"Game of Thrones" for College Credit?


Apr   2015



The Interwebs are abuzz with talk of the latest season of HBO's hit Game of Thrones, which is now in its fifth season, and if you count yourself among the show's bazillions of loyal fans, you're likely to be found perched at the edge of your seat every Sunday night for the next few weeks.

sansa game of thrones
HBO via perezhilton.com

One college in particular has taken note of the show's devoted fandom. This spring, students in Northern Illinois University's Honors Program had the opporutnity to enroll in a course called "Game of Thrones, Television, and Medieval History." According to NIU Newsroom, two professors developed the honors seminar course, which analyzes the intensely popular show, based on a student's suggestion. As the NIU newsletter recently explained, the class integrates "the fiction of the popular television series with the facts of the past" and is "designed to teach students that there is a lot that can be learned through contemporary media, even when great liberties are taken" and "will also tie in an extensive discussion of the value of literature as an inspiration for television."

HBO via vanityfair.com

Game of Thrones is HBO's most-watched series ever, and it's also one of television's most controversial shows, so a college course that explores the themes and influence of the show is pretty much a no-brainer. NIU Newsroom reports that students in the class have explored and discussed such topics as:

  • Historical fact versus HBO fiction
  • The value of TV inspired by literature
  • The influence of modern culture on depictions of the past
  • Representations of gender, sexuality, and violence in the show, and what they say about our current culture

The course is taught by Valerie Garver, a history professor, and Jeff Chown, a documentary filmmaker and Board of Trustees professor emeritus of media studies. They launched the course after an art history major named Jennifer Wegmann-Gabb, who had taken one of Chown's classes on Mad Men, suggested that they team up for a class based on Game of Thrones.

"There’s a great interplay between the two," Wegmann-Gabb told the NIU Newsroom. "Dr. Chown really understands the television aspect, and Dr. Garver comes in with a completely different point of view. You get this great dialogue about how our modern culture and media looks back at this historical period. Either one of the professors could teach the course alone, but having both with their different perspectives makes for an amazing and special experience."

HBO via freshprintmagazine.com

Though the plot of Game of Thrones is largely pure fantasy, the show is steeped in medieval history and takes nods from the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s. The course pushes students to examine how the show both succeeds and fails at depicting medieval life in light of what historians know about the era.

"Game of Thrones doesn’t claim to be an accurate representation of history,” Dr. Garver told NIU Newsroom. “But it ends up conveying some aspects of the Middle Ages, such as family relationships, far better than do other popular sources that purport to be historically accurate."

The highly popular course, which requires historical readings as well as watching episodes of the show, is slated to be offered again next spring, but students interested in registering will have to be on top of their own game: the 20 slots available for this semester's class were reportedly filled in just two hours.

HBO via freshprintmagazine.com

If you could take a college course on one of your favorite TV shows, what would it be? Let us know in the comments!


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