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Choosing a College Seminar

Fall Quarter 2021 College Seminars

The following seminars will be offered in Fall 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 fall schedule is published this summer as there may be some changes.


Instructor(s): Ryan Platte

Description: In this course we will examine, and learn how to write about, the role of Ancient Greece and Rome in American film and culture. Preliminary steps in this study will involve introductions to various historic eras of the ancient Greco-Roman world as well as important elements of ancient culture. Our emphasis will, however, not be analysis of antiquity itself but rather of American engagement with that antiquity, particularly in film. From reflections of ancient Rome in Star Wars to the adaptation of Greek comedy in Spike Lee’s Chiraq, we will examine not just how antiquity permeates American culture, but how popular art creatively and critically engages with Classical traditions. We will also consider engagement with Classical antiquity in some non-cinematic media as well, such as the graphic novel and even the architecture of the city of Chicago. Through writing and research assignments students will hone their ability to interpret and explain the role of Classical traditions in the modern world.

Ancient Greece and Rome in Modern Film and Culture

Instructor(s): Jim Hornsten

Description: Though difficult to define and found in many forms, “art” is produced and consumed by people responding to economic forces. We will ponder questions such as the following: Why do artists supply art? Is it easier nowadays for a ballet dancer or sculptor to attract attention? Is specialized training needed to critique an opera performance or museum exhibit? What explains the amounts paid for a musical festival ticket, screenplay rights, or a famous painting? Should we use tax dollars to develop and support creative industries, or should they rely on charitable donations and ticket sales? How have Internet improvements and digitalization changed the ways that books are published, films are released, and musical artists make a living? Who ultimately pays for television programs that are “free” to stream? Is copyright protection strong enough, and should authors encourage derivative works, such as fan fiction, song sampling, or video game mods? If pandemic concerns prohibit large audiences at Broadway shows or K-Pop concerts, how might promoters adapt? Does art exist in the presentation of culinary dishes or economics?

Art and Economics

Instructor(s): Michelle Huang

Description: From To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’s Lara Jean Covey to Ali Wong’s Dear Girls, Asian American girls are having a moment. This class will explore theories of race, gender, and sexuality through an intersectional approach centered on Asian American girls as subjects worthy of study. This course will also introduce students to best practices for writing in the humanities. Possible authors include Kai Cheng Thom, Franny Choi, Fatimah Asghar, Jenny Zhang, and Barbara Jane Reyes. Possible films/TV shows include Never Have I Ever, All-American Girl, and The Half of It.


Instructor(s): Michael Maltenfort

Description: Who is a mathematician? Who teaches mathematics? Who learns mathematics? Why are U.S. mathematicians disproportionately male and white? How is math education affected by identities such as race, gender, country of origin, and socioeconomic background? Students in this class will explore these topics through essays, academic writings, plays, and movies. We will collaboratively create an anti-racist framework and use this framework to understand how privilege has shaped society, academia, and mathematics. Can mathematics become a field which is equally open to anyone? If so, how?

Balancing the Equation: Exploring Equity in Mathematics

Instructor(s): Ginger Pennington

Description: ​In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Women's March on Washington, historic election victories by female politicians, and increasing rates of female representation in traditionally male-dominated roles, American women seem to have made huge strides in the struggle for gender equality. Nonetheless, women continue to face conflicting messages about the nature of femininity and womanhood. Is it the case that modern women can “have it all”? Advertisers, parents, educators, and artists frequently reinforce the notion of “girl power,” but do these messages resonate with young women? In what ways do they help shape girls' understanding of their own sexuality, social roles, and future opportunities? And perhaps more importantly, does reality match the promises and expectations? Does the modern woman truly have the freedom to "choose" her own definition of femininity? We will read work by psychologists, sociologists, journalists, ethnographers, and other scholars who present divergent points of view on gender roles and feminist psychology. Students will be encouraged to engage in the spirited exchange of ideas on these issues and integrate the readings with their own observations and lived experience. As we explore these issues, we will also lay a foundation for your future coursework at Northwestern. We will discuss ways to hone your reading, writing, and critical thinking skills. You will learn and practice strategies to help you thrive in Northwestern’s academic environment. My hope is that you will emerge from this seminar with greater confidence in your readiness for college work and a more nuanced understanding of the way gender influences your own life experience and that of others.

Being Female in the 21st Century

Instructor(s): David Schoenbrun


The image of Africa is changing, now that its residents and members of their diasporas have gained more control over making images of their continent. But, a long-standing stereotype of Africa as a place of violence continues to exist. A definition of violence may seem obvious: violence is bodily harm and its aftermaths wrought by one or more persons against one more others. But that simple definition masks moral struggles over questions of the legitimacy of violence and the unequal burdens of its legacies. In Beyond Slavery and Colonialism in African History, we'll work our way toward asking better questions about the causes and consequences of the violence at the core of slavery and slave trading in West Africa, imperial conquest and colonial power in East Africa.

Beyond Slavery and Colonialism

Instructor(s): Charly Yarnoff

Description: Coming-of-age novels and memoirs portray the journey from childhood to adulthood. In this course, we will focus on works of fiction and autobiography that pay special attention to the role that college plays in that journey. These works portray the formative childhood influences and conflicts that shape the protagonists. In the chapters on college, they dramatize the different ways that higher education helps the characters navigate the difficult and confusing task of taking control of their lives and coming to a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want from life. In each work, we also get to see the impact of their college experiences after the characters have graduated and entered the so-called "real world." The works explore such questions as: Does college change who you are or, rather, help you to understand who you are? How does it impact your relationships with your family? What factors contribute to success in college and beyond, and what is even meant by "success"? Through reflection on and discussion, you'll begin to answer those and other questions for yourself too. We will read a variety of books that include: Bread Givers, a novel about a Jewish girl struggling with poverty at the turn of the 20th century; A Particular Kind of Black Man, a novel about the child of Nigerian immigrants who faces discrimination not only from white people but from African Americans; Educated, a memoir about a girl who grows up in an isolated, rural community with almost no formal education; and other literary works. In each work, college is a turning point for the main character, helping them to mature and move forward in their lives with clearer self-understanding and sense of purpose. The readings will offer you the opportunity not only to enjoy and discuss some wonderful books but also to reflect on the path that has led you to Northwestern and the ways you hope you will continue to grow and mature while you're here.

Coming of Age, Coming to College

Instructor(s): Sandy Zabell

Description: Cryptology is the study of secret writing, or more generally secure communication. We will discuss classical methods of cryptography, followed by the use of the German Enigma machine during World War II, and end by discussing modern cryptosystems such as RSA and PGP, digital signatures, and their use in internet security.


Instructor(s): Brady Clark

Description: When academics discuss communication, they tend to focus on ideal uses of language involving cooperative, honest, helpful, and trustworthy speakers. Real-world communication is not like this at all. This seminar examines communication in our non-ideal world. Our focus will be several forms of deceptive communication: lying, bullshitting, and misleading. We will explore a wide range of topics: what are the linguistic cues to deceptive communication, if any? does lying necessarily involve deception? why is there so much bullshit in contemporary political speech? how is fake news related to lying, misleading, and bullshitting? is fake news a useful notion at all? Our goal will be to figure out what tools and concepts we need to understand the varieties of deception that characterize human language interaction.

Deceptive Speech

Instructor(s): Deborah Rosenberg

Description: What do we do about a world that doesn’t conform to our expectations? Do we set out to mold reality to our vision or accept it as it is? How do we forge ahead with our dreams if others do not share our values or goals? Cervantes’ Don Quixote tackles these big questions in ways that are both moving and funny as it narrates the adventures of the bedraggled hero--a man driven mad by reading too many fantasy novels--and his earthy sidekick Sancho Panza. The novel contains themes that resonate with our lives today, exploring not only what it means to write--and read--fiction but also asking us to evaluate what kind of person we want to be in the world. In our class, we’ll read the novel closely and debate how its essential questions can shape our personal choices moving forward.

Don Quixote's World

Instructor(s): Evan Mwangi

Description: While examining the metaphor of the ecosystem in scholarship (holistic analysis, wholeness, interdependence, diversity, intersecting contexts etc.), the seminar will use texts from different parts of the planet to read and write about the representations of the natural world, especially as affected by human activities. What are the benefits of studying a literary text against the background of its production and in conversation with others with which it resonates? How can we be specific about our singular object of analysis without missing the bigger picture? How are energy flows, cycles, and sustainability represented in literary texts? How can we engage with literary texts about the environment beyond the classroom setting? How do we integrate environmental activist work in academic scholarship while remaining rigorous and objective? As we grapple with these questions, we will use different methods of reading literary and theoretical texts from an ecological perspective. We will also experiment with various methods of academic presentation.

Teaching Methods: Interactive lectures, debates, role-play, and small group discussions.

Evaluation Methods: Two 7-page papers, weekly Canvas postings, regular self-evaluation, peer critiques, class participation, pop quizzes (ungraded), and 1-minute papers (ungraded). No final exam.

Primary texts (may change)
1. Gowdy, Barbara, The White Bone. New York: Picador. ISBN-10: 9780312264123; ISBN-13: 978-0312264123
2. Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Penguin Classics. ISBN-10: 9780141439594; ISBN-13 : 978-0141439594
3. Kang, Han. The Vegetarian: A Novel. Hogarth. ISBN-10: 9781101906118; ISBN-13: 978-1101906118
4. Maathai, Wangari. Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World. Doubleday. ISBN-10: 030759114X; ISBN-13: 978-0307591142
5. Zambra, Alejandro. The Private Lives of Trees. Open Letter. 978-1-934824-24-5
6. Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. W. W. Norton & Company; ISBN-10 : 0393339645 ISBN-13 : 978-0393339642.

Ecological Reading

Instructor(s): Scott Ogawa

Description: We will read Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. We will discuss reason, science, humanism, and progress.


Instructor(s): Elizabeth Smith

Description: How do cultural anthropologists write about people and places? How can we understand community building at Northwestern University after pandemic 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. Along with weekly readings, student-run bi-weekly roundtable discussions will pair NU campus groups with Evanston organizations for discussions focusing on intersecting social and economic power structures such as race, gender, sexuality, and economic inequality. Discussions and readings will inform your ethnographic observation of campus and local communities. Conducting participant-observation research 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. Requirements include participation in class discussion and roundtables, fieldnotes exercises, and one short article presentation. These all build toward a focused final project on an aspect of college life you choose and observe throughout the quarter. Materials include one text for purchase ($22 new), as well as book chapters, articles, and films/visuals accessible free online.

Ethnography of College Community

Instructor(s): Mark Hauser

Description: Did astronauts from another planet establish ancient civilizations on Earth? Were the Americas discovered by Columbus, a Ming dynasty fleet or by Vikings much earlier? Did the Maya Aztec build their pyramids to resemble those of dynastic Egypt? Television is replete with stories of ancient aliens and archaeological mysteries. The impact of such alternative realities on society and history cannot be discounted. They have been used to support nationalistic agendas, racial biases, and religious movements, all of which can have considerable influence on contemporary society.

In this course, we will study “fantastic” stories, puzzles, hoaxes, imaginative worlds and alternative theories. We will learn when, how and what kinds of evidence these alternative theories have used to fascinate the public and illustrate their hoaxes. We will question such theories by using critical thinking and analytical tools to diagnose what is fact and fiction. We will utilize the surviving evidence that archaeologists find to understand cultural contact and interactions.

Fantastic Archaeology

Instructor(s): Elisabeth Elliott

Description: In this course, we will have two topics: (1) communicating effectively in writing on the theme of language and politics; and (2) adjusting to college and your undergraduate career. We will explore some of the sociolinguistic issues (that is connections between language and society) in various Slavic speaking countries and areas and Central Europe (the Russian Federation, the former Soviet Union, the former Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, etc.). We will look at contemporary issues in Russia and the Ukraine as these relate to sociolinguistic issues, the question of fascism particularly with respect to the annexation of the Crimea, censorship of Pussy Riot and women within society, and more. Issues to be examined include: language and identity, language discrimination, language vs. dialect, and language and nationalism. We will read and discuss topics on life at college, including: making the most of learning and studying, recognizing and knowing when and where to ask for help and support (and how this is a strength, not a weakness), determining, setting, and achieving academic goals, and academic integrity. We will also try to take time to learn about Northwestern’s campus (both for practical and other kinds of reasons) and about different Northwestern resources that are there to help you in your goals and your time while you are at Northwestern.

From Fascism to Pussy Riot

Instructor(s): Jannet Chang

Description: Governments of all levels play an essential role in individual's day-to-day life, such as education, transportation, health and welfare. Some of the questions to be addressed in the course include but are not limited to the following: What are the roles of governments? How do government policies impact individual decision making and vise versa? Under what situation is the government intervention desirable? What are the reasons for different levels of governments, such as federal, state, and local governments? The goal of this seminar is to acquaint students with various aspects of government sectors and give students the ability to critically evaluate current policy debates.

Government and You

Instructor(s): David Shyovitz

Description: This course will survey the development of ideas about Heaven (and Hell!) in an array of cultures and historical eras, beginning in the Ancient Near East and extending to the present. As we shall see, debates over eschatology (the branch of theology concerned with death and other "last things") intersect with profound philosophical questions: What is the purpose of human life? What is a person? (An individual or a member of a collective? A body or a soul?) How (if at all) do humans differ from non-human animals? Can spiritual and scientific conceptions of the universe be reconciled? In order to consider these questions, we will explore the ways in which concepts of the afterlife, the apocalypse, the resurrection and final judgment, etc., have shaped religious traditions, works of art and literature, social and political developments, and scientific theories.

History of Heaven

Instructor(s): Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern

Description: Every epoch laughs in its own way. For us, the twenty-first century individuals, the mere idea that laughter changes with time is funny. Why so? Because we have never thought that laughter has its own history. This seminar takes literary texts as a springboard and teaches laughter in its historical forms and variations through “slow reading” and text analysis. Students will look into “what humanity laughs at” seeking to revisit “who modern human beings are.” The course will introduce the students to some key most influential theories of laughter (including Chateaubriand, Bergson, Bakhtin, Screech), and will help students apply these theories to literary texts ranging from the 16th century Praise of Folly by Erasmus through the late 20st century Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. The purpose of the course is to explore various forms of laughter through the literary texts created by Dutch, German, French, Russian, Jewish, Czech, British, Colombian, Mexican, US, and Iranian writers. The course will help students discover the shared patterns of thinking, reading, and imagining across cultures.

History of Laughter

Instructor(s): James Hodge

Description: This writing-intensive course focuses on a number of classics by cinema’s “master of suspense,” Alfred Hitchcock. Films to be studied include Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho, and North by Northwest, among others. We will also discuss Hitchcock’s legacy and influence. The broad goal of the course is to introduce students to the conventions and rigors of humanistic forms of evidence-based argumentation and analysis. We will accomplish this by focusing locally on the ways film style affects the treatment of key themes across Hitchcock’s filmography: from mistaken identity and sexual politics to horror and voyeurism.

Teaching Method(s): Discussion, Short Lecture

Evaluation Method(s): Analytical Writing

Texts include: all available via pdf.

Hitchcock and Beyond

Instructor(s): Barbara Shwom

Description: Every day on the Internet, on television, on the streets and in classrooms, we hear people expressing opinions about a variety of topics. The people who are most persuasive, however, are those who are most informed. This course is designed to give you the tools to develop an informed opinion about something that is important to you, to present that opinion to others orally and in writing, and to persuade others to consider (and even accept) your point of view. In other words, the seminar is designed to help you make the transition to a college mindset. We will begin the seminar by quickly exploring a few controversial topics, evaluating how well writers in both the scholarly and the popular press support their opinions and persuade audiences. In the process, you will learn how to evaluate sources, read critically, listen and consider opposing points of view, and develop a powerful response. Then you will have the opportunity to select a controversial topic of your choice and research it in depth, using library resources, the Internet, interviews, and surveys. In addition to learning research techniques, you will also learn techniques for presenting your ideas persuasively, both orally and in writing. By the end of the course, you will be in position to discuss your ideas in a thoughtful, authoritative way, becoming a more effective contributor in college classes as well as in conversations with family and friends. In this sense, you will have earned the right to call yourself an expert on your topic.

How to Become an Expert in Roughly 10 Weeks

Instructor(s): Mary Finn

Description: Clarity of expression is no doubt valued in all communication. But a newcomer to scholarly writing in all fields of study at Northwestern could be forgiven for wondering if many scholars’ goal was in fact confusion if not downright opaqueness. No matter what your major, you will read critical material by scholars writing from within the discipline, drawing on the methodologies particular to that discipline and on the specialized vocabulary in which arguments are crafted using those methodologies. These materials can read to a novice like the very antithesis of clarity! And they can tempt a new reader not to fully engage with the argument and therefore potentially miss the point.

For comparison and contrast, across the disciplines you will also read material considered to be for the “general public” (in The New York Times, The Economist, The Atlantic, for example). What is gained and what is lost when a complicated topic is “translated” from “academic speak” to “plain prose"?

What does it mean to hone your skills of close reading? It means reading carefully at the level of the sentence; tracing the argument through the sequence of paragraphs; and identifying the evidence –or lack of evidence –so central to any successful argument in all fields.

This kind of reading enables sophisticated analysis and critique, the goal of this class for your writing as well as your contribution to class discussion. As your close reading skills become more advanced, your participation in discussions and your own critical analysis in writing will advance.

We will read scholarly material across the social sciences, sciences, and humanities, including quite a number of articles by Northwestern professors. All material will be available electronically.

How to Read: Critical Thinking and the Craft of Close Reading

Instructor(s): Meaghan Fritz

Description: This course aims to ease some of the transitions that you will experience in your first quarter at Northwestern by defining, exploring, discussing, and reflecting on your own experiences. By reading and discussing novels, essays, short stories, and works of journalism that take up the theme of life transitions, we will work together to cultivate productive study habits and to hone your critical thinking, reading, writing, and research skills for Northwestern classes. Our class will serve as a social support system, as we work generously with one another through seminar discussion and a routine exchange of writing.

I Guess this is Growing Up: Transitioning to College

Instructor(s): Amy Partridge

Description: Description forthcoming

Intersectionality & Coalitional Feminist Politics

Instructor(s): Harris Feinsod

Description: Northwestern’s campus and Chicagoland sit on the edge of one of the planet’s most important sources of fresh water. In this course, we will study the culture, environment, and urban history of Chicagoland from the standpoint of Lake Michigan. Our attentions will range from the witnesses to the end of the last Ice Age to our own view of how climate change effects the Great Lakes. However, we’ll focus especially on the history and culture of Chicago as it was shaped by proximity to the Lake, and how human decisions have shaped the lake in turn. Although this course is offered in the English department, it is a highly interdisciplinary course which includes readings drawn from literature, geography, history, architecture, journalism, and environmental studies. First-year students will gain a research-oriented introduction to study and life at Northwestern through the situation of its local cultural history and environment. Weather permitting, we will frequently hold class outdoors at the lakeside, and we may take excursions to notable coastal sites.

Teaching Method(s): Mini-lectures, seminar discussions, on-site investigations, library archival visits

Evaluation Method(s): Several short writing assignments (building creative, critical, archival, and interpretive skills) and one longer research project (variable formats)

Texts include:
Most texts will be provided in electronic formats. Do purchase:
Daniel Borzutzky, Lake Michigan; Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes; Eve Ewing, 1919

Texts will be available at: online booksellers.

Lake Michigan and Chicago

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 language diversity and linguistic justice in papers, presentations, and class discussions.

Our seminar will operate as a community that celebrates our diverse language use and as a system of academic, practical, and emotional support as you begin your college experience. 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.

Language Diversity & Linguistic Justice

Instructor(s): Myrna Garcia

Description: Through the lens of Latinx immigrant rights activism, we will explore the histories, experiences, identities, and politics of Latinxs in Chicago. We will examine how Latinxs narrate their migration histories, lived experiences, and make sense of their material realities. We will pay special attention to the emergence of a “sin fronteras” [beyond borders] politics and how it was operationalized across space and time. Crucial to our study of “sin fronteras” activism is to understand how, and under what circumstances, Latinxs with U.S. citizen privilege (i.e. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans) leveraged support for noncitizen immigrants, especially the undocumented. “Sin fronteras” politics brings Latinxs together, regardless of birthplace, generation, or citizenship status. The class will grapple with the liberatory potentials and limitations of a “sin fronteras” politics and other strands of immigrant rights activism.

Latinx Chicago: Beyond Borders Activism

Instructor(s): Robert Launay

Description: Anthropologists are committed to understanding other cultures in their own terms. One way of developing such an understanding is to read works that they have written or recited. This class will focus on two such works from cultures as different from each other as they are from ourselves. Njal’s Saga is a medieval Icelandic story of a series of revenge killings that spins further and further out of control. Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee is a fictional account of how a real 8th century magistrate solves three mysterious. Through each of these books, we will explore the different ways in which cultures understand and implement law and lawlessness, justice and injustice, loyalty and treachery.

Law and Disorder

Instructor(s): Hannah Chaskin

Description: From the Civil Rights Movement to the AIDS crisis to the legalization of gay marriage, LGBTQ art and activism have been deeply intertwined. Queer writers in the U.S. have negotiated ever-shifting priorities and stigmas to represent queer life in literature and media. Stories have always been a way to have a voice, to account for oneself and one’s community, and to connect to others who share one’s experience. LGBTQ literature might be outward facing—representing queerness to a straight audience—or it might face inwards, speaking to a queer community of readers. Focusing on flashpoints in the history of LGBTQ rights and culture in the United States, this course will consider the relationship between activist movements and the art and literature produced within or around those movements. Is queer art by nature activist art? What does “effective” activism look like, and is art an effective form of it? What even counts as art (protest signs? rhyming chants? public displays of affection?) and, for that matter, what counts as activism? We will approach these questions with attention to literature and art as primary sources, as well as learning to attend carefully to historical context, changing norms, and queer vocabularies that have shifted over time.

Teaching Methods: discussion, writing workshops, peer review Evaluation Methods: scaffolded essays, presentation, final project.

Texts Include: James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956); Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1991); Alison Bechdel, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (1987-2008). In addition, we will read a series of activist documents, short stories, and essays, and watch the documentary How to Survive a Plague (2012).

Texts Will Be Available At: Full texts will be available at the campus bookstore; essays and films will be on Canvas.

LGBTQ Art & Activism in the United States

Instructor(s): Erica Weitzman


Ever since Socrates defeated the Sophists, the question of truth, lying, and whatever comes in between has been crucial for thinking about communication and thought. But what does it mean, exactly, to lie – or if not exactly to lie, to seek to overpower the person you are talking to with a stream of empty rhetoric, intentional ambiguity, deflection, bluffing, or other modes of deceptive or manipulative speech? To what ends have such practices been put throughout history, and what are their political, social, and psychological consequences? This seminar will look at the practice and implications of various forms of deceptive or coercive speech in a selection of novels, films, essays, and philosophical texts. Possible readings may include: Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Being Right; Friedrich Nietzsche, “On Truth and Lying in an Extra-moral Sense”; Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley, Orson Welles, F for Fake; and Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics.” 

Lies, Sophistry, Propaganda, Bluster, Equivocation, and Bullshit

Instructor(s): Kathleen Carmichael

Description: Ever since Pentheus’ fatal decision to spy on the revels of Dionysus, audiences have had a guilty fascination with the spectacle of addiction—a fascination which crosses not only centuries but disciplines, captivating scientists, policymakers, philosophers, artists, and laypeople alike. This class will trace the evolution of literary representations of addiction across several centuries, from classical depictions of god-induced madness, through the Gothic narratives such as Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, temperance classics such as Ten Nights in a Barroom (whose impact has often been compared to that of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), to the twentieth- and twenty-first century comedies and confessionals that make the bestseller lists today. Through these readings and related critical texts, we will examine the ways that such literature provides a staging ground for public controversy and emerging theories about the artistic, cultural, ethical, and scientific significance and ramifications of addiction.

Literatures of Addiction

Instructor(s): Ben Gorvine

Description: While those going into the field of mental health typically think about it as a "helping profession", there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to the psychological, economic, and political forces that have defined the development of the field. The course will focus on the contemporary framework for defining mental illness - the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (now in its 5th edition) - with a particular focus on some of the problems that have emerged from the disease-based framework utilized in the manual, and the assumptions that it makes about disorders and typical development. We will explore the role of state mental hospitals in the U.S. in the early to mid-20th century, and we will examine the political forces that drove the de-institutionalization movement of the 1970s and 1980s, with additional consideration of the contemporary implications of the closing of state hospitals. Finally, the course will focus on the evolution of psychotherapy in the modern marketplace, and some of the challenges posed by the demands of the health insurance industry and academic research. The aggressive way in which the DSM has been marketed internationally and the implications of culture for diagnosis will also be discussed. Along the way, we will explore critiques of the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance industry, and modern psychiatry. Some of these themes will also be explored through analysis of popular films and other media. Students will be evaluated on the basis of class attendance and participation, co-leading a class discussion with peers, and writing assignments including short reaction papers and a longer research paper.

Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment - Psychological and Economic Themes

Instructor(s): David Smith

Description: For many, music serves a valuable function in everyday life. Music can serve as a mode of artistic expression, a method of relaxation, a means of influencing mood, and an avenue toward transcendence. This course will focus on the human experience of music by integrating research and theory from cognitive, social, and developmental psychology. Special attention will be given to topics such as the perception of music, the development of musical expertise and creativity, the effect of music on cognition, the emotional impact of music, and effective musical instruction.

Music and the Mind

Instructor(s): Peter Carroll

Description: Tibet is an ethnic autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. This status recognizes the distinctive cultural and political heritage of Tibet but nonetheless affirms Tibet as an integral part of China. Tibet was “Peacefully Liberated” by the People’s Liberation Army in 1950-1951. Previously, the Republican and Qing imperial states variously claimed sovereignty or suzerainty over Tibet. Many Tibetans, whether living in Tibet or abroad, contest the historical and moral legitimacy of this rule, or question the particular arrangements that govern the place of Tibet, Tibetan people, and Tibetan language and culture as part of China’s mosaic of fifty-six ethnic groups. The Dalai Lama (a Buddhist spiritual leader), and foreign supporters as diverse as Bjork and Paris Hilton, have made “Free Tibet” a familiar slogan and social cause. Within China such sentiments are commonly viewed as a serious attack on national integrity. This course examines competing claims regarding the national status of Tibet in light of the historically complex cultural and political relationships between Tibet and China. We will focus on the specifics of 20th c. Chinese and Tibetan nationalisms and probe the nature of nations and nationalism generally. As a famous essay we will study asks, “What is a nation?” We will also consider the relevance of history-based nationalist arguments concerning religious freedom, cultural autonomy, modern progress, and the nature of complex, multi-cultural nations, such as China (or, for that matter, the USA).

Nationalism in China and Tibet

Instructor(s): Chloe Thurston

Description: The idea of political equality – most loosely defined as the concept of one person, one vote – is central to many theories of democracy, and yet is often violated in practice. In this course we will examine theoretical and empirical perspectives on the causes and consequences of political inequality, with a focus on inequalities in representation, participation, and government responsiveness in the United States. Questions we will explore include: What factors have shaped the expansion and restriction of the franchise? Do policymakers weigh the concerns of their differently-situated constituents equally? And do wealthier individuals or corporations have greater influence in the political system than ordinary voters?

Political Inequality
T/Th11am – 12:20pm

Instructor(s): Paul Caradonna

Description: This course will focus on developing an understanding of the ecology of plants, pollinators, and their interactions. We will build on this ecological knowledge in order to think critically about the conservation challenges faced by plants and pollinators all across the globe today. Topics in this course will range from plant and pollinator life cycles, pollination ecology, pollination as an ecosystem services, and conservation. Emphasis in this course will be on the development of skills in critical reading, interpretation, discussion, and writing in science.

Pollination Ecology: From Conservation to Extinction

Instructor(s): Marcelo Vinces

Description: The word biology describes both the characteristics and processes of life and living organism, as well as the discipline that studies these. Like all the natural sciences, the study of biology is a data-driven endeavor, concerned with describing, predicting and understanding natural phenomena based on evidence from observation and experimentation. But like all human activities, it does not exist in objective isolation, but rather within a societal context. And biological phenomena, such as infection and disease, interact with non-biological elements of human society. This course aims to contextualize the study of biology towards a better understanding of how social and cultural histories and dynamics have had a profound effect on both biological research as well as biological phenomena, and how social, political and economic parameters influence the impact of scientific breakthroughs and the outcomes of biological events such as epidemics. The topics we will cover, among others: the cultural, political and societal barriers to reaping the benefits of biological research; the damaging legacies of racism, sexism and colonialism on the biological research enterprise; the role of communications in the field of biology; and select biological topics in evolution, genetics and disease. Students will learn from press articles, academic literature and non-fiction books (The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; Pandemic, by Sonia Shah).

Promises and Perils: The Social Reality of Biology

Instructor(s): Megan Hyska

Description: Democracy works when people are able to make conscientious, informed decisions about the kind of society they want to live in. Thinkers from antiquity to the present have been concerned with the various ways that this ability can be undermined by propaganda, both in purported democracies and in explicitly authoritarian regimes. On the other hand, many radical thinkers have suggested that propaganda isn't always bad, and is perhaps a necessary component of liberatory social and political movements. In this course we will be asking three central questions: What is propaganda? How does propaganda function in the world today? And finally, how can a just society deal with propaganda's negative effects?


Instructor(s): Stefan Henning

Description: This class will sharpen your writing. You will write and present a seven-to-nine page paper on civic activism in contemporary China. In the process of writing this paper, you will practice identifying a theme you find interesting, formulating an argument, finding data and source material on the internet from China in English translation, and relating your theme to the scholarly literature we read and discuss together in class. Some of the progress you will make in your writing abilities will be technical – what counts as evidence, what is the difference between data and scholarly texts, how do you cite and give credit to those who preceded you; some will be intellectual – how do you refute and how do you prove, how do you evaluate your own argument to be clear about its limitations, how do you assess the political relevance of your theme; and some of it will be emotional – how do you cope with the panic that is welling up when you are expected to tame the chaos of reality into a tidy argument, how do you cope with disappointment and ire when I tell you that your second draft is not good enough, how do you cope with your self-doubts when you are trying to find a needle of evidence in the haystack of the internet under time-pressure?

The Chinese have achieved enormous economic growth over the last forty years which has dramatically raised living conditions in China. The Chinese Communist Party has steered this economic development through authoritarian rule which denies the Chinese liberties you take for granted. Thirty-one years ago, the Communist Party killed Chinese who demanded these liberties by employing the military inside the country. Since the massacre of 1989, protest in the streets has moved to networking on the internet. You will write your paper about this challenge to authoritarian rule by engaging some of the following questions: How have urban Chinese lived with the trauma of the massacre? What exactly happened in 1989? Making and uploading videos to the internet is a crucial weapon for activists. How do you evaluate the power of individual videos to force political change? These videos are documentaries, performance art, interviews, covert recordings of state agents, cries for help of fugitives in real time, and witness testimony. The creators of these videos are prepared to take risks because they feel there is something wrong with China today. These feelings are value judgments, or valuations. How do you tease out the values by which activists judge the state and evaluate their lives in China? What in turn are the value judgments of American reporters who report on Chinese activism to the American public? What are the value judgments of American professors who study Chinese activism? And what are your own value judgments: If it turns out that U.S. capitalism in its combination with democracy cannot economically compete with Chinese capitalism in its combination with authoritarian rule, and you were forced to choose, would you choose capitalism or democracy? What parts of your life would be impossible under authoritarian rule? Which line would populism and neo-authoritarianism in America have to cross for you to fight the government?

Rebellion and Its Enemies in China Today
T/Th11am-12:20 pm

Instructor(s): Karen Alter

Description: This seminar will investigate different ideas about what the rule of law is, and different realities of how the rule of law operates. It is a comparative legal systems seminar, with an international dimension. Given the broad sense that the rule of law is a critical element of good governance, international actors have become rule of law promotors. Is the rule of law something that outsiders can help to create or improve? Can one create a rule of law if governments or powerful actors refuse to subordinate themselves to the rule of law? How do those actors committed to the rule of law try to balance the aspiration of a rule of law and the political reality that governments and powerful actors have a variety of ways to resist? Participants will be divided into five groups, with each group applying shared readings and ideas to a different legal system. Countries include South Africa, India, Colombia, China and the United States, all of which face rule of law challenges. The comparison will allow us to consider the variety of challenges that exist, and the country perspective will help us to consider what, if anything, outside actors can do to support the rule of law.

Rule of Law Around the World

Instructor(s): Veronica Berns

Description: Science and the Scientist: How we communicate complex ideas, from comic books to journal articles: exploring effective scientific communication through graphic novels: Clear and concise communication is highly valued in many STEM fields. Whether conveying the technical details of an experiment for a colleague or translating the impact of a study for the public, scientists need to discuss complex ideas with different audiences. This course analyzes the goals of scientific writing by examining texts that represent different levels of communication, including how to use the visual language of comic books for conveying complex scientific ideas.

Science and the Scientist: How we communicate complex ideas, from comic books to journal articles

Instructor(s): Claire Sufrin

Description: What does a “spiritual life” look like? In this course, we will read several recent memoirs about searching for, finding, and in some cases losing a connection God and religion. We will analyze the content of these texts by asking what each writer comes to learn in the course of their spiritual journeys, and we will also analyze style and form by paying attention to the way in which memoirist chooses to tell their story. We will also consider how scholars might use these memoirs to write broader histories of spiritual and religious movements. Writing assignments will include both textual analysis of the memoirs we read and the opportunity to write one’s own spiritual memoir. Please note that although this course is in Jewish Studies, course materials and discussion will address multiple faith traditions.

Searching, Finding, Losing, and Living: Spiritual Memoirs

Instructor(s): Krista Thompson

Description: This seminar introduces students to histories of photography, attentive to the role the medium has played socially across space and time. Looking at photographs from the early nineteenth century to present day, the course explores how notions of citizenship, justice, social visibility, criminality, history, memory, truth, race, class, and gender have been variously negotiated through different forms of and engagements with photography.

Social Histories of Photography

Instructor(s): Jamie Druckman

Description: Sports and politics have become increasingly intertwined over the last half-century. Local, state, and federal governments as well as other governing bodies (e.g., the NCAA, universities) regulate who can participate (raising questions about eligibility and equality) and what standards athletes must meet (e.g., drug testing, academic performance). These organizations also oversee economic issues (e.g., resource distribution) and symbolic issues (e.g., mascots). Ideally, governing policies would be responsive to the wishes of their constituents (players, owners, voters), but are they? How would we know? How do we gauge their opinions? Alternatively, how do sports affect public opinion? Do citizens prefer politicians who engage in sports? Do media portrayals of sports affect what citizens think about race and/or gender? Is it appropriate for athletes to use their notoriety to make political statements? These are the kinds of questions we will consider in this class. This involves learning the science of public opinion polling and applying it to study opinions about public policies relevant to sports.

Sports, Politics, and Public Opinion

Instructor(s): Will Reno

Description: This course surveys the changing American strategies in the conduct of warfare since the end of the Cold War in 1989. The course opens with a consideration of the massive military buildup and assault on Iraq in 1991. The American military presence in that region never went away. This presence provides us with a framework for analyzing the changing character of warfare. Consideration of the Iraq War (2003-2011) focuses on the development of counterinsurgency and the emergence of multi-domain warfare (i.e., political warfare, information warfare, etc.) and increased reliance on low-profile Special Operations Forces. Our attention then turns to recent challenges of hybrid warfare (i.e., hacking and fake news and their roles in conflicts), and the advent of flexible responses such as increased American reliance on drones and contractors in the conduct of warfare. The course ends with the consideration of several emerging American war-fighting strategies.

The American Way of War

Instructor(s): Wen-Fai Fong

Description: In this course, we will learn about major astronomical discoveries in the past century, highlighting the crucial role and contributions of women astrophysicists to our understanding of the Universe. Such fundamental contributions include developing a stellar classification system, laying a foundation for the expansion of the Universe, providing evidence for the existence of dark matter, and discovering a class of neutron stars, called pulsars. We also celebrate the first major observatories to be named after women pioneers, which will come online in the next few years. By bringing these contributions to the forefront, we will also examine and discuss our own biases in how we attribute credit for scientific discoveries.

The Diverse Origins of Modern Astrophysics

Instructor(s): Mel Ulmer

Description: We’ll discuss 2 books in class with 1 discussion leader per meeting which is twice a week. The books are for non-experts on the topic of cosmology. On one hand, cosmologists have made a story that fits together beautifully. One the other hand the fit is produced by evoking Dark Energy and Dark Matter, which have not been verified in the laboratory. The goal of this class is to discuss the pros and cons of our way forward to understand where we came from and where we are going.

The Expanding Universe

Instructor(s): Jennifer Brace

Description: What exactly are stem cells? How are these cells advancing the medical field today? And why is there so much controversy surrounding this microscopic unit of life? Stem cells have the amazing potential to develop into a variety of cell types in both the early embryo and later in adult life. At the end of the course, students will gain a basic understanding of the molecular and cellular basis of stem cells, an appreciation for the pros and cons of stem cell use in medicine, and become introduced to the process of evaluating primary scientific literature.

The Immortal Cell: The Biology, Medical Implications and Bioethics Surrounding Stem Cell Research

Instructor(s): Megan Geigner

Description: We will investigate how media, academics, policy, and popular culture in US society have defined and codified race. Examples of materials include newspaper articles, podcasts, song lyrics, maps, personal essays, TV, and film). In studying how we define race, we will also consider the intersections of citizenship and immigration, gender and sexuality, and more.

This seminar helps students transition into college-level inquiry and into being conscientious and ethical members of a diverse learning community. Students will demonstrate their new knowledge about racial formation in the United States through drafting and revising journal entries, analytical papers, and creative assignments.

The Legacy of Race in the United States

Instructor(s): Chad Horne

Description: The market pervades every aspect of our lives, and yet its workings are in some sense hidden from view. This perhaps helps to explain the persistence of Adam Smith's metaphor of the "invisible hand" to describe how the market works. Our aim in this course is to make the invisible hand a bit more visible. What does the market do well? What does it do badly? Are there any goods, like sex or human organs, that should not be exchanged on the market? What alternatives are there to the market system? In trying to answer these questions, we will examine texts from economists, historians, and journalists as well as from philosophers.

The Market and Its Limits

Instructor(s): Larry Stuelpnagel


Presidents, politicians, and citizens often claim that the press is either "liberal" or "conservative." But many factors drive what the public receives as news. Those factors include: the economics of the business, information biases that come from striving to be "objective," work routines by journalists, and the need to tell a story in a simple fashion so that readers and viewers can easily understand the subject. This course will critically examine assumptions regarding how news is reported, how politicians attempt to manipulate the news and how this impacts the outcome of elections, policies and the perception of political players.


The Press and the Political Process

Instructor(s): Elizabeth Lenaghan

Description: As you are well aware, being young has many benefits and many drawbacks. For instance, the optimism and creativity that often characterize youth can lead to positive social and societal change. At the same time, though, young people often struggle to be taken seriously, even when their actions and ideas are good ones. Through examining several historic and contemporary case studies, this course will explore both the triumphs and terrors of youth (i.e., teens-twenties). What risks are uniquely available to young people? Which ones are rewarded and which end in regret? How might these outcomes be mediated by other factors (e.g., race, gender, sexuality)? Most importantly, what can we learn from the triumphant and terrible behaviors of others? As we explore answers to these questions through discussion, reading, and writing assignments, we’ll also take advantage of your own uniquely youthful status as first-quarter, first-year students. Specifically, we’ll think and learn about how both your transition to college and the years ahead present you with opportunities to both capitalize on your youth and cultivate for you and others (especially those who might disparage Gen Z) a more realistic idea of what it really means to be young these days.

The Terror & Triumph of Youth

Instructor(s): Steve Reinke

Description: We’ll be examining the role of animation in experimental film and video. Likely to be included: Norman McLaren, Suzan Pitt, Oskar Fischinger, Barry Doupé, Émile Cohl, Jacolby Satterwhite and many others. Please note the material may contain strong language, sexual situations, violence, blasphemy, and abstraction.

The World is a Cartoon: Experimental Animation

Instructor(s): Elvia Mendoza

Description: This interdisciplinary seminar explores the totality of the body as a site of critical knowledge. Reflecting on theory in the flesh as “one where the physical realities of our lives all fuse to create a politic born of necessity,” we will discuss and put into practice the possibilities this frame of thought offers for advancing social transformation. We will privilege different forms of texts ranging from photography to novels to gain a deeper understanding for how knowledge is embodied, expressed, represented, shared, and reimagined.

Theorizing in the Flesh and Other Acts of Refusal

Instructor(s): Luke Flores

Description: In this WCAS first-year seminar, we will examine recent research on learning and memory through the unique lens of college life. What do we know (or think we know) about how memories are encoded in the brain? How is college a different learning environment than high school? Together, we will review scientific studies on the impact of college life on student academic performance, and correlate those findings with studies of human and animal learning in the laboratory. After taking this course, you will have a foundational understanding of the neurobiological basis of memory, learn how to read scientific literature critically, and develop strategies to improve your study habits and performance here at Northwestern University. Open to first-year students in Weinberg College. This course does not satisfy major requirements in Neuroscience but does serve as a Weinberg first-year seminar. There will be several writing assignments on a science-related topic.

This is Your Brain on College

Instructor(s): Paola Zamperini

Description: This seminar will focus on how women, across cultures and time, represent their lives through various media and means, from visual art to literary engagements to graphic media, from movies and photography to music and social media. Our interdisciplinary investigation of (mostly non-Western) women's autobiographical practices, past and present, will allow us to work closely with primary sources (in English translation, if necessary), and with pertinent theoretical work in the fields of gender, sexuality, feminist theory, and queer studies.

The authors we will engage include Sarashina, Artemisia Gentileschi, Li Qingchao, Lady Hyegyong, Orgyan Chokyi, Zora Neale Hurston, Charlotte Salomon, Theresa H. K. Cha, Rigoberta Menchu’, Trinh Minh-ha, Audre Lorde, Marjane Satrapi, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and Thi Buy, among others. When possible and meaningful, we will set their autobiographical practices against the grain of male representations of women's lives, and in dialogue with our own autobiographical gestures and utterances.

To Paint Their Lives

Instructor(s): Richard Walker

Description: In this seminar we will survey disparate topics in politics, philosophy and economics. Exactly what we end up covering will depend a little on what most interests the group, but provisional topics include include the median voter theorem, the Condorcet paradox, Arrow's impossibility theorem, the trolley problem, Rawls' theory of justice, Peter Singer and speciesism, the ethics of nationalism, the economic effects of immigration, the simulation hypothesis, how economists and regular people think about risk and uncertainty, the economics of healthcare, charter cities, prediction markets and the wisdom of crowds, the pros and cons of a basic income policy. The aim is to find interesting things to read, talk and write about.

Topics in Politics, Philosophy and Economics

Instructor(s): Axel Mueller

Description: In this seminar we will examine some of the fundamental ideas and questions behind democracy and provide a reading of their "inventors". Some of the questions are: What is democracy? Is it a form of government, a value, an ideal, a political system, a form of life, a bit of all this? Is democracy always the best political solution (in wartime? general starvation?)? Why should the whole of the people decide and not the specialists in the respective questions? Are all democratically taken decisions automatically legitimate (what about minorities\' rights?)? How should all citizens in a democracy participate in politics? By direct self-government of the people or by voting representatives? Is everything democratically decidable or does the individual have unalterable rights? Is tolerance and/or free speech necessary for democracy and how far can it go?

What is Democracy?

Instructor(s): Katherine Gesmundo


Over the past 20 years, nanotechnology has been a booming area of research in chemistry, biology, physics, engineering, and medicine. Modern techniques have allowed scientists to better study small materials, and the nanotech we read about in science fiction novels can now become real products found in our world. In this seminar, we will discuss what is so special about the size range of 1-100 nm (the nanoscale) and why particles of this size have a such a unique niche in nature and technology. We will explore the properties of these materials and why quantum mechanical effects allow for this scale to be so important. Discussions of medicines, electronics, catalysts, additives, and imaging agents that include nanoparticles will allow us to explore the wide range of current directions of nanotechnology. As we look to future applications, we will debate the implications of these materials on the environment, human health, and safety. Regulatory bodies in the United States and around the globe have discussed the ethical and social impact of nanomaterials, and we will investigate their role is assuring the nanomaterials we use leave a positive impact on the world.

What's So Special About Nanomaterials?

Instructor(s): Matthew Chalmers


We take the existence of Christianity for granted, but it hasn't always been there. And, for that matter, many people who we might describe as Christian didn't call themselves "Christian" at all. In this seminar, we explore one of the most pivotal moments in world history: the generation of a religious identity that would grow into the world's largest religion. When did people first start calling themselves Christian, and what alternative history of Christianity does that help us to write?

This is also a first-year seminar, so in the process, we'll familiarize ourselves with research methods and models appropriate for historical work. This includes (1) framing the right size of research question; (2) understanding what count as reliable primary and secondary sources; and (3) producing strong versus weak arguments.

When did people first become Christian?

Instructor(s): Patricia Nichols

Description: Immigration has become one of the ‘hot’ buttons of contemporary social and political dialogue. Through the prism of the Latina experience in the United States, this class will explore causes and consequences of global migration in the 21st century, analyze the marginalization of third-world immigrants in first-world society, and seek to develop an understanding of the evolving ‘face’ of America. Students will further examine how their individual experiences and backgrounds help shape their perceptions of this new world order.

Latina immigrants to the U.S. often leave intolerable circumstances and brave life-threatening border crossings in pursuit of the American dream. Yet, those who succeed in crossing the geographic border almost inevitably find that the marginalized existence they hoped to leave behind takes on an equally powerful form in their new world as they face economic, political, racial, and cultural barriers north of the border.

Women at the Border: The Marginalization of Latinas in the U.S.
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