‘Game of Thrones class’ aims to lure students to Harvard

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Harvard University has announced a new ‘Game of Thrones class’ that it hopes will attract students to medieval studies and humanities courses in general.

‘The Real Game of Thrones: From Modern Myths to Medieval Models’ will draw parallels between the hugely popular HBO series and Eurasian history from c. 400 to 1500 AD. There will be a particular focus on “archetypal characters [such as] the king, the good wife, the second son, the adventurer, and so on — with distinct analogues in medieval history, literature, religion, and legend.”

The course will be taught by Sean Gilsdorf, a medieval historian and administrative director and lecturer on medieval studies, and his colleague Racha Kirakosian, an assistant professor of German and the study of religion. 

“Game of Thrones does dramatize nicely some fundamental things going on in medieval courts. Tensions between a queen and the younger women who marry their sons are some ‘Real Housewives of 10th-century Germany’ kind of stuff, where you see these women going after each other,” Gilsdorf told Time.

The course will focus on mythology from across the world, such as the Irish epic An Táin bó Cúailnge(The Cattle Raid of Cooley), a 10th-century account of the Islamic world by a traveler named Ibn Fadlan, and the medieval German epic Nibelungenlied, among others.

“When I read medieval verse epics with my students, they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s like in Game of Thrones,’” Kirakosian told Time. “No, if anything at all, it’s the other way around. Isn’t it partly our job [as professors] to use that interest and go deeper?” he said.

While the course is obviously aimed at drawing fans of the show, it’s part of a wider trend among third-level institutions in the US that are struggling to attract new enrollments in humanities courses.

The number of bachelor’s degrees earned in the humanities dropped by 8.7 percent between 2012 and 2014, according to a 2016 report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

UC Berkeley already announced that it will be offering a course in the fictional Dothraki language entitled ‘The Linguistics of Game of Thrones and the Art of Language Invention’. 

The course was created by David J. Peterson, who earned his Master’s degree in Linguistics at UC San Diego in 2005 and got a job on Game of Thrones in 2009 as a language designer and consultant.

Whether potential Harvard students are willing to fork out up to $40,000 per year for the privilege of taking a Game of Thrones class remains to be seen.

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