Swarthmore Celebrates the Liberal Arts Experience at Annual Peripeteia Weekend

Alison Rosenzweig '18 (left) teaches a hands-on Peripeteia class on glass etching.

Alison Rosenzweig '18 (left) teaches a hands-on Peripeteia class on glass etching, in which Emily Barranca '19 and other attendees made their own jewelry. Photo by Angelina Abitino '18.

Swarthmore recently celebrated Peripeteia, continuing its tradition of providing a space for anyone — students, faculty, staff, and community members — to teach and attend classes outside of the College’s course offerings.

Taking its name from an Aristotelian term for a reversal of circumstances, Peripeteia – which founder Victor Gomes ‘17 refers to as “academic jazz” – was founded in 2015 to enhance the liberal arts experience at Swarthmore with stress-free, non-evaluative courses and panels. In the years since, Peripeteia Weekend has become a lively winter tradition. This year, Peripeteia offered 22 courses, with titles such as Drowning Twins, Runaway Trolleys, and Choosing your Major, Slang and Space: A Conversation in Color, and The Political History of Delaware County.

The third annual offerings of mini courses began Friday, January 26, with Shiver My Timbers to Stormalong, a course on sea shanties taught by Arthur Davis ’19, an Honors English literature major from Dallas, Tex., and ended Sunday evening with The Biochemistry of Baking taught by Therese Ton ’19, an Honors biology major from Fountain Valley, Calif., and an associate for public health in the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility.

On Saturday, Professor of Russian Sibelan Forrester taught a class entitled Reading the Tarot: History and Interpretation. Forrester began to read tarot cards when she was in college. She recalled venturing into a witches shop and buying a deck of cards on a whim because she liked how they look. She explained to her audience that hers was the “classic story”: “the deck chooses you.”

Beginning with a brief history of tarot, Forrester noted that tarot cards originally came from playing cards, which arose with paper making technology. Tarot was an art generally associated with Eastern Europe, and is featured in a number of stories and operas by Russian writers and composers. Forrester complemented her lecture on the history of tarot with a few anecdotes about tarot lore. For instance, using a tarot deck to play cards was said to ruin the deck; in order to return the cards to fortune-telling capacity, a virgin would have to sit on them or they would have to be passed through the handle of a door.

Early cards often contained ornate artwork. Kings and princes or other nobles might commission decks specially. Forrester passed a few of her own cards — drawn by an artist in Philadelphia —around for the audience to see. Following her lecture, she gave readings to several students.

“It’s something I never thought of doing,” reflected Ellory Laning ’18, an Honors religion major from Winthrop, Mass., after having her cards read, “but the experience was definitely worthwhile. I’m not sold on the concept, but I definitely want to know how to do it.” Laning is considering letting a deck “choose” her.

An academic with a background in Russian literature, Forrester explained that fortune telling, like literature, requires skill in interpretation. “Studying literature is excellent preparation for reading tarot cards,” she said.

Later that afternoon, Jasmine Jimenez ‘19, a religion major from Bronx, N.Y., and a member of the Peripeteia Planning Committee, led a course on conspiracy theories. Entitled, Behind the Scenes, On the Surface, the course provided an overview of “truth” movements. Jimenez described the “good guy/bad guy” narrative that conspiracy theories promote, and elucidated the ways in which these movements often adopt Christian theology to offer alternative truths.

Also serving on this year’s planning committee were Emma Remy ’18, a computer science and mathematics major from Santa Ana, Calif., and Jake Mundo ’18, an Honors mathematics and linguistics major from Morristown, N.J.