Study Abroad in Prague, Czech Republic

Study Abroad in Prague: Courses

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Course descriptions

During each session a number of core courses are offered (as below). In addition there will be a number of elective courses. Courses are subject to change at the discretion of Charles University. Recommended credits are shown in parentheses.

Session 1

FILM 328 (3) | Czech and Slovak New Wave Cinema

Bounded by the Germanic Empires to the West, the Russian Empire and Soviet Union to the East, Hungary and the former Ottoman holdings to the South, the Czech and Slovak lands have long been a site of conflict and creation. This course will explore the incredibly rich cinematic tradition of thought provoking and entertaining films produced in the areas of the Czech Republic (the primary area of focus), and Slovakia from the years between 1962 and 1972. In addition to watching films, we will also be discussing cinema theory and approaches to “reading” films, not only as movies, but also as multi-faceted cultural artifacts. To this end, our readings will contain primary source materials on cinema history, historical research, film theory, and literature intended to broaden our understanding of Czech and Slovak culture, cinematic and otherwise.

ART 301 (3) | Prague European Art and Architecture

This course gives students a basic orientation into the history of western art from the Middle Ages to the contemporary period through the architecture and art in Prague. The city is seen as virtual open-air museum and a life-size 3-D reading book; therefore the classroom lectures are combined with regular excursions throughout the city.

ART 324 (3) | Edges of Photography

Although photography is a regular art discipline, due to its broad accessibility, it is perceived by many as a mere technical tool to record reality. Such perception is unsubstantiated on so many levels! The technical aspect of photography is only one part of it. The other, and perhaps even more important is the artistic part: Photographic technology can be seen as a tool in the service of a creative human soul. In addition, both these elements also correspond with and reflect a particular historical timeframe, which has an impact on the overall purport of every single image. This is certainly true about documentary photography, in which the seemingly ‘trivial’ photographer’s choices (such as camera exposure settings, framing/cropping, angles, focal length, composition, depth of field, etc.) have an impact on the outcome and perception of the photograph. It’s even more evident in abstract photography, in which reality/real objects are only used as mere creative tools for self-expression, a parable, a metaphor, a visual story.

This course is conceived as a rather passionate invitation to a collective exploration of and adventure in photography as an art form. It combines theoretical aspects of photography, its aesthetic and cognitive value with practical exercises. Several outdoor activities make an integral part of the course in order to improve students’ individual skills in artistic self-expression. Through students’ presentations, the course also offers a brief history of Czech(oslovak) photography.

ECON 310 (3) | Economic Affairs: European Union and Asia

The class aims at current stage and basic trends within the development of the world economy with a special emphasis on comparison of economic systems in Europe and Asia. It makes students familiar with principal actors of the global economic system (i.e. states, international organizations, transnational corporations and regional economic agreements) as well as with their mutual interconnections. The last part of the course is dedicated to introduction of European and Asian economic systems and discussion about current problems of related economies.

HIST 205 (3) | Shaping Central Europe

Focuses on the history of Central Europe through the study of the major phenomena that shaped it. The main themes considered in the course are the impact of the Habsburg dynasty on the region’s politics and culture, the rise of nationalism in the 19th century and its consequences for post- WWI Central Europe. The impact of World War II on the region is analyzed as well as the disappearance of Central Europe as a political and cultural entity under Communist rule and its rebirth at the end of the 20th century. Jewish history and its significance for the region are also explored. Each theme is illustrated by a field trip and/or a documentary.

HIST 315 (3) | Totalitarianism Revisited: Former and Recent Debates about the Nature of Nazism and Communism

The course intends to be a basic introduction to the development of historical and contemporary way of thinking about the two most significant authoritarian or undemocratic regimes – Nazism and Communism. Initial reading of fundamental ideological works and classical theoretical essays of totalitarian theory will provide students the most significant basis of understanding further debates on the field of history. Students will have an opportunity to be acquainted with both the most relevant general, theoretical and methodological debates and their concrete practical application in the research of the East-Central European history. They will have an opportunity to cultivate their abilities in discussing general preconditions of historical understanding of political power but at the same time, they will learn fundamental knowledge of the history of East-Central Europe in the 20th Century.

CZE 100 (3) | Czech Language for Everyday Use

The course is designed to teach students the basics of Czech language and at the same time to extend their knowledge of Czech culture and everyday life. The communicative approach and everyday vocabulary are emphasized. Students are supposed to communicate in various situations of everyday life (introducing oneself, asking about direction, shopping, restaurant, daily routine, likes and dislikes). Various linguistic skills should be developed in balance: knowledge of grammar, speaking, listening with comprehension, and writing.

LIT 314 (3) | Reading Prague: Literature, Architecture and Cultural History

The course will survey Prague’s history, focusing on the lives and aspirations of its multinational inhabitants as they metamorphosed in the course of the last twelve centuries. It proposes to read the city as a text and to treat literature and architecture as both expressions and symptoms of its evolution. Throughout the course, literature and architecture will be explored through a critical reading of the motivations, techniques and achievements which are at play therein.

SOC 300 (3) | Sociology of Food

Eating is a natural necessity for almost all human beings. Food, however, does more than just help humans survive and grow. It can become a political tool, a marker of social class and gender, a mirror of significant cultural differences. On a more individual scale, it can be related to personal identity, habits and health. As their perspective in this course is sociological and semiotical, students will look at food both as a source of embodied experience, and as a language that can be decoded. It is a symbolic system that reflects the everyday habits of humans, norms of societies, as well as deeper, internalized meanings. Food will thus become a lens through which students will see and analyze their different cultures in a new light. Students will ask questions such as: What is the place of origin of their food? How did their food get to them? How does food configure and change relations among people?

During our comparisons and practical workshops, we shall trace the histories of some of the most significant meals of the Czech Republic (and former Austro-Hungarian empire). Their transformations will help us understand the social changes that took place in Central Europe from a different perspective. Questions such as gender relations, families, political economy, health (obesity, anorexia, bio food), ecology and the nation-state will be discussed. We will read academic articles that react on these questions in various national and ethnic contexts.

There will be 3 workshops where students will try to cook several Central European meals and discuss them with a Czech chef.

Session 2

ART 302 (3) | Art, Architecture and Urbanism in Prague Within European Context

The main focus of the comprehensive course is the architectural, artistic and urban development of Prague as a typical example of a European city. The City of Prague represents an illustrative model for learning about the significant attributes of European art, architecture and urban history throughout centuries with respect to the European context. The course also incorporates historical background and typical lifestyle in each historical period. The learning about the art, architecture and the town planning is based on the knowledge and understanding of the general philosophical concepts of European or world history, including multicultural dimensions. Prague, whose modern history was influenced by two totalitarian regimes belonging to the cities behind the Iron Curtain until 1989, is also used as an illustrative example of the function of the art and architecture in both dictatorships of the 20 C.

SOC 345 (3) | Contemporary Czech Art, Culture and Literature: Urban Semiotics

The course will acquaint students with contemporary Czech society and art, their “roots” and transformations from three different perspectives. First, the course will pursue how Czech art and music are connected with activism, minority groups and mainstream culture. Second, focus will be placed on how to “read” contemporary urban performances, literature and music from a sociological and semiotic perspective (i.e. art as social life). We will ask: How and why do performances address and fascinate their readers? What value-hierarchies and culture-changing signs do they produce? Third, the course will familiarize students with the notions of performance art, digital media, counterculture, mass culture, and show their impact on Czech individuals and society.

The course will elucidate the transitions in Czech art scene after 1989, together with their socio-historical context. It will explore different understandings of post-communist movements as represented in the performances and works by Czech artists and thinkers. Czech perspectives will be confronted with Western social and literary criticism.

ART 305 (3) | Jewish Art and Architecture

This course examines the architecture of synagogues in the Ancient world, the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque period as well as in the contemporary era, alongside an introduction to Jewish history, tradition and beliefs. Students learn about the specific features characterizing different architectural styles over centuries and the symbolism of architecture used in Jewish prayer rooms. Classroom lectures are combined with regular field trips and two one-day excursions including a visit to the oldest functioning synagogue in Europe, dating from the 1200s. Students will also visit the Jewish museum in Prague.

POL 315 (3) | Comparative Politics

Sharing the same geopolitical position within the East Bloc, the individual cases – i.e. Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and others – differed significantly, however, in their respective points of departure, as well as in political institutional solutions chosen in course of their transitions. This comparative aspect will be studied with special focus. Students will be also encouraged to challenge the mainstream understanding of “transition” as a predictable, gradual and irreversible progress towards the standard “Western” model. The course is designed as a seminar based on a guided discussion about carefully selected texts collected in a reader; active participation of the students is essential.

HIST 305 (3) | Mitteleuropa: Central European and German History

The course will focus on the history of the entity known as “Mitteleuropa” in the last two hundred years, the different definitions and ideological uses of this concept and the analysis of its moving boundaries, sometimes including Germany, sometimes not. The main themes studied in the course will be the unification of Germany and its rise as a great power, compared to the decline of the Habsburg Empire and the (re)birth of new states following World War I. Students will then analyze the rise of extremism in the 20s and 30s, especially National Socialism and its impact on the countries of Central Europe, including World War II and the its consequences, the disappearance of Central Europe and Communist rule over Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The semester will end with the rebirth of Central Europe after the end of Communism.

CZE 100 (3) | Czech Language for Everyday Use

The course is designed to teach students the basics of Czech language and at the same time to extend their knowledge of Czech culture and everyday life. The communicative approach and everyday vocabulary are emphasized. Students are supposed to communicate in various situations of everyday life (introducing oneself, asking about direction, shopping, restaurant, daily routine, likes and dislikes). Various linguistic skills should be developed in balance: knowledge of grammar, speaking, listening with comprehension, and writing.

CZE 102 (3) | Czech Language for Every Day Use - Level II

The course continues mandatory Czech Intensive Course and aims at extending students’ knowledge of the Czech grammatical system (most of the cases and tenses are introduced) as well as their ability to communicate in various situations and discuss various topics (shopping, travelling, cultural events, weather, etc.). The knowledge of grammar should go hand in hand with ability to understand, speak and write Czech.

LIT 318 (3) | The Theatres of Václav Havel

Students on this course will study the dramatic writing of one of Central and Eastern Europe’s most important cultural figures in the context of modern European and American drama. Working from an understanding of the political situation in which Havel wrote, students will read his plays alongside those by playwrights who inspired Havel to start his own theatre career (Ionesco; Beckett), compare his work to that of writers with whom he had important working relationships (Beckett; Stoppard) and analyse his dramatic writing alongside that of his Central and Eastern European antecedents and contemporaries (Brecht, Capek, Mrozek). In addition, students will investigate parallels between Havel’s work and other modern dramatic representations of incarceration (Genet) and self-alienation (Adamov; Pinter).

This comparative approach will allow us to examine broader questions related to Havel’s dramatic style: Can Havel be included as part of what Martin Esslin termed the ‘theatre of the absurd’? How do Havel’s representations of key intellectual topics of the 20th century such as self-alienation and a perceived estrangement from language compare to those of his theatrical contemporaries? How might we imagine future stagings of Havel’s work?

SOC 354 (3) | Social Changes in Czech Republic After 1989

The aim of the course is to overview social change in the Czech Republic. After a short introduction to the historical and social development (1918-1989) and basic comparison to other CEE countries, the course focuses on basic perspectives on social change (“shock therapy vs. gradualism”) and then deals with the changes in economic and social structure and political attitudes in general. To provide a deeper insight into the development, the transformation of housing and higher education system is presented in detail. The seminars consist of discussing short texts or relevant topics (covered in lectures), watching documentaries and presentations of students. However, the main output is a paper that students have to develop and write on a topic of their choice. Depending on the availability, relevant cultural events (i.e. exhibitions) are included as well.