Unique Courses at Princeton: Pushing the Boundaries of Education

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of Princeton University Building

Unique Courses at Princeton: Pushing the Boundaries of Education

For those looking to stretch the boundaries of traditional learning, Princeton offers a plethora of unique courses that defy the ordinary. From exploring the poetic nuances of math to the ethical dilemmas surrounding time travel, this renowned institution proves that academic exploration knows no bounds.

In this article, we delve into some of Princeton’s most unique courses, offering insights into the depths of unconventional wisdom that await students beyond the familiar lecture halls. Join us as we journey through the corridors of knowledge where academia meets imagination.

The Rationale Behind Unique Courses

Princeton University, with its iconic ivy-covered buildings and a legacy that stretches back centuries, has long been a bastion of academic excellence. Known worldwide for its research endeavors, trailblazing alumni, and commitment to intellectual exploration, Princeton continually manages to stay ahead of the curve. Yet, beyond its famed programs and disciplines, it’s the unexpected treasures in its course catalog that often capture the most curiosity.

Diverse group of young people chatting in college library

As we venture into an era characterized by rapid technological advancements, global interconnectedness, and shifting paradigms, education must evolve in tandem. Unique courses, those that diverge from the traditional academic path, emerge as a critical response to these dynamic times.

Firstly, diverse learning experiences are essential for nurturing a holistic education. While foundational courses lay the groundwork for any discipline, it’s often the unconventional subjects that spark ingenuity and creativity. By exposing students to topics outside their regular purview, these courses encourage a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving. In a world where challenges seldom fit neatly into one category, this cross-disciplinary lens becomes invaluable.

Furthermore, unique courses can be a potent source of inspiration. Traditional subjects, while vital, can often be constrained by established methodologies and perspectives. However, when students dive into these courses, they’re not just learning new content. They’re also being trained to think differently, question norms, and approach problems with a fresh set of eyes. Such courses often challenge prevailing assumptions and push students out of their comfort zones, making the learning experience both transformative and memorable.

Lastly, while tradition anchors the academic experience, novelty propels it forward. Universities, as centers of knowledge, have a responsibility to both preserve wisdom from the past and explore uncharted territories of understanding. Offering unique courses is a testament to an institution’s commitment to this dual role. By doing so, they acknowledge that while the core tenets of education remain vital, there’s always room for expansion, innovation, and re-imagination.

In essence, the introduction of unique courses in esteemed institutions like Princeton is not merely a whimsical addition to the curriculum. It is a deliberate strategy aimed at fostering a richer, more versatile, and future-ready generation of learners. As the lines between disciplines blur and the future remains ever unpredictable, these courses ensure that students are not just prepared but are also equipped to shape the world of tomorrow.

A Dive Into Some Unique Princeton Courses

Princeton’s storied halls have always resonated with the hum of conventional academic excellence, but interwoven with this tradition are threads of the extraordinary. Here’s a glimpse into a few of the university’s one-of-a-kind courses that promise both intrigue and enlightenment:

ART 388 / GSS 300 Fascist Aesthetics: Women & Photography Between the World Wars

One of Princeton’s unique courses, it delves into the ways in which women photographers from the 1920s onwards reacted to political upheavals. The course investigates how these female professionals resisted or possibly aided fascist regimes. It seeks insights into the aesthetics of complacency, complicity, and resistance by studying their works. The curriculum reviews numerous works by these women, analyzing the roles they assumed in shaping and critiquing fascist visual culture globally, complemented by literature on race, gender, colonialism, and exile.

EAS 211 / COM 213 / ART 225 Manga: Visual Culture in Modern Japan

This course probes the role of comic books in Japan. The curriculum poses questions about the influence of Japan’s history on its cartooning traditions and explores methods for analyzing comics and other facets of popular culture. Additionally, the course delves into the translation of visual impacts into written form. Emphasis is also placed on understanding the implications of evolving media technology, literacy, and distribution for comics. The course involves readings, analyses, and technical assignments, with all readings in English.

SPI 590B / POL 598 Politics of Inequality and Redistribution

Centering on class and race in the US, this course delves into the interplay between politics and inequality. It mainly examines the political convictions and actions of individuals. Topics include the representation of various economic classes in politics and American perspectives on government intervention in inequality. Structural factors influencing racial and ethnic disparity in politics and views on immigration are also addressed.

EAS 236 / COM 228 Chinese Cinemas

The course introduces contemporary Chinese films from various regions, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. It spans genres from postwar musicals to avant-garde new-wave films, reflecting cinema’s responses to global events such as capitalism’s rise, democratic movements in Asia, financial crises, and the era of (post)socialism.

View of the film crew of a Chinese action film of which certain shots are made in the neighborhood of Thamel in Kathmandu in the morning

The course showcases the influence of globalization on cinema’s aesthetics and politics, with a spectrum from niche art house pieces to mainstream films.

ATL 497 / AAS 497 / DAN 497 Princeton Atelier: Tap Dance Experiments in Video and Sound/Rhythm: SOIL, SAND, BONE

Students collaborate with Princeton Arts Fellow Michael J. Love, film artist Ariel René Jackson, and rhythmanalyst DeForrest Brown, Jr. They work together to craft a multi-channel video and live performance installation, inclusive of a student-performed dance piece, a video by Jackson, and Brown’s electronic music. The curriculum combines workshops, choreography sessions, readings, talks, and more, culminating in a live showcase.

SPI 353 / MAE 353 Science and Global Security: From Nuclear Weapons to Cyberwarfare and Artificial Intelligence

Completing this course grants students a foundational grasp of science and technology related to contemporary and future global security concerns. Topics span nuclear weaponry, biotechnology, cyber warfare, surveillance, quantum tech, and artificial intelligence. Later in the term, students delve into comprehensive case studies, blending technical insights with policy analysis.

EEB 428 The Biology of Superheroes: Exploring the Limits of Form and Function

Through lectures and discussions, this course explores peculiar phenomena in nature, intertwining science fiction topics and contemporary biological research. Subjects like evolution, genetics, biomechanics, and artificial intelligence are covered, with discussions emphasizing scientific and sociocultural analysis through literary exploration.

ASA 320 / GSS 377 / AMS 220 / SAS 318 Asian American Gender and Sexuality

This course navigates the terrain of gender and sexuality among Asian Americans. Beginning with critiques from Black and Asian feminists, it examines gender and sexuality’s historical trajectories. Emphasis is on sociocultural history, exploring court cases concerning intimacy regulations and the inception of gendered and sexualized Asian female identities in late 19th-century San Francisco. The curriculum later encompasses conventional sexuality’s history, the politics of queer and trans communities, gendered labor, representation, and post-9/11 era discussions.

AAS 339 / EGR 339 Black Mirror: Race, Technology, and Justice

The course questions the impartiality of technology. Using the TV series “Black Mirror” as a foundation, it assesses technologies perpetuating biases on digital platforms and automated systems. It equips students with tools to evaluate technological advancements, fostering a critical sociological understanding. Group projects apply design justice principles, teaching students to communicate findings to various stakeholders.

MUS 246 / AFS 246 Dundun Projects

Distinctively at Princeton, this course offers training in modern West African bass drumming, with a focus on Dundun drumming. Taught by Olivier Tarpaga, it provides hands-on experience in both traditional and contemporary Manding bass drumming rhythms. Students gain proficiency in playing the Kenkeni, Sangban, and Dundumba drums and delve into the history of the ancient Manding/Mali empire and the culture of the griots.

In embracing these unconventional subjects, Princeton reaffirms its commitment to academic diversity and innovation. These courses not only enrich the curriculum but also challenge students to view the world through multifarious lenses, cultivating both knowledge and perspective.

The Role of Professors in Crafting These Courses

Behind every unique course at Princeton stands a visionary professor, their passion and expertise breathing life into the curriculum. These educators are not just the torchbearers of knowledge; they are pioneers, constantly pushing academic boundaries and redefining what it means to teach and learn.

professor teaching in class

First and foremost, it’s the professor’s intrinsic curiosity and dedication to their subject that lays the foundation for these avant-garde courses. Whether drawing parallels between mathematical formulas and poetic verses or exploring the intricate tapestry of food science and culture, their ability to view a topic through multiple lenses is instrumental. By connecting seemingly disparate fields, they create an interdisciplinary mosaic of learning that broadens horizons and challenges traditional pedagogical norms.

Additionally, these professors often venture beyond the confines of textbooks and standard syllabi, pulling from their own research, experiences, and ongoing inquiries. Their courses become dynamic entities, evolving with every new discovery or insight. This fluidity ensures that students are not merely ingesting static information but are actively engaging with the cutting edge of academic exploration.

Moreover, the crafting of such unique courses requires a certain pedagogical bravery. In proposing and teaching content that defies convention, professors open themselves up to scrutiny, debate, and even skepticism. Yet, it’s this very willingness to take risks and challenge the status quo that drives academic progress. Their commitment to novelty and innovation serves as a testament to Princeton’s ethos of fostering intellectual courage and curiosity.

The intimate classroom settings of these courses also play a pivotal role. Professors often foster a collaborative environment, encouraging students to question, debate, and contribute their own perspectives. This collaborative ethos transforms lectures into dialogues, where both educator and pupil are co-learners, navigating the intricacies of the subject matter together.

In summary, while Princeton’s unique courses might be the headline grabbers, it’s the professors behind them who are the true architects of these academic adventures. Their vision, expertise, and dedication mold the course content, ensuring that students are not just educated but truly inspired. Through their endeavors, they underscore what it means to be at the forefront of educational innovation.

What to Consider When Choosing a Course

After delving into some of Princeton’s unique courses, it’s crucial to grasp the considerations to bear in mind when making a course selection. While it’s tempting to immerse oneself in a variety of subjects, it’s essential to ensure that these choices align with your degree requirements. To make the most of your academic journey, especially if you’re considering the distinctive offerings at Princeton, here are some key considerations:

Align Courses with Your Interests

  • Begin with introspection. Even if you’re undecided about your major, think about subjects or fields that have always piqued your interest.
  • Reflect on high school subjects that you genuinely enjoyed. Consider which assignments or topics you felt most passionate about.
  • While it’s tempting to opt for classes reputed to be “easy,” remember that genuine interest drives motivation. Challenge yourself in areas you’re curious about.

Seek Guidance from Faculty Advisors

  • Most institutions, including Princeton, assign faculty advisors or academic advising staff to assist students.
  • Regular check-ins, at least once a semester, with your advisor, can provide valuable insights. They can guide you on elective choices, major requirements, and potential career paths.
  • Always communicate any changes in your academic interests or challenges you’re facing. An informed advisor can offer better guidance.

Plan Your Schedule Strategically

  • Independence in college means managing your time wisely. Understand your peak productivity periods. If you’re not a morning person, perhaps early classes aren’t the best choice.
  • Schedule breaks between classes. Use these intervals to refresh, eat, or take short power naps.
  • Aim to create a balanced timetable. Combine demanding courses with lighter ones, ensuring that you’re not overwhelmed.

Stay Organized

  • Recognize your learning style. Are you an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner? Utilize tools that cater to that style.
  • Regularly use planners, calendars, or voice recorders to keep track of assignments, tests, and other commitments.
  • Routine is your ally. Once you establish a rhythm, sticking to it becomes second nature.

Think Twice Before Taking a Part-time Job

  • Balancing academics with work can be challenging. Before committing to a part-time job, evaluate your course load and understand the potential strain on your study time.
  • While part-time jobs offer financial benefits, they can also detract from academic focus, especially if the hours are demanding.
  • If work is essential, consider opportunities related to your field of study, like work-study programs or internships. Such experiences can enrich your resume while providing some financial relief.

Choosing courses is more than just ticking boxes. It’s about crafting an academic experience that enriches your knowledge, aligns with your aspirations, and prepares you for future endeavors. As you navigate this journey, remember to stay curious, seek guidance, and prioritize your well-being.


In the labyrinthine world of academia, Princeton University stands out not just for its storied history or renowned traditional disciplines but for its audacious foray into the unconventional. The unique courses serve as beacons, illuminating the vast expanse of knowledge beyond conventional boundaries.

These courses, anchored by visionary professors, showcase the university’s unwavering commitment to fostering a holistic, dynamic, and forward-thinking educational experience. As the lines between disciplines continue to blur in our rapidly evolving global landscape, it becomes clear that the future of education lies in embracing both the traditional and the novel.

View of Princeton Main Building

Princeton’s unique courses are not mere curricular choices; they are symbolic of the institution’s broader vision for a diverse, interdisciplinary, and future-ready generation of learners. As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, such academic endeavors remind us of the limitless potential that education holds, beckoning us always to seek, question, and explore.

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