Honors Scholars explore monsters, philosophy in freshman seminar course

Honors Program freshmen spent their first semester learning about monsters and philosophers in a class that culminated with the production of horror flicks combining the two.

Honors Program freshmen discuss their film, "A Walk in the Woods," Saturday as part of the Honors Program Freshman Seminar course on monsters.

Interim Honors Director Eric Ruckh teaches the Honors Scholars Freshman Seminar (Honors 120) and said the class was set up to teach about what reading is and how to read “in a more sophisticated way,” while weaving philosophy into the course. Students explored the theories and concepts of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and Ruckh incorporated the novel “World War Z” to help students understand those concepts.

“I wanted to introduce or show to first-semester freshmen that there is a rich, philosophical heritage behind them and that there are ways of thinking about the world that could help enrich anyone’s examination of the world,” Ruckh said.

A section of the course focused on vampires; students read the novels “Let the Right One In” and “House of Leaves” and watched the films “Nosfuratu” and “Dracula.” The class was divided into four groups – alpha, beta, gamma and delta – to create short, original films that incorporated what they  learned throughout the semester. The films were shown Saturday with student-led discussion following each movie.

Freshman math major Jonathan Ruholl said his group’s film depicts a person moving into a new house and this person’s friend finds a mirror with the power to possess people. The story, according to Ruholl, is about loneliness and “how things on the surface don’t always look as they are.”

The goal, according to Ruholl, was to create fiction with less superficiality and more depth, which he said was the most challenging aspect.

“[We] ran into hurdles…,” Ruholl said. “[We] had to find a way to take our ideas and turn them into something more and that was challenging.”

But Ruholl said he was excited about making the films and enjoyed the acting the most.

“A lot of our lines were adlibbed so the conversation seemed more flowing, and it was fun to interact with everybody,” Ruholl said.

Other films, such as “A Walk in the Woods,” focus on cannibalism through the guise of a toxic friendship, while another, “Under the Surface,” has an anti-“Wizard of Oz” theme.

Though Honors Program students come from a variety of majors, Ruck said the advantage of any Honors Program – at SIUE or otherwise – is that Honors Scholars take what they learned in Honors courses and bring those lessons and learning techniques to their other courses. This semester’s Honors Scholars have already started to do that, according to Ruckh, because of shooting their films.

“There was a visibility about making these films and it involved often extras and people watching and around when they were filming and asking about it,” Ruckh said. “So there are a number of people in those films who I know are then interested in talking about the ideas in this class and, in a way, participating in a diffuse way in this class. And that to me is exactly what an honors program should do. It should enliven the intellectual life of the whole campus.”

When Ruckh began teaching the Honors 120 course, the subject was friendship. After three courses on friendship, Ruckh incorporated popular culture into the class while still delving into a rich “existential self-examination” supported with literary and philosophic sources.

“For many years of my life, I’ve been interested in monsters, particularly vampires. I find them fascinating,” Ruckh said. “So I thought, ‘What fun to teach a course on monsters.’ And I kind of talked that out to some of the freshmen last year and they thought that would be a rich idea.”

This semester is the first course with monsters as the focus. Last year’s course studied modern apocalyptic literature.

Each group’s film can be viewed below:
Alpha group:

Beta group:

Gamma group:

Delta group:

Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Historical StudiesUncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site