J-Term at Smith

January 12, 2010

This is the first week of January term, J-Term or Interterm (take your pick of names!) at Smith.  We thought it would be interesting for you to know about the early history of this Smith event.

In the early 1960s with discussions about the ‘New College’ (now known as Hampshire) in process , alternative ways of learning and sparking the curiosity and intellectual interests of Smith’s students were taken up by the faculty.  By late 1961 the idea of the Interim Session took form.  The first session took place for 3 weeks in January 1962.  It was described in its official brochure as,

“designed to afford all students an opportunity for independent study and discussion, to permit Juniors and Seniors to investigate special topics in the field of their major, and to assist Freshman and Sophomores in determining the field of their major interest.”

The session also had two subject themes in which any student could engage in learning  and discussion: “China–An Area Study” and “Radioactivity.”  Outside lecturers were brought in; bibliographies were created; campus departments (such as the Art Museum) created collaborative events to parallel these topics.  The subject for the 2nd session in 1963 was “the Impact of Cybernetics on Society.”

The offerings of January term changed over time to reflect the interests of the students and faculty members.  The less formal classes with titles such as  “Non-sexist Marriage, Child raising and Work”, “Mixology”, “FORTRAN programming”, “Learning from Nature” began to appear in the mid-1970s.  Interestingly enough, some courses taught in the 1970s continue to appear in the more recent Interterm catalogs.

Is Interterm/J-Term/January Term a success?  As with all academic endeavors, the College continues to assess whether or not the program remains successful.  The offerings have been pared down over recent years.  The number of students participating in the classes seems to have declined.  The scheduling of J-term comes at a price at the end of the spring semester, by pushing back graduation dates.  Is it worth it?  Students and participating faculty/staff should let the Administration know its value to them.

For more information about Interim Session/J-Term/January Term, please see records of the Office of the Registrar in the College Archives, as well as files relating to the Committee on Educational Policy.


Movies Shown at Smith

September 21, 2009

It all starts with a donation…

Last week the Center for Media Production donated the projectionist list of35mm films shown at Smith for 1962-1967 and 1976-1977.  The lists contain both educational films and popular motion pictures.  Here’s a partial listing of the films that were shown during the 1976/1977 academic year:

Projectionist's List 1976/1977 acadmic year

Projectionist's List 1976/1977 acadmic year

In the early 1930s the Smith Alumnae Quarterly noted that Smith installed a projection booth in Sage Hall for showing films “…of an unusual and experimental nature, that for commercial reasons are not available to the public in an ordinary motion picture theater.” [SAQ Feb 1931].

William Aylotte Orton, professor of economics, 1922-1952

William Aylotte Orton, professor of economics, 1922-1952

William Orton, professor of economics and sociology was the leading faculty member in this project.  His interests in motion pictures was from both an economic and social & cultural perspective.  His interests in how people communicated with one another helped form his ideas and opinions about radio broadcasting and the motion picture industries–topics on which he wrote quite extensively.  He encouraged the ‘little theater’ movement, and if alive today, would be happy with all the small, independent theaters that are operating in the Pioneer Valley.  To learn more about William Orton, please see the finding aid to his papers in the College Archives at:


The Vanderbilt Film Symposium, 1961

Vanderbilt Film Symposium brochure cover, 1961

Vanderbilt Film Symposium brochure cover, 1961

Film as art and communication continued to interest the Smith community.  In January and April 1961, the College sponsored the Vanderbilt Film Symposium and showed films such as Citizen Kane (1941) by Orson Wells, Night Mail (1936) by Basil Wright, Brief Encounter (1946) by David Lean, the Bicycle Thief (1949) by Vitttorio da Sica and talks were given by Arthur L. Mayer, film producer and Robert Gessner, of New York University, the country’s first professor of film. At the spring festival ‘new cinema’ and ‘cinema as art’ were the focus, with Maya Deren, and Jonas Mekas participating in the discussions.  John Cassavetes, “Shadows” about interracial friendships and relationships in New York City was a highlight, as were Kurosawa’s “Ikiru”, Polanski’s “Two Men and a Wardrobe” and Sydney Meyer’s “The Savage Eye.”

Did the Vanderbilt Film Symposium “…introduce the Smith community to the rationale of film study…”?  Later that year, Arthur L. Mayer attempted to interest Smith in his curricula of film studies, but it does not appear to have taken hold at the time.

Today’s Film Studies department at Smith College offers interdisciplianry courses in the history, theory and production of films.  It is cross-listed with many courses in other departments.

The projection and use of movies in both the academic and social settings of Smith have had a interesting career.  In a future blog we’ll talk about movies that used the Smith campus as their settings–sometimes with intriguing results.

To learn more about movies and film at Smith, come to the College Archives!