Pop Culture-Based University Courses
October 21, 2012
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Is there anything Ahmir 'Questlove' Thompson of the Roots can't do? If you answered, "he can't be a professor as well as the hardest working drummer in rap," well, you're wrong.

Questo will be co-teaching a course called 'Classic Albums' next semester at the Clive Davis Institute for Recorded Music at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. His fellow teacher is Universal Music Enterprises vice president of A&R and Grammy-winning reissues producer Harry Weinger.

The idea for the class started when Questlove read a dismissive review of Public Enemy's 'It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back' on the NPR website. The review was written by intern Austin Cooper as part of a series asking interns to review "classic albums they'd never heard before."

Questlove left a comment on the article, saying Cooper should have researched the context in which the record was first released in order to understand why it's considered a classic.

Jason King, associate professor of recorded music and head of history and criticism at the Institute, reached out to Questlove and Weinger with the idea for the course.

We're a little jealous of the students who get to benefit from Questo's vast knowledge of musical history, not to mention getting the chance to think deeply about some of the greatest albums ever made and how they got that way. Sounds like an easy class to get out of bed for.

This story got us thinking about some other pop culture subjects you can study in school. Here are a few of the coolest.

'Game of Thrones' Class at the University of Regina


If you're at all familiar with George R.R. Martin's epic 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series, or the HBO adaptation of the books, you probably know how dense the mythology is. Well, students at the University of Regina get the opportunity to examine that mythology for course credit.

Of course, there will be more to the class than just reading the novels and watching the show. The course work will also include texts like Machiavelli's 'The Prince' and Sir Walter Scott's 'Ivanhoe,' both of which influenced Martin's work.

No word yet on whether the final exam includes a sword-fighting section.

A Degree in Pop Music from the University of Liverpool


The Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool was established in 1988. The school's website calls IPM "the first academic centre in the world created specifically for the study of popular music." But students there don't just sit and listen to the radio: their efforts are focused on investigating the place of music in contemporary life.

Courses focus on ethnography, gender and sexuality, the music industry, place and globalization, and sound, technology and new media, among other topics. So it's safe to say an IPM graduate probably has a lot more to say about Adele's latest single than you do.

Zombies 101 at the University of Baltimore


If you're still excited about the zombie craze (and judging by the ratings for the season premiere of 'The Walking Dead,' a lot of you are), then this is the class for you. It's technically "English 333," but the professor, Arnold Blumberg, will get you to watch 16 zombie movies and read a bunch of comics if you sign up for his course.

Blumberg is the author of a book on zombie movies called 'Zombiemania,' so he's obviously thought long and hard about the meaning of our obsession with the undead. One clear requirement for taking the course: braaaaains, obviously.

'The Simpsons' Class at The University of the Fraser Valley


Studying cartoons in university? Well, when the cartoon in question is 'The Simpsons,' there's plenty of material. As long as that stuffy old dean doesn't get in the way.

The goal of the class was to explore how irony, parody and satire function in the show, and to examine the place of 'The Simpsons' in the cultural landscape. The fact that a television show about a yellow, three-fingered cartoon family is studied at universities - the University of the Fraser Valley wasn't the first school to offer a Simpsons course - was part of the conversation about high and low culture, and where 'The Simpsons' belongs.

'The Far Side' Class at Oregon State University


Speaking of cartoons: the brilliant and twisted world of Gary Larson is the jumping-off point for this course. Professor Michael Burgett uses 'Far Side' cartoons to delve into subjects as diverse as bugs, garbage, superheroes, and human interaction.

That's a lot to get out of a bunch of single-panel cartoons, but if you're familiar with Larson's work, you'll know that there's a lot of (very strange) genius at work in pretty much every one.

Alchemy and Harry Potter at Brown University


If you're one of that small group of people who are really into both J.K. Rowling books and the ancient science of turning base metals into gold (come on, we know you're out there), this is the course for you. It traces the historical development and cultural significance of alchemy from antiquity.

Also, Harry Potter. We're not really sure how this all hangs together, but any university course that lets you read about the Boy Who Lived without feeling like you're procrastinating is fine in our books.

The Sopranos' Class at the University of Calgary


Way back in 2002, the U of C offered a course on the then three-year-old show about Tony, Carmela, and the rest of 'The Sopranos' clan and their "business associates." The course looked at how the show had changed pop culture depictions of organized crime, and compared it with earlier film and TV versions of the mafia lifestyle.

Not everyone was convinced at the time that studying a show about a depressed mob capo was worthwhile, but Professor Maurice Yacowar stood by the episodes of the show under study: "They really do stand up to the kind of analysis I'm used to giving for a Harold Pinter play, or a Tennessee Williams play, or a Hitchcock film, or a Shakespeare play. The text is that rich."


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