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Choosing a College Seminar

Spring Quarter 2021 College Seminars

The following seminars will be offered in Spring Quarter 2021.  Click on the ">" in front of a title to read the course description. Please confirm class days and times in Caesar when the spring schedule is published on February 24.


Instructor(s): Christopher Davis


This course explores the evolution of love as a central theme in French literature during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The period in question saw major transformations in almost every aspect of human life, from law and government to technology, science and the arts. Despite these changes, love remained a central preoccupation of writers in every literary genre. Why? We will approach the texts on our reading list not only as records of the past, but as points of contact, which allow us to confront the role of literary traditions in constructing notions of individuality, family, sexuality and gender. How did social and historical changes influence the representation of emotion and desire? How might love as a literary theme comment on the changing status of the individual and his or her role in society?

Arts of Love in the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Instructor(s): Ji-Yeon Yuh

Description: Description forthcoming. 

Asian American Lives

Instructor(s): Eric Dahl

Description: This course will explore the fundamental ideas of modern physics by way of counter example. From Newton to Einstein, the laws of physics are regularly broken in works of fantasy and science fiction, and by asking what physical laws are broken (and with what consequences) we can come to a clearer understanding of the real world around us. We will ask why both Jedi and blasters violate conservation of momentum, how the ansible's faster-than-light communication in Ender's Game could lead to awkward conversations with one's past (or future) self, and what the impact is of a magic system that enables a perpetual motion machine, among other questions. We will also see how much speculation is still possible without undue violence to the nature of the universe. No particular physics or math background is required.

Breaking the Law of Nature - Physics in Speculative Fiction

Instructor(s): Melissa Rosenzweig

Description: The concept of environmental justice in the United States emerged in the early 1980s as African-American residents fought hazardous waste sites planned in and around their communities. Since then, the environmental justice perspective has been expanded to include the struggles of other minority groups disenfranchised on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or class. In the first part of the course, students will learn about the history of the environmental justice movement in the US and its development. Next, the course will take a closer look at environmental justice in Chicago, both past and present. A mandatory field trip to a local environmental justice organization is part of the course.

Chicago Environmental Justice

Instructor(s): Amy Partridge


As we grapple with the urgencies of the present, what are the politics (and promise) of telling more complex and nuanced stories of the history feminist activism and social change? In this course, we will begin by examining how the "second wave" of feminism (late 1960s-1970s) is being framed in 2021 and explore which projects, groups, and concerns have come to define the "second wave" of feminism in the United States in our collective memory. We then turn to recent histories of the "second wave" that challenge us to reconsider what counts as "feminist politics" during this period. For example, histories that focus on the formation of broad-based coalitions across and between liberation movements around issues of economic justice, reproductive rights, and the right to "self-defense" against both state and interpersonal violence during this period challenge us to expand our conception of feminist activism. As historian Finn Enke argues, recuperating "feminism's deeply questioning, queer, coalitional and anti-imperialist past," demands that we incorporate the “critical insights and knowledges” of labor and welfare rights activists, sex workers and gay liberationists, and Black, Chicana, Puerto Rican and Indigenous liberation movement members as central to the feminist politics of the period.

Course Texts: online/Canvas


Coalitional Politics &/in the “Second Wave”

Instructor(s): Lance Rips

Description: Infinity is a central property of most number systems. The natural numbers, integers, rationals, reals, and complex numbers all include an infinite number of elements. People’s concepts of these systems would be confused if they failed to grasp the fact that there is no end to these numbers. However, most people have great difficulty understanding infinite sets like these. Are there more positive integers than positive even integers? Are there more rational numbers than natural numbers? Are there more real numbers than rational numbers? You might be surprised at the correct answers to some of these questions. To set the stage, we’ll look (informally) at some of the math background on infinity, as developed by Georg Cantor and others in the 19th Century. Then we’ll examine some reasons why thinking and reasoning about infinity is so difficult. We’ll read some cognitive psychology experiments that address how children first learn about the infinity of the positive integers, how they learn about infinite divisibility, and how older students (NU undergrads) think about number systems in general.

Concepts of Infinity

Instructor(s): Raymond San Diego

Description: The events of the past year have brought to the attention of many the importance of critiquing and dismantling multiple and intersecting forms of institutional oppression. Just as important, however, is the capacity to dream, build, and hope. But how do we do find and pursue hope in such toxic times? This interdisciplinary seminar explores the worldmaking practices Asian Americans engage in with an emphasis on gender, sexuality, and media.

Critical Hope

Instructor(s): Lauren Jackson

Description: This first-year seminar focuses on the matter of feeling in literature. Students will read a diverse selection of short stories, poems, and essays and develop methods of determining feeling, emotion, mood, and sensation in literary texts. The goal of this course is to introduce students to the practice of inquiry, interpretation, reason, and argument in a humanistic context. We will do so by asking questions about the ways writers enact scenes of discomfort, bliss, melancholy, malaise external to the expressions of individual characters. Possible authors include: Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickenson, Nella Larsen, Louise Glück, David Foster Wallace, Claudia Rankine, and Garth Greenwell. 

Teaching Method(s): Discussion 
Evaluation Method(s): Short writing assignments and a final paper  
Texts include: TBD   Texts will be available at: Norris Bookstore, Canvas


Instructor(s): Barbara Newman

Description: This seminar will explore some classics of Anglo-American fantasy from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, asking what’s at stake when a writer decides to create a new world. How do the challenges and opportunities offered by fantasy differ from those of realist fiction? How have writers used this genre to experiment with new social arrangements, alternative ways of imagining sex and gender, and religious beliefs and practices? Why do talking animals play such an important role? Is there a clear dividing line between “children’s” and “adult” fantasy? The objectives of the course will be to gain a fuller understanding of this genre and to develop skill and confidence in interpreting literary texts, both orally and in writing.   Texts: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998); Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass (1995); Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist (1926); C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (1956); Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979); and Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (2013).  
Evaluation will be based on class discussion, a short oral report, and three 5-page papers. If you receive a B or below on any paper, you will be required to submit a revised version. The new grade will supplant the original one.

Exploring the Fantasy Novel

Instructor(s): Robin Bates

Description: How have people explained the meaning of their lives? What historical circumstances have driven them to try? How have people throughout history understood more abstract features of their societies – including politics, nationality, religion, gender, sexuality and race – in relation to themselves? What can we learn about these bigger, more abstract issues by looking closely at the human experience of them in historical context?

To address these questions, we will engage with autobiographical historical sources ranging from medieval love letters to memoirs of the Holocaust; discover experiences of fighting wars, adopting new religions, and escaping from slavery; see what can be learned from lives changed by claiming new identities and reinterpreting old ones.

History of the Self

Instructor(s): Benjamin Frommer

Description: The Nazis veiled the Holocaust in a fog of secrecy and deception in their efforts to disguise their crimes and erase the voices of their victims. In response, Holocaust victims, both at the time and since, have struggled to tell their stories to the outside world. Paradoxically, the iconic genocide of the modern age that silenced millions of the murdered, and destroyed all trace of many of them, has also bequeathed to posterity the largest number of first-person testimonies about any single historical event. In this course we will examine a range of firsthand accounts of the Holocaust from the period itself and the subsequent decades. We will read selections from diaries, letters, memoirs, graphic novels, and courtroom testimony. We will discuss accounts left behind by victims, perpetrators, and so-called bystanders. Finally, we will work with the USC Shoah Visual Archive, the largest single collection of video interviews of genocide victims in existence. Throughout the course we will explore why the authors of these statements chose to testify and what we can (and cannot) learn from their testimony.

Holocaust Testimonies

Instructor(s): Micaela di Leonardo

Description: This course title refers both to the famous 1889 Jacob Riis photo-documentary on poverty in New York City, How the Other Half Lives, and to the slogans of the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011. It does so to highlight the disturbing return, over the past few decades, of the extreme levels of economic inequality—heavily but not entirely connected to racial/immigrant/gender status--that were characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America. And the indices have worsened significantly since I last taught this class a year ago. Of course, we are now recovering from a global pandemic that has also badly affected the economies of all nations.

In this seminar, students will read about, discuss, write about, and thus gain the intellectual tools to begin to evaluate past and present American urban inequalities—including not only those of class, but also race/ethnicity, gender & sexuality, nationality. We will read across several different academic disciplines and journalism to become familiar with key analytic concepts, methods, and historical phenomena, such as the Great Compression, the War on Poverty, urban regimes, ethnography, political economy. Using them, we will explore arenas of inequality: employment; urban space, housing, migration, and neighborhoods; schooling, criminal justice, the public sphere. You will watch two short, relevant videos on your own before the first seminar meeting. And we will, of course, be discussing the effects of the pandemic on working-class and impoverished American residents.

How the Other 99% Live

Instructor(s): Regina Schwartz

Description: This course will examine ideas of justice in western cultural and literary traditions. Biblical prophecy, the trial of Jesus, Plato, and tragedy in Shakespeare will be included. Our exploration will be done in the context of theories of justice. But the literature offers elaborations of theories of justice, both within legal frameworks and beyond, as they shape communities and the private lives of people. We will ask how religious ideas of justice inform and depart from secular ideas of justice, how retributive and distributive ideas of justice are imagined and critiqued, and how the relation between justice and law has been conceived.

Ideas of Justice

Instructor(s): Mary Finn

Description: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published anonymously in 1813, the year in which Shonda Rhimes Netflix show Bridgerton is set, featuring a pseudonymous tell-all narrator, Lady Whistledown. The 1800s were a time of war and political instability for Great Britain, not that you can tell by reading Austen or watching Bridgerton. Unless you look very closely. In this course that is what we’ll do: read a set of Austen novels and watch Bridgerton as entrees into a society in which marriage was business; “Business” was declasse; rank and status were fixed until they were not; war made fortunes; and reading novels was a sketchy pastime for proper young ladies.

Jane Austen wrote novels that make fun of the novels people think Jane Austen wrote. We will read her novella, “Lady Susan,” featuring one of the most conniving women in 19thcentury literature, and three novels: Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion.

Over the quarter we’ll also watch Bridgerton. In bringing to film a romance novel by Julia Quinn,the show features two important innovations, the subject of much chatter when the series launched: first and spectacularly –the characters’ wardrobes; second, and more substantively –the casting of many actors of color to play main parts, NOT as color blind casting, but for reasons explained in the plot of the story. In Bridgerton fashion is key to the story’s action, and casting introduces an intriguing alternative to the unmarked whiteness of England’s royalty and its “ton” during the Regency Period (1811-1820).

Students will write three papers and have short responses due for each class. Any edition of the novels will do, and all of Jane Austen’s work are available electronically. If you register for the class and have an issue with accessing Netflix, please let me know.

Finally, one spoiler alert: there is quite a bit of explicit nudity in Bridgerton.If you prefer not to seebut still would like to take the class, you may feel free to fast forward. Note that this nudity is very nicely balanced by absolutely zero nudity in the Austen texts.

Jane Austen? Shonda Rhimes. Rank, Race, and Romance in Regency England

Instructor(s): Katherine Scharfenberg

Description: This interdisciplinary course is designed to equip you with a set of critical tools to analyze the language of denunciation and protest in our contemporary moment. We will focus on the literary and rhetorical form of the “jeremiad,” the technical term for a fire-and-brimstone exhortation that is one of the most important and versatile forms of cultural critique in the history of American oratory. Engaging with critical race theory along the way, we will trace the jeremiad’s history from its pre-modern manifestations and arrival in colonial New England through its adaptations by abolitionists, civil rights leaders, and anti-racism activists today. How does protest shape society? What are the relationships between religious rhetoric and social justice? What is the role of the African American jeremiad in U.S. political discourse? What does it mean to be a culture in crisis or in decline? What is at stake in the language we use to talk about race and racism in the United States? These are some of the questions we will ponder as this course challenges you to improve your ability to read critically, analyze incisively, structure your thoughts clearly, use evidence effectively, and argue persuasively.

Teaching Method: Synchronous Zoom discussion. Evaluation Methods: Discussion participation, one creative video/social media project, two short papers, one longer paper.

Readings include: Anonymous authors of Tlatelolco, “Flowers of Songs and Sorrow”; John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”; Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; Phillis Wheatley’s selected poems; Frederick Douglass, “What, to the Slave, Is the Fourth of July?”; Toni Morrison, Paradise; selected speeches, essays, and articles by W. E. B. DuBois, Robert Bellah, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, Alicia Garza, bell hooks, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, among others. Students will be responsible for purchasing a copy of Morrison’s novel, Paradise (available at Norris). All other readings will be accessible on the course Canvas site.

About the Instructor: Katherine Scharfenberg is a Ph.D candidate studying geography and social cohesion in early American and Indigenous writings. She holds degrees in comparative literature and American studies from the University of Chicago and the Freie Universitaet Berlin.

Protest Speech and the Jeremiad (former title: Lamentations and Condemnations: Crisis, Dissent, and the Jeremiad in America, 1620-2020)

Instructor(s): Michele Zugnoni

Description: In this class, we’ll explore the influence that popular culture exerts on our societal understanding of what it means to be queer. We’ll study queer identities across time and locale, coupling our study with relics of popular culture (stories, TV shows, and films) in an effort to situate the reality of queerness with the underlying current of popular culture. We’ll also take some time to explore the impact of queer representation in popular culture created in the 21st Century. Assignments will include a research paper focused on what it means to be queer in a different time and place; a multimedia Prezi presentation focused on the impact of queer representation in the 21st Century; and a creative primary-research-based piece which gives us the opportunity to add our voices and the voices of others to the relics of queer popular culture.

LGBTQ in Pop Culture
TTh11:00am - 12:20pm

Instructor(s): Matthew Foreman

Description: How has Maoism shaped the cultural, military, political, and economic landscape of societies across the globe? What are the afterlives of this impact and is Maoism still relevant today? To answer these questions, this course explores the origins of Maoism and its global impact on the twentieth century. From the Naxalites in India to the Shining Path in Peru to the Black Panthers in 1960s United States, Mao Zedong’s thought and writings have shaped the founding, ideology, and political vision of revolutionary movements in many different political and geographic contexts. We explore issues such as empires and militarism, anti-imperialism, revolutionary ideology, communist economics, as well as peasant mobilization, ethnic and race relations, and political identity across the world. Students will first develop an understanding of Maoism through reading translations of his works in the political context of China. The course will then look beyond China to examine Maoism, Maoist imagery, and Maoist revolutionary movements across the globe. We will also examine the legacies of Maoism after his death, particularly his lasting impression in contemporary cultural memory.

Maoism and the Modern World

Instructor(s): Emrah Yildiz


This course title refers to the papers upon which the global order of mobility rests in our contemporary era. It approaches these papers as good tools to think with in order to study the disturbing intensification of global inequality in diverse populations’ access to transnational mobility over the past few decades. In this seminar, students will read about, discuss, write about, and thus gain the intellectual tools to begin to evaluate, these past and present inequalities that make up our global order of mobility. These inequalities, materialized in paper form, allow people to move across multiple borders, and so doing, underpin our current global order of differential mobility: a mobility that is distributed unevenly, taken for granted for the select few, while being denied to the vast majority of others—around the world.

We will read across several different academic disciplines and investigative journalism to become familiar with key analytic concepts, methods, and historical phenomena, such as citizenship-for-investment schemes, the US Green Card lottery, US-Mexico borderlands, nationalism, migration, ethnography, and political economy. Our goal in the seminar is to critically assess how seemingly mundane papers make or break the possibilities of movement across modern state borders, differentiated at the intersection of nationality, race, class, gender, and/or geography.

Mobile Papers: Passports, Visas, Cash in the Global Order of Mobility
W3-5:50 pm

Instructor(s): Katherine Amato

Description: In the movies, lemurs dance, capuchins slap people in the face, and apes take over the world. We have a fascination with non-human primates due the many similarities we share. Beyond being constantly faced with images of our closest living relatives, however, our lives are substantially influenced by our similarities with other primates and how they are interpreted. Whether or not we think of humans as 'just another primate' or as completely unique among the primates can shape our conception of ourselves and our societies. It can also shape our attitudes toward primate research, conservation, and beyond. In this course we will explore perspectives on human-primate similarities and how they influence our understanding of human aggression, xenophobia, gender roles, sexual behavior, and more. Using writing and discussion, we will also explore how unique humans really are compared to other primates. At the end of this course you will have an appreciation for primate diversity and the complex history of primate research. You will be able to describe how different humans really are from other primates, and you will be able to pinpoint how primate research and perspectives on primates influence your daily life. Most importantly, you will be able to explain how science has broad social ramifications.

Perspectives on Primates
TTh9:30-10:50 am

Instructor(s): Mark McClish

Description: In 1949, conservationist Aldo Leopold published an essay entitled, “The Land Ethic.” He argued that humans are in community with, and have moral obligations to, soil, water, plants and animals. His call for the development of “ecological consciousness” has since been taken up, expanded, and critiqued by environmentalists. More recently, indigenous peoples have fought for recognition that such ethics have long guided their communities, before and during European colonization and settlement. Around the world, indigenous communities have taken the lead in demanding changes to the ways in which modern societies relate to the land. This course explores the idea of a land ethic, what it must consider and how it can come to be successfully embedded within culture and consciousness. In particular, we will look at how the various cultural formations and personal experiences that are often named “religion” and “spirituality” can reflect and promote various land ethics, particularly inasmuch as the prerogatives of “religion” might provide a context for experiencing and valuing land outside or alongside its aesthetic, economic and political value. Over the term, students will select and connect with a particular piece of land, which will provide both an object of study as well as a context for learning and reflection. Spending time in the field, each student will explore the land’s natural and cultural history, recording its (mis)use and how it has been transformed thereby. Students will use all of this to articulate a land ethic, and the final project will be an effort to embed that ethic in some creative cultural form.

Religion and Land Ethic
TTh 11am-12:20pm

Instructor(s): Wendy Wall

Description: Imagine Macbeth’s witches as homicidal nurses in a Soviet bloc battle hospital, Othello as a Black basketball player in a White high school in the American south, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream as the story of Victorian marriage in crisis: in films, directors mobilize Shakespeare’s plays to speak to timely cultural issues, including race relations, insurrection against the government, non-binary gender roles, teen angst, same-sex desire, gang warfare, and the alienation of technology. In this seminar, we will engage texts and film versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, Othello, and Macbeth, including O, She’s The Man, Desdemona (by Toni Morrison) and Shakespeare in Love. How, we will ask, do classic plays from 400 years ago offers striking tools for exploring love, betrayal, ambition, and identity in modern contexts and media? Students will be encouraged to develop skills in writing, argumentation, and creative adaptation.

Book: Norton Shakespeare 3rd edition. ISBN-10 : 0393249832

Assignments: Two papers; participation in class and on discussion boards; creative adaptation of a scene; oral presentations.

Shakespeare Goes to the Movies

Instructor(s): Kalyan Nadiminti

Description: Science fiction has gained a steady following over the twentieth century, owing in part to its preoccupation with the “future,” one that remains decidedly strange and unknown. The course delineates a brief history of this popular genre for its literary and political acumen. While the contemporary understanding of science fiction rose to prominence after the Second World War, this course begins with a late-nineteenth century imperial Gothic novel, Dracula, to contextualize the form. The rest of our time will be spent with twentieth and twenty-first century modes of geopolitical paranoia, utopian longing, and dystopian reinvention. How do these texts produce alternate worlds in the future, and to what end? Are they hopeful, critical, or both? How do they draw connections between an invented future and their temporal present? We will learn about the lively connections between speculation and lived experience by turning to Possible Worlds and counterfactual theory as well as debates around realism. We will simultaneously consider the genre’s political dimensions by reading novels, short stories, and films that interrogate slavery, colonialism, empire, epidemiology, and the alien. Texts: Bram Stoker, Dracula Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness Octavia Butler, Kindred Amitav Ghosh, The Calcutta Chromosome Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (Film) Neill Blomkamp, District Nine (Film) Ling Ma, Severance

Strange Horizons in Science Fiction

Instructor(s): Daniel Horton

Description: The challenge of sustainability to "meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" has evolved over the past few decades. This course will introduce fundamental concepts of sustainability, consider the application of these concepts in diverse societal, economic, and cultural settings, and explore the potential of climate science and sustainable development to act as forces for environmental and social justice.

Sustainability and Social Justice

Instructor(s): Lisa Del Torto

Description: Scholars of language and writing argue that language and its varieties, genres, modes, and rhetorical strategies are always shifting, flexible, and contested. Thus, sociolinguistic diversity—differences across and within languages and dialects—is inevitable. This seminar will explore how language difference is situated in current US and global discourses, considering language in written, spoken, and signed forms. We will disrupt monolingual ideologies that infiltrate those discourses, focusing on language diversity as an asset to individuals, cultures, and institutions. The course will consider college as one of those institutions and will explore language diversity and linguistic social justice as part of your first-year experience at Northwestern. Using scholarly readings from sociolinguistics and writing pedagogy along with popular non-fiction, the course will consider how we can sustain sociolinguistic diversity, how we can foster equity, access, and inclusion around language difference, and how our sociolinguistic diversity sustains us. You will formulate and explore your own questions about sociolinguistic diversity and linguistic social justice in papers, presentations, and class discussions. Students of all sociolinguistic backgrounds are welcome in this seminar, and our course design will provide direct benefits to students who identify as international, multilingual, and/or native speakers of non-mainstream Englishes.

Sustaining Sociolinguistic Diversity

Instructor(s): Liz Trubey


2020 felt at times like the world as we know it was ending. In the spirit of facing new fears and finding new hope, this class will look at four novels that consider The End. These texts ponder what is lost and what may be gained at apocalyptic moments, whether they be environmental or climate catastrophe, a global pandemic, or even planet-killer asteroid on its way to earth. Who survives? How do we commemorate what we lose? How do civilizations end and recover? 

Texts likely will include: The History of Bees (Maja Lunde), The Fifth Season (NK Jeminsin), Station Eleven (Emily St John Mandel)

The End of the World as We Know It
TTh9:30-10:50 am

Instructor(s): Laura Bancroft

Description: This highly interactive course will walk through myriad aspects of the quantum world through a big-picture, qualitative lens. We will start from the very beginning by defining what we mean when we say “quantum” – and what others might actually mean when they misuse the term. Then we will step back in time and walk through historical discoveries, such as radioactivity and entanglement, that structure how we understand parts of our world that cannot be accurately described with other frameworks. Our focus will then turn to contemporary questions currently being probed by analyzing quantum processes and phenomena, such as avian navigation and teleportation. Throughout the course, we will make connections to everyday life as well as many broader areas of study, including chemistry, physics, biology, philosophy, and beyond. We will hone communication skills through discussions, writing, and presentations. Additionally, we will develop critical thinking skills by working through some unanswered questions still plaguing scientists today, discussing how these ideas could be studied and why these questions are so difficult to answer.

The Quantum World from the Ground Up

Instructor(s): Stephanie Knezz

Description: Biased interpretations of scientific results have been used to justify racial and gender oppression for centuries. It was often argued that people of different races and different genders were fundamentally different, and as such their roles in society should differ as well. Today, many people reject the claim that race and gender have substantial effect on a person’s abilities or capacity, but how did we get here? More importantly, how did science help facilitate these claims in the first place? In this course, we will explore the role of science in historical oppression based on race and gender. We will identify key scientific studies and their subsequent legacy to reveal the precarious nature of scientific interpretation in the hands of biased individuals. We will discuss how power structures can infiltrate scientific integrity and propose safeguards to prevent this kind of infiltration in the future.

The Science Behind Oppression

Instructor(s): Rachel Zuckert

Description: In this course we will discuss philosophical questions about the nature of the self, raised and answered in readings from the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophical writings, as well as some artistic representations. Thus we may discuss questions such as: Is self-awareness necessary or sufficient for selfhood? What guarantees the continuity of personal identity over time? To what degree is the self constituted by its social context? Are there good or bad (authentic/inauthentic, alienated, unified, etc.) ways to be a self? As with any first-year seminar, the course will also involve frequent writing assignments, including both informal exercises and formal argumentative papers.

The Self

Instructor(s): Susan Phillips


What are the Seven Deadly Sins, how did they come into being, and how do can we make sense of the role they continue to play the 21st century popular imagination? What is the nature of moral and ethical transgression:  is sin a disposition, a thought, an action, or an external force? And how does one make amends for such transgression? Over the course of the quarter, we will attempt to answer these questions by exploring the evolving representations of sin, secrets and confession that some of the most popular medieval texts. Exploring the work of preachers and poets alike, we will investigate the ways in which medieval writers adapted their depictions of sin to address the major social and political issues of their day, highlighting certain sins while hiding others as the moment required.  We will also explore how modern texts and films take up and transform these medieval ideas in order to reach contemporary audiences.  

Teaching Method(s): Discussion 
Evaluation Method(s): Archive Posts, Short Papers, Presentations, Participation and a Final Project 
Texts may include:  Selections from Dante’s Purgatorio and Langland’s Piers Plowman; Everyman Textbooks available at:  Beck’s Bookstore. Students need only purchase Dante’s Purgatorio, ed. Mark Musa (ISBN 978-0140444421, approximate cost: $13-16)

The Seven Deadly Sins
TTh11am - 12:20pm

Instructor(s): Jennifer Weintritt

Description: How does a work of literature become a “Classic?” What defines the “classical” style in art, music, and architecture? What belongs in the canon or educational curriculum, and who decides? Most importantly, what do a society’s answers to these questions tell us about their values and their cultural identity? Combining the development of Western classicism with case studies from other cultures, this course examines how the idea of the “Classic” tells a story about where a society comes from through earlier art, architecture, and literature. To answer “What Makes a Classic?,” we’ll divide our attention between the literature and art that constitute the canon and the critical apparatus that maintains this special status for certain works while excluding others. Students of the Spring 2021 course will be introduced to the Deering Library’s renowned Horace collection, which we will use to turn a critical eye towards appropriations of Greco-Roman culture that promote a false narrative of cultural superiority.

What Makes a Classic?

Instructor(s): Vinzenz Unger

Description: At the molecular level, life is a chemical engine so complex that it makes everything humans have invented and built look like child's play. Through a mix of lectures, workshops and writing assignments, the seminar will explore some of the wonders that are at the core of biological systems. The goal is to inspire you, and to illustrate how studying biology yields insights that are mirrored in seemingly unrelated things like social media, architecture, airline route design, computer sciences, or sociology to name but a few.

Wonders of Biology

Instructor(s): Robert Ward

Description: Writing race is a critical discussion interrogating the narratives surrounding our evolving understandings of race in U.S society. The course analyzes existing racial narratives in print and popular culture through the lenses of history, sociology, and empirical research. It also focuses on how we develop and write our own narratives. This course will introduce students to the concepts of race, racialization and how these processes impact and shape our social institutions as well as everyday lived experiences.

Writing Race: Exploring Narratives of Race in American Society

Instructor(s): Elizabeth Smith

Description: How do cultural anthropologists write about people and places? How can we understand community building at Northwestern University when pandemic has turned the world upside-down and transformed basic social practices? To find out, you will study and practice anthropology’s most famous method of research and writing, ethnography. Conducting participant-observation research, keeping a weekly field journal, interviewing others about their experiences, and analyzing visual and other expressive materials will empower you to 1. make sense of what’s going on around you in the current moment, 2. turn an analytical eye toward Northwestern, and 3. critically develop your new role as a college student. As a class, we will pay attention to how social and economic power structures such as race, gender, sexuality, and economic inequality shape people’s understandings of themselves and their communities. Materials include one text for purchase ($22 new), as well as book chapters, articles, and films/visuals accessible free online. Requirements include participation in synchronous class discussion, a weekly journal, one short essay, and a final in-class presentation on an aspect of college life that you research throughout the quarter.

Writing the Pandemic College Experience
TTh2-3:20 pm
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