The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

New class attempts to understand time

2 min read


This semester Assistant Professor of Music Jessie Fillerup and 18 students from a variety of disciplines are embarking on a journey to discover exactly what time is.

“What is Time?” is an interdisciplinary course supported by an Enduring Questions grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This program helps college students explore a question that has persisted over time from an interdisciplinary perspective.

The goal of the course is for students to be more aware of how they shape and are shaped by time.

A typical class consists of discussion, sometimes with the class as a whole and sometimes in small groups. Discussion topics include modes of time keeping and critiquing awareness of past, present and future.

Over the course of the semester, students will be interpreting and assessing theories of time to distinguish similarities and differences based on the perception of time throughout history and across cultures.

Members of the class represent diverse backgrounds of study. There are majors across all departments, including English, political science, psychology and philosophy. Although taught by a music professor, there are only two music majors in the class.

“Having a variety of majors is critical to the success of the course, since as scholars we tend to see and interpret things from our own disciplinary perspectives,” said Fillerup.

Teaching a course like this for the first time was a challenge for Fillerup, who did most of the preparation over the summer. In the fall she presented a paper on her research of time in the music of Maurice Ravel at a conference, which relates to the course.

“I hope to learn something from every class that I teach, and my work on the course had a powerful influence on the way I approached that research topic,” said Fillerup.

To examine how people shape time, Fillerup has given students a variety of assignments, such as listening to music and reading excerpts of the Canterbury Tales.

There is also a course blog maintained by students who post about the assigned readings, ask questions and comment.

At the end of the semester, students will create a multimedia final project to be presented on campus during their Time Fair.

Although only a few weeks into the semester, Fillerup is pleased with the progress of the new course.

“I’m very impressed with the quality of work that the students are doing,” she said. “They bring great insight, energy, and commitment to the course.  I really couldn’t ask for more.”

“What Is Time?” will be offered again next semester, and, depending on demand, may be offered annually. It is a three-credit class and counts as a Speaking Intensive requirement.