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What Does Someone Actually Learn in the Taylor Swift Course at Harvard?

 Taylor Swift.
Taylor Swift.

Imagine being fortunate enough to get into Harvard—arguably the best, most competitive university in the United States—and then being fortunate enough to get a seat in a course about Taylor Swift. (As one can imagine, it’s quite in demand.) But what is actually taught in the course, officially titled “English 183ts. Taylor Swift and Her World”? Stephanie Burt, a literary critic who will teach the course, says that students “benefit from studying art they love—art new and old, art in many genres,” per Entertainment Tonight. (Harvard, by the way, is but one university to offer a course on the pop culture phenomenon that is Swift; Stanford, NYU, and the University of Texas at Austin also offer their own iteration.)

The hour-long class at Harvard “will aim to explore Swift’s many genres and the economic impact she’s had in cities across the world when she arrives to perform her Eras Tour,” Entertainment Tonight reports. The class will also examine her catalog.

Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift

“We will learn how to think about illicit affairs, and hoaxes, champagne problems and incomplete closure,” the class synopsis reads. “We will look at her precursors, from Dolly Parton to the Border Ballads, and at work about her (such as the documentary Miss Americana). And we will read literary works important to her and works about song and performance, with novels, memoirs, and poems by (among others) Willa Cather, James Weldon Johnson, Tracey Thorn, and William Wordsworth.”

Burt said her students “will analyze Swift’s work, think in detail about it, maybe create footnotes to it, in order to see how the verbal skills and musical elements that move us are not just all in our head—they are choices Swift makes to communicate a particular message or feeling.” Burt called Swift’s writing both “witty” and “insightful” and said it’s incumbent upon her to help her students better understand Swift and her “oeuvre” with the help of novels by Cather and Weldon Johnson; the class will also study three centuries of “page-based poetry…on other topics central to Swift,” Burt said. In doing so, she hopes to “take advantage of a room full of Swifties to introduce hundreds of students to these poems.”

If all goes well, “you might notice how many students will come for the Taylor and stay for the other writers involved,” Burt said.

aylor Swift celebrates her birthday on December 13, 2023 in New York City.
aylor Swift celebrates her birthday on December 13, 2023 in New York City.

The validity of teaching a Taylor Swift course—especially at an Ivy League like Harvard—has been under fire, but world-famous author James Patterson weighed in on the Harvard course specifically, standing up for it: “Hey there, #Swifties,” Patterson wrote on Instagram. “Should @taylorswift be taught at Harvard? That seems to be the plan in Cambridge, so why not? Her career is stunning, an object lesson for success. She’s not only an amazing entertainer, she’s a very smart business person. Would I take the course? Well, I might audit it.”