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Studying Jon Snow: U-Va. offering ‘Game of Thrones’ summer course

Jon Snow is played by Kit Harington in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” (Photo by Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO)

If “The Simpsons” can be the subject of a college course (“Simpsons and Philosophy” at the University of California Berkeley), as well as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (at Portland State University), it was only a matter of time before “Game of Thrones” would make it onto some course catalog. And now it has.

The University of Virginia is offering a summer English course called, not surprisingly, “Game of Thrones.” Enrolled U-Va. students got first dibs on seats  but visiting students were accepted too in the course being taught by associate professor Lisa Woolfork, according to this story in U-Va.,’s online news publication that has the provocative headline: “Winter is Coming: Students Talk Murder, Mayhem, Magic in ‘Game of Thrones’ Course.” The story says in part:

“Game of Thrones” is as current as you get, a unique breath to an academic discipline that’s more often concerned with what critics and academics have already dubbed to be “classics.” But then again, not much is conventional about Woolfork’s course, a four week, discussion-based seminar that divides its focus between the first “Game of Thrones” novels and watching the first three seasons of the show.

“One of the goals behind this class was to teach students how the skills that we use to study literature are very useful skills for reading literature and TV in conjunction,” Woolfork, an associate professor of English, said. “‘Game of Thrones’ is popular, it’s interesting, but it’s also very serious. There are a lot of things in the series that are very weighty, and very meaningful, and can be illuminated through the skills of literary analysis.”

There are 24 students in the class, one of whom is quoted in the story as saying:

“There’s a lot of detractors who say [‘Game of Thrones’] is not really worthy of academic attention, so I think in a way the class legitimizes it for us,” said Alexandria Shofe, a fourth-year English major. “All the stuff we’ve read on it says it’s breaking out of fantasy’s literary ghetto.”

Given the richness of the mythology in the “Game of Thrones” novels and HBO series — not to mention its incredible popularity — you can expect more “Game of Thrones” courses to be popping up in course catalogs during the regular school year. After all, Frostburg State University in Maryland has been offering “The Science of Harry Potter” as a three-credit seminar for years. Schools are always trying to find new ways to draw students into studying, and this is one unconventional way to do it.

(Correction: Visiting students at U-Va. were also allowed in the class, not just fully enrolled U-Va. students, as an earlier version said.)

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · July 22, 2014

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