Selected Topics

Classes ➞ History courses ➞ Selected Topics in History series


Term 4 Registration for all History courses is now available on the Registration page.

This new series of courses launches in 2020 Term 4. Our first course in this series, HIS304, is entitled “The History of Death.” This course, taught by Peter Dornauf, is offered on Wednesday mornings from 11:00am-12:30pm beginning on Wednesday 21 October 2020.

Our second new course in this series for 2020 Term 4, HIS310, is entitled “An Introduction to European Art History.” This course, taught by Dr Norman Franke, is offered on Tuesday evenings from 7:00-9:00pm beginning on Tuesday 20 October 2020.

Both courses are offered as live in-person classes with live-streaming components that allow distance-learners to either Zoom in for the live class sessions, or watch the video recordings at a time of their choosing. Scroll down for more information on each of these courses.

HIS304: “The History of Death”


Sex used to be the great taboo. Up until the modern era, open talk related to the subject of sexuality was actively frowned upon. The subject of death, however was freely canvased.
This situation has now been reversed. Death has become for modern men and women the new taboo, spoken of in hushed terms, if at all, kept concealed behind closed doors and largely unacknowledged.

However, recently this trend has been challenged. More and
more people are wanting to speak openly about the subject of death. Indeed so pressing has become the need, that within the last few years a new ‘strange’ global phenomena has occurred that has seen the emergence of what are called “Death Cafes.”. These “cafes” are simply pop-up meeting places where small groups of people gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss the topic of death. Death has at last come out of the closet.

This series of 8 lectures explores, historically, the subject of death from the perspective of several different disciplines: religion (both traditional and contemporary), philosophy, art, literature, music and film. At the end of each lecture, a set time will be given over to an “open mike” forum, where people will be able to discuss a singular more experiential death related topic.


Week 1: Introduction. Overview and sociological perspective:

What social/political/intellectual factors were and are at play that have moulded our relation to the topic of death. Historically, how has religion evolved and provided comfort in response to death. We will examine historically examples from Neanderthal man up to and including Christian thinking and everything in between. DISCUSSION: Funeral arrangements. New invented rituals. DIY. Cremation versus burial.

Week 2: Contemporary theological thought:

Why has there come about a shift in religious thinking in the modern age with regard to death. What has happened to Heaven and Hell? The liberal/Fundamentalist culture wars. DISCUSSION: With death in mind, bucket lists.

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

Week 3: Western Philosophical Traditions of Death:

An examination of the western philosophical tradition beginning with Socrates and ending in the postmodern era with thinkers like Richard Rorty and Jacque Derrida. Why have philosophers gone quiet on the subject of mortality?

DISCUSSION: Euthanasia.

Week 4: Art and Death:

The Sick Child, by Edvard Munch (1907)

A look at how art has represented death over the millenniums, beginning with cave art and tracing its history through all the permutations that take in Michelangelo, Munch, Picasso, Dali and Damien Hurst and many others with their various and different depictions and reactions to death.


Week 5: Literature and Death:

Beginning with the oldest piece of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh, we trace the story of how authors have confronted death. Among many works, we will be looking at The Egyptian Book of the Dead, Homer’s Odyssey, the book of Ecclesiastes, the Bhagavad Gita, Plato’s Phaedo, Virgil’s Aeneid, the New Testament, Dante’s Divine Comedy, along with authors such as Shakespeare, Blake, Wordsworth, Arnold, Tolstoy, Hardy, Joyce, Faulkner, Camus, Beckett, DeLillo, Crace, Robinson, Roth and Max Porter. What light do such a diverse range of writers shed on the topic of death? DISCUSSION: Experience with death. Loss of loved ones.

Week 6: Music and Death:

Music over the centuries has played a large part in expressing an emotional response to the experience of death. This lecture will explore various musical genres from classical to pop, from Beethoven, Shostakovich to Bob Dylan, from Jazz to Blues and Rock in order to track not only the changing forms of musical expression, but also the shifts in belief reflected in the music. DISCUSSION: What frightens you about death?

Week 7: Film and Death:

One of the most important cultural influences of the last century would be the advent of film. Beginning with the movie The Phantom Carriage (1921), we will explore this media in order to see how directors have tackled the subject of death and how that has changed over the decades. Included in our examination will be Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come, and Roy Anderson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, among others. DISCUSSION: Belief in life after death?

Week 8: Course Summary:

A summation of things. What is there left over in our somewhat denuded secular culture to help deal with the tragic? Has the rot set completely in? Can other cultural perspectives add value – Buddhist, Hindu, Māori, neo-pagan, New Age? The return to the stoic virtues. DISCUSSION: How do you feel about ageing? Intimations of mortality.


“The History of Death” meets on Wednesdays from 11:00am-1:00pm. Our first class begins on Wednesday 21 October 2020 and runs for 8 consecutive weeks, ending on Wednesday 9 December 2020.


Cost per person per Term (8 classes):

  • Waged: $104 (includes $4 online registration fee)
  • Unwaged (unemployed, students, seniors): $84 (includes $4 online registration fee)

Term 4 Registration for this course is available now on our Registration page.


Peter Dornauf (MA, Dip Tchg) has taught in secondary schools, Wintec and Waikato University collectively for over 25 years. He is a well know Waikato artist, art critic and a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. His book “Days of Our Deaths” serves as the basis for this series of lectures.

HIS310: “An Introduction to European Art History”


If you have always wanted to find out more about the major époques of European art and to identify major styles of architecture, sculpture and painting, this paper is for you.

This eight-week course is aimed at participants with little or no previous knowledge. From the ancient Greeks to the post-modern era, we use exemplary artwork to analyse major trends in Western art. The art objects will be analysed and discussed within the context of important historical and social developments. Participants learn to identify buildings and visual art from e.g. the Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque, Georgian, Classicist and Modernist styles on the basis of their typical features.

What motivated the builders of cathedrals, town halls and monuments in the Middle Ages to spend up to 75% of their cities’ GDP on art? What ideas about community, spirituality and beauty become manifest in the creative activities of European art movements and individual artists? Join us for an exciting journey to Athens, Rome, London, Dresden, and Chartres to find out. Join us to explore the great treasures of European art.


  • Week 1: Introduction; Ancient Greek art
  • Week 2: Ancient Greek art continued; Excursion: Golden Ratio
  • Week 3: Roman Art; Late Antiquity; Excursion: Art and Politics
  • Week 4: Middle Ages; Romanesque and related styles
  • Week 5: Middle Ages; early, high, late Gothic; Excursion: Art and Religion
  • Week 6: Renaissance; Baroque; Rococo
  • Week 7: Classicism; Romanticism; Historicism; Excursion: Art and Economics
  • Week 8: Modern and postmodern art

The overall structure of the class is chronological. The wider legacy and reception of each époque will be analysed in connection with the initial appearance of structural elements (e.g. up-take of ancient Greek column orders in Classicist and Colonial contexts). The aim is to appreciate the art from both a historical and a contemporary perspective.


This course will be taught by Dr Norman Franke. Norman is a Hamilton based poet, scholar, artist and film maker (MA, Hamburg University; Ph.D. Humboldt University, Berlin). He has published widely about 18th century literature, German-speaking exile literature (Albert Einstein, Ernst H. Kantorowicz, Else Lasker-Schüler, Karl Wolfskehl) eco-poetics and at the intersection of religion and poetry. Norman’s poetry has been broadcast on radio and published in anthologies in Austria, Germany, New Zealand, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA. He was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato for 22 years before his department was disestablished. He is currently a Conjoint Senior Lecturer & Research Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.


“An Introduction to European Art History” meets on Tuesdays from 7:00-9:00pm. Our first class begins on Tuesday 20 October 2020 and runs for 8 consecutive weeks, ending on Tuesday 8 December 2020.


Cost per person per Term (8 classes):

  • Waged: $104 (includes $4 online registration fee)
  • Unwaged (unemployed, students, seniors): $84 (includes $4 online registration fee)

Term 4 Registration for this course is available now on our Registration page.

page last updated 29 September 2020.