Beginning at the turn of the (21st) century, Professor William Dunlop of the Department of English led a small group of students on a week-long excursion to Venice, Italy during the break between Winter and Spring quarters. There they had the opportunity to earn 3 independent study credits (ENGL 499) by engaging directly with the history, art, culture, and life of this exciting European city. The credits were included in the students' Spring schedules.
Professor Dunlop had lived in Venice, and frequently revisited it. He knew a lot of Venetian history and folklore; he had, to all intents and purposes, walked every walkable yard in the place. He very rarely put a foot wrong. He spoke at least passable Italian.
Credit for this course was earned mainly by doing a lot of walking around, exercising a lot of curiosity, keeping eyes, ears, minds, etc., wide open. Since Professor Dunlop felt students were much better occupied roaming the streets than nibbling pencils in hotel rooms, very little formal writing was required. Instead, in either the morning or afternoon each day, students went as a group on walks with William, who focused on the more outlying, less touristy areas. The other half of the day, students were free to follow their own interests. To earn their 3 credits, all students participated in (and were graded on) the Great Venetian Treasure Hunt, an exercise in discovery which unfolded over the course of the week. The “Great Venetian Treasure Hunt” was a questionnaire covering matters of history, culture, art, literature, local color and obscure facts, which was handed out on the first day, and was to be handed in on the last day. It required students to pay attention when they were on their walks with William, and to be engaged as they explored Venice on their own.
Venice is a wonderful city—possibly the most wonderful in the world. It has certainly seemed so, and has proved an inspiration to a multitude of writers – from William Shakespeare to Mary McCarthy, as well as Lord Byron, Henry James, John Ruskin, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway. It is compact (one can walk from one end to the other within two hours); it is brimful of architectural and artistic marvels. It can seem bewilderingly labyrinthine—indeed, newcomers get lost, inevitably and repeatedly. But this didn’t happen (not if students stuck with Professor Dunlop) during their half-day walks; it would and should happen when people went exploring by themselves. No cause for worry; for one thing, nobody ever stayed lost for long. For another, losing one’s way meant stumbling upon things every bit as good as whatever it was one set out to find. Above all, thanks to the absence of automobiles (which destroy real cities), Venice is a walking-pace city. Not only does one not have to dodge traffic, but the change in tempo is a marvelous relaxant, and tonic.
No knowledge of Italian was necessary — though, of course, it could be useful.